Patterico's Pontifications


Are Tommy Christopher’s Wild Accusations of Bad Faith Merely Reckless — or Active Dishonesty?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:32 pm

Imagine that you make the mistake of engaging a leftist with a history of sloppiness and hackery, because he has tricked you by (on very rare occasions) taking reasonable positions.

This leftist starts every conversation by dishonestly accusing you of bad faith and taking things out of context. So you begin this particular conversation by stipulating certain nuances — nuances that very slightly support the leftist’s position — so that he will not accuse you of hiding or ignoring those nuances.

Incredibly, he then responds by accusing you of “bad faith” because you ignored the nuances. Which you didn’t do. You explicitly acknowledged them. Incensed, you point him to the place where you explicitly acknowledged those exact nuances. He acknowledges that he read your previous stipulation, but nevertheless refuses to apologize — leaving the accusation of bad faith out there.

How would you feel? Ready to punch a wall? Ready to punch yourself for being stupid enough to engage this guy?

This is precisely the situation I found myself in today with Tommy Christopher. Tommy Christopher has written high-handed and self-righteous posts denouncing any conservative who says that Derrick Bell was a radical or a racist. Last night on Twitter I sought to counter that view, by establishing two things:

  • Derrick Bell argued that the Supreme Court should have upheld Plessy v. Ferguson and its “separate but equal” standard, and this view was radical.
  • Derrick Bell said we should “appreciate” Khalid Muhammad, who called for white genocide in South Africa, and this view was radical.

Now, each of these propositions is quite true, but each is also less simplistic than as stated above. For example, while Bell believed in “separate but equal,” this was because he saw the aftermath of Brown as a loss for blacks. And while Bell did say we should appreciate Muhammad, he said so because Muhammad had merely advocated mass violence, rather than engaging in it.

And while I think these nuances do not render Bell’s opinions mainstream, or acceptable, or non-radical, I do agree that the nuances should be acknowledged in any discussion of these particular opinions held by Bell.

Which is why, in my discussions with Tommy, I very forthrightly bent over backwards to acknowledge the nuances.

Each time, Christopher came out of the gate accusing me of bad faith. I have already discussed his evasions on the topic of “separate but equal,” ultimately garnering his view that Bell’s support of “separate but equal” was not “radical.” (Of course, Tommy dishonestly denied that Bell supported “separate but equal” — but he did, Tommy, and all your tap-dancing can’t change that.)

Tonight I want to discuss Tommy’s even more infuriating accusations on the issue of Khalid Muhammad. Because his accusation of bad faith was so blatantly dismissive of the actual facts, I am left trying to see how he could possibly be arguing in good faith — and despite my best efforts, I can’t see any way that he could be.

Now, I discuss the Khalid Muhammad issue here:

John Podhoretz tells us that, in an interview with the New York Observer in October 1994, Bell stated: “We should really appreciate the Louis Farrakhans and the Khalid Muhammads while we’ve got them.” According to Podhoretz, Bell argued that society should be thankful for people like Muhammad, because they merely threatened deadly violence, rather than carrying it out.

When I posed the question to Tommy last night, I knew his defense was going to be: Bell was just saying that violent talk is better than violent action. I happen to think that’s a poor reason not to condemn extremely violent talk, but I acknowledge that was Bell’s position. So to forestall Tommy from claiming I was ignoring or hiding that fact, I explicitly noted that Bell’s “appreciation” stemmed from Muhammad’s being a violent talker rather than a violent actor. And I noted this, not once, not twice, but three times:

I repeated the question today:

And I reminded Tommy that the question had been accompanied by a boatload of caveats, which I did not want to have to repeat:

This is the part that floors me. Tommy then comes on and accuses me of dishonestly, and in bad faith, hiding the fact that Bell was talking about preferring violent talk to violent action — the very thing I had spent so much time acknowledging:

As Charlie Brown used to say:


“Saying people who *talk* crazy shit are better than people who *do* crazy shit” is exactly what I had acknowledged Bell’s argument was. I had acknowledged this repeatedly. And he had accused me of “eliminating” this part of the argument. Which I had not done!

Incredible. I then proceeded to tell him he was full of crap, and started repeating the caveats that I had explicitly included the night before. And remember how I said the last part was what floored me? Wrong; this is the part that really, really floored me. Tommy then proceeded to explicitly acknowledge that he had seen my caveats — the very caveats he had just complained that I had omitted — and did he apologize? Far from it. Instead, he gets angry at me for repeating the very caveats/context that he had falsely accused me of omitting:

So, to sum up:

  • Christopher accused me of hiding the fact that Bell was making a distinction between violent rhetoric and violent action;
  • I proved that I had acknowledged the fact that Bell was making a distinction between violent rhetoric and violent action;
  • Christopher acknowledged seeing that I had acknowledged that Bell was making a distinction between violent rhetoric and violent action;


  • Instead of apologizing, Christopher tossed out some Clintonian meaningless distinction between “context” and “caveats,” ignoring that the distinction he claimed I had omitted was the very one I had acknowledged.

