The Volokh Conspiracy

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Nancy MacLean's conspiratorial response to criticism of 'Democracy in Chains'


Nancy MacLean, author of "Democracy in Chains," has not responded to substantive criticisms of her book. What she has done, however, is circulate a fanciful and potentially libelous post accusing Jonathan Adler and me of being at the center of a Koch-backed conspiracy to discredit her book. She refers to "Koch operatives and the riders of their academic 'gravy train' " and writes, "It appears they are using Washington Post blogposts as a seemingly respectable pivot for a coordinated and interlinked set of calculated hit jobs."

No one is using my posts, or Jonathan Adler's posts, as a "coordinated" anything. Jonathan and I first posted the same day. I was working on my post while he published his, both of us entirely unaware that the other was planning to post. No one, at the Koch Foundation or anywhere else, urged me, asked me, beseeched me, paid me or otherwise tried to persuade me to blog about the book, then or thereafter. (Ilya Somin has since also posted about the book; I didn't coordinate with him, either.)

MacLean adds that those behind the blog posts are "really the Koch team of professors who don't disclose their conflicts of interest and the operatives who work fulltime for their project to shackle our democracy." I don't know what full-time "operatives" she is referring to. The notion that some full-time Koch operatives have been coordinating a campaign centered around my and Jonathan's blog posts, and that these operatives got us to write them as part of an organized "Koch team of professors," would make me laugh out loud if it were satire, rather than a serious and completely unwarranted attack on our integrity.

MacLean also alleged that the Koch conspirators "have used their bottomless wealth to buy Google 'Top Stories' placement so their hits are what come up if I or the book is searched." This is not just fanciful, but impossible, as Google does not sell such placement, as MacLean later acknowledged. The fact that she provides no evidence of any coordinated attack, and indeed offered as an example an impossibility, didn't stop a bunch of respected historians from sharing her allegations on Facebook and Twitter. A clue should have been that her initial appeal said, "This will sound nutty …" Well, yes.

Meanwhile, because we are talking coordination, MacLean asked her message recipients to try to help manipulate Google and Amazon review rankings. And I've heard that Greenpeace and its affiliate "UnKoch My Campus" have been behind the scenes pitching media outlets the story of a Koch-directed conspiracy against MacLean's book. MacLean herself wrote that UnKoch My Campus "is posted [sic] the undisclosed conflicts of interest" of her critics.

UPDATE: The blog post that reprinted MacLean's plea for help, and is linked above, was edited to remove her original language about buying Google placement without acknowledgment. The original text, for now, can be found here and here.