Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Was The American Conservative's Rod Dreher previously Beliefnet's "Jackie"/Lena Dunham?

In my comments to Pikkumatti's excellent post here I make a case that at least must be addressed. In the wake of Dreher's latest post on Lena Dunham - still titled in Google's as yet uncached version as "Liar Liar Lena Dunham" like its permalink - I'll summarize those comments here.

This morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee will be releasing its torture report on Bush-era CIA interrogation methods. Four years ago, middle-aged professional writer Rod Dreher, then writing for Beliefnet, accused persons associated with Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts of willfully enabling the torture of a student assigned to their care - him.

Remember, four years ago Rod Dreher had already long since been established and well known as a professional writer, someone well-acquainted with what his carefully chosen words mean.

In this Beliefnet post (screen capture here, because Dreher's Beliefnet posts have a habit of mysteriously disappearing), Dreher claims:

When I think about the bullying I endured in high school, the most indelible image on my mind is being pinned to the floor and tortured in a hotel room on a school trip, and the two adult women chaperones in the room literally stepping over me, lying there screaming for them to help me, as they left the hotel room.

From my comments on Pikkumatti's post, here's how serious this really is:

  • Dreher was born in 1967.
      • If he started first grade at 6, that would have been 1967 + 6 = 1973
        • Starting high school 8 years later would make the opening time bracket of the torture episode 1981
          • Therefore, Rod Dreher is publicly claiming that, sometime between the years 1981 and 1985 (give or take a year on each end), two female chaperones employed or formally engaged by the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts allowed a student in their care to be tortured by other students while on a field trip sponsored by that school
            • Dreher, long a professional writer as of this 2010 Beliefnet article, is using the same word being used to indict the CIA in the report being released today. He does not modify or otherwise explain his use of the word torture. 
              • How serious was the liability which Dreher, at least since this 2010 Beliefnet piece, has accused the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts of enabling through its negligent chaperones? Why, any thing from being physically burned with cigarettes to being brutally sodomized. Taunting or tickling can in no way be described by a professional writer of the age Dreher was when he wrote that as "torture".
                • If the story is true, school records will reveal there were specific real, identifiable women who enabled this torture and real fellow students who carried it out, real torture enablers and torturers associated with the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts.
                  • If the story is false, Rod Dreher has libeled the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts

                  As fabulists and defamers go, "Jackie" and Lena Dunham have nothing on TAC's Rod Dreher.

                  So what was Rod Dreher's torture?

                  A real event that, as reported, condemns the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts and its personnel for their reckless endangerment of their students? A made-up rape fantasy like "Jackie"'s or Lena Dunhams? Some mish-mash of both?

                  Either way, in the wake of tales like this what can one reasonably believe about Rod Dreher's factual accounts about anything, from 9/11, to the Catholic Church Scandals, to what his now-dead sister, unable to respond, may or may not have said or done?

                  Anything at all?

                  UPDATE (as they say): In the comments, Art Deco wonders whether the high school in question might actually have been Dreher's local West Feliciana High School rather than the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts.

                  If so, nothing but the name of the high school in question changes. There either were or were not real and identifiable chaperones responsible for enabling Rod's torture on an identifiable field trip sponsored by whichever high school it was, as well as real and identifiable students on that same trip from which the pool of actual torturers was comprised.


                  1. I call BS on Rod's claims. My husband and I personally knew most of the teachers and staff at the Louisiana School. I cannot imagine ANY of them doing what he describes. No way! They were professionals, and they were very attuned to the kids. It was a school full of bright, nerdy kids -- no one got picked on for nerdiness, as far as I ever saw.

                    1. How dare you not believe, Diane. It's people like you....

                    2. Rod specifically says the episode occurred during high school and on a school trip, that is, a trip sponsored by the high school he refers to.

                      It is conceivable that Rod attended another high school before or after the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, which only means that all the problems I detail belong to that other, real high school and its personnel rather than to LSMSA.

                      The point is, whichever high school it is Rod is referring to, it really exists and Rod attended it; he could not have graduated from LSU having only attended a fabricated high school.

                      So my questions remain. Was the high school in question - either WFHS or LSMSA - guilty of the crimes he alleges they were (willfully allowing a student to be tortured, even through one's agents, inevitably carries some criminal liability)?

