Ward Churchill's Cult of Personality

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Feb. 9, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Now for another view of this national controversy, joining us from Denver, Paul Campos, law professor at C.U. and author of the book "The Obesity Myth."

What's the mood of the camp — I can't imagine. You got, you know, heard the applause after Churchill's saying this kind of crazy stuff, but does that reflect U.C.-Boulder?

PAUL CAMPOS, UNIV. OF COLORADO PROFESSOR: No, I don't believe it does. I've heard from hundreds of people in the last few days in regard to this issue. I've not heard one word of support from a C.U. faculty member in regard to the substantive claims that Churchill (search) makes in the 9/11 essay or indeed, in his other work.

I've heard from people who are concerned, of course, about the effects of this on academic freedom and freedom of expression as they ought to be concerned, but I hadn't heard at least from anybody on the C.U. faculty any support for Churchill's views per se.

O'REILLY: All right, who are these people applauding then? I mean, we — you know, who would be applauding this?

CAMPOS: Well, you know, someone like Churchill is a charismatic figure who has sort of a little cult of personality around him, is going to be surrounded by impressionable undergrads who may be quite naive and easily swayed. And so it's not unusual, it's not an unusual situation. It's something that we see in lots of places besides the University of Colorado.

O'REILLY: I agree with that, but 1,000 of them? You know, I just — to me, there's something wrong at Boulder. And maybe I'm wrong for saying that, but there's just something seems to be wrong at the school, professor. It doesn't seem to be — look, I'll give you an example. If that were Boston College or Notre Dame, no way this guy Churchill ever would get that kind of reception. Wouldn't happen.

CAMPOS: Well, that's — I mean, I assume that's probably true. But I want to emphasize here that there's lots of great things going on at the University of Colorado. We have a terrific university with Nobel Prize winners and McArthur Grant winners and...

O'REILLY: Well, how did he get to be the head of the ethnic studies program when he denies that the Third Reich had a massive program terminating European Jews? How could that happen? How could that man who wrote in a book that he didn't believe Hitler was targeting Jews in a systemic way get to be appointed the head of any department?

CAMPOS: Well, that's being looked into right now, and rightfully so. My position on this from the beginning has been that that that 9/11 essay was so appalling that it should have led to an investigation of what other things this person was saying...


CAMPOS: ...and whether they brought into question his professional competence.

And in fact, there are now some very serious accusations that, in fact, he is engaged in what essentially looks like basic academic fraud, and indeed, also charges of plagiarism.

O'REILLY: Well, tell us about that. Tell — let's go the fraud thing first. What's the academic fraud?

CAMPOS: Well, for example, a professor of Sociology, Thomas Brown, has written an article in which he points out that Churchill has apparently fabricated a historical incident that never took place, accusing the U.S. Army of intentionally spreading a smallpox epidemic among the Mandan Sioux in 1837 by handing out smallpox-infected blankets to them.

Now there's no documentary evidence that anything like this took place. There was a smallpox epidemic among the Mandan Sioux, but historians who have studied this have all concluded that it came from a steamboat that came down the Missouri River that had some smallpox on it.

O'REILLY: OK, so he may be — and it wouldn't surprise anybody that he'd be revising history that way. I hear that he...

CAMPOS: Well, not only that.

O'REILLY: ...I hear that he may not even be a Native American. Is that true?

CAMPOS: Well, there's apparently no evidence that he, in fact, has any Native American ancestry. And this, I think, is a very serious potential situation in regard to Ward Churchill because he's made a career by — around claiming to be a Native American.

If, in fact, some of the hiring and tenuring decisions at the University of Colorado were affected by his claims of being a native American, which I don't know whether that was the case, but if it was, and it turns out that there's no documentary evidence at all that he has any native American heritage whatsoever, then I think that brings again into question...

O'REILLY: Well, of course. Is this an open question about his Native American background? Or is he simply not a Native American? Do we know for sure?

CAMPOS: Well, of course, it's extremely difficult to prove a negative. You're never going to be able to absolutely definitively prove that some place, somewhere, far, far back in his ancestry, he might have had a native American ancestor.

But I think what's really revelatory here is that to be a member of the Cherokee Nation, you just have to prove that you have one Cherokee ancestor. If you can prove that, then you can enroll as a member of the Cherokee Nation. Ward Churchill has never enrolled as a member of the Cherokee Nation, even though he claims to be a Cherokee.


CAMPOS: And the reason seems to be pretty clear, because he can't demonstrate that he has any Cherokee heritage.

O'REILLY: Maybe. I mean I don't want to go beyond the evidence.

Last question. Do you agree with me that the board of regents will probably fire him based on competency? I think that's where they'll get him.

CAMPOS: I don't have a good sense of that at this point. I believe that given what I know, and given what I've learned by studying the situation vis-a-vis Ward Churchill, that that would be the appropriate decision, although it's not my decision to make.

But the politics of this are extremely complex. And unfortunately, I think that there's a significant chance that he will not be fired simply because he now has a pre-textual - you know, he can claim, hey, we're firing you because of your political opinions...

O'REILLY: Yes, he can claim it...

CAMPOS: ...not that you're professionally incompetent.

O'REILLY: He could claim it and the ACLU will help him with that, but you got to do the right thing, professor. You can't be backing away from these people. We appreciate you coming on very much.

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