Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Conservative Pundit Decency Test

(Updated below)

If a conservative pundit makes an outrageous claim — which flies in the face of common sense — and the error could have been easily prevented with simple fact-checking — will said conservative pundit then own up to the egregious error and apologize?

If you have any doubt about the answer, you obviously aren’t familiar with today’s sterling breed of conservative pundit.

According to several prominent conservative pundits, The New York Times is on a roll, committing high treason yet again by publishing an article, with photos, describing the location of travel homes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The inconvenient facts that the information had previously been published by conservative outlets, that the Secret Service report the article caused no security threat, and that Rumsfeld himself gave permission for a much-ballyhooed photo did not get in the way of some fine, alarmist posts by Michelle Malkin and David Horowitz, among many others. But then, it’s only fair to leave the basic fact-checking to journalists, especially those in the evil liberal media.

This is a prime example of the popular conservative pundit defense:

“The fact that my premise was false in no way reduces the strength of my argument.”

(At least one person has suggested this tactic be dubbed, “to Horowitz.”)

Glenn Greenwald covers the initial story here, the fact-checking here, and the conservative non-apologies here. My favorite lines comes from Michelle Malkin:

I have contacted the Pentagon to confirm. This blog says spokespeople for Rumsfeld and Cheney are denying any security threat from the publication of the article.

Alright. I'll take them at their word.

But none of this answers the question I posed to the Times' editors repeatedly in my original post:


What news value and journalistic end was served by publishing the Cheney/Rumsfeld vacation home piece and the accompanying photo? "Because Rumsfeld gave permission" may cut it with the moonbats and fairweather privocrats. Not with me.

(Emphasis for the last sentence mine.)

Conservative pundit logic always amuses me. Bill Bennett believes that if someone doesn’t like Bush, it invalidates his or her opinion, yet simultaneously believes that if someone doesn’t like Bush but agrees with Bennett, it’s further proof that Bennett is right. Similarly, with Travel-Traitor-Gate here, Michelle Malkin’s previous posts and her recent demonstration proclaim that she believes that Rumsfeld knows better than The New York Times when it comes to issues of national security. Nonetheless, Malkin asserts here that she knows better than Rumsfeld when it comes to issues of his own safety and that of his family. (Such fine, fine intellectual consistency. And conservatives like to pretend theirs is the movement of meritocracy and accountability...)

Malkin also writes “this blog” with a hyperlink rather than actually naming or, heaven forbid, crediting Greg Sargent or his publication, The American Prospect. “This blog” is likely in part a lazy convention of Malkin’s (and blogging is a medium that lends itself to overly hasty writing). However, Sargent is a legitimate journalist and his blog has become quite influential. To present him as some anonymous blogger strikes me as an attempt to minimize him and his reporting (or it may be a sign of Malkin’s ignorance as well, since perhaps she hasn’t heard of him). But more importantly, she ducks the substantive objections of Sargent, Greenwald, and others who have called her to task. Nowhere in the post does she confront her own glaring incompetence and demagoguery.

“Alright. I'll take them at their word,” sounds so very disappointed.

Clearly this story is a great embarrassment to Malkin. She neglected to do basic, central fact-checking. It reveals, perhaps more starkly than any of her previous escapades, she is both sloppy and a fool.

While not crediting Sargent by name may be a small thing — and Malkin did link him — it’s a revealing gesture when combined with her unsurprising unwillingness to address the fundamental problem of her entire method.

Credit is something journalists and conscientious bloggers give one another for reporting key facts and contributing to the understanding of a story, all in the name of truth and greater accuracy. The blogosphere possesses a sharp divide on this issue of accuracy. As John Dickerson observes:

One of the healthiest things about the left-wing blogosphere is its confrontational dislike of the mainstream media. There's a distinction here with the media's critics on the right. At some level, the right doesn't much like that the press exists. They don't want to fix it, they want to drive a stake through its heart. The left, on the other hand, just wishes the establishment press would do a better job. The Kos-type critique of the media is intertwined with its passion about politics. When the press gets it wrong, left-wing bloggers believe, the people are ill-informed and democracy suffers. There's respect in that anger, though you wouldn't always know it if you're the target of one of their flaming arrows.

Malkin has the shamelessness to attack real journalists for irresponsibility when she is too irresponsible to do the basic research real journalists do. She is a hack and political shill-at-large. Her post is damage control, nothing more. Her goal was never to report the story accurately. Her goal was to bash The New York Times. The storyline was written, all it needed was a few details to throw in, truthful or no. Malkin and her ilk only care about ideological purity or whether or not a piece is effective propaganda. And in their rarified world, ego, stupidity, and sloppiness make for a winning combination.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald reports that the Red State blog issued a retraction but buried it. Meanwhile, blogenfreude at Agitprop has a nice round-up of conservative non-apologies and non-corrections - that is, if they acknowledge that they were wrong at all. Besides the rampant hypocrisy, the lack of basic honesty and journalistic standards from these folks is amazing. Greenwald sums it up nicely:

It is truly difficult to describe the lack of integrity and overwhelming propensity to deceive which is reflected by their inability to simply say: "I wrote a post the other day accusing the NYT of (intentionally and/or recklessly) endangering the lives of the Vice President and Secretary of Defense, but facts have now emerged (which I could have and should have obtained myself before making the accusation) which clearly demonstrate that that accusation is false." What does it say about someone who is incapable of doing that? And what does it say about the right-wing blogosphere that so many of their leading lights would rather cling to blatantly false accusations than admit in a forthright and clear way that they were wrong?

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