On February 2013, the small, elite, ultra-liberal arts (both ultra liberal and ultra-arty) campus of Oberlin College was horrified by a series of racist and anti-Semitic posters, graffiti and anonymous emails. The classes were cancelled for intense self-examination and soul-searching; the news media reported on the shocking episode with dire reflections upon the increasing racial tensions in the U.S. Progressive pundits went further, flogging the story as proof of the assault on minority rights from the right, sparked by their rejection of a black President. From BET’s commentary on the Oberlin incidents:
“The sad truth is that the infection of intolerance is pervasive in American society in the age of Obama. We’re living in an era when Supreme Court justices consider the right to vote for African-Americans to be a form of “racial entitlement.” We’re in a period where Republican candidates for president cavalierly refer to the nation’s first Black commander-in-chief as the “food stamp president.” This is the period in American history that has seen the most highly orchestrated assault on minority voting since the end of Reconstruction. And in the midst of it are Republican elected officials boasting about it.in which two students made seemingly racist and other such for the purpose of getting a reaction on campus, not because they believed the hostile messages. At least one of the two was an Obama supporter with strong progressive, anti-racist politics.”
It has now been conclusively confirmed by investigative reporters and bloggers that the perpetrators of the wave of apparent racial hate were two students, inseparable friends, who were not conservatives, Republicans or racists, but “pranksters” and provocateurs, who engaged in the conduct to see how the campus would “over-react.” One of the students, Dylan Bleier, had organized a voter drive for President Obama in 2008. His Facebook page announced him as a supporter of the ACLU, a Democrat, a member of the Green Party, and someone who placed “civil rights” at the top if his interests and priorities. This means that there was not an outbreak of racism on one of the most liberal college campuses in America, but that two progressive students set out to make it seem that way—it was essentially a prank. Yet while the eager news media was using the manufactured incidents to manufacture fear and outrage over the escalation of white racial hate the culture, Oberlin police and administrators discovered who the merry pranksters were and kicked them off campus. Administrators did not bother to alert the media that the graffiti and posters were the work of good, liberal students, even as their school was being dissected as the latest infection point of the virulent racist virus.
That’s the short version: you can and should read the whole disturbing story on the two websites—yes, they are conservative websites, but it isn’t their fault that their Left-biased competition didn’t do their jobs—that helped discover the hoax and break the story: The Daily Caller, here, and Legal Insurrection, here.
This is essentially a full-blown Ethics Train Wreck that seemingly appeared out of nowhere rather than developing in visible stages, like most of them do. The stage that hasn’t developed yet, but I think it will, is the Tawana Brawley stage, where all of the eager America-bashers and anti-white racists react by say that this incident may have been a hoax, but the indictments of the culture, conservatives and Republicans it was used to bolster is still valid, while ignoring the less convenient implications of the incident.
I offer these observations about the incident and its participants. [Full disclosure: I really, really wanted to go to Oberlin. It was my first choice for college; I visited the campus, and thought it was gorgeous. It turned me down flat. A long time ago, my bitterness turned to gratitude.]
- The two students, Dylan Bleier and Matt Alden, have the ethical instincts of Nathan Leopold and Dickie Loeb, or the killers of the Australian jogger; they just didn’t happen to kill anybody. The astounding arrogance and cold-blooded callousness of these “progressive” students, who not only set out to cause others pain and humiliation, but to target the very people they supposedly care about most is hard for me to wrap my mind around. The character of such young men must be deeply scarred, and they deserve every bit of exposure and disgrace that the media and web can muster. Some “mistakes” need to haunt the perpetrators for a very long time, perhaps forever. To link to another debate here, I would not want to trust Alden and Bleier with employment; indeed, I would not want to live near either of them, for fear of what else they might think is amusing. Do I think people have a right to know what kind of sociopathic creeps they are starting a relationship with before they hire Alden and Bleier, or accept them as students in their school? Yes, I do.
