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September 06, 2007


MoveOn.org smears Republican supporters of the war:

"Using images of children in combat camouflage, a coalition of anti-war groups is airing about $500,000 in ads against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and three other GOP senators facing re-election next year, urging them to 'bring our troops home.' . . .

"The ads depict children in fatigues in a training camp as an announcer says: 'How long will Republican senators keep us stuck in Iraq? Should we start training our children now?' . . .

"The anti-war ads are part of a campaign that plans to spend $13 million through the end of September to pressure lawmakers to support a troop withdrawal, said Tom Matzzie, Washington director of MoveOn.org, a member of the anti-war coalition."


The moveon.org ad is stupid, but hardly a smear, unless children don't grow up. It's more fearmongering, pretty common in political ads, but it doesn't mean that people's kids right now aren't dying in Iraq, nor does it mean that the possibility doesn't exist for some parents. I don't think your point of hypocrisy is wrong about moveon, but you could have used a better example.

That ad that Brendan linked to is still crap.

Brendan uses the word "smear" all too readily. MoveOn.org's fear-mongering and falsely implying that young children will be enlisted to fight in a war is every bit as objectionable as anything in the ad targeting them. And because the MoveOn coalition ad has a bigger budget in back of it, it will reach a lot more people.

I'm actually in favor of a pretty raucous political debate. I think MoveOn.org is entitled to take cheap shots at its targets, and I think its opponents are entitled to get their own licks in. If you can dish it out, you ought to be able to take it.

But among the resolute defenders of free speech on the left, when an ad or a speech or a press release targets someone on the left, it's a "smear" or an "attack." When it targets someone on the right, it's a "criticism."

That's a clear double standard. Spinsanity would have noticed.

Stop flailing, Rob. First of all, answering "but others do it too!" is not a valid argument, just an attempt to divert attention from the issue at hend.
Second of all, the Moveon.org ad uses hyperbole to point out that the Republican Senators in question don't want the troops to go out of Iraq for the moment. Yes, it's a bit of fearmongering, but while it's an attack on the Senators' views, it's not an attack on the Sneators themselves. The Freedom Watch ad, on the other hand, is claiming that Moveon.org is a group of traitors, which is a smear. It's the same difference as between saying "Ann Coulter writes her essays in arsenic-ladden ink" and "Ann Coulter is a man."

If Brenden doesn't like the language of the group Freedom's Watch (which he takes pains to tell us was formed "by several wealthy conservatives") or its "loathsome ad" attacking MoveOn.org, then logically he should also criticize MoveOn's tough attacks on Washington state's representative Baird, Kentucky's senator McConnell and others.

I think all of the ads are fully in bounds; both sides see the war as an issue of morality and therefore they are arguing in the arena of morality. Brenden's and some of his commenters' selective outrage is revealing.

I wish Brenden would explain why, or if, he thinks Freedom's Watch's claim (that MoveOn apparently doesn't find the success of the surge strategy to be good news) is incorrect.

Sorry about the "Brenden", Brendan. I'll try to do better in the future.

Both Rob and ERF would do well to take a second to search this blog for Brendan's criticism of Moveon.org. Broadening the argument to whether the surge is working has nothing to do with the rhetoric FW uses to support their position. I don't see any "selective outrage" in the comments here, ERF, that's sort of a strawman that alludes to partisan bias. If calling Moveon's ads "fearmongering" is considered coddling, I apologize.

Everyone here is just so dang objective, they can't help but feel compelled to criticize those that aren't. Which apparently is everyone that doesn't share their own political biases.

You're right, Sean, Brendan has criticized MoveOn.org for being misleading and deceptive. What he has not done, so far as I can find, is ever label anything MoveOn has done as a "smear." Oh yes, several times he's groused that MoveOn is the victim of a smear, but never that it's the perpetrator of one.

All the Freedom's Watch ad says is that MoveOn does not regard as good news reports that the surge is working. To most people, that observation about MoveOn would seem pretty obvious; just consider their response when a Democratic representative made such a report. But to Brendan, that's a "smear" and what's more, it's "loathsome." And Marie, in her comment above, characterizes this fairly mild criticism of MoveOn as follows: "The Freedom Watch ad, on the other hand, is claiming that Moveon.org is a group of traitors." Ridiculous.

