The Usefulness of the Victim Role

When radical professor Frances Fox Piven said she wanted to see protest riots in America like those in Greece and Britain (considerable damage and four people dead in Greece) academics and academic associations spoke out. Not to deplore her call for violence, but to denounce Glenn Beck’s over-the-top criticism of her on Fox News and to defend Piven’s right to the freedom of expression. Then Piven seemed to gain the upper hand and change the subject by reporting death threats against her. “She has gone on the offensive, frequently discussing her situation in the news media,” said the Chronicle of Higher Education. She also told the Guardian that she saw the threats as “an opportunity to rein in Fox News and Glenn Beck.” No one knows whether these threats were serious and genuine (fake death threats are common enough in the overheated rhetoric of the Internet), but among academics they triggered a strong opposition to violence that had not been expressed when Piven was recommending it. Cary Nelson, president of the AAUP, said Piven was the victim of “what nearly amounts to an American fatwa” as a result of Beck’s attacks.
Carole Patemen president of the American Political Science Association sent a letter to Beck and to Fox News saying that they have a “special responsibility to help create and uphold the conditions necessary for democratic free expression.” With hearty condescension, the letter complained that the Internet “is distributing provocative scholarly speech to millions who had little access to it before, including those with little training in civil discourse.” At least twenty more academic groups are reportedly preparing letters defending Piven and attacking Beck. Why did Piven talk to so many reporters about her fear of death threats? According to the Chronicle, mainly to do something about what she called ” the way the right-wing media has demonized the advocates of the poor.”


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

One thought on “The Usefulness of the Victim Role”

  1. A break! What was Morcambe you middle class nohentrer? Just find some matchsticks to prop your eyes open and write your posts. You have fans out here with withdrawal symptoms.

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