The ASA Media Ban

In case any more evidence was necessary to demonstrate how thoroughly BDS softens the brain, one need look no further than the latest misstep from our old friends in the American Studies Association (ASA) who just turned out a brand-spanking, freshly-minted, new policy that explains what sort of press is allowed to cover their upcoming annual conference.

When we last left the feckless leaders of that organization, they were spinning at 7000 rpm insisting that the boycott policy they so proudly proclaimed at the start of this year doesn’t actually involve boycotting anyone.  (At least that’s the explanation they’re giving to the press to avoid having the Westin hotel bar their event under California’s highly stringent anti-discrimination laws.)

And speaking of the press, no sooner had they announced that their conference was free and open to all than they issued a set of stringent and convoluted policies explaining what type of journalist would be allowed to cover their event.

Now I ain’t no high-fallutin’ American Studies PeeAycheDee, but as pappy always told me: if you catch whiff of a stench, yer probably standin’ near a skunk.

Let’s begin with the fact that this seems to be the first time the American Studies Association has put any rules in place whatsoever regarding which media is allowed to cover their annual meeting.  Perhaps this was the result of a rowdy press pack who attended last year’s ASA Confab, one that got plastered and started picking fights with visiting scholars over Shaker material culture.  Or, more likely, there are certain journalists they would like to ban from the vicinity, and so they contrived a “policy” that would achieve this goal without having to name names through a more specific blacklist.

For, if they were being more forthright, the people they clearly don’t want anywhere near their event include William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell (whose writings on the web site Legal Insurrection galvanized the massive backlash against the ASA boycott), and Eugene Kontorovich whose Volokh Conspiracy blog in the Washington Post broke the story of ASA’s recent run-in with California’s anti-discrimination rules.

Now writing a policy which bans these two by name (or one that refuses entry to anyone from the Jewish press) would probably not be the wisest move during a period when the organization is also trying to convince the world that they in no way discriminate by religion or national origin.  So instead we get a six-hundred word-policy statement that includes Criteria, Procedures, Required Supporting Documentation and Restrictions (each multi-part) that finishes with the statement the authors probably wanted to start and finish with, namely: “The ASA reserves the right to deny press credentials to anyone at any time.”

What makes this clumsy move all the more astonishing is that the only reason any media at all are interested in covering the activities of a small, specialized academic group is that the ASA leadership stuffed an academic boycott motion down the organization’s throat and then boasted of the significance and newsworthiness of that decision to media around the planet.

And now that some in the media have decided to follow up on the story (demonstrating – as Jacobson did – that the ASA’s largest chapters rejected the boycott policy, or revealing – as Kontorovich did – that ASA is modifying its boycott on the fly to avoid the consequences of its actions) ASA wants to seize control of the news flow, ensuring that they (and only they) get to decide what stories come in or out of the Westin hotel (presuming they’re allowed to use that facility).

This actually represents not the first, second, or even third but the fourth time ASA leaders have demonstrated fear over and contempt for the free flow of information.

Even before the boycott was enacted, these leaders were censoring important information (such as the condemnation the boycott vote received from much larger academic organizations) and limiting communication with members to a steady stream of bilge from “scholarly” web sites like Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada.

Then, when Jacobson started contacting ASA members and regional branch heads to get their reaction to the boycott, these same national leaders urged those members to stay mum whenever the Legal Insurrection contributor rang.

And who can forget ASA President Lisa Duggan’s following up the drooling praise over a BDS event she was attending with a call that said “PLEASE DO NOT post or circulate the flyer. We are trying to avoid press, protestors and public attention.”

All of this should provide the context needed to see the organization’s convoluted, post-modern press policy for what it is: a ban on anyone ASA leadership doesn’t like.

It’s tempting to ding the organization for hypocrisy, given statements they have made again and again that their boycott was designed to foster discussion and grapple with difficult issues.  But even before today’s press-ban chapter in the ongoing ASA saga, we moved way past hypocrisy into thoroughly uncharted territory of egregious behavior.

In many ways, the twirling and attempted shut down of communication we’ve seen over the last few days reminds me of the behavior of a compulsive fabulist who finally lost track of which lies he told to whom, someone who just wants the whole nightmare he has created for himself to go away.

Unfortunately for ASA, the nightmare they created for themselves is going nowhere.  And the only sympathy I have is for the actual American Studies scholars (vs. the BDS activists who happen to teach American Studies that run the organization) who have to suffer just so Lisa Duggan can leverage them to get Omar Barghouti to answer her phone calls.

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