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March 13, 2006

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There are a couple of things I disagree with you here, Brendan.

The first is the use of the word "smear" in your headline. I think that most people would look at the definition of "smear" as slander, i.e. false and malicious. I don't think that Morrison in this case meets that definition. Whether Morrison has expressed any views about the Bennett flap outside of this letter, I don't know (I can't find any).

The second thing I disagree with is your take on what she meant. Certainly there were people who misconstrued what Bennett said, but most people jumped on his example for his argument, rather than the extension of it. He said

But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.

He didn't agree with the carrying out of it, but his simple premise was:

Its true that if you abort every black baby crime will go down.

And people disagreed with that simple premise. Delong oddly reframes Bennett's argument as:

"...other people will make arguments like 'abortion is good because it lowers the crime rate' and we'll lose sight of the main point."

But Bennett didn't say "other people". He said "It's true...", i.e it's
common knowledge, and Bennett believes it as well. His larger argument was that people can say that there would be beneficial results of abortion, but he is against all abortion. His example of a beneficial result is reducing the number of blacks in the world because it would result in a lower crime rate.

I agree that the words in her letter are awkward, especially for a writer. But she specifically does not say that he advocates the abortion of black children to curb crime, even if you think she infers it. And she is representing an organization that is truly color blind to racial hatred (They list the Nation of Islam as a hate site), even if she herself may feel differently. Taking this into consideration, I think her argument for tolerance is based on the objection to the example Bennett made, not the misinterpreted extension of it.

I got that same mailer from Morrison (well, from whoever sent it with her named attached), and I had exactly the same reaction as Brendan. Morrison was obviously trying to imply some nefarious intent on Bennett's part, otherwise the inclusion of that would've made no sense at all.

I think it is reasonable to ask why Bennett went out of his way to single out blacks when talking about abortion and crime. Freakonomics deals with race very matter-of-factly, but race plays no significant part in its infamous "Roe v. Wade reduced crime" chapter. Bennett was the one who unwarrantedly added the racial element.

If someone said "we could reduce drunkenness by aborting Irish babies, although that would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do," wouldn't you think the speaker was being racist, even if he didn't advocate the policy?

Bennett did indeed say that aborting black babies would curb crime. And Morrison never said that he advocated this. She did, however, correctly suggest his analysis was an example of "intolerance and injustice."

Morrison's observation is perfectly fair. No smear.

"I agree that the words in her letter are awkward, especially for a writer."

They're more than awkward, they're downright misleading if not manipulative. Morrison is a former Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner, she thus should know about the meaning and use of words.

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