Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 22, 2009

New Yorker Magazine sued by slandered New Guineans

Filed under: anthropology,indigenous,Jared Diamond,racism — louisproyect @ 1:28 pm


Rhonda Shearer

Henep Isum Mandingo, pictured far right, is angry with Jared Diamond, renowned UCLA scientist, Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author– for telling “lies” about him. Isum was named and falsely charged by Diamond for committing criminal acts without the magazine’s famed fact checkers–or Diamond himself–ever confirming the allegations were true, or even if Isum was a real person. (credit: Michael Kigl, StinkyJournalism.org)


Rhonda Shearer, the widow of Stephen Jay Gould, is a prime mover in this legal action. She contacted me for information on Jared Diamond about a year ago when she was first getting her ducks lined up in a row and after she found my go-for-the-jugular-vein attack on Diamond. Go to http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/my_ecology.htm and look for articles on “Collapse” and “Guns, Germs, and Steel”.

After she referred me to the New Yorker article, I wrote this: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/jared-diamond-on-tribal-warfare-in-new-guinea/


New Guinea Tribe Sues The ‘New Yorker’ For $10 Million Dirk Smillie, 04.21.09, 9:18 PM ET

In an April 21, 2008, New Yorker story, “Vengeance Is Ours,” Pulitzer Prize-winning geography scholar Jared Diamond describes blood feuds that rage for decades among tribes in the Highlands of New Guinea. Diamond tells the story using a central protagonist: Daniel Wemp, member of the Handa clan, a blood-thirsty warrior bent on avenging his uncle’s death. That quest, writes Diamond, touched off six years of warfare leading to the slaughter of 47 people and the theft of 300 pigs.

Now Diamond’s protagonist is fighting Diamond. A two-page complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court on April 20 seeks $10 million from the New Yorker’s publisher, Advance Publications, claiming Diamond’s story falsely accused Wemp and fellow tribesman Isum Mandigo of “serious criminal activity” and “murder.”

Diamond is a best-selling author and winner of a National Science Medal and the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius award.” But Wemp has some academic backing of his own. Rhonda Roland Shearer, director of the New York City-based Art Science Research Lab, whose media ethics project, stinkyjournalism.org, will soon release a 40,000-word study on Diamond’s story.

Shearer dispatched researchers to New Guinea and interviewed 40 anthropologists to fact-check Diamond’s story with a fine-tooth comb. The result, as summed up by the report’s working title: “Jared Diamond’s Factual Collapse: The New Yorker’s Papua New Guinea Revenge Tale Untrue.”

New Yorker spokeswoman Alexa Cassanos said she could not comment on Wemp’s suit or Shearer’s study because she has seen neither, saying only, “We stand by the story.” Diamond did not immediately return calls to Forbes.

Complicating Wemp’s case, perhaps, is an interview he gave to Shearer’s researchers, in which he stated that the stories he told Diamond were in fact true.

But a Wemp friend and legal adviser, Mako John Kuwimb, explains: “When foreigners come to our culture, we tell stories as entertainment. Daniel’s stories were not serious narrative, and Daniel had no idea he was being interviewed for publication. He has never killed anyone or raped a woman. He certainly has never stolen a pig.”


From Rhonda Shearer’s Stinky Journalism website:


  • Daniel Wemp and Henep Isum file a summons and sue for 10 million dollars in Supreme Court of The State of New York–charge famed UCLA scientist, and best-selling author, Jared Diamond and Advance Publications (aka The New Yorker magazine and Times-Picayune newspaper) with defamation, April 20, 2009.
  • REVEALED: The New Yorker removed Diamond’s article from the open Internet last year after demand by Daniel Wemp’s lawyers (Lexis Nexis, EBSCO, Gale Group data bases also complied with the take-down. Only abstracts remain).
  • The New Yorker fact checkers never contacted any of the indigenous Papua New Guinea people named in Jared Diamond’s article as unrepentant killers, rapists and thieves, before publication.
  • Henep Isum is not paralyzed in a wheelchair with spinal injury, as Diamond claimed. He and Daniel Wemp, Diamond’s World Wildlife Fund driver in 2001-2002, and only source for The New Yorker’s revenge story in Papua New Guinea, as well as dozens of tribal members, police officials, deny Diamond’s entire tale about the bloody Ombal and Handa war, calling it “untrue.”
  • Expert linguist analysis and The New Yorker’s own admissions indicate the quotations attributed to Daniel Wemp, as spoken in 2001-2002, are fabrications

UPDATE: 4/22/09, 7:16am: This article includes excerpts from a forthcoming 40,000-word report (Real Tribes / Fake History: Errors, Failures of Method and the Consequences for Indigenous People in Papua New Guinea) that will be released in coming weeks. All interviews were recorded and were in English, the national languages of Papua New Guinea, unless noted. Research methods are detailed at bottom of this article. *

EXCLUSIVE : If Jared Diamond would have changed the names of people and tribes and simply said that he was unsure if the stories he heard were true, Daniel Wemp, his single source for his tale of Papua New Guinea (PNG) tribal revenge, would not be in the danger that Diamond and his publisher, The New Yorker magazine, placed him. This crisis was set in motion a year ago today, on April 21, 2008, with the publication in The New Yorker of the Pulitzer Prize winning author and renowned UCLA scientist’s article, “Annals of Anthropology: Vengeance Is Ours: What can tribal societies tell us about our need to get even?”

