Amity Shlaes’ Weird and Dishonest Article
Bloomberg.org’s Amity Shlaes recently grouped me together with two other “left-leaning” bloggers in an article about the nefarious world of the Internets. In this murky underworld, faceless bloggers exist only to baselessly attack innocent politicians post-election as part of a dastardly plan to undermine “gentlemanly” newspapers. My qualms with Shlaes article are threefold, but I first want to offer a little background about the article and my initial response.
I am “Exhibit B” in Shlaes’s example. “Exhibit A” is Talking Point Memo’s Eric Kleefeld, and “Exhibit C” is Think Progress’s Matthew Yglesias. In a truly bizarre turn, Shlaes links to a video I cross-posted from TPM of Bobby Jindal retelling the fictitious encounter he had with Sheriff Lee in post-Katrina New Orleans. She cites the headline I gave the post: “Bobby Jindal: Chronically Stupid.” Other than the title, that blog post came entirely from TPM. So Shlaes actually presents TPM as two of three examples of the supposedly dishonest bloggers trolling the Internet.
I am sort of disappointed that Shlaes linked to one of my cross-posted blogs because she would no doubt also enjoy my original Conservative-bashing blogs where I write that Peggy Noonan is a terrible columnist, who “practically shouts that she wants a penis inside of her” at the slightest hint of an impending conflict, Davis Brooks is “elite and clueless”, and that Douglas Feith (among other former Bush officials) are war criminals. Shlaes failed to find these other, better examples of “character assassination” either because the Jindal post really pissed her off, and she was seized by the desire to use it as example of nutty bloggers gone wild, or she was too lazy to properly search my blog for an original work. The blog post is clearly marked “Talking Points Memo” with a link to the original work at the top of the page, so I have to assume the latter is true.
Shlaes alludes to the opinion that bloggers are cowardly deviants, who are too timid to debate in real life by channeling Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor at the Washington Post. Referring to the attacks made by bloggers against columnist George Will, Hiatt stated,“I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.” Meaning, bloggers are all talk on the Internet, but would cower at a chance to debate the individuals they criticize.
That’s quite a bold statement, and yet Shlaes did not contact myself, Kleefeld, or Yglesias for a comment on the accusation. Of course, we are only lowly bloggers (insert eye roll here). We never leave the house. Our families haven’t seen us for years. Why should a “serious” “journalist” have to contact us if she includes our pieces in her diatribe about our immoral behavior?
I contacted Matthew Yglesias about the drama. Yglesias is an Associate Editor of The Atlantic Monthly,a staff writer at The American Prospect and an Associate Editor at TPM Media. His work has appeared in several publications, including The Guardian, Slate, The New Republic, and The Washington Monthly. It’s ironic that Yglesias is himself an editor since Shlaes uses the attack that “bloggers lack editors” as part of her scheme to totally discredit our work. Again, this must be attributed to journalistic laziness, since I learned that Yglesias is himself an editor on his easily accessible web bio.
Unsurprisingly, Yglesias had not been notified by Shlaes about being included in her article, though he told me he had appeared with Shlaes at an Economic Blogger Forum back in February. Unless Shlaes is so unaware of her surroundings that she failed to remember a man with whom she appeared on a economic forum barely four months ago, I must assume she deliberately left out Yglesias’s name. She may have also failed to credit Yglesias because of laziness, or she felt including his name was incidental, which means Shlaes believes bloggers are interchangeable, and easily grouped under the heading of “People Ruining Journalism.”
I did contact Shlaes for a response. This is the email I sent:
Hello, Amity. My name is Allison Kilkenny and I’m one of three “left-leaning bloggers” you referenced in your latest Bloomberg.org article. I’m the one who called Bobby Jindal “chronically stupid.”
In the first paragraph of your piece, you referenced Fred Hiatt, who recently wrote “I would think folks would be eager to engage in the debate, given how sure they are of their case, rather than trying to shut him down.” I assume you concur with Mr. Hiatt’s opinion, since you included it in your article, and you are alluding to the assumption that bloggers are too cowardly to debate the issues we publish on the internet in real life. I find it curious that you published that opinion without contacting us to see if we would like to publicly debate. I’m not sure what topic we’re being accused of being too afraid to debate, but I want you to know that I always look forward to discussing controversial issues, and I would love to be invited to any future debates.
However, as I’m sure you can imagine, we bloggers are frequently dismissed with an eye roll by the mainstream media, so we aren’t usually invited to debate with individuals like Bobby Jindal and Michele Bachmann. Thus, we are left to articulate our cases on the internet and wait for a public response.
Since your piece is about trashing individuals without giving them a chance to defend themselves, I thought you would like to know that this individual is very much open to the possibility of speaking face-to-face with the Republicans and Democrats I reference when I am afforded that opportunity.
Thank you for your time,
My first problem with Shlaes’s article is the claim that bloggers are cowardly and baselessly attack politicians, and yet Shlaes baselessly attacked us by failing to contact any of us to see if we are willing to debate in public forums. I can’t speak (or write) for Kleefeld, but Yglesias has spoken at public forums in the past, and I am willing to debate, as well.
