to "Stanley Kurtz" (email@example.com)
date Tue, Oct 7, 2008 at 1:20 AM
subject NYT's Ayers-Obama Whitewash
In reference to William Ayers's 1997 book, A Kind and Just Parent, you wrote on The Corner the other day: "That book is quite radical, expressing doubts about whether we ought to have a prison system at all, comparing America to South Africa's apartheid system, and contemptuously dismissing the idea of the United States as a kind or just country." The apartheid charge is one you have levied repeatedly: on Fox News Network's "On the Record" with Greta Van Susteren: "And in that book on juvenile crime, Bill Ayers says a lot of things, a lot of very radical things about the United States, compares the U.S. justice system to apartheid" (September 23); in the Weekly Standard: "Ayers also makes a point of comparing America's prison system to the mass-detention of a generation of young blacks under South African Apartheid" (August 11).
Since you never provide specific citations in support of this claim, I hope I am correct when I assume you are referring to the following three instances in which the word "apartheid" appears in the Ayers book.
1) On page 87, Ayers is reporting on his visit to The Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center School, in which a student named Mario is reading aloud the opening passage of a short story by Reginald McKnight entitled "The Kind of Light that Shines on Texas." Ayers writes, "'Alphabetized,' says Mario. 'Alphabetized. They didn't stick us in the back, or arrange us by degrees of hue, apartheid-like. This was real integration.[...]'" Not do these sentiments belong to McKnight's short story rather than Ayers himself; additionally, they are describing an integrated school, one exactly opposite that of an apartheid system.
2) On page 165, Ayers is reporting the words of a South African friend, Michael Freeman, "an official with the Anglican Church in charge of voter education and registration [who has] worked closely with the African National Congress during the resistance and now  works with the Mandela government. Michael is in Chicago to exchange information with community-based voter projects and to meet with foundation officers about strategies for funding his efforts. 'You know,' he tells us early in his visit, 'we face a desperate problem with youth crime. Under apartheid our youth were rounded up and incarcerated in huge numbers. Now, with no formal education, and bearing the scars of growing up in prison, these young people must somehow integrate into the new society. It is a critical, monumental struggle for us.'" Here Freeman, not Ayers, is simply pointing out the implications of mass youth incarcerations based on his own experience in South Africa, perhaps in the hopes that the American justice system might learn from and correct the unintended consequences of such policies. (It's not even clear if he's truly making a comparison with the American system here at all.)
3) Finally, on page 183, the same Michael Freeman has just departed from a visit to the same Chicago classroom. "So many black boys in cages," says Freeman, not Ayers. "This feels like apartheid." Notice Freeman, again not Ayers, is drawing a point of resemblance, "feels like" in one specific respect, not "is identical to" in every respect. He knows America does not embrace apartheid but can't help drawing a resemblance in this instance.
In claiming that it "compares America to South Africa's apartheid system," you misrepresent the Ayers book in at least three fundamental respects. First, you attribute directly to Ayers words and sentiments expressed not by Ayers himself but by others in his narrative. Second, you strip these statements of any and all context that would render them even remotely intelligible: namely that one is a fictionalized account of an integrated, not segregated school system, while the other two are spoken by a South African possibly warning Americans about the dangers of apartheid and even the slightest possible resemblances to it. Third, you wildly overstate the significance of these three incidental passages for the book as a whole.
Given that a reviewer for the conservative bulwark Chicago Tribune wrote, "There must continue to be thoughtful books like Ayers' that illustrate the profound flaws of today's juvenile-justice system and society's abandonment of the young and poor. Ayers' book provides a valuable step in understanding what is happening" (March 8, 1998, page 12), one cannot help but wonder why you have so willfully distorted the Ayers book -- especially when they are so easily checked (via Google Books) -- or what precisely in the three sentences I have identified and contextualized above has anything remotely to do with Senator Obama.
Could it be you, Mr. Kurtz, and not Ayers, who is the radical here -- a radical bent on adding your own personal smudge to an ongoing, guilt-by-association political smear? You claim that the NYT piece "makes no serious attempt to present the views of Obama critics who have worked to uncover the true nature of the relationship. That makes this piece irresponsible journalism." The evidence I have presented above suggests that you are the irresponsible "journalist" crying sour grapes over the fact that the NYT wisely and responsibly ignores distortions and fabrications like yours.