David Horowitz, the former wacky-left editor of Ramparts magazine turned wacky right smear-monger and foundation pimp, came to Bloomsburg University in rural central Pennsylvania to pick up a $7000 check and spout lies and misinformation in a debate with local college philosophy professor Kurt Smith.
Horowitz never strayed more than 30 feet from his well coiffed bodyguard (the smartly dressed goon even hung out on the stage of the auditorium within view of the audience throughout the debate, perhaps fearing that Smith might charge from his lectern to make a point physically, or that unruly student radicals might rush the stage). Horowitz must have called ahead to local police, warning of an imagined plot against him, too, since he was also accompanied everywhere by three members of the uniformed local constabulary.
The debate was decidedly one-sided, with Horowitz offering one misstatement of fact after another, and Smith batting them down with the dispatch of a seasoned squash player.
At the start of the debate, Smith explained to the assembled audience of mostly Bloomsburg U. students that Horowitz, during the several years since the American invasion of Iraq, has been following the lead of the right-wing American Council of Trustees and Alumni, attacking academia for alleged left-wing bias, Under the leadership of disgraced Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman and Dick Cheney consort Lynn Cheney, ACTA since 9-11 has been hounding liberal academics, accusing them of being disloyal-indeed of being the only segment of American society to be “unpatriotic.”
Smith explained that in Pennsylvania, where the Republican-led legislature last spring impaneled a committee to investigate alleged liberal bias on state college campuses, Horowitz had come and testified, citing alleged cases of student abuse-all of which proved to be bogus. Smith then declared that Horowitz’s proposed “Academic Bill of Rights,” which in some versions would give students the right to sue their professors for allegedly political grading or for speaking outside of their formal field of study, was nothing but “politics pure and simple-it’s about seeking a place for right-wing propaganda” in the university.
Horowitz attempted to deny that he was seeking to punish liberal faculty, claiming his proposed bill had “no teeth.” He insisted that he had “nothing against” liberal professors and in no way sought to single anyone out.
This claim, however, was belied by the table in the lobby piled high with his latest book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, a libel-filled compendium of factual errors and innuendo (even the title is erroneous-there are only 100 dangerous professors listed!) passing itself off as scholarship. Even Horowitz has admitted his book, like those that have preceded it, is mistake-ridden-a problem he shucks off responsibility for by blaming it on the 30 student researchers he hired to assemble the material.
During the debate, Horowitz attributed the failure of the Pennsylvania legislative Academic Bill of Rights committee to recommend any action (the Republican-run committee, after months of hearings, concluded that there was no evidence of a “liberal bias” problem or of professorial “indoctrination” of students on the state’s campuses), to “sabotage” by the Democratic co-chair of the committee, State Assemblyman Lawrence Curry, a professor of history in Philadelphia. Curry, he charged, had repeatedly denounced the hearings as “McCarthyite.” In fact, the soft-spoken Curry never made such a statement at the hearings, and only gently insisted that Horowitz and the panel’s right-wing chair, Assemblyman Gibson “Gib” Armstrong, supply facts to back their fevered charges-which neither ever did. (Armstrong, midway through those hearings, was defeated in a Republican primary in his re-election bid as outraged local voters punished him and other legislators who had illegally voted themselves a substantial raise during their current term, awarding themselves in “non-itemized expense reimbursements” to get around a constitutional requirement that raises could only apply to subsequent terms of office.) At the end of the hearings, one committee member commented in frustration, “I always used to hate going fishing and coming home with nothing. This hearing feels a bit like that.”
So far, no state has passed any legislation along the lines of Horowitz’s proposed bill, though 15 state legislatures have held hearings on the idea-hearings which usually disclose that there is no problem to be fixed.
Horowitz’s real reason for singling out Rep. Curry as a villain is that Curry, during a televised hearing at Temple University last spring, exposed one of Horowitz’s most outrageous “examples” of liberal professorial abuse and lack of adequate patriotism as a fabrication and a fraud, and had the
right-wing propagandist reduced to an incoherent sputtering. This particular “example” of liberal indoctrination was a supposed biology professor at a Pennsylvania university who gave his class a showing of Michael Moore’s film “Fahrenheit 911.” As Curry said, it never happened.
Horowitz tried the same tactic again in the Bloomburg U. debate, this time using an already discredited “example”: the alleged case of a student,
Kelly Keehan, purportedly an opponent of abortion who was said to have been “forced” by a woman’s studies professor at Penn State to chant “abortion, abortion, abortion!” until she was in tears. At a Pennsylvania legislative hearing, Horowitz had declined to even name the school at which this alleged incident occurred. He subsequently claimed it was at Penn State. But in last week’s debate, Smith observed that no such student has ever come forward with a complaint, no such incident was ever reported as having occurred at Penn State, and that in all probability, the incident never happened.
Horowitz asserted, without providing any evidence to back his claim, that liberal professors are indoctrinating students, telling them that America is bad, that criminals are just rebels against an unjust society, etc. But Smith said, “We held hearings in Pennsylvania, and not a single case came forward to show indoctrination of students by professors. Where’s the bogyman?”
Smith won boisterous applause for insisting that university classrooms are not public spaces where all speakers have equal rights. In the classroom, he asserted, there is a natural asymmetry, as a consequence of the professor’s “experience and credentials.” In a dig that caused Horowitz to visibly stiffen, Smith said, “You only have a master’s degree in English, have never sat on a hiring committee, and never taught, and yet you are expressing expertise about higher education.” He concluded, turning to the audience, “Mr. Horowitz should follow his own advice about professors sticking to their subject areas. Since he has no experience in higher education, he should not offer to solve higher education’s problems. He’s feigning to be an academic.”
Horowitz pointedly refused to shake Smith’s hand in the Green Room before the event began, even when invited to do so by the university president, who was moderating the event.
At the end of the reception that followed the debate, the table piled with his latest book offered the dismal image of stacks of thick unsold volumes. Few if any had been bought. With no need to sit and sign books, Horowitz ascended the stairs towards the refreshment table, surrounded by the local police, his personal bodyguard, and a phalanx of younger people, mostly young white men in suits who bore little resemblance to students.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is due out May 1.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org