Churchill and O’Reilly

There’s been a lot of talk lately about a fellow named Ward Churchill, a native American college professor from Colorado, who some simplistic propagandists are insisting speaks for the likes of me. Well, I’d never heard of the guy before the current kerfluffle, but if the excerpts I’ve seen from his essay about 9/11 victims are accurate, and not taken wildly out of context — i.e., stripped of a concluding Wayne’s World-style negative modifier (“…NOT!”), then I can say pretty confidently that he doesn’t actually speak for me in any way whatsoever. Nonetheless, he apparently became the right wing cause-du-jour after word got around that he was going to give a talk at a tiny college in upstate New York (hey, when you control three branches of government and have most of the media wrapped around your little finger, you have to take your enemies where you can find them). To give this a little context:

Hamilton, a campus of 1,750 students, has always had a reputation for accepting divergent voices. In November, the same program that invited this speaker – the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture – hired Susan Rosenberg, a former member of the Weather Underground, after her release from prison on explosives charges. She later withdrew in the face of protest.

On another end of the political spectrum, the scholar Elizabeth Fox-Genovese equated abortion to murder during her talk to a packed, polite campus auditorium last Thursday. According to The Spectator, the weekly student newspaper, she also said that empowering humans to choose who lives and who dies “opens the road to the Holocaust.”

So a school that brings in a lot of controversial people invited Churchill to give a lecture (on native American activism, incidentally, not 9/11), and somehow all hell broke loose. I’m not sure who initially instigated the witch hunt, whether this came out of the blogs or started with O’Reilly, but the latter has definitely been a driving force. I was watching his show a couple of nights ago and at the end of his outraged report, he put the school’s phone number and email address up on screen.

And, gosh, it’s not hard to guess what happened next:

Over the last five days, tiny Hamilton College in upstate New York has been barraged with more than 6,000 e-mail messages full of fury, some threatening violence. Some donors have canceled pledges to an ambitious capital campaign. And prospective students have withdrawn applications or refused to enroll.

Then, on Monday night, a caller to the college threatened to bring a gun to campus.

Admittedly, O’Reilly also emphasized the need to be polite when contacting the university, though I guess the guy with the gun missed that part. Look, on the one hand, it’s dangerous to suggest that a commentator is responsible for the actions of every single member of his audience — I wouldn’t want to be held to that standard myself. On the other, it’s not beyond the pale to assume that O’Reilly has some familiarity with Fox News viewers, and how at least a certain percentage of them will respond when red meat is tossed in their direction. Either that, or he’s so naive that he still bears the bruises from his unfortunate tumble off the turnip truck.