Facts are Hard (Let’s Go to the Mall)

Maybe you’ve heard about the small furor over the Washington Post’s article, “Foes Use Obama’s Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him”. It really is an excellent example of the trap that reporters often fall into: pointing out an issue, reporting opposing statements about the topic, and leaving it at that. In fact I hope the criticism of this article doesn’t get lost in a similar trap, with the controversy getting simplified to “Obama Supporters Object to Washington Post Report on Muslim Rumors”. The rumors are simply false, have been proven to be so, and should be reported as such. Period.

The problem here is the unwillingness to state hard facts and call lies “lies”, and do so first and foremost. Others have commented extensively, but as usual I think the clearest criticism is through satire. This cartoon, amusingly also printed in the Washington Post, gets it right.

I think this is the crux of many of the problems people have with the media and the perceived bias (in either direction) of various news outlets. When reporting has devolved to he-said she-said (as Colbert put it, “Just put ’em through a spell check and go home.”), it is almost impossible not to exhibit bias. My guess is that, for a news business, facts aren’t profitable. Facts must be carefully checked and if they are wrong, the business is subject to libel lawsuits. Transcription is quick, safe, and (particularly if you pick a side) profitable.

24 Responses to “Facts are Hard (Let’s Go to the Mall)”

  1. shcb Says:

    So you’re upset someone said something untrue about your guy and the main stream media is doing nothing to correct them, and by not correcting them they are allowing the incorrect statement to perpetuate. You are worried this could adversely affect your guy. You don’t mind if people disagree with you’re guy over legitimate issues, but you don’t want him to loose over allegations that are unfounded, welcome to the world conservatives have lived in since uncle Walter.

    I checked into Perry Bacon a little and it seems this is kind of his style, he makes opinion pieces that are disguised as news pieces. This is another facet of the degeneration of the mainstream press. Bozell’s group thinks he is a left wing commie and the far left bloggers think he is a whisper below Limbaugh, so it looks like his mission is to piss everyone off. Kind of like Maureen Dowd before she decided to be honest about who she really was.

    There is a paragraph where he mentions Snopes.com, he says there is an email that says Obama is Muslim and worse. I went to Snopes and searched for “Obama muslim” the piece that was returned went on and on for page after page saying there is no proof that Obama is a Muslim, a radical Muslim bent of taking over the world is even more absurd. And yet Bacon parses his words that would lead the casual observer to think Snopes agrees with the right wing kooks.

    Speaking of right wing kooks, one of my friends who is one, sent me that picture of the candidates on the stage with their hands on their hearts, except for Barack, he was standing there very respectful, with his hands folded in front of him, a posture that is perfectly acceptable for that situation in my opinion. As I recall he was at the front of the line as they turned toward the flag so he could not see what the other candidates were doing behind him. Of course no one knows what goes through someone else’s mind, but I’ll bet the person behind him saw Barack wasn’t putting his hand on his heart, so he/she did, then the rest just followed suit leaving the poor guy with this mess. Maybe he won’t sit on the end the next time.

    Back to Bacon, I’m putting him in that group of writers like Greenwald and the late Molly Ivans, fun to read but don’t take what they say with a grain of salt, use a 5 pound bag.

  2. shcb Says:

    I was listening to Rush a little this afternoon and he was four square behind Obama since Hillary is coming after him for using a PAC as a slush fund, don’t know how true it is, but this may be the same thing you are complaining about here. It will be interesting to see if the press actually looks into his campaign finances or just takes the Clinton campaign’s word that he is doing something unethical. (Imagine the Clintons complaining someone is doing something unethical.) And if the Clinton campaign is wrong will they hold her to account for the false accusations. Doubt it. So maybe the big man giving his endorsement to Obama will ease the sting of this little sniveling Washington Post reporter/columnist being against him.

  3. ymatt Says:

    You are either a willful dick, or you are incapable of understanding that statements can be other than “for” or “against” somebody or something, and either “good” or “bad” based on whether they agree with you.

    I like Obama, therefore that must be why I would be “against” anybody that says anything “bad” about him.

    Obama is a “liberal” (synomyn for “bad”), but then Hilary (even more “bad”) is “against” him, so Rush must at least temporarily consider Barack “good”.

    And of course Rush is “good”, Greenwald “bad”.

