MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Charles Murray’s Attackers:
What happened to Charles Murray at Middlebury was an affront to academic freedom, democratic norms, freedom of speech, and basic manners. The mob action was, in a word, fascistic—extrajudicial, intolerant, irrational, violent, rooted in a politics of identity. Such incidents on university campuses have become a microcosm of disturbing trends in American society at large. All the vectors of our culture are fissiparous. “In the mid-1990s,” Murray wrote, “I could count on students who had wanted to listen to start yelling at the protesters after a certain point, ‘Sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say.’” Now the intellectually curious are afraid to speak up. Unwelcome guests are run out of town.
And the coverage of all this has been terrible.
Murray’s hometown paper, the Washington Post, ran stories of the episode that accepted the radical worldview of the mob. The night of the attack, the Post carried an AP story with a headline that read “College students protest speaker branded white nationalist.” The unidentified correspondent wrote that “hundreds of Vermont college students have protested a lecture by a speaker they call a white nationalist.” Not until the second paragraph did the reader learn that this “white nationalist” was Murray, who has occupied a prestigious chair at the American Enterprise Institute for decades, written not one but three hugely influential books (Losing Ground, The Bell Curve, and Coming Apart), and has long argued for a classically liberal society in which every individual is subject to the impartial administration of justice. To equate Murray with the neo-Nazis of Stormfront or the ethnocentrism of Richard Spencer is not only baseless. It’s defamatory.
On March 4, the Post carried a subsequent AP story. The picture accompanying this article was captioned, “Hundreds of college students on Thursday protested a lecture by a speaker they call a white nationalist.” The lead ran as follows: “A libertarian author who has been called a white nationalist said college students who protested his lecture this week were ‘scary.’”
So much is wrong with that sentence. Notice the evasion implicit in the use of the passive voice. It’s not AP calling Murray a white nationalist. No, AP is just reporting that he has been called that. Notice how the reporter defines deviancy down by referring to “college students who protested.” What happened at Middlebury wasn’t a protest. It was an assault. And notice how the reporter, from the safe space of anonymity, uses scare quotes to trivialize Murray’s characterization of the mob as frightening. Maybe the reporter would be scared too if he or she were an invited guest of a student group who had to escape from an Orwellian orgy of hate under threat of physical attack by masked men. Just a thought.
The left will miss civility when it’s gone. They’re happy now while its disappearance is one-sided. That won’t last.
Related: Middlebury Agonistes:
Nice to know the APSA draws the line against violence. I am sure this was a tough call for them. Probably had to have a lot of meetings to think it through. Notice what is conspicuously missing from this statement: any reference to the downshouting or disinviting of conservative speakers that has run rampant on campus. It would seem the APSA tacitly accepts this practice. It’s only the violence they object to. How bold of them.
Well, people on the right will have to deploy these ‘accepted’ approaches before anything is done, I guess. It’s the hair-pulling lesson.