Saturday, May 7, 2011

Damn the Facts. Full Speed Ahead

Here is a perfect example of how Right-wing web sites, with the flimsiest bits of evidence, make grand pronouncements that can be devastating to a person’s reputation and career. Kyle Olson is founder and CEO of something called the “Education Action Group Foundation” dedicated to “exposing those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo” and apparently at exposing Reds, Commies, Pinkos and Marxists.

He contributes to Right-wing sites such and has been cited by “Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.” In other words, he is considered a reputable source for information in Right-wing circles. Recently he exposed a college professor who he said was “explaining how to push Marxist principles in public school classrooms.”

The professor in question, according to Olson’s article on Andrew Breitbart’s site Big Government, is a “self-described  ‘Marxist educator.’” Olson claims the professor “explained in a video that Marxist teachers must show children early in their school years, before they become ‘conditioned’ capitalists.  He says this will help form the ‘cadre of revolutionaries’ that will be necessary to bring about a socialist government and economy.”

According to this well-respected “researcher,” a source for Limbaugh and Beck, this professor is peddling “poison that is filling the brains of America’s students and future leaders.”

What fringe Right groups pass off as research is so shoddy and unreliable, that they targeted a man who is not only NOT a Marxist, but a philosopher who was influenced by Ayn Rand. Dr. Stephen Hicks teaches philosophy at Rockford University, and runs the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. He was a Fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and was Senior Fellow at The Objectivist Center. He’s also been a contributor The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

In other words, Stephen Hicks is hardly a “self-described Marxist.”  He is a libertarian.

So what sort of research does Olson do before smearing people as “Marxists” guilty of giving mind “poison” to the young? Exactly how reliable is anything else he writes, if he is so far off the mark in this case? Is his “quality” of research what Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck rely upon frequently?

Olson’s original post was removed from Big Government, but it lives on in the world of conservative politics. Once a false accusation is made it lives on long after any retractions. Olson says he was “advised that my recent characterization of Dr. Stephen Hicks was inaccurate and that he is not, in fact, a ‘Marxist educator.’” He says he asked Breitbart’s site to take the column down upon “further research, and out of an abundance of caution.” Note that the term “abundance of caution” implies he doesn’t actually admit his accusations were lies. He doesn’t say he realized he was wrong, only that he was “advised” that he was.

There is also a major problem with claim that Hicks was a "self-described Marxist." To make that claim Olson is saying that Prof. Hicks has self-labelled himself a Marxist. On what evidence did he do that? Since Olson now admits that Hicks is not, in fact, a Marxist, self-described or otherwise he is tacitly admitting that Hicks NEVER described himself as a Marxist. If that is the case then the only way that Olson could claim Hicks had done so is if Olson knowingly made up a false accusation against Hicks. One can quite honestly believe someone is a Marxist, who is not. But one can't say that someone is a "self-described Marxist" without having read, or heard, the person in question describing himself as a Marxist. Since Olson clearly never heard, or read, anything Hicks said to describe himself as a Marxist that leaves only one conclusion: Hicks made up the accusation without a shred of evidence.

Other Right-wing sites continue to distribute Olson’s false accusation.  For instance, conservative radio station KKNT has the full column on display for all to read. Conservative radio station WORL also has the false accusations on their site. And the Republican Party of Oneida County, WI, has reprinted the accusations as well. The lies live on.

Certainly Olson’s false accusations live on in the minds of his readers at Breitbart’s site, and the other sites that reprinted the false accusation. Consider some of the hateful remarks that were left regarding Prof. Hicks, including some suggesting violence:

• The Second Amendment solves the problems with these Flaming Liberal Anti-American Revolutionaries.
•  In the fifties if this guy said this the FBI would stick a wire up the rectum of his commie cat.
•  This guy is the face of the enemy within. Evil.
• This guy sounds like your typical democrat!
• So Mr. Hicks, why do you believe the free will association of people in the market place is morally wrong and evil YET the forceful imposition of your ideology upon the rest of us is morally good?
• He looks like the guy I decked for criticizing my uniform 30 years ago. I guess he’s trying to get even like every wimpy little snake does, by abusing kids.
• Hey, Commie Professor. How about we just start sending American kids to madrassas, and just cut out the middle man?
• McCarthy was right all along, and we need another Communist purge from America.

One particularly articulate conservative called Prof. Hicks a “faggot,” though his accusation was later deleted.

What is astounding is that the comments continued to be posted long after other readers pointed out the absurdity of the accusations. Any sort of Internet search on Dr. Hicks would immediately indicate he was not a Marxist. Yet Kyle Olson published his attack anyway. It is clear Olson made claims based on little to no actual research. He could not have researched Hicks and still drawn the same conclusions. Olson is simply a hack writer with an ideology, damn the facts, full speed ahead.

Conservatives cry and whine about the liberal bias of the media. What do we call this? Objective reporting? Hardly! It is the typical right-wing bias, which uses flimsy evidence, invented facts, and then combines it with religious dogma, patriotic rhetoric and pretends that this concoction of lies and fantasies somehow reveals “The Truth.” It doesn’t. But it does reveal the mind-set of conservatives.

 I suggest that these sites not only owe a major apology to Dr. Hicks but that they take responsibility for letting out a smear that may never be contained. In other words, I suggest the honorable thing to do is pay compensation, perhaps in the form of a contribution to Dr. Hicks' Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. Given that Mr. Olson and his group started the lies I suggest they fork over $50,000 along with a front page apology and admission that they didn't research the accusations they made. I suggest that Mr. Breitbart's site contribute $100,000 given that they did more to spread the false claims than anyone else. The two radio stations ought to contribute in the range of $20,000 each and the sad little Republican group in Wisconsin, might at least donate $1,000. Conservatives talk a big game about taking responsibility. And they are quite fond of heavy penalties when one does wrong. Here is a chance for them to take responsibility for their own misdeeds and for the harm they inflicted on a innocent person.

However, if I were you, I wouldn't wait for them to do so. Typically they only want to be able to force other people to live up to their standards. When they fail, they have all sorts of excuses as to why their own indiscretions should be ignored.

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