Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: McKinsey, Murdoch, marriages, and more.

The editors

March 14, 2023

Callard? I hardly know her!: The New Yorker profiled the University of Chicago’s own Agnes Callard this week to talk about her unusual marriages. A philosophy professor, Callard divorced her husband of eight years when she fell in love with a graduate student in 2011. Now, the three live together with their three children—two by her first husband and one by her second. Callard openly discusses her unconventional view of love and marriage and how that relates to her study of philosophy. The article caused an uproar this week on Twitter, something Callard is no stranger to, as she recently came under fire for her controversial policy of throwing her children’s Halloween candy away. Callard’s unorthodox family life raises questions about what it means to live a philosophical life.

The capitalisn’t of consulting: Do consultants make the world a better place? If exposés on the global consulting giant McKinsey and Company by Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Walt Bogdanich are any indication, the answer is often no. In a recent episode of the podcast Capitalisn’t, University of Chicago finance professor Luigi Zingales and Vanity Fair editor Bethany McLean sat down with Bogdanich to discuss his new book When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Untold Story of McKinsey & Co., the World’s Most Controversial Management Consulting Firm. Bogdanich traces the history and culture of the firm and reveals the shocking stories included in his book. The three question whether consultants’ advice gives sole priority to profits while disregarding potential societal damages, and, if so, how powerful institutions like McKinsey can be held accountable for their failures.

Murdoch (not Murdaugh) on trial: In a month’s time, Fox News parent corporation News Corp. will square off in court against Dominion Voting Systems. Dominion accuses Fox News of defamation for spreading election fraud claims, which prominently featured Dominion’s machines, in the aftermath of the 2020 election. The lawsuit will turn on a crucial point: Did key Fox executives and on-air talent understand that former President Donald Trump’s election fraud claims were baseless? Recent coverage of private communication between hosts and executives suggests that such an understanding was widespread. Laura Ingraham called election denier and Trump lawyer Sidney Powell “nuts”; Tucker Carlson requested an end to baseless election fraud claims, calling them “cruel and baseless.” In the aftermath of 2020, it’s difficult not to be cynical about the profit and rating motivations incentivizing news media giants to broadcast fraudulent coverage.

Tenure troubles: Amy Wax, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, raises real questions about the limits of free speech. Wax has long been the object of scrutiny, such as for having co-written an op-ed titled “Paying the price for the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture” in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2017. More recently, she has come under fire for her controversial claims, both in public forums and to students themselves, about affirmative action, the performance of black law students, and the conformity of Asian students. (She describes herself as a “race realist.”) Even Brown University economist, podcaster, and University of Austin advisor Glenn Loury, who “frequently laments the oversensitivity of college students,” is presented as being skeptical of Wax’s rhetoric in a recent New York Times article. The question at the heart of Wax’s upcoming hearing: where lies the boundary between professional comportment and free speech?