Monday, May 5, 2008

Insufficient cynicism

Over at the American Spectator blog, I took issue with young Conor Friedersdorf, an NYU grad student who somehow managed to obtain posting privileges both at AmSpec and The Huffington Post. (Which Arianna will no doubt revoke as soon as the bloodthirsty HuffPo crew realizes there's a Republican in their midst.) Conor argues thus:
I understand the focus on electability, of course, but I must say it isn't an ideal way to choose presidents insofar as both parties may wind up nominating people who are relatively more likely to win the most powerful office in the world, and relatively less likely to perform well once inaugurated. That's why I find Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" so objectionable. . . . [H]is stunt so far suggests that it's worth the risk of ending up with the poorer potential president on the Democratic side to marginally increase the chance that a Republican wins in the fall. . . .
My own risk-averse approach would be to hope that the best Democrat wins the nomination not because I want a Democrat in the White House, but because I want two candidates squaring off either of whom will serve the country best if elected. . . .
[T]he country would be better off if at least the social norms around electing a president changed, so that everyone was rooting for the best potential president to emerge on the other side rather than the easiest potential electoral opponent.
To which I replied briefly:
[L]et us stipulate that Limbaugh is also a patriotic American who wants what is best for his country. Why, therefore, would he launch "Operation Chaos," with the stated objective of tying the Democratic primary race into an ugly knot?
Short answer: Rush believes that what is bad for the Democratic Party is good for America. . . .
My problem with your "risk-averse approach," Conor, is your apparent belief that there would be any meaningful policy difference between an Obama administration and a Clinton administration. I see no basis for such a belief. Any consideration of electing the better of the two Democrats is a non-starter, if both are equally bad -- or if each is at least so bad that there's no point trying to calculate which is worse.
This gets back to a point I made in reviewing Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons: I write for money. And so far, nobody's offered to pay me to save the world.

Professional writers who present themselves to the world in save-the-world garb are doing a disservice to the profession (and arguably, a disservice to the world, which is already in bad enough shape without more advice from journalists).

The great sin of journalism is when journalists mistake their own eloquence or literary ability for wisdom. My opinions are not superior to the opinions of others merely because I have a greater knack for expressing my opinions in writing. This is not to derogate the value of my own opinions, mind you, but rather to note the important distinction between the objective merit of opinions and the ability to express opinions.

Just because someone is inarticulate does not mean he's incapable of forming valid opinions, but too many journalists think that way. Because their profession places a high value on verbal expression, journalists too easily mistake eloquence for truth.

Having belabored that point long enough, let me illustrate the difference between what I do and the save-the-world approach. I blogged about the latest revelation about Obama's bomber buddy Bill Ayers, and spoke directly to Democratic voters, to wit:
You, the Democratic primary voters of Indiana and North Carolina, have to ask yourselves one question: "What will Karl Rove do with this kind of crap?" . . .
If you think Rove & Co. will just let that slide by between now and November -- if you can't picture in your mind the Republican TV commercials -- please feel free to vote for Hope and Change and other things that ain't gonna happen if the Republicans win.
Does Conor Friederdorf suppose that I wrote that out of my overflowing cornucopia of humane sympathy for Democratic primary voters?

Hell, no. I saw the picture of Ayers and said, "Holy crap, that's news!" So I blogged about in the belief that somebody might want to read about it.

(The general idea here is to increase readership because if I get enough readers, somebody might pay to advertise here, or else some publisher might like what they see and hire me to write for them. It's a basic concept called "capitalism." Look it up.)

Anyway, by the time I saw the Ayers item at Marathon Pundit, Michelle Malkin had been on the story for about five hours, along with lots of other bloggers. So if I was going to blog about it and offer any value to readers, I'd have to come up with something different to say. Thus the idea of asking Democratic voters to consider what Rove and the Republicans might do with this photo of Ayers.

Posing this question to Democrats was both fair and accurate -- it was journalistically legitimate. But I don't care how they answer it, and am not under any illusion that my merely asking it constitutes a contribution to saving the world. The world can go to hell, just so long as I get some links in the process.

Frankly, it makes no difference to me whether the Democrats nominate Obama or Hillary. I'm not going to vote for either one. As far as I'm concerned, the ideal outcome would be a deadlocked convention in Denver, with Dennis Kucinich nominated on the 17th ballot. Not that Kucinich would be a good candidate or a good president, but -- what a story!

See, unlike grad students at NYU, professional journalists have to worry about earning a living. That in turn means convincing people to pay me to write stuff, and like I said, nobody's paying me to save the world.

If you want to save the world, join the Peace Corps or become a missionary. If you want to be a professional journalist, stick to the facts, mind your grammar, hit your deadlines, and try to write something that somebody might actually want to read. (The fact that I'm writing this on my blog -- and not writing it for money -- indicates that rants against save-the-worldism are no more marketable than save-the-worldism itself.)

I'm worried about young Mr. Friedersdorf up there at NYU. Have they dropped "Intro to Cynicism" from their journalism curriculum?

1 comment:

  1. One way to characterize me is "a graduate student at NYU," but your readers would probably form a more accurate impression of my career were you to call me an associate editor at, an editorial intern at The Atlantic, a former columnist for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, a former editor at Local Liberty, an erstwhile newspaper reporter, a freelancer, and a graduate of NYU's journalism program.

    All of which is to say that I'm squarely in the writing for pay business.

    I'm actually a bit unclear on how that maps onto our disagreement about whether or not Operation Chaos is objectionable, and whether or not we can make a judgment about which of the Democratic candidates would make a better president.

    Nevertheless, I appreciate your efforts to engage my arguments and wish you well.