Mr. Foner Vs. Mr. Horowitz
Mr. Williams is a student at the University of Washington and an HNN blogger.
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"Just click into History News Network which regularly publishes scurrilous, if not libelous, attacks on historians including myself, often with no basis in fact whatsoever, and that's their freedom of speech, but I hope nobody here takes that stuff seriously."
These were the charges leveled by Columbia history professor Eric Foner at the 2003 OAH convention, as reported by HNN on April 8.
Though he was referring to prior statements published by David Horowitz and Ronald Radosh, after the convention Foner became particularly exercised by an article written by Horowitz for his FrontPageMag site, which was excerpted in HNN's "Roundup" on April 8. Horowitz's attack, entitled, "Moment of Truth (For the Anti-American Left)," focused mainly on the comments anthropology professor Nicholas De Genova made at a teach-in at Columbia: "I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus," De Genova remarked. He added: "We have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S. war machine."
But Horowitz's article also included a swipe at Foner, who spoke after De Genova and who, according to Horowitz, did not comment negatively on any of De Genova's extreme statements, though following the teach-in Foner called them "idiotic" and "reprehensible." Horowitz went on to criticize Foner personally, calling him "the scion of a family of American Communists (and American Communist leaders)" and "an anti-American Stalinist," at least during the Vietnam War. Horowitz also accused Foner of a "cover-up" of De Genova's remarks.
Upon seeing the excerpt on HNN, Foner asked HNN editor Rick Shenkman to remove it. Shenkman explained that the piece was merely excerpted by HNN and therefore was not required to meet the more exacting standards of the pieces that appear listed on the homepage. As he observed in an email to a board member who had caught wind of the controversy, "It is not Horowitz's analysis of Foner that is the justification for running an excerpt; it is his attack on Foner. The attack is news."
Concerned however about factual errors Foner pointed out, Shenkman removed the excerpt, not wishing to "pollute the public mind with false information." Horowitz had said that Foner was the chairman of the Columbia history department. He isn't. Horowitz had claimed that Foner is (or was during the Vietnam War) a Stalinist. Foner says he could not accurately be labeled a Stalinist: "I defy Horowitz to cite a single sentence I have ever written in praise of Stalin or the communist system in Russia." Foner also pointed out that his family was "Old Left" but could hardly be described, as Horowitz had indicated, as"American communist leaders":"The phrase 'American Communist leaders' will be understood by every reader to mean leaders of the American communist party. My uncles were leaders of unions, etc, not of the communist party. If he had meant to say they were union leaders or leading historians, that is what he should have written."
After taking down the excerpt we asked Horowitz to respond to Foner's criticism. Horowitz told us that Foner "invoked [Paul] Robeson--a Communist who sided with America's Enemy in the Cold War as a model for patriotism--at the teach-in." and that "Eugene Genovese wrote in Dissent that he had known Foner for thirty years and never known him to criticize any policy of the Soviet Union." Horowitz added that he believed one of Foner's uncles was "the Party's labor historian" and another was "head of the hospital workers' union." Foner told us he does not believe that these positions made his relatives part of the communist leadership.
Foner stands by his criticism of Horowitz. Horowitz stands by his attack.
What we are left with are multiple questions that go to heart of good journalism. Should the excerpt have been removed? Should HNN censor excerpts? Even if there are clear falsehoods, if an attack itself is news, does that give a website like HNN license to report it? And if factual errors are indeed grounds for removal of a piece, is it HNN's responsibility to screen not only its own articles but also those it excerpts? Or is it the burden of the aggrieved party to ask HNN for removal?
To read HNN's official policy, click here.
Your comments are welcome below.
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j horse - 5/17/2003
I too regret that Eric Foner and HNN are at odds. I regard HNN as a meeting ground for the professional historians and the nonprofessionals who have an interest in history. As such, I don't expect HNN to have the same level of discourse as you would find in a scholarly publication. Like you, I wish HNN would insist on analysis rather than allow personal attack, but I suspect, if HNN did, writers like Horowitz and Ronald Radosh would never be published here. I still can't get over a recent article by Radosh (Why Liberal Historians Are Sounding Shrill) in which he implied that Arthur Schlesinger was "anti-American."
