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August 15, 2002

Poor old horse A lot of my friends like the lefty attack website Media Whores Online. I don’t. Spinsanity explains why.
MWO uses the worst tactics of its opponents: crude ad hominem attacks on the media, all-encompassing good guy/bad guy ideological dichotomies and inflammatory rhetorical attacks linking conservatives to dictatorship, Nazis, radical Islam and al Qaeda terrorists. This is simply not acceptable and the site’s high-profile backers are wrong to indulge it; if MWO continues to gain strength, it will pull us further into the abyss of abusive and irrational rhetoric. […]

In short, MWO does not have “a wonderful joie de vivre” as Alterman has written. It is not true that, “however nutty the person/people might be, they have a certain flinty integrity” (Alterman on his Altercation weblog in June). They are not endearingly “scrappy” or “pesky activists” (Gene Lyons, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, 5/1/02 and 2/27/02). And they are not “great” (Begala).

MWO’s tactics simply pollute the public discourse.

A lot of MWO’s defenders see themselves as travelling alongside the ideas promulgated in this recent Michael Tomasky article about how liberals and Democrats need to stop getting rolled by rhetorically-confident right-wingers. I’m down with that. I’m less convinced that the best way to fight fire is to douse yourself with gasoline and strike a match.

[UPDATE: Eric Alterman feels Spinsanity quoted him out of context, and makes a reasonable case for the proposition.] [02:54 PM]

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Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Poor old horse:

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2002, 07:49 PM:

"I'm less convinced that the best way to fight fire is to douse yourself with gasoline and strike a match. "

Yeah. It's tough to find the right spot between "Reasoned and polite but too wussy accomplish anything" and "Frothing ideologue only fit for reinforcing in-group norms."

zizka ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 01:05 AM:

It is just plain false that MWO uses the worst tactics of the right.

Like many rightwing sites and media spokesmen, MWO is harsh and partisan. Those are not the worst things about the right wingers though.

Repeated, blatant inaccuracy which is never corrected is one of the worst things about the right wing. Accusations of treason and threats of violence -- sometimes veiled, sometimes not -- are two more of the worst things about the right wing. If you have ever seen these on MWO get back to me.

Being nice doesn't always work. Maybe basketball didn't use to be a contact sport, but it is now. You have to play the game the way it's played.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 01:25 AM:

"You have to play the game the way it's played."

Which is to say: you're obliged to adopt all your enemies' strategies, complete with their weaknesses.

Pardon me, but that's pathetic.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 02:05 AM:

I'm with you Patrick, but I hereby nominate you for most inscrutable blog titles.

MKK

Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 02:23 AM:

I've blogged my disagreement with you here.

Scott Janssens ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 03:58 AM:

I hadn't heard of MWO before now. If I stumbled on it on my own I'd have thought it was satire.

The site begins with the preface:

"Media Whores Online takes an unbiased, in-depth look at the astonishingly vast myriad of whores who call themselves 'journalists.'"

and then writes,

"Isn't 'President [sic] Bush,' who stole the votes of 50 million Americans, knew it, yet continued to push an agenda the people of this country rejected, completely malevolent? Of course he is."

Those quotes around President Bush are not a quotation. Yeah, that's real unbiased. I don't think I'll be visting again.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 08:06 AM:

In fairness to MWO, I really don't think the issue is whether they're "biased" or not. That boilerplate preface is, I think, intended as satire of a sort; at least, the people involved with the site frequently defend this or that by saying they're being satirical. After all, Fox News claims to be "unbiased", too, and they're not even aspiring to satire; they're just lying.

There are several problems with the "satire" claim, though. One is that it seems to be deployed mostly to defend excursions into the indefensible. Another is that they aren't actually very pointed or funny.

Mary Kay, I've seen many people jokingly refer to Media Whores Online as "Media Horse."

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 08:13 AM:

Chris, I read your post, and I'm just stunned at the idea that you think I have some problem with deploying "ridicule" or "invective" against this particular Administration. If you think that's what I (or Spinsanity) are criticizing MWO for, I'm left wondering if you and I live in the same universe.

Daryl McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 10:16 AM:

MWO may be harsh and aggressive, but they aren't the left-wing equivalent to Limbaugh and the dittoheads. The issues brought up by Spinsanity and other MWO critics are discussed openly and thoughtfully on the MWO site by MWO and its readers. Yes, sometimes angrily, as well, but anger sometimes is a legitimate emotional response.

