Who Is Crying Wolf? Developing Controversy over New Program

Historians in the News

Some prominent liberal academics are soliciting short essays from faculty members and graduate students to document a pattern in American history of major social advances being opposed by conservatives who "cry wolf" about the impact of proposed reforms. The campaign -- known as the "Cry Wolf Project" -- hasn't been officially announced. But conservative bloggers obtained some of the solicitations of essays and published them this week, along with considerable criticism.

A series of posts on Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism Web site have called the program "Academia-Gate" and suggested that the effort is inappropriately political. The creators of Cry Wolf, meanwhile, say that what they are doing is awfully similar to the ways that right-leaning scholars have used academic work to advance their causes over the years.

The goal of Cry Wolf is to build an online database of short essays showing examples of crying wolf by the right. If people today are reminded that conservatives in the past predicted devastating impacts from minimum wage laws, or requiring cars to have seat belts, or Social Security, the theory goes, they may be more skeptical if they hear, say, that the Obama health care plan will result in the creation of death panels. A letter seeking these 2,000 word essays -- and offering to pay $1,000 for them -- has been circulating among liberal academics (and at least one who sent it off to conservative bloggers)....

KC Johnson, a historian at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, who also blogged critically about the effort, said via e-mail that it was true that conservative efforts -- such as research backed by the Heritage Foundation -- could be criticized in the same way, but that Heritage and similar organizations "are not majority 'academic' organizations." He added that in contrast, Cry Wolf "is an organization largely run by academics to pay academics to produce work that supposedly reflects academic standards -- and not just the standards of any academics, but 'establishment' figures teaching and writing about 20th century U.S. history.... [T]hat approach undermines the argument that contemporary scholarship about U.S. history and public policy isn't inherently partisan."

The liberal blogosphere is now starting to defend Cry Wolf. Media Matters described as a "yawner" the idea that "some college professors dabble in politics" and asked what the controversy was all about. The blog post cites the many conservative policy organizations that have close links to conservative scholars. Some of these centers go beyond the Cry Wolf model, the blog notes.

Citing the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the blog notes: "These are effectively right-wing think tanks that are actually affiliated with and housed on major universities, and are largely staffed by those universities' professors. Yup, that's dozens of university professors explicitly conducting research on how right-wing 'market-oriented' and 'free enterprise' ideas are correct, and progressive ideas are wrong."...

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