by Jeremy Young | 2/09/2009 07:07:00 PM
Rick Shenkman, in addition to producing an excellent investigative report on the Kutler-Klingman controversy (which I've previously discussed here and here), did something New York Times reporter Patricia Cohen failed to do: he contacted the editor of the American Historical Review, Rob Schneider, to get his thoughts on a dispute that purportedly revolved around the AHR. Schneider's response is here, and it's well worth a read. Without summarizing the piece, I'll say that Schneider essentially vindicates virtually all of my concerns about the process, and makes Peter Klingman out to be quite the fool.

Disclaimer: both Schneider and I work for the same institution, Indiana University (or, more properly, they pay me to go to school and him to do actual work). I've met Schneider once, sat in the same room with him several times, and haven't discussed this controversy with him or anyone else at the AHR.

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7 Comments:


Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/09/2009 7:46 PM:

vindicates virtually all of my concerns...

Nicely put. Mine, too.

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/09/2009 11:14 PM:

I have a somewhat differing take on the way this seems to be playing out. It has confirmed for me what I had thought for a while, that it might be best to let Presidential records such as Nixon's tapes, Bush's records, Clinton's records, just be sealed for their lifetimes. Academic scholarss just struggle too much with such issues for my taste.

Everyone who has addressed this issue largely has shied away from the very serious and nearly inexplicable error that occurred when Kutler inserted one segment of an evening conversation between Nixon and Dean from a WHT into a a morning face to face office meeting into an Oval Office conversation. Or the deletion of key words by Kutler in his book that led to confusion among readers as to over whether the Watergate break in or the break in into Daniel Ellsberg's was the subject under discussion. These things matter to anyone who actually depends on evidence but because of the way Klingman handled his piece, everyone seems ready to move on.

We'll never know why and how such errors occurred.

The way academics handled this in various blogs and web forums very much reminds me of the way right wing bloggers handled the Rather CBS Texas Air National Guard story in the 2004. Aha, the document about George W. Bush's TANG career seemed fake, tada, end of story, no more questions about his service are to be entertained, shout 'em down if they dare try! Rather is discredited and the enemy vanquished. Move along, nothing to see here, voters.

And yet, and yet. . . .what if there *had* been a stand up guy who said, evidence matters, how you handle it when you publish a book matters. I didn't expect one to show up after I read the CHE piece. I have a pretty good sense from watching W's operatives of how effective good guy, bad guy framing is, but still. . . . it's disappointing to see how this dissolved into soap opera and how easily core issues were obscured. Quite a lesson, actually, for an observer such as I.

 

Anonymous Anonymous on 2/09/2009 11:19 PM:

Left out two word, see text in caps below for insertion. "Or the deletion of key words by Kutler in his book that led to confusion among readers as to over whether the Watergate break in or the break in into Daniel Ellsberg's PSYCHIATRIST'S OFFICE was the subject under discussion." The matter involved was the Pentagon Papers case.

I don't think you want to hear about that so I'll say no more.

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/10/2009 7:57 AM:

Lifetime seal? Not a chance. The open records are not a privilege granted us, or an academic employment project: the records of the president are of immediate political and social importance, and they are the property of the People of the United States.

(by the way: you think academics get a bad rep now for their approach to political issues? Wait until people hear us saying things like "once he's dead....")

NOBODY here has disputed the importance of an honest and serious approach to evidence, so you can take the martyr complex and file it with the strawman argument, the fallacy of the excluded middle and perfect as the enemy of the good.

There will be other occasions to discuss Kutler's evidence: this is history, not politics, and we follow the evidence, but we won't be led around by our noses.

 

Anonymous Ralph Luker on 2/10/2009 10:45 AM:

Ahistoricality is too hard on Anonymous. I'm not in favor of sealing records, but the fact remains that Kutler apparently made crucial errors in the transcription of the Nixon tapes and, in the mockery of Klingman, that ought not be ignored. Trying to establish motives for the errors is problematic, but Kutler himself acknowledges that he was interested primarily in making a record of Nixon's guilt. So much for even-handed, disinterested inquiry.

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/10/2009 11:08 AM:

Who are you arguing with? I've never said or, as far as I know, implied that I think Kutler didn't make mistakes or was even-handed. Nobody here has, that I can recall.

In fact, we've explicitly attacked his approach to copyright (though his editorial hand on the transcripts could qualify as a "creative effort" if there really is systematic distortion!) and acknowledged the reality of the errors all along.

What's at stake in these discussions, though, is professionalism: Klingman's attempt to manipulate both the press and the AHR, the use of excessive rhetoric which is then excused as "raising the issue," raise serious questions about the role of public discussion in historical discovery.

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 2/10/2009 6:43 PM:

Anonymous, I apologize for not getting back to you sooner -- it's been pretty crazy on this end. Your critique of my writing is the most trenchant one I've received in quite a while, and your charge that I and others are trivializing a very serious debate is a valid one. You've made me think, a lot.

That said, I'll offer a defense and explanation:

1) I love drama. Always have, always will. Rick Shenkman, who was trained as a TV journalist before he was trained as a historian, may very well feel the same way. So to a certain extent, the reason our coverage has focused on the drama-filled issues is that we enjoy that part of the controversy. That doesn't make us representative of the historical profession as a whole; that's just something that we have to deal with.

2) I actually agree with you that the allegations regarding Kutler's scholarship are much more important than the professionalism debate regarding Klingman and the AHR. I'm not commenting on those allegations because I haven't read any of the books involved, don't work in that field, and haven't the faintest idea how to evaluate the charges. But I do agree that they're important, that Kutler's use of evidence is important, and that they should get a full hearing. (I said in my first post that the leak was "the most important" part of the story, and that's not true at all; I was being sensational. I regret that statement.) Rob Schneider agrees with me -- here's how he ends his article:

I do have, like most historians and scholars, I hope, a stake in seeing that important issues are mooted in a proper manner, with evidence properly aired, claims correctly compared, and arguments patiently elaborated. Peter Klingman’s submission to the AHR was not the right vehicle for this process. Let’s hope that a more suitable one can be found soon.

3) Academic peer review is a slow process, and it takes time. The issues Klingman raised about Kutler's scholarship are not going away. Klingman's article, or another one making similar claims, will probably be accepted for publication in a journal fairly soon. After that's published, readers will be able to judge for themselves the validity of the allegations against Kutler, and the profession will come to some sort of informal collective decision. Kutler's not just getting off the hook because Klingman screwed up, or because I live drama. He's going to have to confront these allegations in a serious fashion, and I wholeheartedly support that process.