Archive for September, 2009

The Worst Editorial Board in America?

September 30, 2009

The editorial board at Investors Business Daily, last seen arguing that Steven Hawking would’ve survive under Britain’s medical system, today offer this ignorant, poorly reasoned editorial:

The New York Times, still smarting after losing scoops to Fox News, has thrown in the towel, vowing to avoid future embarrassment by monitoring the cable channel. We have a better idea — it’s called reporting.

An Illinois senator rises to the highest office in the land on pillars of a spectacularly slimy political organization, a group with a long record of voter fraud, theft, thuggery and partisanship. As sexy as such a story might seem, the New York Times didn’t consider it news.

That’s why the Times got scooped by outlets such as Fox News, for which it has nothing but contempt, on revelations that led to the fall of community organizing behemoth Acorn.

The wound was self-inflicted, rooted in little more than the partisanship of protecting a favored president. It left the field clear for a couple of journalism students to show that Acorn staffers openly encouraged pimping, child prostitution, human trafficking, mortgage fraud and tax evasion.

It’s right there on tapes posted to Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com. Unlike the disdainful Times, Fox ran with it, toppling a behemoth of political power.

Fox’s judgment now seems to play the role the Times’ once did, and the Times is no doubt left wondering how it could have lost out on yet another one.

The small picture error here is obvious: Fox News didn’t get the scoop on the story that brought down ACORN, filmmakers at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government got it — and they got the story about the hidden camera activists who baited ACORN employees into saying awful things because they were the ones who orchestrated, carried out and filmed the whole interaction. It would be a neat trick indeed if another news organization got the scoop on that story!

The big picture error is the notion that Fox News does more reporting than The New York Times. I am on record as criticizing the Times for ignoring the ACORN story, and I’ve no doubt that it wrongly ignores other stories too, sometimes due to ideological bias. But for heaven’s sake. Fox News produces so much less original reporting than the New York Times, and ignores so many more stories of national import, that only someone either actively mendacious or utterly clueless about the news media in America could assert otherwise.

I’ll have more on the general topic of The New York Times soon.

Art Requires Integrity

September 30, 2009

Kevin Drum questions my recent commentary on the NEA conference call. I wrote:

…the call wasn’t about furthering controversial elements of President Obama’s agenda, but it was about deliberately politicizing art — that is to say, encouraging artists to advance particular public policy goals rather than enabling them to spend their time and energy creating works of truth or beauty to the best of their ability….It is that effort that I find objectionable, as should anyone who values art or the autonomy or creative people.

Mr. Drum replies:

So if this conference call had been with, say, a bunch of educator types, urging them to promote public service among schoolkids, would that have been OK? Or how about law enforcement groups? Or veterans groups?

Because I don’t quite see the difference. Artists don’t exist on some kind of pristine plane of their own and they don’t do their work in a vacuum. They’re all part of the same culture as the rest of us, and they react to it and try to influence it just like everyone else.

Look. Were high school civics teachers asked by Department of Education bureaucrats to tweak their lectures and pedagogical material to make volunteering seem cool, I’d object to that too — though if a “volunteering outreach czar” independently encouraged a bunch of teachers to promote service opportunities by hanging pre-printed posters on bulletin boards within their classrooms, I’d likely count myself untroubled.

In the former example, the actual job of the teacher — educating children based on facts and sound pedagogy — is corrupted. It is made subservient to a propaganda effort. Even worse, that effort is being coordinated by administrators who ought to count educating as their sacrosanct, undiluted goal, one that is incompatible with pushing propaganda efforts on the side.

Perhaps my interlocutors can better understand my concern if I use a journalistic example. Imagine that the Queen of England and President Obama are touting a new effort to reduce the rate of smoking. Via government officials close to those leaders, the heads of the BBC and NPR are informed of the effort, and asked to coordinate a conference call to include all journalists in the news organizations. On the call, the reporters are encouraged to make smoking seem uncool in their stories. Does everyone agree that it is inappropriate for the head of a news organization to abet that type of request, and that insofar as it is honored, the journalism produced — and the core reason for the news organization’s existence — will have been corrupted?

Artists aren’t uniquely apolitical people, nor are they so fragile that they demand kid gloves, but there is a relevant quality at stake here that is common to art, education, journalism, and science — all are pursuits that require integrity if they are to maintain their worth. It is in society’s interest to preserve this worth — indeed it is so valuable that people are always trying to co-opt it for their own ends.

