Entry from May 30, 2012

The Washington Post’s long-time advertising campaign, centered around the tautological slogan: “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it” is easy to dismiss as typical media grandiosity. But I think we ought to take it seriously as a statement about how the Post and most of the rest of the mainstream media see the world. They have set themselves up as the gatekeepers of knowledge. “Getting it” then becomes a matter of knowing what they know, and only what they know. For if they don’t know it it isn’t knowledge. That’s why, too, such a large portion of their commentary pages are devoted to attempts to ridicule and discredit anyone who stands outside of the received and established knowledge they champion.

Naturally, the knowledge to which they act as guardians and defenders has to be pre-certified as politically correct — which has the unfortunate side-effect of rendering quite a lot of it untrue or pseudo-knowledge. There is, in particular, a great demand for the kind of pseudo-knowledge which assures liberals and progressives that what they wish were true really is true. Veritable armies of intellectuals devote their lives to supplying this demand. One such is Rex Nutting of The Wall Street Journal’s “Market Watch” who began his piece about the current fiscal policies of the current administration this way: “Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree.”

In other words, what until the day before yesterday everyone, friend and foe of the administration alike, knew to be the most inarguable of facts about its fiscal profligacy must today be regarded as a “falsehood” and a “whopper.” And if we notice that for some reason Mr Nutting fights shy of the still loaded word “lie,” those who eagerly adopt his pseudo-knowledge among their own existential certainties, like Eugene Robinson of the Post, will feel themselves to be under no such constraint:

Every political campaign exaggerates and dissembles (writes Mr Robinson). This practice may not be admirable — it’s surely one reason so many Americans are disenchanted with politics — but it’s something we’ve all come to expect. Candidates claim the right to make any boast or accusation as long as there’s a kernel of veracity in there somewhere. Even by this lax standard, Romney too often fails. Not to put too fine a point on it, he lies. Quite a bit.

Now even assuming the truth (and, of course, the good faith) of the contention that, as the MarketWatch article’s in-your-face headline put it, “Obama spending binge never happened,” isn’t it just a bit off-base to accuse Governor Romney himself of bad faith merely for repeating what everyone else in the world believed until Mr Nutting came along? And if the latter really has exposed the truth about President Obama’s very well hidden fiscal prudence and restraint, a truth that has hitherto eluded less ingenious inquirers, shouldn’t the equally prudent polemicist guard against the possibility that some even more ingenious numbers wizard prove the opposite tomorrow?

Ah, but then we already know that that is not going to happen, don’t we? For the media’s pseudo-knowledge operates under a kind of informational Brezhnev Doctrine by which a pseudo-truth once established remains a truth forever. The Journal’s own editorial page may produce a painstaking explanation of exactly where Mr Nutting’s analysis goes off the rails, and the Post’s own “Fact Checker” columnist may say, as Mr Robinson acknowledges, that the Nutting calculation of the rate of increase in spending needs to be more than doubled, but neither Mr Robinson nor President Obama, who has understandably picked up the Nutting analysis as a stick to beat Mr Romney with is ever likely to retract his slur on the latter’s character for not believing it. In the realm of pseudo-knowledge, the correction of same must also be treated as pseudo-knowledge, since the right of both sides to their own truth cannot be questioned. Only one side, however, gets away with pretending that its pseudo-knowledge is so indubitably non-pseudo that it can accuse those who deny it of “lying.” I suspect that that is the unpalatable truth behind that annoying slogan, “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”

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