    It’s seriously tiresome. Does it continually surprise you that my beliefs are so strangely inconsistent? — one moment I’m a liberal, and the next moment I’m against Clinton and the Washington Post! But then I guess you must see inconsistency, clearly “bad”, another trait of all those people who you are “against”.

  4. shcb Says:

    I’m not exactly sure what I said that leads you to the conclusion that I only see things in black and white. I know Knarly’s condescending remarks to me have morphed to that, from calling me one form of stupid or another to “you just don’t get it” (same thing just a little more pleasant) but I thought you were better than that. For the most part I am in agreement with you on this. My only criticism of you and those on your side is you seem perfectly happy to let the mainstream perpetuate misinformation when it is about a Republican, but don’t mess with your guy. But that is only human nature, we all do it to one extent or another.

    I agree that reporters don’t do enough digging, they seem plenty happy to just chew on the cud of the bovine in front of them. I just think in this particular case there is another element at work as well, I think Bacon did his homework and went out of his way to use the right wing to disparage his opponent, Obama, to help his candidate, Clinton. For the first time in years Bush wasn’t in the picture so it seems a little odd, but the tactics are the same. Get used to it, the face slapping part of the campaign is over, we’re to the bare knuckled, clinched fist portion.

    As far as this black and white thing goes, what is wrong with having the strength of your convictions enough to say this is right and this is wrong? That doesn’t mean you can’t have variations of both, a reckless driver and an axe murderer are both wrong, but at different levels, and they are wrong because of what they do. Is Rush good and Greenwald bad? No Rush isn’t that great a guy, Greenwald is probably a better man, wouldn’t take much, but I think Rush is more credible. I didn’t make that assessment of Greenwald without reading several of his columns you guys posted here, he is like Ivans was, he just repeats what advocates send him. Now from what I’ve read, he seems to understand what he is talking about better than Ivans. After seeing interviews with the woman, she didn’t seem very bright, but she had a wonderful gift as a writer with her down home Texas style, I miss her columns. I find someone like Juan Williams to be infinitely more credible than both. Rush isn’t as credible as Rosen. Hannity isn’t as credible as O’Reilly, doesn’t mean I dislike or really disagree with either.

    Finally, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand enough of your last paragraph to even comment, I don’t know what I’ve said to give you that impression. Of all the liberals on this site, you have some of the more moderate views, on certain issues at least, the need for a strong military for instance.

    Maybe I just caught you on a bad day.

  5. ymatt Says:

    My only criticism of you and those on your side is you seem perfectly happy to let the mainstream perpetuate misinformation when it is about a Republican, but don’t mess with your guy. But that is only human nature, we all do it to one extent or another.

    I don’t really care in particular that you agree with me, but I just find it continually irritating that even when you agree, you have to put it in terms like this. I posted about Obama because I’m actually paying closer attention to him, not because he’s “my guy”. If you like, I’,m sure I could post something similar about Ron Paul, who I’ve also come to think pretty highly of (even though I vehemently disagree with him on a couple points, as I do Obama). You just seem dead set on assigning me (and everybody) to “us” and “them”.

    As far as this black and white thing goes, what is wrong with having the strength of your convictions enough to say this is right and this is wrong?

    It’s not strength of convinctions, it’s oversimplification. I find that there are very few things in this world that are clearly good or bad, and even in those cases, it’s a lot more useful to understand the reasons behind them. Take the 911 terrorists: it’s exceptionally easy (and correct) to call them evil. But what help is that? All it does is allow people to, say, start calling all kinds of people “terrorists” (which we’ve all agreed are evil, right?) and do whatever they want to them.

    I know I go off on this topic, but I think it’s incredibly bloody important. Allowing yourself to fall into this game of “us vs. them” is a large part of the problem. It allows politicians to play the game of polarization and secret agendas rather than talking about issues we as Americans care about and it allows the media to profitably peddle bias in lieu of substantive reporting. This isn’t just you, knarly ticks me off in this regard as well.

    I don’t believe I have “moderate” views on some subjects and “liberal” views on others. I believe I have a pretty consistent set of opinions which just happen to cut across a number of the artificial dichotomies that the parties have created to make their lives easier and more profitable.

  6. shcb Says:

    In a thread some time ago you had said you were endorsing Obama, didn’t realize you had changed your mind.

    I find people that overcomplicate things to be equally frustrating. To be sure any given problem is as complicated as it is and under or over estimating the complexity will surely give a less that desirable outcome. Of course none of us are Solomon, so we can only guess how complicated it is beforehand. I find though that people that overcomplicate situations many times do it to avoid difficult and inevitable decisions or actions. And this almost always makes the problem worse than if it had been dealt with in a timely manner, no matter how distasteful.

    We live in a competitive world, it’s always us against them, no matter who us or them are. The question then becomes how civilly are they going to deal with us and how civilly will we respond. When the them is Sweden, we are polite, when the them crash planes into our buildings and dance in the streets after the fact, we aren’t quite so nice.

  7. shcb Says:

    Here is another way the media sway the under informed. Has anyone heard much of this?


    Murtha was all over the news when he was saying we are loosing in Iraq but let him say we are winning…..

  8. ymatt Says:

    I still wholeheartedly endorse Obama. Did you think that my disagreement with him on some subjects had changed that? I respect his judgment and priorities, to the point where I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on specifics. Again, you’re seeing a false dichotomy.

    And once again I think this is a (and maybe the) fundamental disagreement. Good to know, but disappointing. I think there is vastly more risk of oversimplifying in the complex world we live in than the inverse, and I see far more examples in history of oversimplification leading people and nations astray.

  9. shcb Says:

    No, I didn’t know one way or the other, I assumed you still supported him, and I know it’s early. I kind of figure you are more of an Obama guy than a Hillary guy and this Bacon character is clearly trying to submarine “your guy”. But nothing more sinister than that.

    From what I’ve seen Obama’s a good man, we could do worse. I think he may need one more term to get a little more experience, but he will get there I think.

    Don’t get too hung up on my being oversimplified or pigeon holing people, I generalize where I think it is relevant and appropriate, but I always allow for exceptions. I just don’t always say “allowing for exceptions” or something of that nature, it would be redundant. I also agree with you that given the choice oversimplifying is worse that under. But there is a limit. We’ve both seen engineers work the numbers trying to get the last 5% of uncertainty out of the equation only to have the competitor get to the marketplace first, we’ve also seen projects launched before they were ready. I’ve just found if you are smart and flexible, you can adapt to the problems of that last 5% easier than you can play catch up after your competitor has the upper hand. The trick is to know when you are at 5%. I’m probably just a little more of a gambler than you.

    Good chat.

  10. NorthernLite Says:

    I noticed too that you, shcb, seem to have an obsession with labeling people. A few posts ago you were trying to label ethan-p when clearly he doesn’t fall into such labels.

    This may be a shocker to you, but most people don’t fit that neatly into these little envelopes.

    For example, I am a strong supporter of our military, and in particular the Afghan mission, but I am vehemently opposed to the Iraq fiasco and potential war with Iran. (which coincidently we found out today that they aren’t much of a threat at all, certainly not “world war three” of a threat) But I’m sure we can discuss that on another post.

    I’m for strict gun control, but I’m against abortion for the most part. I support capitalism but at the same time I also support the role of government in ensuring social justice and protecting our planet. However, I’m weary of over inflated bureaucracies. I support lax drug laws, but would like to see a serious crack down on violent crime. I believe taxes are the admission price for a functioning democracy, but I also believe that taxes should be progressive – the more you make, the more you pay. Billion dollar corporations don’t need tax breaks, single mothers do. I could go on but…

    Do you see what I’m getting at? Not everyone or everything fits into these “black/white” “for/against” “good/bad” envelopes.

  11. shcb Says:


    I am similar, except on the other side of the spectrum. If you take a stereotypical conservative I am probably at 70 percent, as you are probably the same on the liberal side. I probably do label people too much, but it helps me keep things straight in my mind. I also think stereotypes can be helpful as well as hurtful, and sometimes even being hurtful can be constructive, stereotyping white bigots in the south in the 60’s and 70’s and shaming them probably brought as much change to race relations as civil rights legislation.

    Thanks for your issues list, just an idea, it might be fun to start a thread with a list of 20 or 30 issues (that might be too many) and have everyone give a rating on where they stand on those issues.

    Your last paragraph, I would go farther and say nobody fits a given label except the person you choose as the baseline. If they say they do, they are a mindless idiot. But it is good to know where someone sits before he tells you where he stands on an issue.

