Also: this is Wikipedia’s problem, in a nutshell.
Background: Soledad O’Brien managed to look like an utter idiot on CNN on Thursday when Breitbart.com’s Joel Pollak casually eviscerated her over the concept of critical race theory (CRT).
OK, deeper background: CRT is more or less identity politics run through an academic gobbledygook filter; some of its adherents have made some somewhat… incautious comments about white supremacy and the sham nature of the American civil rights movement. This all matters because Breitbart.com’s got footage of Barack Obama as a college student introducing Derrick Bell (H/T: Ann Althouse) – a man who once argued that American whites would happily sell American blacks to space aliens if offered enough in exchange*. Admittedly, we all do stupid things in college – and if the media had brought up Obama’s collegiate antics in 2008 (or 2004) it’s fair to say that it only might have caused, to use a term from my kids’ favorite show, ‘confusion and delay’ for the Obama campaign. Neither of those should have been a consideration for the media when it came to doing their jobs – but, hey, we all know that these people think that ‘doing their jobs’ means ‘keeping conservatives out of office.’
At any rate: O’Brien got humiliated, a bit (one rumor is that she was fed the answer, but I suspect that Breitbart.com is right and O’Brien’s just a fan of Bell’s)- and then people started mucking about with the Wikipedia entry on CRT, apparently to make its definition match O’Brien’s. An examination of the entry’s Talk page indicates that there was what those folks calls an ‘edit war’… and the fact that there’s specialized jargon describing the situation tells you a lot, right there.
Now, I don’t really care about CRT, per se – and Bell in the end was just another academic whose contribution to academic thought, for good or ill, is complete. Fifty years from now he and I will be equally obscure**. And it seems that the edit wars have ended in a temporary revert, in the hope that people will have forgotten about the controversy in a couple of weeks. Still: this is the problem with crowdsourcing reference materials: people with vested political, financial, or simply power-related (the three are often linked, too) interests can manipulate the process, and the most common countermeasure seems to be to hope that somebody notices.
Oh, well, at least Wikipedia’s still good for movie plot summaries.
Moe Lane (Crosspost)
PS: Protip for CNN: if you’re going to have somebody on to accuse a conservative of being afraid of black people, get one with the mother-wit to check to see if his target is, I don’t know, married to an African-American. Literally, in Julia’s case: she’s a recent immigrant from South Africa whose family was active in the anti-apartheid movement. Which is a polite way of saying that Jay Thomas is a blithering idiot.
*This concept was later turned into a remarkably odious short movie that aired on HBO in the Nineties. As I recall, it was one of three short movies: of the other two, one claimed that the Virgin Mary was actually a loa being enslaved by the Vatican; and that if you gave urban African-American automatic rifles for an uprising that they’d instead just shoot each other with them – which gives you an idea of the intellectual heft of Bell’s argument, or at least allows for a good, healthy guilt-by-association charge.
**Yes, that was vicious of me. It’s intentional. To paraphrase SM Stirling: my country hates slavery, including the word itself. The suggestion that we would sell a tenth of us in order to make the rest comfortable is offensive, and someone should have thrown that observation right back into Derrick Bell’s face.