The Orwellian Memory Hole: Vanishing Archives

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On Monday the 17th, I did a search for the name "Deming"
in the archives of The Oklahoma Daily – the Oklahoma
University student newspaper – in order to download articles
and letters-to-the-editor that were relevant to an article I was
writing. Professor David Deming has been the focus of intense media
attention due to the more than twenty harassment complaints filed
against him as a result of a pro-Second Amendment letter he published
in the student newspaper on February 21st. Deming had
the hubris to compare unregistered handguns with unregistered vaginas
in terms of the danger they both present to society. Accusations
and rumors of lawsuits have ladened the academic air ever since.

On Tuesday morning at about 2:00 a.m., I did a similar search on
Deming's name in order to confirm a date. The URLs were inaccessible.
In their place was the notice "The requested file is missing,
and NetCloak could not find the defined error file." Going
to the NetCloak
website
, I discovered that, "NetCloak is a way…. to hide
links to confidential documents on your server. You can even hide
portions of those pages down to a single character at a time."

E-mails to three editors at The Oklahoma Daily about the
possibility of technical difficulties produced no response. An exchange
with Prof. Deming resulted in a typically generous assessment on
his part: the glitch might be due to incompetence rather than deviousness.
Yet the main incompetence seems to be that the staff left a "NetCloak"
error message on the site that is awkward to explain away. Hopefully,
the newsletter will correct the u2018oversight' rather than merely hide
references to "NetCloak."

Regrettably, Deming is not a lone target. A PC pattern of purging
conservative views from student newspapers seems to be spreading
across American campuses. The last time my access to controversial
articles suddenly disappeared was a little over a week ago while
I was researching the dismissal of columnist Jason Van Dyke from
Michigan State University's The State News. Van Dyke was
fired for writing a column entitled "Movement teaches tolerance
hypocritically" (04/03/00). In it, he excoriated gay rights
advocates for being intolerant and inconsistent in their call for
diversity. Certainly they did not allow the diversity represented
by white male heterosexuals. Van Dyke knew this for a fact. He had
drawn fire previously for his refusal to comply with a "voluntary"
sensitivity program that declared elevators and cafeteria tables
in his residence hall to be "for blacks" or "for
gays" only.

Instead
of applauding his refusal to be victimized by discriminatory practices,
gays and feminists had condemned him for insensitivity. The day
after Van Dyke's column on gay intolerance appeared, The State
News published a letter from a gay rights advocate who threatened
Van Dyke with the MSU Anti-Discrimination Policy. In turn, Van Dyke
threatened to countersue.

Abruptly, none of the links to Van Dyke's material on The State
News worked. In a phone conversation with Opinions Editor Dan
Macklin, I inquired about access to one article that I had neglected
to download after reading it a few days prior. He assured me that
if the article existed – and he would not confirm that
it did – then it would be in the archives. The search I had
conducted a few hours earlier had produced no results. In an e-mail,
Van Dyke explained why. "That is because they took the URL
offline," he stated. "However, I have the URL because
they did not actually delete the file from their webspace."
I downloaded the piece from the URL provided by Van Dyke. On all
other matters, Macklin refused to comment "for legal reasons."
A promised call from the main editor of The State News never
materialized.

In response to the suppression of his biweekly column, Van Dyke
is constructing a new website called The
Potatoe
. Its mission statement declares, "This website
is being created in response to the recent firing of conservative
columnists in college news publications across the country. Our
goal is to provide a forum for conservative columnists to have their
work published…." It also features Bill Barnwell. The
Potatoe states, "Barnwell wrote for The South End
(Wayne State University's student newspaper) during the spring semester
of his sophomore year, when his columns appeared as often as twice
a week. Ironically, Bill was fired from The South End under
the same circumstances as Jason."

Georgetown University's student newspaper The Hoya was less
subtle than MSU's The State News. It did not merely kill
the link to material by an offending conservative columnist: it
deleted his material from the archive altogether. Robert Swope made
the mistake of objecting to an on-campus university-sponsored presentation
of The
Vagina Monologues
in which a 13-year-old girl is fed alcohol
and seduced by a 24-year-old woman. From the stage, the little girl
describes the incident as a "good rape." When Swope protested
against the idea of a "good rape" and pointed to the hypocrisy
of the Women's Studies Department in supporting such a possibility,
the archive of his work vanished.

The Foundation for Individual
Rights in Education (FIRE)
– a leading voice in the protest
against the purge of conservative voices from college campuses –
declared: "Wong [Editor of The Hoya] was unhappy with
Swope's unrepentant politically incorrect views and took it upon
himself to rid the paper of its token conservative columnist. Wong's
decision has been the subject of discussion in a number of national
publications, almost exclusively by intellectually diverse and liberty-loving
female authors. Cultural critic Camille Paglia, libertarian intellectual
Wendy McElroy, Jewish World Review columnist Michelle Malkin,
National Review's Kathryn Lopez, and the Washington Times'
Andrea Billups…."

Indeed, criticism from women who supported Swope may have led "The
Hoya" to take an amazing step. FIRE
subsequently announced
, "In a revealing and quite breathtaking
development, Robert Swope's columns have been removed from the "Columnist
Archives" section of The Hoya website. George Orwell's
fear of revisionist history and the erasing of the past has found
sad confirmation on the politically correct Georgetown campus."

A central theme of George Orwell's classical novel about a dystopian
future, 1984,
is the authoritarian control of history. Winston Smith, the novel's
protagonist, falsifies history as part of his job at the Ministry
of Truth. People who have said or done the wrong thing are written
out of recorded existence. They go down the memory hole. Orwell
commented on the consequences of such dis-history upon real truth,
"One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully
certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with
totally different interpretations from different sources."

Oh Brave New World that has such editors in it!

April
20, 2000

Wendy
McElroy is author of The
Reasonable Woman
.

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