By the way, enjoyed your book "Lies Across America."
mark safranski - 5/12/2003
David Horowitz is not employed as an academic historian but he can and has done scholarly writing involving original research ( biographies). Most of what Mr. Horowitz writes now is policy activism but that is essentially a primary function of HNN - publishing op-ed articles on current events by individuals who are capable of giving historical depth to a topic.
Horowitz is as well qualified to speak on modern academia and the history of the New Left as John Dean or Stanley Kutler are to discuss Watergate or White House politics. HNN and its readers profit from having a wide range of political viewpoints and professional backgrounds and attempting to a priori dismiss an author because of either is a mistake. You can seldom learn anything new by only reading those people who already agree with your position.
It is not how we define others but how we address their arguments that matters substantively.
Wilson - 5/11/2003
You guys are the ones monumentalizing the "scholar" label. Horowitz has never published a single piece of historical scholarship. That, to my mind, pretty simply precludes anyone calling him either a historian or a scholar. On the other hand, he has published several journalistic works, a memoir, and some critical commentary on current political debates. As genres, these are entirely respectable and can be executed in respectable and brilliant manners. It's not less than or greater than scholarship or history per se, but it ain't either of those either.
Peter N Kirstein - 5/11/2003
I totally agree with the sentiments of Mr. Safranski. I think HNN is less guided by ideology than the impulse to be interesting--hardly a crime for a "magazine." While I make it a strict policy to stay out of other historians' controveries--I have my own to worry about!--I think Mr. Horowitz's views are worthy of dissemination. They were in the 1960s when he was a major figure of New Left revisionism and should not be dismissed simply because of his dramatic--but hardly unusual--ideological transformation.
One other comment on HNN fairness. They played a major role in public awareness of HAWS--Historians Against the War. They carried their petitions, cited myself and others as members of their speakers' bureau and provided links to their sites. While HNN did not take a position on the war and presented both views, they certainly afforded antiwar historians significant opportunity to express and publicize their cause through their website. I think this is another manifestation of their courage.
Elia Markell - 5/11/2003
I second safranski's point.
Something the prissy defenders of their little inner circles of "real" scholars might want to think about. The price for this self-satisfied snobbery is utter irrelevance. I thought this was the age of the activist scholar, the advocate boldly transgressing boundaries in the interest of speaking truth to power, blah, blah, blah. You pay attention to no one, no one pays attention to you. You can man all your barricades as you please. Everyone else is strolling down the avenues window shopping.
mark safranski - 5/11/2003
After scanning the comments posted here I see once again the dreary assertion that " so and so " is not a " real " scholar primarily because their politics do not suit the tastes of the poster. The Left equates criticism with censorship and asserts some bizarre claim to be the arbiter of who may participate in political and historical discourse. Eric Foner or David Horowitz or Peter Kirstein or myself or anyone else who writes an article for HNN or speaks out on public issues can expect that some people will be critical.
The fact that some posters believe that HNN 's commitment to free and open debate makes HNN a " right-wing " site only demonstrates their own limited intellectual horizons. HNN publishes writers across the political spectrum and will hopefully continue to do so.
Richard Thompson - 5/10/2003
Wilson is obviously unfamiliar with either Horowitz or his work: "If I am not mistaken, he has published a memoir, and many op-ed pieces. Writer, perhaps. Memoirist? Activist? Some combination thereof?"
