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Shooting the Messenger: Jon Wiener on Arming America

Jon Wiener's recent brief for the defense of Arming America, "Fire at Will", in the Nation, fits into a larger pattern originally pioneered in this case by the subject of the inquiry himself, Michael Bellesiles. It's called "Shooting the Messenger," a tactic invariably employed by politicians who find themselves under indictment for fraud or corruption. Rather than confront the evidence of their wrongdoing, they lash out, claiming that they're victims of partisan prosecutors who are going after their hide because they are "tribunes of the people." Former Congressman James Traficante, now a convicted felon, played this role to the hilt, focusing his rage on Clinton's Attorney General Janet Reno whom he fantasized was motivated by personal and political animus against him because of what he knew about the Chinese Connection to the Clinton White House.

It is highly unusual, however, to see this tried and true tactic of "shooting the messenger" practiced by a professional historian not under fire and not a professional politician. But this is precisely what Jon Wiener has attempted to do in his defense of Bellesiles against charges of scholarly misconduct. Instead of dealing with the evidence scholars like Professors James Lindgren, Randolph Roth, Gloria Main, Robert Churchill, and Clayton Cramer and others have submitted which have raised serious questions about the reliability and honesty of Bellesilles research, Wiener has gone out of his way to try to discredit Arming America's critics, none of whom he has interviewed personally for his article. And, indeed, since his article contains so many errors, there is reason to question whether he has ever seriously examined their criticisms and the evidence supporting them.

Hatchet Job

The most egregious example of Wiener's smear tactic is his treatment of Professor Lindgren, Bellesiles's most formidable critic. Wiener begins his hatchet job on Lindgren by implying that he had interviewed him personally. "Who is James Lindgren?" Wiener asks ominously, and then responds, "He told me he has no connection to the NRA. . . ." This phrasing suggests that Wiener had an extensive personal interview with Lindgren, and also subtly insinuates that Lindgren could have an NRA connection that he may not have told Wiener about.

Contrary to the impression Wiener tries to make, his only contact with Lindgren, other than a couple of perfunctory e-mailed "thank you" notes on both sides, were two fairly long e-mails from Lindgren in reply to the following two from Wiener, which provide an excellent illustration of where Wiener is coming from and his limited understanding of the subject he purports to examine.

(1) Sorry to take up more of your time with the Bellesiles case, but I'm writing about it belatedly for The Nation -- which is of course initially sympathetic to the gun control implications of his book. I've got your piece from the Wm & mary Q Law Rev -- is there anything more recent of yours that I should see? Thanks for your help.

(2) You may recall that I'm writing a piece for The Nation mag. on Bellesiles. My editors want to know whether you have any connection to the NRA at all --are you a member, have you received any funding from them, have you had any contact with NRA staff over your recent work on guns. Thanks for your help.

It is notable that Wiener was totally unaware of Lindgren's powerful review essay, "Fall from Grace: Arming America and the Bellesiles Scandal," in the Yale Law Journalwhen he began his Nation piece, even though tens of thousands of readers (now well over one hundred thousand!) had downloaded it from several websites. But while that is disquieting in itself, his e-mails demonstrate something even more disturbing: they show that he and his editors were desperate to link Lindgren with the NRA, the better to sully his scholarly integrity.

This attempt to undermine Lindgren, who in the past published two pro-gun control articles, by tying him to the NRA is particularly reprehensible, when, as Wiener was advised before he wrote his article, Michael Bellesiles is the one who proudly announced that he was once an NRA member. In a taped interview published in the Emory Report in 1999, Bellesiles said, "I'm familiar with guns -- I used to be in the NRA, as a matter of fact." Indeed, his claimed NRA membership was well known to people in his circle, one of whom Wiener interviewed. In the Chicago-Kent Law Review, Bellesiles's friend and supporter, Stanford Professor Jack Rakove thanked "Michael Bellesiles, a card-carrying member of the NRA, for general guidance." Isn't it odd that Wiener, an academic historian supposedly committed to parsing the evidence before him fairly, tries to imply that someone with absolutely no ties -- ever -- with the NRA had such ties, but he fails to mention that the historian he is defending, Michael Bellesiles, asserted he was an NRA member -- an assertion that Wiener was aware of? Wiener does remark that Bellesiles is "a longtime gun owner who only recently gave up skeet shooting," but there is only deafening silence about Bellesiles's self-confessed NRA membership.

