The Power of Academic Blogging

I want to say how pleased I am to join Minding the Campus as a regular blogger. My first in-depth exposure to the power of the blogosphere came during my tenure battle, when I received timely and extremely effective support from bloggers Erin O’Connor and Jerry Sternstein. I quickly discovered that in commenting on technical academic matters, academics had a better sense than most members of the mainstream media.

I started my blog on the lacrosse case to perform a similar service; I thought that relatively few reporters recognized how substantially the behavior of Duke’s “activist” faculty violated professional norms. My original hope was that the blog could provide some context to the academic side of the case for the mainstream media, and to bring to light some of the more obscure writings of Duke’s campus activists. My favorite post in this regard explored the slim volume published by Grant Farred—who Cornell quickly snatched up—which preposterously claimed that Houston Rockets center Yao Ming “the most profound threat to American empire.”

Of course, as the lacrosse case proceeded, I wound up breaking a few more stories, thanks in part to the work of the New York Times. The “paper of record” displayed little interest in actually bringing facts about the case to light (since doing so would have undermined the politically correct metanarrative it eagerly promoted), and as a result produced coverage so slanted that virtually every article the Times published was ripe for fisking.

Those looking for more recent quality academic blogging that also impacted public policy developments need go no further than an extraordinary series of posts by David Bernstein on the anti-Israel bias of Human Rights Watch. Like many observers, Bernstein had wondered why HRW—an organization founded in the wake of the Helsinki Declaration, whose central purpose had been to monitor human rights abuses in authoritarian societies—had developed a “maniacally anti-Israel” perspective in recent years.

Virtually alone among American commentators, Bernstein noticed that Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, had made a spring fundraising visit to Saudi Arabia, where she had solicited funds to counter “pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations.” That find—and the incredibly defensive reaction of HRW—led Bernstein to look more closely at HRW’s staffing patterns. It turns out that the HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division is about as balanced as the typical Middle East Studies department at an elite university. In addition to Whitson, who had worked on “Palestine activism” before joining HRW, the list included a former editorialist for a journal that had celebrated the Munich massacre and a staffer who on his free time collected World War II German military memorabilia.

Thanks to Bernstein, we now know why HRW is hopelessly compromised in its handling of Middle Eastern matters. His was a case of academic research put to excellent use.


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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