Sour grapes

March 27, 2009

So, with Natsu Saito’s testimony, David Lane rested his case.  The last couple of days, then, have been consumed with CU’s case.  To be honest, there really doesn’t seem like much to comment on.  CU isn’t bringing in any new witnesses at all, as far as I can tell, and is instead trotting out the same tired string of Regents and CU administration types who fired Ward Churchill in the first place.  None of them are presenting new evidence. They’re essentially just testifying to their own sense of their own integrity and giving David Lane opportunities to punch holes in ‘em. You can find Race to the Bottom’s account of Wednesday here and here, and of Thursday here.

Unlike the increasingly shrill blamegame coming from the local rightwing media, however, I’m not ready to blame Pat O’Rourke for the disaster CU’s case has been. The fact is that CU’s case has always been tremendously flawed.  Frankly, I don’t see how O’Rourke could have done much other than he did.

Just think, some of what O’Rourke’s had to deal with:

  • Colorado Governor Bill Owens.  Yes, other public officials as well, but primarily Bill Owens.  Any reasonable person is gonna see political pressure in the governor of Colorado calling for a professor to be fired, threatening the budget of CU, making hostile phone calls to CU’s president, and then, suddenly, backing off after making televised allusions to a plan in the works to get Churchill fired for academic misconduct BEFORE any report of academic misconduct was released. It also doesn’t help that Owens can’t seem to keep his story straight between deposition and testimony.
  • CU’s regents. Same goes here. They not only made a public statement apologizing for Churchill’s existence, they were all over the local media expressing their disgust. And then began making almost identical allusions as Bill Owens to a plan to get Churchill canned for academic misconduct. The Regents also have the same problem with consistency as Owens. Again, with good reason. Like Owens, they were doing everything they could to get Churchill fired, and now the consequences of their actions are such that they set him up perfectly for a lawsuit.
  • CU’s administration. Not to belabor the point, but same problem. The statements they made at the time the so-called scandal broke were obviously intended to convey the message to the howling mob that they were gonna drum up a reason to fire Churchill. They can deny that all they want, but it doesn’t matter. They’re on record. And again, that shows in the discrepancies between what they’re saying now and what they were saying then, that David Lane keeps hammering them on. They simply can’t say now what they said then without completely blowing the case, so they adopt mealy-mouthed, nonsensical answers which are almost as damaging.
  • CU’s solicitation of the charges. Contrary to their high-sounding statements of having to investigate every charge leveled against any professor, they went out and gathered these charges, finding just what they thought they needed to get Churchill fired, and then STOPPED investigating further charges. That they solicited charges is undeniable. The CU Law School Dean, David Getches, is on record as having personally asked LaVelle to forward him charges. He claims they were already just palling around and the conversation just happened to come up, but that’s so ridiculous as to defy any reasonable person’s credulity.
  • Mimi Wesson, the head of the committee that investigated the charges against Churchill. Her being named the head of SCRM has gotta present one of the dumbest moves CU’s made in its storied history of dumb moves. It’s bad enough that she came from CU’s Law School, which was a hotbed of very public anti-Churchill sentiment, from the aforementioned Getches to Paul Campos, who wrote a number of anti-Churchill columns for the Rocky Mountain News, but then to have emails turn up in which Wesson expressed an obvious disgust with Churchill kinda buried any idea of objectivity in the process. The anti-Churchill bloc can dismiss her emails all they want, but most objective people are not gonna take a comparison of Churchill to a philanderer, a child molester, and a double murderer as anything but a wee bit biased.
  • The charges. There are big problems with each of the charges. For one of the plagiarism charges, Churchill can show he cited the source properly on numerous occasions, leading anyone to believe that the time it wasn’t cited was a simple mistake. For the other plagiarism charge, Churchill was never named in the plagiarism complaint. For the two charges of fabrication, Churchill can, and did, bring in numerous scholars to say that not only is he right, the complainants are full of shit. That leaves only a charge of ghostwriting, which CU has no prohibitions against. To most people it’s gonna look meager, especially as the charges are hashed and rehashed over and over again over a multi-week period, and David Lane keeps pointing out that this is all the investigative committee could find in Churchill’s 25 books. It looks petty and more than a little ridiculous.
  • The anti-Churchill bloc. Here’s the biggest factor, and the one I’ve enjoyed the most. See, most of the people who hate Churchill hate Churchill as a symbol of something else. So, Vincent Carroll and the bloggers see him as perfectly emblematic of what they consider the worst excesses of identity politics and postmodernism (which they don’t seem to have a real good grasp of). So, they’re always using Churchill to try to prove the general corruption of Ethnic Studies and Critical Theory. The problem being, that they’re kinda on the fringe on this one. They’re never gonna find a jury that even knows much of what these things are, let alone that gives a shit. Moreover, they’ve painted themselves into an impossible corner, in that if Churchill is emblematic of a certain kind of academic corruption, than ipso facto, what he’s doing is by definition accepted practice within those areas of study. The same goes with the Caplis and Silverman types who hate Churchill for his political speech. Every time they pull out their tiny stockpile of incendiary audio, they may incense their base, but they only reify that Churchill was fired for his speech.

