The Riley Rumble

Last week Henry Farrell wrote about the strange piece by Naomi Schaefer Riley that recently appeared Chronicle of Higher Education. Riley, a former Wall Street Journal editor, wrote in the Chronicle that, “dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students… [are] a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap.” And then the Chronicle fired her. Despite a certain obvious hypocrisy on the part of the newspaper, this ended probably about as well as it should have.

But many conservatives are complaining. Oh the shame. The liberal media. William Jacobson writes at Legal Insurrection that,

This sort of cowardly behavior is all too common. Witness the corporations who run at the slightest hint of a Color of Change or Media Matters boycott. We are at a very perilous period in our society in which social media, a tool which could and should encourage the exchange of idea, serves as a tool to shut down and silence ideas. Conservatives better wake up to this threat, and soon.

The justification the Chronicle used for getting rid of her was admittedly questionable. Chronicle editor Liz McMillen explained that “Ms. Riley’s blog posting did not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog.”

The Brainstorm blog, however, is basically a section for random musings, often unsupported by facts or evidence. What, exactly, are these “standards for reporting and fairness” to which Riley’s article did not conform?

NaomiSchaeferRiley

The real reason, of course, was that the readers of the Chronicle objected. Some 6500 people signed an online petition to get her fired. Riley, sensibly, argues that she was let go from the part-time gig at the paper because “the Academic Mob rules” and the paper wouldn’t “encourage wide discussion.”

Well sure she was fired by an academic mob, but that’s the Chronicle’s readership. It’s a trade publication for academia. Obviously such people are going to object to a blanket dismissal of an intellectual discipline devoted to studying the experience of a historically disadvantaged ethnic group. The Chronicle should listen to its mob; the mob pays for the Chronicle.

Also come on, your blog post was crap. As Hamilton Nolan writes at Gawker:

She is also guilty of an offense that constitutes a very legitimate reason for a writer to be fired: being stupid. Let’s look at a bit of content from her infamous blog post:

But topping the list in terms of sheer political partisanship and liberal hackery is La TaSha B. Levy. According to the Chronicle, “Ms. Levy is interested in examining the long tradition of black Republicanism, especially the rightward ideological shift it took in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan. Ms. Levy’s dissertation argues that conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, John McWhorter, and others have ‘played one of the most-significant roles in the assault on the civil-rights legacy that benefited them.'” The assault on civil rights? Because they don’t favor affirmative action they are assaulting civil rights?

Well, assuming that the civil rights movement benefited black intellectuals in the academy, then yes, people like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, and John McWhorter can reasonably be described as intellectually assaulting the civil rights legacy that benefited them. Yes, they can. That, too, seems very easy to grasp, in a way that cannot be automatically refuted by typing rhetorical questions.

What’s a good reason to fire a writer? When he makes statements that offends the readers. What’s a really good reason to fire a writer? When he pens really poorly argued pieces.

Granted, all writers, even good ones, do this sometimes. I’ve written a number of pieces I’m not so proud of. The thing with blogging is that some posts are major achievements of rhetoric and evidence, and some are just exercises in spewing your opinion on the web.

But when you do a crappy job, you’ve got to be prepared to be held accountable for it.

Sure, if she’d written bad posts that didn’t offend anyone she’d probably still be employed, but that’s why someone gets fired; because he does something really annoying and supporters can’t make a compelling case that he’s otherwise good enough to keep around. That’s just how it goes. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer