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October 07, 2007

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BRENDAN NYHAN ON Media Matters and Eric Alterman. The important thing to remember is that Media Matters is "non political." No matter what you might hear.... [Read More]

Comments

Alterman is the archetypal Liberal: Not anywhere near as smart as he thinks he is, but so convinced of his own intellectual superiority that whatever he thinks MUST be right, because HE thought of it. The only one who could out argues him...is the devil!

I think it's more than about time that we dispute his 503 status as a nonprofit.

Who's going to step up to do this?

Alterman is still around? I thought he died years ago... jeez, he doesn't sound any different from when I tuned him out.

"Media Matters does important work, but publishing this sort of nonsense seriously undermines their credibility."


I can't say that they do any important work. MM tries to silence the minority viewpoint in an ever-increasingly liberal MSM.

"Media Matters does important work"

Where and when - besides shilling for the Neo-Comms?

One of the many reasons that I cancelled my subscriptions to newspapers and news magazines several years ago (thank God for the Internet) is that nearly every article contained the tactic that you point out for Alterman. That is, reporters aren't content to just report a facts of an action. They feel compelled to explain to the reader the intent behind the action. That would not be such a bad thing if the intent was supplied to them by the persons involved in the action, but instead they almost singularly are projecting their own personal belief as to the purpose for the action which may, or most often may not, accurately reflect the intent of the actors.

I suppose they do important work in terms of holding conservatives accountable, the way Media Research Center and News Busters target liberals. But it would be nice if they could be displaced by a less narrow-minded group, more interested in defending the truth than in scoring points.

Factcheck.org is usually pretty good.

Gosh, the brilliant "pot, kettle" remark! The paragon of wit on the blogosphere! No wonder Instarube approvingly linked to you.

I have sat through more than six years of semi-literate cowards like Instarube and Rush question my patriotism. Now when someone hits back at them a little, they all burst into tears. For my part, any website that calls out Rush "I avoided Vietnam because of a boil on my ass" Limbaugh gets my vote, any day of the week. Indeed, any discussion of Rush Limbaugh discussing war should begin and end with the simple fact that when he was called to serve, he found the absolutely most cowardly way in the world to avoid it.

"Gosh, the brilliant "pot, kettle" remark! The paragon of wit on the blogosphere! No wonder Instarube approvingly linked to you."

Well, "Instarube" isn't exactly scoring many points on the wit-o-meter, either.

In your rage against Limbaugh (interesting how the supposedly non-political "Media Matters" has inspired such an emotion in you), you address none of Mr. Nyhan's points about Alterman. This leaves us with the question as to how, exactly, you, Alterman, or Media Matters rises above the vitriol that spews regularly from Limbaugh or the excesses of the right.

Why does Media Matters attempt to pretend that they're not biased? If they were to just come out and say "We hold the conservatives accountable from a progressive perspective", do you think they'd lose any readers? I think most people's reactions would be "Well, duh", and some would even applaud their honesty.

I think attacks on Rush's viewpoints because he isn't a saint is a way of admitting the argument against his views can't be won. If the argument could be won, you'd argue against his views instead of attacking the messenger. I read Instapundit regularly, and don't find him to be uneducated (which I assume is where the 'rube' ad hominem comes from) nor conservative (which is where I assume most of the emnity comes from). It's hard for me to fathom how anyone could loathe instapundit since his views are rarely strongly worded. I agree with a good portion of his perspectives, but the parts where we disagree I have no doubt I could have a very fine conversation about and we could amicably agree to disagree. Where he disagrees with me isn't due to a lack of education or sincerity on either side - it's a simple fact that reasonable people can come to very different conclusions, and doesn't imply that either of us is correct.

Zac, I hated Rush long before Media Matters even existed. He's a blowhard, a moron, and a coward.

Bryan, your hero Instarube most recently applauded two bloggers who referred to Soros as "gestapo." Soros is not only a Jew but a survivor of the holocaust, which makes your hero the worst kind of antisemite. And that's just one example; read the blog Instaputz for daily examples of this kind of thing. Where you see someone who doesn't word his views strongly, I see a passive-aggressive little man who hides behind the hateful screeds he routinely links to.

The Limbaughs and the Instarubes have spent years spewing garbage. Media Matters is calling them on this. I say more power to them, and I love how all their supporters are now hysterical.