My second problem with this truly bizarre and weird article is that Shlaes pines for a world where critical thinking stops after elections. “Years ago, out of a sense of civics, gentle and gentlemanly newspaper editors used to allow a certain honeymoon period post-election. Winners got to bask, and losers sulk. Internet scribes are not into civics.” So let me get this straight: we’re not allowed to criticize politicians once the election is over? What a strange, totalitarian world Shlaes lives in where First Amendment rights don’t follow citizens out of the voting booth.
Of course, Shlaes applies this standard of “let bygones by bygones” only to the Democrats, and not the Republicans, whose smear machines run 24/7 without furloughs. Another point lost entirely on Shlaes is that many bloggers are bipartisan in their attacks against politicians. I, for one, criticize both Democrats and Republicans on this blog, and I have repeatedly called out Barack Obama on his shady practices both in writing and on my show, Citizen Radio. By again lumping all dissident bloggers into the category of “Democrat,” Shlaes is being intellectually dishonest and lazy.
My third problem with Shlaes’s article is she seems indignant that bloggers corrected Michelle Bachmann when she erroneously referred to the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff as “Hoot-Smalley.” Admittedly, this is a minor thing to harp on, considering Bachmann is the same woman who wanted McCarthy-like witch hunts for Anti-Americans in Congress. ”Another force at work is the relevance of history,” Shlaes writes. Well…yeah. Historical accuracy is important. Unless, of course, you’re a historical revisionist like Shlaes, who makes a living making up things as she goes along.
Shlaes’s most recent book, The Forgotten Man, has drawn a slew of controversy because of its revisionist treatment of the Great Depression. John Updike called the book “a revisionist history of the Depression,” and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman accused Shlaes in the New York Times of using “misleading statistics” to make her point. Further criticism came from adjunct professor and historian, Matthew Dallek, who called Shlaes a “revisionist” with a “blind view of the New Deal,” and historian Eric Rauchway, who claimed Shlaes ignores historical GDP easily available in the Historical Statistics of the United States. The International Herald Tribune review by David Leonhardt endorsed Rauchway’s criticism that “Shlaes exaggerates joblessness in the 1930s by counting many people who worked in temporary relief programs as unemployed.” Additionally, the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, called The Forgotten Man ”self-contradictory, misleading, and inaccurate, notwithstanding its enormous popularity among conservatives.”
When an author with those kinds of reviews lectures about the relevance of history, it should inspire only chuckles. Shlaes’s weird mental contortionist act extends from her intellectually dishonest book to her smears against bloggers. Her assumptions that all bloggers must remain silent post-election, can be filed under Diehard Democrat, and fear debating are dishonest and out of touch, much like her work in The Forgotten Man.
Shlaes closes her article by writing, “by smearing others, rather than putting forward ideas, the scribblers smear themselves instead.” This is again a strange criticism considering no one ever asks the journalists or columnists at the New York Times or Washington Post to “advance ideas” rather than critique the performances of politicians, and report journalistic findings. Putting aside the very good (and occasionally award-winning) journalistic work done by individuals from Salon, Huffington Post, and Talking Points Memo, the charge that bloggers are constantly cutting down politicians is again intellectually dishonest. Of course, bloggers do tend to play a defensive rather than offensive role. That’s the role we have been forced into because of the eye-rolling mainstream media that uses every opportunity to dismiss and belittle the blogosphere as a bunch of nutty leftists who complain about everything. However, there are many bloggers who do propose comprehensive policy changes, and would jump at the chance to constructively brainstorm with policy wonks about the progressive changes needed in this country. Bloggers are rarely invited into the mainstream to productively chat in this manner, and so we revert back to a defensive strategy where we analyze what has already been decided.
But the role of journalist isn’t the same as the role of the politician, and it’s unfair to saddle bloggers with accusations of being buzzkills. Bloggers are like sentinels with OCD. The mainstream media pumps a ton of information into the blogosphere, and bloggers comb through it, occasionally finding an overlooked piece of valuable information that we then analyze and critique until everyone’s eyes are bleeding.
To accuse all bloggers of being bias radicals, who baselessly smear politicians is simply a lie. Many bloggers are being recognized for their valuable contribution to journalism. Glenn Greenwald from Salon.com (who frequently debates, most recently about drug legalization) just won the Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalist. PBS’s Bill Moyers just called Greenwald the most important journalist in America.
Another example of excellent journalistic work done by a lowly blogger came when Obama caused a huge uproar in the press corps by calling on Sam Stein, a blogger from Huffpost, during his first press conference. Can you imagine? The horror! A blogger! They flipped out. And Stein asked a really great question about prosecuting Bush officials, an issue the mainstream media really didn’t want to touch at the time. Another example is Marcy Wheeler from Empty Wheel. She’s the lady who spotted an unredacted footnote at the bottom of one of the torture memos that revealed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month. The New York Times cited her as the journalist that spotted the footnote, and who then raised the obvious question: if waterboarding works, why did they have to do it 183 times? That’s the New York Times citing a common blogger. That’s huge. That means bloggers can potentially investigate as well as journalists on the staff of the most respected newspaper in the country. No one would have believed that a few years ago, or even last year.
But people like Shlaes, who remain ignorant about the valuable contributions made on some blogs, continue to lump all bloggers into a category of basement-dwelling cowards. That’s an unfair stereotype, and by utilizing that corrupt branding, Shlaes reveals herself as the very smearist she accuses others of being.