Just as the university operates on the proposition that it is valuable to preserve places in society where truth and knowledge are pursued for their own sake, the NEA exists in part for the sake of uncorrupted art. The university administrator would undermine his mission if he asked his leading professors, “In the course of your social science scholarship, could you play up the importance and coolness of volunteerism?” So too, the NEA administrator undermines his mission when he asks, “In the course of making your art, could you make volunteering cool?”

Elephant to Oppose Obama

September 29, 2009

Who would be a successful Republican candidate in 2012. I take this to mean “someone who could plausibly defeat President Obama’s bid for re-election.”

My somewhat uninformed guesses: David Petraeus and Colin Powell (who’d have all kinds of difficulty winning the primary). These accomplished generals share one related trait: deep credibility as men who are serious about national security, enabling them to run as sane, experienced stewards, rather than bellicose idiots so desperate to seem toughest on terrorism that they spend the primaries calling for “doubling Gitmo” and competing to see who would torture in more contrived ticking time bomb situations.

They’re also both post-partisan figures of the kind that Americans seem to like, haven’t got long voting records to be picked apart, and can nevertheless credibly claim more executive experience than President Obama.

I’m sure there are other candidates who could also mount a credible challenge, though I don’t know who they are. Folks who can’t unseat President Obama, in my quite fallible opinion: Mitt Romney, who might actually make a good president, Sarah Palin, who wouldn’t, Ron Paul, who the American people would never elect, and Mike Huckabee, who would spend lots of money at home and abroad.

Against Glenn Beck

September 28, 2009

Surveying the blogosphere, you’d think that the most important question about Glenn Beck is whether he helps or hurts the conservative movement. How upsetting. This three part Salon profile is easily the richest portrait we have of Mr. Beck’s career. It shows him to be a pompous opportunist perfectly willing to transgress against truth, morality and good taste in his quest for ratings. One scene details a rivalry he had during his days as a Top 40 disc jockey. The host at the competing station, an old friend and colleague named Bruce Kelly, suffered a personal tragedy. Mr. Beck responded by calling his wife on the air, and asking if she’d in fact had a miscarriage. When she replied yes, Mr. Beck joked that his rival couldn’t do anything right — not even have a baby.

Perhaps Mr. Beck is no longer as depraved — his biography includes a recovery from drug addiction and conversion to the Mormon religion. In any case, he remains demonstrably willing to engage in the most farcical sensationalism imaginable for the sake of ratings. This is a man who pretended to pour gasoline over a guest’s body as he brandished a book of matches beside him, who regularly employs the affectation of tears, who deliberately cultivates the mannerisms of an unstable loon, and who most recently pretended to throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water. All this on a show that prominent conservatives are defending!

Any halfway sensible person should be able to see that giving a man like that a national platform is the height of cynical, irresponsible broadcasting — the cable “news” equivalent of those Fox reality tv shows that pander to the worst impulses of the American public, and that conservatives know enough to denounce, despite their high ratings, for the corrosive effect they have on national culture. Mr. Beck is so awful “because he theatrically combines and conflates performances of ultimate sincerity with performances of ultimate sarcasm,” James Poulos writes. It is indisputable, anyway, that Mr. Beck employs misleading hyperbole, farcical sensationalism, and paranoid rhetoric on a nightly basis (afterward proving himself unable to offer even a semi-coherent defense of his own provocations).

Yet Jonah Goldberg defends him because “he’s fundamentally a libertarian populist. He’s not clamoring for the government to do more, he’s clamoring for the government to do less.” Ah, well. If he happens to hold or advance some of the same political tenets as you do, who cares if he lies or debases the culture or makes a mockery of public discourse?

David Horowitz is even more explicit.

Glenn Beck is daily providing a school for millions of Americans in the nature and agendas and networks of the left – something that your fine books do not do, and Mark Levin’s fine books do not do, and Pete Wehner’s volumes of blogs and speeches and position papers – all admirable in my estimation, also do not do. How are conservatives going to meet the challenge of the left if they don’t understand what it is, how it operates and what it intends? And who else is giving courses in this subject at the moment?