When Papua New Guinea researcher, Michael Kigl, working with StinkyJournalism, went to Daniel Wemp’s Nipa home in the Southern Highlands, PNG, July 2008, to ask him about The New Yorker article, he was shocked. Daniel Wemp had no idea that he, or people he mentioned to Diamond in random stories about tribal warfare back in 2001-2002, would be publicly named, and worse, erroneously linked to heinous crimes.

Despite Diamond’s claims, Daniel was no Handa tribal leader, nor was Henep Isum a violent leader of the Ombals. Isum isn’t even an Ombal tribesman but is a Henep (hence, his full name: Henep Isum Mandingo [tribal name, first name, last name]).

In addition to tracking down Daniel Wemp, we also found Henep Isum. When our researcher, Michael Kigl, first saw him, Isum was carrying a large bag of dirt over his shoulder. It turned out that Isum never had a spinal cord injury resulting in his being a wheelchair-bound paralytic, the result—or so Jared Diamond claimed—of an arrow attack by Daniel Wemp’s hired assassins.

read full story


  1. Good work Louis! Another excellent reason to view with smug satisfaction one’s decision to cancel one’s subscription to the glossiest rag. J.

    Comment by J. Marlin — April 22, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

  2. In our enlightened West, we are very prone believe bullshit stories like that about places and people in the “third world”.

    After all the news rags and TV always report on famine, war, strife, etc, without ever explaining how these disasters came about. It is thought of “the sort of thing that usually happens over there”.

    Like we hear about “gunmen”. Who are they? Why have they taken up guns? What do they want? What’s the politics and history behind the conflict? We never learn. Not from the liberal rags anyway.

    It is reported like this because it is accepted in our enlightened West that the various peoples of Africa and the elsewhere in the “third world”, are basically violent, selfish, thieving and blood-thirsty, and taking up guns and killing one another is “what they do”, their culture.

    Therefore a bullshit story about blood-feuds in New Guinea doesn’t surrise the average westerner, he can tut about it, while thinking that “here they go again, killing each other for pigs, what do you expect from these animals?”

    And in so many words, they are essentially saying “Look at the fucking niggers”.

    It is essentially *that* the New Yorker and their ilk is saying and we all know it.

    Comment by Antonis — April 22, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

  3. Antonis has pretty much nailed down this outlook, except that there’s also importantly a non-racist mindset that also adopts this same worldview –one that is distinctly Pacifist. The more one can point to the mindlessness of such bloodlettings the more one can affirm the philosophy of non-violence. Ironically the largest purveyors of non-violence today are those on the left who… voted for Obama.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 22, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

  4. Wow. I had my doubts about Diamond, and people I admire, who know him, say he’s a smug son of a bitch (apologies to all those nice bitches out there) whose theories are distinctly crappy and has a bad attitude towards anyone who disagrees with him.

    But this is detestable. And depressing.

    Comment by MFB — April 23, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  5. This incident aside, I don’t understand all the opprobrium on the left for Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel is perfectly compatible with a historical materialist outlook.

    Comment by Steve — April 23, 2009 @ 5:45 pm

  6. […] New Yorker Magazine sued by slandered New Guineans […]

    Pingback by Darwiniana » New Yorker Magazine sued.. — April 23, 2009 @ 7:43 pm

  7. Actually, there is not that much opprobrium except for me and my good friend, the late Jim Blaut, who included Diamond in his book “8 Eurocentric Historians”. I do think that “Collapse” is a much worse book than “Germs, Guns and Steel” that many Marxists look more benignly on than me.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 23, 2009 @ 8:48 pm

  8. Here is a link from an anthropologists’ group blog Savage Minds and a good money quote on Diamond’s “contribution” to anthropology.


    Questions about scholarly competency and institutional licensing

    Diamond is like some sort of great Victorian polymath—geographer, ornithologist, anthropologist, historian… in his books it appears there is nothing he can’t do, and to experts in each of these fields it appears that he can’t do any of them. While popular audiences love Diamond’s work, the scholarly consensus on it has been pretty firmly established: much of what the public thinks is Diamond’s original ideas are cribbed from other authors, often with the bare minimum of acknowledgments performed in footnotes to stave off accusations of plagiarism. Overall, what Diamond gets right, he gets from others. What he gets wrong tends to be the stuff he has made up himself.