I have questioned the MWO tone, too, but I find most of their criticism of politicians and the media to be accurate in substance. MWO is certainly not balanced in its views (although politically they are actually more moderate than extreme liberal). But I think that they help make the political discourse as a whole more balanced by giving voice to views that are often ignored in more polite mainstream outlets. For MWO to become more "balanced" by including editorials reiterating what is already said in the mainstream would be redundant.

Even if they are to everyone's taste (and I'm not 100 percent sure that they're to mine) I'm glad that MWO exists.

Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 11:07 AM:

This article from Spinsanity seems to be another in the "Liberals shouldn't fight" cannon. Puh-lease.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 11:33 AM:

Oh, bullshit, Oliver.

This isn't about whether liberals should or shouldn't "fight", or use "invective" or "ridicule." That's an incredibly oversimplified view of the options available, and to hear this kind of thing coming out of the mouths of people as smart as you or Christine simply appalls me.

Yeah. Sometimes it's tough to navigate a path between being a virtuous patsy and an effective thug. News break: The solution isn't to simply throw up our hands and go "Oh, well, might as well be a thug."

I'd be happy to see a site twice as ferocious and mocking as MWO, if it was well-written and sharp. MWO isn't that site.

Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 12:03 PM:

I just don't see it that way. The tenor of the Spinsanity article comes across as: "conservative sites do this, liberal sites shouldn't". It strikes me as a double standard. But we agree to disagree...

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 12:51 PM:

Maybe you're better at reading the "tenor" of the Spinsanity article than I am. What I read were the words. What those words appear to say is that it's stupid and reprehensible to be dishonest. Perhaps the part about forgiving conservatives for the same sins was printed in invisible ink. Or invisible HTML.

If there's anyone on the web with a better record than Spinsanity of refuting--in detail!--the dishonesty of right-wing rhetoric, I'd like to know who that might be. Now, Spinsanity is written by human beings, not angels, and I imagine a close analysis of the site over time could reveal many errors of emphasis and fact. Spinsanity's writers tend toward the left; they could tend to favor left-leaning writers because they agree with them, or they could overcompensate by being extra-hard on them. However, it seems highly unlikely that they're just blithely adopting a "double standard." In fact, your claim to this effect is in fact a very serious charge which you really ought to back up with something better than assertions about "tenor."

Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 01:04 PM:

I'm not a fan of MWO's rhetorical style, and I'm not a regular reader of the site. But I agree with zizka that MWO doesn't use "the worst tactics of its opponents". It isn't the namecalling on the right that's polluted this nation's political discourse. It's the use of deliberate lies, and carelessness with the truth, and the former is a cause of the latter. My greatest frustration is with people who repeat Republican talking points without caring whether they're true or not. You can rebut them endlessly without making an impression because they don't _care_ about objective truth--all they care about is whether their rhetoric is effective. That in my mind is what "pollut[ion] of the public discourse" means. The effect of bouncing lies through an echo chamber is to enable a breed of pseudopundits, for whom dialogue is irrelevant, to drown out dialogue. Not only is it impossible to have an honest discussion with these people, but their volume makes it difficult for more serious people to make themselves heard.

Namecalling, while childish, doesn't have the same impact. Flagrantly biased rhetoric doesn't have the same impact. These tactics may be annoying, but they don't leak into the mainstream of public discourse as readily, and so I don't take the metaphor of "pollution" as seriously. I think it's important to make a distinction between rhetorical tactics that are distasteful in themselves and rhetorical tactics that tend to contaminate the broader discourse in distasteful ways. Namecalling is the sort of tactic that doesn't spread. Only people who call names will call names. But lying isn't--people who wouldn't tell a lie will repeat a lie.

MWO is generally recognized as honest and acknowledges the need to support its charges with sources and links. That puts it miles above its worst opponents, and Patrick's and Spinsanity's failure to acknowledge this more prominently strikes me as a serious defect in their argument.

Nick Kessler ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 01:10 PM:

I've posted my take on the Spinsanity article here.

Daryl McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 01:19 PM:

Patrick,

What I read were the words. What those words appear to say is that it's stupid and reprehensible to be dishonest.

