A few months ago I read an article in The New Yorker about Bill O’Reilly. It treated O’Reilly not as the cyst on the derriere of our political culture but rather as an entertaining character one might see at a county fair. He’s not a character. He’s a real guy whose misinformation many people take very seriously. More recently, someone over at The New Republic wrote a somewhat similar piece about Ann Coulter. Sure she’s nuts and all that, but she’s a part of the political cultural landscape and besides sometimes she says stuff that might be kinda sorta true. Naturally, this poorly reasoned argument garnered much fierce, sound but most of all deserved criticism.
In response, Jonathan Chait of TNR writes:
>DEFENDING IDEOLOGICAL INCORRECTNESS:
>Elspeth Reeve, our extremely talented reporter-researcher, penned a clever, interesting, very well-executed defense of despicable authoritarian pundit Ann Coulter. Now, *I found her ultimate point to be highly unpersuasive,* as I imagine most people did, but this was a piece less about the destination than the journey. What made her column interesting was not *the counterintuitive shock value* but the fact that she had thought-provoking observations about Coulter’s role in the political culture, however indefensible her conclusion may have been.
>Her piece attracted the ire of Atrios, someone named Charles P. Pierce, and other partisan hysterics. That, of course, is unsurprising. *They cannot imagine the notion of measuring a piece by any criteria other than ideological correctness.* There are a lots of smart and interesting liberal writers who aren’t ideologically “surprising”–Rick Perlstein, Thomas Frank, most of the American Prospect staff, to name but a few. The Atrioses and the Pierces, on the other hand, offer their readers nothing but the certainty that they will confirm their ideological predilections. A world in which there are non-ideological criteria for judging an article–where being thought-provoking or smart matters–is a world in which they have no place.
And so the ad hominem, Bill O’Reilly style. Let’s not bother, so says Chait, with what they said about the piece (they did offer serious criticisms of the piece, follow the links above and see for yourself). Rather, let’s attack what we take to be their motivations. This silly, shallow and shameful.
But even worse than the inexcusable ad hominem (don’t they have editors?) is the assertion that simply being provocative–however wrong or dishonest–overrides editorial responsibility for truth and sound reasoning. Whatever happened to that?