Saturday, January 30, 2010

Zinn and the Art of Character Assasination

(click the graphic for the source, the inspiring Americans Who Tell the Truth site)

When I heard that historian and activist Howard Zinn died on Wednesday, I wondered how (or even if) NPR would cover his death. They have quite a track record of glorifying some of the vilest characters of the right (e.g. torture apologist and dictator loving Jeanne Kirkpatrick, economist Milton Friedman, and Jerry Falwell) when their lives come to an end, so I wondered how an avowedly leftist person such as Zinn would fare.

When I searched the NPR site the next morning, the only piece was there at the time was from the AP feed that NPR now features on its website. Though the AP article featured Arthur Schlesinger's snide remark - "I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian" - it did give a fair bit of substance regarding Zinn's WWII service, his academic background, his profound influence, and his consistent bravery in taking on various injustices as an activist. But...

Then came the NPR "remembrance" on ATC, cooked up by NPR history distorter, Allison Keyes. Keyes must have some seriously limited research abilities because for comments about Zinn, she could only come up with Noam Chomsky (makes sense), Julian Bond (okay), and David Horowitz...seriously, Keyes turns to the extremist, right-wing Horowitz, sleazy polemicist "with no...actual occupation" and "no academic credentials" so he can weigh in on the scholarship and character of Howard Zinn. The result ain't pretty. Keyes, dignifying Horowitz with the title of a "conservative pundit and author," tells us that he "calls A People's History of the United States a travesty." She also includes sound bites of Horowitz saying,
"There is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn's intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect," and "Zinn represents a fringe mentality which has unfortunately seduced millions of people at this point in time. So he did certainly alter the consciousness of millions of younger people for the worse."
I'm not of the belief that nothing contrary should be said about the recently deceased. It would be great if NPR's coverage of important figures who die featured honest assessments of their deeds - think Ford, Reagan, Oral Roberts, William F. Buckley, etc. If a person of renown dies, why not mention their accomplishments and their failings. If Howard Zinn were a historian who was inaccurate and dishonest or plagiarized that would be important. Of course, since there is nothing erroneous or false in the histories that Zinn wrote, NPR has to use character assassination to smear his reputation - and that is frankly inexcusable.

Fortunately, FAIR noticed this hatchet job by NPR and launched an action alert, and NPR obviously has heard from many disgusted listeners - judging from its Thursday ATC letters segment.


Xelcho said...


Thank you for posting this. I too did not know what to expect from NPR. I was really surprised that they even allowed Noam Chomsky's voice to reach the air waves. I too feel that content is the real question here, and it would be fitting to have an opposing historian point out the defects if not the outright errors of Zinn's work.

I am reminded of Norman G. Finkelstein's detailed work on Lord Alan Dershowitz, which if read leaves little doubt that the touted Harvard professor followed unusual interpretation of plagiarism practices.

Even their reading of the letters were feeble as the choices were only of adjectives were flimsy, compared to those posted on FAIR.

Nate Bowman said...

For what it's worth, I left a complaint over at the current ombudsman's post.

Ms. Shepard said she would look into it and post next week.


Nice memorial by Bob Herber at the NYT

"A Radical Treasure"

"I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. (He called himself a radical.) He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?"

Anonymous said...

"For what it's worth, I left a complaint over at the current ombudsman's post."

It's worth precisely nothing is my guess.

Recall Shepard's actions in the case of Gary Webb (and even before he died).

Anonymous said...

Anal-ysis from the Ombutt:

NPR always follows the highest journalistic standards, providing balance in all its stories.

That's why our totally unbiased, apolitical, award-winning journalists sought to strike a balance in the case of Howard Zinn as well with commentary from a couple loopy lefties balanced with the comments of a serious expert journalist with slightly right of center leanings.

Translation: NPR is right (as always) and you are wrong (again) so put a sock in it, pal.

Anonymous said...

madchen vapid

Dave said...

NPR's producers still clearly don't get it. Example: in that letters segment you've posted at the bottom there they say "listeners were 'appalled,' 'dismayed' and 'shocked' over our inclusion of critical comments from conservative pundit David Horowitz's in our obituary of Howard Zinn."

Horowitz's comments weren't "critical" at all, in fact... he used his pathetic airtime to make an ad hominem attack on Zinn and then slunk back into the shadows from whence he came. What a slimeball. And the tone of their ombudsman's piece is equally nauseating -- "even-handed coverage of William F. Buckley"?? The whole point is that your coverage of William F. Buckley was NOT "even-handed" in the way your Zinn piece was -- including a right-wing detractor who clearly has no interest in what Zinn had to say in the first place!

Thanks for your great post on this. I'm looking forward to reading your piece on Vietnam and the NPR producer who orchestrated this... It's sad that NPR has made this shift to the right -- I feel like NPR used to be a little more what you'd expect a "public radio" network to be like.

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