I don't see that Spinsanity is accusing MWO of dishonesty. Instead, they say

They also make a relatively small number of outright factual errors relative to many of the pundits we write about, though I caught them in one recently.

Most days, however, the site simply presents angry, partisan spin and quotes from articles, transcripts and reader emails that bolster its viewpoint. Readers certainly understand what they are getting from the site, and the editors usually link to their source articles when making substantive claims (to their credit), making it easier to evaluate the information directly. Still, that's no excuse for some of the most aggressive jargon on the Internet.

It seems to me that their complaint is with the "aggressive jargon" and "angry partisan spin".

Daryl McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 01:30 PM:

Sorry if I'm making a nuisance of myself here, but I would like to say one more thing about Oliver vs. Patrick here. If Spinsanity's point (or yours) was "MWO is dishonest" rather than "MWO should tone down the rhetoric" then I have an even bigger disagreement. That's a pretty strong accusation, and I think it is completely false. At least, I haven't seen anything dishonest about anything that they have written, and neither you nor Spinsanity has pointed out anything that I would call dishonesty.

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 01:39 PM:

I'm sort of torn on this (and, full disclosure, posted a tepid defense of MWO a while ago).

In general terms, I agree with what Patrick and the guys at Spinsanity are saying-- the sort of shrill ranting that MWO is prone to adds little to political discourse in this country. What I'd like to see is more calm, reasoned discussion of issues, and less ranting and raving.

The problem with this, though, is that the level of discourse has already been lowered, and only on one side. Coulter and Limbaugh and Horowitz and Sullivan feel perfectly free to spew bile all over the place, and hammer away on their opponents with blatant lies, even after they've been called on it.

And the hell of it is, it works. Lies and spittle-flecked ranting make great television, while calm, reasoned discourse makes for television that's about as compelling as public access cable. Splashy stuff makes headlines, and the right-wing ranters have exploited this to great effect.

The question then becomes: what can you do about it? And the simple fact is that in modern electoral politics, when calm and reasoned discourse collides with irrational ranting, the ranting wins. It's the same as the "negative campaigning" issue-- every election cycle, we get one story after another where voters are polled and say that they deplore negative campaigning. And every election cycle, the candidates who dive right into the sewer and swim around flinging crap at their opponents win. Everyone hates negative campaigning, but it works. If it didn't work, they'd stop doing it.

So we're left in a terrible spot. What Spinsanity is asking for-- and, to their credit, what they're doing-- is to meet lies with facts, rants with reason. It's essentially the nonviolent resistence approach, to seize and hold the Moral High Ground of responsible politics, and refuse to be budged no matter how much crap your opponent flings.

This suffers from the "Gandhi vs. the Draka" problem-- nonviolent resistence is a wonderful tactic, provided your opponent cares about his image. Gandhi was able to successfully resist the British, and Martin Luther King had great success here because the British and Americans want very badly for people to think that we're Good Guys. Stalin would've machine-gunned every last Indian before breakfast, and sent the survivors to the North Pole.

Spinsanity's approach isn't successful against the Limbaughs of the world, because they simply don't care. They can debunk every last word in Ann Coulter's ridiculous book, and it won't make an ounce of difference, because she doesn't give a damn. She probably already knows that half of what she's saying is blatantly false, and the other half is badly distorted, but it works, and she's not going to give it up no matter how many times you calmly refute her.

Which leaves you with a choice between behaving responsibly, even admirably, and getting creamed, or sinking to the deplorable level of your opponents to fight them on their own ground. Short of some miraculous transformation in the way the mass media work, or the way the American people think, those are the only choices.

Presented with that choice, I can't say I'd go the MWO route. I'm not averse to the occasional rant, but I don't think I could live with myself if I went in for the endless mud-slinging that you need to do to be effective (and I'm almost positive that Kate wouldn't live with me if I did...). I'll try to stay civil, and do my best to ignore or calmly rebut the lies and smears of the less savory elements of the "blogosphere," and avoid sinking to their level. (I don't always succeed, but I do try...)