Horowitz states that he writes on popular culture. Here is a partial list from the bibliography given on his web site:
Student: The Political Activities of the Berkeley Students, Ballantine, 1962
The Free World Colossus, Hill & Wang, 1965
Shakespeare: An Existential View, Hill & Wang, 1965
Free World Colossus: From Yalta to Vietnam, American, 1967
Foreign Policy in the Cold War, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968
Empire and Revolution: A Radical Interpretation of Contemporary History, Random House, 1969
Empire and Revolution: A Radical Interpretation of Contemporary History, Vintage Books, 1970
Empire and Revolution: A Radical Interpretation of Contemporary History, Penguin, 1971
The Free World Colossus, Hill and Wang, 1971
The Fate of Midas and Other Essays, Ramparts Press, 1973
The First Frontier: The Indian Wars and America's Origins, 1607-1776, Simon & Schuster, 1978
Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, Free Press, 1997
The Politics of Bad Faith: The Radical Assault On America's Future, Free Press, 1998
Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, Simon and Schuster, 1998
Sex, Lies & Vast Conspiracies, Second Thoughts Books, 1998
Hating Whitey: And Other Progressive Causes, Spence, 1999
The Art of Political War And Other Radical Pursuits, Spence, 2000
How to Beat the Democrats and Other Subversive Ideas, Spence, 2002
Uncivil Wars: The Controversy Over Reparations for Slavery, Encounter, 2002
The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty, Holt, Rinehart and Wilson, 1976
The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty, New American Library, 1977
The Year-Long Day: An American Dynasty, American edition of “The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty,” Newsweek Books, 1977
The Kennedys: An American Drama, Summit Books, 1984
The Kennedys: An American Drama, Warner Books, 1985
The Fords: An American Epic, Summit Books, 1987
The Fords: An American Epic, Simon and Schuster, 1992
Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties, Summit Books, 1989
Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties, Free Press Paperbacks, 1989
The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty, Summit Books, 1989
Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties, Simon and Schuster, 1990
Deconstructing the Left: From Vietnam to the Persian Gulf, Second Thoughts Books, 1991
The Roosevelts: An American Saga, Simon and Schuster, 1994
Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties, Free Press Paperbacks, 1996
Containment and Revolution, Beacon Press, 1967
Marx and Modern Economics, Monthly Review Press, 1968
Marx and Modern Economics, Modern Reader Paperbacks, 1968
Corporations and the Cold War, Monthly Review Press, 1969
Corporations and the Cold War, New England Free Press, 1969
Isaac Deutscher: The Man and His Work, Macdonald & Co., 1971
Radical Sociology: An Introduction, Canfield Press, 1971
Counterculture and Revolution, Random House, (with Craig Pyes), 1972
Second Thoughts: Former Radicals Look Back at the Sixties, Madison Books,
(with Peter Collier), 1989
Second Thoughts About Race in America, Madison Books, (with Peter Collier), 1991
Surviving the PC University: the Best of Heterodoxy, (with Peter Collier), Second
Thoughts Books, 1993
The Heterodoxy Handbook: How to Survive the PC Campus, Regnery,
(with Peter Collier), 1994
Public Broadcasting and the Public Trust, Center for the Study of Popular Culture, 1995
Public Broadcasting and the Public Trust, Second Thoughts Books, 1995
The Race Card: White Guilt, Black Resentment, and the Assault on Truth and Justice, Prima Publications, (Editor), 1997
The Fords: An American Epic, Summit Books, 2002
The Kennedys: An American Drama, Summit Books, 2002
Immigration & National Security Post 9-11, Center for the Study of Popular Culture,
Contributor – Do these under “Articles” citing actual contribution’s title?
The Socialist Register, Monthly Review Press, 1964
Republic and Empire, Simon and Schuster, 1987
Call to Battle, Tom Doherty Associates, 1988
Nathan Williams - 5/10/2003
You are correct, Mr. Wilson. David Horowitz is not the public. But he has a considerable following, and his opinions, however repellent they may be to some historians, often find a way of filtering down to the broader public discourse in this country. This is why I believe his attacks on historians are worth reporting on this site.
And I do sincerely appreciate your, and others', criticism.
Wilson - 5/10/2003
"Some may wish to ignore public criticism of the historical field and academia in general. I do not."
Mr. Williams, I admire your open-mindedness and celebration of criticism. I hope then that you will appreciate it in turn. Most historians that I know hardly "wish to ignore public criticism of the historical field and academia in general." Most historians that I know are delighted if anyone takes notice, within reason.
