In his Media Matters blog, Eric Alterman often attributes evil motives to his political opponents -- a tactic that the group criticizes non-liberals for on a near-daily basis.
The latest example came Thursday during a discussion of President Bush's veto of a bill that would have expanded the SCHIP children's health insurance program:
Bush's preference for allowing poor kids to get sick and die for his own ideological obsession is a fundamental fact of his presidency and of the Republican Party's guiding ideology.
Needless to say, Alterman does not know and certainly cannot prove that Bush has a "preference for allowing poor kids to get sick and die." He's describing his prediction of the veto's results as Bush's "preference." That's like saying Alterman's support for withdrawal from Iraq represents his "preference" for genocide or full-blown civil war (two of the worst possible outcomes that could result).
It's not the first time Alterman has used language that suggests his opponents have nefarious motives. For instance, back in 2005, he wrote the following:
In the name of fighting "terrorism," the administration has sent 40 percent of the National Guard to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to create more terrorists and let bin Laden get away.
As I pointed out at the time, "[t]he phrase 'in order to' clearly implies that the Bush administration wanted to 'create more terrorists and let bin Laden get away.'" After my post was published, Alterman engaged in a long series of silly attacks on me. We finally had an email exchange in which he claimed the following:
[T]o someone who is familiar with who I am and my work, it would be obvious that I was pointing out that [creating more terrorists and not finding bin Laden] was the result, rather than the intention.
I assume he will make a similar argument this time around. But as I said then, even if he is correct that his fans know what he means, what about all the readers who aren't familiar with Alterman and his work? Where’s the secret decoder ring?
Media Matters does important work, but publishing this sort of nonsense seriously undermines their credibility. The parallel is direct: they would clearly write about Alterman's rhetoric if he were a conservative. Here's just one example of the group criticizing conservatives for impugning liberals' motives:
In discussing the Terri Schiavo case, several prominent media conservatives have accused liberals of wanting Schiavo to die and have imputed motives to them far beyond the belief, expressed by many liberals, that the courts were right to allow Schiavo's husband to make end-of-life decisions on behalf of his wife.
I'm sure you can find many more. Pot, kettle, etc.
Update 10/8 1:48 PM: Alterman has responded with a screed that amusingly suggests that I "apparently decided it would be a good idea to join Rush Limbaugh's campaign of vilification against Media Matters" (note the language characterizing my motives):
In "The Irony's Getting a Bit Thick in Here, Department.," Brendan Nyhan woke up the other morning and apparently decided it would be a good idea to join in Rush Limbaugh's campaign of vilification against Media Matters. Thing is, he didn't have evidence on hand, or at least didn't want to bother to try to find any. So he went through his files and found an item he calls "Eric Alterman: My Enemies Are Evil," here...
Nyhan's cluelessness is aiding and abetting a campaign led by Limbaugh and others to delegitimize Media Matters and the careful work it does. See for instance here. One cannot depend on either the intelligence or the good will of those in the MSM and conservative media not to use Nyhan's nonsense for the purposes of further manipulation and misrepresentation. There is a campaign by GOP Bloggers and others flooding the internet with an argument that the group's work is somehow "illegal" and should be prosecuted. See here. Nyhan's evidenceless character assassination, to which Glenn Reynolds has already linked, must be viewed within this context. And regardless of what one thinks of my work, I find that extremely disturbing...
Given that I've just finished my seventh book and I've written many thousands of articles, columns and blog posts over the past twenty-five years, I'd not be surprised if Nyhan could find an example or two of my failure in this respect, should he bother to do the work he should have done in the first place. But he hasn't and whatever the reason, he's chosen to parade his own failure to do so in support of Limbaugh's, the GOP, and others' anti-Media Matters jihad. Why he's chosen to lend support to so nefarious and dishonorable an enterprise...well, I don't like to speculate......
Obviously, I'm not trying to aid the anti-Media Matters crusade by Rush Limbaugh. I specifically wrote in the original post that they do "important work," and I was one of the leading Limbaugh critics before Media Matters even existed (see here for the Spinsanity archive). Alterman is engaging in guilt by association of the same sort that conservatives used when they tried to link opponents of the war in Iraq to Saddam Hussein ("objectively pro-Saddam," etc.).
The irony gets even thicker in Alterman's response to the substance of my post, which accuses me of "[denying my] readers the opportunity to see the items in context" and then links to an earlier post in which he impugns Bush's motives even more viciously:
Unfortunately, this gets a little funny in the "Get this man some help" category, he picked an example of my work that proves only that Nyhan can be a bit clueless at times and appears to be proud of it. What's more, he denies his readers the opportunity to see the items in context and appraise that cluelessness for themselves.
