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August 22, 2004

Unseemliness

So I was watching Scarborough Country on MSNBC, when Joe's Democratic guest said something I found pretty appalling. When confronted with the pretty substantial evidence that John Kerry lied about his service in Vietnam, he tried to pull the old two-wrongs-make-a-right trick by comparing Kerry's lies to Bush's alleged lies about WMD in Iraq. Setting the non sequitur aside for now, what really was contemptible was this joker (whose name I unfortunately do not recall) saying, "The 1,000th American bodybag is about to come home from Iraq..."

Now, unless I am gravely mistaken, the 1,000th American soldier hasn't even been killed in Iraq, and already this guy (and, I strongly suspect, others) are preparing to bash Bush with his bodybag. It's like they're counting the dead in Iraq with a growing sense of anticipation, just waiting for it to reach that magic figure so they can yell even louder about what a mistake the war was. Is it just me, or is there something grossly unseemly about their masturbatory glee over American casualties?

August 22, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

August 13, 2004

Journalistic ethics and Presidential politics

In general, there exists a presumption of ethical behavior.

If a person swears an affidavit, we presume it is true in the absence of evidence otherwise, because to swear falsely is unethical. If a doctor advocates a treatment regimen, we presume that he in good faith believes it is best, because he's sworn an oath of ethics. If a journalist writes a news story, we presume that it is unbiased, because journalistic ethics dictate so.

This presumption of ethical behavior becomes much weaker when the person has a clear motive to act unethically. We give much less weight to a person's sworn testimony about his own possibly criminal behavior, and we do not consider it ethical for a doctor to prescribe a treatment regimen for himself. What about journalists?

Several surveys have confirmed that most journalists are on the left side of the political spectrum. This cannot be disputed, and yet the existence of a liberal bias in the media is hotly disputed by those who claim that journalists who favor the election of a Democrat can still cover politics objectively.

Why should a journalist objectively cover a candidate he despises? Because of ethics. Part of the unwritten code of journalists is that stories that are not clearly marked as editorials should be unbiased. That's the way things are, and we should in general presume such.

Now, consider the current Presidential race.

If there's one campaign promise the President has failed to keep, it's his vow to be a "united, not a divider." The President has divided the country like it hasn't been in decades. This may or may not be his fault, but the politicos are far from united.

Many of those who support the President do so with an almost religious fervor, believing he is one of the greatest Presidents of history, and his defeat would be disastrous. And many of those who oppose him do so with an equal or greater fervor. These people, many of whom include very prominent Democratic politicians, pundits, and public personalities, have declared that if Bush is reelected (or elected, depending on the level of fervor involved), the country will be unrecognizable by the end of his second term, and far, far the worse. My father, a very intelligent man whom I love dearly, opposes Bush because he thinks it likely that the President will require so many more troops for Iraq that he will draft my 24-year-old brother.

Suppose you're about to sign an affidavit. This affidavit, while not really false, contains a few things that you know to be not exactly the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But the affidavit will be used to prosecute someone you firmly believe with all your heart is a multiple child rapist/murderer. While it normally wouldn't be ethical to sign such an affidavit, in the circumstances wouldn't it be more unethical not to?

Suppose you're a doctor, sworn to do no harm to your patients. But this patient is terminally ill and in agonizing pain. He's clutched your sleeve and begged you to put him out of your misery. Could one not argue that to withhold the live-ending injection might be the unethical course in this case? Or at least that to give the injection isn't unethical by any reasonable standard?

Now suppose you're a journalist, and Hitler is running for re-election1. Could you really stomach your bile enough to cover him with a wholly objective eye? If Hitler did something embarrassing or made a verbal flub, could you be forgiven for being more likely to consider it "news" than if his opponent made a similar gaffe? If allegations of dishonorable behavior were raised against him by his political opponents, isn't it right that you pounce on them, investigate them to the best of your ability, and demand that Hitler produce exculpatory evidence? If even worse allegations of dishonorable behavior were raised against his opponent by Hitler's allies, would you question their motives, their funding, and their credibility?

The major news media have been objectively unobjective this campaign cycle. This is not a coincidence.

1 I believe Godwin's Law is obsolete.

August 13, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Oh, by the way

...this is my new blog. I'll be updating it when the mood strikes; at the moment I have no plans to publish on a regular basis.

August 13, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0)

A response to SpinSanity

Who is SpinSanity.org? Perhaps you've heard of them. You might even have heard they had a reputation for fairness. I certainly had. A number of left-leaning folks on political boards I frequent spoke highly about SpinSanity, and their meticulous impartiality.

A quick visit to SpinSanity.org's web site confirms that this is the image they want to project. Their slogan is, "Countering rhetoric with reason." They say on their site:

We all have been politically active in Democratic and progressive politics and disclose those affiliations below. We have strong personal views on politics and believe in participating in the political system, but we also share a commitment to the democratic values that motivate this site. Our pledge to our readers is that we will always be non-partisan, fair and civic-minded.

Got that? Democrats they may be, but they are non-partisan, fair, and civic-minded.

Well, except they've published a book entitled All the President's Spin, which happens to be a muckraking account of the Bush administration, but they sure are non-partisan, fair, and civic-minded. It's just that, I guess, Kerry hasn't engaged in any spin, so it'd be pointless to write a book about him.

And about that "countering rhetoric with reason" bit... well, if that's their goal, they are exceptionally poor at it. Below is a critique of the latest post, Spinning Swiftly, by site founder Bryan Keefer. As we will see, Keefer is singularly unskilled at making a logical case. His arguments fall apart at even the barest scrutiny, and one can only surmise that he was counting on credulous readers not checking his facts.

It should be noted that I initially emailed this critique to Spinsanity, and offered to let them publish it free of charge. They declined to respond. I believe that a true commitment to nonpartisanship and fairness would mandate the airing of opposing views, but what do I know?

The subject of Keefer's attempt at argument is the recent advertisement Any Questions?, produced by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a Section 527 nonprofit advocacy group. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has been to this point largely funded by a single donor, but I have a hunch that they've received beaucoup bucks in grassroots donations lately.


Keefer gets off on the wrong foot by declaring as the lead to his second paragraph, "The group's ad repeatedly accuses Kerry of lying - an inflammatory charge that the ad presents no evidence to support." While it is technically true that the ad presents no evidence (other than the testimony of witnesses, with their names and credentials), this is primarily due to the limitations of the 30-second ad format. Along with the ad, the group presented a packet of documentation to television stations, containing dozens of pages of evidence to support its numerous charges of Kerry lies. Keefer himself addresses some of this evidence later in his article, in an effort to dismiss it as not credible.

Keefer immediately cites some of the evidence: the testimony of Dr. Louis Letson, who claims to have treated the wound for which Kerry received his first Purple Heart. He goes on to correctly dismiss as hearsay Letson's account of the battle. Letson wasn't there and didn't see. But Keefer then immediately moves on to the Silver Star incident, without addressing any of the Swift Boat Veterans' other evidence, let alone the portions of Letson's testimony which are not hearsay.

What is that other evidence? Well, there's the sworn testimony of Grant Hibbard, the commanding officer who normally would have nominated Kerry for the Purple Heart, who testifies under oath that he told Kerry to get lost when he heard the account of the "battle" and saw the severity of the injury. There's the total absence of supporting documentation for Kerry's first Purple Heart, which Kerry could release at any time but has chosen not to. There's the lack of an after-action report, required for when combat occurs. There's the lack of a casualty report, required for when an injury occurs. There's the testimony in Michael Kranish's fawning biography of Kerry, in neither Kerry nor his two crewmates claim to have seen any enemy fire.

There is plenty of evidence that the story laid out by the Swift Boat Veterans about Kerry's first Purple Heart is substantially true, and precious little evidence to counter it. Keefer sets up a gigantic strawman by focusing on the weakest part of the Veterans' case (Letson's hearsay, although Letson's testimony about what he himself saw is still admissible) and acting as though it were the only evidence for the claim.

Moving on to Kerry's Silver Star, Keefer dishonestly portrays Captain George Elliot, USN (retired) as having recanted his testimony. Specifically, he says that Captain Elliot "appeared to retract" his criticisms. He didn't appear to retract them, he was misleadingly portrayed as having retracted them. His new affidavit (again sworn under penalty of perjury) not only reaffirms his earlier testimony but declares under oath that he was misquoted by the very same Michael Kranish who wrote the laudatory biography of John Kerry, War Hero. I believe the likeliest explanation is that Kranish quoted Elliot correctly, but severely out of context, giving the impression that Elliot recanted when he did not. The Globe could settle the issue by releasing the tapes, notes, or transcripts of the interview. They have not.

Keefer closes by damning with faint praise, describing the Swift Boat Veterans' claim to have served with Kerry as "technically true." Not only is technically true, it is true. Granted, they didn't take Kerry's orders. But they served with him just the same. They were his peers, his fellow officers, his comrade drivers of Swift Boats in Coastal Divisions 11 and 13. They attended the same briefings, received the same orders. They planned and executed missions together. They for damn sure worked more with the man and got to know him as a soldier better than some replaceable E-2. Note that none of the enlisted men Kerry parades around served with him longer than five weeks.

Keefer conveniently ignores the most likely to be true Kerry lie that the Swift Boat Veterans dug up, and that is of course his famous Christmas in Cambodia, which apparently never happened. On numerous occasions, John Kerry has talked of spending Christmas, 1968 illegally in Cambodia. He even read a speech about it on the Senate floor. He erroneously described himself as having been sent by President Nixon, who wouldn't take office for another several weeks, but he can be forgiven that minor failure of recollection. Far more serious is the sworn testimony of Kerry's entire chain of command that Kerry was never ordered to Cambodia, and would have been court-martialed had he gone. His position on December 25, 1968 can be located, according to the Swift Boat Vets, fifty miles from the border, in Sa Dec. Does Keefer have an explanation for this that explains it all away as "spin?"

The Swift Boat Veterans have raised serious charges, and they've presented serious evidence to support those charges. The charges may not be true. But the evidence cannot and should not be lightly dismissed. Keefer's failed attempt to knock down the Swift Boat Veterans casts severe doubt on the validity of SpinSanity's pledges of non-partisanship and fairness.

© 2004 "Voice of Reason" (nom de plume). Permission is granted to link to this article, to redistribute it verbatim, or to quote it whole or in part. All other rights reserved.


August 13, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack