Archive for July, 2010

How to Argue with Andrew Breitbart

July 22, 2010

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"I'm Sorry for Your Loss"

July 19, 2010

Thomas Friedman writes:

I find Nasr’s firing troubling. Yes, she made a mistake. Reporters covering a beat should not be issuing condolences for any of the actors they cover. It undermines their credibility. But we also gain a great deal by having an Arabic-speaking, Lebanese-Christian female journalist covering the Middle East for CNN, and if her only sin in 20 years is a 140-character message about a complex figure like Fadlallah, she deserved some slack. She should have been suspended for a month, but not fired. It’s wrong on several counts.

To begin with, what has gotten into us? One misplaced verb now and within hours you can have a digital lynch mob chasing after you — and your bosses scrambling for cover. A journalist should lose his or her job for misreporting, for misquoting, for fabricating, for plagiarizing, for systemic bias — but not for a message like this one.

What signal are we sending young people? Trim your sails, be politically correct, don’t say anything that will get you flamed by one constituency or another. And if you ever want a job in government, national journalism or as president of Harvard, play it safe and don’t take any intellectual chances that might offend someone. In the age of Google, when everything you say is forever searchable, the future belongs to those who leave no footprints.

Mr. Friedman and I agree that the CNN reporter shouldn’t have been fired.

Here I merely want to point out that even the standard he suggests is absurd. “Reporters covering a beat should not be issuing condolences for any of the actors they cover,” he writes. “It undermines their credibility.” Nonsense. Expressing condolences upon a death is the most natural thing in the world, and completely uncontroversial in the vast majority of cases. Had Tom Brokaw said, “My condolences to Nancy Reagan, who I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions,” would anyone have lifted an eyebrow? On several occasions, I’ve interviewed the families of people who died — one car accident, one murder victim, and the family of a soldier killed in Iraq, off the top of my head — and I expressed my condolences in every instance.

Did that undermine my credibility?

The Two Party System at Work

July 9, 2010

This is a tentative sketch subject to revision. Suggestions encouraged.

Phase One

Liberals: X is a problem, and the government should do Y1 about it.

Conservatives: Stop!

Voters: Yeah, X is a problem, but conservatives make good points about how Y1 isn’t the answer.

Phase Two

Liberals: X is an even bigger problem than before, and the government should do Y2 about it.

Conservatives: Opposition to Y1 was a winning issue for us five years ago. It’s probably smart to oppose Y2.

Voters: Overall we’re still with you, conservatives, but by a lesser margin, because this does sort of seem like a problem, yeah?

Phase Three

Liberals: X is an even bigger problem now. The solution Y3 is an urgent national priority.

Conservatives: The Founders would hate Y3. It’s European. In other words, socialist. Why doesn’t anyone care about how many people Mao killed?

Voters: Yeah, why doesn’t anyone care about how many people Mao killed? And Y3 is a flawed solution. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be any conservative alternative for addressing X. And we’re sorta worried about X.

Phase Four

Liberals: We’re campaigning on Y3B. And you don’t even care about X.

Conservatives: We do so care about X. Look at this white paper from Heritage!

Voters: We’re divided on this issue, but the growing number of us who think it’s a problem trust the liberals more because it has never seemed like the conservative movement actually cared about addressing it, so much as opposing efforts to address it. Even when Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru and Ross Douthat proposed what seemed like very smart ideas for reform, they were basically chastised by some talk radio hosts and ignored by the whole right-of-center political establishment, which took advantage of the political landscape for short term electoral gain.

Phase Five

Liberals: We’re putting YC3 to a vote, and the American people support us enough to get it passed.

Conservatives: Rather than negotiate, we’re going to just oppose this outright. The people passing it are basically radical socialists. Anyone who compromises with them is a traitor.

Voters: Gee, we’d be more comfortable if this bill was improved by conservative insights. We’d maybe even prefer a totally different approach to reform if we’d been educated about one over a sustained period. On the other hand, maybe the liberals are right that this is necessary? We’re going to uneasily cross our fingers.

Phase Six

Liberals: Yay! We won! Also, yikes, we hope this goes over okay.

Conservatives: This is a catastrophic disaster. You’ll pay for it in November. Yay!

Voters: What contempt we have for all of you. Especially those of you currently in Congress.

Phase Seven

Liberals: I know we’re in the minority now. But Z is a real problem. The government should do something about it.

Conservatives: We’re back in power!! Did you here how excited Rush was today about this huge victory for our side? What’s that? You said something about Z? We’re going to ignore you. What could go wrong? We’ve probably got a permanent majority now anyway. Right of center nation and all that.

Voters: How about some tax cuts? And no new wars, please?

Ad Infinitum.

On Free Lemonade: A Response to Terry Savage

July 9, 2010

If you haven’t already, go read this column, which has been making the rounds.

Okay, are you back?

The only possible way to respond is by imagining the writer engaged in a conversation about his ideas. All the lines spoken by the male in this video come directly from the column.

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On 'Big Peace,' Andrew Breitbart's Newest Venture

July 5, 2010

On the Fourth of July, Andrew Breitbart launched a new Web site, Big Peace, adding another vertical to his  media empire. Its introductory post explains the timing. “It took nine months because this site has to be done right, and with Hoover Institution Research Fellow and bestselling author Peter Schweizer, we found the perfect editor,” Mr. Breitbart writes. “Because I am not a foreign policy or military expert, I needed to create a core editorial unit that represented the highest-end understanding of policy while at the same time bringing, at a time of war, a “boots-on-the-ground” perspective.”

