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.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

How myth gets built into conventional wisdom

Here are two examples perfectly illustrating how conventional wisdom is created by journalists and pundits who are either lazy, dishonest, or both:

(1) James Carville tells The New Republic's Ryan Lizza that he thinks Harold Ford should replace Howard Dean as DNC Chair. Lizza turns that into a claim that "some big name Democrats want to oust DNC Chairman Howard Dean, arguing that his stubborn commitment to the 50-state strategy and his stinginess with funds for House races cost the Democrats several pickup opportunities."

That in turn leads Anne Kornblut in her article today in The New York Times -- identifying the "winners and losers" in the midterm elections -- to assert that "the jury is still out on Howard Dean" because:

With rumblings of a movement to draft Mr. Ford to replace Mr. Dean at the national committee, several Democrats privately said Mr. Emanuel was winning the power struggle.

“It’s pretty clear that the committees work and the D.N.C. works, but they don’t work together,” said James Carville, the Democratic strategist. “And now we’re getting ready to gear up in a presidential year, and I think Harold Ford would be a great chairman.”

It's a "movement" of one, because all of this comes from James Carville's stray comment placed in TNR (and he's also the only one Kornblut quotes). But now this will be conventional wisdom -- tacitly accepted everywhere and never examined -- that Dean is in trouble, that a major faction of the Democratic Party wants Dean out as DNC Chair, that there is a war among various Democratic factions over Dean.

This will all now be "fact" even though Carville has no constituency whatsoever, represents nobody, has no way to oust Dean, and is simply venting long-standing animosity he has towards the insurgent, anti-establishment Dean (who, unlike an envious Carville, actually represents and is supported by large numbers of people). But Carville's one comment, to lazy reporters, means now that there is some major tension among "Democrats" and that some imagined "jury" is still out on Howard Dean. All of that is based on nothing.

(2) Jonah Goldberg yesterday publishes an e-mail he claims he received from some anonymous person. That person claims that he was present for Jim Webb's victory speech, and then claims that this is what happened there:

They had to run that clip because the much of the rest of [Webb's] speech was an absolute riot.

He started off by mentioning that "tomorrow is an extremely important day for America," and the crowd went wild, thinking he was talking about taking power. But of course, he launched into his praise of the Marine Corps, and the crowd cheered a little less loudly. Then he thanked all the brave veterans and brave men still fighting, and the crowd cheered a little less loudly again.

Then he mentioned that he received a call from Sen. Allen, and the crowd went nuts again. Then he mentioned how pleasant and dignified Allen was, and the crowd grew quiet. Then he said he was having lunch next week with Allen — and the crowd was dead silent. Finally he told the audience that they should all thank Sen./Gov. Allen for his many years of dedicated service to the people of Virginia — and you could almost hear the people gathered looking at each other asking, "What the $#@! did we just do?"

It was priceless.

Jonah labels this "good stuff." This led, in turn, to all sorts of right-wing pundits citing this anonymous e-mail and calling it a "report," as though it's authoritative and accurately describes what really happened. So from now on, it will be conventional wisdom -- established fact -- that Democrats hate the Marines, hate the troops, hate any sort of conciliation or grace in victory, and are basically a bunch of unpatriotic, anti-military creeps who are going to have severe tension with Jim Webb.

How many hours until it's on Fox, and then elsewhere? And all of that will be based on a single anonymous e-mail which Jonah Goldberg claims to have received, and it will now to be considered established fact, to be repeated over and over in all sorts of venues ("but some signs suggest that there is already tension between the military hero Webb and the more traditional Democrats who make up the base of the party . . . . ").


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