You Brendan,
After the Revolution I'll be assigning you to a re-education camp of my choice since you obviously don't need to be making important decisions for yourself.
Ever So Sincerely,
Mogon Kara

Let me see if I have this right. President Bush wants to add 4 million children to the Schips rolls...and that is being translated and fed to the nation as Bush "wants children to get sick and die".. Because Bush doesn't want 25-year old children or children of parents making 65,000 or more a year to swell the government coffers by being listed as "poor sick children..." HE is somehow an uncaring and evil man? Are these people for real? Is there any honesty left on the left? Is there any honesty in the press that obediently reports this stuff?

Oh, Bryan, by the way. You asked, "Why does Media Matters attempt to pretend that they're not biased? If they were to just come out and say "We hold the conservatives accountable from a progressive perspective", do you think they'd lose any readers? I think most people's reactions would be "Well, duh", and some would even applaud their honesty."

From their About Us page:

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

Indeed, they include this information in their meta tag, so it is the first text you see when you google "media matters," right below the link to their homepage.

See, when you read Instarube and listen to your hero Rush, you fall into these lame strawman arguments. So much for, "I think attacks on Rush's viewpoints because he isn't a saint is a way of admitting the argument against his views can't be won." Can't be won? I could send in a four-year-old against either of these clowns and the four-year-old would wipe the floor.

To be fair to Alterman, Bush is being rather misleading in his claim that the S-CHIP law would be a step towards "government-run health-care" and "socialized medecine." As Jon Steward pointed out, it's pretty hard for people to make decisions with their doctors when they can't have one because they're not insured.
As for "government-run health-care?" Last week, I found out to my dismay that, having changed insurance companies, I wasn't insured for my visit to the doctor anymore because it was the wrong doctor. To someone who has lived most of my life in France, this is completely unacceptable. I can't believe Americans meekly accept this.
So whether or not Bush wants poor kids to get sick and die, I don't know, but I don't think he cares one way or another. What he does care about, though, are the profits of insurance companies. Poor kids don't vote, after all.
Still, I don't approve of the Anncoulterization of Eric Alterman. He would be well-advised to turn off his computer and go for a walk before answering his critics.

With eyes bulging, spittle flying and pronouns bewildered, commenter Charles Giacometti calls the fans of hated "blowhard, moron and coward" Rush Limbaugh and "garbage-spewer, antisemite and semi-literate coward" "Instarube" hysterical.

All in all, a perfect example for Brendan's piece. Thanks, Charles!

You're welcome ERF. Sort of like Rush calling Hillary a "feminazi," Rush calling active-duty soldiers "phony," and both Rush and Instarube routinely questioning the patriotism of their opponents.

So your side can do it, and no one can say a word. But opponents do it, and you burst into tears.

As Jon Steward pointed out, it's pretty hard for people to make decisions with their doctors when they can't have one because they're not insured.

I have yet to meet a doctor or a hospital who won't take cash. Not a single one.

If you start, however, from the mindset that the only way to get medical care is if you have health insurance which covers it, then of course you will fall into the logic of Marie (commenting above), Jon Stewart, or Eric Alterman, or Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Nyhan, I agree with you about Alterman, but were you starting from that mindset too?

Your response might be, "Well, of course it's presumed that we're talking about people who can't afford to pay cash." But that's usually wrong too. There are lots of uninsured low income people who can't afford to pay cash because their cashflow is already committed to rent or groceries, yes; but even there, there are choices: Health care, or cheaper apartment? Health care, or generic frosted flakes? Health care or cable TV? The problem with our healthcare system is that insurance paid for by some, but not all, employers is sheltering the system from market economics. But that's an ugly truth that upsets too many mindsets, so they're off making "he wants to kill the kids/she wants to save the kids" arguments based on a bundle of invalid assumptions.

If you aren't in that mindset, Stewart's joke isn't funny, it's just an indicator that he's very shallow, and funny only to other shallow people.

Hello Charles Giacometti,

To this day I have never listened to or watched Limbaugh. My only exposure to him came after the Media Matters attack, when I took the time to read the relevant transcript of Limbaugh's remarks.

By the way, anyone who wants to know what Limbaugh said should do as I did, although afterward the reader may not regard Media Matters or Paul Krugman the same as before.

As for "Instarube", I am thoroughly familiar with the site and I've been a big fan for years. Your accusations against Instapundit and Glenn Reynolds are all false.