What I find most interesting about Mr. Breitbart’s post is his invocation of journalistic standards. Here’s another key excerpt:

As the site’s resident skeptic of main stream media accountability, I have noticed that the amount of reporters and media outlets covering national security and the war has dwindled and skepticism over American military commitment has waned now that there isn’t a Bush or a Republican in charge. The war beat is getting short shrift. Big Peace was created to fill this void and to provide biased coverage.

The site is pro-freedom, pro-liberty, and pro-American but will not be an outlet for false information or propaganda. The unique mix of Schweizer, Gaffney, and Blackfive and our collective reputations will provide a check and balance.

Note that Mr. Breitbart doesn’t say he is launching a site to motivate the conservative base, or that he’ll publish propaganda so long as it serves conservative ends, or that the audience should treat the content on Big Peace as entertainment more than journalism — on the contrary, he is promising that Big Peace “will not be an outlet for false information or propaganda.”

He should be held to those standards.

And if it turns out that the site doesn’t live up to them, it should be noted that he has misled his conservative audience.

Should that happen, it wouldn’t be the first time. On Big Government, another site published by Mr. Breitbart, there remains a blog post wherein ACORN worker Juan Carlos Vera is shown on hidden video. Mr. Vera appears to be offering to assist James O’Keefe and Hanna Giles to smuggle underage girls across the Mexican border so that they can work in a brothel. That is the impression that the audience of Big Government is given to this day, because Andrew Breitbart is convinced that ACORN was irredeemably corrupt — in all likelihood he is is right about that — and the moral code he is practicing in this instance is “the end justifies the means.”

What indefensible means does Mr. Breitbart employ? Well it turns out that Mr. Vera, confronted with undercover filmmakers claiming to be a pimp and a prostitute engaged in sex-trafficking, pretended to be willing to help them out only so he could gather information, which he quickly turned over to police, expressing concern about the possibility of human trafficking. In all likelihood, Mr. Breitbart didn’t know this when he published the video from ACORN’s San Diego office.

But he has long since become aware of Mr. Vera’s innocence. It is documented at length in this report published by the California Attorney General’s Office. If you read the narrative beginning on page 13 of that report, and compare it to the uncorrected blog post that still appears on Mr. Breitbart’s site — despite the fact that he and Mike Flynn, Big Government’s editor, have both been notified about the significant discrepancies — you’ll see how much you can trust the journalistic integrity of Mr. Breitbart and his sites.

Their unwillingness to correct the record on this matter, whatever their reasoning, is causing an innocent person, Juan Carlos Vera, to be unjustly portrayed online in a horrific manner that does not correspond to reality.

It is also interesting to read the lofty language that Mr. Breitbart uses to describe his newest site, and to compare it to the actual content on offer.

Use Panama As a Common Noun

July 2, 2010

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Media Studies 101: Tutoring John Hawkins

July 1, 2010

Over at The Atlantic, I published a post that attempted show John Hawkins why his recent attack on David Frum makes no sense. The short summary is that Mr. Hawkins’ beliefs about the market for political opinions are at odds with reality: he thinks David Frum sold out by criticizing fellow conservatives, despite the fact that it is much more lucrative to keep to the party line.

This is true both generally and in the specific case of Mr. Frum, whose heterodoxy contributed to his lost six figure per year spot at The American Enterprise Institute, not to mention the support of the conservative media complex the next time he publishes a book.

I see now that Mr. Hawkins has a followup:

Guys like David Frum will kick conservatism down the stairs, happily collect a check from a liberal organization for doing it, and then turn around and say, “It’s outrageous that you don’t trust me! I’m on your side, but you’re just too dumb to know it!”

Let me also add that Frum’s last line there is particularly funny — “A lucre-seeking cynic would do much better to conform to conservative groupthink than to challenge it.” Really? Because it’s no surprise that an unaccomplished airhead like Meghan McCain has a column in the Daily Beast. David Brooks? He’s a very fuzzy thinker — so why does he have a gig at the New York Times? How is it that Kathleen Parker of all people is getting a new TV show on CNN? David, why do you think you have a column at CNN? Do you think Newsweek would have given you a cover story if you were going to say nice things about Rush Limbaugh?

If you were going by talent, personality, or ability to hold an audience, none of the people I’ve just mentioned, including David Frum, have the ability to claw their way up the conservative food chain like Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin have. So, to use David Frum’s word again, they’re willing to prostitute themselves (If Meghan McCain happens to read this, I don’t mean that literally — like a street walker. It means you’re selling out your principles. If you get confused, ask your daddy to hire someone to explain it to you) to the liberals in the mainstream media who want “conservatives” who are willing to tell liberals what they want to hear.

It seems strange that this has to be explained to someone who considers himself to be media savvy, but here goes: the term “mainstream media” is used to refer to networks like CNN and newspapers like The New York Times partly because their editorial products are targeted at a mainstream audience: they’re not produced exclusively for liberals like The Nation, or for conservatives like Fox News. In their ideal world, they’d like to be consumed by every literate member of the American public.

Why might David Frum be a better fit for outlets like that seeking a conservative voice when compared to Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter and Mark Levin? Perhaps its because the trio that Mr. Hawkins wants embraced by CNN and the NY Times are abhorred by large segments of the existing MSM audience, and that the American populace as a whole, exposed to their more extreme rhetoric, would be shocked, offended, and dismayed that a trusted national media brand would host them.

Perhaps folks in the mainstream media didn’t look upon it kindly when Ann Coulter said her only problem with terrorist Tim McVeigh is that he didn’t go to The New York Times. Perhaps CNN considered Mark Levin and decided to go with David Frum and Bill Bennett instead because neither one of them is likely to take a call from a female audience member, as Mr. Levin once did, and suggest to her that she is so unpleasant that her husband should “put a gun to his temple.”

Does Mr. Hawkins really not understand this?