It’s an outrage

There are more, and even worse, details at WEIT. It’s all really quite astonishing.

Well, you’re not going to see that tape—ever.  After agreeing to be taped, Haught decided that he didn’t want the video released.  Here’s what happened:

  • Dr. Robert Rabel, head of the Gaines Center for the Humanities, which sponsored the debate, informed me on Sunday that Haught had requested that he did not want the video posted. Note that Haught had already agreed to be taped, so his appeal that it not be made public was a post facto decision.
  • Rabel decides to honor Haught’s request on the grounds that he didn’t get permission from Haught in advance to post the video.  I find this bizarre because the whole idea of taping the event is to make the debate more public, and because previous debates in this series have been posted.  The idea of posting is implicit when one agrees to be taped, and, believe me, I would not have gone back on that agreement even if I had lost badly. That is not only bad form, but intellectually dishonest.
  • Eager to at least get my part out, I asked Rabel to just edit the tape omitting John’s talk and his answers in the question session.  Rabel refuses, saying that it would be too much trouble.
  • I ask Rabel for Haught’s email address so I can try to persuade the theologian to change his mind, or at least find out why he won’t sanction posting of the video (Rabel, Haught, and I had all exchanged three-way emails before the debate, but I lost Haught’s address).  Rabel refuses to give me the email address because he wants to “stay out of it,” telling me that I can search for it online.  I find the address and email Haught, asking politely if he won’t change his mind about releasing the video, and, if not, requesting his reason.
  • Unwilling to give up, I ask Rabel for a copy of the tape—offering to pay any expenses for it—so that I can edit out Haught’s part and just post mine.  Rabel refuses, saying that he “didn’t think that would work.”
  • Haught responds to my email asking him to change his mind. His short response says that the event “failed to meet what I consider to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange,” and that he would have no further comment.

Extraordinary! Rude, obstructionist, disobliging, uncollegial, unfair, not to mention obviously uncourageous.

And in an update, we learn that Rabel is even threatening Coyne with legal action.

UPDATE:  I have received an email from Dr. Rabel, asserting that I have instigated people to write him emails, and claiming that some of those emails have been abusive, calling him a coward and so on.  I did not of course ask readers to write any emails, nor did I provide any email addresses.  But if you write to Rabel or Haught on your own initiative, please be polite!  There is no point in name-calling in such emails; the issue is one of free inquiry, and if you expect to achieve a result (and you won’t anyway, I suspect), you have to be polite.  Anyway, Rabel has threatened legal action against me, so don’t make it worse!

I wonder if Rabel will threaten Coyne with further legal action because I said all this was rude,  obstructionist, disobliging, uncollegial, unfair, and obviously uncourageous. I don’t know – what do you think? Is it libelous to call a set of actions rude, obstructionist, disobliging, uncollegial, unfair, and obviously uncourageous? Or is it within the limits of free speech to call a set of actions rude, obstructionist, disobliging, uncollegial, unfair, not to mention obviously uncourageous. I think it’s only accurate to say these actions were rude, obstructionist, disobliging, uncollegial, unfair, and obviously uncourageous.


  1. says

    I don’t think that the truth could ever be held to be libelous in a court of law, can it? I mean, you could demonstrate all those charges by referring to the details of the case. Not only is it “rude, obstructionist, disobliging, uncollegial, unfair, not to mention obviously uncourageous” for the U of Kentucky and Dr. Haught to refuse to post the video, its doubly unfair that Jerry Coyne had no say in the decision. And it certainly is, as you say, astonishing. Poor Haught will never live this one down. He’d have been much better off just putting the thing up. Could he have been that bad?!

  2. says

    Ah, well, I did write to Haught. Amongst other things I said this:

    In any event, you should reverse your stand on this issue. This is the only dignified course left to you. If you continue to refuse to allow the debate to be aired, people will quickly draw the conclusion that you are afraid that your arguments for faith are disastrous. Were they? Shouldn’t others get to see what they think?

  3. says

    Eric, no, I don’t think so. The threat sounds like blustering – but it’s a nasty kind of blustering.

    Mind you, in the UK truth is not a defense, but Haught is not in the UK, and neither is Kentucky.

