Sunday, March 13, 2005

I have rarely been this royally ticked off. As an opinion writer, it is indeed my business to feel strongly about subjects. However, nothing prepared me for the statements of Fox News analyst and law professor Susan Estrich calling for a feminist campaign against the Los Angeles Times. Ms. Estrich’s grievance is that the newspaper has failed to publish enough articles by women (like her own syndicated column) on its editorial page.

It was not Ms. Estrich’s campaign that sent me into high orbit. In my view, the proposed use of an author’s gender rather than an author’s ideas to select articles is both artificial and anti-intellectual. However, it is a proposal worthy of debate.

But it was Ms. Estrich’s vicious attack on Los Angeles Times Opinion Editor Michael Kinsley that was so shocking. Ms. Estrich used Mr. Kinsley’s suffering from Parkinson’s disease as easy fodder for her attacks on the newspaper. She insisted that his failure to publish women like herself is evidence that “your illness may have affected your brain, your judgment, and your ability to do this job.” Ms. Estrich warned Mr. Kinsley that he is “digging a grave for [him]self.” Described in the press as “belligerent” and “semiliterate,” Ms. Estrich’s tirades became increasing unhinged after it became clear that Mr. Kinsley would not yield to her ultimatums. Indeed, at one point, Ms. Estrich went to all caps in offering Mr. Kinsley “ONE MORE CHANCE BEFORE I GO PUBLIC.” Before one charity event, she asked menacingly, “you want me to work that dinner about what an [expletive] you are?” After descending to calling Kinsley a “jerk,” “fool” and other names, Ms. Estrich turned on Times Editor John Carroll when he complained to her that her attacks on Mr. Kinsley showed “extravagant malice.” She responded by claiming defamation and telling him to expect a call from her lawyer.

It was Ms. Estrich’s use of Mr. Kinsley’s illness that hit some of us the hardest. Three weeks ago, my father, Jack Turley, died from complications of Parkinson’s disease. A respected international architect, my father struggled for years to retain his dignity against the ravages of this merciless disease. During this ordeal, Mr. Kinsley was an inspiration. He is one of roughly 1 million Parkinson’s patients in the United States, with 50,000 new cases added to that number each year. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1994 at age 42, Mr. Kinsley did not allow it to stop his contributions as an editor and syndicated writer. While as a writer I have had my disagreements with Mr. Kinsley, his life with Parkinson’s disease gave hope to countless families that it was possible to thrive despite the disease.

Ms. Estrich’s personal attack on Mr. Kinsley reflects a common stereotype that a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease means that a person’s ability to think and function is instantly compromised. In reality, Parkinson’s can take many years before having significant effects on individuals. It largely causes physical,notmental changes, such as rigidity, tremors or instability. Recent drugs have greatly extended the workable life of Parkinson’s victims.

In my case, we realized that something was wrong with my dad when he asked me to knot his tie at my wedding more than seven years ago. The following week, he was diagnosed. He continued, however, to think and speak clearly for years — critiquing my opinion pieces on a weekly basis.

Of course, Ms. Estrich did not bother to research this disease. For her, Mr. Kinsley’s illness was simply a vulnerability to be exploited in the name of feminist politics. In fairness to Ms. Estrich, this lack of decency appears to be the result of a more debilitating and insidious disease that “can affect [her] brain, [her] judgment and [her] ability to do a job”: chronic myopic distemper (CMD).

Her use of feminism for such a vicious personal attack is a classic symptom of CMD. CMD is far more acute when an individual feels personally aggrieved and then translates that injury into a broader public grievance. Ms. Estrich noted that she was an example of a female intellectual in the neighborhood, but, like others, is not published by the newspaper on a regular basis. Ms. Estrich assaulted Mr. Kinsley not just because he failed to run enough women, but because he was running the wrong type of women. Ms. Estrich then criticized Mr. Kinsley for publishing women like Charlotte Allen, who she dismissed as someone that she had “never heard of” and apparently gender-neutered by her conservative philosophy.

In perhaps the most obvious symptom of CMD, Ms. Estrich still believes that she has been the model of decorum, actually crediting herself with “conduct[ing] myselfwithadmirable restraint.” Indeed, Ms. Estrich clinically observed that his refusal to publish her letter simply “underscores the question I’ve been asked repeatedly in recent days, and that does worry me, and should worry you” — that Kinsley is no longer rational due to Parkinson’s disease.

Of course, the difference between Parkinson’s and CMD is that the symptoms of the former (unlike the latter) can be treated. Yet, what is most disturbing is the silence of the feminist community in the face of an individual who, in the purloined name of feminism, has abandoned not just any sense of legitimacy but any sense of decency. Instead, dozens of feminists have publicly supported Ms. Estrich.

Mike Kinsley will continue to flourish despite the ravages of either Parkinson’s disease or Susan Estrich. As for Parkinson’s patients and their families, however, we would ask for a small gesture from Ms. Estrich and her supporters. At the next scorched-earth campaign, just leave us out. We have our own problems right now.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School.

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