All of this, of course, is of a piece with Wiener's "shooting the messenger" approach to the Bellesiles scandal. For example, even after being informed of Lindgren's Yale Law Journal essay, a classic review article that runs to 54 pages and includes a long appendix of "selected errors" drawn from over 200 documents detailing the fabrications and falsifications endemic to Arming America, Wiener totally ignored its substance. He mentions it only in a derogatory way as Lindgren's "second attack" on Bellesiles, the first "attack" apparently being "Counting Guns in Early America," in the William and Mary Law Review, the scholarship which first exposed Bellesiles's probate fabrications to a historical community hitherto completely oblivious to them while it was showering Arming America with praise and prizes. Nor does Wiener ever cite a single, solitary error in the articles he labels "attacks," as if they were polemics and not scholarly critiques. Undoubtedly, and one can say this with absolute certainty considering Wiener's track record, that failure on his part to find errors was not for lack of trying but because he simply couldn't turn any up.

Instead, having failed to join Lindgren at the hip with the NRA or unearth even one mistake in his law review essays, Wiener tries another tack to disparage Lindgren's scholarship. He attempts this by falsely asserting, without a shred of evidence, that Lindgren had accused Bellesiles of "bias," when in fact Lindgren has never made any such charge. After that false allegation, Wiener makes another accusation: Lindgren has biases of his own. His purported biases, says Wiener, were on display when he once used data provided by the "right-wing Federalist Society" for a study of the American Bar Association's stance on George W. Bush's judicial nominees that a law professor said was flawed. Wiener, however, in keeping with the accusatory nature of his essay, conveniently forgets to mention that the law professor he cites openly admits that he and his co-author were hired and paid for their opinion by the ABA's litigation section, or that Lindgren appears to have successfully answered the criticisms. And what precisely do Lindgren's supposed biases consist of? Wiener leaves that to the imagination, assuming that those reading the Nation will be able to sniff them out themselves from the irrelevant and misleading hints he scatters through his essay.

Similarly, Wiener never deals with the massive evidence detailing Bellesiles's fabrications unearthed and posted by Clayton Cramer for all to examine on his website. Rather, he dismisses him as an "amateur historian," and a "gun activist" who writes for "Shotgun News," as though that's cause enough not to take his remarkable scholarship on Arming America's misuse of evidence seriously.

An Error?

Prof. Randolph Roth, however, perhaps America's leading authority on homicides in early America, cannot be dealt with so summarily. His article in the William and Mary Quarterly on Bellesiles's fictions about levels of violence and homicides in Colonial Vermont and Plymouth Colony cannot be refuted by attacking the author for being an "amateur", a "gun activist" or perhaps somebody with a hidden, right-wing, pro-gun agenda. So Wiener falsely accuses him of making an "error" in his original draft article for the WMQ, just to show that Roth, too, is prone to mistakes, presumably no different in scope and substance than Bellesiles's "mistakes." Unfortunately, before concocting this allegation, Wiener failed to interview Roth, the person who supposedly made the "error," failed to interview the primary editor of the forum in which the article appeared, Robert Gross (not Christopher Grasso, who is the WMQ's general editor), and failed to examine the documentary materials to see whether an "error" had actually been committed. Had he done all of these things, Wiener would have discovered that some of the pages cited in Roth's first draft on homicides in Plymouth Colony were indeed "a record of births," just as Bellesiles claimed, but that was no mistake on Roth's part. The people being born were the same ones involved in the homicide, which Bellesiles might have noticed if he were as careful an historian as Roth is.

