Saturday, June 05, 2010

NO True Scotsman would write what Mark Ambinder wrote

Number two: journalists fall victim to the tyranny of false equivalences. That is, where there is a he said, journalists feel compelled to find a she said. But sometimes, often times, stories, and facts, are inconvenient and unfair. Good journalists have to figure out when facts are contestable, when they ought to be contestable, when they're not contestable, and how best to relate to the reader the probability that one side is probably correct.

This leads to number three: journalists assume a privileged perspective that smothers dissent and critical analysis. It is, in a way, a second order criticism that one hears from the left, and it also, in a way, conflicts with the false equivalences tryranny. If journalists are to make choices and judgments, then one would assume that the expertise they claim in being able to make such judgment would not itself be labeled a pathology.

If there is a unifying field theory underpinning bias claims Two and Three, it is that journalists are not special. They do not sit atop an equilateral triangle with left and right represented as angles below.

I was commenting. I thought maybe I'd better not as he seems to be coming around, then I found out I had to register to comment so I post here.

No equilateral triangle there. You list three boring forms of media criticism. One of your replies is not like the other

"Number two: journalists fall victim to the tyranny of false equivalences. ... Good journalists have to ..." In your reply, you do not argue that the criticism is invalid. You agree that it might be valid. You agree with the journalism critics that it is a criticism as you agree that good journalists do not fall victim to the tyranny of false equivalences. So far, you seem to totally agree with the critics that journalists shouldn't so fall victim and that some journalists do so fall victim. Yet somehow, you don't accept the criticism.

Later, you assert that criticism 3 is inconsistent with criticism 2. This is only true if you take the actual version of criticism 2 which I have often read on the web and then change it to remove specificity. The criticism which I have read, hundreds of times, is that if a Democratic he says something, journalists insist on quoting a Republican she (I suspect tht the right blogosphere version of the criticism switches the D and R). The claim is not that journalists refuse to exercize any judgement at all ever. The claim that Martians kidnapped Elvis who is still alive does not get a hearing.

Criticism 2 as I recall it, is that claims by Republican politicians are always treated similarly to claims by Democratic politicians even if one of the two claims is inconsistent with facts in the public record. So not two sides to every question, but two legitimate sides to every partisan debate.

This is perfectly consistent with the original version of criticism 3 (before you generalized it so that it constradicted your distorted version of criticism 2). The original version of criticism 3 is that claims that are to the right of the Republican leadership's position or to the left of the Democratic leadership's position are dismissed. Note this allegedly includes claims of fact, including claims which are now known to be accurate.

So critique 2.5 is that the range of legitimate debate is held to include the positions of mainstream Democrats, Republicans and those in between the parties. No more and no less. I have read this claim made by David Ignatieff in roughly so many words (he did not consider it a criticism).

You write that you have read liberal critics of journalism and find their criticisms to often be trenchant. I am sure that you have read the arguments and the evidence presented to support them. I understand you don't like "obnoxious" criticism of journalism (I am quoting from your post above). I also conclude that you absolutely can't context the accusations. You don't contest them here. You just complain and then go to the no true Scotsman defence, arguing, like the critics you criticize, that good journalists don't have faults (bit tautological no?).

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