Patterico's Pontifications

10/12/2003

JOHN CARROLL BLUDGEONS THE STRAWMEN:

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:01 am

JOHN CARROLL BLUDGEONS THE STRAWMEN: In this morning’s Dog Trainer, John Carroll offers this paltry defense of the Arnold hit piece. Carroll is an expert at the technique of defeating the strawman argument. Meanwhile, several legitimate criticisms of the story remain unanswered.

Carroll’s technique is to say: “It was written that [insert strawman argument here]. Fact: [Carroll destroys strawman].” In each case, the strawman argument is an argument that I have not heard credibly stated anywhere — but that bears some similarity to a less extreme, more credible allegation that Carroll fails to address.

For example, Carroll writes:

It was also written, for example, that Davis was the puppeteer behind the Times stories. Fact: None of the information in the Times stories came from the Davis camp, as we said in the articles when we published them.

I never heard anyone credibly allege that “Davis was the puppeteer behind the Times stories.” But I sure did see a credible allegation that one of the women came forward at the behest of a long-time Democrat operative, Davis colleague, and friend of Bob “100 Days” Mulholland. What’s more, according to Bill Bradley, who broke this story, a columnist for the Dog Trainer (George Skelton) acknowledged the ties between the operative and Davis — and said that the Times reporters and editors must not have known about it.

To my knowledge, this information has not been reported in the Dog Trainer. In this context, it is Clintonesque hairsplitting (at a minimum) to continue to assert that the allegations didn’t come from the Davis camp, without telling readers where some of them did come from.

Carroll continues:

It was written that high Democratic officials were kept apprised of the newspaper’s probe, step by step. Fact: No Democratic officials were apprised. Because the paper was interviewing many sources, the existence of the investigation was widely known, but the details were not. The Davis people may have learned that the investigation was underway from Web sites, which mentioned rumors about it repeatedly.

Who said that “high Democratic officials were kept apprised of the newspaper’s probe, step by step”? I never saw that reported anywhere. What I did read was that the Davis campaign was told about the story before it broke, perhaps no more than a day early (according to Mickey Kaus).

Now, I have no idea whether this very serious accusation is true or not. But Carroll does not clearly deny it. Carroll’s statement that “[n]o Democratic officials were apprised” refers to his characterization of the strawman claim that Davis officials were “kept apprised of the newspaper’s probe, step by step.” By exaggerating the claim that was actually made and then denying it, Carroll appears to be leaving himself some wiggle room — again, in a style reminiscent of our friend Bill Clinton.

Carroll takes a sledgehammer to a final strawman with this quote:

It was written that the paper failed to follow up on reports that Davis had mistreated women in his office. Fact: Virginia Ellis, a recent Pulitzer Prize finalist, and other Times reporters investigated this twice. Their finding both times: The discernible facts didn’t support a story.

I never heard anyone say that the paper “failed to follow up” on these reports. Rather, Jill Stewart has said that the paper did follow up on the story. Stewart has detailed very clearly the allegations that the Dog Trainer had uncovered, as well as the various sources of corroboration for those allegations. Stewart says that the story was spiked it because it was based on anonymous sources. If true, this allegation shows a clear double-standard, since the Arnold piece was also largely based on anonymous sources.

As regular readers know, I have implored Carroll to address this issue head-on — to specifically state what the sourcing standards are, and how they were met by the Arnold hit piece and not the Davis story. I have asked him to say whether Stewart is lying about why the Dog Trainer never ran the Davis story. I have been assured that my request was passed on to John Carroll personally.

Carroll has failed to address the specifics of Stewart’s allegations. His defense echoes the defense by the “Readers Representative,” which I mentioned the other day. In essence, the defense is simply this: “Trust us. We looked into it. There was nothing there.” Carroll offers no specific denials of Stewart’s allegations regarding the allegations that the Dog Trainer had uncovered regarding Davis, or the reasons that the story was spiked.

The obvious question is: why? After all, Carroll does not shy away from calling Stewart a liar with respect to her report that the Dog Trainer sat on the story for two weeks. Why can’t he address the allegations regarding the Davis story — directly, with specifics??

The answer is so obvious it insults your intelligence to say it out loud: Carroll offers no defense because there is none. The Dog Trainer has employed a clear, undeniable double standard here. Carroll’s piece puts to rest any doubts a reasonable critic could have on this point.

By the time Carroll gets to the end of his piece, he has demolished enough strawmen to make several bales of hay. But he completely fails to address the legitimate questions raised by the Arnold hit piece. This is disappointing, to be sure — but entirely predictable. The Dog Trainer‘s shameful handling of this episode is an indelible stain on the paper’s reputation — such as it was.

P.S. While I was re-reading Carroll’s piece, I noticed that he made a comment about electronic journalism (in particular the internet) being the news equivalent of pornography. This comment brings to mind all sorts of thoughts that really deserve their own post — and that’s where I have put them. You can read that post (which is immediately above this one) here.


Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.1888 secs.