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Book misconstrues facts

By Charlotte Hsu

May 10, 2004 9:00 p.m.

Correction appended A book a UCLA undergraduate
wrote that alleges students are “brainwashed” by a
liberal bias at U.S. universities contains numerous factual errors,
misquotations and misrepresentations of people’s views.
Titled “Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate
America’s Youth,” Ben Shapiro’s book appeared on
store shelves Thursday. With “Brainwashed,” Shapiro
said he hopes to drive home the assertion he’s frequently
made: that the United States’ universities are dominated by
liberal professors whose ideologies overshadow those of their
underrepresented conservative counterparts. While Shapiro’s
inflammatory statements have drawn criticism from many, different
concerns arise when he doesn’t get his facts straight. At
least twice, Shapiro states that Student Media receives funding
from mandatory tuition or fees, which is false. He also misquotes
prominent UCLA figures, including the chancellor and UCLA Hillel
Director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, and mischaracterizes the terms
of his dismissal from the Daily Bruin. Shapiro rescheduled Monday
an in-person meeting that was supposed to take place that morning
and asked to be interviewed by phone instead. Shapiro canceled the
phone interview after being presented with the errors through
e-mail and would only comment in a statement by e-mail. “I
stand behind the facts in my book, and behind the major point of my
book: The overwhelming majority of professors are leftists, and
their leftism enters the classroom,” he wrote. After
canceling his interview, he did not return calls and messages left
to his home and cell phone but responded in a later e-mail that he
would not be able to talk for “the next several weeks.”
He wrote that he is busy with the publicity campaign for his book,
which in an interview last week he said would launch today. When
asked about factual errors, a spokeswoman familiar with
Shapiro’s book declined to comment before speaking with a
legal team. The Borders Books & Music on Westwood Boulevard had
four copies of “Brainwashed” in stock this weekend,
though Ackerman Union is not carrying it. Some preordered it
online, and it has already garnered over 15 comments on

Factual distortion In at least two instances in
“Brainwashed,” Shapiro, a former Bruin Viewpoint
columnist, states that Student Media at UCLA ““ which
encompasses The Bruin, UCLAtv, KLA radio and several newsmagazines
““ receives funding from student fees. Student Media receives
no money from the university or student tuition and fees and is
completely self-funded. In chapter 11, Shapiro writes that
“part of tuition at UCLA includes a required payment to the
student media. For example, my tuition money pays for Nommo, the
black magazine on campus, despite the fact that I disagree with
their viewpoint.” He adds at the start of chapter 12 that
“groups like the African Student Association, Gay and Lesbian
Association, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), the
Muslim Student Association and their media outlets, like Nommo,
TenPercent, La Gente de Aztlán and Al-Talib all receive
tuition money to spout their radical agendas.” Student groups
receive funding through fees, but Nommo, TenPercent, La Gente de
Aztlán and Al-Talib fall under Student Media and do not. They
are also independent publications that do not serve as media
outlets for student groups. In addition to factual mistakes,
Shapiro makes multiple errors when quoting. He misquotes
Seidler-Feller in more than one instance. In a segment about a
memorial for Holocaust victims, Shapiro writes:
“Seidler-Feller spoke to the crowd of students, comparing
Israeli treatment of Palestinians to Nazi treatment of Jews.”
But Seidler-Feller says this wasn’t what he said at all.
“I have never compared Israeli behavior to Nazi behavior.
It’s an outrageous assertion ““ it’s both
outrageous to say that and outrageous to say I said it,” he
said. Shapiro continues in the same paragraph, quoting
Seidler-Feller as saying that Jews being victimized in the
Holocaust does not mean they are “immunized from victimizing
others.” The Bruin story Shapiro cited read:
“Seidler-Feller urged people to realize that just because
Jews were victims does not mean they are “˜immunized’
from being victimizers.” A second time, Shapiro writes:
Seidler-Feller strode to a microphone and challenged (Dennis)
Prager’s honesty and his arguments, stating to Prager that he
was “exaggerating the case” for Israel. The quotation
Shapiro used never appeared in the Daily Bruin story he cites in
his footnotes. Instead, the story said Seidler-Feller supported
most of Prager’s argument but “did challenge him on a
few points he said Prager exaggerated. … Seidler-Feller asked if
it was necessary for Israel supporters to exaggerate to get their
point across.” Shapiro also puts quotation marks around
statements that he should have paraphrased, giving the impression
people said things they did not. In a segment about partisan
politics, “Brainwashed” reads: “Albert Carnesale,
the chancellor of UCLA, says that “˜a missile defense shield
is not the answer to the threat of weapons of mass
destruction.'” The excerpt was drawn from a Daily Bruin
story in which the part Shapiro puts in quotation marks was not
reported as a direct quote.

