lying in ponds
The absurdity of partisanship
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September 2004 Archive

Thursday 30 September 2004

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PUMMELING THE DEAN: A lot of people were very unhappy with David Broder's despairing Sunday column, in which he seemed to blame (in part) the blogosphere for recent journalism scandals:

I've always liked David Broder because he is truly interested in issues and grapples with arguments from all sides without assuming that those he disagrees with are either stupid or evil. But Sunday's column was not very persuasive.

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Wednesday 29 September 2004

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A FAILURE OF CIVILITY: Some readers have taken me to task for yesterday's post, which accused the NYT editorial board of a double standard. Dan Schaeffer says:
There is a big difference between a columnist saying "if [Al Qaeda] has a preference, nothing in Mr. Bush's record would make them unhappy at the prospect of four more years" and an elected official saying that a vote for a political opponent would lead to more terrorist attacks, or that Al Qaeda wants Kerry to win (with the implied follow-up "do whatever you do, don't vote for Kerry").

Krugman's comment actually raises a good question about administration claims or fears that Al Qaeda may be planning an attack to disrupt the election: Which way would they prefer the election to go? Al Qaeda ought to be smart enough to realize that America is likely to rally around the President if there is an attack, so wouldn't plans for an attack be an "endorsement" of Bush?

Regardless of where you come down, though, the fact is that Krugman's comment was an analysis (admittedly, a partisan one) of this question -- occasioned, I should note, by the bumper stickers claiming that "Kerry is bin Laden's man." His language was also pretty mild and conditional -- "if they have a preference," etc. -- and it was clearly an opinion piece responding to those bumper stickers. By contrast, Cheney, Hastert and Hatch are using their political positions to make sweeping "factual" claims -- Hatch's perhaps the most blatant -- intended to frighten voters into voting for Bush.

I find it somewhat disheartening that you can't or won't recognize the distinction here. There's really no inconsistency in the NYT's editorial position.

And here's Martin Schultz:

I'm surprised at you (and to a far lesser degree at Donald Luskin) equating the opinion of a columnist to the repeated statements from powerful elected officials.

The NY Times editorial board certainly sees the difference.

Krugman can vent and spew in his column but that's about all he can do. Cheney, Hastert and Hatch shape policy and legislation.

That the editorial board can ignore Krugman's July column while being concerned about Cheney, Hastert and Hatch is not a sign of partisanship. The editorial board may or may not agree with Krugman's July column, but his column's position shouldn't mean the editorial board should ignore the repeated statements from our elected leaders.

There are plenty of avenues for Republicans to get out their message that America is safer with George Bush without having elected officials making such unsubstantiated statements.

When the NYT said that "It is absolutely not all right for anyone on his [President Bush's] team to suggest that Mr. Kerry is the favored candidate of the terrorists", I really thought that they were arguing that it was absolutely not all right, not that it was not all right only for elected officials. They didn't say anything about pundits, so I wonder if Mr. Schaeffer and Mr. Schultz are crediting the NYT with making a distinction that it didn't actually make.

The thing is, I agree with the NYT editorial board -- it's OK to argue that my approach to fighting terrorism is better than the other guy's, but it crosses a line to say that the terrorists prefer, or should prefer the other guy. I don't think that's a trivial distinction, and the Republicans criticized by the NYT have crossed that line, and Paul Krugman has crossed the same line. The basic failure of civility is the rhetorical attempt to find a way to emotionally tie your opponents to a despised group (terrorists, Nazis, etc.) without coming right out and accusing them of treason (we'll leave that to Ann Coulter), rather than arguing over the best way to defeat a common enemy.

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Tuesday 28 September 2004

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NYT VS. NYT: Donald Luskin already beat me to the punch on this, but I also was struck by The New York Times lead editorial on Saturday. Here's what the NYT editorial board described as "despicable politics":
When Vice President Dick Cheney declared that electing Mr. Kerry would create a danger "that we'll get hit again," his supporters attributed that appalling language to a rhetorical slip. But Mr. Cheney is still delivering that message. Meanwhile, as Dana Milbank detailed so chillingly in The Washington Post yesterday, the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, said recently on television that Al Qaeda would do better under a Kerry presidency, and Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has announced that the terrorists are going to do everything they can between now and November "to try and elect Kerry."

