You are a graduate student and you have just presented your final thesis to the Doctoral Review Panel. They are tasked with reviewing your work and accepting or rejecting your thesis. You will (or will not) receive a Ph.D. based on their evaluation.
You look forward to the critique of your scholarship, but what comes back is instead a critique of you as an individual; your background, religion, and the people with whom you associate. The committee finds your beliefs and associations to be inappropriate, and denies you the Ph.D.
Would you consider that to be a fair review?
In the case of W. Cleon Skousen, his scholarship is reviewed by Alexander Zaitchik at salon.com. The review is referenced in my previous post, and includes these quotes:
The book is “…a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology.”and…
The book is “…an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history.”and...
The book is “…a textbook full of aggressively selective quotations intended for conservative religious schools…”and…
The author is “…not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it.”and finally…
"No conservative organization with any mainstream credibility wanted anything to do with him.”Note that nothing is mentioned about the scholarship of the book. Are the quotations accurate? Do the citations support the arguments? Do other references show that Mr. Skousen took his quotations out of context?
We don’t know.
What we do know is that Mr. Zaitchik believes Mr. Skousen is properly characterized as a “right-wing crank” and that people who don’t accept that analysis run the risk of being characterized in the same fashion.
Why is that? Here’s a statement by Mr. Zaitchik that might reveal the answer: “Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recast the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by French and English philosophers.”
It appears that Mr. Zaitchik believes the influence of the Bible on our Founding Fathers receives too much emphasis in Mr. Skousen’s work. That orientation is enough to discredit and disqualify Mr. Skousen’s scholarship.
If you’d like to see the intensity of feeling that supports Mr. Zaitchik’s point of view, look at the comments that flow from the article. He is not alone in his beliefs.
This is what passes for “In-Depth Analysis” in our anti-Republican culture. It relies on characterization over fact; emotion over substance.
Let me offer a technique for performing your own in-depth analysis. First, keep your antennae up, and see if you note a double-standard in criticism associated with a point of view. When you sense there might be a political context to the situation, do the following:
Look for “The Themes.”
Look for “The Hatred.”
Watch for “Substance.”
In the case of Mr. Zaitchik’s review, there is a theme of Republican bigotry, a very strong animosity (if not outright hatred), and very little substance.
With a little work, we can figure out whether what we see is “In-Depth Analysis” or just an everyday anti-Republican “Hit Piece.”