Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: truth (page 1 of 1)

Nick Catoggio:

Dominion might win its suit notwithstanding the general truth of what Kevin [Williamson] said in his piece, that “nothing short of a signed and notarized statement of intent to commit libel seems to satisfy judges or juries” in modern defamation litigation. What the company aimed to show in its nearly 200-page brief is that, by word and deed, Fox personnel from management on down did all but openly confess their intent to commit libel. They acknowledged privately that Trump’s conspiracy theories were false; they were warned repeatedly that those theories were false; they pressed ahead on the air with the big lie anyway.

But even if Dominion loses, it’ll have extracted a measure of moral compensation. Whatever else one might call programming that suppresses the truth if it might offend the audience, “news” ain’t it. (“Propaganda” sounds about right.) No one who reads Dominion’s pleading will ever look at Fox the same way. That’s why the company filed it. 

I’ve been reading the pleading and … it’s something else. If Dominion doesn’t win this suit, then there is no law against defamation in this country, and “news” outlets can say anything they want about anyone at any time with absolute disregard for the truth. Which, come to think of it, is what they do already, I guess. Does anyone really believe that the NYT didn’t demonstrate “actual malice” against Sarah Palin when it repeatedly lied that she played a role in Gabby Giffords’ shooting? Of course not. It’s just that a lot of people believe that Palin is an official Bad Person and therefore deserves to be lied about.  

Which is why Operation Diogenes must go on! 

strings and bows

Making the Sausage – Freddie deBoer:

That said, I feel that the only value proposition I really offer is my writing, the writing itself. The fact of the matter is that anybody could come along and offer the exact same political perspective; it’s a weird lane, but one that could certainly be replicated. What’s not so easily replicated is my writing ability. I have worked very, very hard on my prose for a long time. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at. I became a fairly good guitar player, as a young man, but never good enough; I’m bad at almost all athletics and almost preternaturally shitty at team sports; I’m a disaster at most video games; I cook and cook and cook and never get any better; it takes me approximately seven hours to learn any given boardgame; my drawings and handwriting are genuinely indistinguishable from those of a 7-year-old; in the extremely unlikely event that you can get me to dance, kind witnesses will likely ask me if there’s someone they can call to come help me. I’m terribly clumsy even when I’m not on meds, and meds make it even worse. My bike was my primary means of transportation for four years and I still can’t look to my left or right while biking without turning in that direction. And after I got fired from Brooklyn College in 2020 nine months of applications in all kinds of fields got me nothing but a single offer for a $15/hour job. This is all I’ve got. 

A terrific essay from Freddie. 

I often wonder how I would do in Freddie’s situation. I am blessed in that I have two strings to my bow rather than one: My day job is teaching, and I’m past the publish-or-perish stage, so I could just teach if I wanted to. (And I love teaching.) Vital though my writing is to me, I haven’t pushed all my chips to the middle of the table the way Freddie has. 

One of the topics of Freddie’s essay is the response to a recent essay of his on growing up in the Nineties. It was widely read and shared and admired, but there were of course some naysayers. And — also of course, even more of course — most of the naysayers hadn’t read the essay. Some of them, it seems, didn’t even manage to read the entire title

There are millions and millions of people like this on social media, and especially on Twitter — I can’t count the number of times I saw people responding to the first half of a tweet, not having been able to make it all the way to the 200-character mark before blessing the world with their Opinion. (I think those people are pretty much the only ones left on Twitter now.) But that’s par for the social-media course; you can’t expect anything better. 

What bothers me is the extension of these habits of mindlessness into longer-form writing and even into professional journalism. Genuine critique is a great gift to a writer — maybe the single most helpful response to How to Think that I received came from Jonathan Rauch, in a conversation at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who was gracious and friendly but also quite critical. Made me want to run back home and write the Revised and Improved Edition. But criticism of that kind is relatively rare, because it depends on a careful reading of the work in question. You’re much more likely to get a review based on a more superficial reading, which is perhaps inevitable given the tyranny of deadlines. 

But occasionally I have seen a review of a book of mine written by someone who quite evidently hasn’t read the book at all. I mean, maybe they’ve skimmed a few pages, but that’s it. And such reviews are not always negative! — some reviewers have been quite complimentary towards the book that they inaccurately assumed I probably wrote. That sort of thing annoys me in a weird way, but not as much, of course, as the review that attacks an argument I didn’t make — an argument I explicitly repudiated on page 49 — or that wags an admonitory finger at me for leaving something out of my book that in fact is right there on page 73 you dumbass. 

This sort of thing annoys me enough that years ago I stopped reading reviews — though that doesn’t prevent people from writing to me to ask What do you think about the bad things so-and-so said about you? So I end up anyway hearing more than I want to about such responses. And it annoys me even though it can’t really hurt me — so imagine how strongly I would feel about such things if, like Freddie, I were depending on my writing to feed myself and my family. 