    It is one thing to have Diamond’s book show up on the shelves of airport bookstores, but quite another for it to be described as ‘anthropology’ in the subheading of a story in the New Yorker. Now that Diamond has tried his hand at some ethnographic ‘research’ in a public forum, I think we are beginning to see the differences between avocational anthropology and the real thing. So what is an anthropologist? Is it someone who follows the best practices of our discipline, or do we really feel there must be some sort of institutional licensing in the form of a departmental appointment of degree in order for someone to take up this mantle? Its an interesting question that Diamond’s piece raises.

    Comment by Sheldon — April 24, 2009 @ 4:45 am

  9. What was the point of the article anyway ? Even if true (unlikely), blood feuds exist everywhere and seem to cause a lot more death in other places. Along with all the obvious reasons for the Iraq War, the Bush-Hussein blood feud was in the mix (“he tried to killed my daddy”).

    Word of warning : Bill Gates’ favorite book is Guns, Germs and Steel.

    Comment by purple — April 24, 2009 @ 4:54 am

  10. There isn’t a “point” to the article per se rather it’s a product of the “Pathology of Pacifism” that Ward Churchill writes about.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 24, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

  11. I remember now, many years ago, reading a report on a nationalist Greek publication on blood feuds in the north of Albania. The article went a considerable way to persuade the reader that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the south. The implication was that the Albanian southerners are more “benign”, because there is a Greek ethnic minority there, which, it was implied, are better people than the ethnic Albanians, those in the north in particular, who apparently have not been influenced as much from the “advanced” and “enlightened” Greek culture (whatever that may be).

    Now there could well be blood feuds in the north and not in the south of the country, but that’s not the point; it’s the way it’s being reported and what it implies that is objectionable.

    Then of course there are blood feuds in the island of Crete, and wide-spread illegal gun-ownership. The average Greek will try to blame the evil Turks for this, as the island was “among the last Greek areas to liberate themselves from the Ottoman empire”. Implying that gun-ownership in the island is the direct result of successive revolts in the 19th century, and even that hte blood feuds themselves are a perverse continuation of the revolts themselves and the islanders’ “fiercely independent spirit” so it’s all the Turks’s fault.

    The problem with this is that the north of the country was “liberated” (and succesfully ethnically cleansed) even later than Crete, in the early 20th century. Yet there’s no blood feuds there. Perhaps “Ottoman culture” (again, whatever that may be), played a benign, pacifying role there? Or maybe it was the benign presence of Slavs? Or Jews? 🙂

    I bet there’s “experts” implying Sicilian blood feuds are the result Arabic “cultural influence” for the short time they remained there during the middle ages!

    Blood fueds, much like honour killings, are a cultural put-down of western supremacits towards eastern and southern peoples. And though these may occur, the point is no one calls a western honour killing (OJ Simpson for example) an “honour killing”. The point is not that they do happen, but how they are reported and interpreted…

    Comment by Antonis — April 24, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

  12. In re: Steve who writes: “This incident aside, I don’t understand all the opprobrium on the left for Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel is perfectly compatible with a historical materialist outlook.”

    GGS may be perfectly compatible with with your historical materialism but it is incompatible with the materialist conception of history Marx advanced… where material bases do not determine cultural superstructures and contradictions between technical forces and social relations are presented as materialist abstractions rather than unmediated and straightforward produces of real crises producing teleological change (even if those changes are either socialism or barabarism in the case of capitalist contradictions.)

    Diamond is a vulgar materialist not a practitioner of materialist history.

    Comment by apr — April 24, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

  13. “the materialist conception of history Marx advanced… where material bases do not determine cultural superstructures and contradictions between technical forces and social relations are presented as materialist abstractions rather than unmediated and straightforward produces of real crises producing teleological change”

    Uh…where that statement isn’t vague to the point of meaninglessness (“materialist abstractions”?), it actually dovetails pretty solidly with the right. With the idea that culture isn’t materially determined but exercises “autonomous” force on society, you get all these people who are like “Europeans developed guns and ships and mining first because they had GUMPTION! and were ENLIGHTENED! and had INTERSUBJECTIVE NORMS!” etc, or say that the reason why Bangladesh or Honduras are underdeveloped hellholes is because their people lack a “culture of success.”

    And though yes it’s necessary to incorporate Gramsci’s and Althusser’s thought on relative superstructural autonomy into HisMat as a sort of extended caveat, it really doesn’t apply to the period that Diamond studies in GGS, which was before most activities in society were sundered enough from basic subsistence concerns that ideas could be allowed to germinate into complexity, and thus act as their own “material force.” It’s “vulgar materialism” because existence in this period was vulgar-materialist.

    Comment by Steve — April 24, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

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