Finish Your "Oxford" Study, Mr. Millican

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©Jack Cashill

November 3, 2008

Oxford philosophy don Peter Millican concludes his impressively disingenuous piece in the London Times—“How they tried to tarnish Barack Obama: Peter Millican reveals how he was drawn into a plot to link the Democrat to a former radical”--with a tease he knows to be less than true.

Says the seemingly offended Millican, “I was left with the impression that payment for propaganda was fine; but payment for objective research was quite a different matter.”

Millican refers here to an effort by Bob Fox, an associate of Utah congressman Chris Cannon, to underwrite a study on the likelihood that Bill Ayers had a hand in the writing of Barack Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father.

While at Leeds University, Millican had created a software program designed to help detect the authorship of a given work. Although anyone can run this software, one of several such programs on the market, Fox felt that there would be a better chance of getting an objective result from someone outside the American university system. He seems to have miscalculated.

Although I have not met Fox, he contacted me two weeks before the presidential election and nearly three months after I had begun my inquiry into the authorship of Dreams. He wanted to get my research out, and I was relieved that someone finally stepped up to help. No one was paying me for what I was doing, and I had few contacts or resources of my own.

Although my evidence speaks for itself, Millican describes my hypothesis as “strange” and even “scandalous.” No, what strikes me as strange is that the then unknown Obama, with only some leaden articles and lame poetry under his belt, could have conjured up what Time Magazine has called “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”

What is strange is that Obama tells at least three stories in Dreams that neighborhood literary guru Ayers has told in his books, that he borrows at least twenty nautical metaphors—some very sophisticated--from the former merchant seaman Ayers, that he has absorbed Ayers’ postmodern patois and his weary sixties weltanschauung almost to the very word. Coincidences all?

Stranger still is that Obama’s literary skills seem to have vanished after the 1995 debut of his book, the same year by the way that Ayers launched Obama’s career with a fundraiser at his home.

To read what Obama has written since or to listen to his spontaneous speech is to sense an ongoing charade. What is “scandalous” is that the American media have averted their gaze lest they see through it.

As I learned while researching my book Hoodwinked, literary fraud is surprisingly easy to get away with if the presumed writer is advancing a cause that the literary gatekeepers wants to see advanced. Trust me, Obama is one such cause.

The last century has witnessed a score or more of staggering frauds—Alex Haley, Rigoberta Menchu, Margaret Mead, Edward Said, Rachel Carson--that the folks guarding the cultural gates have largely succeeded in keeping from the American people. I expected resistance from the gatekeepers on this one, and I have found it.

Fox was convinced, as were others, that I would need “scientific” studies to confirm my research. I was less certain. A few weeks earlier, I had consulted with Patrick Juola of Duquesne, one of America’s leading authorities on literary forensics, and he cautioned that “the accuracy simply isn't there.”

As he explained, the best-performing methods were only between 50 and 90 percent reliable. And for high stakes issues like this one, he added, “The repercussions of a technical error could be a disaster (in either direction).” Millican, alas, has proved him right.

Juola added, “A better approach is simply to do what you're already doing . . . good old-fashioned literary detective work.”

That much said, the media people with whom Fox consulted insisted on the confirmation of science, however imprecise. Four sets of independent researchers stepped up, two prompted, two spontaneous. All confirmed Ayers’ hand in Obama’s Dreams, but none of them had name or credentials enough to grab media attention.

Fox insisted on pursuing Millican. After about 50 phone calls with Fox, I can assure you that I have not met anyone more sincerely interested in the truth than Fox has been.

Millican told me so himself. Just before the London Times article came out, he wrote, “As I have explained to Bob Fox, my own initial investigations - such as they were - did not reveal anything significant to support your claim of authorship by Ayers, and I considered it unlikely that a detailed analysis would have done so.”

Millican continued, “I told him that if he was to go ahead he should see it as a gamble: not likely to succeed, but potentially with a huge payoff if it did.  Stylometric studies of this kind can rarely prove an identification of authors.”

Despite Millican’s cautions, Fox continued a relentless search to find the $10,000 to fund the study and even offered to put up $5,000 of his own money. He was convinced, as am I, that an accurate study would only confirm what is obvious to the naked eye: Obama could not have written this book by himself.

The fact that Fox could not muster up another 5k suggests that, as far “Republican plots” go, this was not exactly Watergate. Working out of San Diego, he had little pull in D.C. where Republicans had much more on their mind than my humble study.

The charge that Fox was willing to pay only “for propaganda” flirts with slander, and given Britain’s libel laws, may have gone, as we might say, to first base or beyond.

Worse, despite the admittedly “such as they were” findings of his initial study, Millican proved much too gleefully eager to dismiss the work of the other researchers out of hand.

Says Millican, “Maybe one day I’ll go back and do the analysis in detail, but I doubt it. I would rather spend my time on serious research questions than on improbable theories proposed with negligible support.”

No, Peter, that is not good enough. Finish your mother-loving study and then let others have at it. It’s not quite cricket to use the London Times on the eve of the election to establish your “narrative” and then tip-toe off the field.

No, bro, you have dissed too many of my homies to get away that easily. Put your cards on the table, Mr. Millican, and I will put mine. For those wanting a preview of what is to come, please check The evidence of Ayers’ involvement overwhelms the dispassionate observer, and you don’t have to be an Oxford don to see it.

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Editor's note: For a more complete account of this phenomenon, read Jack Cashill's amazing new book, "Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture.


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