- As Professor Jacobson demonstrates, Oberlin and its president, Marvin Krislov, knew who the culprits were before the end of February, yet still presented to the country the appearance and puzzled indignation of a campus under siege by unknown racists. The school even contacted the FBI after identifying Bleier and Alden. Why? What possible justification can they offer for this deception? Was the school trying to protect the students, or its reputation, while MSNBC talking heads were using the hoax to tar their partisan adversaries? Professor Jacobson asks the pertinent question of what the Board of Trustees knew about the facts and if they, like Krislov, allowed the hoax to be represented as something very different in the news media until six months later. He suggest that if they did know, they should be replaced, and he is right. That would just be a starting place, however. A school that handles an incident this way, remaining mum while a lie gallops around the world, has cultural problems that won’t be solved by a changing of the guard.
- While the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the news networks and all the usual major news media outlets covered the original incident when they thought it was a fresh and significant outbreak of racism in an unlikely place, none of these has covered that discovery that it was a hoax, at least not yet. No. it is only being covered by “conservative” news sources, which of course also means that if you tell the story, you must be conservative too. This is not responsible journalism, competent journalism, fair journalism or useful journalism. It is biased, divisive and unethical journalism.
- If you think I’m going to connect this episode to the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman fiasco, you are correct. The news media, Democrats and race-grievance activists dearly want to prove the nation is racially divided, and want to show that prejudice against blacks, and the social, economic and cultural handicaps that result from it, are as bad as possible. Thus they uncritically accept slanted, unreliable or outright false characterizations of incidents that can be used to further that objective. When the useful incident proves to be more complex and less damning than they had thought (and hoped), the activists do everything they can to blur the facts and continue the narrative. This is what happened with George Zimmerman, who did not set out to shoot a black kid, was not, based on the known facts, racially profiling him, wasn’t a racist and wasn’t even white. Never mind! He’s got to be the equivalent of the murderers of Emmett Till, so he is, that’s all. The story about racist graffiti at a privileged college in the middle of Ohio served its purpose: there will be no rush to correct the record, it it is corrected at all.
- William Jacobson, who is a Cornell law school professor, notes in his report that he “smelled a rat” with the Oberlin story, and investigated. Why was this story only investigated by a blogging law professor? Where were the journalists? Why weren’t they—the Times, the Post, CNN, CBS, FOX, NBC—checking the facts? That it took this long for the truth to come out is an indictment of how lazy, inept and biased our journalistic establishment has become.
- Prof. Jacobson is an Ethics Hero. This was important work, and he set out to find the truth while smug reporters slept, and gleeful pundits on the left used a false account to implicate Republicans and conservatives.
- Another blogging law professor, the iconic Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, writes in reaction to the Daily Caller and Legal Insurrection reports, “The good news about America in 2013 is that if you’re a lefty and you want a racial incident to fire up the troops, you pretty much have to make it up yourself.” That goes way too far, and has the perverse effect of prodding the liberal media to fall for hoaxes like this one. There are plenty of racists out there, scary ones, as my brief foray with the disgusting bigots on “Chimpmania” demonstrated. The point is to identify real ones, not to call everyone a racist who supports requiring voters to have as much identification as it requires to enter an office building or rent a car, or anyone who concludes that a depressingly inept and devious leader is, in fact, inept and devious.
- No, I do not expect the Oberlin affair to be discussed tonight at D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theater’s “town hall meeting” about racism in America.
- The most puzzling ethical question is this: is racist graffiti less offensive and wrongful conduct because the motive wasn’t really racist? The conduct is the same; what Dylan Bleier and Matt Alden did was exactly as hurtful and offensive and wrong as if they were Klansmen. A true hoax is when something is made to seem like something it was not: Tawana Brawley was not raped, and she smeared herself with feces. That’s a hoax. Dylan Bleier and Matt Alden really produced the racist words that everyone saw; they were real. The offense occurred. The fact that the teens who killed the innocent Australian jogger did it for a “thrill” rather than racial hate doesn’t make the killing better or worse; this is part of my objection to the concept of “hate crime.” I think that what Dylan Bleier and Matt Alden did, inspired, apparently, by arrogance and disregard for others, is just as cruel, vicious and wrong as if it was motivated by racial hatred.
And perhaps even more so.
Graphic: Daily Caller