Via this excellent post (she quotes me liberally, what else can I say) by Hilzoy at Obsidan Wings, I see that the new Newsweek meme that the mainstream media is somehow ‘circling the wagons’ and ‘flooding the zone’ with torture stories appears to be gaining steam. Since I have probably already bored most of you with long tedious posts replete with my usual mendacity and dense prose, let me simply state what I think of this theory in the simplest terms possible:
It is stupid and silly.
Since many of the people promoting this ‘circling the wagons’ stuff are probably the same folks (Republicans) who wanted to lock Jennifer Wilbanks for going to Vegas for four days, let me put it this way. If this sort of silliness were a crime, I would charge you with a first degree felony violation for pushing this theme.
Hilzoy touches on many of the reasons why this is an idiotic meme, at least when applied to this case, but perhaps one reason will stand out:
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Newsweek is owned by the Washington Post, the Times’ biggest competitor.
Most reasonable people would get it right then and there with that little piece of information. Read the first part of my last sentence again and you will understand why I am going to have to provide an additional theory.
As an addendum to Hilzoy’s post, I offer you two things:
First, the post hoc fallacy:
The Post Hoc fallacy derives its name from the Latin phrase “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.” This has been traditionally interpreted as “After this, therefore because of this.” This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that one event causes another simply because the proposed cause occurred before the proposed effect.
Second, Occam’s Razer:
The principle is most often expressed as Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, or “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”, but this sentence was written by later authors and is not found in Ockham’s surviving writings. William wrote, in Latin, Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, which translates literally into English as “Plurality should not be posited without necessity”.
This can be interpreted in two subtly different ways. One is a preference for the simplest theory that adequately accounts for the data. Another is a preference for the simplest subset of any given theory which accounts for the data. The difference is simply that it is possible for two different theories to explain the data equally well, but have no relation to one another. They share none of the same elements. Some would argue that in this case Occam’s Razor does not suggest a preference. Rather Occam’s Razor only comes into practice when a sufficient theory has something added to it which does not improve its predictive power. Occam’s Razor neatly cuts these additional theoretical elements away.
The principle of Occam’s Razor has inspired numerous expressions including: “parsimony of postulates”, the “principle of simplicity”, the “KISS principle” (keep it simple, stupid), and in some medical schools “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras”.
A re-statement of Occam’s Razor, in more formal terms, is provided by information theory in the form of minimum message length.
“When deciding between two models which make equivalent predictions, choose the simpler one,” makes the point that a simpler model that doesn’t make equivalent predictions is not among the models that this criteria applies to in the first place.
I will now take a moment to point out that Occam’s Razor should not, under any circumstances, be confused with Occam’s Toothbrush, which I submit is the greatest blog name ever. Ever.
Now, back to the ‘circling the wagons’ nonsense.
If we are to believe the ‘circling the wagons’ theory (CTW from here on out), we must believe the following:
1.) Michael Isikoff is a a liberal hack who wrote a thinly sourced piece in order to discredit the Bush administration because he hates Bsuh, is anti-military, and wants to discredit the war on terror and the war in Iraq.
2.) All journalists, newspapers, and mainstream media members feel the same way.
3.) When one media source is discredited, all laws of the free market in journalism are immediately suspended, decades long rivalries cease, and the media members immediately band together to discredit the accusers.
Really- you have to believe this stuff to buy into the circling the wagons bit, and I could probably throw in more stuff with that . Fortunately, I have too much respect for my time and yours to do that, and we will just stick with these three.
Michael Isikoff is no liberal hack. I can point you in the direction of hundreds of liberal hacks, and Michael Isikoff is not one. He may have been a touch sloppy with this story, but that hardly qualifies someone for hackdom. If you want to see liberal hacks, go google “Ivins + Molly.” Isikoff simply does not fit the bill.
Isikoff is aggressive- he went after Dean’s files as Governor, he went after Gonzalez and Bush’s DUI, he went after Clinton with the Lewinsky affair, he went after Gannon- but he seems to be pretty bi-partisan as to who and what he targets.
As to the rest of the media, I don’t even need to address it. The media ranges from Bush apologists like Bob Novak all the way to ‘Liberals can do no wrong’ individuals like Eric Alterman. The media most certainly did not have a monolithic approach to the war in Iraq and the War on Terror, and they don’t now.
As to them banding together to defend Isikoff now, it is ludicrous. Go read Martin Peretz. Go read Newsweek apologizing to the point of absurdity. Go read the Washington Post’s coverage of the affairs. The media, as a whole, are hammering Newsweek and Isikoff. They covered EVERY SINGLE WORD uttered by Condi Rice and Larry Di Rita and Scott McClellan and President Bush on this issue. I am hard-pressed to find a defense, other than what Greg Palast offered on his own personal website.
