So here is what happened. I blogged about Jonathan Petropoulos’s dealings with the Pissarro and the Nazi. People, mostly strangers, left comments. A man got in touch with me and, as a result of our conversation, I added an update. A second man then got in touch with a third man, who got in touch with a woman, who got in touch with me, telling me that to make things okay with the second man I should go and speak to a fourth man. I did that. And afterwards, I unpublished the post. Anyone who wishes to speak to me about the matter is welcome to get in touch.
But there was one discussion in my original post that I want to preserve, having to do with the way institutions try to hush scandals up by repressing information; I want to preserve this discussion, and – unsurprisingly, considering the brief account I’ve just given of my own involvement — to stress it. The institution in this case is Claremont McKenna College, which hired lawyers and experts to investigate the situation, lawyers and experts who traveled to Europe delving, one assumes, into every aspect of the case, lawyers and experts who produced a report exonerating Petropoulos, a report which has not been released to the public. But my thoughts are by no means confined to CMC. I’ve seen many institutions act this way.
Why hush it up? Because the story behind Petropoulos’s involvement with the Nazi is incredibly complicated: lots of details spanning 20 years, lots of deception, lots of players. The institution probably believes that were it to release the report, people would grab onto bits of it, misrepresent the case, drag the scandal up again and again; they probably believe that even if they could defend themselves and Petropoulos adequately against every charge, some taint would remain. I can understand this. It’s true that people are more likely to remember that there was an accusation of wrong-doing than that it was disproved, even with the information under their noses. But this holds all the more so when you cover it up. If you refuse to release the information, people will know there was an accusation and won’t have access to facts they can weigh for themselves. CMC has made the wrong choice.
By the way, this is the first time I’ve given a post a cryptic title. I’ll try to do it more often in future. A bottle of wine will be awarded the first correct solution.