                      Or did he fabricate this most fundamental story of his life and, if so, which other and whose other stories has he similarly fabricated?

                    3. If I am not mistaken, he has said in the past he attended the Louisiana School for his last two years in high school. His mother had heard about the place when it was under construction and persuaded his father to assent to it. The reason she and Rod were interested in that he was getting knocked around quite a bit at the local high school.

                      Teachers and administrators face dilemmas about how much to intervene in intramural disputes between students. You get perspective with age, but you also lose some sense of the poignancy of these problems to those who experience them. Add to that the view that the young need to learn coping skills with practice and add to that Southern honor culture which is more tolerant of fighting. I doubt the actual incident was very far off what did happen. I would guess also that the teachers in question had their reasons for handling the matter as they did. A small Southern town would also have been the last place in America people would be thinking of what personal injury lawyers would make of it.

                    4. " I doubt the actual incident was very far off what did happen"

                      I mean 'very far off what he relates'

                    5. Art, this was torture. Plain and simple. If you want to say it was "enhanced interrogation" then go right ahead. Mr. Dreher claims he was tortured and I have no reason not to believe him.*

                      (* - this last sentence is actually not true.)

                    6. Here, again, at the time of this writing Dreher was not 15 and bawling his eyes out hyperbolically.

                      He was 43, a professional writer, married with 3 kids, who had previously written extensively about the Iraq War.

                      He did not qualify his use of the term torture.

                      I really doesn't matter what I or anyone else in our generosity happens to cut him slack for "really" meaning.

                      No, as a fully mature professional writer he used his professional skill set to accuse real people in the employ of a real institution of enabling the torture of a minor and to convince any reader that what he experienced was simple, unqualified torture.

                    7. Art, see my response below. I am very much aware of the situation at the Louisiana School during the years that Rod was there. I was there, too, as a La School teacher;s wife (and part-time PR person).

                      Yes, you are correct that Rod was there just for his last two years. At that time (the inaugural class), the student body comprised only jigh school juniors and seniors.

                      I didn't know Rod when we were there. But I know the school itself, very well.

                  2. Rod's assertion that any accusations need to be fully investigated rather than accepted without question is one that I fully support. Any and all such accusations of abuse need to be treated fairly, but investigated fully. Keith makes an excellent case of why this is important, and I can only hope that such a case would be presented to Rod directly so he can respond.

                  3. IIRC, Dreher attended the Louisiana School during the years running from 1983 to 1985, shortly after it opened. I think the account in question concerned something which happened while he was still enrolled at the local high school in West Feliciana Parish. Dreher has in the past dated his peer problems to age 15 or to his 'early teens'.

                    1. Art, quite possibly correct.

                      We were at the La School at exactly the same time Rod was. We chaperoned his prom. :) :)

                      There was no one there who would have behaved in the way Rod describes.Good grief, the School was trying to make it -- trying to convince prospective students to forsake excellent schools like Jesuit Prep to come to a little podunky town tor a supposedly superior education. Why would anyone jeopardize the entire enterprise by allowing the torture of a student?

                      As you say, if the incident occurred at all (which I still think is highly improbable), it must have happened in West Feliciana.

                      But I still call BS. Louisiana's not THAT backward.

                    2. I'm not sure I see how Dreher escapes the trap he has carefully constructed for himself here. Facts tend to weave an inexorable DNA out of their increasingly complex interconnectivity.

                      If the episode happened as badly as the 43-year-old Dreher describes it, he is leveling some serious charges against (let's assume from now on it's) his local high school. Does WFHS still enable the torture of its students?

                      If he's simply making it up, again, he's libeling WFHS.

                      If, while as a professional writer using his professional skills to form credible conclusions in his readers' minds he's instead only exaggerating the truth, he's deliberately misleading his readers. On what other subjects has the 43+-year-old Rod Dreher also deliberately mislead his readers?

                    3. I agree, Keith. His account is over the top -- like something out of Deliverance. Again, Louisiana wasn't that backward.

                      I was bulled in school, too, and kids threatened to beat me up at recess on a few occasions. Teachers were not as proactive as they should have been back then, but they would not have condoned or enabled actual torture. Yeah, this was in supposedly enlightened Massachusetts, but OTOH it as before Rod was even born.

                      I still call BS.

