Friday, September 03, 2004

More On Max Boot, and His Rhetoric
There is plenty of precedent for guerrillas trying to affect a U.S. election. In 1900, American troops were embroiled in another nasty counterinsurgency halfway around the world that was not going as well as planned. After the Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan, promised to pull out of the Phillippines, the insurrectos launched a fall offensive in order to secure his election.

Is there any evidence to back up Max's statements, or is he merely providing testimony riddled with assocation equals causation fallacies? As a reminder, association does not equal causation, so one would expect at least a sliver of evidence here to support the claim, rather than a timeline. As I mentioned in the last post, I went looking for evidence, and at least on Google, there doesn't seem any to be found.

And this seems to bespeak a problem we have with media, and specifically our editorial writers. In the old days, it wasn't really feasible to put all your evidence, or even footnotes, in the op/ed, because you're obviously limited in space, needing to keep your spiel within a certain number of words (not much unlike Fahrenheit 9-11, I might add, which is like a documentary op/ed, and clearly couldn't have balanced every argument and still provided as much information or remained as entertaining for moviegoers).

In these prior days, one would expect that editors would at least vet op/ed submissions for truth claims, and expect documentation to back them up. It's one thing to state an opinion on a matter, quite another to make the categorical statement (a truth claim) that "there is plenty of precedent for guerrillas trying to affect a U.S. election".

And keep in mind that I'm not saying Max is wrong, but only that I would expect the editor of a newspaper to be able to query Max on his truth claims, even if this is not available to the reader, before allowing it to be printed. In addition, now that we are in the Internet age, there is no reason that these footnotes ought not be provided in the web version of op/eds.

These thoughts are not only motivated by Max. I've noticed a disturbing trend of letters to the editor, in various newspapers, that make categorical and clearly false claims about the Berger affair involving the National Archives, directly lying and mischaracterizing the facts of this episode, which are that Berger was always working with copies, and not originals (not to mention noone 'on record' seemingly having yet confirmed the 'pants and sock stuffing' accusations).

The letters to the editors all share in common claims that Berger could have destroyed evidence and hindered the 9-11 investigation, even though the 9-11 Commission itself has issued a public statement that the Berger investigation had no impact on its activities, and that there was no risk that documents were kept from the commission due to this affair.

This seems an easy and obvious enough intervention for an editor to make, in determining whether an op/ed, either from a reader or paid contributor, is worthy of being published. If it's frankly false, based upon the available information, not in the opinion portion but in the truth claims supporting the opinion, then the submission should be rejected, or at least corrected for truth claims in an editor's note following the item.


I first noticed the Berger letters to the editor in the Orange County Register, sometime in the past month, which devoted an entire page of Berger-focused letters to the editor that were infested with obviously false truth claims (apparently not bothering the so-called reason loving editors of this rag, notorious for its overt libertarian character).