Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Call them lies

Like anyone, (or at least, like any twelve-year old) I sometimes get involved in fights on the internet. As the xkcd strip goes:

I'll fight back on things that I should really let go, and I'll pursue things so vigorously that I win on facts, but lose in the court of public opinion.   There are arguments from which I'll walk away, but if I do engage, I'll fight to win. (As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If you shoot at a king you must kill him.”) That's just who I am (and this trait doubtless accounts for my high blood pressure).

That's why I can't understand National Public Radio's reaction to the smear campign directed against it.

Basically, two men posing as members of a Muslim organization met a senior NPR official for lunch. They spoke for two hours and made six overtures to buy favorable coverage, and each and every time they were rebuffed in no uncertain terms.

About a month after the exchange, a heavily doctored video was released online. When I say doctored, I don't mean it was "inappropriately edited" as the tepid criticism voiced in NPR's later reports timidly suggested. I mean it was chopped up to the extent that comments early in the conversation were being presented as answers to questions that hadn't been asked yet. It's a complete and utter fabrication.

It was planned by James O'Keefe whose whole career is based around this kind of thing. You may remember him from the ACORN videos which were also "inappropriately edited" and crippled a 40-year-old organization that had worked tirelessly to get housing and healthcare for the poor. This Post from another blog has a good breakdown on the kind of things he's done.

Anyway, the video surfaces, and NPR management says "That O'Keefe boy seems like a credible source. Let's take this video at face value and fire the executive featured in it before we can get any facts about it!"

And they did. They were bending over backwards so as not to appear to be criticizing him. Coverage was positively hagiographic, for lack of a better word, "Crusading citizen journalist  James O'Keefe III bravely exposed the rot at NPR's core..."

I blogged about something similar at this this post, which covered Shirley Sharrod's firing. She was, and stop me if this sounds familiar, a left of center individual abruptly fired when doctored footage made it appear that she was saying something that she wasn't.

This is another post that highlights the almost instinctual desire to cave displayed by any liberal on the national stage. (Not that I think that NPR is especially liberal, except in the sense that reality, as they say, has a liberal bias.) Money quote from that post: Both [Wisconsin Governor] Walker and NPR’s Schiller were caught saying bad things but doing nothing wrong (though Walker arguably intimated that doing wrong was seriously contemplated). The difference is that NPR acted like they did something wrong, and Walker served the world a giant slice of fuck you marblecake.

I'm a worrier. If I get an email at work from a client questioning my research, my heart goes into overdrive, even though I know I do quality work and keep excellent documentation supporting my conclusions. Even so, though, when someone questions me, I automatically think I'm wrong and they're right. When I get those emails, I go back and look at my notes, and see what's wrong, and it's really pretty rare that I make a big mistake. In spite of all that, I still have that knee-jerk fear when I'm criticized.

But I don't let it rule me. I don't act out of my fear. I go back, I look at all the information I have, and I act on it aggressively and forthrightly. (And if I'm wrong, I admit it. It's not easy to do, but it doesn't get any easy after a week of denials.) National democrats though, fold like a card table at the whiff of criticism, simultaneously emboldening and validating their critics. It's short-sighted, it's cowardly and it's just plain stupid.  Perhaps more importantly, this apparent tacit acceptance of the charges that they should be fighting alienates their most ardent supporters.

NPR's Ira Glass says "As somebody who works in public radio, it is killing me that people on the right are going around trying to basically rebrand us, saying that it's biased news, it's left wing news, when I feel like anybody who listens to the shows knows that it's not. And we are not fighting back, we are not saying anything back. I find it completely annoying, and I don't understand it."

It reminds of a line I like on The West Wing:  "But it's not the ones we lose that bother me, Leo. It's the ones we don't suit up for!"

At least the Republicans will fight for their interests. The Left just surrenders, over and over again. I feel like Walter in the Big Lebowski: "Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."

The Left doesn't need to engage in false equivalences. It doesn't need to be nice to its attackers. What it needs to do is stand up and call these fabrications what they are. It needs to call them lies.

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