Ignorance no excuse for mistake t Horowitz should guard against heresy · 26 March 2005

Greeley Daily Tribune Opinion--03/27/05

Intentional ignorance is as bad as lying. If David Horowitz didn't know that before the essay question controversy at the University of Northern Colorado, he should now.

Horowitz is the conservative author and speaker who took the word of an associate who took the word of a student and then reported a third-hand story as gospel. In speeches across the country, Horowitz told the story of a UNC professor who failed a student for not explaining "why George Bush is a war criminal" on an essay question.

Two weeks ago, the university released a copy of the exam, which doesn't contain the language Horowitz reported. UNC also revealed the student didn't get an F and had a choice of two essay questions. Faced with this information, Horowitz admitted he couldn't verify the student's grade and he didn't know the question was optional. That was admirable, but in an article, "Correction: Some Of Our Facts Were Wrong; Our Point Was Right," he said those errors were minor and irrelevant.

Huh? He accused a professor of abusing students with his political views, and the facts don't matter?

It gets better.

In a correction of his correction, "Correction: We Were Right," he claimed UNC has been dishonest throughout the controversy and said assistant criminal justice professor Robert Dunkley might have altered the question after the student complained. Once again, he gets this information from a student volunteer who said he got it from the student.

Horowitz said he couldn't check out the student's story because UNC denied him access to the test, and he didn't know the professor's name. With a single phone call, the Tribune obtained the test and Dunkley's name. That's not in-depth fact-checking. You don't need a journalism degree, a research background or a private detective's license. All you need is a phone book and an interest in the truth.

Horowitz's student volunteer said he called UNC two years ago and asked for the test, once. He doesn't remember who he talked to or even what department he called. Oh well, at least Horowitz can say he tried.

The problem is, this story was just too tempting for Horowitz to pass up. He's in the process of promoting his Academic Bill of Rights, which he said would protect students from politically coercive professors. A UNC professor who makes students explain their commander in chief is a war criminal was perfect.

He said his group has done thousands of interviews with college students, documenting professors' political abuses. If he has all these cases at his disposal, why did he choose this UNC student when he couldn't verify the facts beyond her word?

He wants her story to be true, so he's corrected and re-corrected, interpreted and rationalized. At one point, he surmised the student may have felt as though she failed because, to her, a C was just as bad as an F. Of course, that was just a guess.

Horowitz hasn't made a genuine effort to check his facts, but he still continues to use the anecdote. In a USA Today editorial posted Wednesday evening, he amended the story and reported students were "required" to "make the argument that the military action of the U.S. attacking Iraq was criminal." He conveniently neglected the previous six sentences and the question mark that appeared at the end of the question in the UNC-released version. He also repeated an earlier error by saying the question was required. That must have been someone else's fault, too.

Horowitz has been using this "what you don't know can't hurt you" tactic long enough. He should have checked, he should have known or he shouldn't have said anything.