What we're seeing is selective outrage on the left, and hypersensitivity to criticism, and seeking refuge in the false claim that one has been called a traitor or that one's patriotism has been questioned. It's all too common, and our genial host Brendan, who should be part of the solution, is instead part of the problem.

You're splitting hairs, Rob. Brendan accused Eric Alterman (he bats left) of smearing Time magazine in February (does your search button not work?). But because he hasn't specifically used the word to describe Moveon tactics this is supposed to mean something.

You say that "several times" Brendan's "groused" that MoveOn's the victim of a smear, but I can't find one instance on this blog or on Spinsanity except for the above entry. I've criticized Brendan before on this blog, but at least have a real reason.

Lastly, you don't seem to be comprehending the ad above. Advertising is subtle, and things are not always said outright. Let's look at it from a logical standpoint:

"Moveon.org is losing their battle because America and the forces of freedom are winning theirs".

Logically, this is saying that Moveon is not America or the forces of freedom (i.e., our troops). This is just the same as saying that MoveOn is against our troops. After all, Moveon's "battle" isn't unrelated to Iraq, is it? It's counter to the mission. Their battle is against what America supposedly wants (let's not worry what the polls say), therefore, their battle is not a patriotic one. It's not a far leap to say their battle (what other battle is there?) is on the same side as the insurgents, or that, yes, they are traitors.

Sean-B accuses others of erecting straw men when the others challenge Brendan's "Freedom's Watch smeared MoveOn" claim.

Then Sean-B starts talking about Brendan's criticizing MoveOn, implying the criticism was for MoveOn's smearing someone in the past (I could not find a single example of such a criticism by Brendan. Can you help me Sean-B?).

Next Sean-B is talking about Brendan's saying Eric Alterman smeared Time magazine and about others commenters (I guess)"broadening the argument to whether the surge is working"(?).

Sean-B's definition of a straw man is the same as Brendan's understanding of a smear: an argument they don't like but don't know how to refute.

However I agree with Sean-B's dislike of FW's wrapping themselves in the flag to make points. FW's implication that one is not an American if he does not agree with FW's view is just stupid. The implication should weaken FW's appeal to people who are not stupid or easily manipulated.

The fact that ACT ("America Coming Together", of course), MoveOn ("America wants our troops out of Iraq now") and other left-wing groups do it too is no excuse. All should stop now, or risk being slammed by every true "Mr. Reasonable Himself (or Herself)" in the blogosphere.

Here are two questions for commenter Rob whose comments (the ones I have seen) are well-reasoned, well-stated, realistic and polite.

Have you ever, to your knowledge, changed anyone's mind with your comments?

Why do you post here?

My answers are "no" and "I don't know".


Freedom's Watch is an astroturf organization with major ties to the White House. Look at their barebones website. They are a front group to boost support for the war. It's propaganda lite.

All I did was point out contradictions in Rob's logic. I many have been a bit argumentative, because I tire of Rob's setups here. (See his statistical manipulation on August 20, for example).

Rob set up an argument with a limited prerequisite to be fulfilled. Because that wasn't filled (the use of specific language that somehow proves that Brendan Nyhan is biased), Rob made a conclusion. Some call that a straw man.

The notion that one must use specific language quid pro quo in order to achieve balance is absurd. It neither proves nor disproves that Brendan Nyhan is biased. Nothing is that simple.

Easily the single incident that best supports Rob's argument was the detestable smear of Bush by MoveOn in 2004 (The Hitler video) which Brendan collectively wrote about with the guys on Spinsanity. However, because Brendan criticized Moveon, it doesn't support Rob's argument, and because he didn't use the word "smear", it doesn't support Rob's argument.

There's not really much else to say.

The last paragraph of Sean's most recent comment says it all. I criticized Brendan for using the word "smear" too readily and for being much more likely to apply it to transgressions on the right than on the left. Sean points out that while at Spinsanity Brendan criticized MoveOn's smear of Bush, but didn't use the word "smear." And Sean concludes that this doesn't support my argument, when in fact it exactly, precisely, completely supports my argument: Brendan has a double standard when it comes to using the word "smear."

Which brings me to ERF's questions. No, there's no hope of converting folks like Sean, who are so wedded to their worldview that they will misunderstand the points being made or take wild leaps of logic to get to their desired conclusion.