Almost as appalling as Wiener's attempt to discredit Bellesiles's critics, is his utterly misleading account of the San Francisco/Contra Costa County probate records, an account that almost totally ignores Bellesiles's multiple conflicting stories and fabrications about his use of probate records to support his claims of low levels of gun ownership in early America. What Wiener keeps from his readers is that Bellesiles first said in extensive emails to Lindgren -- e-mails whose damaging words and phrases Bellesiles now disowns, a disavowal so preposterous that even Wiener dares not mention or justify in his article -- that he read all the probate inventories on microfilm (including those from San Francisco) housed in the East Point, GA Federal Archive. Nor does Wiener tell his readers anything about the following: that on WBEZ public radio in Chicago, Bellesiles said that all the inventories were available on microfilm, when in fact thousands of those he claimed to have read have never been microfilmed. And months earlier, when confronted by the fact no probate microfilms were in the federal archives in Georgia, Bellesiles revised his story completely and said he read most of the probate inventories in the original in about 30 different state and local depositories scattered across the country. Then, he added that he read hundreds of inventories in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and that he read the San Francisco ones, averaging about 10 pages in length, at the Superior Courthouse in that city. Then when he was told they were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, he changed his story again and said he was unable now to recall where they were located. Then in an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education he changed his story once more, claiming he had found the San Francisco inventories and was having them sent to him. Then, when Emory University asked for them, he changed his story yet again and was forced to admit that he really had no idea where they could be found, a stance he repeated in an article in the Nov. 2001 Organization of American Historian's Newsletter. Then, in Jan. 2002, he invented a new story: he claimed he had tracked them down in the California History Center in Martinez, CA. There is no such center housing general California records, but there is a Contra Costa History Center, which does not contain San Francisco inventories but only case files of the probate court of Contra Costa County, and only a couple of dozen of them at that in his sample period, not the hundreds of San Francisco probates Bellesiles said he read.

About the only thing Wiener extracts from this dizzying opera bouffee performance by Bellesiles is that Bellesiles found something marked San Francisco County on the few probates he turned up. Many knowledgeable people, however, suspect that Bellesiles only found that handful after searching frantically (with help from an historian friend living in Martinez) for any shred of evidence proving he read California probate inventories. Nobody at the Contra Costa History Center ever saw Bellesiles there before his visit to ferret out the few probate inventories he discovered in January 2002, and there is no record he signed in when he said he was there previously. And every bit of available evidence, whether circumstantial, testimonial, eyewitness, or documentary contradicts Bellesiles's claims to have done research there before January 2002.

But Wiener, ever the faithful true believer in Bellesiles's stories, says that Bellesiles read those documents in 1993, but simply forgot they were from Contra Costa County, not San Francisco. "That's error, not fraud," Wiener insists, blithely ignoring everything that contradicts Bellesiles's fable. And the fact that Bellesiles originally claimed in his e-mails to Lindgren that he read all his probate inventories, including by implication those from San Francisco, on microfilms housed in East Point, GA., does not seem to register with Wiener. Did Wiener even read those e-mails? Did Wiener ever listen to the WBEZ interview where Bellesiles could be heard saying that all of the inventories were available on microfilm?

There is no way of knowing whether he did because Wiener is totally silent on these matters. This silence helps explain why Wiener can say with an apparently straight face that Bellesiles's constantly shifting stories about where those inventories were or might be is understandable because Bellesiles had to recreate "the list of the counties where he researched probate records" from memory. According to Wiener, Bellesiles had no other choice but to rely on his memory for that list of 40 counties when a "flood" in his office on April 2, 2000 destroyed his notes.