Perhaps they didn't read this from one of their star columnists in July:

Last week, Republican officials in Kentucky applauded bumper stickers distributed at G.O.P. offices that read, "Kerry is bin Laden's man/Bush is mine." Administration officials haven't gone that far, but when Tom Ridge offered a specifics-free warning about a terrorist attack timed to "disrupt our democratic process," many people thought he was implying that Al Qaeda wants George Bush to lose. In reality, all infidels probably look alike to the terrorists, but if they do have a preference, nothing in Mr. Bush's record would make them unhappy at the prospect of four more years.

So is the NYT wrong in saying that it was chilling for Dennis Hastert to claim that Al Qaeda would do better under a Kerry presidency, or was it despicable politics for Paul Krugman to claim that the terrorists would not be unhappy at the prospect of four more years of George Bush?

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Monday 27 September 2004

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GET ME 411: Friend of Lying in Ponds Andrew Cline of The Rhetorica Network, along with Jay Manifold at A Voyage to Arcturus, announce a new service for journalists:
Recent controversies regarding "legacy media"/"MSM" coverage of the U.S. Presidential campaign, especially the troubling memos regarding the President's experiences during the Vietnam War, have demonstrated a need for conventional media to draw on the vast, dispersed expertise of the blogosphere.

Can this Schumpeterian gale be harnessed? We believe it can. Amidst the jeering, we have formulated a constructive response -- a mechanism whereby a symbiotic relationship between blogging and traditional forms of journalism can be deliberately cultivated.

That mechanism is 411blog.net.

Reporters can use it to quickly authenticate highly technical or specialized story elements with subject-matter experts (SMEs) drawn from the best the blogosphere has to offer, including academics, business people, scientists, and lay experts of all kinds. SMEs on 411blog.net also offer reporters another important advantage: As bloggers in addition to subject experts, they are plugged in to the latest internet conversation regarding their subject areas.

Sounds like a great idea to me.

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Sunday 26 September 2004

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Saturday 25 September 2004

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Friday 24 September 2004

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REDUCTIONIST ART: I was baffled by this from Daniel Henninger's column this morning:
What is most important to understanding the rise and apparent success of these alternatives is that there is clearly a hunger and market for what they offer. A big market that will only grow when PC screens truly function as televisions. The definition of "media" seems to expand every six months. How long can it be before viable information networks form around images and data sent from the little one-pixel cameras on cellphones?

One pixel? Wouldn't that be kind of limited? I'm not sure if Mr. Henninger was joking or if he meant one megapixel.

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Thursday 23 September 2004

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DRUM ON SCHEER: Robert Scheer, our third most partisan pundit, comes in for criticism from Kevin Drum (link via Andrew Sullivan) over his most recent column:
That's why I don't like Scheer. He's a smart guy and a talented writer, but he's too self-indulgent to modulate his tone based on his audience. He's got valuable op-ed real estate at his disposal, and the purpose of valuable op-ed real estate is to persuade doubters, not drive them into the hands of your enemies by confirming their worst fears about your own side.

Until he figures that out, he needs to be confined to writing flyers for anti-globo rallies and polemics for CounterPunch. In the meantime, I don't feel like losing any elections because of him.

Commenters on Mr. Drum's site are mostly displeased by the criticism. Here at Lying in Ponds, our objection to Mr. Scheer are based on his high level of partisanship and his lengthy record of deception.

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Wednesday 22 September 2004

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TURNING THE DIAL TO 11: Incredibly, last year's partisanship champion Ann Coulter has been almost twice as negative toward Democrats this year. Her Democratic references last year were 32 negative to 1 positive, but this year the ratio is up to 60 to 1. Ms. Coulter's last six colums? -- 141 negative to zero positive Democratic references. The only plus for me is that those kind of columns are so quick and easy to evaluate.

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Tuesday 21 September 2004

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IDEOLOGICAL PURITY REQUIRED: Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler began a piece last week by offering specific criticism of a Richard Cohen column on "anti-Bush alarmists", but he finished by questioning Mr. Cohen's credentials as a liberal columnist:
Today, Richard Cohen is very upset. But murder lists and fake murder probes failed to make his blood boil then. Neither did the phony facts in the phony probes of that phony Whitewater scandal. "Clinton is not a truthful man?" What about the truth-loathing men who kept producing those fake murder probes? The puzzling drift of American political life can be found in the contrast between Cohen's columns -- between the column that rails against toothless "Bush-hatred" and the columns which winked at real Clinton-hatred and said it must be Clinton's fault.

Oh yes, we forgot to tell you -- Cohen is a "liberal" columnist. He's driven by the liberal bias being scalded all over the land.

