A one-two punch of editorial cowardice and progressive intolerance has descended upon the Chronicle of Higher Education. Blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley has been fired by that magazine for a short column in which she dared to criticize another Chronicle piece about black-studies graduates and their Ph.D. dissertations. “What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap,” Riley writes. “The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.” Riley may have a point about the dissertations themselves, but the subsequent firestorm of criticism aimed in her direction was apparently too much for Chronicle editor Liz McMillen who fired Riley–after first defending her.
There is no question Ms. McMillen capitulated to the mob. In an editor’s note published May 3rd, McMillen did exactly what editors are supposed to do. “Many of you have asked The Chronicle to take down Naomi Schaefer Riley’s recent posting, ‘The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations,’” McMillen wrote. “I urge readers instead to view this posting as an opportunity–to debate Riley’s views, challenge her, set things straight as you see fit. Take a moment to read The Chronicle’s front-page story about the future of black studies, written by Chronicle reporter Stacey Patton and weigh in. Please join the debate,” she added.
McMillen’s courage was exhausted after a grand total of four days. On May 7th, she surrendered: “When we published Naomi Schaefer Riley’s blog posting on Brainstorm last week…several thousand of you spoke out in outrage and disappointment that The Chronicle had published an article that did not conform to the journalistic standards and civil tone that you expect from us…We now agree that Ms. Riley’s blog posting did not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog.”
McMillen’s fallback excuse for her original defense of Riley? “Since Brainstorm was created five years ago, we have sought out bloggers representing a range of intellectual and political views, and we have allowed them broad freedom in topics and approach,” McMillen wrote. “As part of that freedom, Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley’s post was not reviewed until after it was posted.”
Make that after it was posted and defended by Ms. McMillen. She then gets to the gist of why it became necessary to let Riley go. “I sincerely apologize for the distress these incidents have caused our readers and appreciate that so many of you have made your sentiments known to us.” Thus, reader distress becomes the benchmark by which the failure to meet “basic editorial standards” is realized.
What so upset the delicate flowers of academia? Riley singled out three dissertations. First, “So I Could Be Easeful’: Black Women’s Authoritative Knowledge on Childbirth,” written by Ruth Hayes. In her column, Riley was sarcastic. “How could we overlook the nonwhite experience in ‘natural birth literature,’ whatever the heck that is? It’s scandalous and clearly a sign that racism is alive and well in America, not to mention academia.” Riley then takes on Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of “Race for Profit: Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s.” The sarcasm is evident here as well. “Ms. Taylor believes there was apparently some kind of conspiracy in the federal government’s promotion of single family homes in black neighborhoods after the unrest of the 1960s,” Riley writes. “Single family homes! The audacity!” When Taylor makes the argument that the subprime lending crisis “highlighted the profitability of racism in the housing market,” Riley counters. “Those millions of white people who went into foreclosure were just collateral damage, I guess,” she writes.
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