                  4. I have no facts on this one way or another, but I'll make a prediction. I'm guessing this torture story to be "fake but accurate" -- yeah, some kids were mean to him back in the day as kids can be, but the "torture" legend is more of a literary device to make a point about the smallness of small towns ("man's inhumanity to man") than it is a factual telling of an actual event.

                    1. Really? You get beat up in inner city high schools as well, and sometimes suburban high schools.

                    2. The obvious question then, Pik, is to which Rod Dreher stories should this predictive guessing criterion be applied in the place of straightforward belief in what a self-described journalist has written?

                      That's the problem with liberating oneself from standards: suddenly everything reported only by oneself becomes gravity-free and heads for the clouds.

                    3. Of course, Art. A more accurate phrasing in my comment would have been "...a literary device to make his point about the smallness of small towns ...".

                      And my answer, Keith, is all of his stories for which we, the readers, do not otherwise have independent factual support. Except maybe when we want to know what the fashion of the day is for the NPR crowd -- he seems to be pretty accurate on that.

                  5. Someone needs to contact BOTH schools and sort this whole thing out. RIGHT NOW.

                  6. Art Deco is correct. In its inaugural year, the Louisiana School was only for juniors and seniors. It later expanded to include sophomores. Rod was part of the inaugural class. My husband was one of the teachers hired for the inaugural year (and going forward).

                  7. Whether in the clutches of West Feliciana High School operatives, the CIA, or Romanian communists, Torture is torture:

                    I want to add one more thing. My dear friend Frederica Mathewes-Green was the spiritual daughter of the late Father Gheorghe Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox priest who was gruesomely tortured in Pitesti, the most notorious of the communist prisons, for his faith. In this recollection of him after his death a few years back, Frederica writes about what Fr. Gheorghe said about torture.

                    I think of the Americans who [by this final association, are now the same as Romanian communists] tortured those prisoners. I don’t know who is in greater danger of Hell: those who committed the evil deeds that landed them in the lap of the American torturers, or the American torturers. And you know, people, we are citizens of a democracy, and therefore all complicit in this.

                    May God have mercy on our souls for what we all did to Rod Dreher back in high school.

                    1. He is using the term metaphorically in
                      discussing the Phoebe Prince case. It's not immediately clear whether his usage of it in his case is metaphoric or literal.

                      What's more appalling about that column is that he fancies that it's appropriate for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to file felony charges against a mess of disagreeable adolescents for being disagreeable adolescents and he wants long prison terms for them. He's deranged.

                    2. So it's sort of like when Keith says something really funny and I start laughing really hard, then I say "Keith, you're killing me, man!" That sort of metaphor?

                    3. Well, I don't know, Art. Whether it is literal or metaphoric depends on the literal definition of torture. We've learned from the Senate CIA report (or at least the press reaction to it) that merely threatening to use a power drill is torture, so it isn't a stretch to consider what happened to the poor girl as literal torture in that sense. And in Dreher's case, we don't know either the definition nor what happened to him so it is doubly hard to sort that out.

                      But of course if we listen to Joe Biden, we don't even know what the word "literally" means anymore ...

                    4. The CIA thinks merely threatening to use a power drill is torture. At least, their lawyers thought it was so far beyond anything that was or could be authorized that they made an in-person visit to the DOJ to tell them about it when it happened.

                      But sure, maybe psychological torture is just a made-up Democrat talking point.

                    5. Srsly, this regurgitation of the old "torture" debate that we're seeing proves how purely political the whole topic is. I had email debates with people who defined torture so vaguely that everything from swatting your kid to placing someone under arrest could be considered torture. They had no clue to how inane their arguments were.

                    6. There does seem to be a correlation between one's political identity and the grave evils one approves, excuses, or downplays.

                    7. Well, I'm pretty decisively ani-torture, myself, yet I'm also pretty conservative. So, Tom, I'm not sure whom or what you're referring to.

                      I thought the discussion was about Dreher's claim that he'd been "tortured" in high school -- not about the Senate CIA report per se?

                      Upon reflection, I'm not sure I doubt Dreher's story. Knowing Dreher's penchant for embellishment, though, I would still tend to take the grisly details with a shaker full of salt.

                      But I dunno, and I'm not sure I care. If Dreher wants to pose as a nerd martyr, more power to him. If he wants to extol the virtues of "buying local" while chugging French wine, that's his affair. The one and only thing that rouses my ire toward Dreher is his constant, relentless anti-Catholicism. Keith has just uncovered yet another egregious example. The hate-filled bashing got old a long, long time ago.

