Two days ago, I wrote that Slate’s editors should be ashamed of having published Mark Regnerus’s propagandistic tripe about his “study” comparing how children fare under intact families versus how they fare when their biological parents have a rocky time because one discovers or accepts that he or she is lesbian or gay.
People like me often complain about "he said/she said" reporting, which treats all claims by competing political actors as having equal validity, and doesn't bother to determine whether one side or the other might not be telling the truth. There are lots of reasons why that kind of reporting is harmful, but it's important to understand that it doesn't just keep people soaking in a lukewarm bath of ignorance, it can actively misinform them, leading them to believe things that are false.
Today's New York Times has a textbook example of what happens when political reporters can do when they refuse to adjudicate a factual dispute between candidates. In the story, Michael Barbaro doesn't just allow Mitt Romney to deceive, he actively abets that deception in the way he constructs his narrative. Here's the key excerpt:
When is a new study “research,” and when is it propaganda? That’s the question to ask when looking at Mark Regnerus’s “study,” released this past weekend, on children who had a parent who had an affair with someone of the same sex. Regnerus compares children who grew up in an intact household from birth to adulthood with children who started in a heterosexual marriage but who had a parent who crossed over to the gay side. And yet Regnerus is touting it as a study on the real-life experiences of children who grew up with lesbian or gay parents. Here’s what he says in Slate, of all places, which I usually respect:
On Friday, President Obama gave a press conference, and in one of his answers to questions he said that "the private sector is doing fine." You may have heard about this. When I got my Washington Post on Saturday morning, I found that the editors of the capital's most important newspaper had judged this comment to be so momentous that it required not one but two separate articles devoted to it. This morning, determining that this subject required much, much more investigation, the paper had a column by Chris Cillizza explaning why this comment is so very important. Plenty of things Cillizza said are perfectly valid as far as they go, though it would have been better if he had mentioned that "gaffes" like this can't become important unless he and his colleagues decide that they're important. There are a couple of lines in his column that deserve particular notice, since they really hold the key to understanding the absurd focus on "gaffes" like this one:
Then there is the reality that gaffes such as the one Obama made Friday are quickly — and, usually, effectively — used by the other side to score political points.
In the Washington Post Magazine this weekend, Sally Quinn—wife of former legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, former religion columnist and social lioness—wrote a jaw-dropping piece about How Washington Has Changed For The Worse. As a friend said, "Every time you think this column can't get more deranged, there's another paragraph." Here's a summary: Crude people like the Kardashians and the Gingriches are getting attention, instead of my husband and me. That's appalling. We important people used to be in charge of getting things done here in Washington.
The New York Times, showing blatant pro-Romney bias.
I have a soft spot for Joe Scarborough. Back when I was more of a partisan warrior I used to go on a lot of conservative radio and television shows, including "Scarborough Country," and he was without question the most fair-minded of the hosts I dealt with. There were even a couple of times when he admitted he had been wrong about something, which is pretty rare. But I'm going to have to object to some of his recent remarks, in particular because they offer a vivid demonstration of what communication scholars call the Hostile Media Effect.
For the last 40 years or so, conservatives have undertaken a carefully planned and sustained campaign to "work the refs," complaining constantly about "liberal media bias" in an attempt to bully reporters and obtain more favorable coverage for their side. That isn't to say they don't sincerely believe that the establishment media is biased against them—they do—but they also understand that the complaints, no matter how silly they are in a particular instance, keep pressure on reporters and have them constantly bending over backwards to show that they're not biased. And when it works really well, you get stories like this one from Politico honchos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. "To GOP, blatant bias in vetting," reads the headline. Apparently, Republicans are angry that Mitt Romney's life is being investigated by reporters, while Barack Obama, who has been president for almost four years and went through all this in 2008, isn't getting precisely the same scrutiny in precisely the same ways. Stop the presses!
As of this fall, I'll be living in the largest American city without a daily paper. The Newhouse-owned New Orleans Times-Picayune's announcement on Thursday that the print edition will be downsized to three days per week—Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays—was a surrender to the digital age even the staff didn't see coming, not to mention a bellwether moment for the newspaper biz nationwide. No doubt, we won't be the last.
We've all been hearing that the U.S. future depends on developing more technological talent, so we can keep up with China, et al. And since half the country's potential talent pool is female, that means making sure girls don't end up as innumerate as I am. Both my parents were math majors. My mother took on math with a fury when she was told, in first grade, that girls weren't good at it: She loved it with a passion and was determined to beat every boy at it, which she did, until she met my dad, whom she therefore married. And so she laments the fact that her two daughters absolutely, mulishly refused to study math beyond junior high. God knows they tried to make us, but we balked. We were idiots.
