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August 26, 2007

The New Republic's Latest Charmer

By Kathy G.

Ah, New Republic! You never really do let me down, do you?

I admit to having had a second thought or two about writing this post. Was it, oh, perhaps a teensy weensy bit over the top? A tad intemperate? Might it be said to be lacking the attribute of scrupulous, Olympian fairness and evenhandedness? After all, in that paragraph about what's good about the New Republic, I left out a few names. Noam Scheiber, for example -- now he's a smartie! And Jonathan Cohn -- how could I forget Jonathan Cohn? As someone else put it, Cohn is "the best health care writer not named Ezra Klein."

But then I saw this, and every one of my self-doubts melted away in an instant. In the post, titled "Another Psychotic Creep Writing at The New Republic," Brad DeLong notes the latest charming addition to the New Republic stable, an academic named Philip Jenkins who's now writing for TNR's Open University.

On that blog, Jenkins has been gracing us with his pensees regarding Muslim history. There's this, for example:

[T]he Arabs actually borrowed their much-cited "Muslim science" (the astrolabe and so on) from the Nestorians and other Eastern Christians...

And this:

[I]t is rather rich to complain that after the Reconquista, "In an act of utter domination, the Christian king orders the great [Córdoba] mosque consecrated as a Catholic church." Actually, that mosque (like most major Spanish mosques) was itself built on the site of an earlier church.... [T]he purveyors of public broadcasting history have learned something; but they are still offering apologetics, not reality.

But wait, wait -- it gets better! Philip Jenkins, I thought: now where have I heard that name before?

And then it came to me -- of course! Philip Jenkins is the author of Pedophiles and Priests, an infamous screed about the child sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. It basically amounts to a defense of said pedophiles -- or "the childfuckers" (as my girl Kathy Griffin referred to them in an episode of this season's My Life on the D List).

As the great Garry Wills pointed out in this* memorable filleting of Jenkins in the New York Review of Books, Jenkins's work has been indispensable to reactionary Catholics who have attempted to cover up, downplay, and otherwise evade responsibility for the sexual abuse scandals. Wills wrote:

The principal villains he [Jenkins] found in the priest-pedophile crisis of the 1990s were anti-Catholics, greedy lawyers, self-promoting prosecutors, sensationalistic newspapers, therapists seeking clients, and feminists with their "theology of abuse." He never seems to consider the possibility that the panic was not manufactured, or that many factors impeded rather than promoted the revelation of priestly misconduct. Reluctance to believe, report on, or expose priests is deeply built into American culture.
American bishops and their defenders gladly promoted Jenkins's claim that there was nothing to the priest-pedophile phenomenon but bad faith on the part of those "exploiting" it. They even said that his testimony was stronger and more disinterested because Jenkins is not a Catholic. With his help they dismissed or minimized the "panic," which allowed Cardinal Bernard Law and others to continue sending accused priests about their ordinary ministry with the results we have seen in Boston and elsewhere. When Cardinal Law in the 1990s called down God's judgment on The Boston Globe, he was just putting in his own way Jenkins's attack on "the political interests of the activists and groups who used the media to project their particular interpretation of the putative crisis."

The New Republic -- employer of a defender of childfuckers. Well hey, I've got to hand it them -- it is entirely consistent with the house style of "contrarianism or death." Because the idea that childfucking is not such a bad thing is indisputably contrarian, is it not?

Congratulations, guys! I didn't think it was possible, but you've really outdone yourselves here! I can't think of a single thing you've done that's a more telling expression of your rotted soul.

*The Wills piece is available to subscribers only, but if you email me I'll send you a copy.

August 26, 2007 in Media | Permalink

Comments

And here I thought "Kathy G" was Kathy Griffin!

Posted by: frumious bandersnatch | Aug 26, 2007 10:56:28 AM

"On that blog, Jenkins has been gracing us with his pensees regarding Muslim history

You know, at first glance I misread that in a very, ah, interesting (if somewhat distressing) way . . .

"And here I thought "Kathy G" was Kathy Griffin!"

Nah. She hasn't talked about 'her gays' yet, no complicated and dubious plans for tabloid fame . . .

Posted by: Dan S. | Aug 26, 2007 11:14:43 AM

Maybe they will have a piece co written by Mark Foley, Michael Jackson and this guy about bipartisanship in Washington DC?

Posted by: akaison | Aug 26, 2007 11:34:15 AM

"No complicated and dubious plans for tabloid fame," you say? Au contraire! Today ezraklein.typepad.com, tomorrow the world, baby!

I'm working on that sex tape with Dame Judy Dench for starters . . .

