Discredited right-wing pundit David Horowitz claimed in a March 17 article on his website Frontpagemagazine.com that an anecdote he has told repeatedly as a purported example of anti-conservative bias on college campuses was, in fact, true, despite his issuance of a “correction” two days before and his acknowledgement then that the story -- concerning an alleged incident at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) -- “appears to be wrong.” In the March 17 article, titled “Correction: We were right,” he also attacked Media Matters for America for “lying” about his claims; attacked the press for “report[ing] the MediaMatters claims about us as though they were true” ; described the university as “dishonest” ; suggested the professor involved may have “tampered” with the exam question after it was administered; and suggested that the student may have lied to him about her grade.
As Media Matters has noted repeatedly, Horowitz and his group Students for Academic Freedom had alleged that when asked on a midterm essay exam to explain “why President Bush was a war criminal,” a student in "[a] criminology class at a Colorado university" received a failing grade for explaining instead why Saddam Hussein was a war criminal. Horowitz and SAF claimed that this incident constituted anti-conservative bias. Questions were raised repeatedly about the veracity of the story -- first by Mano Singham, the director of Case Western Reserve University's Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education, who questioned the Colorado story March 4 in a Cleveland Plain Dealer op-ed; then by Media Matters; then, on March 15, InsideHigherEd.com refuted nearly all of the claims Horowitz and his SAF group had made about the alleged UNC incident, quoting a UNC spokeswoman as saying that “the test question was not the one described by Horowitz, the grade was not an F, and there were clearly non-political reasons for whatever grade was given.” Horowitz's March 15 admission of error appears to have been prompted by the InsideHigherEd.com article.
But in the March 17 article, apparently stung by press coverage of his admission that the SAF story was wrong, Horowitz tried to backtrack: "[W]e admitted two minor points. We did not know whether the student got an 'F' as she claimed and we did not know whether the question itself was required (as opposed to the answer). I made a mistake from ignorance here and said we had not 'checked' these points. In fact, we could not check them because the University Administration would not release them to us."
But this new effort at damage control crumbles under scrutiny. Indeed, new facts posted on Horowitz's own website directly refute his March 17 claim that “we were right.” As documented by Media Matters, Horowitz proclaimed in a March 14 FrontPageMag.com blog post that: “The story about the Colorado exam is true and was even referenced by the president of the university in question, Kay Norton, at legislative hearings on the Academic Bill of Rights. The complete facts are available here." Horowitz linked to the SAF website, which posted an article the same day that promised to provide audio and transcripts of UNC president Kay Norton's testimony at a September 9, 2004, hearing before the Colorado state legislature's Joint Education Committee, in which, the SAF article suggested, she addressed the incident.
Fast forward three days, and notably absent from Horowitz's March 17 article is any mention of the promised audio file. That may be because the audiotape does not in fact corroborate Horowitz's claims. The long-promised audiotape did finally appear on the SAF site, and, rather than providing evidence of the incident as Horowitz described, it refutes Horowitz's claims. From Norton's recorded testimony, beginning at 15:27 of the recording:
NORTON: On a regular basis, I hold open office hours in the student center, and any student can come without an appointment and talk to me about any issue. And actually, last year a young woman did raise a question about what she thought was an inappropriate examination question. I referred her to our procedures. She followed them, and I'm pleased to report to you that the original version of what would have been an inappropriate examination question proved not to be what was actually on the examination, and so the process worked in that case. We were able to take a fair look at the atmosphere in that particular classroom. We did have a young faculty member involved, so at first the question was perhaps this developing faculty member had not thought through examination technique, but in fact nothing untoward happened, I'm pleased to report that to you.
As Media Matters documented, Horowitz had previously presented transcripts of a December 18, 2003, hearing before the Colorado state legislature (page 1 and page 2) that purportedly contained the UNC student's testimony to her experience, but these transcripts made no mention of the incident.
In the March 17 article, Horowitz also attacked the Associated Press for spreading “the lies from Media Matters about this story.” According to Horowitz: “They simply report the Media Matters claims about us as though they were true. But Media Matters claimed (actually insinuated) that we invented the student, the professor and the exam question. Media Matters has yet to retract these claims even though there is no one in the universe who can believe them anymore. So we were punished for being honest, and Media Matters is rewarded for lying.”
In fact, Media Matters for America, in its previous treatments of this story (here and here), never claimed or insinuated that the professor, student, or exam question did not exist. Rather, Media Matters' items concerning this incident have noted only that Horowitz failed to provide any evidence to substantiate his claim that such an incident occurred. Media Matters has also noted that the purported “evidence” Horowitz did offer did not substantiate his claim.
In addition to the “lies” of Media Matters, Horowitz also lashed out at UNC, calling it “dishonest throughout this process,” and suggested that professor Robert Dunkley, who administered the disputed exam, may have “tampered” with the version of the exam question that has been provided to the press. According to Horowitz: “This was a course in criminology and specifically the behavior of individuals not states, which makes the student's claim that the original question was 'Explain Why George Bush Is A War Criminal' more plausible than the question Dunkley has now supplied. If you look at the question as supplied by Dunkley, it is somewhat incoherent as though it had been tampered with.”
In his article, Horowitz placed blame on nearly every party involved -- Media Matters, for “lying” ; the AP, for printing Media Matters' “lies” ; the university and the professor for being “dishonest” ; and the student, who “may have misrepresented the facts” upon which Horowitz based his erroneous claim. Apparently, the only blameless party in the burgeoning scandal over the phony Colorado story is the one who told it -- David Horowitz.