  4. julian says

    Doesn’t make much sense to withhold the video. It was a public debate, afterall. Hell if Dr. Coyne’s ‘groupies’ were distracting or obnoxious putting the tape out there would be on my things to do list. That’s the sort of stuff you want to publicize when you want to discredit the opposition, isn’t it?

  5. Kevin says

    Of course, all this talk about “groupies” has me in mind of a raucous crowd booing Haught practically off the stage and cheering everything Coyne said.

    I suspect the reality is more sedate.

    Poor Haught. I wonder what his god will say to him about this?

    As for Rabel, I think he needs to be informed that his NEH Grant might be in jeopardy. Several hundred to thousands of protest e-mails certainly can’t do his cause any good. Blatant censorship of a publicly funded debate? Because the LOSING SIDE says so? Despite the strong objections of the WINNING side?

    Hmm…something wrong with that picture.

  6. Mark Mitchell says

    Actually, in the UK, the defence of justification — ie that the words complained-of are true — is a very good one in a defamation action. But it’s for the publisher to prove the truth — the plaintiff doesn’t have to lift a finger, at least in theory.

    Opinions are a different matter — they have to be based on ‘facts truly stated’. So, to run this defence (‘fair comment’), the opinion has to be a comment/s on fact/s.

  7. says

    “some of those emails have been abusive, calling him a coward and so on”

    So someone calls you a coward. You, being able to tolerate this outrage, run to the authorities in an effort to make this person stop calling you a coward. And that makes you a… what, exactly?

  8. Ray Moscow says

    As I said over at WEIT, the irony is that Haught’s performance in the debate is probably far better than people are going to assume after this. Many of his supporters might have even counted it as a ‘win’.

    I think it’s better to take one’s lumps, learn from the experience and try harder/smarter next time.

  9. Stewart says

    He is handing everyone carte blanche to think he was as hopeless as they like, which might be even more hopeless than he was. We should at least make all the capital we possibly can out of this, bring it up frequently, let no one forget what kind of embarrassed backtracking censorship is the theologian’s last resort.

  10. Stewart says

    Is there absolutely no bootleg video or audio out there to substitute (even partly) for the withheld one? Can Jerry sue for a personal copy?

  11. says

    Ophelia, actually truth is a defence in the UK, as David Irving found out to his cost. The problem is that proving that something is true may be an extremely detailed and costly business, which is why many people are prepared simply to give in. But some people have fought on the basis that what they have said is true (such as Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books, as well as Simon Singh), and have won.

  12. 24fps says

    I find it bizarre that there wasn’t a media release in place prior to the debate. I work in media and I rarely will do even an interview without a release being signed first that will allow me to use that footage for broadcast on both traditional and digital media. Like, this is the lowest minimum standard.

    Of course, there’s also a clause that I don’t have to use it, either. I suspect there’s more going on at the Gaines Centre than they’re letting on.

  13. Ken Pidcock says

    One wonders how the Gaines Center would have responded if Jerry had requested that the video not be posted, and Haught insisted that it should be. I’m afraid that I would not be pleased to know.

    Hell if Dr. Coyne’s ‘groupies’ were distracting or obnoxious putting the tape out there would be on my things to do list. That’s the sort of stuff you want to publicize when you want to discredit the opposition, isn’t it?


  14. Tim Groc says

    Is this because they can’t edit the video in a certain way to make it looks like Jerry was “stumped”, “humiliated” or “powned” by his theist opponent?

    At least they could do what they normally do – upload the video to YouTube with a triumphant title, and then block the comments so people can’t ridicule them.

  15. Stewart says

    Ophelia wrote:

    “The dog ate the video.”

    And there’s video of that, to prove it – they’re just not prepared to let us see it.

  16. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ophelia Benson @ # 5: … Haught is not in the UK, and neither is Kentucky.

    But the University of Kentucky is within the set of UKs…

  17. says

    Can I just say that I am overjoyed to see you two back on good terms with each other. I believe the accommodationists will be saddened to see that gnus are not about to let heated disputes and disagreements between ourselves get in the way of confronting theism head on.


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