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Published: Sunday, 4/18/2010

Hillsdale disappoints in competence, conduct

BY MARK W. POWELL
Mark Powell Mark Powell
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HILLSDALE College champions libertarian-conservatism and stands apart from homogenized academic herds. Its monthly Imprimis, transcribing speeches at Hillsdale, on its lavish cruises-for-cognoscenti, and elsewhere, claims “over 1.8 million subscribers worldwide.” Embracing specific speeches/politics or not, I've long appreciated the contrast Hillsdale offers.

But I long ago noted the editors' failure to correct or note even obvious factual errors. For example, John O'Sullivan, executive editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in lionizing Margaret Thatcher on May 9, 2008, proclaimed her ascent and achievements followed “50 years of socialism and Labour government.”

Tory governments, not as conservative as Ms. Thatcher's but hardly all socialist, ruled more than half the 50 years preceding 1979. We're entitled to opinions, not our own facts.

Recently, paying more attention, I've seen consistent problems, not only of omission (failing to correct speaker errors with notes or brackets) but commission (Imprimis' own). This led to finding typically bad behavior when errors are identified and corrections requested — something I study along with factual error.

The last six Imprimises all have either clear factual error, highly questionable references, or both.

Space here is short, so this is just a sampling: November's write-up of military historian Victor Davis Hanson included a laugher of Imprimis' own. (Incompetent “experts” are common, but we'll assume Mr. Hanson didn't write this.) Cataloging historical infantry weapons, Imprimis references “Flints, percussions caps, rifle barrels, and mini balls …”

That's not misspelling or just the wrong word, but abject incompetence. Mr. Hanson referenced Minie balls, named after Claude-Etienne Minie, who introduced the terrible expanding rifle slug in 1849. It became standard in our Civil War and killed or maimed scores of thousands of Americans.

Getting errors admitted and corrected is something else entirely, and almost always fails. After “mini balls,” I wrote to Imprimis. After initial response promising follow-up, silence. When I later phoned, titular copy editor Monica VanDer Weide and staffer Mary Jo Von Ewegen said top editors Douglas Jeffrey and Timothy Caspar were out to lunch. (Sadly I must agree.) Both claimed unawareness of any problem. Messages to Messrs. Jeffrey and Caspar went unanswered.

Hillsdale predictably cancelled my decade-long subscription after these contacts and my request for return of a small financial donation. So I went online.

December presents Hillsdale President Larry Arnn touting his having been “director of research for Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill.” Here's just one example of Mr. Arnn's intellectual rigor: “At the beginning of that century [19th], we were about five million people huddled along the East Coast. By the end of it we had grown at a rate of about 25 percent — much faster than China is growing today — and had settled an entire continent …”

Say what? Grew at 25 percent per what? Year? Decade? All century? The U.S. population in 1900 was 76 million, a 1,400 percent increase for the century. And Mr. Arnn's citation of China today is daft: China's annual growth has been below 1 percent since the 1990s, little more than half the current U.S. rate, less than half the world rate.

Imprimis didn't cover Mr. Arnn by, say, bracketing a rational notion of what he might have thought he was trying to say. Of course, such cover would entail seeing problems to cover.

Cavalierism with facts to drive political points, seen with Mr. O'Sullivan, reappeared in January with Adam Myerson, alumnus of the American Spectator, the Wall Street Journal — an outlet I can prove, with a single story, fanatically refuses to correct factual errors, atop incompetence to allow many — Policy Review, and the Heritage Foundation. He addressed American charity and Hurricane Katrina.

February presents Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), Budget Committee ranking member, stumbling in speech as badly as did Mr. Arnn after cited statistical challenges. Imprimis used “[sic]” to ridicule President Obama for minor grammatical error, but laughably left substantive non sequiturs and wholesale misstatements, Mr. Ryan's or its own.

March presents author Andrew McCarthy, erring in military history of both the 19th and 20th centuries, including the incredible assertion — amid detailed discussion of World War II — that America is inherently above targeting civilians.

April keeps the drive alive, right up top, if only in showing editors' unconsciousness. Speaker's tag: “Stephen Markman was appointed Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court in 1999, and was re-elected in 2000 and 2004." First elected in 2000. Why say “re-elected” for anything before 2004?

Imprimis is easy work, monthly transcribing a short speech. Yet corrections in print seem rare as western sunrises or even corrections in Newsweek (oh ask!). And online, where it's easy anytime? All the above and much more, just in recent months, is viewable today on Imprimis' Web site.

Hillsdale and Imprimis show the posturing, underexamined intellectualism festering across media and society, refusing to admit, let alone correct errors, let alone incompetence.

Mr. Powell, of Arlington, Va., is a journalist who in recent years has specialized in documenting uncorrected factual error in major media and other outlets such as museums and memorials.



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