I'm off later today to Duke for this weekend's conference on Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices, where Steve Calabresi and I will be presenting our paper advocating a constitutional amendment for 18 year term limits.
On Wednesday, I presented at the University of Wisconsin on the scandal involving Michael Bellesiles' Arming America. One of my favorite bloggers, Ann Althouse, was there, as was her colleague Gordon Smith, whom I hadn't met before. Both were very charming and interesting, and every seat in the room was taken. Ann blogged about the talk on Althouse and Gordon blogged about it on Conglomerate. Glenn links to Gordon.
Gordon reviews some of my arguments and mentions a Wonkette angle. As I told the group, Ana Marie Cox (Wonkette) was the reporter assigned by the Chronicle of Higher Education to do an in-depth story on Bellesiles in late August/early September 2001. In 2001, the Chronicle was vigorously defending Bellesiles and was willing to print as fact ridiculous stories that he told them. Much later a Chronicle reporter privately apologized to me, and said that they were taken in and had gotten the story all wrong.
At the time, however, they were Bellesiles's strongest supporters in the press. Cox is very smart and well educated, so despite the Chronicle's strong editorial bias, I decided to try to get her to examine the evidence, not just guess at what was going on, as most historians were doing. The Boston Globe and the National Review were also working on major stories at the time. The Globe reporter actually went to Vermont to check out our claims and won a prize for confirming our research.
I sent Cox copies of probably over 100 records that Bellesiles cited so that she could see a dozen examples supporting each and every major claim that we were making in our scholarly article, at least where the documents Bellesiles claimed to have read actually were in existence. Cox interviewed me several times for extended periods of time, as she almost certainly interviewed Bellesiles as well. I believe that Cox was beginning to understand the major problems with the book, though she never actually said that to me. Suddenly, Cox called me crying, saying she had been fired and taken off the story for the rest of her time there. Although she said that the`stated reason was that they were unhappy with a previous story, I suspect that she didn't actually believe this, nor would that have necessitated removing her from the Bellesiles story before she left the Chronicle. I strongly suspected that Cox was fired because she was getting too close to writing the truth about Bellesiles.
So then the Chronicle took over Cox's story and wrote a pro-Bellesiles story (including swallowing Bellesiles's ludicrous claim that someone had hacked his website, removing true data that did NOT support his book, replacing it with phony data that did support the book, including listing a book of 18th century pornography in a probate inventory of assets). Unfortunately for Bellesiles, I had downloaded his website the day before the weekend he claimed to have discovered the porn, the weekend on which he claimed to have discovered the porn, and the Monday morning AFTER the weekend on which he claimed to have discovered the porn. Indeed, some of the probate lists were still up on his site even after the Chronicle ran its story. Guess what? No porn listed. Emory, which obviously could track uploads to his site, did an internal investigation, which apparently went just as badly for him as all the other internal and external Emory investigations.
The Chronicle story also claimed falsely that I was unavailable for comment, even though I had spent perhaps 90 minutes being interviewed several times by Cox in the 2-3 weeks that the story was in development, and no other reporter had left any messages for me, a fact that the Chronicle reporter whose byline appeared on the story admitted to me (though the new reporter said she called). Cox apologized profusely for the falsehood, but she had been pulled from the story, so there was nothing she could do. I had hoped that the Chronicle would correct their falsehood about not having talked to me, but instead they repeated it again in response to a letter to the editor from Joyce Malcolm. They also strategically edited out of Randy Barnett's very short letter to the editor his sentence pointing out how unlikely it was that Bellesiles would post true data NOT supporting Arming America and then a hacker would replace it with false data supporting Arming America.
UPDATE: Eurgene has kindly posted a response from Bill Horne, managing editor of the Chronicle. I'll have more on this when I get a chance. Also, Ana Marie Cox emailed and we spoke briefly. She was generally supportive of my story but wanted to note that she was not actually fired from the Chronicle. She was told she would be fired, and then she resigned.