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Letters & E-mail: Scott Rosenberg Responds to "Attacks without Facts, Who's Responsible?"

January 19, 2001

The entire premise of Douglas Thomas' column " Attacks without Facts, Who's Responsible ?" (in OJR 1/7/01) is that published an article that was "deliberately inaccurate." His piece makes interesting reading if you accept that premise. But if you look at the facts you discover that what Thomas presents as a case of "deliberate inaccuracy" is in fact a simple matter of interpretation -- and that the facts, if anything, are on Salon's side.

Our writer, Amy Halloran, attended a public lecture by Prof. Peggy Kamuf and reported that Kamuf had labeled the act of teaching children to read as a "violent" one. Halloran responded with considerable outrage.

Did Kamuf ever say such a thing? Kamuf admitted herself that she did in a letter to the editor that Salon printed. When I had the opportunity to read the text of the paper that Kamuf presented that day, at Thomas's urging, I found the words myself, buried in a rather convoluted syntax but there all the same: "The institution of the family of man takes place in a scene of learning to read. But what we forget, what we have to forget or repress is tha this is always also a violent scene inasmuch it has to repeat, reinflict the violence that wrenches the human animal out of the state of sheer animality..."

I did not make up these words, nor did Halloran; Kamuf wrote them and said them, according to the material she has presented on her own Web site. These are the facts. If the facts were otherwise Salon would long ago have published a correction.

What is at issue here is that Thomas (and, I assume, Kamuf) feel that this was merely a side point to Kamuf's larger argument, a comment "in passing." But that is a matter of interpretation, not fact. To a parent sitting in Kamuf's audience hearing herself accused of perpetrating violence upon her child by teaching the child to read, it might well seem the salient point of the talk.

I don't mind Thomas disagreeing with Salon or defending his friend on the USC faculty but I strongly object to his accusing us of publishing inaccuracies when the record is so clear. I hope OJR will correct its record -- or at the very least acknowledge that what we have here is a disagreement over interpretation and not fact. Which pretty much undercuts Thomas's whole argument.

Scott Rosenberg managing editor

© 2001 Online Journalism Review


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