But I can't say I'm really unhappy to see somebody else getting in there and fighting dirty. It's vaguely regrettable, but I just don't see a workable alternative.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 01:54 PM:

I'm confused. MWO, and its defenders, happily talk about how what they're doing is in response to the behavior (and the apparatus) of the dittohead Right. It's the overtly-stated rationale for their overwrought style. But we're not supposed to suggest that there are notable similarities between MWO and, say, Rush Limbaugh? I'm not Spinsanity and I don't propose to defend every jot and tittle of their piece. Quite possibly saying that MWO uses "the worst tactics of its opponents" was a claim too far. (Some of Limbaugh's tactics are, I agree, more rank than anything I've seen on MWO.) But it hardly seems out of bounds to take MWO at their own word about what they're doing. And I can't help but notice that a lot of people in this thread seem to want to focus on the sins of the right-wing attack sites, as if they were some kind of absolute index for what's acceptable and what isn't. Jesus, first we let them steal Florida, and now we're going to put them in charge of what's right and what isn't? No thank you.

As for honesty, well, if you really think routinely calling people "fascists," "traitors," and "terrorists" is honest, I doubt we have much to talk about. My problem isn't that I think such invective has no place in politics. Quite the opposite: I find that, here on Earth in 2002, there really are fascists, traitors, and terrorists, and some of them are in fact in positions of power in America. But if we just use the words as synonyms for "doodyhead," we don't have 'em when we need 'em.

Finally, I note that absolutely nobody seems to want to discuss my observation that the kind of half-smart thinking that results in sites like MWO is, in fact, not smart. Imitating your enemy too closely just means you wind up adopting your enemy's weaknesses.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 01:57 PM:

(Chad Orzel's substantive post slipped in while I was writing mine, so none of my generalizations about posts-thus-far include him. I've got to go out, but I'll return to this later.)

Yahmdallah ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 02:12 PM:

"Imitating your enemy too closely just means you wind up adopting your enemy's weaknesses."

But everyone keeps pointing out that it's not a weakness of the ditto-heat right - it's a strength - it works. The lies stick, the debate becomes skewed.

So, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Daryl McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 02:23 PM:

As for honesty, well, if you really think routinely calling people "fascists," "traitors," and "terrorists" is honest, I doubt we have much to talk about...But if we just use the words as synonyms for "doodyhead," we don't have 'em when we need 'em.

I consider it "inflammatory rhetoric" or "exaggeration for rhetorical effect". Calling it dishonesty is an example of the same sort of thing, isn't it?

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 02:31 PM:

If the arena of public discourse is polluted and debased by dishonest rhetoric, further polluting it with more dishonest rhetoric (calling people fascists and terrorists if they aren't is dishonest) is going to help. Um, run that by me again; I must have missed something. Promulgation of hate, divisiveness, and lies can never be a good thing. This may be an article of faith, but it's mine. You can rant without being dishonest. You can be colorful enough to attract peoples' attention without spreading hate. The trick of course, is to get the forum to do it in. Nobody's out there putting Molly Ivins on thousands of radios daily. We need to find us some of that liberal media to help provide forums for colorful ranters who tell the truth. Who care about truth. Who care about something besides obtaining and keeping power at all costs.

MKK

PS: Patrick and Chad: you guys rock. Marry me?

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 02:46 PM:

In response to Chad -- calm boring reasoned debate or fascinating mudslinging ranting are not the only two possibilities in the world. There's the technique Ken Livingston used very successfully against the Tories in the eighties of doing something mediagenic and orthogonal to where the opposition is standing. There's at least the possibility of passionate reasoned debate that is so good that it becomes fascinating. There's even the chance of using the things intended as circuses in unusual political ways. There are probably lots of things that just vanish into a excluded middle once you define calm and reasoned as dull and ranting and mudslinging as vote-catching.

It may even be possible for inflationary rhetoric to be hoist with its own petard -- I've done this in personal argument by stopping someone after they've said something of the "running dogs of capitalism" kind and just letting their statement sit there for a moment and then repeating it slowly verbatim and calmly, without even irony, whereupon people who wish to maintain any shred of credibility find it impossible to hold to it.

But this assumes people of reasonable goodwill, and if we could assume that we wouldn't be having this problem.

Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 02:46 PM:

Hmm. I don't see any intent to deceive in the use of words like "fascist" and "traitor" as epithets, but you're right that the distortion of their meaning does cause MWO to present untruths as truths, and so calling them dishonest is a fair cop.

