The second story is the barrage of the Times, discussed in my previous blog, about the award to Tony Kushner first rescinded by the CUNY Board of Trustees and then, at their emergency Monday meeting, reaffirmed after the city’s elites went to bat for their favorite agitprop playwright. Story after story read exactly like the paper’s own editorial, which took Kushner at his word that he is a supporter of Israel, condemned the solitary trustee who raised the issue about Kushner’s views, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, and agreed with Board Chairman Benno Schmidt that awarding the honorary degree to Kushner was “a matter of principle.” The paper’s final story, appearing May 9th, was written by the same reporter who had phoned me for my views. Yet her story, like the previous ones, had not one dissenting voice cited who supported not giving Kushner the award.
Strangely, one story did appear on the paper’s website — not read regularly by those who look at the daily paper’s contents — and it appeared in their online contributor’s column, that of academic superstar Stanley Fish. The paper’s reporters did not see fit to cite anything Fish wrote in “the Opinionator” section of the website. What Fish did quite elegantly and persuasively is to virtually tear apart every excuse made by the paper’s editors on behalf of Kushner, as well as to shed light on the supposedly objective basis of the award.
Not only was it not anything resembling “a matter of principle,” but as Fish writes, the arguments for Kushner are not persuasive. Taking up the claims of historian Ellen Schrecker, Fish notes her claim that academic McCarthyism is occurring is completely false. Fish points out: “Kushner is not an academic and so he has no academic freedom that can be demeaned. And his more general freedom — his freedom as an artist and a citizen — has not been infringed on by what the board did. He can still write and speak and say pretty much what he wants. He just won’t be saying it at a CUNY graduation ceremony this spring.”
As for honorary degrees, Fish reveals, having been on committees that choose who gets them, that in fact extraneous factors are always considered when deciding who gets an award. They discuss, for example, the views of a recipient, especially if they “are controversial in ways that might generate unwelcome publicity.” He also mentions that one regularly hears in discussions “political and ideological objections to some candidates,” and if they are raised, nominees are often put aside to be considered again at a future time. And that, indeed, is precisely what Mr. Wiesenfeld was asking of the CUNY Board of Trustees.
Contrary to Dr. Schrecker, he notes that to refuse or rescind an honorary degree is not the same as hiring or firing an instructor because of his political views. That, he points out, is against the law. “Refusing to award an honorary degree even for political reasons involves no penalties — the disappointed non-honoree doesn’t have a case — except for the penalty of looking small-minded, biased, and stupid.” Fish concludes: “Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the fiercely anti-Kushner trustee, got it right when he declared that ‘An honorary degree is wholly within the discretion of the board to grant.’”
So even when the paper is forced to run a column that regularly appears on their website, its reporters and editors see it not fit to even call attention to Fish’s disagreement with them in the paper’s own pages. Sure, if you regularly look at what is on “the Opinionator” site, you would have caught it. But how many regular readers of the paper do?
Obviously, as with the story about interrogation techniques, the editors want one line to be reflected in both editorials and news stories — nothing is to interfere with that. There is one point of view, that of the editors, and that is, they obviously feel, the truth.
That is why I often reflect as I read the NYT that it reminds me of my youth, when I would read the New York City left-wing press, The Communist Party’s Daily Worker, the leftist fellow-traveling Daily Compass, and later, the far left National Guardian. No wonder those outlets have disappeared. Today, those who read it have The New York Times, ever ready to tell the city’s left-liberals what to think.
Update: Also read “The NYT debunked its ‘Beast in the Heart of Every Fighting Man’ story, 20 years ago,” on the Tatler.