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Ed Driscoll

JournoList Member Advocates Lying to Public

August 13th, 2010 - 4:01 pm

Shock poll from Gallup! “In U.S., Confidence in Newspapers, TV News Remains a Rarity:”

Americans continue to express near-record-low confidence in newspapers and television news — with no more than 25% of Americans saying they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in either. These views have hardly budged since falling more than 10 percentage points from 2003-2007.

Can’t imagine why, after reading this item from Jonathan Strong at the Daily Caller, who notes that former JournoList member “Matt Yglesias advocates lying on Twitter:”

Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias likes to call his political opponents “dishonest,” but in a revealing exchange on the website Twitter Friday he advocated lying for political purposes.

“Fighting dishonesty with dishonesty is sometimes the right thing for advocates to do, yes,” said Yglesias.

The exchange, with Washington Examiner writer Mark Hemingway, came on the heels of a debate between the two on transportation policy.

Yglesias pressed his point with another conservative writer, saying, “Do you really think deception is immoral in all circumstances?”

In an interview, Yglesias said he was not referring to his own conduct as a blogger for the nonpartisan think tank, the Center for American Progress, in advocating dishonesty.

Asked who he meant by “advocates,” Yglesias said, “Politicians, things like that.” Not bloggers? “Not me. No I don’t think that’s conducive to what I do. I’m trying to inform people, so I try to present them with accurate information,” Yglesias said.

“What I write on my blog is honest,” Yglesias said.

Here’s a screenshot of the Tweet in question, in case it “disappears itself” somehow:

More from the Daily Caller:

Yglesias’s spat with Hemingway revolved around estimates for high-speed rail lines about how many people would ride on those trains. On that subject, Yglesias wrote more than a year ago that advocates for high-speed rail may need to present “unrealistically optimistic” ridership estimates to obtain government funding for the projects. “For better or for worse, that’s politics,” Yglesias said then.

But what set off a flurry of Tweets today – and Yglesias’s advocacy of lying – was a charge by Yglesias via Twitter that Washington Times reporter Eli Lake has a “deserved reputation for dishonesty.” Hemingway, Lake and others confronted Yglesias on Twitter about the charge, pointing out that Yglesias himself had actually advocated dishonesty.

Then, Yglesias dug in, saying lying was a necessary part of politics.

Yglesias’s Twitter opponents also charged he does not take criticism well.

“When [Yglesias] gets frustrated because he can’t counter an argument, he calls people ‘dishonest’,” Lake said, later calling him “a child.”

In concluding his interview with The Daily Caller, Yglesias said “go f**k yourself” and hung up the phone.

Classy.

And of course, that’s far from the only time in recent years that the Ruling Class media has advocated a little tabloid Taqiyya. As we’ve mentioned before, legacy media house organ Editor & Publisher ran a piece in 2007 that advocated similar tactics for the manmade global warming crowd titled “Climate Change: Get Over Objectivity, Newspapers.”

Not to mention former CBS anchorman Dan Rather telling Bill O’Reilly back in 2001 that “I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things:”

Bill O’Reilly: “I want to ask you flat out, do you think President Clinton’s an honest man?”
Dan Rather: “Yes, I think he’s an honest man.”
O’Reilly: “Do you, really?”
Rather: “I do.”
O’Reilly: “Even though he lied to Jim Lehrer’s face about the Lewinsky case?”
Rather: “Who among us has not lied about something?”
O’Reilly: “Well, I didn’t lie to anybody’s face on national television. I don’t think you have, have you?”
Rather: “I don’t think I ever have. I hope I never have. But, look, it’s one thing – “
O’Reilly: “How can you say he’s an honest guy then?”
Rather: “Well, because I think he is. I think at core he’s an honest person. I know that you have a different view. I know that you consider it sort of astonishing anybody would say so, but I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.”
— Exchange on Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, May 15, 2001.

So why should anyone trust us journalists? You shouldn’t. As Glenn Reynolds wrote back in 2004 when Dan Rather cooked the books at CBS:

But all fun aside, I think there are some important lessons for Big Media — and for everyone else — in the rise of the blogosphere. They stem from the fact that bloggers operate on the Internet, where arguments from authority are difficult since nobody knows whether you’re a dog.

In short, it’s the difference between high-trust and low-trust environments.

The world of Big Media used to be a high-trust environment. You read something in the paper, or heard something from Dan Rather, and you figured it was probably true. You didn’t ask to hear all the background, because it wouldn’t fit in a newspaper story, much less in the highly truncated TV-news format anyway, and because you assumed that they had done the necessary legwork. (Had they? I’m not sure. It’s not clear whether standards have fallen since, or whether the curtain has simply been pulled open on the Mighty Oz. But they had names, and familiar faces, so you usually believed them even when you had your doubts.)

The Internet, on the other hand, is a low-trust environment. Ironically, that probably makes it more trustworthy.

That’s because, while arguments from authority are hard on the Internet, substantiating arguments is easy, thanks to the miracle of hyperlinks. And, where things aren’t linkable, you can post actual images. You can spell out your thinking, and you can back it up with lots of facts, which people then (thanks to Google, et al.) find it easy to check. And the links mean that you can do that without cluttering up your narrative too much, usually, something that’s impossible on TV and nearly so in a newspaper.

(This is actually a lot like the world lawyers live in — nobody trusts us enough to take our word for, well, much of anything, so we back things up with lots of footnotes, citations, and exhibits. Legal citation systems are even like a primitive form of hypertext, really, one that’s been around for six or eight hundred years. But I digress — except that this perhaps explains why so many lawyers take naturally to blogging).

You can also refine your arguments, updating — and even abandoning them — in realtime as new facts or arguments appear. It’s part of the deal.

This also means admitting when you’re wrong. And that’s another difference. When you’re a blogger, you present ideas and arguments, and see how they do. You have a reputation, and it matters, but the reputation is for playing it straight with the facts you present, not necessarily the conclusions you reach. And a big part of the reputation’s component involves being willing to admit you’re wrong when you present wrong facts, and to make a quick and prominent correction.

When you’re a news anchor, you’re not just putting your arguments on the line — you’re putting yourself on the line. Dan Rather has a problem with that. For journalists of his generation, admitting an error means admitting that you’ve violated people’s trust. For bloggers, admitting an error means you’ve missed something, and now you’re going to set it right.

What people in the legacy media need to ask themselves is, which approach is more likely to retain credibility over time? I think I know the answer. I think Dan Rather does, too.

My advice for consumers of journalism has always been to flip the Gipper’s advice on its head — “verify and only then trust,” and even then, as the above examples highlight, don’t trust too much. (Fortunately, based on the data from Gallup, the public agrees.)

And speaking of the lies from the Ruling Class, a new media pioneer has a little fun with the Politico, ABC, and other effectively state-run media outlets:

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