I guess the idea is that a pundit isn't allowed to write a dissenting column and still be considered a liberal columnist. Lying in Ponds statistics from 2002, 2003 and 2004 show that Richard Cohen has a clear record as a Democratic-leaning pundit who occasionally goes the other way (in 2003 his initial support of the Iraq war lowered his Democratic partisanship score significantly). This year Mr. Cohen has 149 positive and 93 negative references to Democrats, but 482 negative and only 84 positive references to Republicans. Immediately before the column criticized by Mr. Somerby, Cohen wrote one praising Ted Kennedy's accusation of "arrogant ideological incompetence" against the Bush administration. The column before that compared Dick Cheney to Joe McCarthy. Today's column praises John Kerry and criticizes the president over Iraq.

Is absolute ideological purity required? When all the evidence is considered, Richard Cohen has a solid record as a left-leaning columnist. But for a pundit with an independent streak like Mr. Cohen, it's easy to build a contrary case with only anecdotal evidence.

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Monday 20 September 2004

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Sunday 19 September 2004

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Saturday 18 September 2004

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Friday 17 September 2004

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ESMAY ON THE CIVILITY SCALE: Dean Esmay of Dean's World offers some constructive criticism of my attempt at a civility scale. He suggests that he would reverse the numerical order of the five categories, so that 1 would be the most civil and 5 would be the least. I like the metaphor of an Ann Coulter column being a Category 5 hurricane of incivility, but then wouldn't I have to call it an incivility scale? Second, he proposes that there should be both left and right examples of the top and bottom of the scale. I agree with that, except that the examples he mentions are either not columnists (O'Donnell, Moore, Zuniga, Savage) or not on the Lying in Ponds roster (Kondracke, Barone). Of the 33 pundits on the active roster, I don't believe that any of the Republican pundits are as civil as David Broder, or that any of the Democratic columnists are as uncivil as Ann Coulter. Maybe my selection of pundits could be better. Finally, Mr. Esmay wishes for a very unpleasant fate for those at the bottom of the scale and asks if it is uncivil to say so. Yes, I'm afraid I'd have to assign a score of 1 (or 5!) for that.

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Thursday 16 September 2004

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WHICH KIND OF JOURNALISM? Two recent pieces linked by Romenesko discuss the question of whether American journalism should stick with the dominant objective model or move toward the British partisan, or adversarial model. Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone at NPR's On the Media talk with Michael Kinsley and others on the subject. Mr. Gladstone argues for doing a better job with the objective model:
Although the truth can be elusive, you can often find it in the facts. But while the big stories dominate the front pages of our great newspapers, when it comes to politics, the unpalatable facts are frequently buried deep inside. This year, the cloistered monks at both the Washington Post and the New York Times issued mea culpas for sidelining the truth. Perhaps the problem is not with the principle of objectivity, but with the form. Print who's lying right after the lie, right there on the front page. Tell us the facts, before the jump, and we don't need to know who you're voting for.

Alan Murray at The Wall Street Journal also bemoans the "new era of partisan journalism".

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Wednesday 15 September 2004

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SPINSANITY ON COHEN: Ben Fritz at Spinsanity discusses the controversy over whether a recent statement by Dick Cheney suggested that the election of John Kerry would increase the danger of a terrorist attack. Mr. Fritz concludes that the statement was ambiguous, and that pundits are free to criticize Mr. Cheney as long as they quote his statement fairly. In addition to Ellen Goodman and Michael Tomasky, Mr. Fritz accuses Richard Cohen of truncating the quote in a column last week:
A number of liberal pundits attacked the Vice President without providing his full statement or noting the contradictory interpretation, even after the revised version was released. In a September 9 piece, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen quoted Cheney as saying, "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States." Because he included a comma after "hit again," it's clear he was quoting from the revised transcript. Nevertheless, the columnist omitted Cheney's full quote that would, for some readers, alter the meaning of the section he quotes. This makes it much simpler for Cohen to back up his claim that Cheney, "elevated the election to a choice not between two men or two parties, but between life and death."

Coincidentally, Robert Scheer's column yesterday does the same thing, adding to his already lengthy record of manipulation. Mr. Scheer separates a fragment of the latter part of Mr. Cheney's statement to the very end of the column, divorcing it from the full context.

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Tuesday 14 September 2004

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THINKING ABOUT CIVILITY: The site summary says that Lying in Ponds attempts to measure only partisanship. But I've often pointed out that the pundits differ in other important ways -- one of them is civility. If I were to try to quantify civility, I would start with something like this:

The Broder-Coulter Civility Scale
Category 5: I believe that my political opponents are wrong.
Category 4: My political opponents are wrong.
Category 3: My political opponents are stupid, or perhaps dishonest.
Category 2: My political opponents are evil, or perhaps insane.
Category 1: My political opponents should be dead, or at least in prison.


