Sunday, November 13, 2005

Unhinged: Unhonest

Part 1: The Unbearable Lightness of Malkin

The first thing you notice about Michelle Malkin's new Regnery book, Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild, is how lightweight it is. It practically floats off the shelf and up into the ether, whence it appears to have originated.

That's not just because of its physical thinness. At 172 fluffed-up pages of actual text, it actually clocks in ahead of the 165 pages of text she devoted to In Defense of Internment -- though the latter was then fattened out to over 300 pages with Malkin's appendices containing a number of government archival papers. Unhinged just feels thin in the hand, and it's even thinner in substance when you open it and start reading.

And it's not just the hurried feel to the book. There are typos and typesetting screwups aplenty, which always attests to a rush job in the publishing biz. (What exactly is the last half-sentence of Chapter Two? Perhaps we'll find out in the paperback edition. Speaking of which, where's the paperback of In Defense of Internment?)

No, the reason reading Unhinged feels like breathing helium really comes down to content: There's only half the story there. It's like a piece of Swiss cheese -- anyone can see it's full of holes.

Everywhere you turn in Malkin's book, you'll find lurid descriptions of liberal ugliness, looniness, and viciousness. Most of what she reports is accurate, though in many cases what she defines as looniness is, shall we say, a matter of perspective.

The problem is what she doesn't report.

This is true of the book on a larger, thematic scale: Nowhere in Malkin's fluffy little screed is there ever any recognition that ugliness, looniness, and viciousness are every bit as preeminent on the right as they are on the left, if not more so. Nor is there any recognition that the right might have played a significant role in dragging the national discourse down into this gutter.

To the contrary, Malkin specifically denies that this might be the case, right from the outset. On p. 9 there's this:
And while the Left's knee-jerk response to these stories will doubtlessly be to trot out well-worn examples of unseemly behavior on the right -- Dick Cheney swearing, or mean-spirited conservatives' Internet jibes about Democrats -- the truth is that it's conservatives themselves who blow the whistle on their bad boys and go after the real extremism on their side of the aisle. Though no one in the mainstream media depicts the GOP as the party of peace, tranquility and civility -- preferring to cast those of us on the right as angry, destructive, bigoted, and off the rails -- it is, in fact, the Left that now embodies that unhinged creature.

Note that she immediately dismisses, without any rationale, two fundamental pieces of evidence against her characterization of reality:
-- Dick Cheney's crude eruption on the Senate floor, telling Sen. Patrick Leahy, "Go fuck yourself," is a classic example of unhinged behavior -- and it was an example of its manifestation at the highest levels of the conservative movement. More to the point, Cheney and his fellow conservatives rather pointedly refused to apologize or back down for the outburst, and in fact seemed to recommend such behavior to the kids watching at home. What was that about reining in their bad boys?

-- Mean-spirited conservatives' Internet jibes about Democrats are probably, as Malkin suggests, not worth taking too seriously. But then Malkin goes on to devote over half of her subsequent text to mean-spirited liberals' Internet jibes about Republicans. So why can Malkin bring this kind of behavior up as evidence, but the left can't?

The holes in Malkin's reportage also exist on a fundamental level. Take, for instance, how she handles one of the centerpieces of her argument that this lunacy has taken root at the highest levels of the Democratic Party: Howard Dean's remarks about theories that the Saudis might have tipped off George W. Bush about 9/11.

As I've already noted, Malkin's discussions of Dean's record in television interviews indicate a serious skewing of the reality of what he said. And sure enough, Unhinged skews Dean's remarks on pp. 33-35 with some, shall we say, selective editing.

Here's how she quotes Dean:
Diane Rehm: "Why do you think he [Bush] is suppressing that [Sept. 11] report?"

Howard Dean: "I don't know. There are many theories about it. The most interesting theory that I've heard so far -- which is nothing more than a theory, it can't be proved -- is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis.

Here's what she omitted from Dean's remarks:
"Now, who knows what the real situation is? But the trouble is, by suppressing that kind of information, you lead to those kind of theories, whether or not they have any truth to them or not, and eventually, they get repeated as fact. So I think the president is taking a great risk by suppressing the key information that needs to go to the Kean Commission."

