AEI insiders: Frum's a liar

I know, I know, people are tired of hearing about him, but you got his side of the story yesterday so it’s only fair to give you theirs. We begin with this morning’s finger-pointing. “Donor pressure”!

David Frum told us last night that he believes his axing from his $100,000-a-year “resident scholar” gig at the conservative American Enterprise Institute was related to DONOR PRESSURE following his viral blog post arguing Republicans had suffered a devastating, generational “Waterloo” in their loss to President Obama on health reform. “There’s a lot about the story I don’t really understand,” Frum said from his iPhone. “But the core of the story is the kind of economic pressure that intellectual conservatives are under. AEI represents the best of the conservative world. [AEI President] Arthur Brooks is a brilliant man, and his books are fantastic. But the elite isn’t leading anymore. It’s trapped. Partly because of the desperate economic situation in the country, what were once the leading institutions of conservatism are constrained. I think Arthur took no pleasure in this. I think he was embarrassed. I think he would have avoided it if he possibly could, but he couldn’t.”…

Ask other AEI scholars how they felt about David’s mail and packages piling up outside his office. Frum, who will be 50 in June, had been on the payroll since leaving the Bush White House in 2003. He acknowledges he was very seldom at the office. But he maintains he developed and spread conservative ideas — AEI’s stated goal — with the 300,000 words a year that he writes for his blog,; his weekly columns for, The Week, and the National Post of Canada; his biweekly offerings for TIME and American Public Media’s “Marketplace”; and his three TV and three radio appearances in a typical week. He also landed Canadian Finance Minister James Flaherty for an AEI retreat last month that included donors. Frum tells us that regardless of his dismay with the party, he’ll stay registered GOP.

Well, two things about that. One: Spreading conservative ideas is also a goal of Townhall, but I assure you, if I decided to skimp on posting at Hot Air in favor of writing for some personal blog, I’d hear about it from the good people in payroll. And two: Is “spreading conservative ideas” really Frum’s main gig anymore? He does write about policy at Frum Forum, but the stuff he really seems to relish (and, unsurprisingly, gets the most media attention for) are his critiques of Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, etc. I guess his counterargument would be that in order to effectively spread conservative ideas, he first has to try to dislodge the “noise machine” or whatever that keeps grassroots righties from considering center-right solutions, but I suspect AEI expected more policy-minded output from him when they hired him.

But I digress. After the Politico piece hit the wires, AEI scholar Charles Murray jumped in at NRO with what he himself described as a friendship-ending post:

Regarding donor pressure: The idea that AEI donors sit down to talk with AEI’s president about who should and shouldn’t be on the staff, or what the staff should write, is fantasy. David has never seen the slightest sign of anything like that at AEI. He can’t have. He made it up. AEI has a culture, the scholars are fiercely proud of that culture, and at its heart is total intellectual freedom. As for the reality of that intellectual freedom, I think it’s fair to say I know what I’m talking about. I’ve pushed it to the limit. Arthur Brooks is just as adamant about preserving that culture as Chris DeMuth was, and Chris’s devotion to it was seamless.

I do not have any certain information to convey about David’s departure, except what Arthur Brooks has already said publicly: David resigned. He could have stayed. But I will tell what is common knowledge around AEI: David got a handsome salary but, for the last few years, has been invisible as a member of the institute. Being a scholar at a think tank (or any institution) is not just a matter of acknowledging your affiliation in your books and op-eds. It’s also a matter of blogging at the institute’s blog, not just your own blog (David had a grand total of 3 posts on AEI’s blog in the year since it began), reviewing colleagues’ drafts, reacting to their ideas, contributing chapters to their books, organizing scholarly events, participating on the institute’s panels, attending the institute’s conferences, helping out with fundraising, serving on in-house committees, giving in-house seminars, and mentoring junior staff. Different scholars are engaged in these activities to different degrees.

Conor Friedersdorf, who’s also been sharply critical of right-wing media and therefore is no natural opponent of Frum’s, decided to fact-check Bruce Bartlett’s claim that Frum told him AEI scholars had been silenced about ObamaCare. His findings: It’s simply not true, as a number of published op-eds and the AEI blog itself reveal. Follow the link to his piece for a slew of angry denials about being muzzled from the scholars themselves. Could be that Bartlett was misinterpreting something that Frum had said (or, I guess, just making it up), but one way or another, it’s bogus.

The coup de grace: Frum critic Tunku Varadarajan talked to a bunch of people at AEI and hit the wires just a few hours ago with a new piece alleging that Frum’s version of what happened is “quite, quite untrue.”

“David Frum resigned,” Veronique Rodman, AEI’s media director, told me last night. “His version of events is not true at all.” Frum’s narrative, of course, plays nicely into the Manichaean worldview of the likes of Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, who blogged yesterday about l’affaire Frum. Deriving his lazy little blog item entirely from another blog—that of the economist Bruce Bartlett, who, like Frum, is a conservative apostate who regards himself as persecuted by his erstwhile fellow travelers on the right—Krugman accepts uncritically the view that Frum got the heave-ho because of his criticism of the Republican Party. What could be more natural, Krugman hints, than for a conservative outfit to take revenge on a turncoat?…

Insiders at AEI, to whom I spoke at length, told me that Frum’s version of the story is “quite, quite untrue” (as one put it). The truth, in fact, is that he was asked—unsuccessfully—to pull his weight at the think-tank. A fellow told me: “David didn’t come to the office very much, and long before his blog, Arthur [Brooks, the AEI president] arranged a lunch with him to talk about coming more often to the office to earn his salary.

“David had been asked to do that in the past, and hadn’t done it. Arthur said, ‘You keep the current deal [$100,000 per annum] and you come in more.’ Frum basically said ‘no.’” (Frum did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment).

Decide for yourself who’s lying and who isn’t. Exit question: Why cut Frum loose now, though? As I said yesterday, AEI had to know how this would play in the media. Why not wait three months to dump him so it doesn’t look like it stemmed directly from his Waterloo piece?

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