Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Saboteur of Kent State University

There is  a professor at Kent State who has a rather nasty habit of sabotaging anyone he perceives as a professional threat. Although he does not dare say anything publicly, he has been quietly trying to discredit his competitors by claiming their work is riddled with errors.

For example, in 1990, when American History Illustrated published an article he wrote, he vehemently tried to convince Geneva Politzer, the magazine's editor, not to publish an accompanying article by freelance writer Lesley Wischmann. The professor claimed her article contained numerous errors of fact. Politzer then asked the professor to itemize the mistakes. When push came to shove the professor had to back down and admit he could not even cite one single example. Wischmann's article was subsequently published and, would not you know it? Neither I nor anyone else found any errors or problems with anything she wrote.

Word also reached me that the professor emeritus, Jerry M. Lewis, has been conducting a whispering campaign against my book, making the same unsubstantiated charges. Again, he would only talk in generalities and could not cite one single example. It was, of course, deliberate slander, pure and simple.

One of the reasons Lewis' lies infuriated me is that I take great pride in my journalism. In the 22 years since my book was originally published, no one--not a single scholar, journalist, or groupie--has ever identified any error of fact, either significant or nitpicking. No one has ever claimed I misquoted them or did not accurately report what was in any historical documents. No one has ever suggested that I was less than conscientious with the mountains upon mountains of raw material that attorneys deliberately created and preserved for historians to study. And, of course, I am still the only chronicler of this event who has actually studied and written about them. 

The failure to find errors in my book is something that cannot be said about most other books about the killings, including books by two Pulitzer Prize winners, James Michener and Philip Caputo. Kent State professors, fellow journalists, and attorneys for the defendants found numerous problems with Michener's reporting, and Caputo committed a few sloppy errors that his more radical critics blew out of proportion because he was not one of them.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with my conclusions. May 4 certainly was not a black-and-white case, and disagreements are to be expected any time a writer tackles a highly controversial cause celebre. But as far as my basic reporting is concerned, I feel I deserve to be commended for treating an enormous body of evidence in such a conscientious manner. Instead, I found myself the subject of a smear campaign, and I do not like it one bit.

A few things need to be said here. First, Lewis has several reasons to be unhappy with my book. Not only did I not praise his scholarship, but I skewered his tortured subdisciplinary reasoning for recommending the main campus memorial be built. While others felt the memorial was needed because four students were killed in a tragedy a presidential commission called "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable," Lewis felt a memorial was needed because it "sensitized America to regimented lines of communication and authority. May 4 changed forever how future demonstrations--peaceful or otherwise--must be perceived, analyzed, understood. and settled nonviolently." 

I also ridiculed him and his colleagues for their obstinate refusal to acknowledge the real debate. I also did not feed his supersized ego. One year Jerry, apparently confusing himself with a celebrity, actually gave his students a handout of his schedule of  his upcoming TV appearances.

And perhaps most importantly, my book contains some highly embarrassing revelations about the nutty professor. On pages 256 and 257, the book reveals how, in a matter of a few days, Lewis shapeshifted himself from a champion of campus radicals who opposed a federal grand jury investigation, to someone who voluntarily became a secret informant against the victims. Jerry briefed then KSU President Glenn A. Olds about a confidential meeting among the victims in which their legal strategy was discussed. Four Dead in Ohio discloses a document I discovered in the archives which demonstrated this happened at a time when the victims were suing the university. It was akin to someone infiltrating a legal defense. Jerry did this after he spoke out in defense of the radicals who opposed the grand jury investigation, and was roundly humiliated by Arthur Krause, the father of slain student Allison Krause, who exploded: "Jerry, that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" Lewis kept quiet for the rest of the meeting, but he later retaliated against Krause by briefing Olds and again later by telling me that Krause was crying on cue during a television interview, as if Krause was faking his grief.

And, of course, Jerry has also been threatened by my research. I did not quite understand why he urged me so strongly to give up seeking publication until the president of a U.S.-Canadian textbook distribution company told me that my book was perfect for classes in "Social Problems." That happens to be Lewis' field of expertise. Incidentally, he assigned his own May 4 textbook in that class. Jerry will not be happy to hear that my book has been adopted for classes at nine or ten universities.

I hope there are a few professors at Kent who are wise enough to challenge Lewis the next time he pulls this crap. As far as I am concerned, he is shamelessly intellectually dishonest. And an absolute disgrace to his profession.


My recommendation for a new word in The American Heritage and other dictionaries:

to "jerrylewis" someone

Definition: To sabotage one's competitor,  especially one who has far surpassed his own work.

Yes, he wants to be the leading expert on the Kent State shootings so badly that I am going to oblige him. I intend to make him into a household name.