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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

Moss Pushes False Narrative… Yet Again

I am a 2017 graduate of Middlebury and will matriculate at Harvard Law School in the fall. While at Middlebury, I co-led the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) club that invited Dr. Charles Murray to speak, and I was one of the two students heckled on stage by anti-Murray protesters during the event. As a future attorney and accidental free-speech advocate, I have been particularly concerned by Professor Kevin Moss’s recent false attacks on political science professors in the fallout from the Legutko lecture cancellation. What I read sickened me, not only for its inaccuracy, but also for what it showed me about the troubling state of intellectual life today.

[pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]With fact-checkers like this, who needs fake news?[/pullquote]

Moss’s op-ed of April 25 was not the first time that he has played the polemicist in our student newspaper. Moss has not published an academic book in 20 years, but he has made time to criticize members of the Middlebury community. In 2017, he attacked Middlebury alum Professor Paul Carrese ’89 for stating the obvious: that Charles Murray was prevented from speaking at Middlebury. Moss, pointing to the inaudible live stream held in a private locked greenroom, “corrected” Carrese, and claimed that Murray was not prevented from speaking. With fact-checkers like this, who needs fake news? In 2016, Moss wrote in to scold a Christian student organization at Middlebury regarding its theological requirements that its leaders not support gay marriage. In 2007, The Campus reported on his failed effort to get the College to reject a two-million endowment in the name of the Chief Justice of the United States. Moss objected because he did not agree with the Chief Justice’s legal opinions. This sad and embarrassing attack on political diversity earned a sharp rebuke from then-President Liebowitz, printed in these very pages. Liebowitz wrote that Moss’s resolution “misrepresents and distorts the record of Justice Rehnquist.” That rebuke should not surprise anyone who has followed Moss’s recent contributions to campus discourse.

Moss’s attacks on members of the community are not confined to the pages of The Campus. On April 17, Moss created a bizarre meme calling for “a few poli sci professors” to “be fired.” This was set against a backdrop of fire. How clever. After Moss posted this online for dozens of faculty and alumni to see, it made the rounds with recent alumni, students, and other members of the Middlebury community. It was also mentioned in the Addison County Independent. This was a stunningly public and childish act.

In his op-ed of April 25, Moss offers the same kind of unsupported claims and distortions that earned his 2007 resolution a rebuke from President Liebowitz. First, Moss expresses surprise at Professor Callanan’s statement, in his open letter of April 15, that some of the Legutko quotations circulating campus were doctored or taken from context. As an alum with a deep interest in free speech, I kept a close eye on the campaign against the Legutko lecture. It is clear to me that Callanan’s characterization was entirely correct. Take for example the use of square brackets in the second quotation pictured in “College Braces for Right-Wing Speaker Accused of Homophobia,” published in The Campus on April 16, 2019. Compare this doctored version of the quotation to the original as it appeared in context in the Polska Times. In the original, Legutko was referring to same-sex marriage in context, not LGBT rights as a general class. The quotation was distorted through the insertion of inaccurate supplied words in order to make it more inflammatory. If a lawyer used square brackets in this manner in a submission to a court, he could face reprimand.

[pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"] Moss’s op-ed trafficked in mischaracterizations and libelous ad hominem attacks.[/pullquote]

Another example is in the student protesters’ open letter itself. Although this letter only draws on a few of the many quotations put in circulation, even here they do not get them all right. Protesters insert the phrase “communist and liberal-democratic artists” as the antecedent of “they” in one of the pull quotes. Anyone who reads the sentence carefully can see that the letter’s authors got the antecedents of “they” wrong. The letter chops off the first half of the sentence, which makes clear that the antecedents of “they” are the various themes, tropes, and figures which function similarly in liberal-democratic and communist art. The protesters’ insertion completely distorts the meaning and context. There are other examples from emails circulating from the week of April 15.

After reviewing his writings, many will take issue with some of Legutko’s beliefs. When you set out to turn an entire campus against a visiting scholar, however, you had better be impeccably accurate in your presentation of the evidence.

Moving beyond his inaccurate discussion of the quotations, Moss further claims that Callanan’s letter contained “much more false information.” Unfortunately, Moss does not tell us what that information is. This is not because he will not, but because he cannot. In a world in which “fake news” is becoming more common, these types of attacks only serve to further degrade the situation.

It would add a great deal to the debate surrounding what happened to Professor Legutko and the larger issue of free speech on campus if Professor Moss actually presented an argument on the issues. That, however, was not in his interest, as it is harder than creating digital art or attacking someone’s character in a newspaper. Moss’s op-ed trafficked in mischaracterizations and libelous ad hominem attacks in order to assassinate the characters of people he cannot meet in open argument.

Moss’s attack on professors of great integrity and intellect was completely unwarranted. The proliferation of character assassination has made American society sick with the cancer of angry partisanship. No one is immune to its charms. It is all too easy to turn to when one cannot or will not address ideas. The result is that we are losing what makes us unique as human beings. What is clear is that Middlebury needs to take a closer look at its problems. The trustees should start seriously asking why Middlebury has not yet joined institutions such as Princeton University and Claremont-McKenna College in endorsing the Chicago Principles of Free Expression. Middlebury’s Trustees should endorse the principles at their upcoming meeting and incorporate them into the Handbook. Parents, alumni, faculty, and students should demand nothing less.