I go on about this because it’s a recent theme of mine: the perils of a media culture that’s indifferent to truth. Thus my argument about truth as a commons; thus Operation Diogenes. I’m going to be mulling over these matters  often in the weeks or months to come. 

Operation Diogenes

I don’t usually think much about things I have already published, but I have continued to meditate on the subject I wrote about here — and there’s good reason for that, I believe. You read a story like this one and you realize how pervasively the people who profit from minors who (supposedly) suffer from gender dysphoria lie. They lie about the conditions of the children who come to them, they lie about the likely effects of their interventions, they lie about what they do and don’t do — they lie about everything and it seems that they never stop lying. But then, we in this country also spent four years with a President and a White House staff who lied virtually every time they opened their mouths — lied even when there was no clear advantage to lying, evermore pursuing the preferential option for bullshit.  

I could provide ten thousand examples, but I don’t think it’s necessary: we all know that this is the situation we’re in. There’s a lot of talk right now — thanks to this op-ed by Leonard Downie — about “objectivity” in journalism, which term I think is a red herring: nobody has any clear idea what it means. I have never asked whether a journalist is objective; I have often asked whether a journalist is telling me the truth. And when Downie says that renouncing objectivity is a newspaper’s path to “building trust” with readers, what he clearly means is that you gain your readers’ trust by sending a strong message: We will never tell you truths you don’t want to hear; we will always tell you consoling lies; and that’s how we’ll get you to give us your money. He means nothing more or less or other than that. 

So I think there is no more important question for us to ask than this: Given that almost everyone in the media is lying to us constantly, how can we discover what is true — especially when the truth hurts?  

Many years ago there was a huge investigation in Chicago into systemic corruption in the judiciary. It was called Operation Greylord, and it had several offshoots, because more and more corruption was uncovered. My wife ended up on one of the grand juries — for eighteen months she took the train into Chicago every Wednesday to hear testimony — and one of the occasional topics of discussion was what the prosecutors should call their inquiry. They ended up calling it Operation Lantern, because someone thought the original suggestion too fancypants: Operation Diogenes. The prosecutors felt that, like Diogenes with his lantern, they were looking for, but apparently failing to find, one honest man.

That’s what we need for journalism in America: our very own Operation Diogenes. And if we can’t find anyone willing to tell us the truth, then how can we discover it on our own? That’s the question we ought to be asking. 


About a month ago I started drafting an essay about how Richard Rorty both predicted the rise of Trump and in a certain sense prepared the way for it. I was about 1500 words in when I got the January 2023 edition of Harper’s and saw that Mark Edmundson had already written my essay. I have never before been so comprehensively pre-empted. 

lies, yours and mine

Staying for the Truth | The Hedgehog Review:

Bacon … thinks it is good, very good indeed, to be “well fortified by doctrines of the wise” and thereby to be protected from the storms of lies that toss many people about so violently. It is indeed gratifying, Bacon says, paraphrasing Lucretius, to be “standing upon the vantage ground of truth,” because up there “the air is always clear and serene.” But, he adds, the pleasure one feels is appropriate “so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling or pride.” If you have been able to discover something that is true, then you should have compassion for those who are laboring under the spell of falsehood. And if instead of pitying them, you mock and belittle them, then you will become swollen with pride — and then, when the lies that comfort you come around, you will be unable to resist them. 

That’s me. Let me add to the argument I make there a corollary thesis: In any given community, there will be a profound divide between those who believe that the most dangerous lies are the ones told by our enemies and those who believe that the most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves

two quotes by Jesse Singal


I am not arguing for a return to some sort of view-from-nowhere style of journalism. I have no problem identifying as both a journalist but also as a progressive and someone who dislikes Trump rather fiercely. There is nothing wrong with having your journalism be driven by a sense of general ideological mission; some of the best journalists covering the working poor care deeply about the working poor, believe they are treated unfairly, and want to see their station improved. They’re still capable of, and produce, honest journalism.

What I am saying is that if you call yourself a journalist, there needs to be some distance, somewhere, between your tribal allegiances and the way you do your job.


Accuracy norms are about, well, accuracy: People who subscribe to accuracy norms are most concerned with spreading true claims, and with debunking false ones. Rightside norms are about being on the right ‘side’ of a given controversy: People who subscribe to rightside norms are more concerned with showing that they are on the right side of a given controversy, and that the people on the other side are morally suspect, than they are with accuracy, at least in a zoomed-in sense. […]

If you’re in a group in which rightside norms prevail, you face a weird set of incentives:

1) It will often harm your group standing to point out that a false claim is false

2) It will often benefit your group standing to pile on a figure who has been unfairly accused of something by broadcasting evidence pertaining not to the claim in question, but to his or her broader (ostensible) moral worthlessness

3) It will often benefit your group standing to punish those who seek to debunk false claims against ‘bad’ figures

Imagine experiencing all this over and over, outrage after outrage.