I still think there's a qualitative difference between the level of dishonesty on their site and the dishonesty of a Limbaugh or a Coulter, but I'd have to think more carefully before I chose words to describe it.

I hadn't really grasped that you were arguing that MWO-style rhetoric is a weakness--by which I think you mean that it's ineffective and even counterproductive--rather than a bad thing regardless of its effectiveness. I have no trouble agreeing that it's bad, but I have less confidence with either the claim that it's effective or the claim that it isn't. How can you tell?

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 03:20 PM:

"Don't stoop to the bullies level. You're better than they are."

Useful?

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 06:25 PM:

> "Don't stoop to the bullies' level."

In junior high school, that tactic always resulted in the bullies beating the crap out of you.

Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 06:48 PM:

The article says: "Most days, however, the site simply presents angry, partisan spin and quotes from articles, transcripts and reader emails that bolster its viewpoint."

What I am saying is that for the type of site MWO is, why is this a problem? Maybe Spinsanity is filtering them as a "news outlet" (like the NYTimes, Post, etc.) but as far as a partisan news-discussion site goes (Lucianne.com,Limbaugh, Free Republic, the usual suspects). As I said on my site, I usually like Spinsanity, and find them truly "fair & balanced" (something I wouldn't accuse myself of being).

And yes, the bullies usually kick your ass if at least some of you aren't willing to fight. If MWO was the vanguard of liberal thought online I would be tut-tutting them along with you all. But maybe 8yrs of the anti-Clinton machine has made me a bit bitter, and I see a place for this kind of invective.

Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 06:50 PM:

correction to my post: "but as far as a partisan news-discussion site goes (Lucianne.com,Limbaugh, Free Republic, the usual suspects) it's par for the course."

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 06:53 PM:

I wish that MWO was funnier. Or even funny. There is fine irony and blackest humor available for exploitation, why do we see so little of it from the left?

I think that the screeching tone of MWO is counter-productive because the people that it must needs convince and appeal to don't like that tone. We can't convert the dittoheads, and would you really want to if you could? Is that the kind of political movement you want to be involved in? I don't, and I won't hang with a group that does.

In between the dittoheads to the right and the loonies like me to the left, there are a lot of people who are fascinated by color and noise, but don't actually like cruelty. They don't fact-check, so they're easy to lie to, but they are also responsive to information from people who _have_ done fact-checking for them. They like a good fight -- who doesn't? Limbaugh offers color and noise, and a good fight, but so does Carville, given a chance. Elections are won or lost on the moderates, these days.

The fatal flaw of Democrats is not that they want to argue policy rather than play hard ball, it's that they don't defend themselves when attacked. Gore should never have let any one of the accusations about him telling lies stand unchallenged. He should have spent money on ads specifically refuting them. There were brilliant opportunities there for setting the record straight, making him look like a hero and a statesman, and making Bush look like a fool, all without a strident tone. That would have _worked_, dammit. Every lie, every misdeed of the Republicans is an _opportunity_, dammit. When the Dems don't defend themselves, regular people say, "That's because they're just as bad." It makes the Dems look guilty.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 07:43 PM:

I am not willing to dispense with truth, reason, and the civilized discourse of free citizens. It infuriates me just as much as anyone else to have to deal with factions that don't respect those values, but I will not follow them down. Words are not just a refined technology for hitting each other over the head. You can't have a democracy if your citizens are incapable of talking to each other.

That's why it's important to tell the truth, check your facts, acknowledge and correct your errors, listen to the other side, and avoid unsubstantiated innuendo, abuse, and dishonest rhetoric. That92s not weakness. You92re not sacrificing the initiative out of an excess of virtue. What you're doing is defending the basic mechanisms of a free and democratic society.

You might as well swallow poison in small doses as accept the idea that civil discourse is by definition weak, wussy, and incapable of force or persuasion. What you're saying there is that the bullies, thugs, blowhards, claquers, and professional liars are bound to win in the end. You're ceding the public discourse to them. No discourse, no democracy.

And no, it doesn't help if some of them are "our" bullies, thugs, blowhards, etc. Liberty doesn't consist of having a home team to root for. Any muddy, oppressed villein can cheer for his local champion. Democracy requires clear communication 96 including disagreement 96 between equals.