But Brendan is, I think, not in that camp. He appears to be sensible, intelligent and trying to be fair. It's my hope that if his occasional and most likely unintentional double standard is pointed out, he may become more sensitized to the issue and better achieve his goal of even-handedness.

Rob, I hate to break it to you, but the one whose worldview is on full display here is you. You're the one who used glaring logical fallacies, here.
You seem not to get the point of this blog, in which rationality is valued over party affiliation. What seems to be going on here is less a protest against Brendan's lack of use of the word "smear" when speaking about Moveon.org than your unhappiness that a conservative organisation is being criticized.


You've missed my main point again ("The notion..."). You talk down from a position of patronization, yet you haven't been able to back up your statements even on this thread.

"Oh yes, several times he's groused that MoveOn is the victim of a smear, but never that it's the perpetrator of one."

Where are the several instances? It also would be helpful if you indicated which smearings that MoveOn has done that Brendan has ignored. If you've followed Brendan for a while, you'd know he'll blog about anybody questioning patriotism, racism, and calling people Nazis regardless of party affiliation.

The smear itself is not the story, it's the content of the smear. Because most of the smears related to patriotism seem to come from the Right, that seems to have convinced you that Brendan is biased when it comes to groups smearing others. It seems like you feel he should alternate postings between the left and right, assuming they smear on a 50/50 basis.

"What we're seeing is selective outrage on the left, and hypersensitivity to criticism, and seeking refuge in the false claim that one has been called a traitor or that one's patriotism has been questioned. It's all too common, and our genial host Brendan, who should be part of the solution, is instead part of the problem"

I've explained why it questions MoveOn's patriotism pretty thoroughly. You have yet to explain why it's false. I've found several instances of Brendan using the word smear to describe attacks from the left (see below) and an instance of Spinsanity chastising MoveOn for smearing Bush. But yes, he doesn't use the literal word. So he's part of the problem. So much a part of the problem he was getting it from both sides at the Horse's Mouth.

Here's three instances I've found now not using the word "criticism", btw...

"Smear: Bush won with "Jim Crow tactics" Nyhan, June 24, 2006
"Toni Morrison pushes Bennett smear" Nyhan, March 13, 2006
"Eric Alterman's David Duke reference" Nyan, February, 2007

There may be more, it's just time consuming to search. But they seem to keep with his interest in blogging about the three topics above; in fact, the three posts here all condemn people on the left for using racism as a smear tactic against people on the right.

Finally, there's a number of good points that Brendan made from this post back in May, including the motivation to question the media's bias. With all the accusations about people you feel have left wing bias here, you seem to have a chip on your shoulder that affects your own ability to judge things objectively...

I'll not jump into the debate on whether Brendan is being even-handed or not here. It's his blog and if he prefers to attack the right more than the left that's his business (I note that he has used the word "smear" to describe a MoveOn.org attack on General Petraeus in a more recent post than this). I do, however, want to take issue with his consistent characterization of legitimate criticism as "attacks on dissent."

In this case, MoveOn.org and Freedom's Watch have different opinions on the success of the surge in Iraq. Each has every right to criticize the other and to try to sway the public to its side. Neither side is suggesting that its opponent does not have the right to express an opinion, only that its opponent's opinion is wrong. Ironically, Brendan is the only one arguing that one side does not have a right to express its opinion in this case.

This is part of a larger trend in Brendan's posts with which I have been disappointed. An attack on a position or an opinion is not an attack on dissent itself. An attack on dissent must suggest not only that a person is wrong to hold a position, but that the very act of holding an opposing position and expressing it is illegitimate. Not all of the posts in Brendan's "long series" meet this threshold, which undercuts his argument that it is an ongoing trend.

I'm not sure what you're getting at. Perhaps if you posted an example of one of Brendan's post that better characterized what you are talking about than this one it would be more helpful. I don't see Brendan blogging simply about someone disagreeing with someone's position. Rather, as in the Petraeus post above as in this one, he's questioning the way in which they react, often charging more than that their opponent is wrong, but rather they are betrayers or traitors.

What bothers me is that there seems to be collusion between the government and these astroturf non profits such as Freedom's Watch. This is not a new strategy, but creating a fake organization to give the impression of third party support is disturbing.

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