Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Unhinged indeed

One of the reasons Michelle Malkin fails the test of being an actual journalist lies in the way she conducts her work: There is simply no evidence of any attempt at fairness.

A serious journalist -- theoretically, at least -- tries to operate with an open mind. It's essential when approaching a subject to gather the available evidence first, and if a conclusion is to be reached, it is only done so when all the evidence is in and weighed. Typically, this means when a reporter is assigned a story, he or she looks first to gather as much information about it as possible.

This doesn't mean the journalist is necessarily "objective," or that bias can't creep in. The very selection of a subject of inquiry may represent a certain bias; and the interpretation and presentation of the data may also be slanted. But the core of the journalistic enterprise revolves around honest inquiry.

Malkin forgoes all this. Throughout her career, her approach has been thesis-driven: She latches onto a potential story or scandal, settles on an angle to pursue, then sets out from the start to prove her thesis, ignoring or tossing aside all contradictory evidence along the way. This was the trend in her column-writing career at the Seattle Times, and it came to full fruition in her execrable In Defense of Internment, which ignored a mountain of evidence contradicting her thesis, and in the process became nothing less than a historical fraud.

Now her latest book is out, and the trend not only continues, it evidently intensifies, if the preliminary material she has made available on her Web site is any indication. [My copy is supposed to be arriving in the mail soon. Yes, dear readers, I'll be reading Malkin so you won't have to. It's a sacrifice, but someone has to make it.]

Titled Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild, it's supposedly an expose of those angry lunatics of the left. Malkin says:
I'll probably have to say this a million times, and those predisposed to attack the book (without reading it, natch) will ignore it, but I do not argue that we on the Right have never gone overboard in political word or deed. The book is about turning MSM conventional wisdom on its head and showing that the standard caricature of conservatives as angry/racist/bigoted/violence-prone crackpots is a much better description of today's unhinged liberals than of us.

Fair enough. But just a little later, she writes this:
It's not Republicans taking chainsaws to Democrat campaign signs and running down political opponents with their cars. It's not conservatives burning Democrats in effigy, defacing war memorials, and supporting the fragging of American troops. And it's not conservatives producing a bullet-riddled bumper crop of assassination-themed musicals, books and collectible stamps.

It's not a Republican who invoked Pol Pot and Nazis and Soviet gulag operators when discussing American troops at Guantanamo Bay. That was Democrat Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who kept his Senate Minority Whip position and who continues to blame an “orchestrated right-wing attack” for what came out of his mouth.

It's not Republicans who suggested that President Bush had advance knowledge of the September 11th attacks or that Osama bin Laden has already been captured. Those notions were advanced by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and current Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean.

And it wasn't a Republican who asserted that the war Iraq was "just as bad as six million Jews being killed." That was Democrat Rep. Charlie Rangel, who has refused to apologize and whom no Democrat leader has denounced.

So, you see, despite her earlier disavowal, Malkin does intend to show that it isn't Republicans who have gone overboard in stoking the current political fires. It's just Democrats and the "wacky left."

This is reminiscent of Malkin's disclaimer, with her last book, that she wasn't arguing in favor of race-based internment of Arab Americans -- she was simply justifying the race-based internment of Japanese Americans.

Well, Michelle ...

It isn't Democrats who sprayed racist, pro-Bush graffiti on Democratic campaign HQ in Sacramento, or stole computers from Democrats in Ohio, or set campaign signs afire in Louisiana, or spread blood and innards around the front door of Bush critics. It isn't Democrats firing workers for their presidential choices.

[In fact, I tried keeping a running tally during the election of reports of thuggery from both right and left, and tracked it at a post called Thug Watch. Though I'm sure there were some reports that I missed on both sides, the reports of thuggery from the right, as you can see, outnumber those from the left by a factor of more than 2-to-1.]

It isn't Democrats, Michelle, who have denigrated the service of war heroes; it's people like you. And it isn't Democrats who are delivering a steady stream of "bestselling" books attacking liberals as subhuman scum: calling them innately treasonous, identifying them with terrorists, the "enemy within" with a "mental illness." Going on talk shows and saying that the best way to talk to a Republican is "with a baseball bat, preferably."

As for the "assassination" themes, Michelle, it wasn't a left-wing blogger who posted the following remark at the height of the 2004 campaign:
Rope. Tree. Justice. The only three things that Qerry deserves for his "service".

No, as a matter of fact, that was a blogger who resides on your blogroll.

It was that same blog, in fact, that earlier urged the use of violence against another blogger and even provided directions to that person's home on his blog. I'm not aware of any left-wing bloggers having done that.

Indeed, for all the left-wing wackery out there -- and there's no doubt plenty of it -- what you don't see is this kind of eliminationist rhetoric.

