Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Malkin on a roll

Some things never change. Take, say, Michelle Malkin's methodology.

The other day, Eric Muller pointed out that Malkin had finally gotten around to correcting one of the more audacious smear jobs in her book In Defense of Internment -- namely, her groundless attack on lawyer/historian Peter Irons, whose work in uncovering misfeasance by Justice Department lawyers played a critical role in the court cases overturning the wartime convictions of internment protestors Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu.

Here's the passage in question, from pp. 122-23 of In Defense of Internment:
While working for the commission, [Aiko] Herzig Yoshinaga parlayed her tax-subsidized archival research -- which "formed the core" of the commission's primary documentation -- into evidence for private lawsuits challenging the Supreme Court's World War II rulings upholding the war powers of the executive branch. She had met and befriended Peter Irons, an activist attorney and legal historian, during her tenure on the commission and surreptitiously shared confidential documents with him.

This passage was a central part of Malkin's sweeping condemnation of the effort to in the 1970s and '80s to provide reparations for interned Japanese Americans. Malkin characterizes these efforts as an ideological campaign led by a pack of sneaking connivers, and her smear of Irons and Herzig-Yoshinaga are of a piece with this.

Initially, Malkin only provided the following correction to her errata page:
page 123: I wrote that Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga "surreptitiously shared confidential documents with" attorney Peter Irons. The word "surreptitiously" was erroneous and will be excised in future editions.

Not exactly forthcoming, as corrections go (especially compared to basic and broadly accepted standards for corrections by journalists). But then today, Malkin gives a more expansive correction that deflects the blame for her error on her original source:
In response to inquiries from Irons and me, Fujita-Rony now says the passage he wrote in 2003, which he acknowledges he failed to footnote, is erroneous. He has written a letter of retraction to the editors at Frontiers. Here is his e-mail to me:

Dear Ms. Malkin:

I was in error. I am retracting the assertion that Professor Irons was at any time denied access to the archival materials in question. I am "attaching" and inserting below the text of the letter I am sending to the editors of Frontiers. I hope this will clarify matters.


Thomas Y. Fujita-Rony

Accordingly, I am retracting my claim that Herzig-Yoshinaga "surreptitiously shared confidential documents with" Irons. I have made a note of this on the errata page of my book. Moreover, I am directing Regnery to excise the words "surreptitiously" and "confidential" from future editions of the book.

Meanwhile, her former colleague at the Seattle Times, Bruce Ramsey, discussed the matter briefly, and offered the following excuse for this misbehavior:
I want to express some sympathy for Malkin here. She is a political pundit -- an "unabashed right-wing columnist", as you say -- who gets paid only for what she writes, and she has to satisfy a public that likes strong and definite opinions about a wide range of topics that are in the public eye. She cannot be expected to follow the same standards as an academic who makes a study of a narrow subject, usually for several years, and publishes it through a university press, all while being protected by tenure and supported through teaching. That doesn't absolve a pundit from responsibility for mistakes, but you can't expect the same depth of verification. I think you should be satisfied with Malkin's quick agreement to acknowledge a mistake, post it on her web page and change future editions.

Malkin may not have to meet the standards of academic historians, but she does have an obligation to meet the basic standards of truthfulness that are expected of anyone who publishes written material for public dissemination, and particularly for someone who claims to be a journalist.

And even though the error was not central to her thesis, it formed a significant portion of her mischaracterization of the effort to gain reparations as being riddled with all kinds of miscreancy. Indeed, as Muller has noted (and reiterates today), it is typical of Malkin's entire approach to the evidence she uses throughout her text:
What she has done to Peter Irons and Aiko Herzig is, for example, precisely what she does in the book to Seattle attorney Kenji Ito and to Richard Kotoshirodo. She makes both out to be monsters--Ito a Japanese spy and Kotoshirodo the Mohammad Atta of his day--when just down the street from her home, hundreds of pages of documents in the National Archives refute her characterizations. With Ito and Kotoshirodo, as with Irons and Herzig, Malkin could not be bothered to take the most basic of investigative steps to research her scandalous allegations before trumpeting them to a national audience.

Indeed, the question that lingers is a fairly simple journalistic issue: Why didn't Malkin double-check her source before proceeding with her smear of two people whose reputations deserve better?

But then, I've discussed at length previously the nature of Malkin's methodology, which transcends mere polemics and is more in the realm of pure propaganda:
In Defense of Internment takes a few small slices of fact, removes them from their larger context or distorts their significance, embellishes them with non-facts, either sneeringly dismisses or utterly ignores an entire ocean of contravening evidence, and then pronounces the whole enterprise history.

That isn't history. It's propaganda.

Malkin, in fact, manipulates history in a way that makes clear that her entire methodology is little more than a polemical parlor game: Play up whatever scraps of evidence you can find to support your point, pretend that the wealth of evidence disproving your thesis simply doesn't exist, and then fend off your critics with a steady string of non-sequiturs and irrelevancies, never answering their core criticisms. This tactic is familiar to anyone who's dealt with the right much, especially in the past decade. Just call it Oxyconfabulation.

In Malkin's case, you don't have to just look in her books to see this methodology at work. It's present throughout her syndicated columns and her blog as well.

A fine recent example of the real sloppiness of her methodology was this post at her blog:
Did you know that there's a government-subsidized monument in Baldwin Park, Calif., that contains the following inscriptions:

It was better before they came.

This land was Mexican once, was Indian always and is, and will be again.

There's a problem with this, however. If you click on the the link to the story she's referencing, you'll find this tidbit regarding the first of the two inscriptions:
Baca said that Save Our State's complaint was misguided. She said the quote, "It was better before they came," was originally uttered by a "white man from Arkansas," who was complaining about the arrival of Mexican-Americans after World War II.

"When it went on the arch, its ambiguity became profound," she said. "The 'they' could be any 'they.' "

Malkin, apparently, not only deigns it unnecessary to double-check her sources before publishing a smear. She doesn't even feel it's necessary to read the stories she links to.

I guess we're supposed to excuse this because Malkin is only a "pundit" (as though this were a realm free of the obligations of factuality). But just how seriously are we supposed to take a finger-pointing "pundit" like this (see especially her current jihad against Newsweek) when it comes to media "credibility"?

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