This is how they circle the wagons? An orgy of self-flagellation and snide condemnations of the accused? Jeebus, they ARE idiots.
So now, we are to believe, the media’s true conspiracy is rearing up. They just hammered Isikoff and Newsweek viciously at first, but now they are flooding the zone in their hidden conspiracy to crank out stories on torture to somehow discredit Newsweek’s detractors.
Really. That is what the circling the wagons theory entails. If you are drooling and feel ready to bang your head off your desk and feel dumber just for having heard of such an insane theory, you know how I feel.
Enter Occam’s Razor and the post hoc fallacy.
On May 9th, Isikoff pens the fateful column.
On May 20th, the NY Times releases a report on torture that was just written because the MILITARY FINALLY RELEASED THE DETAILS AFTER CLOSE TO THREE YEARS.
The prosecution rests and reaches for a stiff drink.
And, as much as it pains me, this is pretty accurate.
That is praise indeed when you are quoted practically from start to finish!
FYI, hilzoy’s a “she”.
Other than that, keep up the good work.
The issue isn’t Isikoff (hope I got that right) who has demonstrated his professionalism but rather the rest of the media which hasn’t.
Circling the wagons is going to get real boring as the media squanders whatever creditibility it had left. More fake but accurate anyone?
Isikoff a “liberal hack”? Liberal because he ran with a story his on which his source backpedaled? Liberal because he used to meet with long-time Republican psyop hag Lucianne Goldberg and her Delta Force pal Linda Tripp to search for semen stains?
My guess is that Newsweek is squarely in the middle of the status quo, and to call Isikoff liberal suggests more about Mr. Cole than particular fact or motivation behind Newsweek running the story.
As some may recall, the invasion of Afghanistan was to catch Osama bin Laden and the Osama-friendly Taliban. You know, the same Taliban who got two hundred million or so back in early 2001 while we were negotiating for that pipeline. The Taliban have been deposed, form a Unocal exec was made president of Afghanistan, the poppy crop just keeps growing, and still the natives aren’t happy. Perhaps those permanent military bases?
Isikoff has demonstrated his “hack-itude” for years, though.
Bob, you blithering idiot, I am arguing he is not a liberal hack.
Yes, Bob. Please note the post was intended for countering the accusation the writer was liberal.
Kudos for the brief lesson in basic logic. Who knows, it might even sink in with a few folks.
The “circling the wagons” meme makes less sense than arguing that Isikoff intentionally wrote a poorly sourced article to undercut the revelations in the Times piece. Trust me, somewhere, someone is already floating this idea as an example of “Darth” Rove’s mastery of black propaganda.
Of course, there is no evidence for either of these memes outside of ideological bias.
Non-Fat Latte Liberal
This blog is so ridiculously good it’s shocking. It’s nice to see a true moderate out there, we seem to be a dying breed. Excellent, if I ever meet you I’ll buy you a beer.
reread the post!
Works for me. I only say that because of my deep conservatism, of course.
Yes, blithering. The one time there is a likelihood Bob would agree with me (not that Iam striving for that), but the one time he might agree with me, and he misreads the damn post.
Do you believe that cops have a Blue Wall of Silence?
Google shows 753,000 hits for that term.
Was the press wrong when it invented that term?
Actually I get 1.58 Million hits for just Blue Wall of Silence. The above search included the term police.
In fact, I’m just sure the MSM wouldn’t circle the wagons. Well, I was…
But then I saw this (via Insty) about a Maryland journalism professor denying the Rather memos were fakes.
And you know what? That made me question whether some folks are, in fact, circling wagons–in this case around Dan Rather who has long since been convicted in the court of public opinion the press so loves–around their journalism compatriots.
And you know…
Then I saw this:
(Hyperlink in original.)
And now that I think about it if the editor of the Miami Herald believes the entire press corps will pay for Newsweek’s mistake then all press folks might have a reason to circle the wagons.
Google has over 9 million hits for the word idiot.
Which means you have plenty of company. Don’t attribute my unwillgness to have this idiotic (Damn- there is that word again- it must be applicable to everything, just like the phrase “blue wall”) argument with you as an admission that you are correct.
Chalk it up to an unwillingness to debate someone who refuses to acknowledge the Taliban at one time had popular support in Afghanistan. Facts mean nothing to you- why should I waste them?
Yes, clearly that was the extent of my point.
You nailed it.
I’m not your intellectual equal.
Do you think some journalists believe their interests run concurrent with Newsweek?
I’m not your intellectual equal.
Was this supposed to prompt a disagreement from me?
Hey- tell me again how the Taliban was never held in popular favor in Afghanistan.
I’ll gladly stack my resume against yours. Every day of the week.
And, obtw, good job ignoring the substantive point, to whit, the editor of the Miami Herald thinks his interests run concurrent to those of Newsweek.
But that would never have then circle the wagons. No way!
never argue with a nut John.
Jesus H Christ, Birkel, put down the bottle. You’re an incoherent moran, a blithering idiot. Let it go. Sleep it off. Come back after the hangover.
Wasn’t Isikoff’s story on Lewinskly spiked by Newseek and then picked up by Drudge? If so, it’s kind of misleading to say that Isikoff reported that. It sort of exonerates Newsweek from their reponsibility in in this self-censorship. Not to argue but to keep the facts straight.
Hey- tell me again how the Taliban was never held in popular favor in Afghanistan.
In the good news/bad news department John Cole finds some theocrats that he grudgingly quotes favorably. Bad news is it’s the Taliban.
By thie way I enjoyed that link. It was pretty factual for being short.
Far North (and John Cole, naturally),
You’re good at calling names. Wish I had thought of that.
You spoke of market effects on journalism and such however, the fact that the NY Times is still considered THE newspaper to read despite it’s Duranty-styled bullshit undermines such free market stance.
“On May 20th, the NY Times releases a report on torture that was just written because the MILITARY FINALLY RELEASED THE DETAILS AFTER CLOSE TO THREE YEARS.”
Not according to the Times story:
It’s worth noting the Times ran essentially the same story (with a couple fewer details) last September:
That story’s no longer available, but there’s a copy here.
As to whether it’s news, I’d note it’s been covered before (though without the lurid details):
Dec 2002 (WaPo)
November 2003 Human Rights Watch (from its own and BBC reports):
May 2004 (WaPo)
“The prosecution rests and reaches for a stiff drink.”
Looks to me like sensationalist overkill, though not yet to the level of the Abu Ghraib silliness. The jury’s still out. But if Frank Rich keeps this sort of thing up, you might need to recall some witnesses.
And Bob, that Scheer “money to the Taliban” meme was discredited before Sep. 11 by Spinsanity. Never mind though, go watch F911 for the hundredth time.
“A detainee known only as Dilawar died from blunt force injuries to his lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease.”
Yeah, I’m sure “coronary artery disease” is a common problem for 22 year old Afghan men.
Am I the only one who thinks military trials and investigations lean towards wrist-slaps and whitewashes?
For example, the case of the US military jet that flew low and severed an Italian cable car’s cable, leading to everyone in the cable car being killed. That didn’t seem to result in punishment that was even remotely adequate.
“Yeah, I’m sure “coronary artery disease” is a common problem for 22 year old Afghan men.”
That’s from the autopsy lauded in the Times article.
“For example, the case of the US military jet that flew low and severed an Italian cable car’s cable, leading to everyone in the cable car being killed. That didn’t seem to result in punishment that was even remotely adequate.”
They’d have had a better case if someone had bothered to give the aircrew an up-to-date map (with the cable depicted). As it was, he got 6 months and a DD. A better example would be Sgt Graner in the Abu Ghraib case–but it probably wouldn’t support your thesis, since he got 10 years.
From Jon H:Yeah, I’m sure “coronary artery disease” is a common problem for 22 year old Afghan men.
From WebMD on coronary heart disease:
Before your teen years, fat starts to deposit in the blood vessel walls. As you get older, the fat builds up. This causes injury to your blood vessel walls. In an attempt to heal itself, the cells release chemicals that make the walls sticky.
From Florida’s Herald Tribune:
Nov. 22, 2004: Freddie Logan Jr. died from cardiac arrest after basketball practice at Eastside High School in Gainesville. A coach performed CPR on the 15-year-old.
Oct. 11, 2004: Christian Chalita, 16, died of heart failure while running on a treadmill at the start of his daily training routine. Chalita, who had a malformed heart, was attending IMG Basketball Academy, Bradenton’s elite training school for aspiring athletes.
There are several more cases at this link of teen-agers dying, although not all are from heart disease.
So let’s not be so dismissive please.
The Taliban had popular support in Afghanistan? Talk about gross generalizations. Support was tribal, limited, and funded by foreign extremists and the Pakistani intelligence service, which had been infilitrated by extremists. The Taliban seized power, it was not elected. It never held sway over the enture country and was waging a civil war for a decade. So the Taliban had popular support? Hardly.
Don’t you see, John? The Taliban was EVIL and EVIL regimes don’t ever have popular support! It’s unpossible!
And as for “circling the wagons”, only a fool and an idiot wouldn’t believe the International Liberal Conspiracy and the Protocols Of Clinton.
Res ipsa Louitur.