Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Unhinged: Unhonest

[1: The Unbearable Lightness of Malkin]

Part 2: Eye of the Unhinged

There's a lot of left-wing ugliness documented in Unhinged, and Michelle Malkin's reportage of it, on a surface level at least, appears to be largely accurate -- so far as what she actually reports. As noted, however, most of the time this reportage is incomplete: Exculpatory evidence, of course, is never even mentioned, and Malkin does little to ascertain that the ugliness is from bona fide liberal sources.

In fact, it turns out, Malkin's examples are often not what Malkin presents them as being.

There are certain stretches in the book -- particularly some of the Internet-spawned ugliness directed Malkin -- that should give all liberals pause. There's little doubt that some of the people angered by Malkin's arguments responded with vicious, racist, and misogynist hate mail.

However, Malkin never attempts to provide the reader with any perspective on all this. What percentage of the discourse, for instance, falls into this genuinely ugly category? That should, after all, tell us a great deal about the nature of the beast.

Those experienced in Internet-based discourse are well aware that nastiness abounds on all sides, particularly in the political realm. But the quantity of this nastiness can also be telling. What's striking about sites like Free Republic and Little Green Footballs, for instance, is not just the ugliness of the rhetoric, but the sheer overbearing mass of it. Is the ugliness at sites like Kevin Drum's and Atrios's -- both of whom provide much of the grist for Malkin's mill -- comparable? We never find out, because Malkin never bothers to examine the question.

Now, while Malkin correctly identifies some real examples of viciousness, she fluffs out her thesis regarding left-wing ugliness and kookery with plenty of examples that aren't really all that kooky.

For instance, she devotes most of pp. 7-8 mocking the Web site for posting liberals' apologies to the rest of the world for having failed to prevent George W. Bush's re-election. This is simply old-fashioned partisanship -- something that Malkin appears to only consider kooky when it comes from the left.

Moreover, an examination of the genuinely vile comments that Malkin provides shows that Malkin was anything but careful about those citations. For instance, on her back cover, Malkin quotes an anonymous poster at Eric Muller's blog, Is That Legal?, who wrote:
This is what happens when you send a yellow woman to do a white man's job.

As Thersites has pointed out, the entire post was actually a clearly satirical one:
Why can't we find competent race-traitors anymore? Issuing a retraction based on legal threats? Disgusting. This was her moment to shine - a real public forum to level a set of smears against Japanese-"Americans" that would have assured they NEVER tried to drive across the heartland of America again. Instead she knuckles under like Tojo in Tokyo Bay.

This is what happens when you send a yellow woman to do a white man's job.

Posted by: Tommy Pain at May 18, 2005 11:45 AM

That is, the poster was writing in the voice of an actual racist to make a satirical point about Malkin's argument. This, of course, seems to have either been missed or glossed over by Malkin. Her use of it as an example of ugliness is either a dense misreading of the original post or just dishonest. Or, rather, "unhonest."

Another example of missing context is her inclusion of the following remark:
Look at how even aggressive educated wogs like this Michelle Malkin serve their white masters at little or no prodding simply because they desire to be white and not what they were born.

Malkin's a whore regardless what race she was born. She'd serve any Dark Lord as long as they paid her.

This remark came from a thread at Eschaton, which Malkin culled for the blog post that provided the basis for the section of Chapter Six of Unhinged that examines online lunacy.

And what's clear is that the post -- written by "Big Daddy Mars" -- was actually written in response to another satirical post, this time written by a troll who appeared on Atrios' threads and posted in the voice of the historical King Leopold. His post:
Why exactly does this large toothed educated female wog believe that she will be treated as white when God chose to make her yellow?

Even her political allies see her as nothing more than a trained monkey coached into saying a few simple racial truths that would be politically damaging if put into the mouths of a white man?

Her hatred for her fellow wogs comes from an inability to accept that God did not make her a European and that God chose to make her a woman.

Please, beat her severely and set her to work in a brothel somewhere in Malaysia that services Islamic terrorists.

King Leopold | Email | Homepage | 02.04.05 - 12:39 am | #

So Malkin, once again, omits context that makes the later "wog" reference clearer -- as well as the semi-satirical nature of Big Daddy Mars' response. As Thersites points out, Malkin's deletion of the King Leopold remark -- which she carried on the blog post, but left out of the book -- is telling in several important regards.

This all raises a critical context missing from Malkin's use of Internet posts to demonstrate liberal moral bankruptcy: To what extent, really, can Malkin ascertain that these posts actually represent liberals?

The Internet is indeed a wild and woolly place. And tricksters and hoaxters abound alongside the ugliness. Some liberals will wander over to conservative sites and post nasty material, posing as a fellow conservative, just to make the right look bad. And some conservatives do the same thing at left-wing sites.

In other words, these posts simply are not any kind of reliable source of information about the pervasiveness of the political ugliness Malkin wishes to document. Malkin never bothers to explain this to her readers -- no doubt because it would raise serious questions about her use of them in the first place.

