I got a little shudder of recognition seeing the mug shots in Sunday’s NY Times article about the young men who allegedly tampered with Senator Mary Landrieu’s office phones, in the hopes of attacking her by demonstrating that she was avoiding constituent calls. If you’ve been following this, you may recall that the apparent ring leader of this stunt is the same guy who made those candid camera videos to discredit ACORN for supposedly giving advice on starting a brothel. The Times reports on their ties to right-wing campus organizations and publications.
Back in the early 1990’s, I was director of residential living at the University of Pennsylvania. My department took seriously the notion that the dormitories should be comfortable and supportive for all students, and our staff training focused on sensitivity to diversity issues, especially after hearing reports that there were parts of campus where minority students didn’t feel comfortable living. The department staff at all levels was very diverse. Depending on your point of view, we had such a good (or bad) reputation in this area that we were tasked with designing and implementing the campus diversity program during freshman orientation.
This was around the time of the elevation of Newt Gingrich, whose MO against opponents was not philosophical debate, but their personal destruction using implied scandal, incompetence, and innuendo. And there was a group of politically conservative young men at Penn, in philosophical disagreement with the diversity values of my department, whose goal was its destruction, using whatever Gingrich-like guerrilla tactics they could dream up. One effort involved publishing photos of dozing graveyard shift security guards in the school paper. Another was relentless accusations that our mailroom staff was stealing student mail. (After a months-long investigation by Post Office authorities, it turned out a US Postal worker at the Philadelphia sorting facility had been stealing cash from student birthday cards.) Meanwhile, the lives and reputations of these employees (African-Americans seemed to be their preferred target) were utterly destroyed.
If it seems I’m still a little angry, I guess I am. While the Penn students didn’t have Fox News to lather them in praise like the young man in the Landrieu case, they had certainly drunk their own Kool-Aid about how they were the voices of truth and righteousness. So it is more than a little ironic that a few years later, one of their ringleaders, the editor who so gleefully published stories recklessly accusing innocent people who were just trying to make a living, became the poster child for fraudulent and fabricated journalism – Stephen Glass.