Spinsanity: Countering rhetoric with reason
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Posts - June 25-30

6/30 - Ben: Stossel resorts to rhetoric (permanent link)
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ABC's John Stossel, one of the very few network reporters given free reign to design one-hour news specials told blatantly from one ideological perspective, is turning on the spin to try to deflect accusations that he misled the parents of children he interviewed for an upcoming program. When the parents of ten children asked Stossel and ABC to not run interviews he did with the kids because they felt Stossel had pushed their children to give certain responses, Stossel consented. However, according to a story by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post, Stossel said on Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor" that the parents had been "brainwashed" by the "totalitarian left," who, he says, "want to silence people who criticize them."

Stossel's evidence? Apparently, simply that the parents had contacted Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington environmental research organization that has criticized Stossel in the past. The merits of EWG and its work are not Spinsanity's concern, however. We merely find it interesting that instead of simply granting the request of some parents and letting the issue drop, Stossel finds it necessary to make accusations against EWG without any evidence to back them up.

Apparently, Stossel thinks the fact that EWG does environmental research and has criticized him is grounds enough to make them members of the "totalitarian left." That also, conveniently enough, changes the issue from Stossel allegedly conning a number of children that he interviewed. At the very least, though, one would think Stossel would be capable of debating his critics without calling them totalitarians. One wonders what words Stossel would have left in his vocabulary to describe Stalin or Hitler.

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6/28 - Brendan: Coordinated Daschle attack admitted (permanent link)
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It's not surprising that Republicans are intensifying their attacks on Tom Daschle - Democrats did the same thing to Newt Gingrich with ruthless effectiveness after the 1994 election. But it is noteworthy that GOP sources have already admitted to Dave Boyer of the Washington Times that the "effort is coordinated" and designed to "[focus] on one Democratic 'bogeyman'".

Credit to Boyer for getting it on the record. Unfortunately, his article fails to consider the scope of the spin onslaught against Daschle. Take a look at these links to Spinsanity's extensive coverage of the anti-Daschle campaign in the media and see for yourself.

Related links:
-The Wall Street Journal and Tom Daschle (Ben Fritz, 6/2)
-Daschle-bashing 102 (Bryan Keefer, 5/30)
-The illegitimacy attack / Daschle-bashing (Brendan Nyhan, 5/25)
-Jeffords war of words (Bryan Keefer, 5/24)
-Democrats are wrong on arsenic (Brendan Nyhan, 4/30)
-Limbaugh on the warpath (Brendan Nyhan, 4/30)

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6/27 - Ben: Flipping on Thomas (permanent link)
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During the Lewinsky/impeachment controversy, conservatives often attacked liberal defenders of President Clinton for trying to make the debate about personal privacy. Clinton was, after all, impeached not for having an affair, but for lying about it under oath.

Now that conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is under attack, albeit much less seriously, the editor of the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal website has adopted the very same spin that the Journal criticized Clinton defenders for.

As The New York Times and others outlined today, former conservative activist David Brock says in an upcoming Talk magazine article that he consciously lied in a review of the book Strange Justice. Brock wrote in his review that there is no evidence that Justice Thomas ever viewed pornographic videos, but he now claims that close associates of Thomas had told him that Thomas rented such videos on numerous occasions.

To a supporter of Thomas, one of the Supreme Court's most conservative justices, this news was just the opportunity to revive the spin of ten years ago, albeit with a modern twist. In the Opinion Journal's "Best of the Web" column today, editor James Taranto brings up the privacy argument that so many Thomas defenders used ten years ago with a post-Clinton spin:

Ponder this question: Has Bill Clinton watched pornographic videos in the past 20 years? We're not interested in knowing the answer, but imagine what our friends on the left would say about us if we were: We'd be "Clinton-haters," "right-wing maniacs," "sexual McCarthyites." We can't deny they'd have a point.
Somehow, though, these same folks consider it a high-minded matter of civic concern whether Clarence Thomas watched porn videos in the privacy of his home almost a fifth of a century ago.

