John Sununu levels a false accusation

John Sununu makes a false claim today in his Boston Globe column, which he devotes to a tiresome defense of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

The former Republican senator writes that Brad DeLong, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, had called on Harvard University to fire the historian Niall Ferguson over his recent Newsweek cover story on the alleged failures of President Obama. “A Berkeley professor more or less demanded that Harvard ‘fire his ass'” is how Sununu puts it.

That would be a pretty amazing statement by DeLong if it were true. Sununu is claiming, in effect, that DeLong, a member of the academy, is calling on Harvard to violate a colleague’s academic freedom solely because he doesn’t like what he’s written. As I said: If it were true. It’s not.

In the online version of his column, Sununu helpfully provides a link to DeLong’s blog post. And here is what DeLong actually wrote:

Fire his ass.

Fire his ass from Newsweek, and the Daily Beast.

Convene a committee at Harvard to impose proper sanctions on this degree of intellectual dishonesty.

In an “update,” DeLong clarifies his Harvard reference: “Not that I claim to know what the proper sanctions are, you understand. But we should be inquiring into what they are.”

Now, let me hasten to say that I’m troubled by DeLong’s actual position — that Harvard should look into disciplining Ferguson. But that is a long, long way from calling on Harvard to fire him.

And I should note that DeLong and a number of other critics contend that Ferguson went far beyond expressing anti-Obama opinions, veering into deliberate falsehoods in order to bolster his argument that Obama’s presidency is a failure. (Here is the full bill of particulars compiled by the Atlantic, which I found via the estimable Charlie Pierce.) That could be considered academic misconduct, so DeLong is not completely off the mark — though it strikes me as extreme and unwarranted under the circumstances. Banging out a screed for Tina Brown isn’t exactly the same thing as falsifying academic research.

My issue isn’t with DeLong or Ferguson, though. It’s with Sununu, who has blithely and wrongly slimed DeLong. Perhaps because he didn’t name DeLong, he thought it was all right. Perhaps he thought including the phrase “more or less” would get him off the hook.

Finally, what is up with the Globe’s editors? If I can click on Sununu’s link, so could they.