A Last Note on Niall Ferguson

By James Fallows

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.
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* 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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/08/a-last-note-on-niall-ferguson/261415/