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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Fact-free Instapundit inflicts more false conventional wisdom on his readers

by Glenn Greenwald

(updated below -- including a reply to Instapundit's response (See Update V))

One of the most destructive attributes in our political dialogue is the mindless embrace of notions of conventional wisdom, which just get repeated over and over by those who are too lazy to think critically about anything. And there are few places where conventional talking points thrive with as much vibrancy as they do on Instapundit's blog. Here is what Instapundit had to say about last night's Democratic Senate primary results in Virginia, where Jim Webb defeated Harris Miller for the right to challenge Republican Sen. George Allen:

A reader emails: "Don't you think it's also bad news for the left fringe of the Democrat party? I think it shows that voters will not support the Howard Dean-Kos-fringe and it makes for interesting times as Democrats try to find a presidental (sic) candidate for 2008." Yes, when Democrats move to the center, it's bad news for both Republicans and the Democratic far-left.

This is so blatantly wrong on so many levels, but Instapundit can't interpret political events without reliance on this childish framework, so he uses it because he has no other option. The choice between Harris Miller and Jim Webb was not a choice between some far left candidate versus a moderate or conservative candidate. To the contrary, Miller is a corporate lawyer and telecommunications lobbyist who was recruited to run, and actively supported by, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a moderate to conservative candidate (see Update below). On almost every issue, Miller positioned himself as a moderate. As The Washington Post put it when endorsing him: "there is no doubting the thought he has devoted to his positions, which are on the moderate end of the Democratic Party's spectrum."

Worse still for Instapundit's "point," Webb -- the former Secretary of Navy in the Reagan Administration and life-long Republican -- was supported, not opposed, by what Instapundit stupidly refers to as the "the Howard Dean-Kos-fringe." John Kerry supported and actively campaigned for Webb, and Kos himself endorsed Webb, not Miller, and said this:

Tomorrow's big contest is Virginia, were VA netroots favorite (and my own) Jim Webb takes on former corporate lobbyist Harris Miller. It's one of those campaigns were both the local netroots and establishment agree on the better candidate -- like the folks over at Raising Kane who love the hard-charging fighting Dem, as well as establishment Democrats like Chuck Schumer and John Kerry.

The leftist ideologue socialist fanatic fringe lunatic Kos also made this point before the primary:

There are lots of ex-Republican Democrats out there. I'm one of them. Jim Webb is another. And over time, we'll get more. And there's no stronger messenger for that cause than Jim Webb himself. . . . I'll be blunt. If Harris Miller wins, there probably won't be much of a Senate race in Virginia in November.

So the truth is, as is so often the case, the precise opposite of Instapundit's statements. Kos himself supported the winning candidate. So did the "leftist fringe" national political figures like John Kerry. And Webb's defeated opponent, far from being some sort of Hero of the Left, was a run-of-the-mill corporate lobbyist who positioned himself as a moderate to conservative on almost every issue. And yet those unfortunate souls who trust Instapundit's "analysis" and believe what he says are walking around today laboring under the standard fantasy that Webb's victory was a repudiation of the "the Howard Dean-Kos-fringe" even though that "fringe" supported Webb.

This is just one more misleading Instapundit post about a relatively obscure primary race, so why does this matter? Because this same fiction is repeated over and over in all corners and, despite its glaring falsity, has the status of conventional wisdom among the national media. Anti-Bush bloggers are leftist ideologues. Their goal is to force the Democratic Party to adopt ideologically leftist positions and therefore will ensure its defeat. Mainstream political figures like Howard Dean and John Kerry -- whose views on most issues are supported by the majority of Americans -- are fringe, extremist leftists whom the anti-Bush bloggers love because of their leftist extremism. And all of them are radioactive losers whose influence and even mere existence are fatal to Democrats.

This is the same intellectual sloth and dishonesty which enables the Instapundit's of the world, to this day, to continue to depict Howard Dean as being some sort of leftist extremist when Dean is one of the least ideological political figures on the national scene and, to the extent he can be ideologically characterized at all, is to the right of most national Democrats on most issues and has been for his entire career. What specific views does Dean hold, or Kos for that matter, which can be characterized by any honest person as "extremist"? While this conventional wisdom is spewed, that question is never answered. But Republicans have pounded that smear drum for so long, and the media has passively ingested and then disseminated it so thoroughly, that the Instapundit's of the world have had that "point" engrained in their head and can never do anything but repeat it endlessly despite its complete separation from what is real.

All week, as the television pundits were forced by the success of YearlyKos to talk about a blogosphere that they plainly don't understand and would vastly prefer to ignore, one was subjected to this fiction over and over. Bloggers are pushing Democrats to the fringe "Left" -- inhabited by socialist revolutionaries like Howard Dean and Al Gore -- and their growing influence therefore poses a serious problem for Democrats, who have to move away from those sorts of extremist freaks if they have any chance whatsoever of finally ending their streak of being rejected by normal Americans.

