Reading the Other Side
Most blog readers, like talk radio listeners, gravitate to those sites where the host's views mirror their own. This actually encourages over-the-top language, villification of the other side, and shoddy reasoning. Echo chambers tend not to reward nuance.
Jane Hamsher takes John Cole to task for attributing to the “Jane Hamshers of the left” things that Jane Hamsher herself never wrote. Glenn Greenwald emails congratulating her for “shocking, relentless (and appropriate) tenacity” and argues this incident is emblematic of those who “hate the blogosphere because it holds them accountable.”
While I suspect it’s more an example of people having strong opinions about the other side without much direct knowledge — most Right/Left bloggers seldom read the more dogmatic blogs on the other side just as most Right/Left critics never really listen to Al Franken/Rush Limbaugh — it’s certainly perfectly reasonable to expect the “Jane Hamshers of the left” to include Jane Hamsher.
From this incident, though, Hamsher jumps to a startling conclusion: “Ben Domenech is notable because he is the shining example of the moral and intellectual fiber of the right at present, not the exception.”
So, deductive fallacies are fine but inductive fallacies are fair game?
Based on what evidence is a plagiarist “the shining example of the moral and intellectual fiber of the right”? While many of us defended Domenech from the ad hominem vitriol that greeted the announcent that he had been hired to blog at the Post, most of us quickly condemned Domenech when we found out about his history of plagiarism.
Hamsher closes her post, “If this incident proves nothing else, it’s that we members of the ‘fever swamp’ are vindicated in all our dealings with the Washington Post. And the right-wing blogosphere is a wasteland.”
I would remind Hamsher that it was the left-wing blogosphere, including Hamsher, who engaged in a sophomoric name-calling fest against Domenech before the plagiarism scandal came to light, calling him a “thick-witted, mouth breathing home schooled freak,” “an unarmed man in a battle of wits,” a “frothing idiot,” and implying that he coveted his mother. This is not the Democratic Underground crazies, either. Among that group was Hamsher and Brad DeLong.
Yet, I would not describe the entire left-wing blogosphere as “a wasteland” or ascribe the morals of the basest to the entire lot of them. Kevin Drum and John Marshall, for instance, were among prominent bloggers of the Left that steadfastly refused to participate in that particular hatefest.
Still, the expectation of reading that type of nonsense is why people tend not to read a lot of bloggers from the other side and assume that it is more widespread than it is. And, yes, this works both ways. There are some right-leaning sites that engage in similar rhetoric.
Aside from following the occasional link during a blogstorm here and there, I quit reading the most virulent blogs on both sides years ago. What’s the point, really? Unfortunately, most blog readers, like talk radio listeners, gravitate to those sites where the host’s views mirror their own. This actually encourages over-the-top language, villification of the other side, and shoddy reasoning. Echo chambers tend not to reward nuance.
Update: Steven Taylor observes that, “The notion that politics is a sporting event, and not a serious discourse that affects the lives of actual people, contributes to such attitudes.” Quite so. “Yay us! Boo them!” is not particularly helpful in framing a public policy debate.