Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Question for Liberals

Following up on the question for conservatives...

Which liberal bloggers or media types do you consider to be snake-oil salesmen and charlatans?

33 comments:

  1. Michael Moore always strikes me as particularly disingenuous. Maybe not a snake-oil salesman, but he clearly must think his audience really wants a simplistic, Manichean story with any inconvenient facts or context carefully pruned.

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  2. Arianna Huffington. Huffingtone Post is Politics as breathless entertainment complaining about Fox News entertainment. Also, apparently the president has magical powers to make laws without congress or something and since he hasn't, he must hate progressives.

    Naomi Klein. Peeved that Obama hasn't taken advantage of a crisis to further an agenda the same way Bush did...but I thought that was a bad thing according to her book.

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  3. Keith Olbermann. Maureen Dowd (not exactly a liberal, definitely a hack). Matt Taibbi. Cornel West.

    As a liberal, when I dislike liberal media/blogosphere types, it's more often because they're overly self-certain and self-righteous, not because they're charlatans.

    This isn't to say there's no such thing as a liberal snake oil salesman. There certainly is - I just think they don't tend to congregate in media as much. In academia (departments like English and cultural anthropology at elite schools) they're rampant and really problematic.

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  4. Michael Moore, Taibbi, Ed Schultz, Jane Hamsher, Markos, to a certain extent.

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  5. Jane Hamsher. More than anybody else, and it's not even close.

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  6. Agreed. If this ends up as a vote, I second Jane Hamsher.

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  7. Tom Friedman, Jonathan Alter. Joe Klein.

    Any and all people who talk glowingly about the "Chinese model".

    Obviously in terms of media "strategists" you've got Lanny Davis and a whole slew of others who seem merely to be interested in furthering their own business interests.

    In the "blogosphere" Ezra Klein often comes off as simply callow, or naive at least. Though he is redeemable. Yglesias and Chait I cannot stand, and I may be drifting off the topic though they could both be seen as snake-oil salesman in the sense of their interest in message control and influence over content. Once in a while one of them will make a post that seems particularly wrongheaded, and it strikes me that they are engaged in "strategic" blogging as opposed to simply being objective, informed etc.

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  8. Oliver Stone, followed very closely by Sean Penn. Hands down.

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  9. Arianna Huffington, literally a snake-oil pusher with HuffPo medical articles.

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  10. Too much anonymity here. Man up pussies!

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  11. Scott Butler, yes! Probably not what Jonathan was thinking of, but Arianna is a true snake-oil pusher, and an anti-science pusher (when the science doesn't suit her) to boot.

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  12. I also think that we need some more definition here. While I sometimes disagree with Jane Hamsher, for example, and sometimes those disagreements are intense, I really wouldn't ever say that she's a charlatan or a snake oil salesman. Moore is a charlatan in some important sense, but he's also an effective voice for putting forward views that don't get much play in mainstream discourse.

    But then I suppose that if we overcomplicate the question is loses its beautiful simplicity....

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  13. I am furious at any who call themselves "progressive" but don't realize that progress comes inch by inch. So Jane & friends are at the top of my list. They are peddling polemics, so I think it's fair to call them snake-oil sales(wo)men.

    I like Keith, though I roll my eyes at him fairly frequently. I think Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias are excellent (except Matt's sports posts, which suck. Go Sox.).

    Taibbi, Huffington, Moore... Yup.

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  14. Lakoff apparently did some really useful work back in his linguistics days, but goodness was his political stuff a barrel of snake oil.

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  15. Media Matters.

    Why? Because like snake oil, there's absolutely no point to what they do. They convince you they somehow matter, that being outraged purely by reading the site will lead to something. But it doesn't. Ever.

    they're like a wind turbine who takes the outlet generated from what they do and instead of using it for good, they use it for nothing.

    It's money pissed down the drain.

    The others mentioned to some degree have the same problem, but MM is the one that sticks in my craw. There's so much more they could be doing. By contrast, writers and documentary makers write and make documentaries.

    They're limited by format; there's no reason MM has to be so tepid and useless. They choose to be.