As for your silly statement, "So your side can do it, and no one can say a word", thank goodness free political speech is available to all lucky enough to be called Americans. This situation does not mean however that anyone is shielded from being singled out and criticized when he uses his free speech right to convey falsehoods or irrelevant, personal insults.

I think Instapundit and Brendan would heartily agree with me on this.

Charles,
perhaps you missed where I said I disagreed with Instapundit on certain issues, so he is not my 'hero', though your assumption of that is quite telling. I neither endorsed nor assailed Rush, so your assumption that I approve of him is like-wise telling. More interesting is that you attack me when I have done nothing to attack you.

As far as Media Matters being open about their bias - that's great! That makes Alterman's attribution of malevolence to those who disagree with him even more puzzling. He posts at a site that is aware of its own bias, yet he seems to work from a framework where anyone who doesn't share the same bias is bad/evil and can be defeated by a 4-year old in any debate.

I'm also unaware of anyone making Instapundit (or Rush) burst into tears, though that is simply another ad-hominem. As I think about it, I'm not aware of anyone on either 'side' bursting into tears when their patriotism is questioned, and I don't recall Instapundit regularly questioning anyone's patriotism. I'm not familiar enough with Rush to say anything about his tendencies, and verifying that simply isn't very intersting to me. It seems to me that there are worse things than having one's patriotism questioned. How about bursting into tears? That must hurt.

Brendan,
Please think about this contention for a minute or two: you are right in a small way and wrong in a bigger way. Although it was admittedly unwise for Alterman to write that Bush "wants children to get sick and die," this diction not only was tangential to his point but exhibits a looseness of style he sometimes employs that is clearly at odds with, and therefore unrepresentative of, the guts of how he argues and the causes for which he does so. The "agitprop" Media Matters works hard to oppose is in many cases fundamentally about character assassination, but no substantive consideration of Alterman's work could countenance the same interpretation. Being subject to criticism is part and parcel of blogging, and this injunction applies to you the blog critic no less than to Alterman the blogger. In this case, it means NOT that you shouldn't criticize him but that in your manner of doing so you are lacking a sense of proportion -- fairness, of a sort -- an ability to distinguish parts from whole. You fill a niche in the blogosphere, there's no question. But you too have your blind spots. For a moment, don't approach this controversy as if you were a lawyer, but try instead to see why someone might disagree with you in good faith. Forest. Trees. Please think about it. I'll say it again: you are right in a small way and wrong in a bigger way, and the contrast matters.

Hello Beldar,

Your perceptive post gets to the heart of the health care / health insurance problem, and you identify the fundamental, if often unspoken, positions of the two main sides.

George Will recently wrote,

"In the perennial tension between the competing values of freedom and equality, conservatives favor freedom, which inevitably increases unequal social outcomes. Liberals' mission is the promotion of equality, understood as equal dependence of more and more people for more and more things on government."

In the current discussion I think Will's "freedom" would mean the free market for health care.

Adopting a free market model for health care has two tough problems. One, most people regard their health as uniquely precious and therefore elevated above practical economic considerations. Two, under the current non-free market situation, health care has become so disproportionately expensive that employer-paid or even employer-subsidized health insurance has become more difficult to acquire.

The upshot of these factors is that few are willing to risk the chaotic period of economic "creative destruction" necessary to transition to a freer, more economically efficient health care market model -- even if that model is predicted to provide more and better care to more people at a lower cost.

Addendum to my post at 6:47pm:

Although I stand by the substance of my post and its respectful tone, I was in one respect too accommodating toward your point of view, Brendan. My correction, which only underscores my point above, is this:

Only an adversarial, rather than an objective, reader of Alterman's original passage would impute to him the intention you raise as being plausibly associated with that passage. Here is the entire Alterman paragraph in which the allegedly offending phraseology appears (italics mine):

So this is the point. Bush's argument is explicitly ideological. He wants children to get sick and die in order to prevent what he believes will be a slide toward what he calls "socialized medicine." Conservatives may not wish to claim him anymore, but this speaks to a fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives, and it's not just about letting kids get sick and die.

The phrase "letting kids get sick and die," in the very next sentene, rather clearly puts the earlier use of "wants" in perspective, revealing it as a kind of shorthand. If Alterman's number-one priority in all circumstances was to avoid ambiguity, even of a kind lasting all of a single sentence, then yes, he shouldn't have used that language. One can make that case fairly. But one can NOT, in fact, make the case that the most reasonable reading of the "wants" phraseology is the pejorative one that you highlight. In this respect, although you employ a nonpartisan process-oriented approach to blog criticism, you are inadvertently facilitating quite partisan (adversarial) blog criticism that is not in good faith.

