Outrageous!, Columbia style

Readers may recall that basketball great Charles Barkley famously disavowed his own autobiography, claiming that he had been “misquoted” in it. Sir Charles (or someone) aptly titled the autobiography Outrageous! The Fine Life and Flagrant Good Times of Basketball’s Irresistible Force.

Bob Greene declared that Barkley’s disclaimer made him a “front-runner for idiot of the year.” Years later, Hugo Lindgren observed in the New York Times that “mostly, Barkley’s reaction was considered aberrational, something only he could or would do.”

Sir Charles comes to mind in connection with the statement circulated by Columbia College dean Josef Sorett this past Friday. Commenting on the Washington Free Beacon story reporting his running text messages with other administrators revealing what they were thinking during a panel for alumni on the Jewish experience at Columbia, Sorett makes himself sound like a bystander rather than a participant.

In an email to Columbia’s Board of Visitors Sorett claimed that the mocking text messages he exchanged with his colleagues did not “indicate the views of any individual or the team.” Sorett apologized for the “harm” the exchange caused and pledged that “it will not happen again”—though he did not acknowledge his own texts were captured in the exchanges. “These texts are not emblematic of the totality of their [sic] work,” Sorett said.

By contrast with Outrageous!, however, no ghost writer was involved in the text messages Sorett exchanged with his colleagues. Sir Charles’s comment was more plausible than Sorett’s is. Sorett’s disclaimer is difficult to understand on its own terms as anything other than an evasion.

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