Part 2—Tribal complaints about Kristof: The conservative world has been spreading The Crazy for lo, these past forty years.

Before Obama was born in Kenya, Clinton committed a whole raft of murders. And friend, is the government shut down this week?

The same thing happened back then!

That said, is it possible that the liberal world has started to traffic in The Crazy to some extent? Before we look at Joan Walsh’s two screeds about Those Racists Over There, let’s consider what happened to Nicholas Kristof last week.

This morning, Kristof got it right, with a sharp column about the shutdown. But last week?

Last week, if we might borrow from Rodney, he got no respect at all!

Last week, Kristof wrote a column which bore this headline: “Suffocating Echo Chamber.” As he started, he mocked Ted Cruz for his recent ridiculous conduct. He then described the conservative world of the past twenty years:
KRISTOF (9/26/13): In the 1990s, as conservative talk radio spread across America, liberals felt victimized. But, in retrospect, the rise of talk radio, Fox News Channel and right-wing Web sites may have done greatest harm to conservatives themselves.

The right-wing echo chamber breeds extremism, intimidates Republican moderates and misleads people into thinking that their worldview is broadly shared.

That’s the information bubble that tugs the entire Republican Party to the right and that transforms people like Cruz into crusading Don Quixotes. And that’s why Republicans may lead us over a financial cliff, even though polling suggests that voters would blame them.
On and on the columnist went, tracking the craziness which has been bred by The Crazy Machine on the right. Briefly, though, Kristof took a break from these labors.

Briefly, Kristof made the highlighted remarks. Please note how quickly he returned to listing the larger sins of those on the right:
KRISTOF: Of course, the left has long had its own version of this problem as well. After Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide re-election, Pauline Kael of The New Yorker famously said she was mystified because she knew only one person who had voted for Nixon. MSNBC and The Huffington Post have become cocoons for liberals, just as Fox News is for conservatives.

Both Fox News and MSNBC rely more on punditry than on reporting from the field, and I remember once early in the Iraq war when I was with American troops watching on Fox News Channel as blowhards in the studio claimed that Iraqis were welcoming us with flowers. We watched, stunned, wondering what war the network was covering.

Research suggests that the echo chamber effect is disproportionately a problem on the right, leading inhabitants to perceive a warped reality. Many Republicans were shocked that Mitt Romney was defeated last fall because they had been assured that he would win. And a Pew survey last year found that the proportion of conservative Republicans who believe Obama is a Muslim has doubled since 2008 to 34 percent.

Then there was the time Glenn Beck aired the theory that Obama is the anti-Christ (he later said he had been joking)...
From there to the end of the column, Kristof continued to bash the right. He ended with an unflattering comparison:

“I often cover dysfunctional, strife-ridden countries, from Congo to Syria, Sudan to Afghanistan. This fall, alas, it looks as if I won’t have to travel so far.”

Without any question, it was the conduct of the right which had Kristof thinking of those dysfunctional, war-torn countries. Within the passage we’ve quoted above, Kristof explicitly said that “the echo chamber effect” is disproportionately an effect of the right.

Ninety-five percent of Kristof’s column concerned the craziness spread by the right. But very briefly, he had said that the left can have “cocoons” too.

As a result, this was the fourth comment to Kristof’s column. Unkindly, we found ourselves wondering if the commenter knew what “equivalence” is:
COMMENTER FROM ROCHESTER, NEW YORK: You draw a parallel between the punditry of Fox and MSNBC, but cite not one transgression on the part of MSNBC.


This article described a real problem in the American media-political landscape but, like too many of your pundit colleagues, you had to spoil it with gratuitous false equivalence, blaming both sides equally for the excesses of one. That's not being even-handed, it's being misleading.
Might we offer our interpretation? Kristof didn’t cite any transgressions from MSNBC because he was writing a column about the craziness on the right. Because he wasn’t saying that The One Liberal Channel is Just The Same as Fox.

That wasn’t this reader’s assessment! In his view, Kristof had “blamed both sides equally” in his column. He had engaged in “gratuitous false equivalence.”

