I hate when liberals tell lies

Politics | Building/Consensus
I hate when liberals tell lies. I can’t stand those people who slander the President, with accusations of murder and worse. Those who never let facts get in the way of a good argument. I have a good reason to harbor these feelings: I’m a liberal myself, and I want liberals to never stray from their dedication to truth.

This worries me now because of the desperate times the liberals are in. For three years the Republican Party controls the White House and both houses of Congress; this is the most conservative (in every aspect but fiscal) that the government has been in modern times. One solution, guided by the Air America radio network, is to compete with the likes of Rush and O’Reilly on the partisan airwaves. But to do that best, one might embrace generalizations, innuendo, and then finds themself down the path of falsehood.

I’d rather have liberals follow the injunction from Exodus 23:7 to “keep far away from falsehoods.” I believe that the Democratic Party, from the Progressive Era, though the New Deal and Great Society up until today, has relied on facts and logic to present its case, rather than allegations and fears. What Adlai Stevenson said fifty years ago still has some resonance today: “If the Republicans will stop telling lies about us, we’ll stop telling the truth about them.” Consider also the most partisan-ranked columnists in American print media, according to Lying In Ponds. On the left you have the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, whose day job of being an economic professor at Princeton, is expected to scrupulously document his sources (he has provided backup references to his public writings on his website). On the right is Ann Coulter, who never met an ad hominem attack she didn’t like.

It was suggested to me that I try to fight falsehoods on all fronts. But as an average citizen, I need to prioritize my time. David Brock’s Media Matters for America joins a list of media monitoring groups, on both the left and the right. Separately I’ve proposed a Distributed Media Monitoring service which would enable people to collectively monitor the broadcast news programs.

I’m more concerned at a personal level. My few conservative friends are sincere in their arguments, and I don’t feel a need to question their process for truth. On the other hand, I have a wide circle of connections through the liberal advocacy groups, and this extends out to the fringes of reason. I don’t actively search them out, but they come. A few months back, helping the Kerry booth at EarthFest I encountered a woman who maintained that “Bush knew about 9/11”. I vigorously contested her assertion as she ran away. The next time I heard this was last week, on a random post on a local progressive mailing list, which doesn’t get a lot of traffic, let alone rants.

Enter the Dreamer

It was from a young writer in New York, who, in subsequent emails to me admitted to spending fifty hours a week for the last two years doing research into this . I’m going to skip on revealing his name, because my motivation isn’t to encourage attacks on him personally. I’ll just call him the dreamer.

His essay was an argument that the story of the “Intelligence Failure” of 9/11 had pointed fingers at the intelligence communities, but not at the man in charge of the whole country– the President. No argument from me, or any Democrat there. But in crafting his argument, the dreamer went over to the lunatic edge, stating: that (a) Bush had prior knowledge of 9/11, (b) was advised to ground commercial airflights, and (c) did not do so because of his financial ties to big business. This went on to argue other nonsense, such as that big business had manipulated the economy after 9/11 for their own profit. In addition, he repeated the improbable claim that the Unocal pipeline in Afghanistan was both a reason for postponing war as well as waging it.

I sent the dreamer a note, telling that I agreed with the conclusion. And I would absolutely interested in hearing if points a, b, c were true. As I had not heard them anywhere before, and asked him whether he could provide his sources. I added that they appeared to me to unfounded allegations, and could lead to ridicule.

I also shared a bit of my thinking with him. I figured that (a) or (b) surely would have made the newspapers if there were a shred of evidence to back them up. Point (c), on the face of it, was absurd. Imagine a President Clinton or President Gore in the White House– intellectual omnivores who might have gotten sense of the increased level of alerts, and might have been more engaged at preparing our defenses. Neither could have reasonably suggested shutting down the nation’s airspace, had it even been suggested. And no one would have asserted that they were doing it for the sake of “big business”.

His response astonished me. He couldn’t bothered by checking his sources; he remarked that his time was too important to do so for everybody (he would write me over 1200 words to me over 6 emails. I had written him 200 words over 4 emails). He wrote: “I am never going to allow myself … to get so bogged down by keeping track of direct source links that I have no time to do anything else.” He also gave the perverse response that footnoting his sources would have encouraged people to look only at those sources, instead of, he hoped “research things for themselves”.

Reserching Things

Not that the writer’s essay had given me any starting points for research in his article. What would we have thought if I hadn’t contacted him at all, and just read what he had to say and taken it to heart without question? He dodged that. As it is, I consider myself somewhat well-informed on 9/11. I’ve read some of the 9/11 Commission’s report, as well as Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies, and many news articles from mainstream sources. Perhaps there was something that had been underreported? The dreamer suggested that I “not rely on US sources” though upon later clarification suggestedI read “articles and discussion boards” at the following websites– all based in the U.S., of course. I limited myself to the articles, for if anyone had uncovered any damning evidence in a discussion board post, it certainly would have been written up in an article. I actually was surprised; it was quite difficult to find any conspiracy theories on most of them:

  • Democrats.com: Links to many press pieces about 9/11. Nothing new.
  • LiberalSlant: An article by William Rivers Pitt, September 11 Should Have Been Stopped argues merely that the Bush administration should have been better able to connect the dots.
  • Unknownnews.net: Sept. 11 widow says “I’m 100% sure that they knew”. Article from the Village Soup of Camden, Maine. Aggrieved widow of 9/11 victim believes attacks planned by Bush; also, suing the government under RICO Act.
  • GregPalast: See No Evil: What Bush Didn’t (Want To) Know About 9/11: “I don’t want any misunderstanding here, so I must emphasize what we did not find: We uncovered no information, none whatsoever, that George W. Bush had any advance knowledge of the plan to attack the World Trade Center on 9/11, nor, heaven forbid, any involvement in the attack.”

The exception to these clean sites was the murky waters of the Citizens for a Legitimate Government. There’s links to bunch of dreck there, like for instance a piece explaining rejecting straight out the simplest explanation of what happened on September 11th four hijacked planes crashed on September 11th; instead, the piece contests, there was only one jet plane crash (the one everybody saw), and the other crashes were manufactured in order to instigate the “war on terror”. One analysis found that the grass in front of the Pentagon appeared to untarnished by the crash. The diamond in the rough were some links exemplary pieces by Paul Thompson.

Truly Cooperative Research

I had come across his work before on the Center for Cooperative Research website. Paul Thompson, the Village Voice reported, is an American living in New Zealand, who has read 5,000 articles on 9/11 in compiling a timeline of over 1,300 entries. Most importantly, Paul Thompson’s piece has a source-note after every assertion, and in some cases, multiple sources. This enabled him, in documenting the President’s timeline on 9/11, to contrast the seven different accounts that the President had offered where he learned of the first crash (including the first one, where he had preposterously suggested that he had seen it on TV). By giving us the facts and sourcing them, we are able to trust the picture he draws: that Bush’s evasions do not suggest complicitness in terror, but rather his second-guessing of his own command abilities.

What’s further noteworthy about the Cooperative Research website is that sees fit to updates its research. Where many of the aforementioned websites list a number of “unanswered questions” and leave it as that, Thompson has added the answers from the 9/11 Commission. (I would further suggest a way for participants to sign on in support of individual questions which haven’t been sufficiently answered, as I have done in the Question Scoreboard.) This way, the truth is actively sought as a nature of doing the research.

Back to the dreamer. Finding at a loss to discuss facts, he ended up picking up an ideological ax. I had no idea that : “cautiously mainstream, centrist and middle of the road”. I liked it so much I adopted it as the website’s slogan. He also figured that I was someone “was caught walking out of the michael moore film saying ridiculous things like ‘well I didnt beleive [sic] all of it but I agree Bush has to go'”. Not that it was a question of belief for me. I was interested in the facts. I had previously read an excerpt of Craig Unger’s book in the Boston Phoenix. Moore’s film did not connect the dots of complicitness. But it keenly illustrate the circles of familiarity of the President, contrasting with the circles of the enlisted men and women who fight the wars. (Moore’s conviction that it was the FOX network’s calling of Florida which had forced Gore to concede by is pretty facile– I can’t understand why Gore should have been cowed by the TV networks at all to concede).

I’ve spent a lot of time on this one case. I was relieved to find that the 9/11 conspiracy theories are really tough to find on the web, and that many responsible civic participants are not repeating them. But there are dreamers out there– and I mean it, really good people, who otherwise would out there making a world a better place– whose spirit has been so broken as a result of facing the country’s leadership that is so dishonest, divisive, and dangerous. Only this can explain how seemingly rational people can weave together indictments out of fragments of facts. Even if the other party has become expert this, we Democrats should never sacrifice the truth– and we should do well to stay away far from falsehood.

Postscript. I concede that there are mainstream issues that the Kerry campaign has been disingenuous about. Kerry has stated that there is a “ban on stem cell research”. As William Saletan of Slate explains, there is not. There is a ban on ban on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell lines derived after Aug. 9, 2001: “The shorter phrase, while scientifically inaccurate in four egregious ways, is more politically effective.” Granted, I still side with Kerry on the issues as Bush’s failures on science are institutional. But I will be steadfast to correct people who misspeak on this.

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