What do you think?

Jason,
I'm curious, how is Alterman's ascribing to Bush the desire to see children grow sick and die indicative of a 'loose style'? Exageration is explanable/acceptable and just 'loose' if employed against those who are ideologically 'wrong'? Even if this is tangential to his argument, it seems unfair to categorize Bush's reason for vetoing SCHIP expansion in such a way. It is certainly easy enough to come up with an argument to disagree with Bush without saying he did so out of some sinister motivation. I think Mr. Alterman could take this criticism, as could we all, and make sure that any further comments were confined to the facts and issues without ad hominems. Your criticism of Mr. Nyhan has some merit, but do keep in mind that the forest consists of trees - so pointing out the trees is a useful excercise. The more difficult issue is how to determine how many trees have to be found wanting before the entire forest is considered suspect. I suspect that you and Mr. Nyhan don't see the same forest.

Congratulations, Brendan.

Few bloggers could get readers of both Glenn Reynolds and the Huffington Post attacking them for a single post. You're a fascist and a communist at the same time!

So, Beldar, you think it's less likely that Bush is a headstrong ideologue (despite getting more and more proof of it every day since before he took power) than that millions of people are going to choose generic brand cornflakes and cable TV over health coverage for their children?
Personally, I'm single with a good health and a good income, so health insurance isn't my main problem. But for people who have to take several jobs just to make ends meet, I'm not so sure. I'm not going to make assumptions as to how they manage their budgets because I don't know them, and neither do you, or you wouldn't be so callous about them.
If you've been to the doctor in the US recently, you know that a visit to the doctor is more than $100, which is a huge expense for many of people (a number which is probably increasing every day, considering how the divide between rich and poor is increasing). Health insurance can be very expensive, too. I can see people who don't have much income making gambling in the hope that they or their children won't get sick. It's not the most responsible thing to do, but with all the temptations of wealth in front of you, I can see people making that decision. No, it's not a sound practice, but if you ever have had to live on a tight budget, you know how hard it is never to buy anything nice because you might get sick some time in the future. And do you really want to punish children for their parents' financial irresponsibility?
To address your second point, I don't know to what extent healthcare is governed by market economics in the US, but I wonder: should it be? Do you make decisions about your health the same way you buy a car or a cellphone? Should your doctor present you with your options the same way a car dealer does? According to medical ethics, the first concern of a doctor/nurse should be your well-being, not their bottom line (if you review the Hipprocrates oath, you'll see what I mean). Especially in the present market culture, in which money is valued more than labor and costumers can be manipulated at will, the idea of a doctor, just like the idea of a teacher, as a salesperson, is very scary to me.

And yet, hours later, not a single person from the left addresses the fact that Bush is completely in favor of adding 4 MILLION kids to the program and so the whole Dem tone of indignation is a sham.

Bryan,
I said Alterman should not be above criticism. I myself try not to engage in such exaggerations because they could be misunderstood and tend to raise everyone's temperature, but not necessarily in a thought-provoking way. Nonetheless, in the context both of Alterman's work in general and of all of his writing about Bush's stance on SCHIP expansion, the uncharitable interpretation of Alterman's meaning is not the most reasonable one.

It is not hyperbole to say that since Bush's avowed policy preference entails greater health risks for kids who will remain uncovered, that he is placing ideology over kids' health. There's no reason to think Bush wants them to get sick or die ... and yet some clearly could (lack of coverage does have predictable health consequences over a large population). So the president's stance can fairly be thought of as callous -- not a claim of "sinister motivation" but a judgment of his values -- and I think Alterman's wording somewhat carelessly and loosely alluded to this implication of Bush's decision on this bipartisan bill.

Again, if one is determined to find evidence for criticism, Alterman's language provides it. But describing a few words that are themselves at odds with the serious overall point Alterman's raising as agitprop akin to the populist right-wing discourse that, say, Fox News broadcasts regularly, when these few words can be understood with a little effort and focus not to be literal -- reveals more about the critic's misleadingly narrowed focus than it does about the object of the criticism.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

The quote about bin Laden makes your point better than the SCHIP quote. In the latter case, Alterman is right to use such language. Here's why

Liee, maybe that is because 7 in 10 Americans prefer the Democratic approach and only 25% back Bush. Americans have big hearts, apparently, plus many of them likely simply see the wisdom of keeping kids healthy.

