Bad Apples and the Barrel

Glenn Greenwald argues that cherry picking outrageous comments at liberal blogs (in this particular case, hundreds that expressed dismay that yesterday’s suicide bomber was unsuccessful in murdering Vice President Cheney) and claiming they represent mainstream liberal thought is intellectually dishonest. Further, he notes that many who are outraged at the comments of anonymous commenters seem not to have problems with outrageous utterances by high profile conservative pundits like Ann Coulter.

I’m in absolute agreement. It would, however, as Jeff Goldstein and Patrick Frey point out, be helpful if Greenwald himself didn’t have a history of cherry picking outrageous comments at conservative blogs and claiming they represent mainstream conservative thought.

That his own behavior is inconsistent with what he is argument does not, of course, invalidate the argument; that falls under the ad hominem tu quoque fallacy. Still, it would add to its persuasiveness if his words and deeds were in alignment.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. olpete says:

    Pretty unconvincing. You make it sound like LGF and FR have any content other than hate and lunacy. Minute disection of Greenwald by neo-cons followed by illogical and hyperbolic conclusions is impotent. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that. Its not a good argument, but it does distract from real discussion.

    Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, Jonah Goldberg et al aren’t anonymous and they sound just like LGF or FR. The attacks are directed at the same people – anyone who opposes republican jihadism. Really its hard to think of anything else.

    The sites you link to sure don’t do much to support your argument. Goldstein barely makes any argument and the other one is obviously an obsessed nut. Really, the Frey one should be considered a tribute site. I wonder who funds him.

  2. LaurenceB says:

    Some time ago, Kevin Drum made a similar point which he proposed should become a law similar to Godwin’s law. The law would read something like this:

    “If you’re forced to rely on random blog commenters to make a point about the prevalence of some form or another of disagreeable behavior, you’ve pretty much made exactly the opposite point.”

    See here:
    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2006_08/009318.php

  3. James Joyner says:

    Kevin Drum made a similar point

    Kevin and I often tend to agree on those things. We differ on many issues of public policy, to be sure, but we generally recognize that the other side is mostly comprised of well meaning people who want good things for the country but disagree on how best to achieve that end.

  4. ‘Still, it would add to its persuasiveness if his words and deeds were in alignment.’

    Sort of like Gore increasing his home electrical bill from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005 to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006 while telling us the sky is falling and we all have to conserve more? But hey, Hollywood bought the hypocrisy and gave him an Oscar.

  5. LaurenceB says:

    Yes, Drum’s blog is a good lefty blog, just as this is a good righty blog.

    The citation I provided above was meant to be a “great minds think alike” thing. I should have been more clear.

  6. Jeff G says:

    What invalidates his point is that there are plenty of “rightwingers” who criticize the more outrageous utterances of someone like Coulter (often just to show they are willing to be outraged) — or who take to task prominent bloggers.

    I have often criticized Malkin on certain social conservative stances she takes, for instance, and I criticized many of those who were apoplectic (and wrong) over the Dubain ports deal.

    Similarly, I had no trouble going after Fox News and most of the Cornerites over their Katrina coverage.

    This idea that we on the right are not willing to criticize our prominent “extremists” and “sociopaths,” as Greenwald charmingly labels them, is ridiculous. What he’s really upset about is that we don’t happen to think that those who wants to label extremists and sociopaths are such — and so denouncing them would be ludicrous.

    That the first commenter here wants to label JONAH FREAKIN’ GOLDBERG a HATER gives you some insight into what Greenwald and his ilk would like see turned into “extremist” thought: conservatism itself.

  7. Steven Plunk says:

    I always felt this type of “cherry picking” wasn’t used to represent mainstream opinion but to show what groups knowingly associate with one another. If comments represent an accepted faction of the group then by not disassociating itself from that faction the group shows tolerance for that point of view. Both sides need to stop it.

    Extremism can sometimes do good by injecting radical thinking into stale discussions but unrealistic extremism just makes a mess of things. Wishing the VP would have been killed is unrealistic and therefore stupid to bring up.

  8. Tlaloc says:

    That the first commenter here wants to label JONAH FREAKIN’ GOLDBERG a HATER gives you some insight into what Greenwald and his ilk would like see turned into “extremist” thought: conservatism itself.

