CULT OF DUMB: Painful to look at!


Part 1—Bogus-quoting at will: For perhaps the past twenty year, American’s political discourse has been defined by its terminal dumbness.

How bad has the cult of dumb become? Friday evening, on his New York Times blog, America’s smartest upper-end journalist attempted to quote George Will.

The upper-end journalist is Paul Krugman. For the past decade, Krugman has been the saving grace of America’s upper-end press corps. Twice a week, a person can actually read the New York Times with the expectation that he will learn something. This expectation obtains on Mondays and Fridays, when Krugman’s columns appear.

(For today’s column, click this.)

Journalist Krugman is light-years beyond the press corps’ low-IQ culture and functioning. That’s why it was painful to see him “quote” Will’s forthcoming column in the way he did.

Here’s how it all went down:

Over at Politico (we know!), a teaser “quote” from Will’s forthcoming Sunday column had appeared on Friday afternoon. Did we mention that this “quotation” appeared at Politico, a site which virtually defines the press corps’ low-IQ practices, habits and culture? And sure enough! Politico’s “quotation” from Will pretty much throbbed and pulsed with the suggestion that something about it might be wrong. On its face, the proffered “quotation” simply screamed that it might be misleading, inappropriate—bogus.

On its face, Politico’s “quotation” begged to be handled with care. But so what? The “quotation” made Columnist Will look bad. So the smartest person in the upper-end press corps posted the “quote,” then snarked about what it all meant.

This is the teaser “quote” in question—the “quotation” which was posted by our nation’s smartest journalist:
ALLEGED QUOTE FROM GEORGE WILL: Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from 'data'...Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for THIS?
That “quotation” makes it look like Will is rolling his eyes at the use of data. To see the way Columnist Krugman then snarked, go ahead: Just click here.

George Will is a horrible columnist. Mocking him felt very good; it was pleasing to pseudo-liberals. But what was the obvious warning sign in that alleged “quotation”—the “quotation” which had been pimped by one of the dumbest upper-end press corps sites in the land? Of course! A sensible person would have been scared by that dot-dot-dot—by that pulsing, throbbing ellipsis. Something of some indeterminate length had been omitted from Will’s “quotation!” And uh-oh! Once his entire column appeared in the Washington Post, we could all see what it was:
WILL (10/30/11): Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from “data” (although there is precious little to support Romney’s idea that in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants is a powerful magnet for such immigrants) and who believes elections should be about (in Dukakis’s words) “competence,” not “ideology.” But what would President Romney competently do when not pondering ethanol subsidies that he forthrightly says should stop sometime before “forever”? Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for this?
For the record, that was the end of Will’s column, He was complaining that Romney is, as his headline declares, a flip-flopping, inconsistent “pretzel candidate.”

Sad. That alleged quotation had disappeared an “although,” a “but” and an “and!” Due to these deletions, the alleged quotation misrepresented what Will had actually said. In reality, Will had actually written a column about Romney’s lack of fundamental beliefs. As he ended, he was complaining that Romney lacks “ideology,” not that he is inclined to use “data.”

Will’s basic point was of course correct. In all honesty, there was nothing untoward about the way he ended his column.

To an intelligent observer, that proffered “quotation” should have been suspect on its face. A liberal world which wasn’t in thrall to The Dumb would have been reminded of Campaign 2000, when George Bush was sent to the White House on the basis of two years’ worth of “quotations” like this—“quotations” the mainstream “press corps” ginned up to use against Candidate Gore.

But the liberal world is in thrall to the dumb—has been so for a good many years. Our side loves to call their side dumb—but our side is also sunk quite deep inside a low-IQ culture. Among a hundred other things, our side has always agreed not to discuss that dismal 2000 campaign—the campaign we lost due to bogus "quotations." We have agreed to keep ourselves dumb in this and a hundred more ways.

No, it doesn’t really “matter” that Krugman bogus-quoted Will. But Krugman is, by a factor of ten, our smartest upper-end journalist. What does it say about our political and journalistic culture when even he “quotes” people this way? When our most basic intellectual practices are so weak and uninformed? When we’re so much in thrall to the dumb?

Please note:

Some liberals will read those two passages from Will and say that they mean the same thing. Our lizard brains will instruct us to think that Will was not bogus-quoted. Our lizard brains will know this is true because Columnist Krugman is part of our tribe—and Columnist Will is not.

No way on earth was Will bogus-quoted! If your brain is reading that “quote” that way, guess what?

When it comes to the cult of dumb, you may be part of the problem.

Tomorrow: Let’s all talk about Herman’s ad!

Wednesday: Lori’s front-page “news report”


  1. The Urban Dictionary calls what Politico did "Dowdification"

    The omission of a word or a phrase in order to reframe a quote and alter its meaning.
    This is usually done to help an author portray a particular viewpoint and is very common amongst weblogs.
    The term is named after the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

  2. A lizard steps forward!

    If Bob is going to name call before the fact, then yes, he SHOULD take the time to diagram the big or little difference between the original quote and it's pared down version. What is Will doing in the extended version except expand on the point you get in the shorter version? indeed, it's the whole point of his piece.

    In his piece, Will is assailing the smarty pants, egghead ( "policy wonks" Mo Dowd dubbed Clinton/Gore) argument for leadership, implying all the way that said wise guys (like Dukakis) could never hold a candle to the no nonsense horse sense of a Roland Reagan. It's a conceit that's fallen on hard times post W, but it's pretty central to the Republican base. For David in Cal, how does the chunk removed by Polico/Krugman really alter Will's point? He's simply accusing Mitt of acting like a smarty pants, Stevenson Dem by way of changing his take on an issue.
    Come'on Howler, has calling "dumb" become as natural as calling "race" is to others? Will's egghead bashing was so unsurprising it's strange that politico and Krugman even took note of it. The Daily Howler's reaction to their reaction is just strange.

  3. I don't know...Krugman walks a thin line. If he tries to be too respectful of Will, Somerby might call him out for that. Or maybe he'll call him a "hothead" like he did Matt Taibbi.

  4. Greg, I hadn't actually taken a position on whether whether the chunk removed by Polico/Krugman really alters Will's point.

    For what it's worth, here's how it looks to me. The problem that Bob pointed out is that Politico's shortened quote made it appear that Will said Romney was opposed to using data to make decisions. As Bob pointed out, Paul Krugman was fooled into writing that modern conservatism typically ignores data. That might be the case, but it's not what Will said.

    BTW kudos to Bob Somerby for correcting Krugman, even though he generally supports him.

  5. Thank you David, I sort of get it now. I must say it's a lot of huffing and puffing over a fairly murky matter.

  6. Yes, George Will's writing is disorderly and sometimes hard to sort out, and yes, Paul Krugman should have been more skeptical about those three dots. But I believe the real wrongdoer here was Alexander Burns of POLITICO. This was a clear case of distortion by ellipsis - unless Burns really didn't realize that he was distorting anything, in which case he did not read Will's text as carefully as a journalist should.

  7. Well, try to take a quote out of the Will piece that demonstrates he was not opposed to the use of Data, but saying whatever it is he was trying to say. He leaves Burns at a lot of leeway, to say the least...

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