Life in These United States

     When obnoxious jerks transcend the limits they occasionally observe, we call them by another name. We call them sickbeds.
     We don’t really call them sickbeds. We call them something that rhymes with sickbeds. But since this news service has family values – as the sickbeds say – we shall use this other word.
     Very well, then, this column is about that sickbed Ward Churchill, and other.
     Churchill is the University of Colorado professor who wrote on Sept. 12, 2001 that the 1,100 people who had died in the World Trade Centers the day before were “little Eichmanns.” These people worked for the nasty capitalists who run the United States, so I guess they had it coming. Or something.
     Churchill did not become a famous sickbed, however, until three years later, when an even more famous sickbed, Bill O’Reilly, used his TV show to make a big deal out of Churchill’s little essay.
     Bill O’Reilly is what my grandfather used to call a spherical sickbed. He’s a sickbed any way you look at him.
     After that TV show, a third sickbed – Colorado Gov. Bill Owens – called up the president of the University of Colorado, Elizabeth Hoffman, and ordered her to fire Churchill. President Hoffman told Gov. Owens that she couldn’t do that, and the governor knew it – and it cost her her job.
     Hoffman testified to this in federal court last month, and though Gov. Owens said he couldn’t remember threatening her, it probably just slipped his mind. Threatening people is all part of a day’s work for a Republican governor, and we can’t expect that sickbed to keep track of everyone he threatens, can we? Of course not.
     Gov. Owens says he is a proud founding member of a committee of sickbeds who call themselves the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. They want to cleanse U.S. universities of liberals.
Isn’t that a good word – “cleanse”?
     So now we have one sickbed – Churchill – made famous by a second sickbed – O’Reilly – which leads a third sickbed – Owens – to get a whole group of sickbeds involved.
     And the only one hurt by all this was the president of the University of Colorado, who told her governor that she couldn’t fire a tenured professor just because he’d said something that pissed off Bill O’Reilly.
     But wait. More sickbeds enter the act. A committee of professors at the University of Colorado recommended that Churchill be fired – not because of his “little Eichmann” comment – though that’s what caused the committee to be called into being. No, the professors called for Churchill’s head because he supposedly had a few sourcing problems in some of the 100 articles and 11 books he’s published.
     We know this was a committee of sickbeds, because by university rules it had to be a committee of Churchill’s “peers,” and Churchill is a sickbed himself.
     Quod erat demonstrandum.
     So: the university fired Churchill, he sued, and a federal jury decided that he should not have been fired, because it’s not a firing offense to be a sickbed.
     So long as you’ve got tenure.
     Sickbeds here as far as the eye can see.
     We have the original sickbed, Churchill;
     the flaming sickbed, O’Reilly;
     the snarling vituperative opportunistic sickbed, Gov. Owens;
     the slavering committee of sickbeds, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni; and the committee of cowering, pathetic sickbeds, Churchill’s colleagues at the University of Colorado.
     And the only person in this story who is not a sickbed, former University of Colorado president Elizabeth Hoffman, is the only one who lost her job.
     Is there a moral to this grisly story? I would like to say that the moral is, “Don’t be a sickbed,” but it ain’t so.
I think the story shows that once a sickbed gets into a position of power, he will use that power to demand the professional equivalent of Moral Hex from whomever he desires.
     That’s what O’Reilly did, that’s what Gov. Owens did, that’s what the American Council of Trustees and Alumni did, and the University of Colorado faculty committee was glad to get on its knees and perform the service.
     Of course, these people did not really demand Moral Hex from anyone. They demanded the professional equivalent of something that rhymes with Moral Hex.
     Can you guess what it is?

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