But I can not think of many historians who would call David Horowitz either a historian, or, as you do, the "public." Most would call him David Horowitz. Nor was the article about criticism of "the historical field and academia in general." It was an attack on the political characters of a few prominent academics. That's fine, but let's call a spade a spade, Mr. Williams. Finally, most historians would be more interested in a critique of Eric Foner's scholarship rather than a grape shot attack on his family.
Wilson - 5/10/2003
Mr. Zwicky has made two important and related points. One is that it is an understatement to say that HNN has fallen short of its potential. A major dimension of that failure has been HNN's tabloid mentality expressed in the intra-HNN gyration to "justify" publishing Horowitz's error riddled piece: "the attack is news"! Unbelievable!
Perhaps most ironically though, the HNN continues to identify Horowitz as a historian. If I am not mistaken, he has published a memoir, and many op-ed pieces. Writer, perhaps. Memoirist? Activist? Some combination thereof?
I write for periodicals that are not at all scholarly, and I simply can not conceive of an editor saying something like that. If I said that to them in defense of my story, it would be the last job I ever received from them.
Peter N Kirstein - 5/9/2003
HNN demonstrated great courage and heroism in publishing on January 13, 2003 my article, "American Swagger in a Dangerous Nuclear World." It prevented a blacklist of my work and served as a catalyst for op-ed pieces, speaking engagements and a host of other opportunities so shortly after my suspension last fall. I think this demonstrates that HNN is not adverse to publishing articles from historians deemed left wing and radical including those whom thousands wished to silence or intimidate into recantation of core beliefs. Had there been more HNNs in the 1950s, as it were, the tragedy and the authoritarian nature of McCarthyism might have been significantly attenuated.
Jon Burack - 5/7/2003
What, Zwicky actually thinks there are "scholars" on the "extreme right"? And he actually thinks the staunchly Republican Chicago Tribune is a legitimate source on which to base his McCarthyite smear of Pipes. I am shocked, simply shocked. We definitely do need some "mainstream" historians to post more often here for sure.
Nathan Williams - 5/7/2003
I am not HNN's spokesperson, but I can assure you that this site does not refuse any well-written articles by left-leaning historians. HNN is not a large operation and does not have the luxury of a political agenda. If you want more mainstream historians on the site, convince some to write for it.
Derek Catsam - 5/7/2003
Irrespective of iseology, there are very few of us in the historical profession who would take Horowitz's work as serously as that of Foner. As for their public views on issues that neither one can caim expertiose on, well, they are both crackpots. I come cloer to agreeing with Foner, though every time he opens his mouth I question even that.
John Zwicky - 5/7/2003
I'm not terribly interested in criticisms of historians by each other. But, I do think that Professor Foner makes a valid point about HNN. We see plenty of articles by journalists and an occasional scholar on the extreme right, but not much from any one else. I'd like to see a lot less from Radosh, Horowitz and Pipes (whose appointment by President Bush to an important position is opposed even by the staunchly Republican Chicago Tribune due to his extreme views on the Moslem world), and a lot more articles by real historians. Are there no Boorstins or Forrest MacDonalds that you can print instead of these guys? And how about more mainstream historians? IF HNN is present the views of the profession on the news of the day, it should solicit the opinions of historians who have the respect of their peers, not journalists and certainly not partisan screeds like the Drudge Report. Right now, I'm about ready to unsubscribe. You guys showed such promise. But you have badly fumbled the ball. No wonder you're asking for donations, which you will not get from me.
Bill Heuisler - 5/7/2003
John Q has the heart of a lion, the perseverance of Job and the discernment of a jeweler...and it's obvious he really cares.
His reading of Mr. Horowitz's mind was simply dazzling:
He observed, "Horowitz has scarcely a clue as to what it means to be a scholar or an intellectual (or a gentleman)."
One can assume Mr. Q thoroughly understands the rigors of the intellect and the exercise of good manners, and one can only imagine the cerebral anguish entailed in his frequent visits to HNN. Why does he demean himself so? He thinks HNN discussions have a quality-level problem. He's insightful to a fault.