Finally, Malkin attacks the sites' hosts for allowing this kind of nonsense on their boards. She attacks Duncan Black, aka Atrios, calling these citations his "idea of ideal political discourse" (p. 11), and Kevin Drum, saying that these "supposedly 'respectable' liberal bloggers allowed their foaming readers to post similarly depraved comments (p. 118). She particularly attacks Drum, who tried to ameliorate her anger with a reasonable e-mail exchange, and was rewarded for it by having her mock his response as "bleating" and "wimpy."

Malkin seems strangely obtuse about the nature of comment threads at blogs. Now, at small blogs like this one, monitoring and managing the comments is a relatively simple task. But as Malkin herself discovered, comments get completely out of hand when you reach the upper stratosphere of blogging -- when literally hundreds of comments are posted at your blog each day.

Malkin clearly believes that it's better to have no comments at all than to be unable to control what's posted at your blog. Which is fine; that's a legitimate choice for her blog.

But other bloggers will have different philosophies -- that it's better to encourage the public discourse by making comments available for your readers. It's an important way of building an online community at your blog, and it's a healthy exercise in free speech, the negative aspects notwithstanding. That, too, is a legitimate point of view.

Malkin, however, seems to be demanding that other major-level bloggers to follow her footsteps and shut down their comments. I don't think that's going to happen.

Frogs and Ravens had an excellent commentary the other day about the realities of blog-comment management:
On the one extreme of the spectrum are those who believe simultaneously that (a) blogs should not post anything that might offend them, even if they are only visiting a given blog on a first-time fly-by and (b) that anything should be allowed in the comment threads, up to and including insulting the blog owner and his or her other commenters. I call this the "The World Exists to Serve Me" contingent.

On the other extreme are those who believe that (a) blog owners can say whatever the hell they want, however they want, and if the people visiting the blog don't like it, they can go away (common rallying cry, "No one's making you read this blog") and (b) blog owners can do whatever they want with regards to their comments threads -- ban randomly, edit comments according to their own whims, refuse to have any comments, ban people who disagree with them, etc. I call this "It's My Blog and I Can Do What I Want" crowd.

... This is one thing that I think proves challenging to a lot of people new to the blogosphere (as well as a few tone-deaf old hands). The blogosphere is not a uniform, homogenous place, operating according to universal rules and expectations. (My god, how boring it would be if that were so.) Instead, the blogosphere varies with the whims and inclinations of each blog host and each commenting community. Some places are fine with profanity, others aren't. Some specialize in trading witty one-offs; others prefer thoughtful, meandering conversations. Some are snarky and sarcastic; some are warm and touchy-feely. Some develop small, close-knit communities into which a newcomer must ease slowly and cautiously; others are big raucous public parties that anyone can jump into without prior experience. The blogosphere is anything but homogenous.

And that's the point. Atrios' policy, he tells me, is that he will delete obnoxious trolls, but he has no intention of trying to play the role of full-time hall monitor in his threads. For the culture of his blog, that is a perfectly appropriate approach -- just as Malkin's is appropriate for hers.

Most significantly, perhaps, Malkin wants these bloggers to "clean up the trash" at their Websites, but seems to have no such concerns regarding the similar trash that can be found in the comments at such sites as Little Green Footballs and Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler, both of whom reside on her own blogroll.

At LGF, for instance, you can regularly find comments that call both Muslims and liberals "vermin" and "subhumans" and say that "targeted genocide ... will become necessary." At the Rottweiler, you can read threats of violence against other bloggers, as well as assassination threats against John Kerry. Misha, the site's proprietor, has posted himself in support of the notion that antiwar dissenters were asking to be lynched.

What's evident is that Malkin doesn't consider the comments at these sites -- not to mention the posts by their proprietors -- to constitute "trash". Otherwise, she wouldn't express indignation at liberal bloggers for their similar failures.

No, as already noted, Malkin contends that conservatives are in fact much better at weeding out such extremism. On p. 9, she claims that "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." (Ironically, she holds up only two examples of possible right-wing ugliness: Dick Cheney's "Go fuck yourself" to Pat Leahy, and "mean-spirited conservatives' Internet jibes about Democrats" -- but mentions them only dismissively, as though barely worth discussing. Yet Malkin, ironically, devotes entire chapters of her book to the same behavior on the left.)

She goes into this in further detail on pp. 168-169:
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 Â?orchestrated right-wing attackÂ? 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.

... And while conservatives zealously police their own ranks to exclude extremists and conspiracy theories, extremism and conspiracy theories have become the driving force of the Democrat Party.

If only conservatives would zealously police their own ranks to exclude extremists -- particularly if they had done so over the preceding decade.

But, as we will see, they haven't. They aren't. And Michelle Malkin is one of the leading figures in this failure.

Next: The Unhinged Right

[Note: I've slightly rearranged the series since the first post, so the "Next" links have been edited.]

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