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Fringe Baiting
Posted by: Jon Henke on Friday, June 09, 2006

Following the death of Zarqawi, there's been a lot of misguided attention paid to how Democrats have reponded. I realize it's a thrill to some people to catch their opponents being insufficiently (happy/sad/outraged/etc) over some given event, but two recent articles illustrate how not to criticize one's opponents.

Most prominently, this Amy Fagan smear job in the Washington Times is entitled "Democrats call Zarqawi killing a stunt". But Fagan does not produce a single Democrat calling it a stunt. The closest she comes to it is this very partial quote from Pete Stark...
"This is just to cover Bush's [rear] so he doesn't have to answer" for Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military and his own sagging poll numbers, said Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat. "Iraq is still a mess — get out."
What is "this"? There's no context to the quote, so we don't know. Perhaps Pete Stark was referring to the publicity; perhaps he was referring to the Presidential address. We have no idea, because Amy Fagan takes it on herself to replace Starks' statement with her own, without giving us any hint as to the actual context of his remark. (i.e., what prompted the question, or what "this" referred to)

The rest of the article was worse. After accusing "Democrats" (plural) of calling Zarqawi's killing a "stunt", she drops the names of quite a lot of Democrats who don't call it a stunt. Dennis Kucinich said that Zarqawi was part of a "a growing anti-American insurgency", and that the US is "there for all the wrong reasons". Now that may or may not be true, but it's certainly not an offensive thing to say, or equivalent to calling Zarqawi's death a "stunt". Harry Reid said "This is a good day for the Iraqi people, the U.S. military and our intelligence community", which is about as far from "Democrats call Zarqawi killing a stunt" as is possible to imagine.

Then Fagan writes that "Democrats sprinkled caveats throughout their praise" and for evidence provides Kent Conrad saying "That is good news; he was a dreadful, vicious person", but adding that " he hopes the military can get Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, another top al Qaeda leader" because "They're even more important". And there's Rep. Kilpatrick, who said "I think we have a long way to go".

Those aren't caveats. They're blindingly obvious points.

If a similar article were written about Republicans — "Republicans call capture of Slobodan Milosevic a stunt", followed by various Republicans saying 'glad he's gone, but there's work to do' — there would be weeks of outrage on the Right about media bias and reporters putting words in the mouth of Republicans. Yet, when the Democrats get smeared, dozens of bloggers picked up on the smear and ran with it.

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The second story comes from WorldNetDaily, where Melanie Morgan writes that...
The American political left is so committed to seeing President Bush brought down and the war on terrorism brought to an end that they instinctively side with America's enemies.
You might think that Ms Morgan would produce quotes from prominent Democratic politicians, perhaps Democratic pundits, or maybe even some mildly well known Democratic blogs. But you'd be wrong. She doesn't even produce quotes from obscure politicians, pundits or bloggers. No, as evidence that the American political left "instinctively side[s] with America's enemies", Ms Morgan cites Democratic Underground and the comment section of Daily Kos.

These are, admittedly, among the most feverish of the fevered swamps, but Democratic Underground and blog comment sections are no more representative of the "American political left" than the comment section of LGF is representative of the "American political right". It may be amusing and/or appalling to note what commenters of various stripes are capable of saying and/or believing — and some remarkably vile and stupid people are capable of commenting on blogs — but the comment sections of partisan websites are simply not a useful sample of mainstream thought.

This is fringe-baiting. It is a hallmark of lazy punditry, and a logical fallacy, and it ought not have a place on blogs, much less in journalism.
 
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Actually Jon speaking of not putting things in context. In your first note, you should quote what was written: "Some Democrats, breaking ranks from their leadership, today said the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq was a stunt..." Although you might not like the fact that she pointed out the two names which allowed her to say "some" instead of "A" the fact is her article is still accurate. As you noted, but viewed differently from me, she also goes on to point out that "Democratic leaders reacted positively to the news and praised the troops..." but as you note she also acknowledges that almost no Democrats could leave the preceding statement alone. I think it’s called a backhanded complement when you can’t just say "nice job" and instead have to include a "but" or "if only" or some other qualifier that takes away from just saying "Thanks, good job".

BTW - writers seldom choose their own headlines - that’s done by editors looking to attract a reader with a somewhat shocking or controversial statement.

So although you might not like the fact that she captured Stark in an ugly quote - and pointed out the inability of politicians on one side of the aisle to JUST say Thanks, in balance her article is a more accurate portrayal of the truth then is your attempted disassembly of her article.
 
Written By: Bill
URL: http://
I should alsom mention that I agree with your analysis in the second case and think you used an excellent and meaningful analogy with LGF.
 