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  16. I don't want to give too many of my own comments, and don't take this as agreeing or disagreeing about any of those who I don't comment about, but...

    Neil -- good call on Lakoff.
    Scott -- good call in HuffPo's medical stuff
    Robert -- I agree with your general point; I'm not talking about people who are "wrong" (that is, who I/you/others think are wrong).
    GW -- I really disagree about Maureen Dowd. Dowd's voice is, when she gets it right, the voice of the self-satisfied permanent Washington establishment. It's really useful to hear that voice -- and IMO, she's very entertaining in the way she channels it, at least often enough.

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  17. Ditto what Robert Farley said; is this question "What media liberals do you disagree with?" or is it "What media liberals do you think are being disingenuous?"

    Jane Hamsher, Michael Moore, Ed Shultz, Olbermann sometimes, I would put in the former category, but I don't think any of them belongs in the latter. Even if they're a bit ridiculous, I think they're all more or less genuine.

    Unlike for example Chris Matthews, who tried to be Bush's, biggest cheerleader for seven years and then suddenly started praising the Dems when he saw Olbermann's ratings start to spike. Any other MSNBC anchor that suddenly took a leftward turn in 2007-8 more or less fits that category as well.

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  18. oops, crossposted with Jonathan. Question answered.

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  19. Your link is to the first sunday question post, not today's other one.

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  20. While I'm very much of the left, I'm also very much not a "liberal" so this question is not for me, but I would disagree quite strongly with Jonathan's suggestion that Maureen Dowd can be "very entertaining."

    Point taken that Dowd's voice is often that of "the self-satisfied permanent Washington establishment" and I suppose it is useful to hear that, but Dowd's version of it is, to me at least, insufferable and grating. I cannot stand her columns, and would rather read most of the people who write for National Review than her (definitely damning with faint praise there).

    More specifically, some of her most famous columns are also horribly sexist, employing feminization of male politicians to knock them down a peg (something which is ultimately most harmful to women, since it ratifies the notion that "feminine" traits are the kind of traits a politician, or anyone seeking success in this world, ought not have). A helpful list of some of the negative reactions to Dowd in this regard is at http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3671 .

    If Dowd really is a "liberal" she is almost certainly the worst of the worst, and it's shocking to me that a number of people find her clever or amusing, as is clearly the case. Paul Krugman is probably funnier than her (again, damning with faint praise).

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  21. Lakoff works his ass off giving people a chance to get organic reptilian extract and you all are trying to frame him as some sort of snake oil salesman. Unbelievable.

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  22. Glad Neil mentioned Lakoff. Not sure he's intentionally selling snake oil, but I can't take seriously a guy who writes a 300 page book asserting what works in political messaging and doesn't include a single citation pointing to a shred of empirical support for his claims.

    I'm much less generous toward Joe Trippi.

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  23. Michael Moore has always stuck in my craw a little--if you'll forgive the admittedly irritating Brooks-esque pox-on-both-houses argument, I really just don't have very much patience for ambush journalism whether it's done by Moore or Bill O'Reilly's lackeys. That said, I've usually been able to maintain some level of grudging respect for his skills as a filmmaker and acknowledge, for all his flaws, that his role on the left was one that *someone* needs to take on, and that if he didn't exist we'd have to invent him.

    He definitely lost me at Sicko, though. Pointing out the staggering inequities in American health care is not, let's be honest, exactly a difficult thing to do on its own merits. The case makes itself, yet Moore still felt the need to the Castro regime the PR opportunity of a lifetime with his ridiculous snowjob on the Cuban health care system. It's tough enough being both Cuban-American and liberal without having to justify why some on the American left (I'm also looking at you, Mr. Penn and Mr. Stone) seem to instinctively stick their necks out to defend an oppressive dictatorship for the sake of making some lame enemy-of-my-enemy point.

    Joe Trippi lost me as well when he agreed to work for Jeff Greene in Florida. Lame, Joe, just lame.

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  24. I think Michael Moore is a pretty strong example. His documentaries are often deliberately misleading, and he's also a bit of a kook (he suggested as late as 2003 that Osama Bin Laden might not have been behind the 9/11 attacks). Of course, on the subject of kooks, you can't neglect Gore Vidal, but I don't think he's influential enough among liberals to be worth much outrage.