After all, Michelle, it wasn't a prominent Democrat who publicly hypothesized about what would happen to the crime rate if all black babies were aborted. It wasn't a prominent Democratic radio talk-show host in Seattle who said of a U.S. Senator -- yes, the same Dick Durbin whose remarks you find completely out of line: "This man is simply a piece of excrement, a piece of waste that needs to be scraped off the sidewalk and eliminated."

It isn't the most prominent liberal talk-show host in the country who jokes that we shouldn't "kill all the liberals" -- instead, we should "leave enough so we can have two on every campus -- living fossils -- so we will never forget what these people stood for."

It wasn't a prominent member of the "liberal" media who opined that we ought to incarcerate everyone who works for Air America.

It wasn't a Democratic congressman who opined that we ought to ship liberal dissenters to Iraq to serve as "human shields."

It wasn't left-wing letter writers who attacked former USA Today editor Al Neuharth and recommended he face execution for treason. Al Neuharth, mind you -- not exactly Mr. Liberal.

And kooky theories? Well, Michelle, what about the forthcoming tome from a well-known conservative postulating -- against all known historical fact -- that fascism is a liberal phenomenon. Of course, you know all about ignoring the weight of historical evidence, don't you?

It isn't liberal bloggers, Michelle, who have waxed wroth at the General Ripperesque notion that the Flight 94 memorial is actually a tribute to the terrorists, or who have whipped up groundless fears about Islamist terrorists in Oklahoma and elsewhere; no left-wing moonbats groundlessly attacked the Pulitzer winner in photography or attacked USA Today with conspiratorial accusations for a badly retouched photo.

No, Michelle, that would be you and yours. Moonbats, wingnuts, take your pick: The shoe fits -- you.

Look, there's no use in pretending that there isn't excess on the left as well. Unlike Malkin, I probably would be more than willing to acknowledge its presence and denounce it when it occurs if people like Malkin and Co. weren't so ready to spring into action at the first imagined slight (and more often than not, they are imagined) -- and yet so consistently fail to acknowledge similar behavior on the right.

Indeed, the pattern has been rather the opposite: When the acts of violence that the right wants to link to liberals turns out, in fact, to be the work of right-wing extremists, there's no acknowledgement made, much less apologies issued. Witness, for instance, Malkin's handling of an arson case in Maryland which she and other prominent bloggers presumed to be the work of eco-terrorists; but when it turned out that these were race-related arsons, the subject went away quickly with a brief semi-acknowledgement of error. Likewise, Malkin waved all kinds of accusations about regarding a murder of a Coptic Christian family in New Jersey, and then quietly shut it down when it turned out not to be the work of Islamist radicals after all.

And that's the problem, isn't it? It would be nice to have pleasant, reasonable debate in which facts and evidence and reason all play a role and are all respected -- but in recent years, the right hasn't been playing by those rules. Not since the Republican Congress ignored the popular will and proceeded to impeach Bill Clinton. Not since Republicans quite literally stole the 2000 election. Not since their incompetence left us exposed to the worst terrorist attack on American soil. Not since they subsequently shoved a misbegotten war in Iraq down our collective throats.

Because in the pursuit of that agenda, the conservative movement has become a take-no-prisoners, scorched-earth entity, whence so much of the ugliness in our current discourse arises. A lot of it, as I've examined at length previously, is deeply personal stuff, and the effect on our personal lives has been lasting and profound.

The chief, overarching argument of the conservative movement, in essence, has been that liberals are the sole and primary cause of everything that is wrong both with America and with the world at large. What kind of reasonable discourse is possible, really, when that is the starting point of the conversation?

Malkin's book, it's clear, is simply going to be another contribution to that liberal-bashing trend, even as it pretends to shame liberals for behavior that is rampant within the ranks of conservatives -- behavior, indeed, encouraged from the very top. After all, it wasn't a Democratic vice president who pointedly, and publicly, told a prominent U.S. Senator to go fuck himself.

A serious journalist would have examined the ugliness in the discourse and recognized that it's rampant on both sides. I also think an honest accounting would find that, if anything, it's more pronounced and far more aggressive from the right. Much of the ugliness from the left seems, if anything, largely reactive to the nasty provocations and threats of elimination coming from the right.

But Malkin, as we know already, is not a serious journalist. As with her last book, she has simply chosen snippets of evidence that support her thesis and ignored substantial contravening evidence -- which is never mentioned, let alone confronted. The result is a blinkered and ultimately false version of reality.

There's only one thing to call that: propaganda. Malkin's book not only is unlikely to end the ugliness in discourse -- it virtually guarantees that it will get worse.

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