I guess this is now what passes for investigative journalism. I am willing to wager that you can find mistakes, oversights, inaccuracies, etc. in any large textbook, especially when it comes to more recent history. Part of the problem is that the publisher may not be able to issue new editions of a particular textbook in response to new information. The bigger problem, however, is our understanding of the history textbook itself. Our tendency is to think of it as somehow capturing an objective or neutral historical narrative. It does not exist. Good instructors teach their students how to read primary and secondary sources with a critical eye.
My bigger issue with the harassment of Columbia University professor, Alan Brinkley, by Fox News’s Griff Jenkins is the way he went about it. Jenkins follows Brinkley for several blocks while criticizing the book’s treatment of the War on Terror. Apparently Brinkley wrote that only one terror suspect detained at Gitmo was ever charged, while Fox claims that the number today is over one hundred. The problem is that Fox did not have data for 2006, when the book was published. On the positive side Jenkins looked quite spiffy and the Fox logo prominently displayed.
If Jenkins was really interested in sitting down with Alan Brinkley than why not request an interview instead of this shameful display? Could it be that as a producer of one of Fox’s shows that Jenkins wasn’t interested in a mature conversation to begin with? Could it be that what he was really interested in is the kind of television “shock and awe” that translates into ratings? I’ve used Brinkley’s Unfinished Nation before in my AP classes and the majority of my students scored 4s and 5s on the test. From what I can tell it did not turn them into screaming liberal fanatics who call for the downfall of this nation. On p. 549 of his book you will find the following in response to the tragedy of 9-11: “Americans responded to the tragedies with acts of courage and generosity, large and small, and with a sense of national unity and commitment that seemed, at least for a time, like the unity and commitment at the start of World War II.” Yep, this is definitely someone you want to stalk in the name of patriotic journalism.
So, in the end what have we learned. Well, if you are a fan of Fox News you probably had your assumptions about academics confirmed and you see Jenkins as some kind of moral crusader. And if you dislike Fox News you are probably feeling sympathetic for Brinkley. What is lost in all of this, however, is a conversation about the book and its content. Congratulations Mr. Jenkins – looks like you had a good day.