Mr. Q also shows concern for his fellow-man by advising Nathan Williams to read a book. How sage, intuitive and original. But is Q merely a pseudonymous psyche - a copy of a metaphysical reality - a Platonic avatar saving himself until he's ripe?
That seems to be the message, and I can hardly wait.
Nathan Williams - 5/6/2003
Thank you for the book-reading recommendation. Mr. Horowitz may not be a “gentleman,” but neither is one who impugns another’s literacy while hiding behind a pseudonym.
Eric Foner does not "shun" HNN; rather he expressed his displeasure over a particular article of Horowitz's we excerpted. And the decision to run such an excerpt was not to value Horowitz's opinion over Foner's, but to report to our readers, many of whom are historians, the words of a very prominent public commentator towards a very prominent scholar.
Some may wish to ignore public criticism of the historical field and academia in general. I do not.
John Quepublic - 5/6/2003
Independent of his political beliefs, Foner is widely recognized as an accomplished intellectual and scholar. Notwithstanding his publicity stunts and his political beliefs (if any), Horowitz has scarcely a clue as to what it means to be a scholar or an intellectual (or a gentleman). Where HNN fits in is not entirely clear, but the fact that Horowitz is featured here and Foner shuns the place is indicative of the quality level of discussions taking place here. Nathan Williams is of course free to do as he likes, but one suspects that he would probably get more out reading a book at the UW library than "blogging" for HNN, whatever that may mean.
Clare Spark - 5/6/2003
If this discussion is to be more than the spectacle of two prominent intellectuals in the boxing ring with HNN policy somehow at stake, I suggest that historians systematically analyze the role of postwar historians sympathetic to the Soviet Union in creating the major narratives of American history, both in academe and in popular culture today.
And if those who write labor history and head unions are not crucial to the Soviet endeavor, and moreover are not leaders in the communist movement, then I don't know who would be considered significant.
I would also want to know what prewar historians had prepared the soil, as it were, that made the work of communists acceptable and ultimately so very powerful, to the point that such harsh critics of America as Chomsky and Zinn can be mentioned on television or films, with millions aware of, and often sympathetic to their narratives.
Joe Dryden - 5/6/2003
Hear, hear. What you said.
Jon Burack - 5/5/2003
My first reaction to this is to wonder why Eric Foner gets to ask editors to remove criticisms of himself on HNN. Will I get to do this also, should someone respond to this comment with a criticism I thing unfair? And exactly how and why did HNN board members get "wind of this controversy"? What is the problem with Eric Foner simply responding to Horowitz right here as I am doing now? Or are some historians more equal than others?
Also, regarding those "more exacting standards of the pieces that appear listed on the homepage," does that include those like the one by Carpenter today? Exacting? If anyone can find even one factual claim in that piece that is accurate or even intelligible, I will eat my hat! I was brought up to believe that the first principle of vigorous debate was "if you can't stand the heat, ..." What's wrong with that idea?
Jim Loewen - 5/5/2003
As someone who likes both Eric Foner and HNN, I'm sorry to see you at odds.
But how is it worthwhile for David Horowitz to "attack" rather than "analyze" what Foner said at Columbia or has written elsewhere?
And to do so by attacking his relatives?
I have a relative who spent a lifetime working for the CIA. Another who was gay, including while in the military during WWII. Another who opposed the Vietnam War and went on strike as a public school teacher before such actions were common. My books, especially LIES ACROSS AMERICA, arouse some attacks. So why not go after me because of one or another of those three?
Perhaps because it's intellectually irresponsible.
The problem infects your reply to your board member: "It is not Horowitz's analysis of Foner that is the justification for running an excerpt; it is his attack on Foner. The attack is news." We expect more from HNN than this type of "news." After all, the more outrageous the attack, the MORE "news" has been made. We can get "news" like that from NATIONAL ENQUIRER. From HNN we seek, indeed, ANALYSIS of Foner, or of Horowitz, or of other ways that history impacts our world.
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