Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE CONSERVATIVE WAR ON THE TRUTH....As I was catching up on a few things this morning I ran across this Knight-Ridder story about the latest right-wing action program:

Conservatives across the country decry news coverage of the war as relentlessly and unfairly negative. Last week Brent Bozell, a conservative activist, launched a $2.8 million advertising and talk-radio campaign to discredit the "liberal news media."

Wow. These guys have $2.8 million to spend solely to convince people that they shouldn't believe anything they read in the papers? That's remarkable.

Of course, it's just one small cog in the conservative program to discredit anyone with enough independent expertise to pose a threat to conservative ideology. Scientists? They manipulate the evidence to favor their liberal agenda. University professors who have actually studied an area deeply? Just a bunch of wild-eyed socialists. Reporters? Enough said.

As Franklin Foer points out in this week's New Republic cover story, this attitude is pervasive in the Bush administration:

The most common explanation for this animus is that the White House overflows with political hacks uninterested in the nitty-gritty of policy. But the administration's expert-bashing also has deep roots in ideology. Since its inception, modern American conservatism has harbored a suspicion of experts, who, through adherence to inductive reasoning and academic methodologies, claim to provide objective research and analysis.

To be sure, this social-scientific approach has its limits. Conservatives have raised genuinely troubling questions about its predilection for downplaying the role of "culture" and "values" in shaping human behavior. But the Bush administration has adopted a far more extreme version of this critique: It takes the radically postmodern view that "science," "objectivity," and "truth" are guises for an ulterior, leftist agenda; that experts are so incapable of dispassionate and disinterested analysis that their work doesn't even merit a hearing. And the results have been disastrous.

Conservative distrust of liberal social science sometimes justified has metastasized in the past few decades into a distrust of any fact-based research program that reaches non-favored conclusions. Thus the distrust of the CIA when it initially resisted neocon beliefs about Saddam's WMD and the contempt for Arabists and State Department experts who warned that occupying Iraq required real planning and real knowledge.

The disaster this has caused is obvious and immediate. Less immediate, but no less disastrous, is the administration's refusal to acknowledge the CBO's economic projections or the scientific establishment's consensus on global warming. In this administration, if the facts don't fit their agenda, all the worse for the facts.

Foer has much more on this, and his full article is well worth reading. For a final word on conservative animus toward the "liberal" media, though, here's Nick Kristof today:

As U.S. Lt. Josh Rushing astutely notes in "Control Room," Al Jazeera is the Arab version of the Fox News Channel: "It benefits Al Jazeera to play to Arab nationalism because that's their audience, just like Fox plays to American patriotism, for the exact same reason American nationalism because that's their demographic audience and that's what they want to see."

That's about right. Conservatives who don't like the message these days either shoot the messenger or else hire their own more compliant messenger. It doesn't change the facts, mind you, but for a short while it makes them feel better.

Eventually, though, that "short while" will pass. What do they do then?

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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