Monday, March 7, 2011

Catch of the Day

A bit late, but a good one (via Yglesias): Andrew Sabl notes that Weekly Standard coverage of Harvard and ROTC (in two posts, here and here) omits the pertinent fact that the entire context for the Harvard decision was the recent repeal of DADT (and, before that, the military's ban on gays and lesbians). Sabl: "someone who read only the Standard’s version would get the idea that an effete Ivy League university, having dissed the military for no particular reason, has now climbed down."

This is what Conor Friedersdorf is always, and for good reason, railing against. I think what's necessary in this case is to imagine the "someone" Sabl suggests. Think of a smart, conservative college student, maybe even a high school student, who is just starting to learn about politics and government. And -- good for him! -- he wants to read more, and he's turning, sensibly, to places like the Weekly Standard and the National Review. Well, it would also be sensible to start by reading a major newspaper...but of course he's been told ever since he started paying attention that The New York Times is hopelessly biased and, essentially, full of lies.

Of course, the problem is that our smart young student really won't know that the elite college fight with ROTC really was based on specific issues (in recent decades, discrimination based on sexual orientation) and not on general hatred of the military or lack of patriotism. He really won't know.

In my view, the harm being done here is almost completely to conservatives, not liberals.


  1. If the hypothetical conservative reader is hearing of this for the first time, he might click on the link in the first sentence of the post and read an article that discusses the history of the ban.

  2. the harm being done here is almost completely to conservatives, not liberals

    Hm, that's an interesting way to look at it. In a sense, hypothetical conservative youngsters are being "harmed" because they are being misled by the likes of the Weekly Standard into believing a falsehood: that the military was excluded from on-campus recruiting due to anti-military bias rather than rigorous enforcement of non-discrimination policies. They may go their entire lives without knowing the truth.

    Another way to look at it is that liberals are the ones being harmed here, because all those misled conservative youngsters are going to vote for, donate to, and work for Republicans, at least in part because they were led to believe a myth about anti-military bias on elite college campuses.

    And I don't need to tell you that misinformation, if repeated enough, will be accepted as true by a significant portion of the electorate - no matter how absurd (cough*death panels*cough). More misinformation --> more Republican voters, donors, and volunteers --> more GOP office holders --> more right-wing policies enacted.

    That is to say, this kind of misinformation may harm the intellect of conservatives; but it harms liberals in every other conceivable way.

  3. Dude! The real harm is being done to America!

  4. Actually, if a reader were to take the stories at face value, the myth they'd believe in would be the disappearance of an anti-military bias at elite institutions. It isn't clear at all that that myth benefits the GOP more than the Dems.

  5. Hah, I was that highschool student. My father steered me to the conservative media, and the only sources of news I read for years were WS, NRO, and Opinion Journal.

    But I was in highschool, and couldn't vote for Bush in 2000.

    By 2004, I was in University, and starting to doubt the orthodoxy. Things like history textbooks had a way of unsettling my views in Isreal. I ended up voting for Kerry, though without conviction.

    2005 onward, dyed in the wool liberal. What did it to me was never finding WMD in Iraq. It completely undermined the authority of everything I ever read in the conservative media. The misinformation works, but only for a short time.

  6. Just to add a little more content to my earlier comment:

    I'd love to have a bunch of smart conservatives around who would detect real problems in our proposals and bring them out to us as part of a good-faith dialogue. That would be good for everybody and result in better public policy. But if right-wing media is all about making Democrats look vicious and stupid so there's no point even talking to them, your smart young student is going to play the zero-sum game of partisan conflict against Democrats rather than the positive-sum game of constructive policy design.


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