Since hubris stalks all people, it is best not to wallow in the latest news about Naomi Wolf. Earlier this week it was announced that her latest book, the publication of which had already been delayed in the US, is now being recalled and pulped. For an author this is the reputational equivalent of hanging-drawing-and-quartering: a situation from which it is hard to emerge with dignity. …
Her most famous “mistake”:
The problem, though, is that Wolf’s error is not a one-off, but part of a pattern of shoddy research in a career spanning nearly three decades. Her first book, The Beauty Myth (1991) was marred by a number of problems. One was the undeniable having-it-both-ways by which Wolf simultaneously lamented the imposition of certain societal norms of attractiveness while not exactly presenting her worst side, nor failing to benefit from that happy chance.
The more serious problem with the book, however, was the shoddy research for which she immediately became known. Wolf infamously claimed that 150,000 women were dying from anorexia-related eating disorders each year in America. As the writer Christina Hoff Sommers subsequently showed (in her 1995 book Who Stole Feminism?), the actual figure had been exaggerated several hundred times over by Wolf, and the actual figure was between 100 and 400.
The death toll from car accidents in the US is about 30 thousand per year. So you’d think people would have noticed if five times as many young girls were dying of anorexia each year. Gosh Naomi, you’re onto something! And the virtuous crowd believed you and lapped up your book!
Saying what peple want to hear:
The strand of slackness soon merged, as it so often does, with the paranoid style. In 2007 she was one of those American writers who honestly seemed to believe that George W Bush was, in his last days in office, not looking forward to retirement and a quieter life but was in fact preparing to govern forever. In a book titled The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot Wolf suggested that the then President and his team were enacting the playbook that dictators had used throughout the twentieth century. …
Even though George Bush miraculously stood down and allowed Barack Obama to enter the Oval Office, Wolf’s warnings of an imminent fascist coup in America continued unabated. …
In 2012 Wolf threw herself feet first into the Occupy Wall Street Movement, apparently in the hope that here was the way to stop the imminent coup. But the fact that Occupy fell apart was simply more evidence of the fascist nature of the American state. In The Guardian (yet again) she maintained that the US government were conspiring with the American banks to impose a “totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent”.
It got uglier. By 2014 she began suggesting that the carefully packaged beheading videos which the terrorist group ISIS was then releasing on a weekly basis were not what they seemed; indeed Wolf began declaring that these videos were in fact “staged” by the American government.
So far down this Alex Jones-ian path did Wolf go that she even went on shamefully to suggest that both the victims of these terrible acts and their families were in fact actors. In the inevitable criticism elicited by her inhumane comments Wolf fell back on the old conspiracist claim that she was “only asking questions”, because isn’t this what journalists are meant to do and so on.
Always topical and popular with a certain crowd, but not always accurate.