The idea that Bellesiles had to recreate the list of 40 counties from memory after the Emory flood is arrant nonsense. Wiener easily could have discovered this had he interviewed any of Bellesiles's more knowledgeable critics or read their articles with care, particularly those of Lindgren. Most of Bellesiles's probate data in Arming America were merely rehashed from his 1996 article on guns in the Journal of American History. There he listed 38 of the 40 counties later cited in Arming America, adding only San Francisco and Los Angeles to the 38 counties he copied from the 1996 list. Moreover, the book (published in early September 2000) was already well underway in galleys and in press before the flood took place in early April of that year, as any sophisticated historian would realize if he gave it much thought. Also, in the Nov. 2001 OAH Newsletter, in which Bellesiles speaks to these matters, he never claimed he was forced to complete the book without his notes, but rather that it "never crossed his mind" to withdraw Arming America from publication because he had lost his background notes. Additionally, in his e-mails to Lindgren on the eve of the book's publication, Bellesiles says nothing about losing his notes but asserts that they were all sitting in boxes stored in his home attic. Once again, Wiener demonstrates that he is either extraordinarily gullible or he is extraordinarily unprepared or unwilling to deal with Bellesiles's fictions.

Anyway, Wiener feels Bellesiles's critics are making far too much of something that only takes up a small portion of his 600 page book. Again, what Wiener neglects to inform his readers is that almost all favorable reviews of Arming America emphasized the probate data as the single most important, innovative, and significant findings in the book that supported its argument that guns were not widely owned by Americans before the Civil War. In 2000, the New York Times, for example, called the probate records "Mr. Bellesiles's principal evidence."

Who's the Crackpot?

But what happened to "Mr. Bellesiles's principal evidence"? Was that data, which Bellesiles supposedly jotted down in penciled tick marks on yellow legal pads really lost in a 25 minute "flood" caused by a broken fire-sprinkler pipe connector in the building housing Bellesiles's office? Or did Bellesiles invent the story of notes turned into "unreadable pulp" because most of that data never existed? As usual, Wiener never questions Bellesiles' ever shifting, contradictory, implausible explanations of what happened to his notes but views those who do, including this writer, as suspects in an unholy alliance against him. "The lengths that critics will go to discredit Bellesiles are at least creative," Wiener intones. "Professor Jerome Sternstein of Brooklyn College put a dozen legal pads in his own shower for thirty minutes and reported to the world that they survived 'intact and virtually unscathed.'"

Wiener ends this quote with an exclamation point, to which I add an emphatic amen! No amount of soaking could destroy those yellow legal pads. What Wiener does not say is that the "creative" and simple experiment he mocks was undertaken when the person hired by Emory to handle the cleanup of the History Department building, an expert in water damage, told me flatly that it would be impossible to destroy, or "pulp" Bellesiles's penciled yellow legal pads during the Emory "flood." Perhaps many weeks or months of continuous soaking might do the trick, he said, but the note pads would certainly survive intact and almost as good as new after the 25 minutes or more of water dripping on them from Bellesiles's office ceiling . (Bellesiles, I should add, has revised his destroyed notes story once again since my article on the subject appeared on HNN. Last June, he told a reporter for the English newspaper the Guardian that the flood lasted six hours, not the 25 minutes everybody connected with it affirms. Emory's official report, which Bellesiles had always cited as confirmation that the flood and the damage it caused was real, says it lasted 25 minutes, and so does the head of Emory's facilities. And so did Bellesiles until he concocted this new fable of a six hour flood to explain away his missing probate data.)

"... if it is "crackpot" to give considerable weight to Bellesiles's discredited probate findings, is it not even more "crackpot" for an historian to supposedly spend years crisscrossing the country rummaging through thirty or so state and county archives, as Bellesiles has insisted he did?"

Since Bellesiles never informed anybody, either at Emory or anyplace else, that his probate notes were "pulped" on that damp April 2000 day until many months later when scholars asked for his data so they could replicate it, the question of whether it was possible to "pulp" such legal pads went to the heart of Bellesiles's story of destroyed notes. I concluded, as I'm confident anybody wishing to reproduce my "creative" experiment would also conclude, that Bellesiles invented his tale of destroyed probate notes out of the whole cloth because he couldn't produce the data his critics requested.