Charles, I suggest it's because 7 in 10 Americans don't read beyond headlines and simply think the Dems are telling the truth when they say Bush wants to "cut" funding...and they don't even know that he wants to expand it, or that the Dems are refering to 25 year olds as "children" and people making 65,000 per year as "poor." Don't underestimate how much traction your party gets from an uninformed public more interested in Britny's rehab than reality.

I agree that Alterman's response sucked. It wasn't argument or even clever invective, it was grudge-wanking. Grudge-wanking almost as bad as Nyhan's incoherent response to Alterman's response.

What Alterman should have said was: "No, I don't think president Bush really wants dead children and more terrorists. I was employing sarcasm to imply that that would be the effect of his policies. I apologize to anyone, including Nyhan, whom this obvious hyperbole escaped. Since that probably includes President Bush, I apologize to him as well."

And btw, Charles, why didn't YOU address the fact that Bush wants to add 4 million to the rolls? Why didn't YOU address the fact that the dems are defining "child" as a 25 year old adult? You really don't have a problem with that?

Liee, I support the Democratic position 100%. As for people not being informed about the issue, you must be thinking of Fox news viewers. The rest of us understand these issues just fine.

Wow, Nyhan, your even more off the point than I remember from the past.

Well, I don't watch Fox News, but if they managed to tell people the truth about the bill I'd support it. Sorry to hear you support the Democrat position 100%. It's a dishonest one.

Jason,
I think there are competing values at work in Bush's veto of SCHIP. The only value that Alterman seems to consider is wanting all kids (regardless of needs) to have health insurance (actual health care is a different matter, since it is possible to acquire health care without health insurance).

I also disagree that the President's decision can be thought of as callous - his complete motivation is unknown. Alterman's hyperbole makes discussing the actual issue and values that are in conflict much more difficult. The fact that Alterman seems unable (or unwilling) to discuss why someone might want to veto this bill without ad hominems makes him someone I would probably avoid reading.

I don't watch Fox News regularly, so I can't comment on whether Alterman is simply mirroring their standard method of discourse, though I know there are liberals on that channel as well, and it's unclear if you are addressing only the conservatives or the liberals as well. I have enjoyed Brit Hume from time to time and I can't recall him repeatedly employing hyperbole. I am familiar enough with DailyKos and Huffington Post and a number of other liberal websites where the venom is quite thick and not helpful in any serious discussion of issues. So, does this mean that since Fox News (per your assertion), some websites (per my assertion) use hyperbolic rhetoric in any way excuse Alterman's use? I think it's safe enough to say the answer is no. Mr. Nyhan is simply pointing out Mr. Alterman's tendency to use hyperbole. Since Mr. Alterman has established his tendency to do this, it is unlikely he will change, but the point is still valid.

Bryan,
A few follow-up points...
The word "callous" is not a reference to motivation but to behavior. One can disagree about SCHIP, although the stakes are not small. The healthcare available to those without insurance, unless they are very wealthy, is inferior to that available to the insured. Waiting to go to the emergency room to get treatment allows a range of medical conditions to worsen. But agree or not, Bush's decision falls in line with a long record of decisions in which the interests of the vulnerable get short shrift; given this pattern (and the fact that poverty has increased almost every year of his administration), it's hard to be as charitable about his values and judgment as you seem to be. Again, to criticize his values and decision-making is not a criticism about his motivation -- it's a criticism about patterns in his behavior. He's the president of the United States.

Unlike with conservatives, there are no liberals on Fox News who host shows on their own. From this fact, it's fair to conclude that they are brought on as foils for conservatives, to provide a fig leaf of protection from charges of bias (if one doesn't think about the matter much) and to create clash, which helps make for exciting television.

By contrast, Alterman includes and sometimes argues with dissenting feedback from readers and from a senior military officer and writer who has supported the war (and served in it). The conversation on Alterman's blog is more intellectual and less of an echo chamber than Fox News tends to function as, despite moments of real debate there. Also unlike Fox, it is forthright about its being an opinionated forum. He is worth reading. And again, to reiterate a point from previous posts, the language you and Brendan object to is not in keeping with his main style of argument or the fact that he talks more about issues than personalities.

Like you, I don't spend much time on Huffington Post, and even less on Daily Kos, because I haven't found many writers I find particularly compelling there (they seem generally mediocre to me) but given that each includes hundreds of contributors, I would be wary of drawing overly definitive conclusions about them. There are many other liberal blogs worth the time.

