Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"The Point" Doesn't Come Clean on the ISI

In the second of a series on higher education, “The Point” relies almost solely on commentary from Kenneth Cribb, the president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. However, the background of Cribb and the ISI are not mentioned at all, with the result being that Cribb and his organization are portrayed as centrist, apolitical voices when in fact they are anything but.

Taking the form of an interview with Kenneth Cribb by “Point” correspondent Dina Nesheiwat, the commentary poses the rhetorical question “Are [students] getting a well-rounded liberal arts education?”

The implied answer to this question is no, but the commentary offers no specifics. Rather, the ISI’s position is described (via Nesheiwat’s voiceover and video of Cribb himself) in vague terms. According to “The Point,” the ISI believes colleges have become “too politicized” and that students “don’t get a well-rounded education.” Cribb goes so far as to say that, “the fact that only indoctrination is going on means that true learning is not occurring.”

Nesheiwat’s voiceover tells viewers that to help address its concerns, the ISI is “working with more than 60,000 students and faculty on more than 1100 campuses.”

However, while the text of the piece and the selected clips of Cribb give the viewer the sense that the ISI is a neutral organization devoted to depoliticizing American campuses, the ISI is actually part of a network of conservative think tanks and organizations devoted to advancing right-wing ideology among college students.

In existence for more than 50 years, the ISI is the publisher behind several conservative campus periodicals, and has also ventured into book publishing, most recently putting out Republican Senator Rick Santorum’s (PA) tome, It Takes a Family.

The ISI draws much of its funding from conservative foundations, such as the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the John Olin Foundation, and the Earhart Foundation. In spite of this, the ISI’s website claims that it is non-partisan, and there are no overt references to its ties to conservative ideology (beyond vague statements that its principles include the belief in limited government, the free market, and the “Judeo-Christian” tradition).

However, the statements of Cribb himself betray the political activist goals of the ISI. In a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, Cribb said:

We must...provide resources and guidance to an elite which can take
up anew the task of enculturation. Through its journals, lectures, seminars,
books and fellowships, this is what ISI has done successfully for 36 years. The
coming of age of such elites has provided the current leadership of the
conservative revival. But we should add a major new component to our strategy:
the conservative movement is now mature enough to sustain a counteroffensive on
that last Leftist redoubt, the college campus...We are now strong enough to
establish a contemporary presence for conservatism on campus, and contest the
Left on its own turf. We plan to do this by greatly expanding the ISI field
effort, its network of campus-based programming

This is not surprising coming from Cribb, who has personal ties to the conservative movement. He held a number of positions in the Reagan administration and also has ties to the Federalist Society.

Cribb’s personal politics and the mission of ISI to “enculturate” college students into conservatism are not in and of themselves unethical, but by failing to fully reveal the background and political agenda of the group (and in fact purposefully suggesting that the ISI is interested in depoliticizing college campuses) in a piece that is presented as a news story rather than an editorial or personal commentary, Sinclair Broadcasting has committed a gross violation of journalistic ethics.

Surprise, surprise.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Nesheiwat Index: 2.16


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