Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Corrections and second thoughts

First, a correction that is making me gnash my teeth:

Contrary to what I reported in this post, Rush Limbaugh did not refer to the antiwar protesters as "fascists."

Here's the actual quote that was mischaracterized in my secondhand reference:

"It's beyond me how anybody can look at these protesters and call them anything other than what they are: Anti-American, Anti-Capitalist Marxists and Communists."

The chief lesson I've learned from this is to maintain for this blog the same kind of standards I'd hold myself to when publishing elsewhere. I received information from a normally reliable source that Limbaugh had referred to the protesters as "fascists and anti-American," and this quote was reproduced on a partisan Web site, Take Back the Media, that normally is reasonably accurate. I actually questioned the veracity of the quote before I published the piece, but my sources were a bit slow getting back to me. After writing the piece, feeling confident, I went ahead and hit publish -- something I never would have done at a newspaper or online newsroom. When the actual quote finally arrived, of course, I lived to regret it.

All that said, even with this quote in hand, all I'd really have changed in the post is the discussion of how in this instance Limbaugh has conflated leftists with fascists. As I reported, of course, he has confused this issue in fact on previous occasions. Moreover, the main thrust of the piece -- which is that if we take a serious look at the known traits associated with fascism, our friend Mr. Limbaugh comes closer to fitting the description than anyone on the left -- would not be affected in the least (though of course it loses a little of its punch).

Of course, since this inaccurate use of "fascism" originated with anti-Bush activists, it does at least underscore another point I made, namely: "In many respects, leftists are most responsible for this degradation; it became so common to lob the word at just about anyone conservative or corporatist in the 1960s and 1970s that its original meaning -- describing a very distinct political style, if not quite philosophy -- became utterly muddled, at least in the public lexicon."

So I'll be talking some more very shortly about what fascism means and why it's important to use the word carefully and thoughtfully, not as a haphazard epithet.

Secondarily, I would be remiss in failing to point out that the actual quote from Limbaugh does corroborate the point I made about the increasing strategy on the right to identify liberalism and multiculturalism as "anti-American" and ultimately a product of Marxism, making it a 21st-century version of the old "Commie" slander. And this is indeed a proto-fascist kind of tactic, as described neatly by Umberto Eco.

More on all this above.


Second thoughts: My friend Joel S. writes regarding this post (which contains a quote I've since seen duplicated elsewhere) with a valid observation:

I saw the article from Capitol Hill Blue and wondered if you were aware that CHB has approximately the politics and veracity of Newsmax. For the longest time, it was stated to be part of DC Comix and was a Clinton-bashing broadside sheet. I wrote to DC Comics and said that they shouldn't allow the names of Superman and Captain America to be besmirched by association with that rag.

At the moment, CHB is carrying a story claiming "'We have most of the pieces of the puzzle in place,' an FBI source confirmed to Capitol Hill Blue late Thursday. 'Most of this has come together in the last 36 hours but we now feel comfortable telling the President we can document both the existence and location of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. -- Minor problem, I would say, with the FBI being cited on an issue of foreign intelligence.

Anyway, when CHB cites an anonymous source, I think one should get a 10 pound bag of salt for seasoning. Doubtless Bush feels that everyone who doesn't agree with him is a traitor, but the probability that people in the White House, much less the Joint Chiefs, talk with Doug Thompson is IMO very small.

I actually agree with this assessment. As someone who worked many years in many newsrooms, I should know better. It's always been a standard of mine as an editor to take a very hard look at the use of anonymous sources and as a reporter to avoid them altogether, if possible (you'll find very, very little of it in my work). Readers should always be very leery of reporting that relies heavily on anonymous sources; they may in fact just be creatures of the reporter's imagination.

Moreover, CHB is indeed an unreliable source, and I won't use them again. I'll also be more selective about the sources I do cite in the future, or at least more careful in pointing out their unreliability at the time. Consider the veracity of the quote in that post questionable at best.

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