In the Daily Beast today, the Harvard celebrity professor defends himself by attacking “the liberal blogosphere.”
The other day, a British friend asked me if there was anything about the United States I disliked. I was happily on vacation [Blogger: If history is any indicator, this is probably true] and couldn’t think of anything. But now I remember. I really can’t stand America’s liberal bloggers.
….the spectacle of the American liberal blogosphere in one of its almost daily fits of righteous indignation is not so much ridiculous as faintly sinister. Why? Because what I have encountered since the publication of my Newsweek article criticizing President Obama looks suspiciously like an orchestrated attempt to discredit me.
You know, I made a Joe McCarthy joke (those are always good) yesterday when Ferguson first made this insinuation, about which he has no facts whatsoever, because it’s an absurd charge and there are no facts to muster. Now Ferguson is making me look prescient.
His suggestion that there is an organized, “sinister” campaign to discredit him reeks of paranoia and self-importance—charming combination. No such cabal exists. It’s simply that there are a lot of people who care about accuracy in journalism, particularly when a Harvard professor writes a cover story in a once-respected national publication headlined “Hit the Road, Barack.”
And, yes, many Americans feel very strongly about the current presidential campaign, and when a high-profile scholar writes a piece arguing that the current president should be rejected, he should expect some pushback. Especially when—and this may be unfair, but I don’t really think so—that writer is not himself American. (I’ve no doubt the Brits would feel the same way should the parallel occur.)
But I digress.
Their approach is highly effective, and I must remember it if I ever decide to organize an intellectual witch hunt. What makes it so irksome is that it simultaneously dodges the central thesis of my piece and at the same time seeks to brand me as a liar. The icing on the cake has been the attempt by some bloggers to demand that I be sacked not just by Newsweek but also by Harvard University, where I am a tenured professor. It is especially piquant to read these demands from people who would presumably defend academic freedom in the last ditch—provided it is the freedom to publish opinions in line with their own ideology.
An intellectual witch hunt? The man who’s resorting to McCarthyism has the gall to invoke Salem.
There is a bitter undercurrent to Ferguson’s responses that isn’t helping him. His tone combines outrage and a sense of victimhood particularly unattractive in someone who’s living such a privileged life—and wrote such a didactic, bilious essay.
For example: In the second paragraph of this cri de coeur, Ferguson writes that his critics ” claim to be engaged in ‘fact checking,’ whereas in nearly all cases they are merely offering alternative (often silly or skewed) interpretations of the facts.”
All right, let’s fact-check. Ferguson writes in the third paragraph that “some bloggers” have demanded that he be “sacked” by Harvard. To the best of my knowledge, precisely one blogger, Brad DeLong, has done so. (Like Harry Lewis below, by the way, I strongly disagree with DeLong’s suggestion.)
So…not “some bloggers” at all, right? One blogger. Maybe not the biggest fact in the world, but you know, when you say that your critics’ fact-checking is all bollocks, you should try to get your facts right, not exaggerate so as to portray yourself as an intellectual martyr.
Ferguson’s response to DeLong is all maturity and grace:
My own counter-suggestion would be to convene a committee at Berkeley to examine whether or not Professor DeLong is spending too much of his time blogging when he really should be conducting serious research or teaching his students.
Niall Ferguson doesn’t really want to debate whether a professor’s outside activities are taking away from his teaching and research.
Ferguson reiterates his main critiques of Obama; the economy’s not very good, Ron Susskind says policymaking was chaos, the president has no foreign policy.
But even in this mode, Ferguson comes off as—I don’t mean to be crude, but—kind of a dick.
In supporting his case against Obama’s foreign policy, he says this: By the way, I base these judgments on a great many off-the-record conversations with influential policy-makers here and abroad. When a very senior military man asks you: “Have we any global strategy beyond just trying to hang on?,” you have a right to wonder if the answer might be “No.”
Oh, well, suddenly I’m all impressed. Never mind. You’re basing your sweeping conclusions on off-the-record conversations! With anonymous influential policymakers!
Gosh, if only I’d known that, I would never have said a word.
(I must point out the tautology here: As far as we know, these influential policymakers are influential only because they have influenced Niall Ferguson. This military source, for example, doesn’t sound as if he feels particularly influential.)
Oh, and Mr. Ferguson, here’s one tip from a humble journalist: There’s not a “high-level” American military official alive who would use the construction, “Have we any global strategy…?” So why should we care what an unnamed British general says about President Obama’s foreign policy? Or maybe he was talking about England’s? The West’s? Who knows?
Language—it gives away deception.
I don’t usually waste time on this kind of thing. In the Internet age, you can spend one week writing a piece and the next three responding to criticism, most of it (as we have seen) worthless.
I love that “most of it (as we have seen) worthless.” This is an ego out of control.
But there comes a point when you have to ask yourself: has the American public sphere so degenerated that it is now impossible to make the case for a change of president without being set upon in cyberspace by a suspiciously well-organized gang of the current incumbent’s most ideologically committed supporters?
Now that really would be something to dislike about this country.
The poor fellow. He writes a factually-dubious piece arguing for the defeat of the president of the United States, and when he is roundly denounced for the silliness of that piece, he responds with a straw man—that “suspiciously well-organized gang”—that only makes him look ridiculous. Professor, could you please just indicate one, any, sign of that sinister organization other than the fact that everyone involved has Internet access?
The problem, Mr. Ferguson, is that it’s not the bloggers damaging your reputation. It’s you.