Portrait of a witch-hunter
February 24, 2006 | Pages 8 and 9
“COMING TO a Campus Near You: Terrorists, racists, and communists--you know them as The Professors.”
The lurid opening line on the inside cover of David Horowitz’s new book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, sounds like the tag line to a bad Hollywood spoof. The publicity-hungry Horowitz tried to push book sales by spewing hot air on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes for a full week.
Unfortunately, Horowitz’s new witch-hunt against the left is no joke. In the last two decades, this right-winger has dabbled in everything from support for the murderous right-wing contra army in Nicaragua, to pushing legislation to dismantle affirmative action, to waging an all-out assault on the right of progressive voices to be heard on college campuses.
NICOLE COLSON looks at the facts about Horowitz and his right-wing crusade.
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IN THE fantasy world of David Horowitz, communists and terrorists lurk around every corner, ready to corrupt America’s youth. Rabid “anti-Semites” and “jihadists” infiltrate university faculties in order to preach hate and undermine American freedom and democracy.
Today, Horowitz is president and cofounder of a right-wing think tank, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPC), which publishes FrontPage--a magazine so right wing that it gladly picked up Ann Coulter’s venomous columns after she was fired by the National Review following racist comments about Muslims in 2001.
But to bolster his right-wing credentials, Horowitz likes to tout his former life--as a leftist during the struggles of the 1960s.
The son of union activists and Communist Party sympathizers, Horowitz’s father was a victim of McCarthyism--fired from his job as a teacher in 1952 when he refused to reveal if he was a Communist.
Horowitz was a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley in the late 1950s and early 1960s, where he debated ROTC members and defended the rights of conscientious objectors. He took part in some of the earliest protests against the Vietnam War and later edited the influential left-wing journal Ramparts.
After a 1974 meeting with Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton, Horowitz declared that he “had found a political soul-mate”--and became a supporter of the Panthers.
But as the Panthers were further decimated by police repression and the radical left movements declined, Horowitz distanced himself from his leftist roots--beginning a long march toward his neo-conservative future.
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IN THE 1980s, Horowitz started hosting so-called “Second Thinkers” conferences--a kind of political tent revival in which ex-leftists could renounce their pasts and publicly embrace the conservative light.
Horowitz turned into a Reagan follower. In 1987, at the behest of the State Department, he traveled to Managua, Nicaragua, offering tactical advice to right-wing labor unions, politicians and journalists on how to defeat the left-wing Sandinista government, then under the murderous assault of the U.S.-backed contra army. "For the sake of the poorest peasants in this God-forsaken country,” he declared at one point, “I can't wait for the contras to march into this town and liberate it from these fucking Sandinistas!”
Horowitz claims to be a “lifelong civil rights activist.” But his views today are unrecognizable from his days on the left.
Racist police brutality? A figment of liberals’ imaginations, according to Horowitz. “If Rodney King had obeyed the orders clearly given and had laid down in a ‘prone position’ on the night of his famous encounter with Los Angeles police, 58 people would be alive today, $16 billion would be circulating in the economy, and four dedicated LAPD officers who were working to the book that night would not have been forced to endure two trials...and had their careers destroyed to appease the liberal conscience,” Horowitz wrote in 2003.
In his 2000 book Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes, Horowitz wields statistics with the accuracy of a drunk behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler. He claims, for example, "In 1994, there were 20,000 rapes of white women by Black men, but only 100 rapes of Black women by white men"--a figure that the Nation called “a gross misreading” of actual Justice Department figures.
Several years ago, Horowitz took out full-page ads in college and university papers across the country, arguing against reparations for slavery.
The ad put the blame for slavery on “Black Africans” and “dark-skinned Arabs...who organized the slave trade”--and outrageously claimed that Blacks benefited from slavery since “slave labor created wealth for all Americans.” In reality, Horowitz went on to say, Blacks owe a debt to whites--“for liberating them from slavery.”
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TODAY, IT’S leftist academics who are at the top of Horowitz’s political hit list.