If you have made your way this far, I think it is beyond question that Tommy Christopher is, at a minimum, completely reckless in the manner in which he tosses accusations of bad faith at conservatives. Indeed, it is difficult for me to read this passage and not conclude that Christopher is being, at a minimum, deliberately slippery . . . if not utterly dishonest on a very deep level.

The only question you might be asking is: Patterico, why are you bothering with this guy? He’s obviously a partisan hack who displays no intellectual honesty whatsoever. Who cares?

Well. Mediaite is a widely read site. He is its White House Correspondent. Christopher’s pack herd partisan hack mentality has been located right there in the White House press room. He has asked questions of our President.

Of course it matters if a guy in the White House Press room is a total hack. And even if they all are, we have to keep calling them out. Otherwise, we legitimize the garbage that comes out of those press conferences, and that appears on large and widely read sites.

Also, I will no doubt have occasion to discuss Tommy Christopher in the future. If I don’t get a clear retraction and apology for his absolutely baseless accusation of bad faith, I will conclude that he is, beyond question, a liar. And when I refer to him as such in the future, I will do so with a link to this post. And you will understand why.

So, although writing this post has been annoying, to put it mildly, it is worth it.

Something’s happening here?

Filed under: 2012 Election — Karl @ 7:39 am

[Posted by Karl]

I really don’t mean to pick on Jonathan Chait here — he just happens to be representative of many left of center in this instance.  Last Friday, the story was all about Obama’s improved standing in the polls, with Gallup as an outlier (to be dismissed like Rasmussen, as if that makes sense).  Yesterday, he was groping around to explain away bad numbers from the Washington Post/ABC News and New York Times/CBS News polls (both historically have pro-Obama house effects), while highlighting that Obama’s approval number was up at Gallup.  The… flexibility is amusing, but the question of what happened is worthwhile.  There are a number of possible explanations.

Statistical noiseJonathan Bernstein notes this as a factor — and it almost certainly is.  However, Bernstein adds that it’s better to look at the poll averages — and they may tell the same story.  The variation in Obama’s overall approval rating has not varied much outside margin of error recently, but it seemingly has declined slightly over the past three weeks.  The same seems to be true of Obama’s approval on the economy.  And the gap between Obama and Romney has been shrinking over the same period.

Sampling:  As Ed Morrissey noted, this was likely an issue for the WaPo/ABC poll.  After not releasing the party ID for the samples in January and February, this poll disclosed them. The February sample was D+11, while the March sample was D+4, which accounts for much of the results.  However, it is unlikely this was a problem in most polls taken over the past three weeks.

Gas prices:  This was the explanation given in the WaPo news coverage of its poll.  However, as WaPo Wonkbook blogger Brad Plumer noted, the correlation of gas prices and presidential approval is statistically suspect  and perhaps indirect (I have noted the same).  If you want to dig further, it appears that rising gas prices could cost Obama a few points in approval and a point or two in vote share.

The “War on Women”:  Both Allahpundit and Mickey Kaus at least allude to the idea that the media effort to reframe the HHS mandate as a conservative war on contraception has failed and the issue is hurting Obama.  I tend to doubt this, but the issue has received increasing media coverage over the past three weeks.

Good economic news:  Chait floats a theory that I find implausible in one way, but illuminating in another.  Chait, noting that Obama’s campaign to convince voters that “America is back” is a dud, hypothesizes last weekend’s polling reflected that Americans “do not think that it’s morning in America and respond badly to any suggestion that they ought to feel cheerful.”  I tend to doubt last weekend’s polling reflected backlash to happytalk about Friday’s jobs report, because the decline — if the start of a trend — dates back to mid-February.  However, Chait’s piece caused me to look back at the news coverage from mid-February… and it turns out there was a lot of happytalk about the economy (and how it was boosting Obama) then, too.

The question not being addressed is whether Americans’ polled perceptions of the economy are more accurate than those of the establishment media.  I don’t want to overdo this — economic confidence is on the rise.  But job creation may be stagnatingReal disposable income has fallen recently.    Underemployment seems to be rising.  A disproportionate share of the jobs that have been added over the past two years have been what Democrats once dismissed as low-wage “McJobs.”  The official job numbers look good, but everyone from Gallup to Wall Street economists are puzzling over the disconnect between the unemployment and growth statistics.  Are the strong jobs numbers the real story, or the weak growth stats?  The conventional wisdom is that unemployment is a lagging indicator, which suggests we should already have seen better growth statistics.  But if the conventional wisdom was always right, the economy would already seem much better than it is.


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