During yesterday’s “GLoP” podcast at Ricochet, John Podhoretz of Commentary offered his grand unified theory of how colleges became, as Iowahawk famously tweeted, “If I understand college administrators correctly, colleges are hotbeds of racism and rape that everyone should be able to attend,” and why Rolling Stone suspended all the normal rules of fact-checking to swing into action and blow the lid off this story, Woodward and Bernstein-style. (Rush transcript, as they say in old media as a euphemism for apologies for typos and mis-transcribed words to follow):
JOHN PODHORETZ: You talk about people’s ordinary skepticism, or common skepticism. I would submit to you that once something becomes a hot ideologically-charged topic, that skepticism is not only suspended in most cases, but it is understood by everyone around — on all sides of the debate — that it is dangerous to your reputation, to your sanity, and to the good working order of your day, to even whisper a breath of skepticism.
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JONAH GOLDBERG: I read the entire Columbia report, and there is no allegation that anybody except for “Jackie” lied or purposefully misrepresented the truth. You’re absolutely right John, about people losing their skepticism when they get caught up in the sort of ideological St. Vitas’ Dance of the moment, and we see this on a grand scale with things like global warming and other groupthink problems. But this was a situation where it wasn’t just their skepticism, but it was the mechanisms and procedures that were in place. At time and time again, the rules said, we’ve got to get a second source on this. The rules said, we got to [give] the accused a chance to comment. The rules said, we’ve got confirm the date and the identity of these people. And in each and every step, Jann Wenner and Will Dana and Sabrina Erdely all decided at one point or another to go another way. They all decided to drop the rules that they had in place. That’s why I think this is much more like the Dan Rather stuff. Because this was just something they wanted to be true for ideological and political reasons so badly, that they thought it was worth dropping the normal rules.
And it does get to this other issue, which nobody wants to talk about, which is, what is it about college campuses today that sets up an environment where some many young people feel compelled to lie about their oppression? It’s not just this “Jackie” girl, who lied and lied and lied for months on end to a reporter, and was fine with her story being written, as long as no one fact-checked it. (Which is a kind of dementia in a lot of ways.) But also on college campuses after college campuses, racial hoaxes happen all the time, and administrations shut them down because they don’t like the bad publicity.
It’s a state of hysteria — it’s very much like Salem. There was the one at — was it Oberlin? — where someone came out in a white blanket on a cold day, and the first instinct was: Oh my God, the Klan is here!
ROB LONG: The Klan is at Oberlin! Yeah, they’re at Oberlin.
PODHORETZ: Yeah, they’re taking cello lessons.
GOLDBERG: And they had days of meetings and panic about that, and they wanted to see if accused racist children would float in the horse trough or not! It was just like a total witch trial mentality and this is going on campuses…
LONG: Why is that?
GOLDBERG: …And Rolling Stone suspended the rules, because they believed this girl so much.
PODHORETZ: OK, can I give you my theory about college campuses? We can talk about the professoriate, and we can talk about student activist groups, and all of this. But there is a third force on college campuses. And it is this bureaucracy of counseling. In field after field, in gender, in race, in sexuality, there is now this bureaucracy that has come up to help counsel kids with their problems on college campuses.
And one of the problems is, it’s a classic thing in economics: if you subsidize something, you get more of it. So if you have counseling bureaucracies, one of the things that a counselor in problems involving gender is going to find is more problems involving gender. More discrimination. More hostility. Same with race. Same with LGBT. And when you create a permanently-employed bureaucracy that is in part enriched by these things happening, because of course, then maybe you can hire more counselors and you are more central to the university’s mission, and your center gets more money, and you get raises, and all of that.
And you believe in it! I’m not saying by the way, that counselors don’t believe that there is an epidemic of rape on college campuses, and that if you’re black, your life is a misery at all college campuses. And if you’re gay, terrible things are going to happen to you, because somebody looks at you cross-eyed when you walk across the campus.
They believe all this. But it is also in their innate interest, and it also in the interest in the campus itself to be able say, “Hey, you know what?! Your kids are safe. [Adopts sing-song-y nanny voice] Look, if anything’s wrong they can go to the counseling center!”
LONG: Isn’t it also this weird thing that…I’m now going to say something completely incendiary, without a shred of proof or backup. But it seems to me that these are all white kids running around saying “we have been raped” or [the victims of] “micro-aggression,” and all that stuff.
