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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Nutty Professor

So there's this lecturer in the University of Wisconsin system, who is quickly getting a reputation not for knowledge and expertise in the subject taught, but rather for outspoken political views--views that some people consider to be outside of the mainstream and perhaps a disqualification for teaching, at least at taxpayers' expense.

That person, surprisingly, is not Jessica McBride, whose unfettered and occasionally bitter partisanship is the antithesis of good journalism.

The target here is a guy named Kevin Barrett, who is a member of the "9/11 Scholars for Truth" (no link to those nutballs from me), a group that does not believe the official story of what happened in September 11, 2001, and instead advances patently false theories about explosives in the World Trade Center towers and government involvement in the plot.

Let me be clear, in case the "nutballs" comment above was not enough: I despise the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

But I've seen two things going on from the press and the Right Cheddarsphere regarding Barrett that I also don't like. One is the smearing of the left generally for conspiracy theories like this among some fringe nutball element. The left generally, Democrats particularly, me specifically, hate these guys. For one thing, they're wrong; watch "moonbat central," the Daily Kos, when someone posts a 9/11 conspiracy diary. Immediately, the post fills up with hundreds of comments, almost all of them from the sane people telling the conspiracy theorists both why they're wrong and where they can stick their baloney. I keep a special bookmarks folder around just in case I happen on them first.

For another thing, these conspiracy theorists distract from reasonable questions about both the Bush administration's pre-9/11 anti-terror activities (hint: there were virtually none, despite warnings by the Clinton administration, a very clear prediction by Hart and Rudmann, and, of course, that PDB) and post-9/11 reactions. There is a conversation to be had, there, and it is not helped by people claiming the towers fell by controlled demolition with Dick Cheney at the switch.

The second thing I've noticed is that the right seems unwilling to believe that anything else barrett believes or does could possibly be within the mainstream, or any good at all. Notice that I didn't--and have never, as far as I remember--called for McBride's ouster from UWM, even though I don't think she practices what she should--if she's doing it right--be preaching. The irony is, of course, that the person leading the charge--catapulting the propaganda, if you will--against Barrett is Jessica McBride. Dave Diamond, in what may be my favorite post on the matter so far, snarkily calls for her ouster:
McBride is saying that she's OK with a taxpayer-funded university firing an untenured instructor for their political beliefs. You know what you have to do, Chancellor Santiago; science demands a test of this hypothesis!
I don't endorse that, though I do think that, as Tim Rock suggests, Barrett needs the kind of fair treatment that McBride gets: This guy isn't teaching "9/11" (though some on the right probably don't see the difference between that and "Intro to Islam," a course he is teaching), where we know he's off-base. Let's see if he can do the job he was hired to do before we drive him out.

After all, I'd hate to see--and so would some conservative blogger/ radio hosts I could name--a purge of the UW system based on how outspoken one is in one's politics.

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