Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Answering A Really Dumb Comment

Here it is.

In order to make my point abundantly clear, I am going to violate an unspoken rule I have - I try not to quote fiction as an illustration, especially science fiction. Yet, reading the back-and-forth among Ambinder and his critics put me in mind of an early chapter of one of the rare bits of sci-fi I enjoy, Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. The mayor of the Foundation encounters a "diplomat" from the Empire, and they have a discussion on the "origin" question (a fun bit Asimov plops in, considering we readers know the answer). What the mayor brings away from the discussion is that there is a discouraging lack of understanding concerning what constitutes "science". The diplomat seems to believe it is nothing more than weighing the evidence and authority of a variety of sources on a topic and forming a conclusion based on one's perception of the reliability of these sources. This serves well as a plot point in the story; it also serves as an illustration of the basic complaint Krugman was making about Ambinder's position, briefly stated that even though Bush-critics were correct in their conclusions regarding the lack of any reliability of the Administration, yet because they were loud, profane, and seemed almost reflexive in their distrust of any Bush Administration pronouncements, they were, themselves, not credible sources for information.

Krugman's complaint is similar to the mayor's complaint in Foundation. All any of the Bush-era critics wanted was for journalists to do some follow-through, comparing Administration rhetoric to action, the evidence provided justifying various Administration actions and its reliability, and the record of a consistent lack of facts behind most of the Administration's rhetoric. Ambinder's complaint seems to be that the Bush critics didn't play the game by some set of arbitrary rules that he and other journalists seemed to hold dear; Krugman's rejoinder is that was never the issue. Check out what the critics actually said, rather than the way they said it. Check their sources. Check out the actual record of the Bush Administration. That's all. A little homework is all it might take.

That's part of my own complaint, although I add the observation that there seems to be this desire, or need, or something, to get as much information as possible out to the public in very raw form. Thus, we have Chuck Grassley quoted about killing granny without any note that this might be a wee bit over the top. Or Chris Wallace's egregious conduct on Fox News Sunday, interviewing someone who claims the VA wants to kill disabled vets, when in fact he really wants to sell the VA his own booklet.

There is nothing ideological about these complaints. It's all about doing some homework, checking out what person "A" says happens against reports of what happened; checking out whether there is some kind of correspondence between what an official statement may say, and what actions actually occur. It isn't that hard, really.

Of course, maybe I'm wrong in my perception; I'm not a journalist, and perhaps I have too high, or overly idealized view, of what journalists do, or perhaps should do. Yet, at the very least, the record of the Bush years should be a test case of what happens when a group of people practice a deference to power at the expense of our national welfare.

Virtual Tin Cup

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