The reason the really obnoxious leaders of the far right can lie and manipulate and abuse is because at heart they don't believe we are all, equally and in common, citizens of this country. We92re the little people. What they say to us doesn92t count, except insofar as it gets some of us to do what they want. This leaves them free to abuse the trust of their followers and the human dignity of their opponents.

Yes, it92s frustrating. It92s evil. By all means, fight back as hard as you can. Laugh at them when you can, and pour out your vials of wrath upon them the rest of time 96 but get it right.

Always side with the truth. It92s much bigger than you are.

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 10:16 PM:

I've been getting quite a lot of enjoyment out of watching the way Jon Stewart reports Bush administration news on his Daily Show at Comedy Central.

Most of the time, Stewart just runs straight reportage of whatever Bush did that day, with accompanying footage that captures Bush's facial expressions and whatever came out of his mouth.

Stewart sits there with a bemused expression and lets the footage speak for itself. (He'll occasionally make remarks like "President George W. Bush has just left his vacation residence in Kennebunkport after a three-day stay to .... spend 30 days *taking another vacation* at his ranch. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.")

But generally, he's remarkably low-key and deadpan in portraying Bush's daily activities as Candid Camera self-satire that speaks for itself.

I particularly enjoyed watching Bush's call for all world leaders to do their utmost to curb terrorism -- followed by the admonition to reporters to "watch this golf drive" -- flashed three times as our nightly "moment of zen."

Stewart doesn't seem to need to engage in distortion (or even exaggeration) to show whoever is watching his show just exactly how seriously George W. Bush takes his job and what Bush's daily priorities are.

Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2002, 11:08 PM:

I'm not convinced that what Media Whores Online is doing is worsening public discourse, though. I don't expect them to communicate effectively with anyone but left-wing zealots, but having an inherently narrow audience is not a bad thing. What would be bad would be if their rhetoric inspired their readers to go out and use similar overheated rhetoric, but I haven't seen evidence that that's happening. What defenders like Avedon Carol have been saying is that their overheated rhetoric inspires readers to take action--to write letters--in a way that tamer and more civilized sites don't. I suspect that the letters MWO inspires are generally more civilized than the site itself (and I'd be very interested in evidence either supporting or refuting this view).

To me, the defining characteristic of pollution is that I can't ignore it. Toxic radioactive waste in my groundwater forces itself upon my attention in a way that toxic radioactive waste in a salt mine in Nevada doesn't, even though the two are chemically identical. I can't ignore Rush Limbaugh just by not listening to him, because his followers repeat invective and lies, but I can do a pretty good job of ignoring MWO by not listening to them. That seems like a sound basis for asserting that one of them is pollution and the other one isn't.

This controversy strikes me as being similar to Bob Somerby's attacks this week on Josh Marshall, for not saying often enough that the press was bashing Gore. I agree that when people on our side do something we disagree with, we should condemn it, but at the same time we shouldn't suggest that it's equivalent to what the other guys are doing if the other guys are much, much worse. It's a shame the original Spinsanity piece went so far over the top in making a false equivalence.

Jim Sweeney ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2002, 03:00 AM:

"Increasingly, MWO matters." writes Nyhan. At least he seems to think they're effective. That ought to be worth something.

This article, and the earlier Salon hit piece, could just be clever publicity ploys to raise the site's profile...

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2002, 08:49 AM:

Strong rhetorical styles are contagious. This is true no matter what other virtues they do or don't possess.

Vicki Rosenzweig ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2002, 10:04 AM:

The thing about Jo's tactics, appealing as they are, is that they're designed for sitting down and talking to one person, or a few other people. I can't simply repeat someone's absurdities, and get them to listen, when it's in the newspaper, or on the radio. Or if it's someone who never stops talking long enough to let anyone else get a word in edgewise: that is, if the other person is making a speech, not having a conversation.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2002, 11:52 AM:

Stephen said:

To me, the defining characteristic of pollution is that I can't ignore it. Toxic radioactive waste in my groundwater forces itself upon my attention in a way that toxic radioactive waste in a salt mine in Nevada doesn't, even though the two are chemically identical. I can't ignore Rush Limbaugh just by not listening to him, because his followers repeat invective and lies, but I can do a pretty good job of ignoring MWO by not listening to them. That seems like a sound basis for asserting that one of them is pollution and the other one isn't.

