Sunday, July 25, 2010

the Shirley Sherrod war

Civil war among conservatives! And some of it none too civil. Rush Limbaugh and a bunch of emailers using the word "coward".

There a few basic facts that most conservatives ought to be able to agree on:
1. When the video first came out, people were saying based on the video that (a) Sherrod had once had a (presumably government) job where she was supposed to help poor farmers; (b) she had refused to help white farmers, and (c) she thought it was funny. That turns out to have been false, and it was the editing of the video that led to that false impression.
2. The Obama administration was wrong to fire someone based on an edited video without allowing the accused a chance to defend herself and without doing even the most superficial investigation to verify the accusation.
3. The NAACP is showing astonishing hypocrisy in their criticism of people who took this video at face value because they themselves took the video at face value and issued an official statement condemning Sherrod based on the edited video --again without investigating and without letting Sherrod defend herself.
4. Breitbart never pretended to be an unbiased reporter. He was engaging in open advocacy and any responsible person would have viewed the video in that light. Whatever his fault was in releasing the video, it pales in comparison to the faults of the NAACP and the Obama administration.
5. All of those liberals who are criticizing Breitbart but not the NAACP and administration are, as usual, hypocrites. They don't really care about justice and fairness. Their pretension to do so is just a pretext for them to criticize their political foes.
6. Sherrod may not be guilty of what the video seemed to imply, but she certainly is a racist, she does endorse class warfare, she does believe in Marxist conspiracy theories of history, and she did use her government position to advocate for racism, class warfare, and Marxist conspiracy theories. She arguably should have been fired for that even though the original story was false.
As far as I can tell, there is no real disagreement over these points, but that there seem to be some misunderstandings where people think there is disagreement on some of these points.

There is also an actual disagreement going on over what the rules ought to be for political advocacy, and whether Breitbart violated those rules. This is a real and ongoing argument within the conservative community. I've had my own arguments with Patterico over whether Ann Coulter violates rules that advocates ought to follow. I'm somewhat in the middle on this. In matters of decorum, conservatives ought to strive to raise the level of public discourse, but they should not be held to some absolute standard of civility that the other side ignores. We should not be fighting with one hand tied behind our backs --not when the stakes are so high.

Being truthful and consistent are much more important. Conservative ought not to tolerate lies and hypocrisy from the right any more than they tolerate it from the left. In addition to the obvious ethical reasons there is a good tactical reason for this --the left controls the big megaphone in political dialog, so any falsehoods of the right are likely to become far more widely known that the constant falsehoods of the left. This is the field we fight on: the advantage of the left is their big megaphone; the advantage of the right is that we are telling the truth. Let's not squander our big strategic advantage for some temporary rhetorical advantage.

Was Breitbart untruthful or does he owe an apology? If he had been pushing the story that I described in item 1 then he would have been untruthful and would have owed an apology, not only to Sherrod but to all of his readers. However, that is not what Breitbart was doing. His focus was on the audience, not on the speaker.

Was Breitbart careless in posting a video that was edited in that way? If he edited himself or had access to the full video, then he was careless and he owes an apology. If he just received the edited video and posted it, then he was not careless and the most he owes Sherrod is an expression of regret that she came to harm over it. The video was news, edited or not, and if Breitbart could not evaluate it properly within a short time frame then he was still entitled to post it while the story would still be hot.

These opinions are a close call and I can still respect someone who differs in their judgment. Look, we are fighting an unprincipled foe who is a grave danger to ourselves and our descendants. Let us not distract ourselves from that important work by assuming that our allies are unprincipled whenever we have disagreements.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OT: I'm putting together a list of LA/OC bloggers, so it would be great if I could get contact info for you.

Send me a note to joy.mccann, at that gmail.com place.

--Joy McCann/Little Miss Attila