Paul Buhle Strikes Out Again





Mr. Luker, an Atlanta historian, was co-editor of the first two volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King. He also contributes to HNN's blog, Cliopatria.

Readers at History News Network know of the charges brought against Brown University's Paul Buhle about the accuracy of his scholarship in political history. Over two years ago, Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes accused Buhle of politically motivated dishonesty and obfuscation of the facts in"Radical History" which appeared in theNew Criterion. Klehr and Haynes repeated the charges in their book, In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage (2003).

In an article for the OAH Newsletter and republished at HNN, which surveyed reactions among American historians to revelations about the work of Stephen Ambrose, Michael Bellesiles, Joseph Ellis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Edward A. Pearson (see: footnote #3), I included Klehr's and Haynes's criticism of Buhle's work alongside the charges against the other historians. Understandably, Buhl bristled at the association and replied that he would respond to the charges"in some neutral venue." Naively, perhaps, I took Buhle at his word and looked forward to his doing just that. Eighteen months after that exchange in the OAH Newsletter, either Professor Buhle has failed to find a neutral ground, evidence to refute the accusations, or both.

In the meantime, additional accusations have been lodged against Buhle's scholarship. They might ordinarily not become known to his colleagues in American political history because Buhle has his fingers in many pots. Of over two dozen books he has published, five are on film history and the latest charges are against his scholarship there. Political historians may not read Cineaste, a journal of film studies. Recently, Ron Simon reviewed Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner's Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002. In passing, Simon noted that the book was"often marred by historical inaccuracies." Books are often marred by inaccuracies, but the mere slap on the wrist infuriated one of Cineaste's readers.

"Martin Brady" is the pseudonym of a Cineaste reader who brings the latest charges against Burle's scholarship. In a letter published in Cineaste (Summer 2004, 68-9), Brady refers to Buhle and Wagner as the"demented duo" and cites over five dozen major errors of fact. Evenhandedly, actors, authors, critics, directors, and producers are misidentified. There are errors of character, chronology, genre, and role. Buhle and Wagner reverse the roles played by Sean Connery and Richard Harris in The Molly Maguires. They credit producer Harold Hecht as the screenwriter of The Crimson Pirate. Francis Ford Coppola is credited with producing Finian's Rainbow. And on and on and on."Sometimes," he writes,"every word is wrong." Wrong on the facts, says Brady, Buhle and Wagner offer critical insights that are surreal. He cites Richard Schickel's review for the Los Angeles Times of Buhle and Wagner's earlier book in film history, Radical Hollywood: The Untold Story Behind America's Favorite Movies. The book, Schickel had said, was"a travesty of scholarly and critical standards." Brady might have cited Salon's Michelle Goldberg who held that Radical Hollywood's critical sophistication did not surpass that of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Buhle and Wagner agree with HUAC, said Goldberg, in finding a Commie under every bed, a radical consciousness in every twitch of character, and Marxist propaganda in every turn of plot. The only difference is that Buhle and Wagner see that as a good thing.

"You would think," Brady continued,

that after being publicly humiliated for the egregious shortcomings of their prior abominations that Buhle/Wagner would make some effort at quality control -- but no. Positively defiant in their ignorance -- and arrogance -- they suggest in their introduction this time around that no work as wide-ranging as theirs"in a field with few previous scholars" (if they ever provided such a thing as a bibliography, it would expose that boldfaced lie) could possibly be free of"wild blunders and risible absurdities" -- an extraordinary promise to the reader they then proceed to deliver on to a degree unprecedented in modern publishing.
For all of its errors, Brady charged, Hide in Plain Sight is"almost wholly cribbed from the work of proper writers -- which they try, incompetently, to disguise by sometimes citing the same sources as those other writers." Where other writers offer citations, Buhle and Wagner get them wrong or seem to have made them up.
Hide in Plain Sight is a compendium of misinformation, deliberate falsification, bizarre fantasy, incoherent writing, and fraudulent scholarship that is nothing less than shocking and appalling. Moreover, a simple Internet search on the subject of Paul Buhle reveals him at the center of assorted academic scandals regarding his other outrageous writings and alleged professional misconduct.

Whoever"edited" this latest atrocity and/or accepted it for publication should be called to account - and so should Cineaste for ... persisting in lending credence to these con men by continually drawing respectful attention to their pernicious efforts -- which will poison libraries and corrupt credulous readers and researchers for years to come.

The film histories of Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, Brady concluded, are"yet more proof of cultural pathology becoming commonplace in journalistic/historical circles." They ought to be"recalled -- and pulped. As for Buhle & Wagner -- it may be that the blacklist is in need of reevaluation, after all."

The author of this attack on Paul Buhle's and Dave Wagner's Hide in Plain Sight explains that"Martin Brady" is"the nom de guerre of a Los Angeles-based screenwriter." He had similarly attacked their Radical Hollywood in Cineaste two years ago. Both Ron Simon, its reviewer of Hide in Plain Sight, and the journal's editors felt that, despite Brady's pseudonymity, his second letter merited publishing because his charges proved to be accurate. The errors he charged against Hide In Plain Sight were only a sample of its"avalanche of mistakes." Simon noted that Buhle and his associates had been" churning out books at an alarming rate.""It is time," he said to them,"for ... you to take a little time, pay a researcher, and get your facts straight." He was equally critical of Brady's pseudonymity and of the farce that replaying Marx v McCarthy made of serious film criticism.

