The Times’ Joe McCarthy

In his Feb. 26 column, Jonah Goldberg provides us with textbook examples of the logical fallacies employed to such good effect by Joseph McCarthy and his minions in the 1950s. I thought we had driven a stake through the heart of McCarthyism, and that Red-baiting had met its well-deserved end. But Goldberg, who is as slimy as Gollum, the cave-dwelling hobbit in “Lord of the Rings,” has brought it back with a vengeance.

First, he dredges up unproved accusations against University of Illinois at Chicago professor William Ayers, so he can link him with Barack Obama. He claims Obama once visited Ayers’ home and served on a board of directors with the professor. Goldberg coyly states that Obama might have good reasons why he shouldn’t suffer “any guilt by association.” So why spend two paragraphs on Ayers if Goldberg isn’t hoping that his readers will believe that having visited Ayers’ house years ago means Obama currently supports Ayers’ former views or actions?

Next, Goldberg complains that Ayers has a “prestigious” university job, while whining that “even the whisper of neocon tendencies is toxic in academia.” He doesn’t produce any evidence for this statement, displaying for us another logical fallacy: that of proof by assertion. This charge can’t be proved, because professors are listed by departments or academic specialization, not their political beliefs. But there’s Douglas J. Feith, a notorious neoconservative, appointed to a faculty position at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. And far from being considered “toxic,” Feith was appointed to his faculty post without having to undergo any of the usual rigors of the academic selection process at Georgetown.

Goldberg then moves on to the Clintons, claiming that Bill Clinton pardoned Puerto Rican “separatist terrorists” and that this action was “perceived” as a way to gain votes for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign. Who were these terrorists and what did they do? The prisoners were members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation. None of these prisoners had been convicted of bombings or violent offenses, and all had served 14 years or longer in prison, longer than the time usually served for such crimes. No one from the FALN was pardoned. Instead, 16 prisoners had their sentences commuted. In contrast, President Bush commuted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s sentence before he had served a single day.

Next, Goldberg accuses Hillary Clinton of a “brush with violent radical leftists” while she was in law school at Yale. The occasion was the trial in New Haven of a group of Black Panthers, who, Goldberg says, “murdered police and civilians in cold blood.” He mentions Panther leader Bobby Seale, but then omits the fact that Seale was acquitted. And what was Clinton’s “brush” with the Panthers? She volunteered to monitor the trial for civil rights violations. This particular accusation against Hillary has actually reached the status of an urban legend and is debunked on Why is The Times republishing junk that’s discredited on Snopes?

Goldberg really is a master of the non sequitur. Having spelled out two spurious connections between Hillary Clinton and “paramilitary criminals,” he now moves back to Obama, asking why his acquaintance with an “unrepentant terrorist [is] a triviality?” But the “terrorist” hasn’t been convicted of anything, except by Goldberg, who charges him with unrepentant speech.

Goldberg is really beneath contempt -- he’s engaged in a smear campaign, resurrected McCarthy Red-baiting techniques such as proof by assertion and guilt by association and used a series of logical fallacies to imply that tenuous or even unsubstantiated connections between the candidates and people Goldberg accuses of violence “prove” that the candidates themselves support violence.

There’s no point in wishing that Goldberg wouldn’t do this; clearly he’s being well paid for writing nasty innuendo and rehashing “scandals” circulating widely on the Web. But it’s distressing to see The Times publish this garbage.

Karin Pally is a housing consultant who lives and works in Santa Monica.