May 25, 2019

NEWS YOU CAN USE: How To Roast Naomi Wolf.

I gotta be honest: as a writer, when I first heard about this, my first thought was, There but for the grace of God go I. That was Alan Jacobs’s too. He writes:

Wouldn’t you — wouldn’t anyone — assume that the phrase “death recorded” means “death sentence carried out”? I know that’s what I would assume. Now, someone might say, “Well, she should have looked it up.” But we only look words or phrases up when we have reason to think that we have misunderstood them.

But Jacobs backtracked a bit when he learned that Wolf had faulted professional historians for missing this “fact” — when actually, they were right and she was wrong. Jacobs:

As I say above, it’s reasonable that the term “death recorded” would raise no alarms; but it’s far less reasonable to blithely assume that all previous professional historians simply missed information that was there to be read.

Sounds like confirmation bias got the best of Naomi Wolf (and, one assumes, her editor). I’m just now starting my next book, and you’d better believe that I’m taking this self-immolation as a sign to be even more careful.

As Rod Dreher writes, it’s terrifying to think of being dunked on by an interviewer with a fact that destroys much of your book’s thesis. And if Wolf was a conventional historian or even a mainstream partisan pundit on either side of the aisle, most authors and journalists would feel much more sympathetic. But Wolf has a long history of crankery and conspiracy theory peddling, and it finally caught up with her in a very public way.

More from Dominic Green at the American edition of the London Spectator: False history from Naomi Wolf and Marc Lamont Hill.

The truth, host and historian Matthew Sweet explained to Wolf in an excruciating interview, is the opposite. The verdict ‘Death recorded’, which Wolf takes as proof of execution, was created in 1823 to allow judges to abstain pronouncing a death sentence. Worse, one of the men that Wolf describes as an ‘executed’ victim of Victorian homophobia was prosecuted, and not executed, for raping a child.

‘Well, that’s a really interesting thing to investigate,’ Wolf understated.

As another legendary fabulist said, summing up his own career, “If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I’d like to break that story.”

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