Demystifying. But others argue that context inevitably shapes ideas to suit those who shape the context. "There is something a little disingenuous about the media criticizing a university doing this [offering a forum to a controversial figure] when the media do it all of the time," says Rutgers University historian Jackson Lears. He applauds Columbia for demystifying some of the aura that has developed around Ahmadinejad, in part through the media's depiction of the man.
Going even further, Richard Bulliet, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Columbia and the first person approached by Iran's U.N. ambassador about renewing the invitation to Ahmadinejad, describes the event as having become "more of a circus than I anticipated" but also "more educational, raising so many issues that went beyond the words of a controversial world leader."
One such issue was Bollinger's introduction, which has become the focus, Bulliet says, of lively campus debate. More important, he says, the event allowed many people to gauge for themselves the character and intellect of a man whom the American media have depicted as being almost as diabolical and capable as Hitler. "I think it was good for the world to see how underwhelming he is," Bulliet says, not least, he adds, because it undercuts some arguments favoring immediate military action against Iran.
Perhaps what the world is really seeing in the Columbia episode is that even matters of intellectual freedom are subject to the tools of the political consultants: framing, shaping, and spinning. If so, more such setups may be expected. As for the post-event spinning, John Bolton, former American ambassador to the United Nations, declared that Ahmadinejad was the "big winner" in his Columbia appearance. And who played that line straight up as proof that their man had bested his "Zionist Jew" hosts? According to the New York Times, a commentator for Iran's state television.