All that demonstrates to me is that Limbaugh's brand of rhetoric is more widely disseminated than MWO's is. If MWO's audience were as large as Limbaugh's, we'd have a much better idea of whether it were as possible to ignore.

A better example might be the rhetorical lies of the Naderite Green Party. Their "there is no difference between Bush and Gore" rhetoric was impossible to avoid in 2000, despite being demonstrably false even on the issues of the greatest importance to the Green Party.

I'm pretty sure that I agree with Patrick, that MWO's rhetorical excesses undercut their value and dump verbal poison into the noosphere. That doesn't mean there's nothing of value in MWO, but I find that I avoid MWO in favor of less toxic sources of political analysis like Bob Somerby, Joshua Micah Marshall, Molly Ivins, Paul Krugman, Phil Agre, Spinsanity, and Usenet. And if that last doesn't peg your ironmeter, you're not paying attention.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2002, 05:30 PM:

Zizka said: "Maybe basketball didn't use to be a contact sport, but it is now. You have to play the game the way it's played."

Which is a classic category error, a false analogy leading to bad reasoning, and a false conclusion, in my opinion. Politics is not, in fact, a game. It is not, additionally specifically, a zero-sum game.

That it is falsely seen by many as both a zero-sum game, and an endeavor, a "game," whose goal is to "score points" and "win for your side" rather than, say, to analyze problems and come up with attempts at solutions, to look for ways to balance conflicting interests among deserving people, to try to make sense out of confusion, to try to derive agreement and a reasonable degree of justice out of lack of understanding and demonizing, is one of the Worst Problems of how too many people deal with politics.

And it's what's wrong, of course, with Limbaugh, et al, and Media Whores, et al.

Note that I'm am not decrying all partisanship. Politics absolutely requires alliances between interests, and defining of real differences, and, yes, sometimes "fights" are necessary, and sometimes somebody "wins" and somebody "loses." But such wins and losses are usually, in fact, quite temporary, and the Other Side usually is Still Around, and there are quite often non-zero-sum solutions possible. I'm not saying that conflict can or should be done away with, just that seeing politics only through the lens of We're Good, They're Bad, and We Must Crush Their Bones, Rape Their Loved Ones, Pillage Their Village, and Grind Them Beneath Our Boots is taking an exceedingly damaging set of blinkers on one's vision and analysis.

Oliver Willis said: "This article from Spinsanity seems to be another in the 'Liberals shouldn't fight' cannon." No. This is another in the "liberals (and everyone else) shouldn't fight stupidly.

This is the point that Chris also seems to miss, and several others. It's not that invective is Immoral, or necessarily inaccurate. It's that it's unconvincing and takes us nowhere but feeling Good That We're Good Guys (Not Like Those Other Evil Guys). Arguments are far better made by making good arguments than by name-calling.

Most of the defense of Media Whores here is that "it works!" And the proof is that "the right proves it works!"

Which is fascinating, because logically what all y'all saying this are saying is "yay, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Lucianne.com posters! You're doing great, and we're just going to do what you're doing, since it's so fine and okay and helpful!"

And, y'know, call we wacky, but I prefer to keep up regarding Limbaugh and Coulter and the other right-wing loonies as people whose tactics I despise and think greatly harmful to all. And, yeah, I'm gonna think that of anyone who uses such tactics, regardless if they're on my "side." Because they're not. My side isn't the side of making idiotic and arguments, no matter what the frigging conclusions are.

The issue of whether MW uses "the worst tactics" of the right is a complete red herring, of course. Yeah, the worst tactics would be assasination and bombings. Whatever. The point is use of bad, and dishonorable, and damaging tactics.

"But everyone keeps pointing out that it's not a weakness of the ditto-heat right - it's a strength - it works. The lies stick, the debate becomes skewed.

So, what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

If that's what we are all to be reduced to, I'm for leaving the country and going somewhere where reason is still a tool. Anyone who calls for lying and skewing debate (but it's for the "good guys!; we're the Left, so it's okay!") isn't on My Side. And I'm not on theirs.

Mary Kay got it precisely correct: "Promulgation of hate, divisiveness, and lies can never be a good thing." No, the ends don't justify the means here. Not nohow. For very cold, unabstract reasons: what do you have left with such wins? When you've cut down all the laws in England like trees to get at the devil, what will protect you from the devil when he turns around on you?

