The Magazine

Andrew Sullivan, Katie Couric, and more.

From the January 31, 2005 issue: Andrew Sullivan, C.A. Tripp, Lincoln, and more.

Jan 31, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 19 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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'A Rigorous Scholar Who Cannot Defend Himself'

That's how blogger Andrew Sullivan has now described the late Clarence Arthur Tripp in the course of a long, serial complaint against The Weekly Standard's recent "hatchet-job" review of Tripp's posthumous book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln ("Honest, Abe?" by Philip Nobile, January 17). Our reviewer thought the book--an attempt to establish that America's 16th president was gay--a "hoax and a fraud." But Sullivan rejects that charge as a piece of "character assassination" against a highly regarded "Kinseyite social scientist" with a "Ph.D. in clinical psychology" and a "superb and invaluable" collection of documentary evidence. For this (and for what he contends was our reviewer's failure to disclose a professional conflict of interest) "they need to apologize," Mr. Sullivan insists. "Will The Standard correct?"

Because Philip Nobile's Standard essay about Dr. Tripp did, in fact, quite clearly and at great length discuss his personal interest in Tripp's work--and because Andrew Sullivan's demand for an apology otherwise fails to allege even a single substantive error in the piece--The Scrapbook hasn't yet been able to find anybody here at the magazine who understands what it is precisely we're supposed to correct.

The Scrapbook can report, however, that everybody here at The Standard now seems fully inclined to endorse Mr. Sullivan's judgment that C.A. Tripp "cannot defend himself." And not just because Tripp is dead. Instead, we're inclined to think Tripp defenseless because it's come to our attention that most other "Kinseyite social scientists" gave up defending the man as far back as 1998, when he was still very much alive and active. It was then that Tripp made a star-turn appearance in a British television documentary about the great Alfred Kinsey's reliance, for "scientific data" concerning pre-adolescent sexuality, on men like Rex King. Beginning in 1943, King gave Kinsey access to the diary in which he'd kept detailed records of sexual assaults he'd committed against roughly 800 minor children, both boys and girls, some as young as five months old. Kinsey, to his eternal disgrace, thought the world of King.

And so, it devolves, did Kinsey's staff photographer, C.A. Tripp, who fondly reminisced about this "super-scientific" pedophile--among other things--in May 1998:

The children all thought he was wonderful, all the mothers thought he was wonderful. There was no force, no harm, no pain . . . [just] two instances in which a young boy or girl--agreed to the sexual contact but then they found it very painful and yelled out when it actually took place. This was because they were very young and . . . there was a fit problem. But even there, there was no--never enough complaint to get him into any trouble.

At this point in his interview, Tripp momentarily digressed to make a "very important observation" about what happens "if you go out and masturbate dogs--I was very good at this when I was a boy." But then he returned to the subject of King, pronouncing him "totally" ethical, "clean as a whistle." The man "had sex with all the relatives and brothers and sisters and aunts," Tripp explained, "but nobody is objecting. He makes it pleasant. . . . And very few pedophiles make any damage anyway, it almost never happens."

No point beating around the bush, here: Clarence Arthur Tripp was not a "social scientist." He was a lunatic.

Will Andrew Sullivan correct?

Will the Today Show Correct?

Thus did NBC's Katie Couric & Co. prepare to discuss The Great Emancipator's sleeping arrangements on Tuesday morning, January 11:

Couric: I'm Katie Couric, here with Lester Holt, Ann Curry, and Al Roker. . . .

Curry: Also ahead, a controversial new book is out today that may be trying to rewrite American history. In it, sex researcher C.A. Tripp--it claims that President Clinton may have been gay.

Couric: No, no, no. Lincoln.

Roker: Lincoln.

Curry: Lincoln, President Lincoln. [Laughter.]

Roker: Wow!

Curry: Never have a woman come back from--I am so jet lagged.

Roker: Wow!

Curry: President Lincoln may have been gay.

Couric: Hillary's on the phone for you.

Curry: I know. So sorry, Mr. Clinton. I'm so sorry, Mr. President.

Yeah, but why is Ann Curry sorry, The Scrapbook can't help wondering? What's so bad about calling someone gay?

Will Prof. Nancy Hopkins Correct?

On-campus faculty pressure and intense, largely hostile media coverage have already--at this writing--forced Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers to issue three separate public apologies for remarks he made January 14 at a conference on the status of women in university math and science departments. Which is all by itself rather remarkable, given that almost nobody who's been criticizing him can possibly be sure exactly what he said. No text or tape of Summers's short, informal presentation to the National Bureau of Economic Research has yet been released. And none seems forthcoming; the meeting was meant to be entirely private and off the record, after all.

But that didn't stop one of the attendees from storming out of Summers's talk and promptly emailing her objections to a reporter for the Boston Globe. Best we can tell, from the Globe account and subsequent news stories, President Summers's great crime was to have speculated aloud about the possibility that discriminatory sexism might not explain 100 percent of the gender gap in tenure-track faculty positions at elite math and science programs around the country. The 80-hour work weeks typically required by leading academic science laboratories might have something to do with it; married women with children might find such a schedule intolerable. Or it might simply be that laboratory science--rather like, say, auto mechanics--doesn't hold quite the same appeal for women as it does for men.

There is by now, of course, a veritable mountain of modern social science evidence that gender differences in American employment and career trajectories are indeed influenced (if not primarily determined) by just those factors Larry Summers was here (allegedly) adducing. But that's evidently not the point. The point instead seems to be that the president of America's most prestigious university must never allow himself to mention such things out loud.

Otherwise, see, some whistleblower is likely to tell the Boston Globe that Larry Summers thinks women are too dumb to teach Ivy League physics. And a good part of the rest of the American academic universe is likely then to work itself into a lather of transparently insincere indignation about this patently ludicrous charge. (President Summers's purported expression of anti-distaff prejudice seriously threatens to "impede our current efforts to recruit top women scholars," according to the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Standing Committee on Women--which can't possibly believe that's true.)

Interestingly enough, by the way, the whistleblower in question turns out to have been one Nancy Hopkins, an MIT biology professor, who's since told reporters that the moment Summers started talking at the January 14 meeting, "I felt I was going to be sick. My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow." No, really: "I just couldn't breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill." And if she hadn't left the room immediately, "I would've either blacked out or thrown up."

The Scrapbook eagerly awaits an apology from Prof. Hopkins herself--for thus suggesting that tenured women at elite American universities are prone to Freudian hysteria-swoons whenever they're confronted with a discomfiting idea.