Friday, December 30, 2005

Details in litle Mao hoax emerge 

The Boston Globe reports that some faculty want punishments handed down in the false story on the government seeking out a UMass-Dartmouth student who asked to read Mao's Little Red Book. There are some details in the story that are news to me, in particular the behavior of the two faculty members who went public with the story, Professors Robert Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand:
It was Williams who first told the Standard-Times about his former student's claim after the reporter called him for comment about President Bush's approval of a controversial domestic spying program.

After expressing his concerns about government surveillance, Williams told the reporter as an afterthought about the purported visit by Homeland Security agents, and that became the thrust of the story, Williams said.

When the story created a media storm, Williams said, he resolved to check its veracity. Last Friday, he said, his former student confessed it was a fabrication.

...Pontbriand, a lecturer in the history department, said he never initiated any calls to reporters and merely confirmed that the student in his seminar on totalitarianism had asserted that he had been visited by federal agents.

''I have never used the classroom or the public forum to promote any personal political ideology, and I certainly have not done so in this case," he said.
Assuming Pontbriand's story is accurate, what appears is a student who told a story to two faculty who chose to believe the fabrication. When others pointed out the rather obvious holes in the story, Williams went to check it out, found the story fake, and alerted the reporter of the fabrication. I think it's fair to surmise that Prof. Williams was predisposed to believe the story, and likely as well to have retold it to the reporter to bolster his "concerns about government surveillance". I don't think that's grounds for a reprimand as others at the campus call for, but some commenters on this board think we should be harsher. I think we'll just have to disagree on that.