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. (And Friedman, being more honest than Bush, would have pronounced this position proudly, rather than as Nyhan insists, with some imputation of "evil." He told me once he thought it fine if poor kids never went to school.) Judge it for yourself here. As for Nyhan's accusation that I do this "on a near daily basis," well, the one additional example he does provide, and for which he provides no link, context, or date, proves again that he cannot distinguish between intentions and results. Here, too, he adheres to Limbaugh-like standards of argument and evidence (Really, if I were going to invent an adversary as a plant, I could hardly do much better than Mr. Nyhan....)
Readers should note that when I called Alterman on his false claim that the mainstream media called President Bush "well-liked," he took repeated shots at me on his blog without even providing my name, let alone linking.
As far as the item two days earlier, that's only relevant context if you need to read Alterman every single day to correctly parse his intended meaning. More importantly, Alterman's link actually reinforces my point. Here's what he wrote last Wednesday:
Again, according to MSNBC.com:Bush argued that the congressional plan would be a move toward socialized medicine by expanding the program to higher-income families.
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.
Note that Alterman, in the post he thinks justifies his claim, writes that Bush "wants children to get sick and die" (my italics). This allegation is even worse than the claim I criticized above, which states that Bush has a "preference for allowing poor kids to get sick and die." The invocations of George Will and Milton Friedman that Alterman cites (which you can read in his post) do nothing to justify his smear. And the fact that Alterman is sending me an even worse example as a defense tells you all you need to know about his use of these tactics.
In addition, while Alterman claims that my other example does not include a "link, context, or date," the post above includes all three, which can easily be seen if you scroll up. And he falsely claims that I accused him of impugning his opponents' motives on a "near-daily basis." In fact, I wrote that Media Matters criticized conservatives for doing so on a "near-daily basis" while Alterman does so "often."
Arguing with the notoriously prickly and egocentric Alterman is tiresome, but the larger point stands -- Media Matters is paying someone to produce the sort of agitprop they criticize from conservatives.
Update 10/9 2:56 PM: Alterman, who objects (falsely) to me not linking to an item of his above, has posted a second response in which he refers to me a "gnat" and tries to link me to Rush Limbaugh again:
I can't keep spending my time swatting at gnats like Brendan Nyhan, who apparently unironically carries an endorsement from Wonkette atop his blog as if he's proud of it, but I am happy to explicate further on my statement that George W. Bush vetoed the SCHIP extension because of his "preference" that poor children get sick and die, as opposed to encouraging what he calls "socialized medicine," as Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan have seized on it and I imagine others of ill will will do so also for the purposes of confusing people of good will.
Look, ladies and gentlemen, either medical care saves lives and prevents illness or it doesn't. I'd argue that it does, and I think even George W. Bush might agree. Granting that, poor children who have access to it are less likely to die from serious sickness and less likely to contract various preventable diseases and maladies if they do have access to such care. If they don't have such access, they will more likely "get sick and die." This strikes me again as a statistical certainty and again, if you could get Mr. Bush to give a straight answer on the question, I don't see how he could disagree either. Now, given that we know what the result will be of refusing to allow states to cover more poor children with health care -- and remember, these are the children who are most vulnerable to sickness in the first place -- that there will be more sickness and death on the part of these same uncovered children, just what are Mr. Bush's own stated reasons for vetoing the program? They can be found in Bush's own words, here and here, and they all involve the prevention of what he fears will be a slippery slope to "socialized medicine" to which he objects entirely and unashamedly on ideological grounds.
Note that I do not claim and never said that George W. Bush wants poor kids to get sick and die, per se. I don't think he does. 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. 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," but the rest of it strikes me as a clear statement of fact, albeit the kind of fact from which the mainstream media traditionally tend to whitewash, the same way there is virtually no coverage of Iraqi casualty figures even though those are the obvious and unarguable result of Bush's decision to bomb the hell out of the place. Again, am I saying Bush wants to bomb Iraqi civilians for the fun of it? Are you an idiot: (For the record, I don't personally think Nyhan is an idiot; I think he just plays one -- in this case, a useful one for Rush Limbaugh's campaign against Media Matters and the political accountability it demands for his inflammatory words -- sometimes for effect.)
I'm glad to hear that Alterman doesn't think "George W. Bush wants poor kids to get sick and die, per se." But the second round of his defense, which focuses on Bush expressing a "preference" for this by vetoing the SCHIP bill, falls short for the reasons stated above. Also, don't forget that he also claimed Bush "wants children to get sick and die in order to prevent what he believes will be a slide toward what he calls 'socialized medicine'" (my italics) -- an even more direct suggestion of motive.