Nor was this the only commenter to notice the false “equivalence.” This was the very last of the day's 499 comments:
COMMENTER FROM ARIZONA: Good piece, except where Mr. Kristof throws in the obligatory both-sides-do-it trope. MSNBC and Fox are not equivalent and their viewers do not inhabit equivalent cocoons. For one thing, MSNBC airs a conservative daily talk show, Morning Joe. There are no liberal shows on Fox. For another, MSNBC's left-leaning shows are fully grounded in empirical analysis, the antithesis, say, of Rush Limbaugh proclaiming that if the government encourages getting vaccinated it is ipso facto a bad thing.

This both-sides-do-it false equivalency is obligatory in punditry circles, and if I as a reader have one general criticism of Mr. Kristof's writing it his tendency to succumb to it far too often.
By devoting five percent of his space to the left, Nicholas Kristof had committed the sin of “false equivalency!”

Personally, we wouldn’t have written that part of the column the way Kristof did. Personally, we would have been a bit harder on the right in the bulk of the column. But we also would have mentioned the left, though we wouldn’t have mentioned Kael.

If anything, we would have been a bit harder on the contemporary left than Kristof was.

Reactions to Kristof’s column were intriguing. Although he had plainly trashed the right, quite a few readers said he’d engaged in “equivalence.”

A commenter from Pebble Beach complained: “Even the NY Times continues to fall into the false equivalence trap.”

A reader in Florida said the same thing: “Ah, the old false equivalency tactic yet again...Shame on you, Kristof, for employing the false equivalency tactic which only serves to provide cover for the bold-faced lies and Frank Luntz sound bites conveyed 24/7 on Fox.”

From many other states, the complaint about the false equivalence rolled in:
COMMENTER FROM MAINE: It's sad, Mr. Kristof, that you write about the right-wing bubble and then demonstrate that one of its most pernicious effects, the demand that the media find false equivalency between liberal views and reactionary lies, has infected you as well.

COMMENTER FROM PENNSYLVANIA: Ah yes, the comfort of false equivalence: "MSNBC and The Huffington Post have become cocoons for liberals, just as Fox News is for conservatives." Not at all, Mr. Kristof.

COMMENTER FROM NEW YORK: Part of the problem is the false equivalency that Mr. Kristof, like all journalists, are apparently required to endorse.
We won’t record all the comments complaining about the “equivalence” in Kristof’s GOP-trashing column. We will record this additional comment, just the second comment in a very long list:
COMMENTER FROM JARAMA VALLEY: Please cite at least one case of MSNBC deliberately lying about anything (and the editing of the George Zimmerman tape should not count).

Fox lies and distorts daily. I would not call MSNBC a cocoon for the left. Compared to Fox and CNN, MSNBC is Cyclops in the land of the blind.
This commenter seemed to feel fairly sure that his channel had never “lied” about anything. He specifically cited the Zimmerman case, where MSNBC recited a boatload of false factual claims for well over a year.

(When you live inside an echo chamber, you feel sure that the other side has lied—and that Your Own Perfect Side has not. The chances are you'll never hear about the gross misstatements which have been shouted into your ear.)

The comments to the Kristof piece constitute an interesting study in tribal perception. Personally, we wouldn’t have written that brief note about the left in the way Kristof did. But many readers were offended by the brief heretical moment, by the false “equivalence.” Many others seemed eager to say that the channel they watch, MSNBC, never engages in the conduct Kristof was citing.

Here’s a bit more from the reader in Florida. In this passage, the reader recites promotional messaging from that channel, as several others did:
COMMENTER FROM FLORIDA: The primary difference between MSNBC/Huff Post and Fox News is that the former are conveying FACT-DRIVEN news and opinion and Fox is NOT.

When an error is made at MSNBC there is a retraction, apology and correction. This NEVER occurs at Fox, where Beck famously said that Obama is a racist and has a "problem with white people". Based on what evidence? NOTHING! Retraction? Apology and correction?? NEVER....and this kind of "pull anything out of your derriere " approach is daily fare at Fox, the home of "death panels,” "Obama is a Muslim/non-citizen", Benghazi, IRS "scandal" rubbish and its ilk.

What's more, studies have demonstrated that Fox viewers are decidedly less informed about the world than any other group. Enough said.
“When an error is made at MSNBC there is a retraction, apology and correction.” For years, this has been standard, self-promotional messaging from Rachel Maddow. The messaging is plainly false, but liberal viewers recite it for Maddow in threads all over the web.

