A Last Note on Niall Ferguson

1) Some people don't like the headline I put on my complaint about Niall Ferguson's NewsBeast cover story, which was: "As a Harvard Alum, I Apologize." Sorry! This was in the mode of a little joke. As a writer of Atlantic blog headlines, I now also apologize.

2) As is his right, Ferguson has replied to his critics. As is not his right, toward that end he has flat made things up. For an assessment of the merits, or lack thereof, in his reply, you can look at this, this, this, this, or (astonishingly) this. Here is a part that naturally caught my eye:

The idea of getting a lesson from Paul Krugman about the ethics of commentary is almost as funny as Fallows's apologizing on behalf of Harvard. Both these paragons of the commentariat, by the way, shamelessly accused me of racism three years ago when I drew an innocent parallel between President Obama and "Felix the Cat." I don't know of many more unethical tricks than to brand someone who criticizes the president a racist.

pluto2.jpgNope. I encourage you to go back to the original items. Seriously. Installment one was here, and the followup was here. The point of both was not that Ferguson was a racist* but that he was writing slapdash blather worthy of a shock-jock radio host, and addressing questions miles beyond his area of specialization, but asking that it all be taken seriously because of his academic standing. If you're in doubt, go back and take a look. You'll also see the context of this Pluto illustration at right.

And here was Krugman's response to the same charge:

For the record, I don't think that Professor Ferguson is a racist.
I think he's a poseur.

The most "Aha! Now it all makes sense!" analysis of why a history professor would bother becoming a shock jock is by Stephen Marche in Esquire. If you read only one of the links provided here -- and of course I hope you'll read a few -- I suggest this one. It makes the whole flap worthwhile.
* From my second item:

I don't think and didn't say that Niall Ferguson is a racist. Probably like him, I lament the way indiscriminate use of that label -- or  "sexist," "anti-Semite," now "socialist" -- can shut down discussion.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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