Again, this is just off the top of my head, but from where I’m sitting it looks like O’Rourke’s doing a pretty good job.  He doesn’t have a whole lot of tools in his toolbelt. If he pulls in experts to prove Churchill’s historical theories are wrong, he’s gonna have to get in an argument with Churchill and his experts, and it’s only gonna further point out to the jury that most of what they’re seeing are matters of academic debate. If he beats too hard on the ghostwriting or the largely-debunked “plagiarism” charges, he can’t but hammer home how paltry the charges are.

So what should he do? Caplis and Silverman would have him play the incendiary audio. But that in itself would have him foregrounding Churchill’s protected political speech. The bloggers would have him be more aggressive with the witnesses. But think about that. Most of Churchill’s experts are, no matter what you think about the field, experts in their fields. They live and breathe the points that they’re making, and have for decades. Would you really want to get into a hostile argument with somebody who’d read hundreds, if not thousands, of books on a single subject, when you’d only had a year or two to bone up on it on a part time basis? 

Which brings us to Churchill himself. Because most of the allegations have to do with detailed interpretations of American Indian history, sooner or later any attorney is gonna have to mix it up with the big guy on the level, and this ain’t a CU appointed committee, there’s no rule in place to make Churchill shut up. And, as anyone who has ever had a conversation with Churchill knows, there are entire subject ranges on which he can cite nigh every single source available, no matter how obscure, and he can simply bury you with the weight of that reading. Given that O’Rourke is not even an amateur historian in these areas, I’d say he did pretty well.

O’Rourke also seems to have done well, if you take Judge Naves’ reactions to the two attorneys into account. As I understand it, Naves’ rulings have overwhelmingly favored the defense. It just hasn’t mattered to the jury, for all the reasons listed above. And, for the life of me, I can’t imagine how that would change in a retrial. 

Now, of course, O’Rourke could still win this trial. If he does, it will be a monumental achievement given the factors aligned against him. But if he doesn’t, the finger-pointing by the anti-Churchill bloc is just silly. The fact is that they hate Churchill so much as a symbol of their own little obsessions, that they’re incapable of taking an objective look at the case.


3 Responses to “Sour grapes”

  1. […] sonofabitch. Earlier this morning, Dr. Maximilian Forte posted almost the exact same thoughts as I just did. The only difference being that his is post, like, well written and smart.  Go check it out. While […]

  2. […] against Churchill, from a Denver-based blogger who has followed Churchill for a long time, see “Sour Grapes.” Apparently a blame game has started on the right, that seeks to scapegoat the CU defense […]

  3. […] against Churchill, from a Denver-based blogger who has followed Churchill for a long time, see “Sour Grapes.” Apparently a blame game has started on the right, that seeks to scapegoat the CU defense […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: