With a title like this, how could I not read it? How they lie: a case study. Michael Tomasky, writing in the Guardian, goes on about something Newt Gingrich said in an interview in Christianity Today. Here’s the Gingrich quote:
You have Obama nominating Judge Hamilton, who said in her ruling that saying the words Jesus Christ in a prayer is a sign of inappropriate behavior, but saying Allah would be OK. You’ll find most Republican senators voting against a judge who is confused about whether you can say Jesus Christ in a prayer, particularly one who is pro-Muslim being able to say Allah.
And yeah, as far as it goes, it appears Gingrich is playing fast and loose with the facts. Judge Hamilton is a man, David Hamilton, so Gingrich referring to him as her is either a sloppy error or a cleverly chosen lie intended to push the buttons of the readers of Christianity Today. Given that there has been extensive press coverage of Hamilton’s nomination, Obama’s first to the federal judiciary, I think the “sloppy error” theory doesn’t really hold water.
Tomasky tells a sob story of having to google his way through “four or five pages” of returned results, and links to a story at traditionalvalues.org (Judicial Nominee Says Prayers to Allah Okay, But Not to Jesus), saying, “This one apparently set things going.” That article is pretty bad, it’s true; it says this, for example:
Hamilton has ideal liberal credentials. He is a former ACLU lawyer and was a fundraiser for the corrupt group known as ACORN. This organization engages in fraudulent voter registration campaigns and is deeply involved in housing and poverty issues. Obama was an attorney for ACORN when he worked as a “community organizer” in Chicago. ACORN will be gathering data for the 2010 Census.
This lawyer is so radical that the liberal ABA rated him as “not qualified” when Bill Clinton nominated him for a district court post in 1994.
A few minutes’ googling on my part tells me that that characterization is pretty out there. There’s no mention of either the ACLU or ACORN in any of the three online bios of Hamilton that I’ve read. Hamilton is widely respected, has the support of Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), and is generally being talked about has having been chosen by Obama as his first nominee precisely because he’s a respected centrist.
Tomasky doesn’t really get into that. What he does get into is the question of whether or not Hamilton explicitly said mentions of Allah were okay.
So here’s where the lie comes in. Hamilton did indeed rule that Jesus Christ must not be mentioned in legislative prayers. But what did he say about Allah? It practically goes without saying that the decision doesn’t so much as mention Allah. So this is what his wing-nut critics are doing: They’re using the fact that he proscribes mentions of Jesus but does not specifically proscribe mentions of Allah to assert that he thinks mentions of Allah would be perfectly, as it were, kosher.
Um, no, actuallly. It’s kind of funny, what with all the agonies he suffered paging through Google results, that Tomasky didn’t come across this Ed Whelan item from NRO (Seventh Circuit Nominee David Hamilton: “Allah” Yes, “Jesus” No). It’s dated March 26, the same day as the traditionalvalues.org blog entry that Tomasky did link to. Whelan quotes from a post-judgment ruling in which Hamilton said that mentions of “Allah” would be okay, given the larger context that the Indiana House of Representatives does not seem to be engaged in advancing Islam at the expense of other religions in the same way that the found-to-be-unconstitutional behavior was advancing Christianity.
What do I take away from this? That short of doing some in-depth research myself (which is far easier today than it has ever been before, and probably isn’t worth whining about), I really can’t trust partisans of either the right or the left not to be dicks who mislead me intentionally in order to further their respective agendas.
More than ever, quality of sources matters. Just because it’s easy to find information that supports your pre-existing bias doesn’t mean it’s right to restrict yourself to such information. For one thing, it makes it really easy for unscrupulous people to manipulate your perceptions.