One of the more fascinating aspects in the wash-up from yesterday’s Windschuttle hoax story has been the response of the red-faced Quadrant editor to being duped.
As the hoaxer ‘Sharon Gould’ writes in Crikey today, Windschuttle’s “attempts at damage control are becoming increasingly disingenuous — they actually bolster the very points raised in the hoax… It’s telling that Windschuttle’s focus is on shooting the messenger instead of exploring the issues raised.”
Editors make mistakes. And Windschuttle is right, all publications are vulnerable. But instead of issuing a mea culpa and welcoming a discussion about editorial accountability, Windschuttle told David Marr of The SMH that he discovered that the article was “only 10 to 15 per cent invented. When I discovered that my gloom and embarrassment changed completely.”
That people have taken great delight in the man’s mistake also says something about the accusatory and aggressive manner in which Windschuttle has engaged with his fellow commentators and academics over the years. In fact it’s worth revisiting some of Windschuttle’s own musings on fact checking and accountability to really appreciate just how embarrassing this is for the Quadrant editor:
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Anyone writing a thesis on this subject must bring a skeptical eye to everything they read and must go back to the original sources to find any kind of solid empirical platform on which to construct their own work. — ‘The use and abuse of sources in Aboriginal History’, Teaching History, Vol. 41, No. 4, December 2007
On the question of objectivity, my whole project has been to show that the historians’ claims in their books and footnotes are not matched by what’s in the archives. In some cases, they’ve invented sources. Now that’s a very serious charge. — ‘Lateline’, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast 3 August 2003
One thing I did learn as a journalist was a respect for evidence. Journalists and their evidence are publicly accountable immediately their work is published. Perhaps this was why, when I began to investigate the work of the historians of Aboriginal Australia, I was stunned to find how frequent were their breaches of the normal canons of evidence. The degree of misinformation in the work of these authors — even if their colleagues want to excuse it all as error — would be unacceptable in any other profession, and certainly unacceptable in journalism. — ‘Historical error versus historical invention: A reply to Stuart Macintyre and Patricia Grimshaw’ on The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Australian Historical Studies No. 124, October 2004