Embarrassing Liberals [With Reminiscence by John]

I missed the notice a few days ago that publisher Houghton-Mifflin is delaying publication of Naomi Wolf’s latest book, Outrages, for the simple reason that it has been exposed as an embarrassing piece of crap. (See Scott’s post “Death Recorded Live” if you haven’t followed this fabulous story.) This from the Times story:

“As we have been working with Naomi Wolf to make corrections to ‘Outrages,’ new questions have arisen that require more time to explore. We are postponing publication and requesting that all copies be returned from retail accounts while we work to resolve those questions,” a spokeswoman for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said in an email on Thursday evening.

I suspect the book will be canceled entirely, or at least pulped in its current form and rewritten for low-profile release next year. If you’re lucky enough to have an early copy—or can find a bookstore that might still sell it to you—hang on to it. It will be an artifact on par with Clifford Irving’s bogus “autobiography” of Howard Hughes.

But one thing I noticed recently that the bloated reputations of ideological lightweights like Wolf are becoming too much to bear even for the usual gaze-averting liberal establishment. A couple weeks back the Times reviewed Outrages, and the review begins thus (with my highlights):

Naomi Wolf’s long, ludicrous career has followed a simple formula. She audits herself for some speck of dissatisfaction, arrives at an epiphany — one that might contravene any number of natural laws — and then extrapolates a set of rules and recommendations for all women. Predictable controversy ensues; grouchy reviews and much attention. Over the years her batty claims have included that a woman’s brain can allow her to become pregnant if she so desires, even if she is using birth control; that women’s intellects and creativity are dependent on their sexual fulfillment and, specifically, the skillful ministrations of a “virile man”; and that writing a letter to a breech baby will induce it to turn right side up.

It doesn’t get any better for Wolf from here. In case you’ve already exceeded your allotment of free Times articles for this month, here are a couple more delicious highlights:

Her first, career-making book, “The Beauty Myth,” is well-known for exaggerating the number of women who died of anorexia (Wolf stated that anorexia kills 150,000 women annually; the actual figure at the time, in the mid-1990s, was said to be closer to 50 or 60). One academic paper found that fully 18 of the 23 statistics about anorexia in the book were inaccurate and coined a term — “WOLF” (Wolf’s Overdo and Lie Factor) — to determine the degree to which Wolf was wrong: “On average, a statistic on anorexia by Naomi Wolf should be divided by eight to get close to the real figure.” . .

This is to say nothing of Wolf’s unhinged public pronouncements. She has alleged the American military is importing Ebola from Africa with an intention of spreading it at home, that Edward Snowden might be a government plant and that she has seen the figure of Jesus while she was (inexplicably) in the form of a 13-year-old boy. She appeared on Alex Jones’s show, and accused the government of intercepting and reading her daughter’s mail.

Throughout it all, she remains impervious to criticism. “I’m lucky,” she said in a recent profile in The Guardian. “I had a good education. I know my books are true.”

When you’ve lost the Times. . .

But Wolf is not the only celebrated liberal fraud who has become an embarrassment too big for the Times to ignore. The anthropologist Jared Diamond has come in for a well-deserved pasting from the Times, too. But this requires a little background. Back in 2005, when Diamond published his best-seller Collapse (it was just what you think—a Malthusian chorus about our impending environmental doom), I wrote over at the old NoLeftTurns site about what I am certain is a fabrication. Here’s some of what I wrote then:

[Diamond] “Civilization as we know it would be impossible without oil, farm food, wood, or books, but oil executives, farmers, loggers, and book publishers nevertheless don’t cling to that quasi-religious fundamentalism of mine executives: ‘God put those metals there for the benefit of mankind, to be mined.’”

[Me] The “mine executive” who supposedly said this is not identified, nor the name of her company. (There are no footnotes or source notes for this quote, or any other in the book.) It is not clear from Diamond’s prose whether this is meant to be a verbatim quotation, or a stylized characterization, The doubt about the authenticity of this quote is deepened by the immediate sequel:

“The CEO and most officers of one of the major American mining companies are members of a church that teaches that God will soon arrive on Earth, hence if we can just postpone land reclamation for another 5 or 10 years it will then be irrelevant anyway.”