It is conceivable, as Simon suggests, that the most recent charges against Buhle are politically motivated, as he insisted those by Klehr and Haynes were. Buhle cannot dodge these later accusations with that dismissal. Because of Brady's pseudonymity, we cannot evaluate his motivation. Whatever caused him to scrutinize Buhle's work, he found it pitted with blunders at every turn. Buhle's complaint that he is targeted by conservative ideologues is undercut by the fact that both Simon and Cineaste's editors confirm Brady's findings. It is the journal's editors who made the most telling argument. They might simply have refused to publish the letter of a pseudonymous critic, but his litany of charges against Paul Buhle's work was simply too imposing and too accurate to ignore. Most tellingly, they concluded by saying"we feel it is our duty to warn our readers that Buhle and Wagner's latest book, Blacklisted: The Film Lover's Guide to the Hollywood Blacklist (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, also the publisher of Hide in Plain Sight) is likewise awash in significant factual errors and numerous misinterpretations." (Cineaste, Summer 2004, p. 69)

Buhle and Wagner's response to all this criticism appears in Cineaste (Fall 2004, pp. 68-9). Thanking critics for pointing out some typographical errors in Hide in Plain Sight, they say that those errors will be corrected in the paperback edition of the book, as will two or three errors identified by Brady and Simon. Buhle and Wagner challenged 18 of some 60 substantial errors Brady had pointed out, but even the refutations of Brady's charges seems to be pointless. In some cases, they merely repeat that they had written what Brady said that they had written. More importantly, Buhle and Wagner argued that Brady had not engaged their historical interpretation of the films. That might be because he found no significant interpretation of the films that they had not found elsewhere, even in the files of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Despite Buhle's claim to others that Cineaste's editors privately regretted having published Brady's criticism, the editors have no such regret."Cineaste does not consider it petty or flippant," they wrote (Fall 2004, p. 69),"to insist on the accuracy of plot summaries, career summaries, production credits, and attribution of quotes. Nor is poor phrasing or the wholesale misspelling of names and works of art acceptable. The standard is the same as for any other academic discipline."

When I mentioned Paul Buhle's name along with those of Stephen Ambrose, Michael Bellesiles, Joseph Ellis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Edward A Pearson in the OAH Newsletter two years ago, he had the opportunity to step up to the plate and answer the charges against him. Instead, he has studiously ignored them and continued to crank out deeply flawed work"at an alarming rate." The employers, peers, and publishers of all those others who were similarly accused forced a reckoning with the charges against them. They absorbed severe penalties. Why is Buhle sponsored by the OAH's Distinguished Lecturer Program? When will his employer, Brown University, and his publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, or his editor there force Paul Buhle to face the recklessness of his own work?

Editor's Note: HNN showed Mr. Buhle an advance look at a draft of this article. He declined to offer a response.


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Martin Anthony Brady - 1/2/2005

Here's my problem: MY NAME IS MARTIN BRADY. I'm a freelance writer residing in Nashville, Tenn. I work for various publications, including Nashville Scene, a Village Voice subsidiary. I'm an arts and entertainment critic, covering theater, dance, opera, music, and books. I also co-host a local cable- access movie-review program. As far as I'm concerned, I am the REAL Martin Brady, and I wish whoever is using my name in the Buhle controversy would cease and desist.

Dude, get some balls and tell the world who you are, and stop hiding behind my name. It's tough enough to make a living as a writer without having somebody use my name to put forth a lot of contentious crap. I have no doubt that Mr. Buhle is a lousy historian. (You said he was at Brown, right?) And believe me, there's nothing worse than film books that have the wrong facts regarding titles, directors, producers, cast, etc. It sounds like Buhle is a horrible and careless researcher, whether he's cataloging history or movies. Furthermore, I hope he gets his academic comeuppance. In the meantime, PLEASE LEAVE MY NAME OUT OF IT!

Martin Brady
Nashville, TN


Jonathan Dresner - 9/24/2004

Because the debate is distracting us from discussing something productive?

Because internet discussions often get sidetracked into meaningless arguments over lost nuance?

Cramer's explanation, and Kabala's analysis, are quite clear, and if "splitting the difference" were not a meaningful exercise, then the whole debate would have gone very differently to begin with.


Alastair Mackay - 9/23/2004

Dr. Catsam,

> smiles over pizza

Yeah, probably right.

As Dr. Luker knows, I've complained quite a lot about 'civility' on hnn.us in the couple weeks I've lurked and occ. posted around here. It's not really about being a pollyanna or particularly thin-skinned: there are actually deeper issues, ones that relate to some professional ones raised on this blog. Perhaps it will gel and I'll write, and put them out for comment.

Sometimes reading threads at hnn.us makes me think less--much less--of the persons who are choosing to teach and research history. Then other posts and threads make me feel renewed respect for the profession. E.g. Dr. Luker's Buhl post here and some of its threads, KC Johnson's (I'm aware of his hx), some of the threads in response there.

It's a funny peephole through which to look. Surprising to me, the lack of self-consciousness signalled at times by the lack of decorum. As you say, these tendencies are promoted by the anonymous nature of typing to a CRT.

At any rate, I'm glad that my retraction got to you.

AM (phd but not in this field, so "Mr"--but thanks for asking)


Derek Charles Catsam - 9/23/2004

Mr. (Dr.?) Mackay --
No problems. Chat boards, like email, are a notoriously imperfect way of getting across intent and tone. I may well have pushed the envelope. I'm sure we'd have said it all with smiles on our faces had we had this conversation over pizza.
dc


Derek Charles Catsam - 9/23/2004

I will take Cramer as saying exactly what he said. What he said was not only unclear, it was unclear to the point that several of us, reasonably close readers with PhDs, think that he meant what he now says he did not mean, yet even if you read his explanation you can see that he still is pretty unclear as to what he precisely means. And he only made that poorly written concession after Dr. Luker and others called him out. I am not certain why any peacemaker would come in and try to split the difference as if both claims are equally valid.
dc


James Stanley Kabala - 9/23/2004

I will take Cramer at his word and not join your insinuation that he has altered his meaning. I do agree, however, that Luker's interpretation of Cramer's statement was, until Cramer clarified, the most reasonable and obvious interpretation.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/23/2004

You're right: that's what Cramer means. The problem is that what he said lacked any indication of spoken emphasis on "vast"; absent that, the most intuitive reading of the sentence places the emphasis on "not" in contrast to the preceding statement, resulting in Luker's reading.

I'd chalk it up to the vagaries of internet communication, but I'm not entirely sure Clayton Cramer didn't mean it the way Luker read it until Luker pointed out the irresponsibility of that statement.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/23/2004

Odd, Clayton, that the profession is in the process of policing itself in an article such as mine and your contribution to the discussion is more talk about Michael Bellesiles and how he illustrates the fact that "my profession" (I assume now that you don't consider yourself a historian or is the attack an indication that you wish to be one) has "pretty low standards" and "hasn't figured out how to police itself". You simply don't seem to get the point that you are also obliged to standards of evidence.


Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/22/2004

No, my point is that the problem of professional standards among historians is not just one or two bad apples like Bellesiles--a claim that you were prepared to argue against a couple of weeks ago, it seems.

No, this is a discussion about the fact that your profession seems to have pretty low standards--and hasn't figured out how to police itself.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/22/2004

It is, somehow, very telling that any discussion with Clayton Cramer about an article about Paul Buhle must necessarily become a discussion about Michael Bellesiles. That is what I mean about Cramer not having much latitude. It is as if he can't reach beyond one particular to develop evidence from several to many particulars as a basis for his grand generalizations.


James Stanley Kabala - 9/22/2004

I think that I see what the problem is here.

Luker interprets Cramer's statement as "A vast majority are not adhering to professional standards (i.e., 90% or more are not adhering.)"
But what Cramer means to say is, "The majority are adhering to standards, but that majority is less than vast."

I don't want to seem like someone pompous trying to play peacemaker, but I hope that this helps everyone.


Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/22/2004

I will try this again, and I'll make it a little simpler.

If a majority of historians adhere to professional standards, that means >50%.

If the vast majority of historians adhere to professional standards, that means a much higher percentage. Let's be arbitrary and say 90% or 95%.

If I say, "the vast majority" do not adhere to professional standards, what does that mean? It means that some substantial fraction, more than 10%, perhaps, are failing to meet those standards.

Is this clear enough for you yet?

Here's another question for you: why is that it took pressure from popular media questions about Bellesiles before professional American historians actually bothered to see if Bellesiles's claims were fraudulent? Especially because the claims were so dramatic, so contrary to existing scholarship--and so counterintuitive? Yes, it's possible that frontiersmen didn't hunt wild game, or have guns for protection against Indians or dangerous wild animals--but doesn't that seem just a bit startling?

Do you suppose that it might have something to do with the very narrow range of acceptable political opinions within the profession?


Alastair Mackay - 9/22/2004

Dr. Catsam,

On reflection, you are right. I was wrong to characterize your words with "potty mouth." That's the kind of talk that seems too common at hnn.us. I apologize for the gratuitous insult.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/22/2004

How else am I to read your claim on your blog that you no longer believe that the vast majority of historians adhere to professional standards?


Alastair Mackay - 9/22/2004

Derek--

I've said what I meant to say, and I suppose you have, too, though perhaps we are getting off-topic. What was the topic? The post's was Dr. Luker's update on Paul Bulhe's scholarship. Mine was the prospect of remembering to "please be civil" during heated intellectual discussions of matters of historical interest, this being hnn.us and all.

No need for me to characterize your topics, as you expressed them immediately prior. Any readers who stray this far down the thread can make their own judgements as to the respective merits of our jottings.

We've chatted long enough. Last word to you, if you'd like.


Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/22/2004

Actually, I did not say that the mass of professional historians were failing to meet standards. Professor Luker misread my statement. See elsewhere in this thread under "misstated".


Alastair Mackay - 9/22/2004

Derek--

I've said what I meant to say, and I suppose you have, too, though perhaps we are getting off-topic. What was the topic? The post's was Dr. Luker's update on Paul Bulhe's scholarship. Mine was the prospect of remembering to during heated intellectual discussions of matters of historical interest, this being hnn.us and all.

No need for me to characterize your topics, as you expressed them immediately prior. Any readers who stray this far down the thread can make their own judgements as to the respective merits of our jottings.

We've chatted long enough. Last word to you, if you'd like.


Derek Charles Catsam - 9/22/2004

Alastair --
What, pray tell, did I say that was "pottymouthed"? I did not use profanity. I did not dio anything but make an assertive argument about someone else's arguments that are at minimum fallacious, at worst libellous. I do not quite understand why what I said was beyond the pale, but why you can then respond to me with the oh-so-thoughful rejoinder of "good for you." And while you assert that you are not my policeman, that is precisely the role you are trying to play. I've no idea who you are, or what right you think you have to come in here and correct my assertions which you have not actually been able to take tangible issue with -- on the merits and on the facts I am right. thus you take issue with tone with the inexplicable (and contextually utterly inappropriate) use of the term "potty mouth" which, beyone being amazingly pollyannaish, does not accurately reflect anything that i said. Wordsa have meaning. It was evident that Horowitz was unaware of this uncomfortable fact. I suppose now we know that Mackay, when he is not trying to tell others what to say and how to say it, belongs in that same category. Again, you have yet to take issue with the substance of my argument: That it is abjectly idiotic to assert that the academy is rife with Stalinists. I am not certain why you are setting yourself up as the arbiter of what is acceptable, and more importantly that you are worried about my tone, which so obviously offends your delicate sensibilities, rather than the actual issues on the table. I guess you are more style than substance, but with your own hypocritical willingness to call names and toss out sarcasm (not clever sarcasm, but sarcasm nonetheless) revealed, truth be told, you do not offer much of either.
dc


Alastair Mackay - 9/22/2004

Derek--

>I stand by what I said.

Well, you've cleared that up. Good for you.

>What rhetoric is there to cool?

You've answered your own rhetorical question.

>If truth bothers you when it is stated assertively, perhaps you ought to play elsewhere rather than try to police the words of others.

Here's what "ahem" meant--a challenge to learn to express ideas, civilly, here or elsewhere. But your forthright potty mouth is its own reward. Horowitz has his own problems--doesn't he?--but review what
Kirstein just said about him. Do ideological adversaries regard you that way? Well, at least we agree that I'm not your personal policeman.


