“Baghdad Bob” Dionne’s Orwellian Flackery

Baghdad Bob

There was a time long ago when columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. was legitimately regarded as the liberal twin of uber-consvervative Charles Krauthammer, a persuasive, analytical, fair, ideologically consistent political commentator. Somewhere along the line Dionne decided to recast his role as a full-time flack for the Democratic Party. His cheerleading became shrill and increasingly dishonest, often to the point of ridiculousness: James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal now regularly refers to Dionne as “Baghdad Bob,” after Saddam Hussein’s ridiculous Information Minister during the Iraq invasion, who issued straight-faced  on-air declarations that the Americans were being thrashed even as world viewers could see convincing contrary evidence in news reports, and Iraqi citizens could see the truth out their windows.

I now ignore Dionne, because he has no credibility at all. His readers must consist almost entirely of close-minded partisans on the left seeking comfort food, close-minded partisans of the right seeking an injection of adrenaline, and unsuspecting, trusting readers who don’t realizethat they are being misled. Having just finished posting here about Connecticut lawmakers passing a ban on the death penalty that is as cowardly as it is incoherent, my early morning head nearly exploded to see the headline on Dionnes’ column this morning about the same law. The headline?

“Connecticut’s Courage”

That’s right; to E.J. Dionne, it is “courage” to sneak a capital punishment ban by voters likely to disapprove of it by extolling the moral imperative of ending the state’s participation in “murder” (in the terms of death advocate opponents), while simultaneously satisfying the families of the victims of the currently condemned—as well as citizens outraged by the depraved nature of their heartless crimes— by permitting the state to continue to seek those murderers’ deaths. That might be clever, it might be politically expedient, it might even be ethically defensible on utilitarian grounds. But it is not and cannot be described as courageous, except by Orwellian standards. “Baghdad Bob” indeed.

That is unethical enough to shatter any lingering illusions of Dionne’s integrity, but there is blatant dishonesty in his column as well. While extolling Connecticut’s law, Dionne never informs his readers that it is only prospective, and that it is designed to allow the eleven men on death row, and potentially other defendants who have committed their murders but have not yet been found guilty, to be executed by Connecticut years from now. Not only does he call a cynical political act courageous, he hides the part of the story that proves it is not.

At least when “Baghdad Bob” tried to ignore the truth, he didn’t fool anyone.


Spark: James Taranto

Source: The Washington Post

Graphics: Fredd

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

7 thoughts on ““Baghdad Bob” Dionne’s Orwellian Flackery

    • I think that many who lead against the death penalty do so for various reasons. I don’t think appeasement of criminals is near to the most common reason. The DP is a topic of discussion within my family because we hold a spectrum of positions. My position is very much like Jack’s as he has explained his, only (probably) “harsher,” but that is only speculation. But I understand why others take differing positions – for examples, based on what is, as far as I understand it, an amazingly merciful application of the Golden Rule…or because the DP is seen as the second of two wrongs that don’t make a right (did Michael Dukakis ever explain himself more?).

      E.J. Dionne Jr. is still getting prominent preaching space? Sheesh! Seems like I stopped paying attention to him in the previous millennium – which really does seem like 1,000 years ago.

    • Slightly off-topic, but now that I think of it, I think I’ve found the least objectionable form of the death penalty: one that was reserved for those who chose to plead guilty.

      Of course, I’d be surprised if that system would execute even 1 person per year, but at least now it’s on the books. Hey, Jack did say that we could have an incredibly stringent standard and still have it be valid.

  1. Sorry, but I’ve got to disagree on this one.

    To begin with, I don’t think you help your case by suggesting that Dionne is now a flack for the Democrats. First off, he isn’t, IMHO. Secondly, I don’t think the death penalty fits neatly into left/right or Republican/Democratic analysis. Yes, there are tendencies, but there are certainly far more people on both sides of the political divide whose position on this issue is less predictable in political terms than, say, their position on taxation would be. I doubt that anyone is likely to call me a right-winger (although I suppose I am on some issues), but, as I said on my own blog last September, I support a limited use of the death penalty because “there are those of our species whom, to be frank, we’d be better off without.”

    Also, I can think of few pundits who are indeed more of a shill for a particular political perspective than Charles Krauthammer is for the state of Israel, whatever it does and whoever happens to be in charge at a given moment. There are, indeed, few so-called serious commentators (leaving aside the Mahers and the Limbaughs, in other words), on the left or the right, for whom I have less respect. He’s not the counter-example I’d choose. Which is, I suppose, what makes horse races.

    Moreover, the headline I read on Dionne’s piece doesn’t read “Connecticut’s Courage,” but rather, “Little Connecticut’s big message on the death penalty.” More to the point, whatever the headline, Dionne didn’t write it. That’s an editor somewhere: we can criticize the headline, and we can criticize Dionne for the article, but we can’t criticize Dionne for the headline.

    Finally, and most importantly, I’d argue that there is more than one kind of courage. Connecticut lawmakers certainly failed, I agree, in the realm of moral courage, which was the point of your piece yesterday. But, that said, I would argue that it took political courage to advance an anti-death penalty proposal of any stripe when the population is indeed leaning in the other direction. Dionne’s context makes it clear to me that he was in fact talking about “courage” in purely political rather than ethical or moral terms. That doesn’t excuse the fact that he doesn’t talk about the curious exclusion of the already-sentenced from this legislation, but it does, I think, legitimize his general point.

    • But Rick: he omitted, presumably intentionally, the feature of the law that made it so cowardly! I’d agree that a true death penalty ban takes political courage, but what they did in Connecticut was ban it for criminals who don’t exist yet—that’s not courageous, it’s sneaky. It’s in the same pot with Lincoln banning slavery where he had no power to do so, and allowing it where he did.

      As for the headline, I almost made your point about the fact that Dionne didn’t write the headline (I’d consider the print headline the “real” one, but maybe it should be the online headline.) But the piece calls the law “brave,” and it just isn’t. And I regard Dionne omitting the key fact that undermines his argument deceptive and the mark of flackery.

  2. I agree that Dionne should have made the distinction between past and future crimes and criminals. But whereas I think your point in the earlier post about death penalty opponents’ lacking the courage of their convictions is absolutely true, I stil believe that passing this legislation comes with a risk attached, and can legitimately be described as courageous in that sense.

    It seems to me there are three different kinds of courage: 1). physical courage, in which the risk is to one’s life, health, or well-being; 2). moral courage, in which the risk is to one’s core beliefs and/or to the society at large; and 3). what I’m going to call pragmatic courage, in which the risk is to one’s job or social/political/economic/cultural standing.

    Type 1 doesn’t apply here. You’re talking about Type 2. Dionne was talking about Type 3. Perhaps he should have been talking about Type 2, but he wasn’t. The failure, then, is in the misdirection, not in the misapplication of a term.

    But if he’s omitting Type 2, you’re omitting Type 3: a lesser transgression, to be sure, but relevant to the extent that his description is accurate in one sense although it could hardly be more inaccurate in another.

    Erm… we’re agreed to disagree on this one, I think.

  3. Rick, even though you write coherently and well, you lose your credibility with your first two lines: “To begin with, I don’t think you help your case by suggesting that Dionne is now a flack for the Democrats. First off, he isn’t, IMHO.” But I’m LMAO @ YHO.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.