Now I have to confess my own vested interest in this. Because the fact is that I have been attempting to do this from a much smaller platform than Beck’s for many years. Five years ago I put an encyclopedia of the left on the web called Discover the Networks. It details the chief groups, individuals and funders of the left and maps their agendas and networks. Since I put it up five years ago, 20 million people have visited the site, many of whom have written articles and even books from its information. So far as I can tell, this site has never been mentioned by you or Wehner or Mark Levin or National Review or the Weekly Standard or the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. But it has been read by and profoundly influenced the producers and anchors at Fox News. Among these no one has used it so systematically and relentlessly and to such great effect as Glenn Beck…

Intellectuals like us have a role to play, but if you want to influence masses and affect real politics, you need someone who has the talent to command a mass audience and the dedication to put the information on the radar. Beck has done that with the most important intelligence of all: knowledge of the enemy.

So that’s why I’m defending Glenn Beck the broadcaster. I’ve devoted twenty frustrating years to revealing who the left is and what they do, while conservatives have continued to pretend that leftists are simply confused liberals. No they’re not. They’re malicious, and calculating and devious, and smart. And Glenn Beck is helping Republicans and those conservatives who will listen to understand that.

On reading Mr. Beck’s defenders, I can’t help but think that their judgment and integrity are being corroded by politics. The ideological battle between conservatives and liberals has become for them the most important struggle in American life — in order to win it, they are willing to defend and count as allies anyone in their insular world who advances the appropriate side in what they regard as a two-sided battle for the country’s soul. The most honest among them are explicit in arguing that their ends justify whatever rhetorical means it takes to achieve them. Even worse, they are using this total political warfare as a litmus test — temperament and political philosophy are insufficient to be a conservative in their minds, because they’ve redefined the term such that it demands loyalty to a political coalition and even the particular tactics it employs.

That the tactics are ill-conceived are grounds on which they’ll engage debate (even if they don’t see they’re on the wrong side of it), but if the tactics are merely abhorrent they’ll apparently abide them. These conservatives are neither evil nor tyrannical, but they are adopting less extreme, less harmful versions of the same approach to politics that characterized French and Communists revolutionaries. It is therefore no surprise that Comrade Beck is now being turned on by Comrade Limbaugh and Comrade Levin (the one among the trio who actually believes most of what he says), men who were content to hold their heavy fire through all manner of madness, but can’t abide the heretical Glenn Beck statement that the United States would be in worse shape under a President McCain than it is under President Obama. Even assuming that Mr. Beck is wrong, it is absurd to count that as the most objectionable aspect of his farcical stardom!

Can conservatives please agree that American society is best served if its citizens object to bad behavior even when it is committed by someone on their own side in a political battle? Can those liberals who are still defending ACORN please agree to the same proposition? Can we all agree that, a few outliers aside, people on the other side are well-intentioned, and not evil? The American republic is robust, and has survived acrimony far beyond anything we’re experiencing today, but surviving and flourishing aren’t the same things. Apologias for obviously bad behavior exact a cost. Let’s stop them.

Why I Have Contempt for Rush Limbaugh

September 16, 2009

One forgets just how odious the man can be, the depths to which he’ll sink — and then he says this:

It’s Obama’s America, is it not? Obama’s America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now. You put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety but in Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, “Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on,” and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white. Newsweek magazine told us this. We know that white students are destroying civility on buses, white students destroying civility in classrooms all over America, white congressmen destroying civility in the House of Representatives.

Let’s start with the outright mendacity. “When does Rush Limbaugh misrepresent the truth?” commenters ask. Here’s an undeniable example: “… of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white. Newsweek magazine told us this.”

Everyone says he deserved to get beat up? This isn’t hyperbole. Literally no one has said that this white kid deserved to be beat up, or that he was born a racist. Point me to anyone in the media who said that, Mr. Limbaugh. Show me where Newsweek said that white people deserve to be beaten up on busses. This isn’t an exaggeration. There is no grain of truth here. It is a brazen, outright lie, unbefitting anyone with personal integrity.

Now consider the gravity. This isn’t merely a lie — it is a lie that, if credulously received by its audience, is going to heighten racial tensions and mistrust in the United States. Rod Dreher gets it right:

Look, I think it’s important to talk about black male violence, or at least as important as it is to talk about any other important social trend. I don’t think we should be squeamish about discussing it in a responsible and fair-minded way, despite what the politically correct say. But good grief, Limbaugh is up to something wicked. He’s plainly trying to rally white conservatives into thinking that now that we have a black president, blacks are rising up to attack white kids! Christ have mercy, what is wrong with these people?