Likewise, she then goes on to quote Dean from a subsquent interview:
WALLACE: The most interesting theory is that the president was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Why would you say that, Governor?

DEAN: Because there are people who believe that. We don't know what happened in 9/11. Tom Kean is trying to get some information from the president...

WALLACE: Do you believe that?

DEAN: ... which doesn't -- no, I don't believe that. I can't imagine the president of the United States doing that. But we don't know, and it'd be a nice thing to know.

But again she omits the contextual remarks that explain why Dean was talking about this:
WALLACE: I'm just curious why you would call that the most interesting theory.

DEAN: Because it's a pretty odd theory. What we do believe is that there was a lot of chatter that somehow was missed by the CIA and the FBI about this, and that for some reason we were unable to decide and get clear indications of what the attacks what were going to be. Because the president won't give the information to the Kean commission we really don't know what the explanation is.

Malkin consistently omits the important context of what Dean was trying to say: That keeping the public in the dark feeds these kinds of conspiracy theories. Indeed, she quickly glosses over the important subtext behind Dean's remarks, when she asks:
What leading Democrat in his right mind would lend even a shred of credence to the baseless theory that Bush was "warned ahead of time by the Saudis" about September 11?

While there may have been no evidence that this was the case, the speculation itelf did not happen in a vacuum, considering that nearly all of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis by nationality, and the Bush family's ties to the Saudis have been voluminously documented. It's natural that there would be such speculation. (It's worth noting, of course, that Dean botched the opportunity to bring up these points by mishandling both the original remarks and his follow-ups to them.)

Moreover, as we later learned during the 9/11 Commission hearing, Bush indeed was warned ahead of time about the possibility of terrorist attacks -- not by the Saudis, but by his own presidential intelligence briefing. And he chose not to act on those warnings. That raises concerns not about any conspiracy, but about Bush's competence.

Conservatives definitely did not want to talk about these twin realities during the campaign -- so when Dean brought them up, it became imperative to paint him as an unhinged kook and conspiracy theorist. And they succeeded so well that Malkin could seize their altered reality and use it to plump up her thesis.

Malkin is especially hypocritical in discussing the Dean remarks, which she calls "the old I'm-not-saying-it-I'm-just-posing-the-question card". As TBogg points out, Malkin finds this card perfectly suitable to play when it comes to her own purposes, including smearing John Kerry by suggesting -- groundlessly -- that he wounded himself intentionally in Vietnam in order to obtain a Purple Star. What leading Republican would lend even a shred of credence to such a baseless theory?

Rewriting history by omission, of course, is a Malkin specialty: It's what she did, as I've explained in depth, with her pro-internment book. Any facts or details that might count as evidence against her thesis have no chance of being any more than briefly and dismissively mentioned.

In discussing this propensity of hers earlier, I described this missing element, in journalistic terms, as "fairness," but I don't think that fully describes what's lacking in Malkin's work; it goes beyond mere fairness. This is a matter of simple integrity -- intellectual and otherwise.

Malkin isn't being openly dishonest with these omissions. There's very little in Unhinged that you can say is actually false. It's more a matter of being unhonest: not letting her readers get the whole picture so they can judge for themselves. It's one of those things conservatives love to whine about with the "MSM" so much.

Unhinged lacks the fundamental honesty -- the integrity to consider countervailing facts and then factually counter them, if possible, to defend your thesis, rather than simply pretending they don't exist -- to be worth anyone's reading time.

The only people who will find this book useful are blinkered ideologues who just want more grist for their liberal-hating mills, the facts be damned. Certainly, it will be of little to use for any serious-minded person who is concerned about the state of the national dialogue -- except, perhaps, as Exhibit A regarding the source of the problem. Because Malkin's little contribution to the growing mound of liberal-bashing books is only going to make that dialogue incrementally worse.

Fortunately, it's so lightweight, that may be a rather small increment indeed.

Next: Eye of the Unhinged

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