Breaking: Journalist contradicts Princeton professor!

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2012

Was Candidate Romney the most dishonest ever: Last week, we discussed a rather strange op-ed column by Princeton professor Kevin Kruse. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/6/12.

In our view, Kruse made some rather strange claims about our post-war elections. At the end of his piece, he voiced this judgment about Candidate Romney:
KRUSE (11/6/12): PolitiFact has chronicled 19 “pants on fire” lies by Mr. Romney and 7 by Mr. Obama since 2007, but Mr. Romney’s whoppers have been qualitatively far worse: the “apology tour,” the “government takeover of health care,” the “$4,000 tax hike on middle class families,” the gutting of welfare-to-work rules, the shipment by Chrysler of jobs from Ohio to China. Said one of his pollsters, Neil Newhouse, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

To be sure, the Obama campaign has certainly had its own share of dissembling and distortion, including about Mr. Romney’s positions on abortion and foreign aid. But nothing in it—or in past campaigns, for that matter—has equaled the efforts of the Romney campaign in this realm. Its fundamental disdain for facts is something wholly new.

The voters, of course, may well recoil against these cynical manipulations at the polls. But win or lose, the Romney campaign has placed a big and historic bet on the proposition that facts can be ignored, more or less, with impunity.
As it turned out. Romney lost. But in Kruse's view, Romney made history:

Basing his claim on nineteen findings by a very weak news org, Kruse said that Romney’s “fundamental disdain for facts is something wholly new.”

That struck us as a bit overwrought, for reasons we’ll lay out tomorrow. But before we could return to this column, up jumped journalist Michael Moynihan at the Daily Beast.

Moynihan seemed to dismiss Kruse’s claim as “utter nonsense.” He focused on a claim by Paul Krugman, but he had already mentioned the column by Kruse:
MOYNIHAN (11/8/12): [D]espite convincing arguments that both candidates were cutting corners with facts, it was the charge against Romney that stuck. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman went so far as to insist that Republicans had dragged us into an epoch of “post-truth politics.”

This is, I’m happy to say, utter nonsense. This perhaps felt like an unprecedentedly dishonest campaign, with the inexorable rise of the fact-checking industry and Jon Stewart upbraiding liars and hypocrites on Comedy Central. But as Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith observed after the post-convention Ryan pile-on, partisans claiming we had reached a historical nadir in political discourse had established something of a “bogus political narrative.”

[...]

Because many pundits saw a second Obama term as a particularly high-stakes moment in American political history, the parallel perception has emerged that ours is a particularly dark time for political “truth.” It isn’t. Throughout history, presidential campaigns have been consistently dishonest.
Was Romney the most dishonest ever? Moynihan said he wasn't.

We’re not sure how to measure such things. Having said that, we were struck by two of Moynihan’s statements:

We were struck by the way he blamed the voters for the fact that pols misstate and lie. Beyond that, we were massively struck by this highlighted statement:
MOYNIHAN: Why do we possess a unique tolerance for political lies? For a researcher or journalist, a reliance on bowdlerized quotes, cherry-picked data, and demonstrable falsehoods—like Mitt Romney’s campaign ad claiming Jeep was moving all its production facilities to China—would result in the loss not only of an individual job, but of an entire vocation. Despite the divisions of combat-ready fact-checkers, opposition researchers, and social-media partisans, candidates nevertheless fear no consequences of lying.
Good lord! Do American journalists lose their careers if they screw around with quotes or cherry-pick data? Much of our mainstream journalism in the past twenty years has been based upon such conduct!

Journalists say the darnedest things when they discuss their own profession. Tomorrow, though, we’ll return to the column by Kruse.

Kruse is a history professor at Princeton. Tomorrow, we’ll marvel at his list of Greatest Lies and Misstatements of the Past Sixty Years.

3 comments:

  1. "We were struck by the way he blamed the voters" must be a reference to this, which you didn't quote:

    "ideologically committed voters almost encourage dishonesty"

    and

    "Americans throw open their arms, embracing their own party’s political deceptions as the best route towards toward policies they think will benefit them"

    Saying this "blames" the voters is I think a little strong. But in what it actually says, is it wrong?

    Meanwhile, yes, the pretense that *journalists* could never get away with "bowdlerized quotes, cherry-picked data, and demonstrable falsehoods" is hilariously false and self serving.

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  2. "Saying this "blames" the voters is I think a little strong. But in what it actually says, is it wrong? "

    if you've been reading Somerby for any significant time you would know that "right" and "wrong" can't begin to describe the work of a great deal of journalism.

    Take, for instance, the first sentence: "ideologically committed voters almost encourage dishonesty." The first thing you should note is that it's not actually a statements, it's a hedge, and therefore its truth value cannot be determined (this is all too common in pseudo-journalism). Saying that ideologically committed voters almost encourage dishonesty implies that they do, but the "almost" implies hey, maybe they don't.

    Note, also, that this statement comes with no quantitative analysis. To what extent are American voters ideologues? Is being registered to a party by itself proof of ideological commitment? Without quantitative analysis the truth value of the statement becomes irrelevant: even if the statement were true, how would it apply to modern american electoral politics?

    The second statement is equally murky: "Americans throw open their arms, embracing their own party’s political deceptions as the best route towards toward policies they think will benefit them." Note how the sentence is carefully crafted to avoid the obvious question, do the voters KNOW that they are being deceived? Does "embracing a deception" mean that the voters embrace something they KNOW they know to be false or they embrace a falsehood because they are too naive to question their party?

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