Friday, December 19, 2014

Today In "Both Sides Do It": People Who Live in Stephen Glass Houses

When I saw an article entitled "Liberalism, Conservatism, Skepticism" for a fleeting moment I thought perhaps it would be a confessional covering three of the things about which Andrew Sullivan knows shit-all.

But I was wrong.

Instead, this:
Liberalism, Conservatism, Skepticism

Thanks to the Washington Post, Tom Maguire and Hanna Rosin, we have a glimpse of what might have actually happened to UVA’s “Jackie”:

A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are advocates at U-Va. for sex-assault awareness, said they believe that something traumatic happened to her, but they also have come to doubt her account. A student who came to Jackie’s aid the night of the alleged attack said in an interview late Friday night that she did not appear physically injured at the time but was visibly shaken and told him and two other friends that she had been at a fraternity party and had been forced to have oral sex with a group of men. They offered to get her help and she said she just wanted to return to her dorm, said the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

That’s a horrific story, if it pans out. The failure of the school to investigate more assiduously remains salient. The climate for young women on a campus where many readily believed the gang-rape-broken-glass-“grab it by its leg” version does not cease to be a pressing issue. The truth could be damning enough.

So why did an inflammatory, lurid, and apparently fallacious story get into print – with only one source and no corroboration – breaking most basic journalistic rules in a serious publication? Rich Bradley is surely right: it was a too-good-to-check story that echoed what many truly wanted to hear.
So far, so good.

But then comes the inevitable razor in the apple (emphasis added):
...Questioning it was like questioning whether Saddam Hussein actually did have WMDs – it seems as if you are excusing an evil figure, or being terminally na├»ve, or minimizing the danger. We believe what we want to believe – and, in our public debates, we also keep searching for the perfect anecdote or fact or story to refute our opponents for good and all.

Both sides do this. Republicans couldn’t accept the already-damning and uncontested facts about Benghazi – that the danger to the consulate was under-estimated, security was lax, and people died as a consequence. They had to make the story fit a bigger narrative – of treachery and betrayal at the highest levels, a story that could dispatch Obama and Clinton in one news cycle swoop. And so they have made an ass of themselves as much as Rolling Stone has....
This was followed by a seven-course, self-congratulatory feast of junk commentary and back door brag --

-- about something something The New Republic and how awesome it is that the World's Greatest Blogger is continuing the Noble Tradecraft he learned at the feet of the masters:
This is why liberalism matters as much as progressivism, which is on my mind a little as the demise of TNR has sunk in. For many, TNR’s legacy of airing internal dissent, its controversial questioning of progressive shibboleths, its inclusion of some conservatives in its ranks, its constant sallies against liberals as well as conservatives, and its airing of taboo subjects, make it a risibly racist/sexist/homophobic/classist institution that deserves to die. I dissent. What it long represented was the spirit of liberalism in the American tradition – a spirit of fearless inquiry, serious argument, and a concern for the truth. That TNR failed in some of these attempts does not damn it. Not to try to confront feelings with reason, or ideology with fact is a far worse inclination. ...

We try to do that every day here at the Dish – because, in part, I was trained and influenced and formed by some of the best minds in this great liberal tradition in American letters, and because I have tried to learn from my own errors. It isn’t easy and it isn’t fool-proof. But that tradition must not die; or, sooner rather than later, our democracy will.
For which Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates provided a crisp, palate cleansing anti-acid gargle here:
I have never quite been able to judge the effect of literature or journalism on policy, but I know that in my field, if you had dreams of having a career, you had to contend with TNR. My first editor at The Atlantic came from TNR, as did the editor of the entire magazine. More than any other writer, TNR alum Andrew Sullivan taught me how to think publicly. More than any other opinion writer, Hendrik Hertzberg taught me how to write with "thickness," as I once heard him say...

During the culture wars of the '80s and '90s, TNR regarded black people with an attitude ranging from removed disregard to blatant bigotry. When people discuss TNR's racism, Andrew Sullivan's publication of excerpts from Charles Murray's book The Bell Curve (and a series of dissents) gets the most attention. But this fuels the lie that one infamous issue stands apart. In fact, the Bell Curve episode is remarkable for how well it fits with the rest of TNR's history.

... The personal attitude of TNR's longtime owner, the bigoted Martin Peretz, should be mentioned here. Peretz's dossier of racist hits (mostly at the expense of blacks and Arabs) is shameful, and one does not have to look hard to find evidence of it in Peretz's writing or in the sensibility of the magazine during his ownership. In 1984, long before Sullivan was tapped to helm TNR, Charles Murray was dubbing affirmative action a form of "new racism" that targeted white people.

...And when I think of TNR's history, when I flip through Insurrections, when I examine the magazine's archives, I am not so much angry as I am sad. There really was so much fine writing in its pages. But all my life I have had to take lessons from people who, in some profound way, cannot see me. TNR billed itself as the magazine for iconoclasts. But its iconoclasm ended exactly where everyone else's does—at 110th Street. Worse, TNR encouraged incuriosity about what lay beyond the barrier. It told its readers that my world was welfare cheats, affirmative-action babies, and Jesse Jackson. And that white people—or any people—would be urged to such ignorance by their Harvard-bred intellectual leadership is deeply sad.
Let that sink in for a minute, and then lets circle back to this business of UVA being sorta kinda exactly like Benghaaazi and how is it the solemn doody of our Thought Leaders like Mr. Sullivan to pound the their Mighty Thought Leader Hammer of Skepticism on Important Things...and to be especially skeptical of those things which they want to believe more than anything else:
I think the lesson is to be more skeptical of things you want to believe than of almost anything else.

So what if what you want to believe more than anything else is the lie that Both Sides Do It?

Should you be whanging away at that shibboleth with your Mighty Thought Leader Hammer of Skepticism harder than ever?

Because, as bad as the Rolling Stone fuck-up was, and as terrible as it is that it has given a shot of adrenaline to the degenerate Right, the I was not aware that the UVA case had been the subject of ... what is it now? ... Six?  Seven?  Eight separate congressional witch hunts?  In which witnesses were put under oath?  Testimony taken?  Much of it live on teevee?

I was did not know that an entire network and an entire political party had given itself wholly over to  the UVA case and had planned on running it wall-to-wall as a political battering ram for over a year?

And perhaps someone could point out to me something on the Left that is in any way comparable to CBS's vertically integrated corporate pimping of Benghaaaazi?

The only lesson here is that homemade, Both Sides rotgut is potent stuff, but it tends to fuck up your memory.

And the hangover is pure hell.


Mike Lumish said...

The funny thing is that "the lesson is to be more skeptical of things you want to believe than of almost anything else" really is true. As a scientist, elevation of documented evidence over cherished belief is the core discipline that I drum into my students from day one until they carry the flaming brazier and are kicked out into the snow as freshly minted PhDs.

The hard part is that this practice requires discipline and determination and self criticism and all those other classical virtues that Mr Sullivan has so conspicuously failed to display as he schemed his way up the ladder. Hypocrites abound, dirty deeds underlie many a fortune, but when every single thing you have done is out there in black and white for all the world to see then you can scarcely conceal your lies.

So why lie about them? Because you know your core audience does not want to see them, and willfully will refuse to see them.

Yastreblyansky said...

"So what if what you want to believe more than anything else is the lie that Both Sides Do It?"

Nicely played.