It's not a surprise that Instapundit reflexively recites this trite world view, although it matters because he has a readership larger than most American daily newspapers. I wonder whether Instapundit (pundit@instapundit.com) will retract his false claim that the Virginia result represents a repudiation of the "the Howard Dean-Kos-fringe" given that this "fringe" supported the winning candidate. And I wonder further what has to happen for people like Instapundit and his intellectual twins in the national media to cease referring to individuals with plainly mainstream positions as constituting some sort of extremist fringe.

UPDATE: James Norton has published a superb op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor detailing the views of the Founding Fathers with regard to the treatment of war prisoners -- views which are, unsurprisingly, squarely at odds with the views of the current administration.

UPDATE II: As a reminder: I will be in DC tonight beginning at 6:30 p.m,, speaking about the book at an event sponsored by Drinking Liberally, at Mark & Orlando’s (2nd Floor Bar -- 2020 P Street NW). The details are here.

Tomorrow night (Thursday), I will be in New York for a book party at Rudy’s Bar & Grill -- 627 Ninth Ave. (between 44th and 45th Streets). It begins at 6:00 p.m. Several excellent bloggers based in New York have told me they intend to come, and it should be a worthwhile event. And on Saturday (June 17) at 8:00 p.m., I am speaking at the Writer’s Voice Series, at the West Side YMCA, The George Washington Lounge, located at 5 W. 63rd St. (between CPW & Bway).

UPDATE III: Libertarian Ronald Bailey of Reason, who has not voted for a single Democrat since 1972, explains today why he voted for Jim Webb and intends to support Democrats this year (h/t Hypatia). As I explained in this post some time ago, I think Democrats can count on support from people who aren't typically inclined to vote for Democrats but who view gridlock and balance as vastly preferable to the corruption and ineptitude generated by one-party Republican rule. Democrats ought to actively court people like this by emphasizing the virtues of partisan balance.

UPDATE IV: Apparently, Warner only supported Miller up until the point when Webb announced he would enter the race. Once that happened, Warner declared neutrality and participated in a fundraiser for Webb (having previously done so for Miller).

UPDATE V: Reynolds' reply to this post is about as coherent and honest as the original Reynolds post which prompted this. Contrary to his self-serving characterization, I didn't criticize him because he innocently "missed the fact that the Kos crowd had backed James Webb." The point is that he interpreted the results as a repudiation of the "the Howard Dean-Kos-fringe" without having any basis whatsoever for making that claim, because that cheap, trite "fringe" name-calling -- which is designed to demonize mainstream Democrats -- is the only framework people like Reynolds have for understanding political events.

Reynolds then misleads his readers into thinking that I posted this criticism of him only after he updated his post ("I updated it when Markos and others emailed me, but that didn't stop Glenn Greenwald from putting up a post savaging me for the error . . . "). In fact, I posted this well before he updated his post, an update of which I was unaware until much later due to the fact that I'm travelling on my book tour, don't regularly read Instapundit, and he provided no link to my post when updating his. It's highly likely that Markos was able to e-mail Instapundit to correct him only as a result of seeing my post (which Markos then linked to) or hearing from my readers.

In any event, the link to the Reynolds post in my post here takes the reader directly to the "updated" material, such that anyone clicking on it would see it. And the "update" never addresses the central point -- how Reynolds could expressly attribute these Virginia results to a rejection of the Kos-Dean "fringe" when there was never any even theoretical basis for telling his readers such a thing. He simply invented it out of whole cloth to fit in with his stunted understanding of political events. Nor does he address why he smears Howard Dean and Kos as being part of a "fringe" even though virtually every political view they have is well within the political mainstream.

In his reply, Reynolds also indulges in what has become the depressingly common and usually dishonest tactic of whining that he is being abused by "illiterate" e-mailers. He complains that he has been subject to a "steady trickle of mostly illiterate emails from Greenwald readers" (emphasis added). Given that my posts are typically lengthy and well-documented discussions of matters such as executive power theories and constitutional principles, I highly doubt that I can count many illiterate people among my readership. Such individuals would seem far more inclined to be attracted to bloggers whose "content" consists of a carousel of the same one-word, empty cliches spat out over and over ("Indeed. Interesting. Heh."). Other bloggers who have been the target of criticism of mine in the past -- including Jonah Goldberg and Joe Mancow -- have been honest enough to admit that the e-mails they received from my readers were both civil and substantive.

Finally, Reynolds claims that I "ha[ve] a thing about [him]." In response to this post, I received an e-mail from a prominent blogger bringing to my attention some amazingly hostile exchanges he had with Reynolds from a couple of years ago, and in response, I e-mailed back and wrote this:

I actually appreciate people like Michelle Malkin and John Hinderaker for at least having the courage of their convictions. They don't hide what they are.

But Reynolds' need to parade around as the moderate, reasonable libertarian - always promoting and applauding the grossest extremism while staying safe enough distance away from it to give plausible deniability - is inherently deceitful to its core.

Whether that qualifies as having "a thing" for Reynolds is really just semantics, but I will confess to finding the common tactics Reynolds uses -- for instance, labelling his political opponents part of the "fringe" even though it is Reynolds' pro-war views which are rejected by majorities of Americans, or linking to and promoting repugnant arguments only to then claim that he "only" linked to it when he is called to account -- to be the opposite of argumentative integrity and honesty.

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