Meanwhile, the reader cited studies of Fox viewers, studies we think are a little bit shaky. (It all depends on what topics you choose to study.) Almost surely, these are the very same studies Kristof specifically cited, using the tricky word “research.”

Long story short:

The conservative world has been spreading The Crazy for lo, these past forty years. It’s amazing to see how many crazy things you can get people to believe when you devote yourself to such conduct.

(No, Virginia! Obama wasn’t born in Kenya! Bill Clinton didn’t murder all those people, the way Jerry Falwell said.)

The conservative world has been spreading The Crazy for lo, these many years. This has created a world of true belief, a “suffocating” world Kristof attacked all through this column.

That said, pleased be warned:

Being human, we liberals are capable of getting ourselves inside echo chambers too! Many commenters showed the warning signs as they reacted to Kristof’s “equivalence,” in which he was “blaming both sides equally”—as they insisted that their own favorite channel always corrects its mistakes, if it has ever made any, which they weren’t sure it had.

For our money, Joan Walsh has been spreading a bit of The Crazy in her recent screeds about race. Tomorrow, we’ll tell you why we say that.

We’ll start with her ability to discern when people, whom she doesn’t name, can’t get miscegenation out of their heads. She said that Tuesday, in her first screed. For yesterday's sequel, click this.

That was a crazy thing to say. Commenters thanked her for saying it.


  1. Is Jerry Fallwell still dead?
    Or is that a "false" equivalency?


  2. A fair assessment of MSNBC and Salon but the Pauline Kael Nixon statement is taken out of context, as it often has been. She was acknowledging that she lived in a somewhat rarefied milieu. She was pointing out that she knew her own perspective had limits. This is really the opposite of what Kristof is criticizing. Kael knew she had to look beyond her friends and fellow writers to understand the range of American life.

    James Wolcott has a blog post which explains this:


    1. Thanks for the clarification. I believe you, or someone, with a similiar recollection of the correct interpretation of Kael's meaning, posted this exact same message the last time Somerby reprinted this scurrilous charge from Kristof. It reminds me of those who took Al Gore's statement "I took the initiative to create the internet" and boiled it down to "I invented the internet." They, of course, changed "create" to "invent" and deliberately ingnore that he said he did it in Congress which meant of course he should only get credit where credit was due.

      Somerby, in this post unlike the last, distanced himself
      from Kristof showing your Howler Commentariat gets results! Comparing a "rarefied milieu" to a "cocoon"
      is truly logically falacious.

      BTW, humorous aside, I only knew one person who voted for Nixon too. Who would have guessed he would turn out to be more liberal than Obama, who is just like Bush.


  3. A lot of liberals say the same things. Therefore, it is tribal behavior. Whether it is accurate or not is irrelevant. It's very important for liberals not to be tribal (for reasons unclear). Therefore, they should not say the same things, whether they are accurate or not.

    Impeccable logic.

    1. Ditto.

      Urban Legend Jr.

    2. Lol. You said that when bullshit is spread by liberals en masse, it is irrelevant. Really?

  4. Listening to a news station that tells you what you want to hear instead of what is true is a bad idea, no matter what one's political ideology. Is that so hard to understand?

    1. Is comparing FOX to MSNBC a false equivalence?

      Is comparing FOX & MSNBC to a news station simply false?

  5. To Bob and followers.

    I do a LOT of research on the web about absurd or unbelievable comments made by politicians and pundits.
    There is no equivalency between liberals and conservatives.

    If I Google an outrageous right wing-nut claim, I find hundreds of blogs repeating it. Sometimes verbatim.

    This is not the case with liberals. Not only do very few left wing sources spread lies, even fewer challenge the right wing misinformation and lies.

    To get extreme left wing positions, I need to google "progressives", or "socialists", (or Palestine.)

    The ratio for talk radio shows and political think-tanks are similarly skewed. Even Bob has told us this.

    Finally, the barrage of outright lies and hate-mongering by Fox News overwhelms anything presented on MSNBC or Huffington Post, which are the most visible of the left-wing media.

    Listening to one side exclusively IS a bad idea, but there is NO COMPARISON between the excess of the right and the "feel good" stories on the left.

    If "reporters" want to be even handed, they need to compare a left wing source to thirty or forty right wing sources.

    Comparing two for two is misleading in itself.

    1. Any Clinton supporter and newswatcher from 2008 simply knows your theory to be utter bullshite.