Derek Charles Catsam - 9/21/2004

Clayton --
Yours is a distinction without a difference in that you do generalize about the mass of professional historians, the overwhelming numbers of whom do good, honest work that means a great deal to them and that they pursue with integrity. Your problem all along with the Bellesiles case has been that for you it was a litmus test for the majority of American historians, which, if you think about it is irredeemably dumb. You were right that the book was flawed and did not deserve the Bancroft and indeed that it ought not to have been published. You deserve credit for that, though the more you remind us of how much credit you deserve the less we are inclined to satisfy your self-congratulations. But the overwhelming majority of historians do not study gun culture in the colonial era and early republic. The overwhelming majority of us did not really weigh in one way or the other. A sizeable number of historians in the profession in the US do not even study US history. yet you tar all of us with the same brush, Americanists who study civil rights in the twentieth century; Africanists whose work is on stateless societies in West Africa; Europeanists whose work is on Weimar Germany. You get the point. I hope. Therefore to impugn us for not involving ourselves in something that does not involve us seems a bizarre accusation indeed. I know very, very few practicing historians who apologized for Bellesiles. I know very many who were willing to let that crazy little principle we call "due process" play itself out. People who pay attention to such things know that due process, even when the facts seem relatively clear, takes a while to run its course. Most of us realize why this must be so. It is easy to indict an entire profession of people for the sins of very, very few. It is easy to make generalizations. But those indictments and those generalizations are simply wrong. They are cartoonish. And they do not reflect the good and noble work that the overwhelming majority of us are doing. That you demonstrably have so little regard for that work is of no moment. That you continue to make those factually wrong assertions has to make one wonder about your own concern for facts and evidence. Lying about and misrepresenting the reality of an entire profession of people does not strike me as a whole lot more admirable than lying about sources.
dc


Ralph E. Luker - 9/21/2004

The problem with your claim, however it is formulated, is that you offer no substantiating evidence. That is irresponsible.
Do please name names and cite evidence of historians "working so hard to defend Bellesiles". You keep saying that I did. I reply that I defended his due process rights. You don't recognize the difference. If Emory had _not_ observed Bellesiles's due process rights, it would have set a precident for _not_ observing the due process rights of _any_ faculty member who was under attack. Why do you need an explanation of that fact?
Unfortunately, Clayton, you're a Bellesiles one-note. Expand your experience beyond that or is that an impossibility? Are you a one-note because that one-note is your claim to fame?


Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/21/2004

By the way, there is a difference between what I said, and what you are saying when you say, "There is a difference between saying, as you did, that the vast majority of professional historians do not adhere to professional standards; "

Actually, what I said at http://www.claytoncramer.com/weblog/2004_08_29_archive.html#109406369180471893 was: "There are professional historians who take what they do seriously, regardless of the political consequences of what they find. But I no longer have any illusion that these 'professional standards' are adhered to by the vast majority of history professors teaching in the U.S."

What you have said above is subtlely different; it implies that I believe that the vast majority do not adhere to professional standards, not that there is a large minority that does not adhere to professional standards.


Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/21/2004

Why don't you explain why historians worked so hard to defend Bellesiles's work, rather than spend even ten minutes checking to see if my very serious accusations of falsified quotes were accurate? Why don't you explain why Columbia University awarded the Bancroft Prize to a book about which very serious accusations had been raised, and which were easy to check?

You keep trying to defend the profession as living up to their professional standards, and yet this was an easy case. The accusations were specific; they involved published sources available at most university libraries; they were not questions of interpretation, but of what particular texts said. And yet it wasn't until we publicly embarrassed the profession in popular magazines and newspapers that historians made even a slight attempt at checking.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/21/2004

I do not know you. You do not know me. I have given you and Buhle the courtesy of not referring to you in familiar terms. When you extend that courtesy to me, I will reply to your irrational ravings.


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/21/2004

Ralph, as I said earlier, your article would have had more merit had you undertaken independently an assessment of Professor Buhle's work. I also have chosen despite your intent to focus on the ethics and professionalism of sniper-reviewers who will not avail themselves of DIRECT accountability. I am aware that the distinguished Professor Buhle responded to the pseudonymous reviewer. I would have advised him not to but I have never met or spoken to him. Perhaps he has caught religion and recognizes that provenance of j'accuse is as important as the content of the accuser. Maybe that is why he chose to ignore an article that is merely derivative of attacks against him.

I would never publish an article which attacks a historian's reputation, REGARDLESS of the circumstances, that relies PRIMARILY on an anonymous letter to a journal. It smacks of Redbaiting McCarthyism. I have not discussed the merits of the charges but the reprehensible nature in which they were levied. Process is as important as content. History has taught me that.

I think it somewhat inconsistent that you chastise me for ranting. Yet you accuse Professor Buhle of lying, "his word cannot be trusted" and state his books should not be read--interesting from a so-called expert ON his books--but instead used "as door-stops (sic)." #42277 It appears that you have a special animus against Professor Buhle which also severely raises questions of objectivity and fairness.

I think you stepped over the line here.


Derek Charles Catsam - 9/21/2004

Alastair --
Don't "ahem" me. I stand by what I said. What rhetoric is there to cool? He asserted that Stalinists are rife in the academy. That is a worthless (and fallacious) generalization; it is a flatulent overstatement; it is fatuous idiocy; it is wracked with paranoia. Since when is it unreasonable to point out abject stupidity and factual errors? If truth bothers you when it is stated assertively, perhaps you ought to play elsewhere rather than try to police the words of others. If you believe that it is acceptable to proclaim that the academt is chock full of Stalinists, than be my guest, softshoe this. If truth matters, than perhaps a forthright defense is precisely what is warranted in this instance.
dc


James Stanley Kabala - 9/21/2004

I am a graduate student in history at Brown University. I do not know Professor Buhle personally, since he is affiliated with the American Civilization Department and not the History Department. Nor I was previously aware of these accusations against him, and I have no comment at the present time on their truth or falsehood. However, I can definitely say that any characterization of Brown University in general, or of the History and Am Civ departments in particular, as "Stalinist" is ludicrous. My professors probably do tend to lean to the left, but they are all professionals first, and none of them want to kill 20 million people, which I would think would be a prerequisite for being a Stalinist.


James Stanley Kabala - 9/21/2004


Ralph E. Luker - 9/21/2004

Of course, Buhle was offered the opportunity to reply to this article and declined. So, Buhle honors only the pseudonymous criticism of his work; and flees from his named accusers. What a lovely illustration of the Kirstein's tribute to Buhle's professionalism!