Misrepresentation Shapiro also misrepresented
the views of many people he quotes in “Brainwashed.” In
chapter two, Shapiro cites English Professor Robert Watson’s
submission to The Bruin’s Viewpoint section, in which Watson
writes: “If you decide to characterize as radical-leftist the
determination to ask hard questions about the things a society has
been most comfortable assuming, then, yes, a large proportion of
those who have devoted their lives to intellectual inquiry will
appear to you to be radical-leftist.” In
“Brainwashed,” Shapiro drops Watson’s statement
“if you decide” and writes that the professor
“describes radical leftism as “˜the determination to ask
hard questions about the things a society has been most comfortable
assuming.'” “That wasn’t really what I
said, and I assume he must know that,” Watson said. He said
his intention was to state his belief that a person who interprets
challenges to society’s assumptions as radical leftism would
naturally define many involved in academia as radical leftists.
“(Shapiro) contrives to misunderstand what I said in a way
that would make it false when he presumably should be able to
comprehend what I think are pretty clearly made assertions,”
he added. Also, some of the over 750 footnotes in the back of
Shapiro’s book are incorrectly cited. He twice attributes
parts of one of Watson’s quotes, in chapter three and then
again in chapter 13, to a submission Watson wrote titled
“Conservatives quick to excuse war crimes,” instead of
to “Link between leftists, intellectuals no accident,”
the piece in which the quote appeared. He attributes another
chapter three quote found in the same piece to a different
submission titled “Johnson fails to accept need for dissent
in life.” In quoting University of Massachusetts Professor
Bill Israel saying the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were “the
predictable result of American foreign policy,”
“Brainwashed” footnotes in chapter eight an opinion
piece written by Shapiro. The quote does not appear in that

Daily Bruin dismissal Shapiro, a Viewpoint
columnist for nearly two years, was dismissed in 2002 for appearing
on a radio show without first telling his editors, said Cuauhtemoc
Ortega, the Viewpoint editor at the time. In the book’s
introduction, Shapiro writes that he was fired from The Bruin
“for revealing the newspaper’s systematic bias in favor
of the Islamic community.” The book’s jacket says
Shapiro was fired for his conservative views. He said The Bruin
refused to publish two of his stories about Muslims and spoke about
the issue on Larry Elder’s radio show shortly before being
dismissed. Ortega said Shapiro was let go not for speaking on the
Larry Elder program, but for going on the program without telling
an editor first. After a different columnist was misidentified as a
reporter on “The O’Reilly Factor,” the Viewpoint
editors drafted a “zero tolerance” policy that stated
columnists could not appear on other media without first informing
editors. “It was mandatory. … It was very clear,”
Ortega said. But in his book, Shapiro writes that “columnists
were not required to sign the policy, and were not legally bound by
it.” Ortega said the two Shapiro pieces were not run in the
paper because they were “intolerant and really insensitive to
Muslim people.” Ortega said that “you can only go up to
a certain point” before breaking communications board
guidelines that advise against publishing or broadcasting
“articles to perpetuate derogatory cultural or ethnic
stereotypes.” The Bruin is not obligated to follow the
guidelines, but editors choose to do so at their own