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Monday 13 September 2004

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Sunday 12 September 2004

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Saturday 11 September 2004

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Friday 10 September 2004

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TO PREDICT OR NOT: In a gushingly positive book tour profile by Heidi Benson in the San Francisco Chronicle, Maureen Dowd, asked to assess President Bush's election chances, says "I never make predictions." Brendan Miniter chooses the other direction, going way out on a limb to explicitly predict that "Mr. Kerry will be lucky to top the 45.7% of the popular vote Michael Dukakis got in 1988."

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Thursday 9 September 2004

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DOWD REPEATS EXTRA-CHROMOSOME COMMENT: Robert Cox at The National Debate criticized Maureen Dowd last month for using the term "extra-chromosome conservatives" in a TV appearance, attributing it to the late Lee Atwater. Ms. Dowd repeated the comment in her Sunday column.

I'm confused -- why would Maureen Dowd revive the appalling practice of using extra-chromosome as a political attack? Ms. Dowd seems to be citing Mr. Atwater's use of the term approvingly, despite the fact that two different vice presidents (George H.W. Bush and Al Gore) have apologized to the Down Syndrome community for using it, as documented by Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler. Strangely, the reason for Mr. Somerby's research in 2001 was yet another Maureen Dowd reference to the same thing in a column back then. So why is Ms. Dowd so enamored of the term; is she unaware of the Bush and Gore incidents in 1987 and 1994? Mr. Somerby says that George Bush's gaffe was not widely reported, but even I remember Al Gore's apology in 1994.

UPDATE: Robert Cox says he will pursue the issue with The New York Times and the National Down Syndrome Society.

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Wednesday 8 September 2004

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Tuesday 7 September 2004

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KERRY THAT WEIGHT: Which pundits are carrying water for John Kerry? Which pundits are trying to sink him? A couple of months ago I calculated a Kerry Index to answer that question; now it's being calculated and posted each day, with the extremes shown in the "Other Statistics" section, immediately underneath the Top Ten list on the right side of the main page. Paul Krugman, Joe Conason and Harold Meyerson lead the Kerry team, while Thomas Sowell, Ann Coulter and Cal Thomas are the top Kerry-bashers.

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Monday 6 September 2004

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Sunday 5 September 2004

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Saturday 4 September 2004

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Friday 3 September 2004

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Thursday 2 September 2004

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KRUGMAN AND A "MEGA-WATERGATE": Byron York at the National Review Online writes about comments made by Paul Krugman this week about "the coalition between the malefactors of great wealth and the religious right":
"It's a movement that has been building," Krugman told the audience. "The one thing I think that you really have to say is that people on the left -- the position formerly known as the center -- people like myself have been asleep for a long time. We just didn't take it seriously. We sat through all the Clinton scandals and said oh, you know, there's probably some funny stuff going on there [and] didn't understand the extent to which this movement was being built."

Now, Krugman said, getting rid of George W. Bush is "necessary but not sufficient" to repair the damage done by the right. "The answer, I think, my great hope now, is that we need an enormous unearthing of the scandals that we know have taken place," Krugman said. "We need a mega-Watergate that rocks them back."



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Wednesday 1 September 2004

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IDEOLOGY AT THE NYT: Riccardo Puglisi's study of The New York Times, which I cited yesterday, found that the newpaper has tended to give more emphasis to issues "owned" by Democrats during presidential campaigns only when the incumbent is a Republican. Mr. Puglisi's study doesn't overlap my work here, because it covers news stories up to 1994, while I've evaluated only a subset of opinion columns since 2000. However, my evaluation of this year's lead editorials is consistent with his findings, that the NYT leans Democratic. The lead editorials currently have a relatively high partisanship score of 39 in the Democratic direction.

But as I said last week, a major goal of Lying in Ponds is to try to draw an important distinction between the perfectly legitimate preference for one party caused by strong ideological belief, and an excessive partisanship arising from "blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance". While columnist Paul Krugman is certainly an extreme partisan, I would argue that the behavior of the Op-Ed page as a whole is that of a liberal newspaper with significant but not excessive Democratic partisanship arising from legitimate ideological belief. Demonstrating evidence of a lack of partisan motives, the NYT has written several lead editorials this year strongly critical of Democrats on ideological grounds -- "gasoline hysteria", full disclosure and immigration reform. So I suspect that the NYT's emphasis on Democratic issues found by Mr. Puglisi can be better explained by ideology than by partisanship.

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