Alexander misunderstands facts: In yesterdays Post, Andrew Alexander published his first substantive column as the papers new ombudsman. He reviewed the flap about George Wills recent columns on climate change. Alexanders column had so many problems that we plan to review it more fully tomorrow. But our analysts saw a problem developing right in his opening paragraph:
ALEXANDER (3/1/09): Opinion columnists are free to choose whatever facts bolster their arguments. But they aren't free to distort them.
We assume distort means misstate in this context; opinion columnists arent free to misstate the facts they choose for their columns. That statement is perfectly true, of course. But in that short paragraph, Alexander gives a very shaky account of the way an opinion columnist can pick-and-choose his facts. Its not a good sign when the very first paragraph of an ombudsmans tenure suggests so weak an understanding of the basic way news can get spun.
Is Alexanders first statement true? Is a columnist really free to present whatever facts bolster his claimsand no others? Sorry, we dont think so. On any given topicclimate change, let us saythere will be about a million facts floating around at any moment. If a writer is free to use only his favorites, he can create any overall impression he may prefer. (Thats fairly close to what Will did in his February 15 column on warming, the one which triggered this flap.)
Maybe Alexander didnt mean to assert what that paragraph might seem to imply. The two things he says are both technically accurate, but we were surprised by his formulation. Over the past few decades, news has increasingly devolved into spin in much the way Alexander seems to endorse. Hustlers choose the facts which bolster their case, and simply omit all the rest!
George Will is a skeptic on climate change. He chose a few facts to bolster this case; in the process, he actually misstated some of those facts. But there are a million facts in the naked city when it comes to the topic of climate change. If Will had chosen with more care, he presumably could have shaped a grossly misleading column from perfectly accurate facts.
In our view, Alexanders column was strikingly weak. But that opening paragraph reminded us: The mainstream press is an unimpressive elite. In his long career at Cox News, how closely did Alexander watch the way misimpressions are typically spread?
EMBROIDERING MINDS DONT WANT TO KNOW: Did Bobby Jindal tell a tall tale about the late Sheriff Harry Lee? Inquiring minds with low IQs have been at great pains to find out. In our view, its still a bit hard to score Jindals (highly insignificant) tale, in which Jindal, then a congressman, watched Sheriff Lee scream and yell into the phone in his makeshift office during Katrina. But many liberals have screamed and yelled too, eager to extend the brain-dead culture of the Clinton-Gore years.
Your tribe has been eager to assert a key claim: The other tribe is a gang of liars! But uh-oh! In the course of their efforts regarding Jindal, your own tribes leaders have told a few tales of their own! But so it goes, when ardent hacks invite you to play tribal politics.
Did Jindal seek to give a false impression with his (highly insignificant) tale? Its possible; we wouldnt say the matter is clear. On the other hand, we think its clear that Josh Marshall embellished the facts in his account of Jindals story (which he calls a tall tale). Were sorry, but this isnt accurate:
MARSHALL (2/28/09): In so many words, in Jindal's speech Tuesday night he claimed he was there and part of the story as it unfoldedSheriff Lee was trying to mobilize civilian boats for roof-rescues and government bureaucrats wouldn't let them head out without proof of insurance and registration. Lee put his foot down and dared the bureaucrats to come arrest him. And when Jindal put his foot down too Lee said they should come arrest Jindal too.
Sorry. Jindal didnt claim, in so many words, that he was there and part of the story as Lee was trying to mobilize civilian boats for roof-rescues. You may have gotten that impression from what Jindal said; he might have hoped that youd get that impression. (We wouldnt know how to judge thator why wed even care.) But noJindal didnt actually claim that, let alone in so many words (text of Jindals statement below). Nor did Jindal claim that he put his foot down too, thus driving the story forward; thats just a silly embellishment, a tale of Marshalls confection. In Jindals telling of this tale, the joke has always been on him: He makes a fairly mild statement to Lee, and the legendary hotheaded lawman throws his name into the stew. Did Jindal embellish his tale about Lee? Possibly. But Marshall was so eager to help you think so, he told a few tall tales too!