Wiener, naturally, accepts Bellesiles's "explanation" at face value and refuses to consider such a possibility because that would suggest deliberate, intentional fraud, just as he refuses to take seriously how important the statistical evidence of low levels of gun ownership that Bellesiles supposedly found in his examination of 11,170 probate inventories are to his argument. Instead he minimizes their importance, quoting approvingly Prof. Michael Zuckerman of the University of Pennsylvania, who believes that what the critics say about the missing, misread and probably invented probate data "'is bad news for Michael,'" but who complains that they've "'fixated on the probate inventories, which is crackpot.'" But if it is "crackpot" to give considerable weight to Bellesiles's discredited probate findings, is it not even more "crackpot" for an historian to supposedly spend years crisscrossing the country rummaging through thirty or so state and county archives, as Bellesiles has insisted he did, to collect data which Wiener and Zuckerman insist "play an extremely small part in the argument made by Arming America"? One hopes that Profs. Wiener and Zuckerman will never waste their time and travel grant money doing such insignificant "crackpot" research.

Are All Bellesiles's Critics Pro-Gun Nuts?

But even if one concedes that the questioned probate research takes up only a small portion of space in Arming America, what about all the other non-probate evidence critics have marshaled against Bellesiles's argument? In defending Bellesiles's book neither Wiener nor Zuckerman seem to want to confront that problem. Cramer, for example, has found evidence of at least 2,273 gunsmiths and gun makers in America before 1840, as opposed to the small number Bellesiles said existed, and his data base is growing. He has also provided copious examples of how Bellesiles misrepresented travel accounts, altered dates, and misquoted, misread, misstated, and even concocted statements and quotations in numerous documents and secondary sources. But since Cramer is an "amateur," all of his findings, easily accessible on his website, appear to be unworthy of comment or even the most casual interest. Instead Wiener focuses on the point that Cramer "pleads on his own website for readers to support his campaign against Bellesiles by sending him money." Evidently, since Cramer is not supported by foundations or academic institutions, there is no need for Wiener, or few other professional historians for that matter, to deal with the evidence he presents illustrating Bellesiles's misconduct. Moreover, in Wiener's universe Cramer cannot be taken seriously because he is obviously a right-wing zealot on gun rights, so apparently no self-respecting liberal historian need bother with what he says or finds about a fellow academic whose book challenges those Second Amendment rights Cramer believes in.

Indeed throughout Wiener's article there is the strong implication that only right-wingers make up Bellesiles's "pack of critics." This is in line with Bellesiles's own oft-repeated remarks that those who criticize him are either moved by partisanship, their obsession with gun organizations and guns generally, or by a mentality similar to "holocaust deniers" (a term he used to characterize Cramer and Prof. Joyce Malcolm), in that they will never accept the truth when it flies in the face of their own deep-rooted prejudices.

How then, one might ask, does Wiener -- or Bellesiles -- account for the outrage expressed by Roger Lane, also a Bancroft Prize winner, and once praised by Bellesiles as perhaps the nation's leading authority on homicides?. Lane, a self-confessed "card-carrying Liberal," wrote an extremely favorable review of Arming America for the prestigious Journal of American History, yet now he can barely repress his disgust for the book's author. "I'm mad at the guy," Lane said recently. "He suckered me. It is entirely clear to me that he's made up a lot of these records. He's betrayed us. He's betrayed the cause. It's 100 percent clear that the guy is a liar and a disgrace to my profession. He's breached that trust."

And what about Garry Wills and Edmund Morgan, considered by Wiener to be two of America's "top historians." Wiener makes much of the fact that neither of them has publicly retracted their glowing reviews of Arming America, though, he says, they have been under pressure to do so. He doesn't say whether he interviewed them for his article. But it is safe to say he didn't -- and it's probably a good thing too. One can only imagine how Wiener would have responded to Garry Wills, who, when asked last spring to appear on a panel to speak in favor of Bellesiles's book, emailed his refusal back with the blunt message, "no one defends it." And last April, when asked by a colleague at Northwestern what he presently thought of Arming America, Wills replied: "I was took. The book is a fraud." As for Morgan, he, too, might have upset Wiener. Recently, on his own volition, Morgan sent a highly complimentary letter to one of Bellesiles's leading critics, praising both the substance and the tone of his work, concluding that the critic was right and Bellesiles was wrong.