Tamron Hall about to bring the hammer down on Tim Carney.
Since I wrote a couple of pieces about the story of Mitt Romney possibly being a high-school bully, I've gotten some unsurprising responses. The first, perhaps predictable one, is from conservatives complaining that Barack Obama was never "vetted," and the fact that we've learned about Romney's youthful "hijinks" just shows the media's double-standard. Needless to say, this is just absurd; there were hundreds of articles written in 2008 (and since) about Obama's family and his youth, not to mention the fact that he wrote a pretty frank book about it himself before he ever ran for office. The second complaint–less silly, but related–is that this is all a distraction, and we ought to be talking about real issues.
I've already said most of what I have to say about what kind of meaning we should ascribe to the bullying story, assuming it's true. But even if I disagree with the conservatives who are saying that the Washington Post should never even have pursued the story or that it shows the media's liberal bias, it's perfectly fine to have a meta-discussion about whether we should be talking about the issue...
The questioning of motives is one of the most common and most pernicious of rhetorical habits in political debate. It's pernicious because it encourages people to conclude not that your opponents are wrong about whatever matter it is we're discussing, but that they're bad people. When you question someone's motives you're automatically calling them a liar (since they will have offered an entirely different justification for why they are advocating what they're advocating), and you're also saying they're untrustworthy, cynical, and driven by some nefarious goal.
We see this all the time, and I'm not saying I've never questioned anyone's motives, because from time to time I have. But we have to acknowledge that someone can take a different position from the one we do without the disagreement coming from some place of evil. To see what I'm talking about, here's today's column by Charles Krauthammer, probably the most admired columnist on the right. Appalled that President Obama is now running for re-election and disagreeing with his opponents on matters of policy after saying he would try to unite the country, Krauthammer says this:
Me, some years ago, sneering at a pompous ass who is sneering right back.
Whenever Paul Krugman goes on television, you can see his discomfort coming off him. Or at least that's what I see; since I've never met him in person, I don't know how much his television manner differs from his ordinary manner. But he always looks as though inside he's shaking his head, saying to himself, "This is such bullshit. I can't wait to get out of here." And it's hard to blame him. The other day, Krugman did a debate on Bloomberg TV with noted economic crank Congressman Ron Paul, and came away utterly disgusted...
The most talked-about op-ed over the weekend was "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem,", a piece in the Washington Postby DC eminence grises Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. They're both not only deeply respected by known as non-partisan Congress-watchers (Ornstein even works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute), which is why the piece will get more attention. But should that matter? Either they're right or they're wrong, and the fact that they are who they are ought not make any difference. And if you look at their argument, it's nothing that you couldn't have found in magazines like the Prospect and a hundred other places many times over the past two years. I feel like I've written versions of Mann and Ornstein's piece a dozen times myself (see here, or here, or here). Mann and Ornstein's reputations do make it harder for Republicans to dismiss them as just liberal partisans, but that doesn't mean they're going to have some kind of seriously difficult time spinning their way out of questions raised in response to the op-ed. In any case, here's the core of their argument:
For a while there, Glenn Beck seemed to be the very embodiment of American conservatism circa 2009. He had his nationally syndicated radio show, his best-selling books, and his Fox News show. He was featured on magazine covers, discussed on other cable shows, and his rise was on everyone's mind. Then his fevered conspiracy theories grew kind of old, and Fox dropped him, whereupon he announced that he was going to make his own subscription-based internet television network. Chances are you haven't heard about Beck in a while, despite the fact that GBTV is making more money for Beck than he ever made at Fox. That's because the people who do things like edit magazines don't listen to Beck's radio show, and they haven't subscribed to his internet TV channel. Which means that he has lost almost all his ability to influence the broader discourse or political events. If he went on a holy war against a White House staffer the way he did against Van Jones (very successfully; Jones ended up resigning), no one would notice or care.
But he's still out there preaching to his fans, and Conor Friedersdorf does us a favor and plunks down $9.95 to see how Beck is doing. The answer? It's complicated...
Like thousands of you, I was absolutely gobsmacked by my editor Gabriel Arana's piece, "My So-Called Ex-Gay Life." If it hadn't run into here first, I would have linked to it. Of course, there was the heartbreaking and finally uplifting personal story that took us through the social history of antigay "therapy." But what astonished me was the courage he had to actually report out the story, calling and talking to the key players who made "reparative therapy" intellectually respectable enough that caring parents like the Arana's would search it out and sign up their son, truly believing that they were doing the right thing.