Steven desJardines says: "Namecalling is the sort of tactic that doesn't spread." Which, respectfully, Steven, makes my eyes pop. Because it's precisely what is being argued here. "They're doing it, and it works, so we have to do it, too!" So this is demonstrably false, as witness a large chunk of this very thread.

"What would be bad would be if their rhetoric inspired their readers to go out and use similar overheated rhetoric, but I haven't seen evidence that that's happening." Possibly you don't read many blogs or political sites. Because that's exactly what I see, just as I see folks on the right taking leads from Limbaugh, Coulter, etc. Why the frig else are people on these respective "sides" so busy quoting and linking to these sites and columns and such? Because they like the typeface?

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2002, 11:10 PM:

I'm copying some big files between my machines, and I've run through my usual blogs, so I hie myself over to Media Whores Online.

The first article is about Jerry Regier, who deserves a huge arsenal of approbrium. But MWO doesn't content itself with crowing over the discovery of an article Regier wrote in which he advocated "manly" discipline, by which he means "child-beating". No, MWO, in its headlines, makes sure that we can't misunderstand the reaction we're supposed to have: CALLS FOR TALIBAN VIRTUE LAWS... MIAMI HERALD NAILS WINGNUT.

The piece which surpasseth, though, is at the end, where our thoughtful watchdogs of the press print a photo of a Talib executioner holding a rifle to the back of the head of a kneeling woman in a burka, with the headline "TALIBAN VIRTUE POLICE FORCE ON EVERY STREETCORNER ANYONE?" and the caption "Jerry Regier's America".

I don't happen to have a perfectly functioning Rhetorometer, but I'm having a hard time thinking of this as a useful introduction to the political discourse. Really, I am.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2002, 11:38 PM:

Yeah.

I've said it before. I say it again. If you call everyone to your right "Nazis," or "Taliban," what words will you use when real Nazis and Taliban come along?

None of the people attacking my position on MWO have engaged with this point.

I've put up subsequent posts acknowledging some instances where MWO was right. Has this caused anyone who attacked my position on MWO to engage with my other points? Why, no.

A common left-wing rap on the right is that right-wingers are relentless, whereas left-wingers are reasonable, and more willing to grant that the other side has a point, so the right constanly gains ground.

Personally, I feel like this technique has been used on me in this dispute -- but it's been used on me by fellow left-wingers. I feel like my actual points have been ignored. Not argued with, just ignored. Like the point repeated in the second paragraph of this post. Ignored.

Glad to see my friends have learned to behave like storm troopers. Well, actually, not glad at all. Not glad at all.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2002, 09:02 AM:

That last paragraph of mine was stupid and over the top.

Henry Hanks ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2002, 12:30 AM:

"Repeated, blatant inaccuracy which is never corrected is one of the worst things..."

"Accusations of treason and threats of violence -- sometimes veiled, sometimes not -- are two more of the worst things about the right wing. If you have ever seen these on MWO get back to me."

I'm back to you. Seen the former on MWO many many times (have they corrected anything that wasn't a thinly-veiled ad hominem attack?)... seen MWO "publicly wink" at the latter... and I heard plenty of threats of violence and treason from their Clinton-loving brethren, especially during the Clinton years.

Ad hominems are ad hominems are ad hominems. "We should embrace logical fallacies in our debating" is hardly something the left should embrace. Good on Spinsanity and good on this blog.

Henry Hanks ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2002, 12:35 AM:

And which Spinsanity are these people reading who think that it is allowing conservatives to use invective and ad hominems?

Henry Hanks ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2002, 12:39 AM:

"At least, I haven't seen anything dishonest about anything that they have written, and neither you nor Spinsanity has pointed out anything that I would call dishonesty."

Er, you're missing a pretty large post (referenced in the article in question) that was updated approximately 5 million times a few months back. MWO got more dishonest the further they tried to defend it. At least the NYT removed a reference to it in later editions of Krugman's column.

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2002, 03:16 PM:

"That last paragraph of mine was stupid and over the top."

Angry. Most of us humans do that, and feel sheepish the next morning. It surges, doesn't it? If we only do it once a week, we're lucky. I generally grant more frequent forgiveness, myself, and only hope others will grant such to me.