Posted by: Kathy G. | Aug 26, 2007 11:40:56 AM

As I posted on DeLong's site: who forced the Muslims and Jews to convert to Christianity or leave? Who started the Inquisition?

Posted by: Randy Paul | Aug 26, 2007 12:04:51 PM

uh- rupaul?

Posted by: akaison | Aug 26, 2007 12:08:54 PM

Good post.

TNR get suckers like me to subscribe with its back of the book section. No more, though, I'm quitting the habit.

It'd be nice if lefties like Thomas Frank and James Wolcott refused to write for TNR on grounds that it's not good to take a check from an anti-Arab racist.

I'm unaware of anyone ever refusing to write for TNR.

Posted by: david mizner | Aug 26, 2007 12:26:59 PM

What is actually amazing is that we are continually surprised to find that the journals and sources of commentary favored by the powerful and influential turn out to be primarily bilge containers into which is occasionally dropped a piece of fresh fruit.

In a sane society, we would begin with the suspicion that any journal or source of commentary which seems to be highly favored by the most powerful and influential probably exists to justify what the powerful and influential want, not to determine any factually-inspired truth.

But since this is not a sane society yet, the crazies prance around in their "serious" costumes and their little antics at the king's court are held to be the entire range of sensible discourse.

Posted by: El Cid | Aug 26, 2007 12:36:57 PM

The New Republic -- employer of a defender of childfuckers.

Kathy, I enjoy your carefully written and researched pieces on academic research. I don't enjoy your more numerous pieces like this one that lack those virtues, and which substitute spleen for reason, or allow the former to subvert the latter. I know people enjoy this kind of thing, that feeding anger about one's perceived enemies is relished, and that reason is generally given a holiday when anger comes to the fore. But it's not all that healthy for rational thought and reality-based views.

It would be easy to use your own tools against you, to pick out quotes from your recent posts that are plainly wrong and show a strong bias that leads to the errors. The quote I've picked out from your post above is an example, misrepresenting and slandering both Jenkins and TNR. But that's not the best way to evaluate your usefulness as a blogger. You could keep that in mind when evaluating others.

What are your objections to the quotes from Jenkins? Do you think they're inaccurate, or do you think the point they make is wrong?

Jenkins nowhere defends priests guilty of child sexual abuse. I haven't read his book, and it appears you haven't either, but I've read enough about it to know he doesn't do that: if he had defended such a thing it would have been made known.

Jenkins' book may have its shortcomings, but it also brought some needed perspective. For what appears to be a more balanced appraisal than Wills', see here.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 1:40:51 PM

Hmm, let's see, you majored in gender studies, women's studies, etc.....and you question the intellectual substance of other writers? Inequality studies? Those are all newly established playpens for students who have no wish to venture into the meatier academic disciplines. Lazy lazy stuff

Posted by: Yan D. Kamecki | Aug 26, 2007 2:31:15 PM

The quote I've picked out from your post above is an example, misrepresenting and slandering both Jenkins and TNR. But that's not the best way to evaluate your usefulness as a blogger. You could keep that in mind when evaluating others.

In law truth is an absolute defense against a charge of slander or, more properly, libel. So the question is whether or not Kathy G's statement is truthful.

Now there is no disputing the claim that TNR employs Jenkins. So the only real question is whether or not Jenkins in fact defended "child fuckers". Not "child fucking" mind you. "Child fuckers."

If, as seems evident, Jenkins claimed that there was no child sexual abuse crisis in the church and that the whole business was drummed up by opportunists hostile to Catholicism, the very least to be said is that he defended those who shielded pedophiles active in the Priesthood. Is this the equivilant of defending the paedophiles?

Well it seems safe to say that had Jenkins' view carried the day, a great many pedophiles would have never been held accountable for their crimes. Nor the institutional heirarchy that abetted them. Since concealment of a crime makes one an accessory to the crime, ie, a participant in the crime, a case can be made that defending the accessory is indistinguishable from defending the one who actually committed the criminal act.

Would this argument hold up in civil court? Who can say? For myself, I doubt you could find a jury that would convict Kathy G of slander/libel given the facts that have emerged since Jenkins wrote his book.

The moral is that people who make sloppy accusations of slander are in no position to criticize others for heated rhetoric or "misrepresentation".

Oh, and from the New York Times article linked to above:

Mr. Jenkins concludes by blaming the general direction of American culture since the 60's, and here his carefully nuanced account lapses into a black-and-white portrait of a timeless religious value system caught in a grim tide of feminist, egalitarian and psychotherapeutic secularism.

