TNR's Michael Crowley: McCain lynch mobs are no different than Bush critics

The modern Beltway journalist compulsively asserts equivalencies between each side without regard to whether they are actually the same.

By Glenn Greenwald
Published October 11, 2008 11:05AM (EDT)

Michael Crowley illustrates, yet again, why The New Republic is beloved by the Right -- eagerly currying favor with the Right is the magazine's overarching, obsequious purpose -- and has otherwise (with some rare exceptions) written itself into utter irrelevancy.  Crowley denies that the ugly, anti-Obama lynch mob rage characterizing McCain/Palin rallies is "unique" or "of alarming proportion," and instead argues that Democrats are being hypocrites by objecting, because some people on the left also said bad things about George Bush 2004:

Is the GOP Fury So Unique?

My friends and fellow prisoners, time for some straight talk: Politico has a good story today about Republican rage at the notion of an Obama presidency . . . . This is all nasty stuff.  is it really unprecedented? A pitchfork rebellion of alarming proportions? I'm not so sure. Around this time four years ago Democrats raged furiously against an illegitimate, lying "war criminal." Indeed some even called Bush a terrorist.

Yes, there's probably a nativist strain here that makes this uglier than anything we saw in '04. . . . But I haven't seen many examples of overt racism beyond the smears we've seen for months. (Indeed as Noam notes below, race has been somewhat surprisingly absent from ths campaign so far.)

Unfortunately, to some degree this seems to be what happens in American politics nowadays when one side is losing. No one wants to accept the possibility that they've been outplayed fair and square.

Obviously, every political movement -- every group of human beings -- will attract some crazed, imbalanced individuals.  If all that were happening in this election were a few stray comments from the crowd or some anonymous Internet comments that were vicious or even overtly racist and violent, then Crowley's point that there's nothing unusual or particularly significant would at least be reasonable.   

But as anyone with eyes can see, that's not what is happening -- not even close.  Crowley's characteristic TNR need to receive "even-liberal-TNR-admits" praise from the Right (and the head pats are piling up already) leads him to assert some plainly false and just morally perverse equivalencies. 

The mass accusations of "terrorist" and "Arab traitor" against Obama didn't just get randomly blurted out by a few hard-core, isolated ideologues.  Rather, that is exactly the message being spewed systematically from McCain and Palin themselves ("pallin' around with terrorists"), their parade of ads, and the coordinated efforts of opinion-leaders on the Right.  Even veteran campaign reporters for whom Balance is a religion have been acknowledging that the McCain/Palin rallies are unique in their mass-crowd vitriol and intense rage. 

Can Crowley point to a single statement or ad from John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004, or a single Kerry/Edwards rally, that is remotely comparable to any of this?  He doesn't even bother to try, because in TNR World, it is an article of faith that "The Left" is always (at least) as bad as The Right -- if one side does X, then it is necessarily true that the other side does it, too -- and simply asserting an equivalency in each case is sufficient to achieve the purpose (to show "Balance" and attract the Right's praise) and requires no evidence.

Much more revealingly, note that Crowley doesn't even pretend to assess the validity or truth of the accusation he's equating.  By 2004, George Bush (with TNR cheering him every step of the way) had attacked, invaded and virtually obliterated another country that hadn't attacked us and couldn't attack us, killing tens of thousands of innocent people (at least), all based on false pretenses.  He had locked up hundreds of people -- including U.S. citizens on U.S. soil -- and asserted the right to keep them in cages indefinitely without bothering to charge them or afford any process for contesting the accusations. 

We were subjecting helpless detainees, many of whom were innocent, to hideous treatment at Guantanamo, and photographs had surfaced showing that the U.S. military was imposing the most grotesque torture on prisoners at Abu Ghraib.  If those aren't war crimes, what is?  If that doesn't make George Bush a "war criminal," what would?  Crowley might want to read this:

The Army general who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison accused the Bush administration Wednesday of committing "war crimes" and called for those responsible to be held to account.

The remarks by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who's now retired, came in a new report that found that U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices.

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Given those facts, for Crowely to assert an equivalency between claims that George Bush is a "war criminal" or even a "terrorist" with the bile being spewed toward Barack Obama is perverse in the extreme.  But to Crowley, the conclusions of Gen. Taguba ("there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes") is the equivalent of the lynch mob's crusade against Obama because they both contain mean and aggressive accusations, so what's the difference?

