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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


"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."

Ugh! Not even if the adult is many years older and in a position of trust and authority?

Posted by: Emma Anne | Aug 26, 2007 3:56:53 PM

Strikes me that what you've told me here is that...
The New Republic, a terribly informed magazine, does almost exactly
The same sort of 'Fair & Balanced' act for which Fox New, a cable Pravda, is reknowned.

And that this whole balance thing is out of whack.

If you accept that what we call the right is selfish and self-indulgent
[I had to look up 'solipsism' re; sanpete's work here again - I guess it means mental selfishness]
but worse...it is militant and authoritarian and mean-spirited and so...

Should not longer be seen or presented as 'the other side' or honest counterbalance to
ANY well-intended social or economic thinking but rather as the abherence it actually is.

As angry and fearful snipers and spoilers...and not participants....except when it comes to the take.

And 'WE' whatever else we may be or can come to be called are really
just a collection of altogether fallible people trying to get this system to work...for everybody.

Or not? Just thinkin'

Posted by: has_te | Aug 26, 2007 4:03:01 PM

You are underestimating the role of Marty Peretz as the locus of TNR's badness. You need to understand that the reason that hacks like Kirchick, Kaplan, etc. are associated with the publication is because Marty brings them on. The same is so self-evidently true in the case of Jenkins. Basically, if somebody is bashing an Arab or a Muslim (btw, they are essentially the same thing in the eyes of TNR) on the pages or webpages of the magazine, you can be 100% sure that Marty brought that person on. If Marty is not the one whining about how the Palestinians are like lemmings, you can be pretty sure he has just outsourced his racist filth to some other hack. This pompous asshole is a discredit to the Jewish people.

Posted by: Progressive Jew | Aug 26, 2007 4:09:43 PM

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.

Wills gives no evidence at all that Jenkins holds the views attributed to him in this quote.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 4:19:31 PM

From Jenkins' response to Wills:

Readers of The New York Review might be bemused by the venom of Garry Wills's attack on me in the June 13 issue ["Priests and Boys"]. It would take a lot of space to rebut each specific allegation or piece of misinformation, but I want to focus on the monstrous and wholly false charge that I am a "praiser...of boy-love." Since 1978, I estimate that I have published a total of well over three million words, counting books, scholarly articles, reviews, and journalism. I have written to Dr. Wills to invite him to cite one single statement from that substantial paper trail, any one sentence or passage, that justifies the claim that I have ever advocated, defended, praised, or promoted this type of conduct. Of course, I have received no reply, nor have I received an apology.

As far as I can tell, Wills bases his scurrilous charge on the following arguments. Firstly, "For [Jenkins], real pedophilia (child-love) concerns only pre-pubescents." Indeed it does, since I use the definition accepted by the entire US psychiatric profession. Secondly, "[Jenkins] disapproves of this, but says that restraining it may threaten quite different sex acts with post-pubescents, which he calls ephebophilia (boy-love). He holds that statutory rape laws should not outlaw such youth-love." I have never made such a statement, nor does it reflect anything like my actual views. If I have written or said anything to this effect, I invite him to supply chapter and verse. Where? When? By the by, ephebophilia does not mean boy-love, the term is not something I invented, and obviously I never claimed that problems like rape were nonexistent, etc., but confronting every one of his misrepresentations would require a book-length reply. And I have indeed written histori-cal accounts of how the age of consent has changed through American history: Does Dr. Wills dispute the accuracy of my statements?

The link also has the responses of the other authors Wills reviewed, who all feel he misrepresented them. Wills responds to each. I've only read the response to Jenkins which, not surprisingly, doesn't justify his charges against Jenkins at all but only further explains his own faulty reasoning.

This ought to serve as a caution in too easily accepting outrageous-sounding charges presented without evidence. It's best not to repeat such charges without first checking them out, which in this case was easy to do.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 4:40:20 PM

I know that this isn't an excuse but if you look closely, I think about 3 to 4 readers post at the Egg Head Blog, aka Open University....

Posted by: dekerivers | Aug 26, 2007 4:43:18 PM

A correction: only two of the three authors Wills reviewed replied complaining of his misrepresntations. The other complainant was Ken Woodward, whom Wills also went after in his review.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 5:14:08 PM

Sanpete, the concern I have about minimizing comes from the final paragraphs of the NYT review you linked to:

If the 60's are not to blame, if the pedophile-priest crisis is just one more short-lived panic attack, is there nothing we can learn from this cultural episode to help keep future panics under control? At one point, Mr. Jenkins notes that the news media did not have to accept the extremely high estimates of clerical misconduct advanced by the experts. So why did they?