A balanced appraisal indeed.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 26, 2007 2:37:19 PM

If, as seems evident, Jenkins claimed that there was no child sexual abuse crisis in the church and that the whole business was drummed up by opportunists hostile to Catholicism, the very least to be said is that he defended those who shielded pedophiles active in the Priesthood.

Not what he claimed. He acknowledged the abuse was real, and that the Church's response to it was very wrong in some ways, based on outmoded ideas, theology that clashed (as interpreted) with practical reality, and the same kind of denial that he pointed out was endemic to our culture. He didn't defend concealment of crimes.

Again, he nowhere defends those guilty of child sexual abuse.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 2:46:08 PM

all I can say WB is good luck trying to argue (great argument by the way) with the guy with whom you are arguing- he's impervous to argument. what he is good at is wearing you down so you no longer want to argue, and thats all that is going to happen here. he understands what the GOP understands. You don't have to be right- just determined. he'll spin your wheels,a nd you will retort back trying to argue and on and on. and the result? he will still think he's right. there are certain personalities up here now that i understand their schtick it's pretty consistent. weboy and sanpete are two of them. my advice go enjoy your day.

Posted by: akaison | Aug 26, 2007 2:48:58 PM

Not what he claimed. He acknowledged the abuse was real,

Of course I never claimed that he said there was no abuse. I said that he denied that such abuse constituted a crisis within the Church. This is born out by the NYT piece that states that he placed the blame on secular forces outside of the church.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 26, 2007 2:52:30 PM

Akaison, you may tire easily from giving arguments, but you never tire of giving excuses for not giving arguments. At least you have the vigor for that.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 2:52:42 PM

WBR, the point was that he didn't deny there was a crisis in any sense relevant to establishing the claim that he was defending child sexual abusers. He blamed forces both within and outside the Church for exaggerating and misrepresenting the nature of the crisis.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 2:56:59 PM

I appreciate the advice Akaison and plan to take it. However, the point isn't to convince Sanpete of anything. The essential solipsism of his perspective precludes that. What matters is that superficially plausible but nonetheless spurious arguments, made in a public forum, be revealed for what they are.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 26, 2007 2:58:39 PM

I dunno Sanpete... even the Times article you link to suggests some serious minimizing of the Priest/pedophile problem, which is kind of how I recall things until the Boston archdiocese blew up; no one seemed to want to believe that so many parishes were involved, so many kids had been affected, or that the organization had worked, so diligently, to hide the problem. The cracks, however, were starting to show by then, and a different approach, I think, would have asked a different question - it's not so much "why does this happen to the church?" as why does the church seem to keep acting as if nothing has happened? Or something like that.

I don't really have a dog in this hunt. But it sounds like Kathy is on to something about Jenkins being a problematic choice for TNR, , which has a history of "quirky" choices for its pages (which goes back to, if not her earlier post, at least Ezra's mild defense that followed). Given what we know now, it's hard to say Jenkins' take on why the Church was in trouble really holds up... and Kathy may be right that, given his failures at that time, why is he given credibility in continuing commentary on religious issues now?

As I say, I'm only finding out this stuff thanks to this post and to the comments, like yours, that follow from it, so I don't have a strong take one way or the other (though, as I've said, I don't know why anyone gives TNR that much credence to begin with). Still, with the Priest/Pedophile issue, it's pretty clear that those who accused the Church weren't crazy or isolated or as small in numbers as some wanted to suggest. With nearly every major diocese being touched, and a large number of senior church leaders implicated in covering up, this was a serious problem the church ignored. And those who tried to minimize it for the church, as Jenkins appears to, did no one any favors.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 26, 2007 3:00:03 PM

...was that what you would have expected, akaison? :)

Posted by: weboy | Aug 26, 2007 3:02:20 PM

"Jenkins nowhere defends priests guilty of child sexual abuse. I haven't read his book, and it appears you haven't either, but I've read enough about it to know he doesn't do that: if he had defended such a thing it would have been made known."

Uh, so if you didn't read the book, what are you basing your defense of Jenkins on? I am personally going by the New York Review of Books review excerpted by Kathy G, which explicitly says that Jenkins claimed" there was nothing to the priest-pedophile phenomenon but bad faith on the part of those "exploiting" it." You're going by... what exactly? Do you have a source?

"all I can say WB is good luck trying to argue (great argument by the way) with the guy with whom you are arguing- he's impervous to argument."

It strikes me that Sanpete would probably have a pretty good career over at TNR.

