Jon Wiener: Accused of Levelling a "Low Blow" at Harvard Profs

News: The Harvard Crimson, citing interviews with members of the Emory committee that investigated Michael Bellesiles's flawed book on guns, says that the members were not paid $10,000. In his book on the history scandals, Jon Wiener said that two anonymous historians claimed that Emory offered to pay members $10,000. Really, asks the Crimson? “I have no idea if the others were paid,” Princeton's Stanley Katz wrote the Crimson. “Jon [Wiener] never asked me. I would have told him that I was not paid a cent (though my travel expenses to meetings of the committee were reimbursed).” Katz added: “From my point of view, all of Jon’s reporting on this issue was at best sloppy. Lazy is probably more accurate." Mr. Wiener told HNN:"In my book I report that 'Several leading historians turned down an invitation to serve on Emory's external review committee, even though they were offered $10,000.' I did not say Gray, Katz and/or Ulrich were paid that amount, or any amount. Since Gray, Katz and Ulrich refused to respond to my questions, I was unable to get any information from them about their work. I know that other historians were offered $10,000, and turned it down."

Daniel J. Hemel, in the Harvard Crimson (3-3-05):

A small package arrived last month at The Crimson’s office with a slender book and a brief handwritten note that read: “Thought this might be of local interest. With compliments, TNP.”

“TNP,” I learned, stands for The New Press, a small New York City not-for-profit outfit that claims to publish “works of educational, cultural, and community value.”

Given those criteria, it’s unclear how the enclosed book, Historians in Trouble, by University of California-Irvine professor Jon Wiener, passed the publisher’s test.

And the innocuous note signed “with compliments” should have mentioned that in fact, Wiener has very few compliments for The Crimson. More accurately, Wiener excoriates The Crimson’s coverage of a 1988 campus controversy that erupted when several African-American students leveled charges of racial insensitivity against Winthrop Professor of History Stephan A. Thernstrom.

Since Wiener specifically takes aim at The Crimson, it’s hard to review his work without at least a twinge of defensiveness. And perhaps Wiener is correct that The Crimson blew the Thernstrom controversy out of proportion, contributing to the politicization of what was in reality a civil disagreement between a teacher and his students over a course syllabus. One chapter later, however, Wiener gets his facts flat-out wrong when he launches an unwarranted attack on Pulitzer Prize-winner Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the Phillips professor of early American history at Harvard.

One could say that Wiener’s book is flawed from page one, but that would be inaccurate. Rather, the flaws start on page viii, in the prefatory “acknowledgments” section, in which the author writes that he is “indebted” to Thernstrom—among others—for agreeing to be interviewed.

Wiener’s profession of indebtedness is patronizing and disingenuous. Thernstrom, for one, won’t ask for that debt to be repaid any time soon. “I once knew Jon well, but we are not on speaking terms,” Thernstrom said last week.

When asked if he had read Wiener’s book, Thernstrom replied, “I haven’t bothered. I don’t think it would be worth my time.”

Thernstrom’s off-the-cuff assessment isn’t far off the mark. ...

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