(Other silly statements by Marshall: No, Jindals staff hasnt said that it doesnt mak[e] any difference whether Jindal made up his role in the story or not. Meanwhile, did Jindal tell the same story last year, only with even more embroidery about his own part in the drama? Marshall doesnt explain what the extra embroidery is. As we watch the tape he posts, well admit that we cant find it.)
Jindal may have embroidered a tad (or not); in part, that question depends on the facts, and some of the facts still arent clear. But then, Rachel Maddow clearly embroidered as she recast the tale:
MADDOW (2/27/09): Governor Jindal said in his speech that in the chaos of rescue operations, while people were standing on their roofs waiting to be saved, Governor Jindal himself helped the sheriff cut through all that awful no-good government red tape in order to rescue stranded citizens. The sheriff, Mr. Jindal said, volunteered both himself and Mr. Jindal to get arrested if those darned bureaucrats kept standing in the way of rescuing people.
After a couple of days of muckraking on this story by Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo, Governor Jindals office has now issued a clarification, saying that the governor didnt mean to imply that any of that actually happened the way the governor said it happened. Rather, the fighting the red tape thing is something the governor heard about after it happened. The governor himself was not involved in it. And there certainly wasnt any offer to arrest Bobby Jindal that got the rescue boats moving. Still, though, as self-aggrandizing exploitative good fix stories go, it was a pretty good one.
If its embroidery that you enjoy, Maddows the person to call on! As the lame smith Hephaestus once forged the whole world onto Achilles brilliant armor, Maddow outfitted Jindals tale with an array of improvements. Please. Did Jindal say that he himself helped the sheriff cut through all that awful no-good government red tape in order to rescue stranded citizens? To be honest, nohe didnt. Has Jindals office now said that the governor didnt mean to imply that any of that actually happened the way the governor said it happened? If thats actually meant as a claim, the claim is simply absurd. In her own telling of the tale, Maddow casts the time frame of this story as many listeners may well have heard it. But the truth is, Jindal didnt explicitly say that the phone call in question occurred while people were standing on their roofs waiting to be saved. Jindal might have been trying to imply that time frame (or not), hoping to make his story more excitingbut that might not have been him intention. But Maddow, like Hephaestus before her, has clearly cast the world in the way she preferred.
And of course, Keith Olbermann embroidered too, so troubled was he by Jindals embroidery. If we might paraphrase cables top liberal: Hey, you dumb f*cking rubes!
OLBERMANN (2/27/09): Number two, Jindalgate: You will recall in his Republican response to President Obama`s speech on Tuesday night, the governor of Louisiana implied that right after Katrina hit, he was helping the Jefferson Parish Sheriff, the late Harry Lee, fight red tape to get rescue boats out to those stranded by flooding, both of them risking arrest by standing up to the man.
The story fell apart when researchers reminded us that Jindal was 75 miles away in Baton Rouge at Katrina time. Today, a Jindal spokesperson changed the time frame. It was days later, she said, in the week following Katrina. Then she changed the immediacy of the event. Now the sheriff is yelling on the phone about a decision hes already made, not one he is making as Jindal is shoulder-to-shoulder with him, holding back the waves with his bear hands. In other words, the governor lied like hell on Tuesday.
Implied is always a helpful word. But did Jindal really imply that he had risk[ed] arrest by standing up to the man? To be honest, nohe didnt. Meanwhile, as late as Friday night, Olbermann was still playing the rubes by saying that Jindal was 75 miles away in Baton Rouge at Katrina time. Needless to say, it all depends on what the meaning of at Katrina time is; by now, it seems fairly clear that Jindal was on the ground in and around New Orleans in fairly short order after the storm. In 2007, Lee himself said that Jindal showed up in Lees office the day afterthough he may have been embellishing too. At any rate, heres what he said:
LEE (2007): I can tell you first-hand, that when Hurricane Katrinathe day after, Bobby was in my office, saying What do you need? And it wasnt phone calls, he was in my office, and he said, I need some help getting to St. Bernard Parish. Well, you couldnt get to Saint Bernard Parish, you couldnt get to Plaquemines Parish. I know how involved he was, and the reason these sheriffs and all these people are here [endorsing Jindal for governor] He was hands-on. Because I got him everywhere he needed to go in my helicopter. And he was there all the time.