In my view, part of the point Brendan is making is valid but overblown, therefore itself hyperbole.

I side with Alterman. Bush knew when he didn't sign the bill that more kids would get sick and die, ergo he chooses that to happen.

empty argument, Nyhan, all of it.

You're either nasty and dishonest, like Republicans, or you're not.

It's sad, so many of you are like that.

Jason,
as I said - there are competing values at issue here, none of which Alterman appears to be interested in. These competing values may also explain the pattern you see - a pattern which you attribute to callous behavior, but might actually indicate a behavior based upon a different framework of values. It's really quite easy to come up with a lot of rationalizations for why this bill should have been scrapped, none of which would be 'callous'. Perhaps he wants the criteria slightly altered? He didn't say he would never sign any expansion of the benefits, all we can really gather is that the bill as it currently stands was not acceptable. People can acquire health care without health coverage. I have a friend who had a heart attack and had no health insurance, yet he was treated and is doing well. I think that insinuating that these kids (up to age 25, and in many cases adults, if what I'm reading elsewhere is true) cannot acquire health care at all is being mis-represented. Perhaps you think I'm being overly charitable with Bush's behavior, but I contend that neither you nor I know enough about his motivations or reasons for his behavior to judge him callous (or not). Perhaps this hyperbolic rhetoric is not a regular tactic used by Mr. Alterman, but his response to Mr. Nyhan would not support that theory. It is possible that you are more charitable with Mr. Alterman because you find yourself in agreement with his positions more frequently than you agree with Mr. Nyhan. When Mr. Alterman states

"In other words, Bush has "a preference for allowing poor kids to get sick and die for his own ideological obsession." I suppose one might quibble with the word "obsession,..."

I find myself quibbling with every word in his statement, including "poor", "kids", "sick" and "die" in addition to "idelogical" and "obsession".

Thanks - I enjoy this discussion.

You do suck, Nyhan, and you have for a long time. Alterman is worth a hundred little dinks like you.

And you are doing Limbaugh's sleazy job for him, whether you know it or not.

Hi Bryan,
If one is prohibited from (morally or rhetorically judged for) using the word "callous," how is that different from saying liberals shouldn't be able to express their values at all? (You may disagree with the judgment, but the term just is not inherently illegitimate.)

Further, Bush has in fact said he doesn't want people to be encouraged to get government insurance rather than private insurance. Alterman is thus correct that the president's decision is "ideological".

I'm glad for your friend's experience with the medical system but it is not completely representative. My point stands -- when you consider the uninsured in the aggregate, many health outcomes are worse, and people are often more at risk, for example by not receiving coverage for debilitating conditions early.

I would encourage you to experiment with Alterman's blog for a while -- the good thing about a blog is that many posts are short and not time-consuming. Check the quality of the links and of the argument. You will presumably disagree some, but I suspect you will come to respect him more than Brendan's selective characterization has led you to do so far.

Alterman is the only guy I've seen who out-obnoxioused O'Reilly when he was a guest on the Factor, so it comes as no surprise that he is continuing his hard-partisan mischaracterizing ways.

Jason,
I'm not sure there's a point in saying that Bush's decision is 'ideological'. In one sentence Mr. Alterman says Bush doesn't follow his own ideology, yet this decision is ideological. Huh? Here is what Mr. Alterman said,

"I said only that he prefers this to signing the SCHIP bill, and in doing so, demonstrated his commitment to his own stated (but rarely followed) ideology."

Which is contradictory - how can one demonstrate a committment to an ideology they rarely follow? Either you are committed and always follow it, or you don't follow it and it isn't your ideology. Your ideology is what you do, not what you say. Adding that to his already backtracking on thinking that Bush wants children to grow sick and die puts two check marks in the column of someone who needs to think a bit more before they write. My time to surf is limited, so I'd rather focus my time on places where I know I'll get good arguments and information. Maybe at some point Mr. Alterman will learn to moderate his accusations and make his arguments more coherent, until then I will probably only check his blog from time to time.

I'm not clear where I gave you the impression that liberals shouldn't express their values at all, or that one is always prohibited from judging someone else as callous. The way you tie those together makes me wonder if you think that my assertion that we don't have enough information to determine whether Bush acted callously or not is my way of not letting liberals express their values, which doesn't make much sense to me. Mr. Alterman characterizing Mr. Nyhan as a gnat is also rather disappointing - can he make any argument without an ad hominem? I don't see that Mr. Nyhan has attacked Mr. Alterman in a personal way - he's criticized what Mr. Alterman says without belittling or malice.