Ralph E. Luker - 9/21/2004

This rant begins with approval of Buhle's refusal to respond to the article, works through self-glorification for the author's own intemperance, and concludes with denunciations of those who deny Buhle the right to challenge his accusers! Never mind that Buhle has failed to answer Klehr and Haynes in the last 18 months. They are not anonymous accusers and Buhle's right of response has not been abridged. The letter by Buhle's pseudonymous accuser at Cineaste was publisher only after its editors had confirmed that the accusations were essentially accurate. And Buhle chose to reply, not to known accusers, but to his pseudonymous one! Finally, the pseudonymous accuser's accusations were confirmed by known parties -- Cineaste's editors and reviewers. Kirstein's tub-thumping rant is the utterest non-sense.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/21/2004

I'm curious about a code of academic honor which requires that someone risk their career to challenge established scholars, but does not require that established scholars acknowledge and correct factual errors in their scholarship when it is pointed out not only by anonymous reviewers but by multiple, named, and credible sources.


Charles V. Mutschler - 9/21/2004

Professor Rees writes, " 3. How can you tell the difference between an error that is politically motivated and one that's just sloppy? Does it matter? If you only notice errors in scholarship with a clear point of view, aren't you just encouraging really dull history?"

I think there are such things as facts, which stand aside from political point of view. Regardless of how one votes, it is possible to spend the time and do the research to see if an author's stated points are supported by credible evidence. If they are not, then the question of why becomes important. In the case of Stephen Ambrose, a 22 page list of factual errors found in _Nothing Like it in the World_ was assembled by a group of railroad historians. The general conclusion was that the problem was sloppy research and poor editing as he wrote. Most of the enthusiasts were well aware of the limitations of some early accounts, like that of G.M. Dodge, and pointed out that most people doing railroad history had long ago ceased taking Dodge's word without checking against other accounts of the events. No one has shown any serious contention that Ambrose was motivated by political interests, just the desire to meet his publisher's deadline for the book. That still does nothing to improve the quality of _Nothing Like it in the World_ which is not a good treatment of its subject. Then there is the case of _Arming America_ where scholars from both political "right'"and political "left" tried to chase down Bellesiles' citations, and could not find them. Finally the falsity of many references cited by Bellesiles was exposed by an archivist, who showed that the sources attributed to her institution were NOT what Mr. Bellesiles claimed them to be. In fact, most of them did not even exist in her institution. Poor research? At the very least. Given the other claims made by the author which subsequently proved to be false (i.e. the nature of the damage due to the office flood, arson in the history department, and the other sources that no one could find), the question of the validity of the entire book became highly suspect.

I think forgiving errors, especially those made knowingly, is ultimately damaging to the profession, and to the political system. The current problems at CBS are largely of their own making. Someone wanted to believe they had a good story with a clear point of view for _60 Minutes._. Unfortunately, the little matter of veracity of the source was apparently deemed a secondary issue by CBS. They couldn't understand why people made a fuss about the charge that the story was based on forged documents. Hence Rather's harping about how the facts of the case were not being disputed, just the documents. Thereby he was missing the point - using forged documents to tell the truth is, in simple terms, a lie. The September 10, 2004 _Chronicle of Higher Education_ has an interesting article called "Who Cares Abouth the Truth?" by Michael Lynch. His argument seems quite convincing to me - truth matters, and should matter - especially to people who claim the mantle of political "liberal" for themselves. For example, let's look at this week in HNN. If there is no truth, why are so many historians unhappy about David Irving's study of the Holocaust? His books are not dull history, but the fact that they are exciting does not make them factually correct. Personally, I'm much more interested in the facts, even if sometimes they are dull, than I am in an exciting work of fiction. That's why I majored in history, instead of creative writing and literature.

Thanks for reading.

Charles V. Mutschler


Ralph E. Luker - 9/21/2004

Clayton, Listen very carefully. I will say this only once. There is a difference between saying, as you did, that the vast majority of professional historians do not adhere to professional standards; and saying, as Ron Robin did, that, as a group, professional historians are losing the struggle to police themselves. Think about it overnight. When you come back to school tomorrow, let me know if you can distinguish between those two things. Oh, and by the way, do you count yourself a historian? If so, is your failure to offer evidence for your gross generalizations one of the signs that you are failing to live up to professional standards? Got that?


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

David Horowitz stands on principle, is fearless in his views and is as far to the right as I am to the left. He has also been very fair to me. Frontpagemag.com did several stories on me and yet stopped short of advocating my being suspended for an act of conscience. Then on July 4, 2003, I was able to participate in a debate with Victor Davis Hanson and other luminaries on Frontpage.
http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=8746

While Mr Horowitz's Academic Bill or Rights I construe as a threat to academic freedom and his politics as, shall I say, misguided this man would never attack a person, a professor (yes we are persons!), an institution, a left-wing group, the Palestinians, Stalinists, leftists, Marxists without identifying himself as David Horowitz.
Can any of you imagine this conservative savant writing an anonymous letter or giving credence to attack dogs who bite with a fake name tags around their necks!


Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/20/2004

"a) if Ron Robin is correct in his new book, professional historians as a group seem to be losing the struggle to police ourselves"

Gee, didn't you just take me to task for suggesting that the professional standards of historians aren't up to snuff? How many articles have to appear about plagiarism, fraud, hopeless careless, before you admit that there is something terribly wrong with the profession?


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I was thinking of the X Article today. I doubt if Foreign Affairs would publish such a piece today. Of course, Kennan was formulating the policy of containment against Russia--we needed and need one against America-- and was not using his anonymity to attack an individual, unless Stalin counts!

I just wrote a fairly long posting denouncing further this article and its use of pseudonymous sources in a response to Dr Dresner in my article. So I won't bore you with repetition.

Yes Brady may be accurate but I stand on principle. That honourable people do not stab in the back. They stand in the front and confront OPENLY and with HONOUR those whom they wish to criticise and denigrate.


Alastair Mackay - 9/20/2004

worthless generalizations...flatulent overstatement...fatuous idiocies...wracked with paranoia...