In a fundraising appeal, Horowitz’s rhetoric about the scope of leftist infiltration of campuses takes on a hysterical edge. “The turmoil surrounding the Vietnam war made our schools ripe for leftist pickings,” the appeal reads, “and they did--they methodically took over our campuses...[N]ow, four decades later, they have a stranglehold on hiring, teaching and administering most of our schools in all 50 states!”
Founded by Horowitz in June 2003, Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) declares that its goal is “to end the political abuse of the university and to restore integrity to the academic mission as a disinterested pursuit of knowledge.” But SAF’s idea of abuse includes pretty much any left-wing or liberal statement made in--or out of--a classroom.
SAF is pushing for the adoption of misnamed “academic bills of rights.” So far, legislation has been introduced in at least 24 states--and several colleges and universities have adopted some form of the policies promoted by the SAF.
These so-called “bills of rights” would prohibit political “indoctrination” by professors--though what that means would be left to courts and politicians to decide, not academics.
Horowitz’s proposals would also require that “academic institutions...maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within...their fields of inquiry.” In other words, science professors could be forced to teach things that they don’t believe are legitimate--for example, giving psuedo-science theories like “intelligent design” equal weight with established science like evolution.
But are right-wing students really under attack on campus? In making his case about the need to protect conservative students from left-wing bias, Horowitz repeatedly cites an incident that took place at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC).
In 2004 (and several times since), Horowitz reported that criminology professor Robert Dunkley asked students to explain “why President Bush was a war criminal” for a midterm exam essay--and then failed a student who chose instead to explain why Saddam Hussein is a war criminal. Horowitz claimed that this student testified about her experience at a special hearing before the Colorado state legislature in December 2003.
Horowitz never provided the name of the student, and transcripts of the hearing that Horowitz linked to don’t mention the incident. After prodding from media watchdogs, Horowitz was forced to admit that there were errors with the story as he told it. Like pretty much everything he claims has happened.
“[T]he test question was not the one described by Horowitz, the grade was not an F, and there were clearly non-political reasons for whatever grade was given,” a UNC spokeswoman told InsideHigherEd.com. And Professor Dunkley, it turns out, is a registered Republican.
Horowitz did finally publish a “retraction”--titled “Some of our facts were wrong, but our point was right."
Horowitz and SAF claim that they have hundreds of documented examples of left-wing academic bias. But some of the complaints listed in the “Academic Freedom Abuse Center”--a collection of unsubstantiated claims on the SAF Web site--include a student who was offended when her sociology class watched an “immoral Seinfeld episode,” and an Ohio State student who claims he got a poor grade on an English essay “just because the professor hates families and thinks it’s okay to be gay.”
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WITH THE recent publication of his book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, Horowitz has fired another shot across the leftist bow.
While limiting himself to the 101 he considers the most sinister, in a recent blog entry, Horowitz claims that the figure of dangerous radicals in academia is actually much, much higher--“probably closer to 60,000,” he claimed.
While it would be easy to dismiss Horowitz’s latest rhetoric as the ramblings of a man with yet another book to peddle, his attacks on academics have gained undeserved prominence in the post-September 11 world--dovetailing with a wider conservative assault on Arabs and Muslims and the antiwar movement.
It’s no surprise that Horowitz’s witch-hunt list includes some of the most prominent antiwar voices in the U.S.--Boston University professor emeritus Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky of MIT, for example,
Other professors who “made the grade”--or failed Horowitz’s test, as it were--include civil rights activist and University of California-Santa Cruz professor Angela Davis and Columbia University professor Manning Marable. Another Columbia University teacher, Eric Foner, is attacked, among other things, for having an uncle who was a member of the Communist Party.
Robert McChesney, who teaches communications at the University of Illinois, comes under fire for his criticism of the corporate news media. “They used two quotations from my two decade-long career as a teacher as evidence that I somehow use the classroom as a bully pulpit to push liberal causes,” said McChesney in a statement.
According to Free Exchange On Campus, a coalition of student, faculty and civil liberty groups, Horowitz attacks some professors for nothing more than practicing Islam, questioning immigration policies or suggesting that middle-school students can be motivated to learn through rap music.
As Kathy Sproles, president of the National Education Association’s National Council for Higher Education, said, “The only thing Horowitz proves in this book is the distance he is willing to go to silence his critics.”