I'm not saying Bush isn't callous - just that it can't be proven based upon this one argument. I'm also not agreeing with the characterization of the SCHIP bill as being only for kids. I'd also reject the notion that the government should be in the business of providing health insurance - to anyone. Perhaps that notion makes me callous as well, which is fine. A discussion about that would require actually delving into the values that fall on both sides of this bill, which can be done if the argument remains clear of attacks. Saying that Bush is callous because he doesn't support the bill addresses none of the issues and derails the discussion into a definition of calllousness which has absolutely nothing to do with the issue that should be discussed. If you or Mr. Alterman could write an opinion opposing Bush's stance on this without calling him callous or ideological, I think it would be a big step forward in the discussion of this subject.

Bryan,
The point about Bush's having an ideological orientation is not contradictory; Alterman, I believe, is saying that Bush has overseen massive increases in government spending despite his professed conservatism (that's the "rarely followed" part) for political reasons (as with Medicare Part D) but, not coincidentally, will not oversee them for the sake of providing young poeple with health insurance (that's the ideological part). Further, Alterman's point was not only about the merits of the SCHIP bill, but about the quality of the president's decision-making process. On the latter issue, using the term ideological was precisely the point.

On the point of callousness, I think your saying we don't have enough information to judge is sidestepping the issue. The threshold for callousness is in my view lower than "I will not sign this bill under any circumstances"; that the president would try to water down a bill and impose further conditions that had already been altered to win Republican support (which it did in Congress) arguably supports my view that the word is not out of place.

I agree with you that such labels should not distract from consideration of the merits of various notions of healthcare legislation. But the president's decision-making is worth considering as well, because, for instance, if he keeps getting things wrong, it helps us to know that so we can, say, approach superficially plausible proposals he puts forward in the future to an extra layer of scrutiny.

My main point, one of my original points, however, is different -- about the error in Brendan's characterization of Alterman's writing. He asked, What's the decoder ring? But Brendan has access to it already; unfortunately he's too interested in reading everything literally to bother using it. If you spend time with Alterman's work, his use of metaphor, shorthand, or at times some exaggeration can be put in perspective rather than excised from his work to build the prosecution's case (which is an agenda-driven, not an objective approach). So he's not "backtracking" -- he's clarifying for those who misunderstood him in the first place. Or that's how I see it.

It's a little disheartening to see Mr. Alterman thrown under the bus like this. If you evaluate Bush's record in regards to his ideology he has shown continually that while he is perfectly willing and able to tout his conservative ideology (stem cell veto, privatizing social security, top shelf tax cuts) he will abandon it when he finds it convenient (immigration reform, ramped up federal spending, nation building). Mr. Alterman is pointing out that in this case it was Bush's preference to veto the bill and deny these children access to care rather than exercise his ideological restraint as he has done before. Therefore, Bush would rather have poor children get sick and die (or at the very least have their parents go bankrupt paying the bills) than deviate from his ideology.

"Assuming he is in fact sincere, Nyhan fails, in both of the cases he mentions, to understand the difference between my alleged imputation of intentions to Bush, Cheney, etc, and my description of the results of their actions. His only link is to a throwaway phrase I used late last week regarding Bush's veto of the SCHIP bill, rather than to the earlier item two days earlier, in which I quote not only from Bush's own justification for his veto, but also from the conservative movement's ideological and historical justification for such positions, in the form of arguments by George F. Will and Milton Friedman."

So let me get this straight. Alterman is in a tizzy because you linked to a "throwaway" phrase, and failed to include the context of what he wrote abot two days ago?

Didn't this whole thing start when Rush made a "throwaway" comment (in response to a caller), which clearly was in the context of what he spoke about the day before (the Morning Update), and what he explained less than two minutes later (while waiting for the caller to finish going off topic)?

This is one of the things that is so disingenuous about Media Matters, especially re talk shows. It records and transcribes every word Rush says, off the cuff, nearly 15 hours a week (minus ad time), and without context beyond a minute or so transcribed in either direction. Yet, Alterman demands that his every WRITTEN WORD (which, I assume, he has the opportunity to edit before it is published) be analyzed in context of his complete written archives. Ridiculous.

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