    The same Jonah Goldberg who was yucking it up over the katrina deaths? The same Jonah Goldberg who owes his entire carreer to his mother’s hate filled and accuracy challenged rants? Yeah how could anyone see him as someone animated by hate? I mean, that’s just craaaaazy.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Jeff,

    I’ve criticized plenty of conservatives, including Coulter repeatedly, as have many of us. Then again, so have Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and any number of responsible lefty bloggers. Greenwald is right, though, that there are many who will gleefully criticize stupid remarks on the other side but never those of their allies.

  10. LaurenceB says:

    Note to Jeff Goldstein:

    When attempting to rebut a post concerning the inadvisibility of cherry-picking from a blog’s comments, it’s probably best not to cherry-pick a blog’s comments.

  11. Tlaloc says:

    I’m in absolute agreement. It would, however, as Jeff Goldstein and Patrick Frey point out, be helpful if Greenwald himself didn’t have a history of cherry picking outrageous comments at conservative blogs and claiming they represent mainstream conservative thought.

    One of the posts was down but the other one actually didn’t show Greenwald cherry picking comments. They assert that he does without actually, you know, bothering to offer any examples or evidence.

    Maybe the one that was 404 was better.

  12. ken says:

    The fact is that the Coulter, Limbaugh and Goldberg types do represent the mainstream of conservative thought. Look at how often the mainstream media has them or someone just like them speaking for the conservative point of view.

    James thinks he is being above it all when he criticizes Coulter for calling American people traitors. Yet he works hard to elect conservative politicians who say the same thing. I would bet my first born that if Coulter was a Republican nominee for high office James would endorse and defend her.

  13. Jeff G says:

    When attempting to rebut a post concerning the inadvisibility of cherry-picking from a blog’s comments, it’s probably best not to cherry-pick a blog’s comments.

    Huh? Did I tie the commenter’s opinions to James Joyners? The first commenter’s having brought in Jonah Goldberg matches him to Greenwald, who too invoked Goldberg.

    And though you may not agree with Goldberg’s politics, he is far from either an “extremist” or a “sociopath.”

    James writes:

    Greenwald is right, though, that there are many who will gleefully criticize stupid remarks on the other side but never those of their allies.

    Of course there are many. But are there many who are “prominent bloggers,” as Greenwald suggests?

    I mean, is Glenn Reynolds incapable of criticizing Bush policies? Of course not. And Malkin criticizes Bush from the right. Hewitt had a well-publicized battle with the anti-Miers conservatives, so he’s out.

    So who are we talking about here exactly? Captain Ed, who criticized the Bushies for walking back their position on the NSA? Powerline?

    I simply don’t see it, James. Greenwald has his thesis of “Bush Cultists” and he’s sticking to it. But it’s garbage — and his entire piece yesterday was meant only to distract from the fact that he was giving cover to a community whose members, in rather large and (to Arianna, at least) embarrassing numbers seemed upset that Cheney wasn’t killed.

  14. James Joyner says:

    This idea that we on the right are not willing to criticize our prominent “extremists” and “sociopaths,” as Greenwald charmingly labels them, is ridiculous.

    I’d say Ann Coulter and Michael Savage are “extremists.” “Sociopaths” goes too far, since all they do is talk, but certainly some of their ideas would qualify if carried out. Both are wildly popular, so far as political commentary goes.

    What he’s really upset about is that we don’t happen to think that those who wants to label extremists and sociopaths are such — and so denouncing them would be ludicrous.

    I guess we’d have to take that on a case-by-case basis. Certainly, there are a lot of very popular political pundits, whether on talk radio or the blogs, who are in the red meat camp. I don’t read LGF much and think its reputation is mostly from the sewer of a comments system, but there’s plenty of extremism there. Malkin has gotten much more into the Liberals are Traitors schtick of late than when she started out and her popularity is through the roof.

    I will say, though, that Greenwald’s lumping of Glenn Reynolds and Mark Steyn into the mix (via link, not name) hurts his case. But there’s certainly plenty of nuttiness on both sides of the ‘sphere.

  15. Since I’ve ripped on Ann Coulter as much as any weblogger does that give me a greater moral standing to rip on loudmouth, wacky Lefty commenters?

    The meta story I got out of the comment coverage was the overreaction when the big story was the stock market plunge.

  16. jpe says:

    Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, Jonah Goldberg et al aren’t anonymous and they sound just like LGF or FR.

    That’s the ticket. Greenwald doesn’t cherry pick comments; he typically relies on mainstream conservatives, and then uses comments to back up the assertion that trait X runs through conservativism. That’s not cherry-picking.