Entry from August 14, 2008

My colleague, Roger Kimball, remarks elsewhere on how the New York Times’s reporting on a new anti-Obama book by Jerome Corsi is riddled with opinion masquerading as fact. But where the Times reviewers only venture to say that “Significant parts of the book. . . have already been challenged as misleading or false” (fancy that!), a similar hatchet job in today’s Washington Post flat out tells us that they are false. After a tendentious summary of the book’s contents, the Post’s reporter, Eli Saslow, tells us in the third paragraph, and simultaneously with the first mention of the book’s title, not only that “Corsi”s The Obama Nation lacks major revelations and has been dismissed by Obama”s campaign as a series of lies from a serial liar,” but, in his own words, that “parts of the book have also been disproved by the mainstream media.”

Good old mainstream media! You can always count on them. But hold on a minute. Mr Saslow unaccountably neglects to mention which parts of the book have been “disproved,” or what the disproof consists of. Or where this disproof can be consulted. I guess he figures that, if he tells us that the mainstream media did it, it ought to be good enough for readers of The Washington Post. He doesn’t even mention which outlets of the mainstream media disproved it, but that may only be modesty. Anyway, there’s no reason he can see why we should want to check this assertion for ourselves. In the same way, he helpfully adds that, “In 2004, Corsi co-wrote Unfit for Command, in which Swift boat veterans criticized Sen. John F. Kerry”s Vietnam War record. That book was also widely disproved.”

Once again, he doesn’t bother to go into detail. What? You don’t believe him? He does add that, “Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, has started a Web site to help discredit these tactics on Obama”s behalf,” but although he hyperlinks to a brief bio of John Kerry — some readers might not know who he is, after all — he doesn’t to the website. In any case, the website is only (he tells us) interested in discrediting the tactics, not the truth of the assertions made by Senator Obama’s detractors. That goes without saying, I guess. It’s typical that it’s not the substance of the criticism that either the media or their Democratic darlings take issue with but the fact that anyone should dare to criticize them in the first place. Conscious of their own moral rectitude, their own immunity from criticism, it must in their minds follow ipso facto that the criticisms are untrue. They are “disproved” by having been made at all.

This is the reality of “media bias”: not so much a twisting of reality as an inability to imagine any other reality than the one they have learned — through the intellectual slackness of a culture which routinely pretends that dissenting views either don’t exist or, if they do exist, are so illegitimate as not to be worth a moment’s consideration — to take for granted. A trivial example of the same phenomenon appeared in The New York Times on the same day as its hit on Mr Corsi’s book. In an article by Choe Sang-hun on the highly competitive South Korean education system, we read that, in one particular “regimented” crammer in Yongin, “the students here were forsaking all the pleasures of teenage life. No cellphones allowed, no fashion magazines, no television, no Internet. No dating, no concerts, no earrings, no manicures — no acting their age.”

Of course it never occurred either to this writer or to any of the editors who may have seen the piece between writing and publication that it might be only in our corrupt and lazy system these these things count as “acting their age.” In South Korea, as throughout the world for most of its history — and up until relatively recently in the U.S. and Europe as well — teenagers acting their age would have been working hard and having very little opportunity for even such of these indulgences as then existed. But the Times’s editorializing about the South Korean system must be so uncontroversial, the assumptions behind it so widely shared, that no one even sees it as editorializing anymore. It is simply the fact. Yet maybe if students in the U.S. spent a little more time taking part in a vigorous clash of ideas and a little less with cell phones and fashion magazines and television they wouldn’t grow up with such a blinkered view of the world.

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