Monday, July 09, 2012

Ballance in the Washington Post Again

This is part of a series.

As usual, I think the latest is the all time winner. The concept of Ballance is that reporting and commentary must reach balanced conclusions no matter what the facts are. It is named after former representative Jack Ballance (see google search above).

I knew it would not be good for my blood pressure to read Could a truly honest politician become president? by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, so I avoided it but was brought back by DemFromCt's one word answer "No."


I have read only the first page and I will read no more. I note that in the all time winning example of the pundit's fallacy Jamieson answers her question "yes" in spite of providing massive evidence that the answer is no (with a possible exception for someone who couldn't lie, knowingly speak a falsehood, because he didn't know anything.

But that's not my beat. The number one example of Ballance is accusing Barack Obama of dishonesty, because he accurately summarized an article in The Washington Post.

" The Obama campaign misused a recent Washington Post article to label Romney as an “outsourcer in chief.”"

Yes the Post blew it and actually reported unballanced facts about which candidate outsourced more. So they must make up for this by complaining that Obama took their remarks out of context. This is pathetic. A disagreement about whether a summary is fair or not is a sign that someone is being dishonest. Anyone with any grasp of ethics at all would understand that a Washington Post columnist can't be a fair referee of a debate between the Post and Obama. Anyone who is not determined to be ballanced has to note that the Romney campaign said the Post confused outsoursing and offshoring because they wrote about outsourcing. I note and stress that this blatantly fallacious argument from the Romney campaign is not noted with the complaint about Obama added for Ballance. Rather Jaemieson notes nothing wrong with the Romney campaigns response to the Post's article. She can't as then her first page would be unballanced. Therefore she has to argue that whatever the Obama campaign allegedly did is incomparably worse than introducing a word "offshoring" and saying that the Post is wrong because if a word in their article was replaced with that different word, then it would be false. This is like claiming that if one says "Romney is dishonest" one is wrong because one has said "Rommey is honest" and confused "dishonest" and "honest." But that outrage against language truth an logic can't be criticized *at all] because it would ruin the ballance.

Jamieson's utter inability to honestly address honesty is proven above. One rule (not just at the Post) is that you can't say it's bad without saying it's bad and getting worse. So she must not only present the case that Romney's dishonesty dwarfs Obama's, but also argue that Obama is less honest than earlier Democratic candidates. So he is dishonest for quoting the Washington Post while Kennedy is honest

"John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 treated their rivals’ positions and records fairly, forthrightly forecast their governing approaches and hewed to the facts. With the exception of the Democratic attack on the alleged missile gap, which Kennedy may have believed existed, neither the 1960 Democratic nominee nor his Republican counterpart, Richard M. Nixon, distorted his or his opponent’s plans."

OK so the fact that Kennedy "may" have believed his fals claims means he is fair and honest. The standard for Obama is no one claims to have been taken out of context. The standard for Kennedy is there is no proof beyond reasonable doubt. With utter total contempt for the data, Jamieson has decided (I guess as a methodological a priori) that both sides are roughly equally at fault and that things have gotten worse. So she must say that a false claim of fact on a hugely important issue which "may have" been an honest mistake is honest, while an arguable summary of an article is much much worse.

Note also the tricky Dicky exception to Ballance. When discussing the fact Jamieson says Nixon's 1960 campaign was basically honest, but somehow he doesn't make the list of honest candidates along with Mondale, Kennedy and Reagan.

Just before clicking over here, I begged the internets to compare the honesty of statements made by Romney and Nixon. I am quite sure that candidate Romney has lied vastly vastly more than candidate Nixon did (of course President Nixon lied about whether he was a crook -- but I think his campaign was much more honest than Kennedy 1960 (for whom of course I would have voted) Reagan ever or Obama 2008 (he claimed that he thought no individual mandate was needed).

Now I don't want an honest candidate. For me true honesty in a Democratic hopeful true honesty (like Mondale's, McGovern's or Carter's) is a deal breaker. I am not Kant and I think it is sometimes morally right to lie. But all the same, Jamieson's total contempt for the facts appalls me.

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