Well, the first official Savage Minds retraction: the story about the student visited by Homeland Security after requesting Mao’s Quotations via interlibrary loan was a hoax. The student began elaborating on the story to the professors mentioned before, and eventually tripped the profs’ BS meters. Dr. Williams visited the student’s home to question his parents, who figured strongly in the story, and discovered they knew nothing about any of it. Confronted with the growing implausibility of his story, the student finally broke down and admitted making the whole thing up — we still don’t know why.
The article makes a pretty good point about why this story moved from a local story to an international one, citing the “perfect storm” of revelations last week regarding government surveillance of citizen actions — the NSA wiretaps, the FBI watchlist of anti-war and other leftish groups, the Pentagon’s domestic monitoring — which made the student’s claim not only plausible but downright likely. With Horowitz’ campaingn against academics, and a general distrust of critical thinking made sharper since 9/11, professors have been waiting for something like this for a long time. Add to that the concern since the PATRIOT Act’s inception over library monitoring — a provision which the government has claimed it has never used but which is desperately needed — and you’ve got a great zeitgeist for just this kind of story, like the organ harvesting tales of South America or vampire rumours of Africa.
Expect to get this thrown in your face by right-wingers desperate to put a presentable face on the allegations of illegal surveillance that actually is going on in the US. Inasmuch as I played a part in the circulation of this story, I feel partially responsible — though I doubt my SM piece was really key to the international attention this story has received. Still, it’s not part of our plan to mislead readers, and if my story has caused any inconvenience or consternation or embarassment to anyone, I am deeply sorry.
“Correct mistakes if you have committed them and guard against them if you have not.” So sayeth Chairman Mao.