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:


>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?

3 thoughts on “Standards”

  1. what does he mean by “ideologically ‘surprising’?” isn’t this a total straw man of the criticsims offered of Reeves’ piece? no one really accused her or couloter of being ideologically predictable, or at least it was a point not pertinent to their overall criticisms. why did he toss that in there? there is a rash of just plain irresponsibility going around. rather than admit the banality of his colleague’s ode to coulterism, chait takes the low road, not only defending a poor argument, but defending it with his own poor argument. it’s irresponsible commentary, commentary that disregards the importance of charity, candor, and common sense.

  2. Funny that chait would defend coulters and o’reillys, who conform all factual and non-factual information into their own pre-conceived ideologies, against other ideologues.

    Who isn’t ideological in a politcal discourse? What does this term even mean in this context? My guess is that chait is looking to equate the term with “dogmatism”, a pre-designed intellectual structure by which new information or facts are distorted and contorted so as not to change the strtucture already in place, but rather verify and solidfy its foundation.

    What are “non-ideological criteria”? I’m skeptical of the use of these terms. They seem to lack more than narrative content.

  3. You’re right. The ad hominemness of the “ideological” complain shows a failure to grasp some of the basic facts of sound reasoning. In the first place, sound reasoning is based in verifiable facts. The article in question failed on this score. Second, sound reasoning links those facts in argument. Something else the article botched. In our impoverished political discourse, however, we have only talk of competing, yet equally tenable, views. Coulter has a view, just as Glenn Greenwald. Never mind the fact that the view of the former has no justification.

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