Ron Radosh

Glenn Beck, Frances Fox Piven, and How the New York Times Falsely Depicts the Controversy

Death threats are no small matter, and are to be taken very seriously. I know how upsetting they can be because in the 1980s, I was subject to them myself. After The Rosenberg File was published and received a favorable front-page review by Alan Dershowitz in The New York Times Book Review, I began to get phone calls threatening my family and me, many of them around 3 am in the morning. One caller told me: “I know where your children live and their school schedule, and you and they better watch out, because we will get you.” I phoned the police who came to my apartment the next day, and we discussed if there was any way to identify the callers and put a stop to them.

Nothing happened, the calls stopped, and I’m still here. But the threats were quite unnerving, I assure you. The threats I received came from the pro-Communist Left, who considered me a traitor for proclaiming the Rosenbergs to be Soviet spies. So I am more than sympathetic to the plight of Frances Fox Piven, who, evidently, has received scores of threatening e-mails from people who do not agree with her politics. The editors of the leftist magazine The Nation, where Piven’s writings have appeared consistently since the 1960s, call her “distinguished professor, legendary activist, writer and longtime contributor to this magazine.” The last characterization is the only correct one, although, I’m sure she is “legendary” in their circles.

According to a report by Brian Stelter in Saturday’s New York Times, titled “Spotlight From Glenn Beck Brings a CUNY Professor Threats,”  threatening posts aimed at Fox Piven have appeared  on Glenn Beck’s website,, although the proprietors of the site have since removed the most offending ones. One of them that Stelter reprints says: “Somebody tell Frances I have 5000 roundas ready and I’ll give My life to take Our freedom back.” (The spelling and capitalizing have not been changed.)

According to The Nation, where Fox Piven’s December 22nd article “Mobilizing the Jobless” apparently set off this controversy, there were scores of postings calling for Piven’s murder, some “even volunteering to do the job with their own hands.” If true, the postings they present are indeed ugly and vicious, and Glenn Beck should command his staff for to remove them all, and to carefully monitor such comments in the future and delete them before they appear. Those responsible for allowing them to be posted should, in my opinion, be fired.

The Nation defends Fox Piven, maintaining that she only supports “voter registration drives, grassroots organization, and when necessary, street protest” and “recognizing the leverage that oppressed groups have — and working with them to use it,” which is “her special genius.” But the good professor has gone way beyond this.  I had discussed Fox Piven’s article in my PJM blog post pointing out her call for unemployed Americans, and those otherwise hurt by the recession, to “become more disruptive” and  emulate “the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees.”

Although Stelter’s NYT’s article purports to be even handed, Stelter puts the onus not on Fox Piven for calling for violence which she denies, but on Beck for pointing out her statements on his Fox News program. And Beck has as far as I have seen not only consistently argued for non-violence in all protest, but has been a strong advocate of First Amendment freedoms and has quoted Piven’s own words accurately and without distortion.

To add evidence of Beck’s culpability, Stelter  cites a demand made by a group called the Center for Constitutional Rights to stop Beck’s “false accusations” against her. While they respect the right of free speech, a letter they wrote to Fox head Roger Ailes says, “Mr. Beck is putting Professor Piven in actual physical danger of a violent response.”

The implication of such a statement is that the only way to prevent such vicious attacks by crazed rightists is to censor Beck. Fox News correctly noted that “Beck had quoted her accurately and had never threatened her.”

One must also note the identification of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) as a “liberal nonprofit group,” which comes after Stelter identifies Fox Piven as “a liberal academic.” Fox Piven is an academic, but she is part of the radical far Left, and she is not a liberal. And anyone who knows anything about the CCR is laughing heartily. You can read a more accurate account of it here. Again, the NYT seeks to provide legitimacy for the criticism by such an identification. The organization was founded in 1966 by four Communist affiliated lawyers, and throughout its years has been consistently identified with defending not only dissenters, but Castro supporters, terrorists, and avowed enemies of our democratic system. They backed the German Baader-Meinhof  Gang and the Black Liberation Army in the 60s, as well as other clients whose politics they approve of, the only criteria they used for choosing whom to support with legal aid. The following statement drawn from the works of Peter Collier and David Horowitz identify its current goals:

Since 9/11, CCR has focused its efforts heavily on reining in the U.S. government’s newly implemented anti-terrorism measures, which the Center depicts as having “seriously undermined civil liberties, the checks and balances that are essential to the structure of our democratic government, and indeed, democracy itself.” “Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the government’s actions,” says CCR, “has been its attack on the Bill of Rights, the very cornerstone of our American democracy.”

In 2010, CCR and the American Civil Liberties Union jointly filed a lawsuit seeking to end a U.S. government program authorizing the killing of accused terrorists like the Muslim cleric (of Yemeni descent) Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual citizen of the United States and Yemen. (The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Awlaki’s father.) An al Qaeda “regional commander,” the younger Awlaki is known to have called for Muslims worldwide to wage jihad against America and the West. His sermons were attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers (two of whom he met with privately) and Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan (with whom he communicated regularly, and whose deadly 2009 shooting rampage he praised). Moreover, “Christmas Day bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab identified al-Awlaki was one of his al Qaeda trainers and spiritual advisers. In July 2010, Awlaki published an article in al Qaeda’s English-language magazine, Inspire, calling for Muslims to assassinate several people, including a young female cartoonist in Seattle and the novelist Salman Rushdie.

Their attitude can rightfully be characterized as support of civil liberties for terrorists and the enemies of the United States, and taking away the right of those who are critical of figures on the Left, like Frances Fox Piven, to be heard publicly. In their eyes she should be allowed to present her views freely — as she does regularly in the pages of The Nation — but those who think she is wrong must end their criticism.

Beck asked: Could one read Piven’s column as an incitement to violence? It is a fair question, and one can answer it on their own, by reading her words and making their own conclusion. Piven says that Beck is denouncing “movements of ordinary people,” and implying that “the massing of people is itself violent.” Hence he is trying only to frighten his audience.

I have read Piven’s column, and you know what my conclusion about what she believes is. I’m waiting for the CCR to demand that PJM now forbid me from writing about Frances Fox Piven.