A vocal path The cover art of the book consists
of four plastic-like graduates dressed in green ““
“cookie cutter dolls,” Shapiro said in an interview the
day his book came out ““ with blank looks on their faces.
He laughs as he says they’re reminiscent of the Stepford
Wives and says he chose the design because it symbolizes his belief
that universities churn out students with liberal views. Shapiro, a
political science student and Burbank native, entered UCLA when he
was 16. He speaks with a fast pace, his words flying out of his
mouth in short staccato steps. He still lives off-campus in the Los
Angeles area and drives to school where he’s finishing up his
college language requirement by taking Hebrew. In person,
he’s well-spoken and passionate about his beliefs. He has
short brown hair and expressive eyebrows that complement hand
gestures as he speaks. Shapiro insists that students aren’t
exposed to a variety of viewpoints at universities and that those
who don’t have strong opinions will be overwhelmed by an
atmosphere dominated by liberal instructors ““ even if
discussion is encouraged in classrooms. “Most professors are
very open to discussion. They’re not sitting down and going,
“˜How can we brainwash the students today?'” he
said. Described as a “staunch conservative” on his Web
site,, Shapiro doesn’t bow to critics.
He chooses words carefully, and they’re often
confrontational. Close to home for many students, Shapiro refers in
one opinion piece to his peers as “those crying the loudest
for money from the pockets of others … the gimme
generation.” Though he’s loud about what he thinks,
Shapiro says his intentions aren’t to portray himself as a
cut above the rest. “I’m not like a lot of radicals
““ on both sides ““ who only want to hear themselves
talk,” he said. “I’m certainly not above anyone
else.” Even so, he concedes that his readership consists
largely of people who share his perspectives and that few people
his own age read up on what he has to say. To reach out to fellow
collegians, Shapiro recently took a speaking tour on the East
Coast, covering ground that included Boston College, Columbia,
Princeton, Harvard, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania. Doug
Bush, director of political affairs for College Republicans of
Boston College, said he met Shapiro and chatted with him for a
while when he spoke at the school. Bush said he found Shapiro
“a bit of a radical,” but intelligent and well-read for
his age. “I don’t know if I believe in everything he
says, but he has a lot of information to share,” Bush said.
“We had some people that really opposed his positions asking
him some really difficult questions. He was really good at thinking
on his feet,” he said. Bush said Saturday he ordered
Shapiro’s book online but hadn’t yet read it, so he
couldn’t comment on it or any errors it contained. Shapiro
began working on “Brainwashed” the summer of 2002, and
said he finished writing in nine weeks. He updated it in 2003, and
it was accepted for publication shortly after. The dedication is to
his parents, “who taught me the difference between right and
wrong and gave me the strength to confront falsehood.”
Shapiro says while his social conservatism stems from his
upbringing as an Orthodox Jew, his financial conservatism comes
more from researching ““ “You read up and figure out
whether this is what I believe,” he said. He says he
hasn’t chosen a set style of writing yet but added, “I
can do an Ann Coulter ““ one liners, very caustic … Or less
caustic, more factually oriented.” And while Shapiro says
he’s leaning toward the latter ““ work that’s
based more on straight argument ““ his book contains a
lot of jokes and sarcasm. “The book is more abrasive. …
People need to laugh a little bit,” he said. In addition to
his book, Shapiro is a nationally syndicated columnist, with his
columns running regular on such forums as and Ortega, who worked with Shapiro during the
columnist’s entire tenure at The Bruin, said Shapiro’s
writing has, in the past, had a pattern of overexaggerating. He
added he was not surprised to hear of inaccuracies in
Shapiro’s work. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say
he tries to construe facts in the wrong way. I just think
he’s overzealous and because of that, he’s not
careful,” Ortega said. “It’s your opinion, and
it’s your job to describe (the) opposition. But you have a
responsibility to not distort what your opposition is saying, and
he does that without any kind of remorse,” he said.
Shapiro’s book was released by Christian publisher WND books,
a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers. Online, the publisher
advertises a book alleging the Oklahoma City bombings had
connections to Islamic terrorists. The forward in
“Brainwashed” is written by David Limbaugh, author of
“Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against
Christianity” and other books. Shapiro appeared more
conservative than many of his peers at Yeshiva University High
School, where students are generally right-leaning because of their
backgrounds, said Paul Soifer, his high school U.S. government
teacher. That Shapiro “would take a conservative position on
how he would perceive a university like UCLA, that wouldn’t
be terribly surprising,” Soifer added. And though Shapiro has
made a name for himself among conservative voices, Soifer remembers
him as just another student ““ inquisitive and a good
researcher, but still just one in a whole class of “seniors
with early senioritis.” “Nothing specific sticks
out,” Soifer said. After 20 years on the West Coast,
Shapiro’s heading to Harvard Law School for the fall. Of his
move to Massachusetts, Shapiro said he’s looking forward to
taking up residence in a bastion some consider more liberal than
California. “It’s going from the frying pan to the fire
““ next I’ll have to go to Cuba,” he said
laughingly. Correction: May 12, 2004,
Wednesday In “Book misconstrues facts” (News, May 11),
the story should have said the Daily Bruin drafted a “zero
tolerance” policy on staffers’ appearing on other media
not because a columnist was misidentified as a reporter, but
because of editors’ concerns that a staffer would be seen as
speaking on behalf of the newspaper’s staff. Due to a
production error, the last sentence of the same story was cut short
and should have read: “”˜It’s going from the
frying pan to the fire ““ next I’ll have to go to
Cuba,’ he said laughingly.”

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Charlotte Hsu
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