The Orwellian Memory Hole: Vanishing Archives

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.