Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and S. Robert Lichter, George Mason University political communication professor and director of GMU's Center of Media and Public Affairs, both falsely claimed that a recent study of the ideological composition of faculty at U.S. colleges and universities, which Lichter co-authored, proves that conservative academics face discrimination in hiring and promotion. In fact, the study shows only that liberals outnumber conservatives in academia; it does not prove -- or even suggest -- that this disparity is the result of anti-conservative discrimination.
On the April 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Lichter insisted without evidence that conservatives face discrimination in promotion because liberal academics "aren't comfortable" with conservative colleagues. O'Reilly enthusiastically agreed:
LICHTER: But the, you know, the problem to me is that it becomes self-reinforcing that when you get into academia as a conservative, it's harder to move up in the field, even if you're as good as a liberal, because liberals aren't comfortable with you.
O'REILLY: There's no question about that. All right, Doc, thanks very much. We appreciate the study.
In fact, Lichter and his co-authors provide no evidence that conservatives have faced discrimination in hiring and promotion. As Media Matters for America has noted, justifying claims about hiring and promotion would require data on the relative numbers of conservatives and liberals who qualified and applied for various positions or came up for tenure review. Notwithstanding Lichter's comments, the study presents no such data. Lichter assumes, implausibly, that hiring bias is the only conceivable explanation for overrepresentation of liberals on campuses relative to the general public.
Moreover, neither O'Reilly nor Lichter disclosed that the study was sponsored by the Randolph Foundation, an organization that funds many conservative groups, including Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the Independent Women's Forum, and right-wing pundit David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture.
Further extrapolating from the study, Lichter compared the current state of academia to the intellectual environment that gave rise to Nazism in Weimar Germany:
LICHTER: And some people have actually come out and said, some professors have said, "Liberals are smarter. That's why they become professors." But, you know, the German university system used to be the best in the world, and you had this hotbed of reaction and nationalism and anti-Semitism in the German universities in the 1920s. You know, universities tend to attract antibourgeois people from the left now, from the right in the past. You know, I don't think there's anything about being an academic that makes you open-minded and kind of somehow the best people.
During the discussion, O'Reilly also falsely summarized New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's April 5 column, claiming that Krugman wrote that "anybody who believes in God is pretty much a fool." (Though O'Reilly admitted, "I might be overstating it. To be fair to Professor Krugman, he didn't exactly say it that way.")
In fact, Krugman's column did not generalize about people who believe in God. His complaint centered on those who disparage science and ignore empirical research in favor of revelation and ideology. From his column:
Think of the message this sends: today's Republican Party -- increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research -- doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party.