Whether Justice Thomas watched pornographic videos is of direct public concern, however, given that one of the accusations Anita Hill made against him was that Thomas sexually harassed her by talking explicitly about the pornography that he watched. Surely if Thomas never watched pornography, that would be relevant evidence since it would make talking explicitly about it impossible. Why is evidence to the contrary different?

Taranto glosses over all this in an effort to demonstrate liberal hypocrisy. But, as so many conservatives reminded us, the issue in the Clinton impeachment was lying under oath about it, not the affair itself. It's too bad that that Taranto chooses to adopt the worst spin tactics of liberal Clinton defenders to turn things around this time.

Related links:
-Civil Rights Jargon in the Boy Scouts Debate (Brendan Nyhan, 6/25)

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6/26 - Brendan: Identity politics insanity (permanent link)
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Last month, liberal members of the Hawaii American Civil Liberties Union torpedoed an invitation to Clarence Thomas to participate in a debate at their First Amendment conference, according to Robert M. Rees's article in the Honolulu Weekly. Why? Read these three (separate) excerpts:

The primary argument against extending the invitation, as [ACLU board member Daphne] Barbee-Wooten wrote, is that, "Bringing Clarence Thomas sends a message that the Hawaii ACLU promotes and honors black Uncle Toms who turn their back on civil rights."
Eric Ferrer [another board member] ... maintained that Justice Thomas is "an anti-Christ, a Hitler, and it's like having a serial murderer debate the value of life."
[Former ACLU President Roger Fonseca] said to the board on May 21, "...If not Hitler, he is a Goebbels."

I'll leave aside the personal insults quoted in the article and the hypocrisy of the ACLU not inviting someone to a debate because of the views they hold. Our focus is misleading, destructive rhetoric. This is it - precisely the type of hateful rhetoric that is often used to try to silence and marginalize conservatives. Credit to Andrew Sullivan for highlighting the Rees article, and to ACLU President Nadine Stossen for criticizing the board's antics.

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Related links:
-Brendan Nyhan, Sullivan slammed unfairly (6/19 post)

6/25 - Bryan: "Global Apartheid" (permanent link)
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In the most recent edition of the Nation, Salih Booker and William Minter coin a new shibboleth with powerful emotional connotations: "global apartheid." Using the HIV-AIDS crisis in Africa as a starting point, they attack pharmaceutical companies for "murder by patent" before continuing on to a critique of the current international economic order:

Global apartheid, stated briefly, is an international system of minority rule whose attributes include: differential access to basic human rights; wealth and power structured by race and place; structural racism . . . and the international practice of double standards that assume inferior rights to be appropriate for certain `others,' defined by location, origin, race or gender.

Booker and Minter are essentially arguing for a racialization of the current critique of globalization. While there is certainly a place for discussion of race in the emerging international economy, using a phrase with such deep associations is not a contribution to the debate. Rather, it is an attempt to win the battle of public relations, as the authors themselves make clear near the end of the article:

Allowing the defenders of privilege to monopolize the term "globalization" for their own vision too easily allows them to portray themselves as agents of an impersonal process . . . If we do not intend to surrender the globe to them, then we should not surrender the term globalization. . . . It is also not enough to counter with proposals for 'people's globalization' or `globalization from below.'
Rather, we should make it clear that genuine globalization requires that global democracy replace global apartheid.

The authors of the article make some valid, reasonable points - yet framing their argument with a loaded term is not only an emotional trick, it deprives their analysis of the moral high ground it seeks to stake out. Overblown phrases carrying powerful emotional associations only make the authors sound strident and hysterical.

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Related links on Spinsanity:
-Bryan Keefer, "The "local control' bait and switch (6/22 post)
-Bryan Keefer, "'Last-Minute' Spinning: Discrediting Clinton's Regulations" (6/11 column)
-Brendan Nyhan, "Kuttner's Tax Increase Euphemism" (6/5 post)

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