Columnist is out of his depth

Campos forgets rules of civil discourse in effort about war

Dec. 2, 2006

by David Kopel

Rocky Mountain Newscolumnist Paul Campos is an outstanding and logical writer on many issues, but not on Mideast policy. For example, in his Tuesday column, "Neo-cons addled by war fever," he caricatured the (alleged) beliefs of proponents of the liberation of Iraq. After insisting that any conservative or liberal hawk who would share such beliefs is "delusional," Campos announced that the liberation proponents deluded themselves because of their "lust for the violent excitement of war."

The same day that the Newspublished Campos' attempt at long-distance psychoanalysis, U.S. News & World Reportpublished an essay by Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese-American who is director of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Ajami points out that it was not "naive idealism . . . that gave birth to Bush's diplomacy of freedom." Rather, it was an accurate recognition that "The ruling regimes in the region had displaced their troubles onto America; their stability had come at America's expense."

Reasonable people can disagree with Ajami's support for regime change, and can agree with Campos that removing Saddam Hussein was harmful to the United States. But when a columnist has to rely on psychobabble about the "lust" of people he's never met, plus abusive language such as "completely insane" for one group and "even crazier" for another group, the columnist has forgotten the ground rules of civil discourse. And, ironically, also forgotten the ground rules of logic, since it's impossible to be "even crazier" than something that's "completely insane."

Colorado Media Matters sometimes does a good job in correcting factual errors by its ideological adversaries. In a Tuesday post on its Web site, for example, CMM pointed out a mistake in an Independence Institute Op-Ed. The Op-Ed had claimed that 62 percent of women in a poll had said that abortion is "murder." As CMM correctly explained, 62 percent of women had said that abortion is "wrong," but only 51 percent called it "murder."

Fortunately for Coloradans, the actual number of significant factual errors in the major Colorado media in an average week is very low; and since CMM is interested only in conservative errors, there aren't enough genuine errors to keep CMM's dozen-person staff of critics busy.

Accordingly, a lot of CMM stories involve complaints about what someone else in the media should have said. For example, a recent CMM Web site headline criticized radio talk-show host Dan Caplis for briefly praising the Fox network, yet "ignoring \[an] alleged memo undercutting \[the] network's claim of being 'fair and balanced.' " As if a radio host is at fault for failing to bring up the contents of a memo which even CMM admits is nothing more than "alleged."

The Friday after the election, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, happily described the Democratic takeover of Congress as a victory for Iran; the alleged Fox News memo from the day after the election told reporters to be on the lookout for similar statements from Iraqi insurgents.

Another CMM space-filler is to denounce someone for failing to mention a source's ideological bias; the charge amounts to the pot calling the kettle black. For example, Monday's CMM posting criticizes a Newseditorial which cited data from the Heritage Foundation, yet "failed to mention that the organization is a conservative think tank."

The CMM article claimed that contradictory data was available from the National Priorities Project. CMM described the National Priorities Project as "nonpartisan," a description which is equally valid for Heritage, since both groups have a tax exemption based on an IRS determination that they are "nonpartisan."

The National Priorities Project is against the Iraq war, favors cuts in defense spending, is against repealing the estate tax and is for both raising the minimum wage and a larger welfare state. In short, the National Priorities Project is a left-wing think tank. As Colorado Media Matters would write, if they applied the same standards to themselves that they do to their targets: "In article criticizing News,Colorado Media Matters cited National Priorities Project report but failed to mention that the organization is a leftist think tank."

Another thing that CMM "failed to note" was that the data from the National Priorities Project actually supported the Newseditorial's point that poor people are grossly underrepresented in the military. The NPP data show that poor people (family incomes under $25,000) join the Army at less than 60 percent of the average American rate; the very poor (under $15,000) join at less than 30 percent of the national rate ( index.php?option=com_content &task=view&id=230).

Coverage of suicides leads to copycat suicides, as detailed in Loren Coleman's book The Copycat Effect.Accordingly, the Newsshowed terrible judgment in running a 14-paragraph story (Nov. 27) about a man in Chicago who killed himself, he claimed, in protest of the Iraq war. That a person set himself on fire does not justify the media providing publicity which tempts other mentally ill people to self-destruction.  

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