It’s like they have envy. They get to college after 20 or 30 years of very complicated ethnic and racial diversity training on college campuses. Now the white kids want in, so everyone’s got to be a victim. Everyone arrives in college as this horribly wounded, vulnerable bird. And college is supposed to be place where you’re sort of massaged and you’re padded and this institution of therapy around you. To try to make it OK about the trauma that you’ve suffered to get there, to get to Oberlin.
PODHORETZ: But it doesn’t have to be everybody; that’s partially, I think Jonah’s point. It can be two people, it can be three people, on a campus of 4,000 or 25,000, or 50,000, who can turn the place upside-down. Somebody paints a swastika on his own door, and the entire place revolved around this fact for an entire week. It is very empowering of dangerously deluded or fallacious behavior.
GOLDBERG: We’re in a weird Nietzschian transition moment where victimhood is the way you assert your will to power.
LONG: Yes, exactly right.
GOLDBERG: What this reminds of, because there is something definitely going on in sort of the general left. We’ve talked about this before: All of a sudden, Jonathan Chait is very upset that people are attacking him for being a straight white male. While he was perfectly happy to use that technique against his political opponents to his right, he just thinks it’s a problem when the left starts to eat its own.
Podhoretz’s theory also explains why, as several commenters noted over the past couple of days on Twitter, Columbia’s report on Rolling Stone didn’t spend much time discussing why the publication tossed out all of the basic rules of journalism. Or as Bernard Goldberg writes:
Rolling Stone is guilty of monumentally bad journalism. We can all agree on that. But the media watchdogs are guilty too – guilty of cowardice, a cowardice that is so pathetic that they even pander to liars — as long as the liars are women who make claims against men — no matter how outrageous or false.
If a male college student made up some phony story about how a young woman on campus hit him over the head with a beer bottle, the media, the president of the University, and the police wouldn’t let him get away with it.
But Jackie is off limits.
That’s because in a liberal PC culture, women are seen as victims of male oppression. So what if Jackie wasn’t really raped? A mere technicality. She could have been. After all, rape on America’s college campuses is a “plague” — a word used by a former Washington Post ombudsman on CNN. Except, that’s another lie. There is no plague. There is no epidemic of campus rape. Google “Myth of Campus Rape” and you’ll quickly find serious thinkers, scholars like Heather MacDonald and Christina Hoff Sommers, who put a lie to that piece of feminist propaganda.
What we’re seeing here is how little liberal journalists and liberal presidents of places like the University of Virginia really think about women. They’ll look the other way when they lie. They won’t treat them like grownups who should be held accountable. Because if they did, Jackie would have been told to pack her bags and leave school a long time ago.
And so would plenty of bureaucrats as well, who desperately need to protect their phony-baloney jobs, as a wise 19th century governor once famously exclaimed.
Update: In “Campus Rape and the ‘Emergency’: It’s Always an Excuse for Authoritarianism,” Kevin D. Williamson writes:
Indira Gandhi was considered by some of her admirers — and some of her rivals — to be an incarnation of the goddess Durga. That may sound ridiculous, until one considers that our own republic has its intellectual roots in a much earlier one that ended with the deification of its commanders-in-chief, and that our own national cult — that of celebrity — has been known to sing literal hymns to our inspiring imperators. But gods go astray with remarkably regularity, and that which appears celestial in the darkness often seems to be something rather less impressive in the full light of day. It is for this reason that we protect ourselves with laws — laws that we write down, so as to be able to refer to the text with some precision — and with separation of powers, due process, standards of evidence, presumptions of innocence, and, ideally, with a press that uses its First Amendment protections more honestly and more intelligently than does Rolling Stone.
There are real emergencies. Sometimes, Hitler invades the Sudetenland, or a strain of influenza kills 100 million people. More often, the dean of students — or an insurance salesman, or the president — discovers the godlike powers he might enjoy if not constrained by the boring regular order of American life.
It is hardly fair, from that point of view: When the Almighty spoke creation into existence, He merely said: “Let there be . . .” and there was no pesky lawyer or reporter or skeptical curmudgeon to respond: “Sez who?” But that guy demanding “Sez who?” is our first, last, and only real line of defense. Without him, all of the laws we can write and constitutions we can ratify will avail us nothing at all.
In an emergency, he’ll be the first to go.
Read the whole thing.