And finally, note the hypocrisy. Mr. Limbaugh accuses others of exacerbating racial tensions and obsessing about race. Sometimes he is right to do so. Yet here he is obsessing about race and ratcheting up racial tensions. It is difficult to think of hypocrisy more abhorrent.

I hasten to add that this whole critique applies whether or not the bus incident in question was a racially motivated hate crime. I take no position on that matter whatsoever.

Already Mr. Limbaugh’s behavior is raising the ire of folks who already dislike him, but this transgression against honesty and prudence is so obvious and grave that his audience members should take it upon themselves to contact the talk radio host, politely articulate why his commentary in this instance is so irresponsible, and request that he never engage in such behavior again. It is Mr. Limbaugh’s listeners who have the most pull here. Those who say nothing, and continue tuning into this kind of rhetoric, share partial responsibility for worsening the country in which they live, though the bulk of responsibility will always reside with the millionaire race agitator himself.

Falling Out

September 15, 2009

Strange things are afoot in the right blogosphere among the subsection of writers for whom occasional purges are the norm. Right now the target is Charles Johnson, who runs the blog Little Green Footballs. It isn’t a site I’ve followed very closely over the years, though I know it played a role in debunking the CBS news documents that purported to show that George W. Bush got special treatment in the Texas Air National Guard. LGF also took a hard line against radical Islam — its critics argued it was itself an anti-Muslim site. I got word of the recent dustup when Power Line Blog delinked LGF. Are formal de-linkings something that bloggers do? Well it’s news to me too, but apparently so.

Here is Scott at Powerline:

We have slightly updated our blogroll for the first time time in a long time. We have deleted Charles Johnson’s Little Green Footballs. We long ago stopped reading LGF Suffice it to say (suffice it for me to say, anyway) that Charles’s political inclinations and interests now diverge widely from our own.

At the same time we welcome Gateway Pundit and Big Hollywood. GP’s Jim Hoft is an indefatigable source of political news. He deploys exclamation points like the ancient Greeks scattered particles in their speech for emphasis. Big Hollywood is doing important work to inject diversity and political smarts to the world of popular culture. Introducing the site this past January, Andrew Breitbart described it as a big group blog that features hundreds of the big minds from the fields of politics, journalism, entertainment and culture. Big Hollywood’s modest objective: to change the entertainment industry. I have found it both instructive and entertaining.

Meta Blog is suspicious of unqualified praise of Big Hollywood!

Charles Johnson of LGF responds here:

Since the people at Powerline have made a big public announcement about it, I’ll just say that I’m not the least surprised that they’ve delinked LGF. Powerline has been going in a very bad direction recently; the “all Obama-hatred, all the time” focus is bad enough, but worse are their articles supporting European extremists like Geert Wilders (who wants to deprive Muslims of the freedom of religion and ban books) and outright fascists like the Belgian Vlaams Belang party.

I’ve been considering removing them from my links for quite some time because of this kind of disturbing stuff, but I was foolish enough to believe they might come to their senses. I’ve written emails to them about it (which weren’t returned), and I wrote a post laying out my case, that they completely ignored. Clearly, this is a direction they’ve chosen, so I’ve removed all links to Powerline from LGF.

When the blog Gates of Vienna did a roundup outlining all this, one line caught my eye: “Charles was loaded for bear back in those days, and when he de-linked a blog, many others would follow suit or lose all hope of being linked by him.”

Is it really longstanding practice in the right blogosphere, I wondered, to enforce blog reading preferences by withholding links? I e-mailed Gates of Vienna to ask about that. The response via e-mail:

Here’s how it worked: if a small blogger supported Pamela or us (or even continued to keep us on their blogroll), Charles would warn them that they would be banned, cut off, and never, ever linked again by LGF. This happened openly in the comments at LGF; I saw it myself.

When he de-linked us, a lot of his fans who were bloggers immediately de-linked us, too.

IMHO, the large blogs failed to challenge Charles about what he was doing because they feared the damage he could do, even to them. That’s when I discovered what cowards they really are. Some of the little blogs — especially those who had already been banned by Charles — stuck with us and posted about the whole affair, but the big blogs ignored it. Only Robert Spencer de-linked us, however, as far as I know.