Posted by: Korha | Aug 26, 2007 3:02:27 PM

WBR, the point was that he didn't deny there was a crisis in any sense relevant to establishing the claim that he was defending child sexual abusers. He blamed forces both within and outside the Church for exaggerating and misrepresenting the nature of the crisis.

If this was the point, one can only wonder why the red herring of "He acknowledged the abuse was real" was every raised.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 26, 2007 3:02:27 PM

Jenkins tries to downplay the problem of abuse in many ways. One of the cutest tricks in his work is to make a distinction between adults having sex with prepubescents and adults have sex with teens. He disapproves of adult-prepubesecent sex, but as to adult-teen sex -- not so much. He doesn't consider adult-teen sex to be abuse and doesn't believe that statutory rape laws should apply to adults who have sex with teens.

It's all in the Wills article, which as I said I will email to anyone interested.

As for Yan D. Kamecki -- if your post refers to me, I'm not sure what you're getting at. As an undergrad I majored in English literature and women's studies and minored in philosophy and history, and I'm a Ph.D. student in public policy now. My public policy studies have centered on statistics and economics classes, and I've taken graduate level classes in the econ and stats departments at my university. Those classes were not exactly un-rigorous (and for the most part my undergrad classes weren't either).

But the details of my education are neither here nor there. My argument and reasoning here are what is important, and if you can't respond to those without launching into irrelevant personal attacks, that is pretty pathetic.

Posted by: Kathy G. | Aug 26, 2007 3:10:14 PM

Sanpete seems to have found a soulmate in Jenkins, a fellow contrarian. Remember, Sanpete thought Gore got "better" press coverage than Bush in the run up to the 2000 election.

Posted by: no relation to paris hilton | Aug 26, 2007 3:11:11 PM

Kathy, isn't part of the point you raise about Jenkins' distinction between pedophiles and sex with older, possibly consenting teens, also about the Church's twisted confusions around sex and sexuality in the Priesthood? As a gay man, I think many gay men were and remain leery of the way people lump in a number of different types of behavior into one lumpy thing - there was a serious pedophile problem within the church... and then there were gay priests who were deeply conflicted about expressing their sexuality. I'm not defending the behavior, only trying to keep a relevant distinction in place. The Church and many of its defenders still suggest that the solution is a "gay purge" of priests, rather than a forthright attempt to address its problem with pedophiles, but just as we need to hold their feet to the fire on dealing with pedophiles, I think we also need to maintain the distinction that gay sex experimentation and pedophilia are not the same thing. None of this, I think, changes the idea that Jenkins was trying to make this sound less bad than it was; and I admit all of this is very dicey to discuss. But it's in these hard places that these distinctions can matter most, especially, in this case, to gay men who don't like being lumped in with pedophilic behavior.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 26, 2007 3:25:17 PM

even the Times article you link to suggests some serious minimizing of the Priest/pedophile problem

How? Be more specific, weboy.

If this was the point, one can only wonder why the red herring of "He acknowledged the abuse was real" was every raised.

Not a red herring for the reason I gave, WBR, which you apparently still don't get.

"Jenkins nowhere defends priests guilty of child sexual abuse. I haven't read his book, and it appears you haven't either, but I've read enough about it to know he doesn't do that: if he had defended such a thing it would have been made known."

Uh, so if you didn't read the book, what are you basing your defense of Jenkins on?

Did you read what you quoted from me, Korha?

I am personally going by the New York Review of Books review excerpted by Kathy G, which explicitly says that Jenkins claimed" there was nothing to the priest-pedophile phenomenon but bad faith on the part of those "exploiting" it."

And what evidence is given for that?

Do you have a source?

Did you read the rest of my post? There are plenty of other reviews; just do a quick google search.

It strikes me that Sanpete would probably have a pretty good career over at TNR.

It strikes me that you're being very careless in your reading and reasoning.

One of the cutest tricks in his work is to make a distinction between adults having sex with prepubescents and adults have sex with teens. He disapproves of adult-prepubesecent sex, but as to adult-teen sex -- not so much. He doesn't consider adult-teen sex to be abuse and doesn't believe that statutory rape laws should apply to adults who have sex with teens.

The distinction between sexual attraction to teens and to prepubescents comes straight from the scientists who specialize in child sexual abuse. Amazing that the other, highly controversial views you attribute to him weren't mentioned in the other reviews I've read. I've sent you my email address so you can send me Wills' piece, but I'm skeptical that other reviewers overlooked such obvious outrages.

No relation, I said most journalists favored Gore and that he was made to seem the better choice overall. You've given no reasons to think otherwise.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 3:50:21 PM

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