These days, nothing is more seductive to reporters than the suggestion of a trend, pathological or otherwise. Call it the sociology disease; from the daily newspapers to the newsweeklies to the daytime television talk shows, the search for the trend du jour has become all-consuming. A good "social problem" does provide moral cover for telling lurid stories, but it would be better for journalists to stick to the stories and take the experts with a grain of salt. They too have axes to grind, and there are fewer new things under the sun than are dreamed up in their philosophies.

I don't think this was a surprising conclusion at the time - there was a lot of "recovered memory" debate going on. But part of what the author was doing was using Jenkins to conclude that the Priest story had peaked and that some of it was reporters taking the allegations too seriously. At least, that's how I read it. You see something different?

Posted by: weboy | Aug 26, 2007 6:37:00 PM

Weboy, you may be right about what the author of the review was saying, but I don't think Jenkins was downplaying the importance of the abuse, only putting it in perspective. As I understand it, he was examining how we, the press, and other institutions construct and experience these kinds of "crises," which typically involves a lot of exaggerations and outsized fears, often based on things that have been with us all along. Jenkins believed the abuse was hardly a new problem or special to Catholicism. That it came to be viewed as though it were, and as being of greater dimensions than it really had, were part of his focus, but he regarded the abuse as very real and very wrong.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 7:04:04 PM

I feel as if I've stumbled onto an episode of argument clinic from Monte Python, starring herr Sanpete. He hasn't read a book, but thinks that a quote must somehow have been unfair...and then starts rhapsodizing about a reactionary author and developing a bond...a grievance...with the oh-so-unfairly slandered gentlemen.

There is a cranky school of Catholic apologetics, and Jenkins fits squarely into it. Here is the blurb from another book of his...

"The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice. By Philip Jenkins. Oxford University Press. 258 pp. $26.

“Catholic-baiting,” said the novelist Peter Viereck, “is the anti-Semitism of the liberals.” During the recent season of scandals, Catholics have generally, and with good reason, been reluctant to point out the obvious, namely, that the media carnival was in significant part motored by old-fashioned anti-Catholicism. Jenkins, an Episcopalian, has no such inhibitions and here offers a spirited account of how deep, pervasive, and multifaceted is the elite culture’s animus toward the Catholic Church. A distinguished historian at Penn State, Jenkins traces the animus back to an earlier period when “the Catholic menace” was seen as threatening American democracy, and insightfully analyzes the ways in which Catholicism is a necessary scandal to adherents of America’s regnant liberalism. The bulk of the book, however, is an evenhanded narrative of more recent assaults on the Catholic Church by feminists, abortion activists, homosexuals, and the dominant media, including the dramatic changes in the way Catholicism is portrayed in movies and television. Along the way, the author provides a refreshingly sober evaluation of the recent sex abuse scandals and their sensationalized exploitation."

Just the sort of "liberal" that the New Republic loves to have on board. Criticism of the church is motivated by bigotry, and the media is run by liberals who hate Catholics because they're nuturing century old grudges blah blah blah abortionist feminists blah blah..

Posted by: Marc | Aug 26, 2007 7:36:06 PM

Marc, I won't bother explaining the obvious way your post undermines itself, or how what seems to be a criticism of what I've said fails to actually address anything I've said. I'll only point out that you give no reason to think Jenkins is wrong about the claims in your quote, and that it has little to do with what's been at issue here.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 8:12:01 PM

"catholic baiting is the antisemitism of the liberals." Actually, antisemitism is the antisemitism of the liberals.

Posted by: Yan D. Kamecki | Aug 26, 2007 9:09:05 PM

Sanpete, I don't think Jenkins was downplaying the importance of the abuse... what he downplayed was its extent, which goes to the heart of what is now clearly understood to be a deep problem within the Church that extends significantly up its hierarchy. The Church's answer, for years, was that Priest incidents of abuse were isolated and single occurrences dealt with on an individual basis; what there was turned out to be a systemic problem that allowed the abuse to go on unchecked in many places for a long time. I think Jenkins argument fit comfortably with those of church defenders at the time who were trying to minimize the extent of the problem; not that the "isolated incidents" weren't serious, but that they were isolated, and insinuations of a widespread problem were about anti-Catholic hysteria. That's where he was wrong, and it goes to his larger point about there being a marked anti-Catholic bias in the press. That smoke suggesting a widespread problem in the abuse cases, as it turned out, was not bias, it was a very real fire... which, one can observe now, Jenkins could well have pieced together had he investigated more thoroughly, as other reporters ultimately did.

