Thursday, August 15, 2002

Edit: There's a really interesting discussion of all this going on in Atrios' comments section, including a good examination of the problem of imposing arbitrary equivalence when discussing the relative sins of the left and right.

Spinsanity, a site that normally can be relied on for useful and coherent analysis of the media, is host to what appears to be a hatchet job by Brendan Nyhan aimed at MediaWhoresOnline. Atrios' reaction is "who cares what they think?" but mine goes a little deeper than that.

In essense, Nyhan is complaining that MWO's tactics are "polluting the public discourse"; that their attacks are overstated and overly inflammatory. Now, inflammatory they are, there's no doubt of that; but by and large, a lot of the comments they've made and insights they've written are either on the money or close enough so as to make little difference. Nyhan doesn't seem to quite understand MWO either- he either doesn't acknowledge or hasn't realized that the reason that MWO uses the word "whore" in the first place is that they're sucking up to republican elites in order to gain fame and fortune, and sacrifice their journalistic integrity to do it. They're selling themselves out- hence, "whores". While distasteful, it's an accurate representation. MWO is also supposed to be direct counterpart to all those "media research" groups on the right that aim invective at the so-called "liberal bias"; MWO's an almost direct reaction to that claim, and proof that the operative phrase here isn't "workers of the world, unite" but "show me the money". (There are others, such as FAIR, but MWO takes the "flaming invective" role that FAIR largely eschews.)

The biggest problem, though, is this notion that any low blows on the part of the left are "poisoning the discourse", as Brenden seems to think. Let's be honest- it's going to happen anyway, and to ignore that and pretend that those that are polite and respectful always triumph over mudslingers is to refight the Dukakis campaign and ensure Republican domination of American politics (and right-wing domination of the public discourse). Inflammatory rhetoric serves a valuable role because it provides something that non-inflammatory writers can set themselves against- even if they aren't really political moderates, they appear so, and therefore gain credibility.

That's why the right doesn't care whether or not Rush is accurate or not, or how many people catch him on his mistakes- he serves a vital role simply by existing. MWO, of course, isn't exactly the same (they don't get caught out in mounds of lies, for one), but what's wrong with a firebrand, especially if what he (or she) is saying is substantially true? Brenden never really answers this, instead pulling out the tired "we're above this" argument that only guarantees political irrelevance.

Also, the citation used here isn't very strong. If there were some sort of patterns being brought to light here then it would be a much more compelling article, but by and large it's just a few anecdotes from different MWO entries used to attack the site's work as a whole. Often they are taken out of context, but even if they aren't, they aren't very persuasive- they might be simply the most extreme examples of inflammatory rhetoric on a generally benign site, picked and chosen to support Brenden's claim. If this were a response only to one article then that might be different, but if you're trying to prove systemic errors, then one needs systemic proof.

I like Spinsanity and think that it's a good site, but I think that they missed the mark here. Inflammatory rhetoric is a part of politics that goes back much farther than modern western civilization, and to shut one's eyes to it is a guarantee of irrelevance. It may not be pretty, but it's true.

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