On Friday night, Olbermann was still running the rubes with that carefully crafted language about Jindal being in Baton Rouse at Katrina time. He did this so we could all wail about Bad Jindals misstatements!
What did Jindal actually say in his speech? Well show you his text below. A much more important question is this: Why have people wasted so much time on this dumb, waste-of-time story? Josh Marshall used to be very smart, until he dumbed himself way, way down, down to the rube-running level. If you want to see a formerly bright man playing the fool, just look at the update he posts here. Marshall was spending a lot of time parsing some pure pointless blather.
For the record: This is exactly the way the mainstream press corps behaved all through the 1990s, though the targets then were Democrats, not the current batch. They worked very hard to create a myththe myth of Clinton/Gore/Clinton as liars. They parsed and picked apart trivial statements, determined to convince the slobbering rubes of their Preferred Group Tale. Today, a new gang of rube-runners plays the same game. By the way: Marshall kept his lips tightly shut when this was done to the Clintons and Gore. He wet his pants and hid in his bed, afraid of what employers might think. He was afraid of power back then. Now, he uses power against you.
Below, you see what Jindal said. If you read without your tribal lens, you will see that his tenses and times frame are not definitive. You may well have gotten the impression that Lee was screaming into that phone as people stood on the roofs of those houses. But Jindal doesnt actually say that, in so many words or ortherwise. Nor does he say or imply that he, Jindal, put his foot down too. He doesnt say or imply that he somehow helped the sheriff cut through all that awful no-good government red tape in order to rescue stranded citizens, the colorful language Maddow wove. He doesnt say or imply he somehow risk[ed] arrest by standing up to the man, the perfect crap dished out by Olbermann. Jindal may have been trying to spin you; for ourselves, wed say the point isnt clear (or significant). But these three pseudo-liberals did embroider the tale. That much is quite clear.
We saw fools do this all through the 90s, while the career liberal world ran and hid. Now, youre getting rube-run again, this time by career liberals. Theyre wasting their valuable time, and yours, on something that doesnt matter a bit. Theyre making their viewers and readers get dumb. And modern nations dont run on that fuel.
Three pseudo-liberals ran you last week, telling you historys oldest story: Your tribe is the good honest tribe! The other tribe? Theyre the big liars!
What Jindal said: Was Jindal trying to improve what happened? Possibly. Surely, many people got the impression that Lees phone call (see text below) took place as the boats stood in the water, all lined up and ready to go. But Jindal doesnt literally make that claim, and his tenses and time frames arent definitive.
Was Jindal trying to embellish? Possibly, though we cant imagine why we should care, given the cosmic insignificance of the points at dispute. But we know that Marshall, Maddow and Olbermann embellished. If its embellishment that you hate, wed advise you to start with them.
Heres what Jindal actually said. Was he trying to embellish? Could be. But none of this was ever worth discussingexcept to those who make nice dough by making you dumber and dumbest. By the way: If your IQ is lower than 20, why not simply click this link? Marshall has a job you can do. Our question: How much longer till these people start issuing coloring-books?
JINDAL (2/24/09): Let me tell you a story. During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office, I'd never seen him so angry. He was literally yelling into the phone: Well, I'm the sheriff and if you don't like it you can come and arrest me! I asked him, Sheriff, what's got you so mad? He told me that hed put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the flood-waters. The boats were all lined up and ready to go, when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn't go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, Sheriff, that's ridiculous. Before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too! Ha! Harry just told those boaters, Ignore the bureaucrats and go start rescuing people.
There's a lesson in this experience. The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens. We're grateful for the support we've received from across the nation for our ongoing recovery efforts.
On what day did that phone call occur? It could have happened (lets say) on a Thursday, with Lee yelling at a bureaucrat about a fight that had started on Tuesday (when the boats were all lined up and ready to go). But this was never worth discussing. Some of Jindals statements that night were significant. This pure nonsense was not.
Note: Some of you will just keep parsing, insisting that Jindal really did lie. You want their tribe to be the Big Liars. Youll waste your valuable time on blather to prove this antique tale.