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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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May 15, 2005

On Academics and Pundits


Peter Irons, professor emeritus, political science, at the University of California at San Diego, wrote me about Michelle Malkinís book, In Defense of Internment, which defends the treatment of West Coast Japanese-Americans during World War II. I reviewed the book in the Seattle Times last year. Irons wrote:

I thought you might want to write something about her retraction of the claim in her book (on p. 123) that Aiko Herzig-Hoshinaga, the head researcher for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, "surreptitiously shared confidential [CWRIC] documents" with me. After Malkin failed to respond to an email I sent her several months ago, in which I told her this claim was untrue, I emailed her again this week, repeating my demand that she retract this claim, which bordered on defamation. Much to my surprise, she promptly agreed, and notified her publisher, Regnery (a leading right-wing house) to excise the claim from future editions. Malkin also retracted the claim on her personal blog, at michellemalkin.comÖ To my knowledge, this is the first time Malkin has retracted any claims in her book, other than minor factual errors (dates, etc.).

Irons invites me to write about this. I responded:

I understand that it is an important matter to you, because the book mentions your name. The closest I ever got to your position was having one of my book reviews turned around backwards by Ann Coulter in Treason--essentially she said the Seattle Times had denied that Judith Coplon had been a Soviet spy, when my review had said the opposite--and Coulter mentioned my name only in an endnote, not in the main text. Still I was sore about it. In an email I asked her to do what Michelle Malkin has volunteered to do, which is to make a small change in later editions. Coulter did not reply, and did not make any change in the paperback edition, which came out well after my email to her. So think I understand your feelings on this.

If my review had mentioned you, or the matter at all, I would be obliged to write something. But it didn't. Nor was the matter a crucial part of the book--that is, the thesis of the book does not stand or fall on whether Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga shared documents "surreptitiously" with you. And I argued in the review that Malkin's book as a whole did not make its case.

I want to express some sympathy for Malkin here. She is a political pundit--an "unabashed right-wing columnist", as you say--who gets paid only for what she writes, and she has to satisfy a public that likes strong and definite opinions about a wide range of topics that are in the public eye. She cannot be expected to follow the same standards as an academic who makes a study of a narrow subject, usually for several years, and publishes it through a university press, all while being protected by tenure and supported through teaching. That doesn't absolve a pundit from responsibility for mistakes, but you can't expect the same depth of verification. I think you should be satisfied with Malkin's quick agreement to acknowledge a mistake, post it on her web page and change future editions.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at May 15, 2005 11:09 AM



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