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December 17, 2002
(THE LAST?) BELLESILES UPDATE: Melissa Seckora has a report on the revocation of Michael Bellesiles' Bancroft Prize, and debunks claims of the Bancroft Committtee that it couldn't have known of the problems with Bellesiles' work when the prize was awarded. There were plenty of warning signs, Seckora notes, but the Bancroft committee ignored them.
Meanwhile, Prof. Jerome Sternstein writes on Bellesiles' publisher Knopf over at the History News Network. Why, he asks, isn't Knopf admitting the problems with Bellesiles' book?
Last Spring, when I spoke to a representative of Knopf at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Washington, D.C., he said that a new edition of Arming America was in the works and they were only awaiting the report promised by Emory University before they went ahead with it. But since the issuance of the Emory Report and Columbia's announcement revoking the Bancroft Prize, little has been heard from Knopf other than a statement that despite Columbia's decision, the Vintage paperback edition of Arming America, "which already includes corrections, will remain in print."
Sternstein says the "corrections" are mostly bogus and don't address Bellesiles' major problems. If a big corporation in any other business sold such a flawed product without disclosing its problems, it would be sued out of existence. Sternstein concludes:
If Knopf continues to stand "behind" Arming America and fails to confront the fact that it is not simply a slightly flawed book that can be tinkered with and fixed with a few "corrections" here and there but it is rather a deeply dishonest book, one that is racked by invented, falsified, and grossly distorted renderings of the historical record, then Knopf will be doing itself and its great publishing tradition a monumental disservice. More importantly, however, by keeping Arming America in print and not recalling it Knopf will be doing an even greater disservice to the reading public. It will be saying to those who care about history that even America's leading publisher is more concerned with profits than integrity, and is more interested in selling deceitful, though politically correct books than works of enduring merit. The editors at Knopf need to rethink their position, just as Emory University and Columbia University reconsidered their positions.