Ahem. These are registered comments, no anonymous trolls are posting. Wouldn't our side do better to cool the rhetoric? (Which is our side? Who knows? But everyone can play!)


Ralph E. Luker - 9/20/2004

As I said in the article, Buhle has never replied to the charges by Klehr and Haynes. Buhle and Wagner did reply to the charges by the pseudonymous critic in Cineaste. Cineaste's editors and I found that reply to be inadequate.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/20/2004

As my article states:
Buhle has _not_ replied to the charges by Klehr & Haynes;
Buhle and Wagner did reply to the charges by the pseudonymous critic in _Cineaste_. The editors of Cineaste and I found their reply inadequate.


Derek Charles Catsam - 9/20/2004

And of course the Federalist papers were actually anonymously (or psudonymously) published essays in newspapers in New York.
Further, look how many blogs are published pseudonymously. I prefer full disclosure, and I think that pater does have a point here, but he overstates it given that those anonymous letters are already out there and must be addressed. Of course the anonymous critic could just let his or her name be known, and then it seems that Buhle would have an obigation to respond.
dc


Derek Charles Catsam - 9/20/2004

Yes, Horowitz's worthless generalizations are what we have come to suspect. For what it is worth, and this is, of course anecdotal, I have not known a single Stalinist in the history or politics departments of any of the seven universities with which I have been affiliated. None. A few Marxists, and even not many of those. A lot of liberals, yes. Way too many postmodernists? Sure. But I am afraid Mr. Horowitz's flatulent overstatement is coming across as more and more typical of what we have come to expect from that corner. Too bad -- when he has good things to say, they will be lost in fatuous idiocies such as assertions about the abundance of Stalinists out there just trying to make his life difficult. It is bad enough to be wrong on the facts. But then to be so wracked with paranoia? Well, I feel for him.
dc


Jonathan Dresner - 9/20/2004

Actually, I was thinking of the Revolutionary era, when anonymous 'posting' was quite popular.

Newspapers publish anonymous letters all the time: in the advice columns.

Just a few thoughts.


Derek Charles Catsam - 9/20/2004

It may be worth noting that one of the most important pieces of writing in either American academia or public life, George Kennan's Long Telegram, which later appeared as an article in Foreign Affairs, appeared under the pseodonym of "X."
It also may be worth noting that HNN abandoned anonymous posting only after incivility went so far beyond the pale that the editors decided that people needed at minimum to stand behiond their own names.
This is a rather different matter, as the anonymous reviewer nonetheless has been published and his words are a matter of public record. While I may agree with Dr. Kirstein that it would be better if the reviewer gave his or her own name, they did not, and those criticisms (fact based, by and large) are a matter of public record. That Ralph acknowledges this simpy makes him an honest interrogator. This is far different from simply posting anonymously -- (I assure you that "Ralph Luker" is not a pseudonym -- so I am not certain what Peter Kirstein's argument is, other than that he is clearly unwilling to engage in the facts as Dr. Luker presents them. And if Dr. Luker's facts are wrong, by all means, we all, including Dr. Luker, want to know.) I would love to see a debate about this rather than simply a smear of those who appear to have exposed some pretty serious shortcomings in a scholar's apparently slipshod work. Solipsistically placing one's own experiences as an anti-war protester at the forefront of an ongoing debate is not relevant to this issue. pointing out that the accused is highly respected is also beside the point. Or is it only us peons whose work can be criticized, and once a few books are under the belt, senior people are immune?
dc


Ralph E. Luker - 9/20/2004

And, by the way, Jonathan, Buhle's co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left is Dan Georgakas, who is also a Contributing Editor at Cineaste. With those kinds of connections, you can be quite confident that Buhle wasn't being smeared by political enemies. I can assure you also, from my limited contact with Buhle, that his word cannot be trusted. Sorry you invested in his books. I hope you got them as freebies. Maybe you can use them as door-stops.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/20/2004

Jonathan, Sixty significant errors of fact in a single book! The book before it and the book after it -- similarly riddled with errors. I haven't accused Buhle of fraud; nor have I, as you insinuated, charged him with _any_ criminal offense. You have in my article the evidence, agreed to by at least four specialists, that the work is sloppy, riddled with mistakes. What evidence of that would you find convincing? Or, are you simply determined not to see the problem?


Alastair Mackay - 9/20/2004

In the body of this post, the author states, clearly, the particulars of the Buhle/cinematography case and its context. It is very illuminating to anyone outside the small circle of people who routinely focus on this field.

Generic statements of condemnation or support, however emphatic, don't seem to contribute much to the conversation.

Except, perhaps, one: Thank you, Dr. Luker, for the considerable effort you put into assembling these data, and composing this clear narrative.


Jonathan Rees - 9/20/2004

Ralph:

I guess I have to talk about Paul Buhle now. I own two Paul Buhle books: Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland and the Tragedy of American Labor and the second edition of the Encyclopedia of the American Left (which he co-edited). I can't speak to the CP stuff, but both of these are of great use to me.

In the Notes on Contributors sector of the encyclopedia it says that Buhle "is the author or editor of more than twenty books." Were you refering to Buhle as "cranking out one book after another riddled with these errors" or the well-known stories of Ambrose and Goodwin? Ambrose's problems led to a full-scale feeding frenzy which found questionable passages in just about everything he wrote going back to the 1960s [I remember a St. Louis newspaper article where a college student even challenged the originality of the Lewis and Clark book]. In a week's time, the Los Angeles Times found something short of three dozen plagiarized passages in the Pulitzer-Prize winning No Ordinary Time. Are you claiming the same thing is true with Buhle, that it stretches to all his work? I think you have to if you want to somehow cancel the honors he's achieved, and I don't see that here.

There's also a huge difference between what has come to be called "academic fraud" around here and plagiarism. Examples of plagiarism are like cockroaches. Find one, you can be pretty sure there are many more. It's also one of the few practically objective things we can discuss in history. You can't claim that a cockroach is an escaped pet and when you lay two passages down next to one another it's also pretty hard to argue. When you can do it forty times, countering the charges is practically impossible. Evidence of plagiarism acts as a magic bullet that will instantly destroy someone's reputation.

