More than halfway into her 5600-word Atlantic Monthly hit piece on Duke University and the current wave of sexual feminism, “The Hazards of Duke,” Caitlin Flanagan comes as close as she ever gets to citing a source.
She mentions the on-air speech of a “very pretty, golden-haired Fox news anchor” named Megyn Kelly, which concerned Karen Owen’s powerpoint. After invoking what she claims is the anchor’s defense of the “righteous tradition of Division I Men’s Lacrosse and all of the excellent guys who play it,” she goes on to paint Kelly as an apologist for misogyny and mocks her credentials for commenting on the Karen Owen situation.
Let’s try and ignore, for a second, all the implications of describing Kelly as “very pretty” and “golden-haired,” Flanagan’s grade-school taunts and her clumsy prose (“they prefer bikini waxes and spray tans to overalls and invective.”)
Flanagan’s a hack and the worst kind of pundit; after years of her hysterical essays, this is common knowledge. But that doesn’t excuse The Atlantic for having printed pages of what is essentially deception, unprofessionalism and, in at least one instance, outright lies.
Apparently, Tucker Max is the “unofficial king of Duke,” but whoever cc’ed this memo to Flanagan forgot to send it my way. The Amethyst Initiative, a movement to lower the drinking age to 18 endorsed by Duke’s president, Richard Brodhead, is dismissed as just one more example of Duke’s utter corruption; but as of right now, 135 different college presidents can be counted as signatories.
There are the simple things also, like saying one of the “F*** List’s” subjects was “drafted into a Major League Baseball team,” as though he were being consumed by the military-industrial complex (it should be “drafted by”).
And then there are the gross errors. Flanagan accuses The Chronicle of ignoring an alleged rape that took place on campus. But the paper ran three front-page stories about the incident, two as the day’s lead pieces.
Flanagan doesn’t support any of her ridiculous proclamations with sources or research. Apparently, Duke’s rise to elitism came through “lured academic luminaries—many of them longer on star power than on intellectual substance.” But she doesn’t give a single example. It’s pretty clear that she’s never set foot on Duke’s campus or spoken with any students—or the students of the other universities she’s so concerned about. And the reporting she does cite is always that of other writers, published in magazines not The Atlantic, taken out of context and placed in isolation.
Beyond the terrible execution of what is supposedly her trade, The Atlantic shouldn’t be advocating Flanagan’s demeaning treatment of Karen Owen. Flanagan interprets Owen like she’s a text to be studied, reducing her completely to the stuff of the “F*** List.” Citing the fact that Owen only sent the list to three friends initially, she writes, “It’s not hard to believe that Owen had only three friends in college.”
In a throwback to antiquity, Flanagan attacks Owen for her sexual preferences. Her accusations are unfair and, frankly, bizarre, resembling nothing closer than the language of homophobia. For The Atlantic to print this reveals a chasm between our understanding of where contemporary gender discourse is at and where it actually resides—because pieces like “The Hazards of Duke” show that at least one foot’s still in the Stone Age.
Clearly, Flanagan doesn’t know any better than to write nonsense like this. But the fact that The Atlantic continues to publish her isn’t just shameful—it’s irresponsible.