Joel Mowbray

“We don’t give a rat’s ass what Ahmadinejad thinks about European history or what pissant speech the little s**t gives.”

Pop quiz: Which historian and noted scholar of the contemporary Middle East wrote these words?

What, you think no historian, let alone a top academic in his field, could have written this?  Think again.  OK, there’s actually a good case to be made that he’s not in the “top” of his field—but some obviously feel that he is.  Yale is about to hire him.

The eloquent wordsmith in question is University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, who is better known as a prolific blogger.  His rant on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was part of his “response” to writer Chris Hitchens’ attacks earlier this month.  As the quotes suggest, his supposed response didn’t really qualify as one.

It started with an explanation of why he wouldn’t refute his critics, after which he baselessly slandered Hitchens as either having been drunk or having utilized a ghostwriter.  Finally, his meandering blog post evolved into an attempt at re-creating a Vietnam-era anti-war chant, which contained the infantile remark above.

This probably helps explain why he didn’t respond to my column; he’s just no good at it.

Cole has tried two different tacks in the past when confronted with his own incompetence: 1) digging in his heels and defending himself, and 2) smearing in lieu of debating.  Neither approach has yielded pretty results.

Back in 2004, Cole wrote in an column that the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) “is funded to the tune of $60 million a year.”  His source?  In an interview with this journalist, Cole said someone—whose name he couldn’t remember—told him.  At least give him credit for this much: he stuck by his nameless friend, even after the number was debunked by hard evidence.

When shown that the public disclosure forms (required of all U.S. nonprofits) filed by MEMRI listed a budget of less than $2 million, Cole was adamant that the $60 million figure was correct.  His public reiteration was unequivocal: “I deny that I have misstated their funding.”  In an e-mail, he explained his reasoning: “I think they are getting very substantial in-kind donations of labor and services in Israel, possibly from Israeli military intelligence.”

Asked about this incident last week, Cole finally admitted, “I was wrong.”

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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