As I say, Riley’s brief column only highlights what we all know to be true about the pseudo-discipline of Black Studies. And what was the upshot of her foray into the forbidden territory of truth about this embarrassing subject? A cataract of outrage from readers of the Chronicle’s blog — almost all of whom are academics — and, in an exhibition of academic editorial independence and courage, a craven apology and dismissal notice from Liz McMillen, the editor of the Chronicle.
Why is it that more and more editors these days seem to respond to any controversial piece — controversial in challenging the reigning political pieties, that is — by public rituals of ostracism? Their first response to speech they or some of their readers don’t like is to rusticate the offender while loudly assuring the public of their own spotless virtue. Ms. McMillen’s “Note to Readers” is an especially emetic example of the genre. Riley’s column did not, she began, “did not conform to the journalistic standards and civil tone that you expect from us.” Really? In what ways was it deficient, either in substance or tone? Read what Riley says above: her chief sin seems to have been to shine a bit of daylight on the shadowy academic racket.
“We heard you,” Ms. McMillen pleadingly cries to her mob. We heard you and “We now agree that Ms. Riley’s blog posting did not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog.” “Now.” What a world of smarmy evasiveness is contained in the little adverb. Now that the mob is baying for blood, I am happy to chuck the ideal of robust journalism and throw Naomi Riley under the bus. Back when she published it, all was well. (Though I never reviewed it! It was not my fault!) It was only when there was public criticism that my politically correct antennae began to twitch and I found that craven capitulation was the best route to editorial high-mindedness.
Disgusting. Even more craven is Ms. McMillen’s concluding apology “for the distress these incidents have caused our readers.” Are the Chronicle’s readers really such delicate plants? Well, as I say, almost all of them are academics, so the answer is undoubtedly Yes.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has long been receding into semi-senescent irrelevance. This latest episode underscores its moral bankruptcy as well. What a pathetic showing.
[UPDATE: see Riley's splendid op-ed in the WSJ today: "The Academic Mob Rules."]