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Sent: Wednesday, September 19, 2001 4:39 PM Subject: Arming America and accuracy: the need for academic due process Richard B. Bernstein wrote: <<The controversy over ARMING AMERICA is but the latest example of a growing tendency to attack controversial books via the news media rather than in appropriate scholarly venues, allowing for measured framing of the controversy, mutually respectful discussion of the merits of the case, and, most important of all, an opportunity for the scholar being pilloried to make a full response and, if need be, a full defense.>> We should acknowledge that the writers of this month's BOSTON GLOBE and NATIONAL REVIEW stories both spoke to Prof Michael Bellesiles before publication. Of course, anyone would like the time to prepare a scholarly rebuttal rather than answer a deadline reporter's questions over the phone, but these publications gave Prof Bellesiles a chance to express himself, as they should. Prof Bernstein's message raises several bigger questions about how the historical profession addresses controversies, and the media's role in that process. My response starts with the fact that historians often gladly bypass the scholarly review that he describes--it's part of commercial publishing. For instance, Knopf issued ARMING AMERICA in a dust jacket full of laudatory pre-publication quotes ("blurbs") and a wraparound sheet with a few more (a "bellyband," an unusual expense). Much of that praise came from academics, and some from political activists. Blurbs are standard in commercial publishing, and in this case the press did a great job. Such blurbs give the impression of scholarly endorsements, but they aren't really part of scholarly review, which follows months or years later. Knopf also used the news media to promote ARMING AMERICA. Both blurbs and promotion spotlighted the book's political implications to make it more obviously relevant today. Any author would be ecstatic with the coverage Bellesiles's book received as a result: the cover of the NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW, for instance. Such attention brings the chance to be read outside the academy, to inform public debate, and (not the least concern) to enjoy better sales. We can't really complain if readers and reporters take notice of that coverage and respond with questions. Another aspect of this controversy is that one of the most energetic researchers complaining about errors in ARMING AMERICA, Clayton Cramer, is an independent scholar. He therefore can't attend conferences, publish, or convince the news media with the same ease as a university professor. (He's told me that the NATIONAL REVIEW contacted him for his findings, cited some of them, but never mentioned him.) If the scholarly review process is to remain the best way to judge controversies, it also has to remain open to scholars of all sorts. Prof Bernstein notes that <<the AHA and the OAH [can] undertake the sort of full and fair scholarly inquiry that such serious charges would require.>> But how easy is it to initiate that process? The OAH has already given Prof Bellesiles an award for work related to ARMING AMERICA, so is it in a position to judge his book? I think the scholarly review process benefits from being broadly distributed and infinitely flexible, but that fluidity might be frustrating to outsiders. Finally, we all know there's unusual vehemence around ARMING AMERICA because some people view the book as an attack on their most basic constitutional right (a position I disagree with). That doesn't justify the harassment, insults, or other attacks that Prof Bellesiles and his employers seem to have suffered, of course. But when do the stakes in a scholarly controversy grow too high for scholarly deliberation? I recall the tempest around 1988 when Prof Henry Turner of Yale and a couple of colleagues contacted university hiring committees to complain about an author who had in their eyes misrepresented sources. In that case, eminent historians said, the profession's typical avenues for revealing error were too slow. J. L. Bell JnoLBell@compuserve.com