Again, Diamond identifies neither the mining company nor the denomination in question here. These things matter. Precisely because Diamond is a bestselling author of considerable reputation, his distortion or invention of ridiculous quotations threatens to inject them into wider circulation. In fact, it has already started.

Reviewing Collapse in Science magazine, Tim Flannery writes of “the CEO of an American mining company who believes that ‘God will soon arrive on Earth, hence if we can just postpone land reclamation for another 5 or 10 years it will then be irrelevant anyway.’” Suddenly we’ve gone from executives who attend an unidentified congregation that believes this to an unnamed CEO who “believes” this. The next short step will be directly attributing this non-quotation to the unnamed CEO.

It is beyond doubtful that any denomination believes as a matter of doctrine the ridiculous views Diamond describes. To paraphrase Orwell, only a university professor could believe such nonsense. Diamond owes it to his readers, and the mining company executives in question, to come clean with specifics about who supposedly said this and what denomination holds these views, so other journalists can verify the story. Either Diamond was had by some woolly faculty room chatter, or he fabricated another shameful slander reminiscent of the [James] Watt remark.

I did not leave the matter here. I sent Diamond an email to his University address at UCLA, and an old fashioned letter by snail mail, asking for a source for these quotes, and as politely as possible offering him a way out of a charge of fabulism if this was second-hand nonsense he ran with without checking. Diamond never responded, so I shall stick by my allegation that he simply made up these quotes. I invite Diamond to sue me. I will enjoy the discovery process and depositions.

Diamond has a new book out, Upheaval, which appears is just recycled from previous material. And the Times book review last month isn’t impressed:

So I dug into Diamond’s latest, intrigued by his thesis that the way individual humans cope with crisis might teach something to countries. Then, before long, the first mistake caught my eye; soon, the 10th. Then graver ones. Errors, along with generalizations, blind spots and oversights, that called into question the choice to publish. I began to wonder why we give some people, and only some, the platform, and burden, to theorize about everything. . .

The book is riddled with errors. Diamond gets wrong the year of the Brexit vote. He claims that, under President Ronald Reagan, “government shutdowns were nonexistent.” But they occurred a number of times. He describes Australian-rules football as a sport “invented in Australia and played nowhere else.” But it is played elsewhere — in Nauru, where it is the national sport, as well as in China, Canada, France, Japan, Ireland and the United States, according to the Australian Football League.

Diamond says a 1976 terrorist attack in Washington, D.C., targeting a former Chilean official, was “the only known case of a foreign terrorist killing an American citizen on American soil — until the World Trade Towers attack of 2001.” This claim wholly overlooks the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, in which six people died. He refers to Lee Kuan Yew as “Singapore’s prime minister,” even though he no longer occupies that role, not least because he’s dead. . .

There are far more of these errors than I have space to list, too many to dismiss this calling-out as nit-picking. And they matter because of the book’s nature. If we can’t trust you on the little and medium things, how can we trust you where authors of 30,000-foot books really need our trust — on the big, hard-to-check claims?

The review goes off the rails a bit at the end, and doesn’t reflect much on the very good early question—why do the Times and other establishment organs puff up these intellectual lightweights in the first place? But it is nonetheless a mildly encouraging sign that there are limits to what charlatans like Wolf and Diamond can get away with. Maybe they can get jobs at Oberlin. Faster, please.

JOHN adds: Steve refers to a “shameful slander reminiscent of the [James] Watt remark.” Most readers probably won’t recognize the reference, but for me it brought back a happy memory of one of Power Line’s early successes. I told the first part of the story here. It began in February 2005:

Friday morning, I was sitting in my office when my telephone rang. On the phone was a soft-spoken man who said, “I’m calling for Mr. John Hinderaker.”

“Speaking,” I responded, in the brusque tone I use when fielding cold calls.

The man said, “My name is James Watt.”

The story has a happy ending: we secured corrections by the Washington Post and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and a written letter of apology from Bill Moyers to James Watt, Secretary of the Interior in the Reagan administration.

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