Monday, May 23, 2005

Conservatives and Newsweek

I said last week that I was unimpressed with conservative reaction to the Newsweek debacle; so here's my promised explanation. I should say that over the weekend a saner balance of commentary has slowly been developing, and that my reaction is mostly to the first couple of days after the story broke.

I'm going to start by quoting myself, but from something nobody but me has ever read. (I wrote it for my own satisfaction years ago, in trying to work out how to explain to modern Americans, like my kids, the whole thorny concept of causality.)

...Necessity is the third standard of importance for causes. A necessary factor is one without which the effect could not take place. Turning once again to the L.A. riots, let us try to decide whether the basic cause was the criminal character of the rioters or whether it was the King beating and verdict. Neither the criminality nor the verdict is sufficient cause, for if nobody chose to riot, there would be no riot, yet riots have to have a trigger event in order to get a large enough number of willing rioters all mad at the same time. So we ask which is a necessary cause. Do you have to have rioters in order to have a riot? Absolutely. It is absolutely necessary. Do you have to have an unjust verdict in order to get a riot? Nope. ...we have seen full-scale riots thrown in two separate cities (Detroit and Chicago), in each of which cases the trigger event was the local NBA team's winning the NBA championship! When this fact is taken into consideration, it becomes obvious that just about any excuse will do: our inner cities have a lot of people in them who enjoy destroying and stealing things and who find random destruction and looting to be an acceptable way of expressing strong emotion, and if you get them stirred up, you'll find yourself having to deal with a riot....

Now, does this mean that we shouldn't care about racism in the legal system? Of course not. Racist discrimination in the courts is a betrayal of everything our legal system stands for, and it cannot be tolerated. Does it mean that racism does not result in riots? No, it doesn't even mean that. For racism may well play an important role in turning inner city kids into criminals. All that our discussion has shown is that reforming the legal system will not in itself prevent riots in the inner city. If we want to solve the problem of riots in the inner city, we must attack the problem of the criminal character of so many inner city kids and adults. The root problem is that there are a lot of warped people in the inner cities. Solve that problem, and you will have solved the problem of inner city riots. But if you try to attack the problem solely by going after trigger events, then what are you going to do -- outlaw NBA championships?

What we saw in the Newsweek debacle is, I think, an analogous situation. Newsweek humiliated themselves, obviously. But wasn't it obvious that the Newsweek item itself wasn't enough to start riots? Don't we all agree that the situation only exploded when despicable rabble-rousers deliberately used the item in order to cause trouble?

On the one hand, you have Newsweek and its peers suddenly talking about how it's not really Newsweek's fault because those damned Muslims are so crazy they'll riot over truly ridiculous things like...well, like stories that appear in Newsweek. I grant you that it doesn't say much for the rioters' intelligence that they are gullible enough to believe something on no better authority than Newsweek. Intelligent people wouldn't so much as buy a penny stock on Newsweek's authority, much less throw a riot. Still, if Newsweek isn't responsible for the violence perpetrated by people using Newsweek as an excuse, then why did we have to listen to all that pontificating about how the Rodney King riots were white America's fault?

But Michelle Malkin and company, on the other hand, were not doing any better. Conservatives were handed the chance to take the high road, to say, "Okay, yeah, it was really stupid and it doesn't look good when you compare their handling of this story to their handling of stories that would make Democratic Presidents look bad; but the MSM is not the bad guy here. The bad guy is that bloody demagogue in India who started waving the piece around; the bad guys are the Taliban who exploited Newsweek's incompetence and some Afghan hillbillies' ignorance."

Instead, big-name conservatives went wild on Newsweek (and by extension the "MSM") the same way the liberal press went wild on white America back in the day. I'm not talking about people like the Anchoress, who put on-line her own and her journalist buddy's struggles with their emotions over the whole incident, and eventually took a break from blogging because (if I understand her correctly) she was unwilling to blog while in such an emotionally uncharitable state. Putting your personal struggle on line is a gutsy thing to do. No, I'm talking about the conservatives who demonstrated anger that was far more gleeful than righteous -- the people who apparently didn't struggle with their rancor one little bit. We got, "Newsweek lied; people died." Of course Newsweek didn't lie -- "having been convinced themselves, they convince others" -- and conservatives quickly realized they had gone too far and backed off a bit. But that's not really my point.

Conservatives seem to have backed off of the "lie" terminology, and, as I say, the balance has gotten a little better in the past few days. But those first couple of days, we heard acres of Newsweek-bashing for every square foot of Muslim-nutcase bashing. What, after all, is one of the principal complaints conservatives have about MSM coverage? Is it not that the MSM exaggerates and highlights, whenever possible, whatever aspects of the story can do most damage to the people they hate most, rather than the aspects of the story that are objectively important? Is it not that the emphasis that drives MSM coverage of politics is the emphasis that is dictated by the MSM's personal hatreds rather than the emphasis proper to the story itself? But here the conservative bloggers went wild on the MSM with much more alacrity, and much more enthusasism, than on the rioters; and it's hard not to suspect that this might indicate that conservative bloggers hate liberal journalists rather more than they hate literally bloodstained Middle Eastern demagogues.

"Do unto others the same nasty things they've done unto you," is a crippled and juvenile moral philosophy; and I don't care that liberals have been running around saying, "Bush lied; people died." That doesn't mean it's okay to spew the same stuff back at 'em. The conservatives have stooped to the liberals' level on this one.

And that's what happens, you know, when you focus on the people you hate instead of the people you admire. You wind up becoming like them. If conservatives like Ms. Malkin want to convince more people to join them instead of just preaching to their own communal echo chamber, then they should remember that those of us (like me) who don't fit in with Republicans any better than we fit in with Democrats, know that bad behavior is bad behavior no matter who's committing it.

If you join 'em, guys, you can't beat 'em.


P.S. And if you haven't heard me go off on somebody who didn't deserve it, for no particularly excusable reason, then you don't live in my house; so please don't think I'm setting myself up as holier than Michelle Malkin. Just 'cause I do it, doesn't mean you want to get caught doing it too.

Though I'm fairly confident I'm holier than Rush... ;-)


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