    The op-ed pages of the major "liberal" papers have their share of hacks, though I think snake-oil salesmen would be too strong a term. I thought of bringing up Richard Cohen and David Broder, but I realize that's almost trite. It's like a lot of Alan Colmeses are running around giving the right the ability to say "See, even the liberal so-and-so says such-and-such."

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  25. Lets blur the line a little.

    Policy-wise, the "public option" was never anything but icing on the cake (nice icing, but it goes on top of everything else). Yet it was deliberately sold as being the whole of healthcare reform, and most of the people behind that knew better (Howard Dean, Jane Hamsher...). So a whole bunch of people sold snake-oil. Most of them stopped when it was obviously not going to happen, but they blew a lot of credibility in the meantime.

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  26. Moveon.org's inflammatory p.r. stunts come to mind. Again, it's not that they are disingenuous, just too overtly antagonistic.

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  27. Huffington Post. As someone has already mentioned above, not only are their posts and headlines wildly misleading, but their "medical" "news" is nothing but fraudulent, appalling quackery.

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  28. Rob,

    I would include Hamsher for a couple of reasons. First of all, she definitely comes off as being interested primarily in self-promotion, more so than promoting good causes. Secondly, her campaign against HCR involved an awful lot of misinformation, ignoring corrections, etc. In other words, she wasn't particularly concerned with whether or not she was making stuff up to denigrate the health care reform effort.

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  29. Perhaps the most important name in the comments section is Rachel Maddow, because no one has mentioned her. I'm sure I'm forgetting some other fine folks, but she's the one that I thought of: a top liberal media type that no one thinks of as a charlatan. I like a lot of the people mentioned above, so I may not be the best judge of who is or isn't a charlatan. But we seem to agree that Maddow is separate from the others.

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  30. I stopped reading Glenn Greenwald during the Bush administration. I don't think he's a charlatan, and he's attacking things that I agree need attacking, but he frustrates me for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. I guess it's mostly that he seems more interested in making enemies than in making friends. I think he could bring more people to his side (our side) if he wasn't so intent on demonstrating the corruption, cravenness and cowardice of the huge number of people who don't agree with him as much as they should. That said, I'm glad he exists, and if Salon ever took up a collection to keep running his columns, I'd contribute.

    Otherwise, I don't have a lot of time to read people who forgo critical reasoning in favor of appeals to emotion, so I don't read most of the folks listed by the commenters above. And speaking of lack of time, I'm pissed at Johnathan Bernstein for writing such informative and insightful stuff - damn you making me read you every day!

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  31. Greenwald is the bright adolescent in a roomful of grownups. He's unsubtle, naively idealistic, vehement in his crusade against hypocrisy, and constantly at war with the establishment. And I know that characterization will make him even more vehement, as it would against any smart teenage boy. I personally loved his book Great American Hypocrites. He isn't anywhere close to being a snake-oil salesman--he's as sincere as they come in fighting for what he believes--but he does have some big weaknesses that sometimes make it hard to take him seriously. One of them is a difficulty admitting his own errors and misjudgments, and that sets him apart from a lot of other political bloggers of his caliber.

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  32. I think Moore is especially appropriate for this discussion. What Jon said above: his paean to the Cuban health care system was hideously disingenuous. I mean, really: a bunch of WTC first responders that can't access health care in NY go down to Havana, see a GP for 15 minutes and each get a puffer? Surely no Moore acolyte honestly believes if it were that easy to take care of WTC first responders, the NYC medical establishment wouldn't do so out of sheer self-preservation?

    Further, Moore's breakout film was apparently premised on an outright lie, as Roger Smith apparently spoke to Moore for a few minutes during the filming of Roger and Me, though the exchange somehow died on the cutting room floor.

    When I think of snake oil salesman, I think of someone who sells something s/he knows is worthless but nevertheless markets as better than it is. There are a lot of obnoxious liberal commentators, many of them mentioned on this thread, but I am not sure how many are blatantly manipulatively insincere. Snake oil salesman? Michael Moore's your man.

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