A renowned Canadian poet who had worked with the man convicted of killing an Indigenous woman 25 years ago says he won’t read the killer’s poetry at an upcoming University of Regina event amidst calls for it to be cancelled. George Elliott Clarke said earlier this week that he wasn’t ruling out reading the work of Steven Kummerfield, who was convicted of manslaughter in the beating death of Pamela George in 1995. Clarke had previously edited poetry by Kummerfield, who has changed his name to Stephen Brown.
This is a fascinating and disturbing story. In case you don’t already know about it (as I didn’t until recently), Steven Kummerfield and his university friend Alex Ternowetsky killed Pamela George by beating her to death and leaving her in a ditch outside Regina in 1995 after one or both of them had sex with her. George was a young mother of two who sometimes worked as a prostitute to support her family.
Kummerfield and Ternowetsky, meanwhile, were both young white men from well-off families in Saskatchewan, families who helped them financially and in other ways. According to one report from the trial, Kummerfield told his mother about what he had done the day after it happened, and she told him to call in to CrimeStoppers with a false tip, and then washed the clothes he was wearing that night. According to testimony from a friend, both men bragged that they had “killed a chick” and Ternowetsky said she deserved it because “she was an Indian.”
Note: This is something I originally wrote for the daily newsletter at the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’m the chief digital writer
The holiday season and the arrival of a new year are often cause for reflection and soul-searching. Whether any of the senior management at the New York Times spent the holidays engaged in this kind of activity is unknown, but many critics have made it abundantly clear that they would like them to, if only to explain why the newspaper allows op-ed columnist Bret Stephens to write the things he does. As most people were winding down their work week and preparing to turn out the lights on 2019, Stephens chose to lob a hand grenade into the Twitter-sphere with a column entitledThe Secrets of Jewish Genius. In it, the Times columnist posed — and then tried to answer — the question of why there have been so many noteworthy Jewish scientists and leading thinkers like Einstein. As he put it: “How is it that a people who never amounted even to one-third of 1 percent of the world’s population contributed so seminally to so many of its most pathbreaking ideas and innovations?”
In the end, Stephens comes to the conclusion that Jewish genius “operates differently” from the intelligence displayed by others. It is, he says, “prone to question the premise and rethink the concept; to ask why (or why not?) as often as how; to see the absurd in the mundane and the sublime in the absurd. These differences, according to Stephens, stem from cultural factors, as well as a focus on questioning authority. But those ideas weren’t what triggered a multi-day backlash against Stephens or the Times (although many argued they were also wrong-headed). What drove the wave of criticism was that in the course of making this argument, Stephens cited a paper he said supported the theory that Ashkenazi Jews (i.e., those with a primarily European background) have higher IQs than the average population. Within hours of the column being posted, multiple people had pointed out that one of the co-authors of the paper had expressed racist views and had ties to white supremacist organizations, and that the journal the paper was published in was formerly known as Eugenics Review.
On Sunday the 30th, two days after the column originally appeared, the Twitter account for the Times opinion section announced that the piece had “been edited to remove a reference to a paper widely disputed as advancing a racist hypothesis.” The column was also updated with a long editor’s note (at the top of the piece, rather than at the bottom, as some notes often are), which pointed out that the reference to the paper had been removed and why. The note went on to say that “Mr. Stephens was not endorsing the study or its authors’ views, but it was a mistake to cite it uncritically” and admitted that the effect of doing so was to “leave an impression with many readers that Mr. Stephens was arguing that Jews are genetically superior [but] that was not his intent. The column was also edited to remove all references to Ashkenazi Jews, something that was a central part of Stephens’ argument in the original column, but these removals weren’t mentioned in the editor’s note.