This radical reassessment of Bellesiles as a result of what his critics have revealed is taking place among other reviewers as well who at one time held his scholarship in high esteem. One reviewer, once a staunch defender in various forums of Arming America's thesis even after he came to the realization its probate data was seriously flawed, wrote me privately that he had concluded Bellesiles "may have seriously misrepresented his non-quantitative data, and overlooked sources that argue otherwise; furthermore, his multitude of different stories about his data and his e-mails and the like ultimately undermine his total credibility; In other words. . . I don't trust him."

How widespread this attitude is among historians today is unclear, but from various soundings it appears far more prevalent than Wiener imagines. Even Mary Beth Norton of Cornell, whom Wiener represented in his article as a strong supporter of Bellesiles's research, refuses to be so labeled. Invited to appear on a panel this November to defend Bellesiles after Wiener's article hit the newsstands, she declined for scheduling reasons but offered her assessment. Bellesiles, she wrote, "was sloppy in his quantitative research methods, as I told Jon Wiener. . . I don't regard my position as a strong defense of him. I would have been embarrassed had any student of mine made the elementary 'counting' mistakes he did. I just don't think he committed deliberate fraud."

Interestingly, almost all of Bellesiles's leading academic critics -- Lindgren, Roth, Robert Churchill, Gloria Main, Ira Gruber, Joyce Malcolm, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Eric Monkkonen -- also resist accusing Bellesiles of knowing, intentional fraud, though most of them certainly don't rule it out, nor should they.

Wiener's article does reveal several things of interest to readers not on the barricades in the battle over gun control and the meaning of the Second Amendment. We learn much about Bellesiles's current cover story, we see how far the quality of reporting and editing of the Nation has fallen from its distinguished past, and we are again reminded how easily even highly educated and sophisticated people, some of them professional historians, can be deceived when, for reasons only known to them, they want to be deceived.

What is also particularly notable is that Wiener, a Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, apparently refuses to examine actual documentary evidence in making his case. Equally striking in this day and age when oral history and interviewing participants to events is all the rage among historians, he failed to interview the critics he attacked -- Roth, Lindgren, Cramer, and myself -- which, I think, is why he has made so many errors. It also accounts for the reason why Wiener's contribution to the debate over Arming America compares unfavorably with that of such reporters as David Mehegan of the Boston Globe, Robert Worth of the New York Times, Melissa Seckora of National Review, Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal, David Skinner of the Weekly Standard, and Ron Grossman of the Chicago Tribune, who, like Wiener, holds a Ph.D. in history.

Contrary to Wiener's approach to the subject, all of these reporters carefully examined and reported on substantial amounts of documentary evidence themselves in their desire to get to the bottom of the controversy. They also tried to interview scholars on both sides of the issue, which is apparently why their reportage has held up so well to scrutiny, with both Mehegan and Strassel winning prizes for their work on Arming America.

On the other hand, Wiener, whose command of the evidence presented by Arming America's critics is thin at best, chose to rely heavily on Bellesiles's preposterous stories and inventions, never bothering to check them out with those scholars who know the material best. While this might be standard procedure when writing a polemic, it is certainly not good reporting and it is clearly very bad history. But it is apparently in keeping with the accusatory style of commentary Wiener has honed and perfected over the years at the Nation. John Rosenberg, who once worked at the magazine and "used to know Wiener" and still shares "good mutual friends" with him, including a number of historians, writes on his blog, Discriminations, that "Wiener is on call [at the Nation] as something like its academic commissar, constantly policing college precincts to blast away at any deviationism that should appear."

Accordingly, it is no wonder "Commissar" Wiener, as Rosenberg refers to him, should approach the controversy over Arming America in "his characteristic voice" and depict Bellesiles's "pack of critics" as primitive right-wingers motivated by animus of one sort or another. Viewing every piece of evidence as essentially politically driven thus enables him to sweep it all aside and assert that the critics "have produced no proof of intentional deception, no proof of invented documents, no proof of fraud" -- in short, no proof whatsoever that Bellesiles has done anything wrong except make a few unintentional errors all historians make at one time or another.

