WHEN OPINION KILLED! Of course you can challenge opinion journalism. Sometimes, opinion kills: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2009
Kristol runs the rubes: William Kristol ran the rubes. E.J. Dionne wouldnt tattle.
We refer to Kristols column in Tuesdays Washington Post. In it, the tyro typed thusly. We start with a triumphal headline:
Cracker, please! the analysts cried, after checking Gallups data (click here). At best, Kristols highlighted claim is grossly misleading. At worst, its simply wrong.
Kristols basic cumbers are accurate. In the recent Gallup survey, 40 percent described themselves as conservative; only 20 percent said liberal. But Gallups graphic shows the question being asked every year since 1992and conservative scored a bit higher back then. (1992: 43 percent. 1994: 42 percent.) Based on the Gallup graphic, this weeks 40 percent is not as high as its been in two decades. It isnt Gallups high-water mark.
A second point is much more relevant. This weeks 40 percent is a stunningly typical score. In the publics response to this annual question, conservative came in at 40 percent in the following years: 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004. In 2002 and 2005, conservative suffered a pair of down years, coming in at 39 percent. In the past few years, conservative dipped as low at 37 percent, no doubt in response to the foreign and domestic disasters associated with the presidency of a self-described conservative. But responses to this annual question have been remarkably consistent from 1992 until now.
Is this a good time to be a conservative? Maybe, maybe not. But Kristol was really running us rubes when he said and implied, at the start of his monthly column, that the current Gallup number represents an exciting, two-decade high-water mark. The Posts editors should have made him rewrite his claims, which are grossly misleading.
Meanwhile, to watch Dionne soft-soap Kristols flat misstatement, you know what to dojust click here. Kristol, you see, is part of the club. As in 1999 and 2000, Dionne isnt willing to tell you the truth about his frat-mates deceptions. (Kristols current deception wont make much difference. In those earlier years, the endless deceptions Dionne accepted changed the history of the world.)
Final point: Should liberals be troubled by the long-term pattern in Gallups polling? Maybe, maybe not. Dionne links to a study which shows left and right pretty much drawing even if respondents are given four choices, not two. (Liberal, progressive, conservative, libertarian.) But 40 percent is a whole lot of people. Rather than directing our most churlish poseurs to mock and insult these mal-pensants, liberals might consider trying to learn how these people view the worldthe better to persuade them that our own bright ideas are the best.
(To the extent that we have such ideas, the analysts asked us to add.)
PART 3WHEN OPINION KILLED: Jesus, were stupid! At least, thats what the analysts cried as they watched Sundays Reliable Sources, in which everyoneincluding the host, the liberal and the professorseemed to stampede off to take their conceptual cues from Fox (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/27/09). Of course, the analysts had torn their hair the same way as they watched Fridays Maddow Show. On that show, Our Own Rhodes Scholar also offered an utterly woeful analysis.
Whats the matter with Fox? On Friday, Maddows analysis was astoundingly weak (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/28/09). And it largely followed the official Fox line, in which weve been told that its utterly foolish to criticize opinion programming. In which an utterly silly distinction is drawn between news and opinionbetween reporting and commentary.
On Sunday, the liberal, the professor and the host all pretty much seemed to buy the Fox line. But so had Maddow, on Friday night! Jesus, were stupid! the analysts cried. Its no wonder we never win arguments!
At the highest level of the liberal/Dem world, the White House recently entered the world of political press criticism. But we will never win these fights if we cant analyze things more clearlyif we cant help people understand what is wrong with the work that is done at Fox.
That said, lets say this: Opinion kills! Lets recall a time when that happened:
On February 5, 2003, Colin Powell marched grandly off to address the United Nations. These days, Maddow falls all over herself, fawning over the wonderful patriot (Lawrence Wilkerson) who assembled the secretarys presentation. (Where do we get these people?) But then, with her mad Powell-love, Maddow apes the bulk of Serious Opinion in the days after the great leader spoke. In real time, Powells presentation was strikingly weak; in the fuller bloom of history, his presentation turned out to be wrong in its most important claims. But so what? At the Washington Post, a string of fawning opinion writers took a number and stood in line, each one hoping to top the others in fealty to the great general. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/03Valentine's Day, one observes.)
Im Persuaded, said the headline on Mary McGrorys column on February 6, the day after Powell spoke. But then, Richard Cohen and William Raspberry also stampeded off to say how brilliantly Powell had proven his case about Iraqs WMD. These claims all appeared in opinion columns. Coming from famous liberal columnists, they clinched the public case for war:
In fairness, McGrory and Raspberry said they werent ready for war. (Yet, each columnist added.) But amid embarrassing fawning to Powellnot unlike Maddows fawning to Wilkersonthe Posts liberal columnists stampeded off to insist that hed proven the case about WMD.
In this way, the route to war was sealed. And yes, these faulty, fawning judgments were rendered in opinion columns.
That segment on Reliable Sources? An utter, embarrassing joke. But so too for Maddows Friday analysis, which seemed to say that Fox News would be A-OK if theyd just dump those Tea Party promos. (Where do we get these people?) Simple story: If this is the best we liberals can manage, we are doomed to many more decades of pitiful, clownish defeat.
The other side got into the business of press critique long ago, during the Kennedy/Nixon era. They have argued their claims long and diligentlysometimes with justice, quite often without. But by now, they have helped create a world in which many people assume that theyre getting the liberal line when they watch the mainstream press. In part, the other sides claims have worked quite well because theyve been framed by highly skilled peopleby professional persuaders who know what theyre doing, even when they attempt to deceive.
On our side, it works a bit differently. When we finally get into the chase, we cant even explain whats the matter with Fox! If theyd only drop those Tea Party promos, Fox would be A-OK!
Wed planned to go further with this series, but lets leave it at this:
Maddows analysis was a joke, like a great deal of her work. On Sunday, HuffPos Pitney was pitiful too. If the liberal world is prepared to accept this level of functioning, the liberal world is standing in line for decades more of what we have hadpathetic, persistent defeat. At present, the liberal world couldnt sell ice at the equator. If you doubt that, just watch our floundering in the health care debate, despite the utterly ludicrous state of American health care. (This is a failure which stretches back decades. It doesnt just fall on Obamas shoulders. And it doesnt just fall on our politicians. To a greater extent, it falls on our intellectual leaders, who are so adept at standing in line for jobs at the Washington Post.)
One difference: In the future, well be able to watch our liberal shows and laugh about Bushs motivational speecheswithout being forced to hear that Bill Clinton (and apparently Jimmy Carter) took part in these seminars too. (On our liberal opinion programs, our hosts are careful to pick and choose the things were forced to hear.) But we will lose, and lose, and lose again, if we cant frame our arguments better. Well have Big Fun as we snark to ourselves. The outside world will roll on.
When the White House hit Fox, Fox began spinning. They offered an utterly silly distinction: You cant criticize opinion programming! It must be the dumbest distinction ever hatched. And all around the liberal firmament, our reps ran out and bought it.
Crackers! Of course you can criticize opinion programming! You can do so in almost every way you criticize news reporting! You can criticize it when it presents false facts. You can criticize it when it picks-and-chooses its accurate facts. You can criticize it when it focuses on silly topics. You can criticize it when it spreads hysteria about things which really do matter. (School sex clinics in every school! Run by Planned Parenthood! With secret abortions!)
You can even criticize opinion journalism when it calls 40 percent a high-water mark! Everyone knows thisuntil Fox speaks. But alas! When Fox spoke a few weeks ago, we acted as if its silly distinction wasdare we say?on loan from God.
Fox spokeand your world recited! Its how your world studies to lose.