Ethics Dunce: Wall Street Journal Blogger James Taranto

Useful fact: Mitt Romney is running for President, and Maureen Dowd isn't. You can't use her to judge his ethics, just as you shouldn't use him to judge her hair.

Oh James, James. What am I going to do with you? For the third time this year you have barged into Ethics Dunce territory, surely a place one of the most consistently perceptive, witty and reasonable of conservative commentators never belongs.

But what is an ethicist to do when you attempt to trivialize an outrageously dishonest and misleading campaign ad by Mitt Romney, in which a statement by President Obama [ “Sen. McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote: ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,’ “referring to the 2008 economy under Bush ] is edited to suggest something completely different [ “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose,” implying that “we’ means the Democrats] from what he was really saying, by showing that other politicians and New York Times columnists play the same unethical game? So what? How do the unethical journalistic practices of the Times columnists you deftly expose on a regular basis in any way make Romney’s ad less reprehensible?

Taranto writes,

“The term for this practice, coined by this column, is “dowdification,” after … Maureen Dowd, then and still a Times op-ed columnist. Dowd isn’t the only [ media commentator] who has engaged in such deception. Last January, as we noted, former Enron adviser Paul Krugman accused Republicans, and specifically Rep. Michele Bachmann, of employing “eliminationist rhetoric”–that is, calling for the murder of her political foes–because, as Krugman put it, she was “urging constituents to be ‘armed and dangerous.’ ” It turned out Bachmann was speaking metaphorically. She wanted them to be “armed” with information about a legislative proposal she opposed. The Romney ad thus lives up to the standard of truthfulness practiced by the New York Times op-ed page. Decide for yourself if that is exculpatory or damning.”

What is this? An “everybody does it” defense of Romney’s cheap trick? A “you can’t criticize Romney for running a dishonest campaign because you write dishonest columns” attack the accuser tactic? A tortured attempt to use Romney’s slimy distortion of Obama’s words to support an attack on people Taranto really enjoys going after? Virtually all the examples of distortion by the Times writers have been thoroughly exposed by Taranto before; what is gained by mentioning them again, unless Taranto thinks this makes Romney look better?

It doesn’t.  And while surrounding a wrong-doer with a hoard of unsavories is a time-tested method to make him seem benign by comparison, in this case the strategy is as futile as it is misguided. Mitt Romney is the only one of this group of rhetorical cheaters running for president, you see. I don’t really care about the lousy ethics of New York Times columnists; their methods are well-known and obvious, their impact is limited, and I can happily exist without them. The leader of my country, however, has to be more trustworthy than them. Taranto surely knows this. He should be trying to focus ethical scrutiny where it belongs—on a potential leader—rather than seeking to dilute the candidate’s offense by comparing it to ethics-challenged journalists.

13 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Wall Street Journal Blogger James Taranto

  1. Think you’re missing Taranto’s point, Jack. He makes it amply clear that he doesn’t regard Romney’s quote as honest – or fair. He is merely pointing out the hypocrisy so often found of the New York Times editorial pages, and nothing more.

    That he makes this point often doesn’t undermine its validity. In fact, all he usually does is point out each successive appearance of hypocrisy. It’s a fairly extensive list.

    Like the new look, btw. It may be a seasonal and temporary theme, but I was starting to find the old picture collage tiresome. And creepy, particularly with the Jessica Rabbit lips on the masthead.

    • No, I’m not missing it. It still has the effect of looking like a way to whitewash the ad, and to excuse it. And the columnist who criticized Romney wasn’t even the one who engaged in the similar practice—other columnists were! Your hypocrisy theory would have more currency if Taranto showed that Romney’s critic did this, but he just shows that the critic’s “colleagues”—from a different publication!—engage in it. One is not a hypocrite because people in the same profession do what one criticizes.

    • Yes. I rotate the masthead every week, and the collage is updated and changed constantly. Some day I’ll hold a poll for which image people most detest. Jeff hates Octomom, for example.
      I like the holiday layout, but I got lots of complaints last year, so its only around for a month or so. By the time the collage returns, you won’t recognize it.

              • Hey, the athiest stereotype is hard to break. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told that there’s no reason for an athiest to be good.

                • That one’s a particular pet peeve of mine. These are people whose attitude is that the only reasons to be good are if you’ll be rewarded in the afterlife, or if you’ll be condemned to Hell for no doing good…effectively turning ethical conduct into a non-ethical consideration decided on a pure self-interest basis. The argument means that good atheists are genuinely good, while good Christians are just pragmatic.

                  And maybe that’s true.

                  • That Christian argument paints Christians with too wide a brush. It’s rare to find a Christian that disagrees with precepts of their church that still follows those precepts. They ofen either ignore them (like Catholics with birth control), or find a group that matches their beliefs. While some beliefs are based on the religion, the religion is also a rationalization for belief that are already held.

  2. He wasn’t whitewashing or excusing Romney’s ad, but he was trivializing it, pointing out that,
    “This sort of deception is far from uncommon in politics.” and
    “What makes that Romney ad effective and clever–and please note, scolds, that these are not terms of moral approbation…”
    The stupid part is that Romney took out of context a quote from Obama, who was misquoting an aide from McCain’s campaign.

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