It's certainly reasonable to object to the term "terrorist" as excessive or incendiary rhetoric when applied to Bush (particularly since that term is nothing more than a political tool and has no real, discernible meaning), but Crowley's eagerness to equate accusations made against Obama with ones made against George Bush without any regard whatsoever to whether the accusations are true vividly illustrates the core sickness of the modern Beltway journalist:  namely, that balance renders truth irrelevant, and the desire to ingratiate oneself to the establishment outweighs all.  

Crowley -- and all of his journalistic comrades -- should immediately read the extraordinarily incisive speech given this week by McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief John Walcott when he accepted the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence, an award received for McClatchy's skeptical and aggressive investigative reporting scrutinizing the Bush administration's pre-war Iraq claims (claims which TNR mindlessly ingested and vocally regurgitated):

Instead of being members of the Fourth Estate, too many Washington reporters have been itching to move up an estate or two, to become part of the Establishment or share in the good times. I.F. Stone, on the other hand, knew well that reporters, by definition, are outsiders. After Stone died, Pat Oliphant drew a marvelous cartoon of him standing at the gates of heaven, holding a pencil and a notebook. Like all great political cartoons, it says more than words ever could. St. Peter is on the phone to a Higher Authority, and he's saying: "Yes, that I.F. Stone, Sir. He says he doesn't want to come in — he'd rather hang around out here, and keep things honest."

Being an outsider, a gadfly, a muckracker, isn’t always as much fun as being an insider, a celebrity journalist on TV and the lecture circuit. Worse, in these troubled economic times for the news media, it makes enemies, sometimes powerful ones, and it can offend readers, advertisers — and, as conditions in our business continue to worsen — potential employers in public relations and other industries. . . .

Relying on The Times, or McClatchy or any other news source, for all the truth is dumb, but it's infinitely preferable to the pernicious philosophical notions that there is no such thing as truth, that truth is relative, or that, as some journalists seem to believe, it can be found midway between the two opposing poles of any argument. . . .

Does the truth lie halfway between say, slavery and abolition, or between segregation and civil rights, or between communism and democracy? If you quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Winston Churchill, in other words, must you then give equal time and credence to Hitler and Joseph Goebbels? If you write an article that's critical of John McCain, are you then obligated to devote an identical number of words to criticism of Barack Obama, and vice versa?  

I'm not one who believes -- even with an election less than 30 days away -- that liberal pundits should avoid making points that can be used by "the other side."  Political writers aren't and shouldn't be campaign operatives, and their primary obligation should be to write the truth as they see it, even if that truth undermines "their side."  

Crowley's crime here isn't that he undermined a pro-Obama talking point.  It's that he reflexively asserted equivalencies where there plainly are none because that's how journalists like him show how Fair, Objective and Reasonable they are (some people on the Left called Bush a terrorist so that makes these coordinated McCain/Palin Munich beer hall rallies unnotable).  Worst of all, he equated the two without even pretending to consider whether the two things he was equating were true or false.  That is why Crowley's defense of the McCain mobs as nothing unusual is so typical, and so illustrative of the core corruption of our journalistic class.  The two sides are always the same, even when they're not.

* * * * * * *

I was really sorry to read that Dean Barnett -- formerly of Hugh Hewitt's blog and now a Contributor at The Weekly Standard -- is in ICU battling his latest and, by all appearances, most serious attack yet of cystic fibrosis.  Dean is one of those very rare advocates on the Right who, despite embracing deeply misguided political views, is almost uniformly honest in his writing and quite amiable in his personal interaction.  I developed somewhat of a friendship with Dean over the last couple of years by e-mail and appeared with him a few times when he guest-hosted The Hugh Hewitt Show, where we argued vigorously though constructively -- the kind of political arguments I wish were more possible.   And I particularly respect the courageous way he talks candidly about his battles with cystic fibrosis, a truly awful and almost invariably fatal disease for which there is no cure.

Dean gave an interview just a few days ago to Pundit Fight, where he talked about numerous topics, including the exchanges he and I had.  Whatever you personally do to send someone best wishes would be well-deserved in Dean's case.

Glenn Greenwald

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