David Brooks, again
There is one truly mortal sin in all of science: to create data that do not exist, to make stuff up. It’s called fraud, and, when uncovered, it marks the end of at least one career — and often, as collateral damage, of those connected, often only very loosely with the original deceit.
But more subtle frauds do not merely survive; when committed by the right person, in defense of a crucial narrative, they actually persist, and worse, gain prominence and traction to influence the most important political decision the victims of such frauds can make.
Exhibit A: David Brooks’ latest.
Andrew Sullivan calls today’s column “poignant.” I guess that’s right, if you, like Andrew have had a long history of friendship with Mr. Brooks. I am unburdened by such ties of affection, so I’m free to be a little more harsh.
In this column, Brooks is trying to argue that, in fact, a toaster is rabbit — or that the McCain Palin pair are who they say they are.
Now, where I sit, that’s the job of the candidates, to present a claim for themselves that others — first responders being the press — can then test against hard ground of reality.
This role Brooks has abandoned, with a retreat so thorough it’s hard to remember when he actually did give a damn.
E.g, he writes of Palin
Millions declared themselves qualified to judge her a bad mother.
Yeah? Who? Remember it was the McCain campaign that released the news of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, and Barack Obama who told his supporters and all of America that kids were off limits.
The notion that somehow the evil liberals leapt to judge Palin is not supported by any fact that Brooks has (or I reckon, can) cite; it is simply part of the fundamentalist projection machine, as documented by someone whose reporting has consistently outshined Brooks’ the comedian — yup, the funny guy – Jon Stewart.
The tactic here: If the facts on the ground don’t suit, Brooks appears to have concluded, make up a just vaporous enough claim to avoid close scrutiny.
And then there’s this.
And what was most impressive was her speech’s freshness. Her words flowed directly from her life experience,
What — well maybe, except that Governor Palin’s teleprompter skills were put to work on a speech retooled from one originally written for the expected male nominee. Again, you can’t quite nail Brooks with the same pure charges of fraud for the word “freshness” — except to note that it is a false claim on the face of it, an opinion that could not be held by a rational observer in possession of facts commonly known.
But worst of all is the claim Brooks made near the top of his column:
Her career in Alaska has been nibbled on the edges, but the key fact is this: When the testing time came, she quit her government job, put her career on the line and took on the corrupt establishment of her own party.
Not a single clause of that is true. She took on an unpopular governor in alliance with a now indicted Senator at the beating heart of her party’s corrupt establishment. And as for her career: her troubles are increasingly well documented — from regressive sales tax increases and reckless accumulation of debt in her tenure as Mayor to the abuse of power investigation she now faces. To Brooks that may be nibbling around the edges — but for someone whose claim to power rests on experience and ethics, those are issues that strike to the core of who she is.
I could go on — it’s my habit, after all, and Brooks has a seemingly inexhaustible font of hackery — but the real key fact is this: Brooks’ column today repeats, in near lockstep, the McCain/Palin campaign’s narrative of the last few days.
As he sees it, or rather repurposes someone else’s carefully tested themes, it is not the new man from the party out of power, but an old reformer joined by a young reformer who offer the true possibility of change in a Washington that has, in Brooks’ words aroused McCain’s “burning indignation at the way Washington has operated over the last 12 years.”
Nowhere does Brooks address the question raised by the opposition: what change can be expected from a man whose voting record suggests near perfect lockstep with his GOP colleagues over the last eight years? Maybe he has an argument to counter that Democratic Party attack, but rather than deploy it, he’d rather repeat the McCain campaign’s official fantasy of a freewheelin, freethinking man — and that’s not reporting, nor even punditry. Brooks’s column could have been “written” by a stenographer.
Is this fraud? No, in the end, I guess not. Making facts up, creating characters, putting words never spoken or thoughts never conceived into print is what counts as journalistic fraud, just as actually faking data, reporting on experiments never done, or done with different outcomes, is what truly constitutes scientific fraud. You dont’ get fired for misinterpreting real data. (usually)
But it’s a species of deceit nonetheless. It repeats other people’s claims uncritically. It verges on unequivocal dishonesty with the nasty jabs at unnamed critics; it is merely credulous, the work of a hired hand pushing a message that his working brain, were it ever to fire again, couldn’t swallow whole.
Image: Kobi, “Two Rabbits,” 19th century. Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco. Source: Wikimedia Commons.Explore posts in the same categories: bad writing, Journalism and its discontents, McCain, Politics, Stupidity, words mattter comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.