As we all now know, however, Emory's select Investigative Committee has just issued a forty-page report saying otherwise, concluding that Bellesiles's "scholarly integrity is seriously in question" and that he had been "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work." They found "Every aspect of his work in the probate records. . . deeply flawed," his responsiveness "to allegations of research misconduct. . . prolix, confusing, evasive, and occasionally contradictory." They remarked upon the fact he wasn't "fully forthcoming," and they underscored "the implausibility of some of his defenses," "prime" examples being his claims that unknown people "hacked his website" and "his disavowal of the e-mails of Aug. 30 and Sept. 19, 2000 to Professor Lindgren which present a version of the location and reading of records substantially in conflict with Professor Bellesiles' current account." They raised strong doubts about his truthfulness on other matters, especially his purported West Coast probate research, concluding that "we cannot prove that Professor Bellesiles simply invented his California research. . . . ," but "we find that the strained character of Professor Bellesiles' explanation raises questions about his veracity with respect to his account of having consulted probate records in San Francisco County." Equally suspect, they say, was "his claim to have read microfilms at the National Archives Record Center in East Point, GA, as well as his assertions that he brought Morman microfilms into that center to read." On the central issue of the "vital" statistical Table One in his book entitled "Percentage of Probate Inventories Listing Firearms," they found "evidence of falsification." But because "The Committee's investigation has been seriously hampered by the absence or unavailability of Professor Bellesiles's critical and apparently lost research records and by [Bellesiles's]. . . failures of memory and careful record keeping. . . , " the Committee was forced to conclude, in language apparently vetted by people familiar with the law, that "we cannot speak of intentional fabrication or falsification." In other words, Emory's fortuitous flood which enabled Bellesiles to claim that his probate notes were "pulped," severely limited the Committee's ability to establish with certainty whether fraud was committed.

Wiener is likely to take heart from the Committee's inability to prove Bellesiles engaged in "intentional fabrication or falsification of research data" and declare the whole affair to be little more than a witch hunt, even though the Committee found his client guilty of virtually every other scholarly sin listed in the academic lexicon and in some respects went beyond the claims of Bellesiles's scholarly critics by directly challenging Bellesiles's integrity, rather than sticking simply to what happened. But it is my impression, as the recent comments of former Bellesiles supporters Roger Lane, Garry Wills, Edmund Morgan, and my anonymous correspondent indicate, that most historians will not interpret the controversy over Arming America as Wiener does, as just another heated skirmish in the culture wars to be won at whatever cost. After reading the Committee's report most historians, or at least those without Wiener's ideological blinders, are likely to ponder two basic questions: how and why the peer review process failed so miserably in uncovering Bellesiles's scholarly misdeeds much earlier, and why it took a law professor and a non-academic "amateur" historian to point out the elephant in the room which almost all professional historians with Ph.D's turned a blind eye to? Everybody who loves history will be awaiting the answers.

But nobody should hold their breath expecting any answers from Prof. Wiener which stray from his mantra, that Bellesiles is an innocent victim of "powerful political interests like the NRA," and a right-wing "pack of critics" doing its bidding. The only elephants in the room Wiener can identify all look very much like the "four unusually large men," one in a flak jacket, and all "activists in the pro-gun, anti-Bellesiles movement" who attended one of his client's lectures at the University of California, Irvine, asking silly, repetitive, though always intimidating, questions about probate records. And no amount of evidence, not even the forty-page report issued by Emory's select Investigative Committee, will ever convince him otherwise.

Editor's Note (11/1/02): At least one reader of HNN has questioned Mr. Sternstein's statement that Edmund Morgan no longer can be placed in the Bellesiles camp. HNN has seen a hand-written letter Mr. Morgan penned to James Lindgren. The letter clearly indicates that Mr. Morgan now believes that Bellesiles provided false and misleading data about the probate records.