If it hadn’t been for the increase in European readers, our traffic would probably have dropped by a third. As it was, thanks to Europe, it stayed about the same, and has grown somewhat since then.

As yet, Metablog has been unable to reach Charles Johnson, but we’ll update if he cares to contest this.

Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson has posted a series of items asserting that conservative blogger Robert Stacy McCain — who often writes insulting and provocative things about your humble Metablogger — is a racist. In the last couple years, Metablog’s author has witnessed all sorts of offensive blog posts written by Mr. McCain. We’ve never seen anything racist, however, so we’re inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially since actually investigating his past would require reading a lot of tedious Inside the Beltway reportage on long forgotten political squabbles.

Mr. McCain has fought back by asserting that he is not a racist, and attacking Mr. Johnson.

Reading all these right-leaning blogs that used to fawn over one another, and are now attacking and trying to disappear one another, I am reminded of that part of 1984. “We have always been at war with Little Green Footballs!”

Metablog is glad it doesn’t inhabit a corner of the blogosphere where occasional purges are carried out, prompting ugly ad hominem battles among the people involved. Someone is no doubt right and someone else wrong in all this, but everyone loses.

Post-Journalism Propaganda

September 9, 2009

The estimable Mark Bowden describes bloggers whose only purpose is to score political points:

I would describe their approach as post-journalistic. It sees democracy, by definition, as perpetual political battle. The blogger’s role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context, all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement. There is nothing new about this. But we never used to mistake it for journalism. Today it is rapidly replacing journalism, leading us toward a world where all information is spun, and where all “news” is unapologetically propaganda.

Amen.

These mendacious propagandists, also found on cable TV and radio, conduct themselves as though the end justifies the means, though few are actually willing to defend that proposition. Their approach to discourse has the effect of turning some folks who despise demagoguery away from all political conversation, which perversely increases their audience share.

They ought to be fought. And scorned. I am not all all sure that the blog Mr. Bowden discusses in his article has all the general characteristics he describes — I’ve never read it — but I can think of political commentators who do.

(Crosspost at The American Scene)

On Guest Blogging

September 6, 2009

When high traffic bloggers go on vacation, they’ll often ask one or several writers to step into the breach, posting in their absence so that the audience doesn’t get out of the habit of visiting. If Metablog ever makes it big, we’ll have guest bloggers — as it stands, though, our traffic doesn’t make it worthwhile for the guest blogger, who gets visibility, the chance to win new readers, and an opportunity to test ideas before a different audience as part of the bargain.

I’ve guest blogged for Megan McArdle and Andrew Sullivan, both of whom write at The Atlantic. Though entertaining another blogger’s readers is a lot of work — and inevitably opens one up to criticism among the subset of their readers who don’t enjoy reading a writer like you — I’ve always found the experience gratifying, largely because Andrew and Megan both have large audiences of very smart readers whose e-mails (on Andrew’s blog) and comments (on Megan’s blog) are as good a crucible for arguments as any I’ve found.

Even as a mere reader, I enjoy the phenomenon of guest blogging for a few reasons. One is akin to the reason I enjoy hearing bands I like do covers — when Megan McArdle guest blogs for Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit I get to see her try out the Instapundit style of short, pithy sentences. (I’d also really enjoy Glenn Reynolds guest blogging for Megan with long involved posts — maybe it’ll happen one day). Another reason I like guest blogging: it introduces me to writers I might like — Tim Lee, for example, who I started reading after he guest-blogged for a blog I read everyday.

Due to the lack of guest bloggers here during my recent hiatus, there will be less of you than I’d like to answer this question in comments: what would you regard as an interesting pairing of blog and guest blogger? I’d personally like to see Cato Institute liberaltarian Will Wilkinson guest blog for self-proclaimed pickup artist Roissy in DC. I suspect this will never happen.

Metablog Returns!

September 5, 2009

Overwhelmed by the task of providing the definitive take on a blog and finding enough to say about it to fill a week’s worth of content, Metablog hiked high into the mountains to reassess its content model. Now we’re back, and much improved, having adopted a sustainability plan that amounts to the following — we’ll continue meta-analyzing the blogosphere, and introducing readers to sites they wouldn’t have stumbled on otherwise, but going forward we’ll do so a post at a time rather than a week at a time.