Written By: Bill
URL: http://
vile and stupid people commenting on a blog...I guess that is in the eye of the beholder.
 
Written By: kirk
URL: http://
Although you might not like the fact that she pointed out the two names which allowed her to say "some" instead of "A" the fact is her article is still accurate.
She only pointed to one person who might have suggested that it was a stunt. Unfortunately, she didn’t give us enough context to decide whether Stark called it a stunt, or Fagan called it a stunt on his behalf.

I’m not sure where you come up with the second person. (Kucinich said nothing at all like that)
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Bill writes:
So although you might not like the fact that she captured Stark in an ugly quote
What "ugly" quote? Depending on the context preceding the question, it may be very accurate and I may agree with Stark. The Bush Admin and a lot of pro-Bush bloggers are ballyhooing this death while neatly avoiding the ever-increasingly obvious fact that killing Abu Musab Zarqawi cannot resolve the sectarian tensions and vicious violence among the various Iraqi tribes that has rendered a military solution — even tho we are the best military in the world — insufficient to bring order from the chaos of the horrific, deadly violence. The few Dems who counseled the serious post-invasion problems that prohbited going into Iraq, or at least when we did so and without adequte post-invasion planning, appear to be more vindicated with each passing day; I wish I’d listened to them.

Because this is just true:
And there’s Rep. Kilpatrick, who said "I think we have a long way to go".
The public knows it, and doesn’t like it, including a whole lot of Independents (like me) and even some Republicans.

Jon’s fisking of that rancid piece is excellent.
 
Written By: Mona
URL: http://
I think Mr. Henke raises a valid point for discussion; however Ms. Fagan’s article seems to me to be well within the established bounds of journalistic political comment (see innumerable NYT hit pieces, which, it should be noted, do not similarly arouse Mr. Henke’s ire). Although Mr. Greenwald chose to be silent on the point, his stand-in, Annonymous Liberal, minimized the event on Mr. Greenwald’s blog thusly:
”That rare bit of good news (and it certainly is good news) comes just in time for people like Blankley, [the journaist AL has just finished screeding upon for right-wing punditry] who have entirely run out of coherent things to say.”
Is that not a clear example of treating the event like a “stunt” - by assigning it that same level of importance? Or, perhaps Jon will group Mr. Greenwald’s blog with the fever swamp?
All quibbles about quoting and headline hawking aside, there was a valid story to be written about the “left” reaction to this news. And about Democrat reaction. This story was not “fake, but accurate”, it was “accurate and accurate”. The NYT established the template for hit pieces like this, so it seems to me that Jon (and Mona) are just protesting the particular ox.
 
Written By: Notherbob2
URL: http://
Ms. Fagan’s article seems to me to be well within the established bounds of journalistic political comment
Her article was a news story, not commentary.
(see innumerable NYT hit pieces, which, it should be noted, do not similarly arouse Mr. Henke’s ire).
Yeah, I’ve never criticized the New York Times for poor or biased reporting or commentary.
Is that not a clear example of treating the event like a “stunt”
No. I’m sure somebody, somewhere called it a stunt, but that’s not it.
The NYT established the template for hit pieces like this, so it seems to me that Jon (and Mona) are just protesting the particular ox.
Tu quoque?

I understand that "notherbob2" is kind of a righty troll, so I won’t extrapolate his opinion out to serious people. But this is precisely the kind of attitude I despise. The Right complains long and loud about "media bias", but when the target is their enemy, suddenly it’s just "turnabout is fair play." Everybody pretends the other guy started it, and nobody actually behaves as if they object to it in principle.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
These are, admittedly, among the most feverish of the fevered swamps, but Democratic Underground and blog comment sections are no more representative of the "American political left" than the comment section of LGF is representative of the "American political right
In a word..........bullsh*t. Would you like a list of the high ranking and mainstream Democrat politicians who have blogged at Kos or spoken to the Kosites at various times?
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
In a word..........bullsh*t.
Certainly one can make a case that the fever swamps are a key part of the mainstream in the Democratic Party. I’ve tried to get into this with Jon before, when he claims that "hate speech" is more-or-less equivalent on the left and right. A classic fallacy of the mean, in my opinion. I can’t see how anyone can draw the equivalency conclusion when the "fever swamps" are nicely populated with members of the US Congress and the head of the DNC on one side, but not on the other.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Those aren’t caveats. They’re blindingly obvious points.
Then why bring them up in almost the same breath? They can’t wait at least a day to start bringing up the negatives?

 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
For that matter, mainstream politicos would have nothing to do with Kos and his ilk, would they?
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://

 
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