frances fox piven under attack

January 24, 2011

Dear members of the Collective Behavior and Social Movement Section of ASA

We write to express our outrage at the way in which our esteemed colleague, Frances Fox Piven, has been pilloried, even terrorized, by both the right wing media (most especially Glenn Beck of FOX News) and character-assassinating, vicious, right wing extremist blogs associated with (but not limited to) him. One of us first heard about these assaults during a roundtable on voting rights at the recent SPSA meeting in New Orleans.   At the time, they seemed difficult to credit. Unfortunately, if anything these reports understated the degree to which Frances has been abused.

Just recently “The Nation” detailed the horror to which she has been subjected.  We include  a link to the story:

On January 21, the New York Times published a similar, if less comprehensive, account:

Other, corroborating stories have also appeared in both print media and electronic blogs.

As the late distinguished historian Richard Hofstadter documented, assaults on academics, intellectuals, pointy-heads, indeed learning/erudition itself are nothing new in this country.  They were a powerful force during the McCarthy era, as well as at other times. Seldom if ever, however, have the attacks reached the depths of vituperation of those from Beck and his acolytes.  Indeed, even a cursory look at the articles reveals that the assaults go well beyond ad hominem or ad feminem jeremiahs but literally constitute threats on her life, so far only verbally but in view of recent events in Tucson, one can only wonder.

It would be intolerable to sit idly by and watch this witch-hunt continue without loud protestation from her colleagues in academia.  We would like to urge the members of the section, to add your voices to the outrage we feel at how Piven has been treated y the rightwing media.  As we write, the ASA is considering how best to respond (so is the APSA, our other home professional organization.  It is our hope that both organizations will lead a broad-based outcry against this kind of behavior. At the same time, individual voices can be raised – to members of Congress, the local press, other professional associations. We urge you to join us in speaking clearly and calmly against this outrage against not only our friend and colleague but against academic freedom itself.


Sidney G. Tarrow                                            Richard K. Scher
Maxwell M. Upson Professor                    Professor, Department of
Of Government                                               Political Science
Professor of Sociology                                    University of Florida
Cornell University



8 thoughts on “frances fox piven under attack”

  1. Fellow CBSM Colleagues:

    CREDO Action is circulating an on-line petition to Roger Ailes, Glenn Beck’s boss at Fox News, to challenge Beck’s viotriolic attacks on Prof. Frances Fox Piven, which have led to death threats against her. The petition reads: “Glenn Beck’s repeated false attacks on Professor Frances Fox Piven have evoked emotional and violent responses, and clearly put her in real physical danger. No media outlet should tolerate false accusations that invite violent consequences. As Glenn Beck’s boss and President of Fox news, it is your responsibility to stop the reckless endangering of Frances Fox Piven.”

    If you want to help stop Beck’s outrageous attacks on Professor Piven, there are three things you can do:

    1. Sign this petition and to forward it to everyone you know who might also sign it. It is linked here:
    2. Forward this petition to everyone you know who might also sign it.
    3. If you want to do more than this, I encourage you to write op-eds for your local newspapers or a blogsite you read regularly, about some aspect of this issue.

    You can get basic information about Beck’s crusade against Piven from the following:
    • My Huffington Post article
    • Media Matters for America’s piece documenting Glenn Beck’s consistent and inflammatory attacks on Piven.
    • American Sociological Association statement:
    • Barbara Ehrenreich’s op-ed column in today’s Los Angeles Times:,0,1548860.story
    • New York Times article on Beck’s attacks on Piven:
    • Video of Beck mocking the New York Times and Piven:
    • Article in The Nation about Beck’s attacks on Piven:
    In the wake of the Tuscon massacre, we need to take seriously Beck’s rhetoric and the death threats it has triggered. On Thursday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a public interest law firm, issued a written appeal to Beck’s boss — Fox News chairman Roger Ailes — to put a stop to the increasing threats against Piven incited by Beck tirades. The letter, asked Ailes to distinguish between First Amendment rights, of which they are “vigorous defenders” and an “intentional repetition of provocative, incendiary, emotional misinformation and falsehoods [that place that Piven] in actual physical danger of a violent response.”

    If you can write an op-ed, consider these themes:

    It would be useful for people to say something like “America is better than this” and try to isolate Beck, Fox News, and Murdoch as being outside the boundaries of civil discussion. We could also call for a boycott of Beck’s advertisers. Even if you don’t agree with all of Professor Piven’s idea, Beck’s vitriolic rhetoric has real consequences and that the death threats to Professor Piven is frightening. We need a “public shaming” of Fox News.

    Another message is that Beck is a cog in a larger right-wing movement that includes the Tea Party, the right-wing think tanks, the conservative blogosphere, and the right-wing of the Republican Party (including folks like Cong. Darrell Issa (, and billionaire conservatives like the Koch brothers, who are the major funders of the Tea Party and who have a self-interest in stopping government regulations of their businesses.

    I know that the CEOs of the Fortune 500 don’t agree with the Tea Party or Beck on many things, but they are prototypical “strange bedfellows”. The major business lobby groups (US Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, etc) recognize the value of the Tea Party and Beck for their own agenda. The corporations provide campaign contributions. The Tea Party and its ilk provide the ground troops. Fox News, Beck, Limbaugh, etc are the propaganda message machine that mobilizes the troops.

    The attacks on Prof. Piven by Beck are part of a broader ideological assault on liberals and progressives, and an attempt (partly successful) to undermine President Obama by linking him to ACORN, “socialists,” “Marxists,” and radicals. That began in the 2008 campaign, escalated after was elected, and escalated further after he took office.

    Fox News and Beck are entirely about silencing dissent and mobilizing resentment, using what historian Richard Hofstadter called the “paranoid style” of politics. Unless liberals and progressives fight back, and until moderates recognize that Fox News and Beck have gone too far in the wake of the Tucson shootings, then we are allowing the Right to prevail.

    Please do your part to put a stop to this insanity.


    Peter Dreier
    Peter Dreier
    Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
    Chair, Urban & Environmental Policy Program
    Occidental College
    1600 Campus Road
    Los Angeles, CA 90041
    Phone: (323) 259-2913
    FAX: (323) 259-2734


    1. Let me start off by saying unequivocally that Glenn Beck is an asshole.

      That said, I have a major problem with some of the people (not you Dan!) expressing outrage about this whole thing. Peter Dreier takes one incident and runs with it despite little evidence to back his assertions. The idea that there is a connection between the Arizona shooting and any rightwing movement is absurd, but then to go on and claim that this is all part of a vast rightwing conspiracy is insane. The kicker is that he has the gall to end his message with hypocritically accusing others of pursuing Hofstadter’s paranoid style of American politics. Such selective outrage puts Dreier on the same level as Beck.


  2. The comments thread in the Ehrenreich LA Times op ed is really quite upsetting. Socialist = Fascist = Communist =violent revolutionary = secret cabal that everyone should get their guns to fight.


  3. Glenn Beck is so awful and outrageous that my only strategy has been to tune him out to keep my head from exploding. This attack on Piven brings it so close to home that my strategy is not working for me any longer. Still, my faith in online petitions is nil. Plus, I suspect that getting a bunch of sociologists all riled up and writing letters to editors is going to be to Beck’s benefit.

    It is not unlike the Westboro Baptist Church protests (they are the “God Hates Fags” people). You find them horrid, yet your counterprotest only brings them more attention. I think the smartest protests of them are the ones that mock them, and maybe that would be a strategy that works with Glenn Beck as well.


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