Posted by: weboy | Aug 26, 2007 9:28:09 PM

Weboy, I've seen no evidence that he regarded the incidents as isolated, nor that the hierarchy wasn't very much to blame. Here's a quote from the book in another review:

The Catholic Church in particular had been more concerned with protecting the reputation of the institution and the clerical profession than in safeguarding real or potential child victims. In consequence, abusive priests were placed in circumstances where they had enormous opportunities to molest, though with little chance of being caught or punished, a combination of circumstances that offered a near-perfect criminogenic environment.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 26, 2007 9:54:21 PM

Posted by: Exile on Ericsson St. | Aug 26, 2007 9:57:27 PM

TNR has something called "TNR's Open University"? Things are worse than I thought.

Posted by: Exile on Ericsson St. | Aug 26, 2007 9:59:03 PM

It's odd that Jenkins is writing for TNR, which also has a history of Catholic-baiting or alleged Catholic-baiting of just the type he describes.
Jenkins is not a Catholic, by the way.
I wish we could get some testimony from someone who has actually read the book, rather than those who have only read reviews. (I admit I haven't read it either.) That final (9:54:21) quote from Sanpete seems pretty conclusive, however.

Posted by: James Kabala | Aug 26, 2007 10:06:34 PM

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

But she doesn't specifically state whether that fact is true or not but we are (I guess) to fill in the blanks and assume that it is a false and even Islamaphobic statement.

Kathy G., are you saying that Jenkins is simply incorrect? That the astrolabe was an Islamic invention? And that Jenkins' mistake is a sign of something bad in his head?

(For what it's worth, Wikipedia says that the Astrolabe was invented by the ancient Greeks, BCE and then further evolved by Islamic mathematicians almost a thousand years later.)

Posted by: David Sucher | Aug 26, 2007 10:10:41 PM

Btw, I've been looking a bit further as it is interesting stuff and indeed these Nestorian Christians specifically seemed to have played a pivotal part (5th century AD) in transmitting Greek science/learning to the Arab world (it was pre-Islam, of course.)


Maybe Jenkins is not to be so easily scorned?

Posted by: David Sucher | Aug 26, 2007 10:28:40 PM

"[T]he Arabs actually borrowed their much-cited "Muslim science" (the astrolabe and so on) from the Nestorians and other Eastern Christians..."
Wow, that makes it sound like such a cheap thing, for societies in Islamic culture to have merely "borrowed" from the Greeks. Clearly that's somehow inferior to, er, something or other. How does one "borrow" science in an improper manner? Is that somehow an illegitimate thing to do? Is that a common criticism of a pre-modern civilization, that it was *too* willing to borrow the best knowledge from predecessor or even rival civilizations? Did the study of Greek manuscripts and work based on them in the hands of intellectuals in the Muslim world help the Christian Europeans who discovered them, or not? Did Muslim scholars greatly advance empirical science, or did they not? Does it make the Renaissance burst of science in Christian Europe any less impressive that it was heavily based on the Greek and Islamic scholars who preceded them?

Posted by: El Cid | Aug 26, 2007 11:13:06 PM

Where's the part about inferior, improper or illegitimate that you're apparently responding to? I'm sure Jenkins had no such thing in mind.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 27, 2007 12:01:13 AM

How do you know I was attributing those thoughts to Jenkins? Did I say that those were thoughts attributed to Jenkins?

Posted by: El Cid | Aug 27, 2007 12:11:47 AM

El Cid,

You are pointing out indirectly that it is not clear what Kathy G is saying.

I assumed that she was commenting on the overall accuracy of Jenkins' statement i.e. that (to her knowledge) the Arabs didn't get the astrolabe from anyone but invented it themselves.

You seem to be focusing on the word "borrowing" as if Jenkins was saying it is bad to borrow. Right?

But who knows what she meant.

In any case this post is irresponsible and poorly-done.

Posted by: David Sucher | Aug 27, 2007 12:15:05 AM

Jenkins is a serious scholar. Before you bash him, you should at least read the Wiki entry on him.

Jenkins may not be correct, but he is certainly serious. Why are you liberals so afraid of seeing his views given a wider audience in TNR?

Posted by: Exile on Ericsson St. | Aug 27, 2007 12:25:13 AM

My take on this absurd post on Jenkins is here:


Posted by: David Sucher | Aug 27, 2007 12:40:59 AM

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