The Productive Perils of Publicity

I would like to discuss the issue of publicity and email. It makes me wonder when people are willing to say things in private that they wouldn’t in public, and then cry foul when the things they say reach the people about whom they are said. The publicist is not responsible for escalation in this instance; the original remarks did that work. I generally try, when composing email, to not say anything I wouldn’t want others to hear. I try, actually, not to say anything (about professional or public matters) in private that I wouldn’t be willing to say in public. There is something important about willing to be accountable for one’s views and actions. That’s why I published some of the discussion of the deliberations over Horowitz coming to NCA and why I routinely publish my hate mail.

Here I respond to some arguments that have been circulating about the Horowitz decision. I am not including the emails of those making the charges to which I am responding. So here goes:

First, it is important to acknowledge the good intentions of all of my colleagues, none of whom, to my knowledge, supports Horowitz’s agenda.  I know with certainty that the Forum folks are doing their best to represent the profession and spark controversy and excitement. In that spirit, I do not think that a vigorous debate over this prospect is the same thing as “suicidal infighting.”

It is not clear to me whom is hurt by this kind of honest and public discussion.

Some specific points:

1. On the question of posting emails to blogs, I do not understand the objection to accountability and transparency, if indeed this is a professional and not personal discussion. One need not get permission to reproduce professional emails in a public forum. On the matter of the phone number on my blog, Cindy and I did correspond; I had not noticed her phone number in one of the emails and I promptly apologized and removed it. I don’t think that she was “outraged.”  (Cindy, please tell me if I am wrong.)

2. I never claimed anywhere that NCA-F had decided to pay Horowitz $3000 to come to NCA, only that the group was actually, seriously considering doing such a thing, which I find outrageous. I am not perpetuating any misrepresentation of the process. Of course, I cannot portray it accurately when I am not involved in the process, which exclusion I find fairly insulting given my experience with Horowitz and the very real and serious attacks his work provokes. But it seems to me that the time to get public input on a decision is before it happens. My efforts are motivated by this fundamentally democratic impulse.

3. I have not threatened to attack the Forum. What a hyperbolic claim! What I did suggest to Herb was that I and others may not want NCA funds, to which we contribute in the form of membership dues and conference registration, going to a demagogue like Horowitz. Furthermore, to say that there might be a protest is not an “attack” on the forum; it may well be a model instance of social movement organizing and an exercise of exactly the kind of controversial engagement that the Forum is designed to provoke. Let’s get real-world about this. We who teach the history and rhetoric of social movements must recognize the utility of breaches in decorum. No one is threatening NCA members; my aim certainly has nothing to do with intimidation, but with the exercise of public controversy. No fisticuffs. Maybe a few placards. I would hope that the NCA-Forum folks would see what is wrong with bringing Horowitz in principle. Demonstrations call attention to principles. They are not senseless threats. To cry victim fails to recognize that there is history, context, and reason to my arguments.

4. The obsession over minutiae and the victim posturing of some members of the NCA-F committee distracts us from some of the core issues at hand, namely: What is Horowitz about; what are his goals? What purposes of the NCA (intellectual or publicity-garnering) would be served by Horowitz’s participation? What unintended consequences and harms could or would follow? If it is not a publicity stunt, then what is the goal?

5. Of course I know that the NCA- Forum members do not wish to perpetuate Horowitz’s agenda. That is not the point. The point is that he is perpetuating his own agenda, discovering one or two or ten people in the room whose suspicions might be roused by his charges. I have no doubt that Berube could dismantle Horowitz in an argument—but Horowitz does not make arguments and therefore never faces an obligation to defend his claims.

6. I am the only NCA member personally targeted by Horowitz, and if any other person on the NCA-F had received the kinds of Horowitz-inspired threats (real physical threats of assault and sexual assault, not threats of protests or boycotts), sexualized messages of hate, threats to have my daughter removed from my custody, and active attempts to have me removed from my job, I don’t think the group would be so “enthusiastic” about the prospect of inviting him to NCA. Is it ugly for me to assert this experience? Is it boorish to seek transparency in the decision-making process over something so contentious? Is it self-destructive for me to oppose with all of my breath the implicit sanction in giving Horowitz a platform?

7. As I have argued repeatedly and in many venues, Horowitz knows that he is lying; he actively and self-consciously pursues the culture-war strategy that he laid out in the 1980s—and which was taken up by many powerful conservatives including Karl Rove. He receives hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from ultra-right (not Republican, but nearly fascist) foundations. He is an operative. His goal is to motivate conservatives to stir a false panic over indoctrination in the classroom so that those of us whose politics and activism are visible as such (whereas the politics in the advertising dept. go unnoticed) are at risk. I have dozens of friends and colleagues on Horowitz’s hit list who have felt the heat more directly than I. I cannot express any more strongly how deeply offensive bringing Horowitz to NCA would be to me, and to others who understand more clearly the kind of political struggle—not the struggle over ideas or arguments—but hard-knock struggles for cultural hegemony in support of economic and political elites—that Horowitz has undertaken, and quite successfully. Horowitz is a well-funded and well-connected bully doing the wet work for the powers that be.

We don’t invite demagogues, bullies, and proponents of what Horowitz admits (in places) is nothing short of a new McCarthyism to a polite dialogue. Or at least I hope we won’t. It would be childish to pursue such an ill-advised (pragmatically speaking and in principle) course just because someone like me would raise a (nonviolent and principled)ruckus.

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