Academic fraud is something else entirely. For one thing, misuse of evidence is in the eye of the beholder. It also seems to me that academic fraud is a charge to have the same effect as plagiarism (destroying a reputation) without the need of doing the necessary legwork. It actually reminds me of Swift Boats Veterans for Truth. John Kerry is a liar, the tacit argument goes, therefore everything that comes out of his mouth cannot be trusted.

There is a big difference between impugning someone's character and impugning their scholarship. You would have to show me a lot more before I stop trusting all of Paul Buhle's work and hopefully it would be from a few more less-interested sources. And I agree, labeling Buhle a Stalinist shouldn't cut it either.

JR


Ralph E. Luker - 9/20/2004

Professor Kirstein, If you didn't _see_ Buhle's opportunities to respond to criticism, it is only because you didn't _bother to look_! He had opportunity to respond to Klehr and Haynes. Failed to answer them. He had opportunity to answer Brady in Cineaste and did sign a letter drafted by his co-author which Cineaste published. He was offered a chance to reply to this article at HNN and declined. Can you read?


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

Good point. In fact the NYT ombudsperson has been quite critical of "anonymous sources" and has caused quite a stir among journalists.

I do see, however, at least some differences between a reporter that may have to protect a source, and a historian using material from a book reviewer whose identity is concealed and unknown to the writer. When a person critiques another's work through a book review and makes grave charges of error or misconduct, at the very least, the accuser should allow a direct response or rebuttal.

I believe a historian who charges another historian of grave error and misconduct, should at a minimum have undertaken an exhaustive independent verification of the anonymous reviewer's material. I did not see such an effort in Mr Luker's article.

BTW, I am sending this once and have no idea why it may appear twice.



Charles V. Mutschler - 9/20/2004

Now if only the major media would demand that all sources be attributed before they publish or broadcast a story. However, this is not likely to happen during our lifetimes. So why get angry about yet the latest unattributed source?

Charles V. Mutschler


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I do not know why I am getting multiple entries other that intentional.


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I do not know why I am getting multiple entries other that intentional.


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I frequently use Buhle's et al. Encyclopedia of the Left.
It is a wonderful source, rich in coverage and one of the greatest reference books I have ever seen. His contributors are many of the leading luminaries of the field.

At home, I have it next to Zinn's, Peoples History of the United States, and Horowitz's, Free World Colossus. Quite a trilogy.


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

Dr Dresner,

I think the writer sir also "loses" or evades the fundamental responsibility of accountability. I know of no major newspaper, for example, in the United States that would publish an anonymous letter or op-ed piece.



Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I am glad that Professor Buhle, one of the leading historians of and on the American left did not respond to this article. Professor Buhle, if you are reading this, we know about red-baiting, about the persecution of left-wing radicals; we know about Naming Names; we know about HUAC; we know all about persons who levy charges against others, and as a sniper, fire and run and then watch their destructive efforts unfold.

I think only a coward, an individual who lacks even minimal ethical standards would engage in career-destruction efforts toward another person and conceral his or her identity.

HNN does not permit even accurate assertions that are pseudonymous and yet publishes an article that derives its principal information from such a source.

When I was suspended for antiwar protest a huge percentage of those wanting to wreck and destroy my life and career, were anonymous emailers and callers who flooded my university with demands to fire or suspend me.

This historian, this pacifist, this radical, this nonconformist historian denounces and dares any individual to justify such conduct as publicly vilifying an individual without the capacity of being challenged.

This is dishonour, disgraceful and I am ashamed to see such a prestigious website as this allow the dissemination of such contemptible misconduct on the part of a reviewer.


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I am glad that Professor Buhle, one of the leading historians of and on the American left did not respond to this article. Professor Buhle, if you are reading this, we know about red-baiting, about the persecution of left-wing radicals; we know about Naming Names; we know about HUAC; we know all about persons who levy charges against others, and as a sniper, fire and run and then watch their destructive efforts unfold.

I think only a coward, an individual who lacks even minimal ethical standards would engage in career-destruction efforts toward another person and conceral his or her identity.

HNN does not permit even accurate assertions that are pseudonymous and yet publishes an article that derives its principal information from such a source.

When I was suspended for antiwar protest a huge percentage of those wanting to wreck and destroy my life and career, were anonymous emailers and callers who flooded my university with demands to fire or suspend me.

This historian, this pacifist, this radical, this nonconformist historian denounces and dares any individual to justify such conduct as publicly vilifying an individual without the capacity of being challenged.

This is dishonour, disgraceful and I am ashamed to see such a prestigious website as this allow the dissemination of such contemptible misconduct on the part of a reviewer.


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I am glad that Professor Buhle, one of the leading historians of and on the American left did not respond to this article. Professor Buhle, if you are reading this, we know about red-baiting, about the persecution of left-wing radicals; we know about Naming Names; we know about HUAC; we know all about persons who levy charges against others, and as a sniper, fire and run and then watch their destructive efforts unfold.

I think only a coward, an individual who lacks even minimal ethical standards would engage in career-destruction efforts toward another person and conceral his or her identity.

HNN does not permit even accurate assertions that are pseudonymous and yet publishes an article that derives its principal information from such a source.

When I was suspended for antiwar protest a huge percentage of those wanting to wreck and destroy my life and career, were anonymous emailers and callers who flooded my university with demands to fire or suspend me.

This historian, this pacifist, this radical, this nonconformist historian denounces and dares any individual to justify such conduct as publicly vilifying an individual without the capacity of being challenged.

This is dishonour, disgraceful and I am ashamed to see such a prestigious website as this allow the dissemination of such contemptible misconduct on the part of a reviewer.




Jonathan Dresner - 9/20/2004

There are perfectly good reasons for wanting or needing to write something pseudonymously: the only thing the writer loses in the process is the ability to appeal to credentials. Buhle was in no way enjoined from responding to the criticisms in the forums in which they were made, and he was invited to respond to them here. There's no "right to confront one's accuser" in historiography (don't we use anonymous reviewers as a matter of course in article and book publishing?), and if the criticisms are legitimate, then the source doesn't matter.

"Reputable historians" use sources of unknown or uncertain provenance all the time, with appropriate caveats and cross-checking.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/20/2004

First, Jonathan, thanks for opening serious discussion. It's a break from the foregoing nonsense. These are very good questions.
1) I don't think there's any absolute answer to your first group of questions. One big error -- one big enough to throw off the whole focus of the book -- _could_ be enormously embarrassing. But there are a couple of points to be made here: a) if Ron Robin is correct in his new book, professional historians as a group seem to be losing the struggle to police ourselves; b) in the commercial trade, increasingly, there is little peer review going on; c) all of us are subject to making mistakes; and d) there is such a thing as a cumulative weight of errors that suggests that the author of a work or works simply has lost sight of or become indifferent to the ideal of accuracy. I think that most of us struggle mightily to be accurate. It isn't easy. If we were talking about a mistake here or there, there would be no issue. We all make mistakes. Because the AHA has chosen to abandon inqueries into complaints, it appears that decisions about the quality of work in the future will be made in one of two places: the publisher's office or the employer's office.
2) I haven't advocated making mistakes of fact or of interpretation criminal offenses. In some cases, what is a "fact" is disputable. In other cases, such as giving a person or a work of art the name by which he, she, or it is commonly known, there isn't a whole lot of dispute to be had. Single or dual errors of that sort rarely would jeopardize the reputation of a book. When it is riddled with such errors, that needs to be known. When a historian seems to be cranking out one book after another which are riddled with such errors, that needs to be forcefully brought to his or her attention. There's also another point to be made about that: if we reward a historian with a major prize -- a Pulitzer, a Bancroft -- or if we create a platform on which she or he is presented as the author of distinguished work, it seems to me that the necessity of holding that person to account is all the more important. Otherwise, what standards do we have or honor for distinction? So, obviously, I think it's perfectly legitimate to say directly to the OAH "Why in Clio's name would you recommend as a guest lecturer someone who is cranking out one book after another that is riddled with mistakes?"
3) Finally, Your last series of questions is well put. There was clearly a breakdown in professional collegiality that led to the attack by Klehr and Haynes on Paul Buhle's work in the first place. He had made some undocumented claims. They asked where they could find the substantiating evidence. He gave a very general answer. The evidence was not there. In fact, he had made a claim which ran counter to all intuitive _sense_ and blustered when he was called on it. I think, if asked, any of us should expect to show where we found substantiating evidence for any claim that we make. It's a professional obligation. Secondly, there simply _is_ no interpretive sophistication in Buhle's work. Like HUAC, he finds Commies everywhere, but he celebrates them. That's the only distinction. I'm certainly not targeting Paul Buhle because his perspective is leftist. I'm targeting Paul Buhle because our professional organization, the OAH, is promoting his work, as it did that of Bellesiles, for example, and the work is shoddy. There may be some poor smuck of a historian out there somewhere whose work is also an "avalanche of mistakes." But _we_ put Buhle on a pedastal, he willingly stands there, and I'm simply pointing out that the pedastal is made of careless muck.


Jonathan Rees - 9/20/2004

Ralph:

I don't intend these questions to be Buhle specific, but I think they deserve answering if you want to apply your standards of historical scholarship consistently.

1. How many errors does a work need to have before its author becomes a disgrace to the profession? 30? 10? One big one? Who gets to decide which error is big or small?

2. Similarly, what exactly is an historical error? If it's an error of fact, does the error necessarily destroy the validity of the author's analysis? If it's an error of interpretation, isn't the proper response to label it a bad book and move on rather than somehow criminalize bad analysis?

3. How can you tell the difference between an error that is politically motivated and one that's just sloppy? Does it matter? If you only notice errors in scholarship with a clear point of view, aren't you just encouraging really dull history?

Jonathan Rees


Ralph E. Luker - 9/20/2004

You certainly are full of vitriol and other things. Obviously, the use of a pseudonym is problemmatic. Having said that, the editors at Cineaste and Buhle's reviewers have checked the dozens of major errors that the pseudonymous writer pointed out and pseudy is right on target. Would that Buhle could be so accurate.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/20/2004

I reject David Horowitz's characterization of the politics of the Organization of American Historians. His accusation is as characteristically careless as Paul Buhle's recent work is characteristically careless.


david horowitz - 9/20/2004

There will be no intervention in behalf of scholarly standards by the OAH or Brown University because they share Buhle's Stalinist politics (and I mean that literally) and when this kind of choice confronts them politics is the priority not scholarship. Buhle's Encyclopedia of the Left is an even greater travesty than his ventures in film history.


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

The three repeats are not intended. I am done with this. I have to teach now and grade and let the folks take their shot at me. Bring 'em on.

I love to take unpopular positions and love the vitriol.

This is my mission and I am up to it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I find it somewhat contradictory that HNN does not allow pseydonmyous postings on its boards and yet publishes an article that uses a cowardly pseudonymous reviewer as its main source to attack the esteemed historian, Professor Buhle.

I think it is honourable and essential that those who condemn and criticize others do so in a manner that allows for response.

This article is an attempt to confer legitimacy to
an individual who does not have the courage or the decency to reveal his true identity. No reputable historian should use such a source in this manner.


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I find it somewhat contradictory that HNN does not allow pseydonmyous postings on its boards and yet publishes an article that uses a cowardly pseudonymous reviewer as its main source to attack the esteemed historian, Professor Buhle.

I think it is honourable and essential that those who condemn and criticize others do so in a manner that allows for response.

This article is an attempt to confer legitimacy to
an individual who does not have the courage or the decency to reveal his true identity. No reputable historian should use such a source in this manner.


Peter N. Kirstein - 9/20/2004

I find it somewhat contradictory that HNN does not allow pseydonmyous postings on its boards and yet publishes an article that uses a cowardly pseudonymous reviewer as its main source to attack the esteemed historian, Professor Buhle.

I think it is honourable and essential that those who condemn and criticize others do so in a manner that allows for response.

This article is an attempt to confer legitimacy to
an individual who does not have the courage or the decency to reveal his true identity. No reputable historian should use such a source in this manner.