                    8. Sorry I was unclear. I meant it as a statistical proposition, not an "All S are P" logical proposition.

                    9. No prob, Tom! I'm just kinda sensitive, I guess, WRT Mark Shea's whole "Rubber-Hose Right" shtick. Sweeping generalizations like that set my teeth on edge.

                  8. "Civilizations have the morality and ethics they can afford."

                    As long as we ourselves are living out our lives effectively as the human pets of others tasked with assuming and paying those bills, it's pretty easy for us to wash our hands of the mess and go nighty-night. Even if someone else, even one's child, is in a pit in the ground somewhere rubbing lotion into her skin prior to being turned into a human poncho, we still have the distance to say "She'd never want me to do that, even to save her life". Because of course in the end it's still her life.

                    But critters so allergic to anything anyone can characterize as a grave evil who come to be extinguished by other critters with just a bit more real life immunity also solve that problem for themselves, by allowing themselves to be removed from the historical stage entirely.

                    So in the end, being "better than that" is a treat bought and paid for by others not better than that in existential combat with others not better than that. If you're the beneficiary of such a treat, be grateful for it while you enjoy it.

                    1. For example, these guys:

                      Seventy-three years ago this week, a mere 10 hours after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces invaded the Philippine Islands. The combined American and Filipino troops, underequipped and cut off, were forced into a defensive perimeter on the Bataan Peninsula. There, more than 70,000 starving Allied troops were forced to surrender on April 9, 1942, with fortress of Corregidor capitulating on May 6. More than 10,000 are believed to have perished in the horrific “Bataan Death March” that followed.

                  9. As long as we're off on the real torture tangent anyway, I found this interesting:

                    Of course what the Romanian communists were after and what the CIA interrogators were after differs considerably. I’m not making a complete equivalence. [Not a complete equivalence] But in both cases, they tried to compel a prisoner through torture to defile his faith in order to produce desired results. I’m a religious believer, and trust me, I would rather be raped a thousand times than tortured to the point of denying God or desecrating holy images or Scripture. Even though I do not share the faith of these Muslim detainees, what our government did to them is possibly most inhumane thing any man can do to another: to defile the image of God within their souls.

                    Several interesting things here. Someone talking about being "raped a thousand times" is simultaneously betraying a completely child-like view of the world (what's bigger than ten - I know, a thousand!) as well as a fundamentally unserious interest in the subject he's ostensibly writing passionately about.

                    Second - and remember I'm just a bad Methodist at best - I'm pretty sure God has a torture clause somewhere in the fine print, such that if Rod were forced by torturers to choose between (A) watching his little daughter being skinned alive before him or (B) rubbing his fresh stool into his favorite icon, he wouldn't have to choose (A).

                    Discuss, as they say, or throw up a new thread on Pauli's Open Comment thread or wherever.

                  10. I don't really understand why you all have such a hard time believing Ray's account. Nerdy kid in small town is subjected to a humiliation at the hands of his peers and the adults walk by and chalk it up to good old male pecking order maintenance.

                    This would be considered small time where I grew up. The odd thing for me is that he continues to dwell on it at this point in his life and that he expresses such a high opinion of the values of the place and culture that so rejected him. You'd think that He has been successful enough to put it behind him. It reminds me of the classic case of the guy who was a nobody in high school and attends his HS reunion to show everybody how successful he has become only to find out that they still consider him a nobody. Get over it!

                    To equate his juvenile incident of humiliation with torture is obscene.

                    1. Re your last sentence: I think that's our point. We are not doubting the humiliation. Just the torture.

                    2. I suspect conceptualizing himself as an injured individual and reflexively making accusations is now such an ingrained habit that he'll never be free of it. I'm kind of wondering if exasperated locals will run him out of town on a rail.

                  11. The American Conservative: Written by assholes, for assholes, especially if those assholes are too clever by half.

                    Come to think of it, doesn't Patheos serve the same function?

                    1. Elizabeth Scalia, Ms. Patheos herself (who is now some type of Third Order member) posted pictures of Kim Kardashian practically wearing underwear the other day. Ostensibly this was to show how tasteless her outfit was, and being entirely deficient in the self-awareness department, she probably has no clue of how tasteless and unserious she proves herself by this post.