    I don’t know how I have gotten labeled as this ultra black and white thinker, and I don’t know how to get out of it since I think it is largely unfounded, kind of like Obama being labeled as a Muslim. Understand when I stereotype a group, implied is a large area for exceptions, say 20 or 30 percent. If it is important to the discussion ask me what the percentage of people in the group I think fit the label, I’m not shy, I’ll give you my impression, it’s just an opinion. I think you will be surprised at how often we agree, we may not agree that that percentage poses a problem but that is what the debate is all about.

    One last point, you guys do it too, you just don’t realize it. For instance you think talk radio is hate radio, but I assure you there are many good programs out there that aren’t, most probably.

  12. ymatt Says:

    Thanks for your issues list, just an idea, it might be fun to start a thread with a list of 20 or 30 issues (that might be too many) and have everyone give a rating on where they stand on those issues.

    I was thinking the same actually. I’ll post an item later on about this and let us go at it.

  13. knarlyknight Says:


    shcb idea is similar to the political compass that I linked to earlier. You might want to pull some ideas from that, as it does a reasonable job of expanding the stunted right / left dichotomy into another dimension.


    shcb, I’m trying to get my head around part of your last post. Glad to hear your stereotypes are meant as such rather than as absolutes, and good comment about racist white stereotype helping civil rights, but…

    How would you estimate the percentage of people in your “Islamofascist” stereotype who do not fit that label, and more curious yet, what would be the basis for excluding them but not other “islamofascists” from that stereotype? No, wait! Stop. I do not want to see the answer. I’ve already had more than enough of this for one day. month. year. whatever.

  14. shcb Says:


    Upper right hand corner, backspace key. You can’t take it back:)

    Somewhere around 1% want us dead just because we are who we are, and have the nerve to go to battle, this includes those that may not have the guts now but would if their brother were killed.

    10% to 20% will actively help those fighters with money or sanctuary.

    30% to 50% are sympathetic to the cause in lesser ways, this includes the above groups, of this group maybe half can be convinced to not hate us over a period of 5 to 10 years with the kinds of good will you want to use to win this war. The rest will go to their grave hating us for no good reason (bigotry).

    The remainder are just folks wanting to practice their religion without interference.

    So the first group are islamofascists, as well as probably half the second group and 5% of the third. I think you have to have an active role, so a guy that says “they went that way” when the terrorist went the other way probably isn’t. But the religious leader professing death to the infidels in the third group are.

  15. shcb Says:


    it might be fun to include a few Ginger/Mary Ann catagories

  16. NorthernLite Says:


  17. TeacherVet Says:

    Given that choice, it’s Mary Ann here.

  18. NorthernLite Says:

    Ginger all the way. There’s just something special about a really sexy red-head.

  19. shcb Says:

    She was a red head? I wonder what I was looking at? I am still a Mary Ann fan. With the help of cosmetic surgery they have both aged well, but holy cow, give Tina three square meals for a week please.

  20. NorthernLite Says:

    I hope you are being saractic about the red hair?


  21. shcb Says:

    absolutely, but as a young lad, (and an old pervert) my attention was a bit south.

  22. NorthernLite Says:

    Ahh, got ya.

    I’m pretty sure the curtains matched the drapes.

  23. shcb Says:

    :) this discussion has prompted me to go out and look at some of her old pictures, wow! she was incredible. The writers of Giligan making her over the top glamorous really detracted from her natural beauty. By the way, that line above about feeding her, I lifted that from someone else, I think it was Dawn Wells (Mary Ann). Paraphrased really, I think Dawn said “get her a sandwich.” I don’t think there is a lot of love lost between those two.

    If you get the chance go out to IMDB and look at some of her pictures from today, she could be Nancy Reagan’s sister. I like a little more meat on the bones.

  24. PerpetualHypocrisy Says:

    I guess all I have to say is that the American population is irreversably cut off from truth, because it doesn’t exist. Anything sacred but intangible is bound to be perverted, or to become perverted by those with alterior motives.
    Scratch that.
    It is HUMAN NATURE to manipulate actuality in order to bring progress to their personal preferences and desires for the rest of humanity.
    Philosophy and Neuroscience (and everything in between) prove that no one is safe from their own hardwiring.
    In other words….
    we’re all fucking hypocrits. When our actions and motives are reduced to their essence, we all participate in the same basic manipulations, lies, travesties, egocentricities, and shallowness.

    Ok. anyways, I’m done rambling. I honestly have no idea how blogs work, I’m a technologically retarded person trying to catch up with the rest of her fucking generation, so forgive my for the rambling (if that’s considered rambling).

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