Op-Ed Columnist Kathleen Parker, Case Study: Why A Truthteller Can’t Be A Weenie

You are so NICE, Kathleen! Now please find a another job where that's an asset.

You are so NICE, Kathleen! Now please find a another job where that’s an asset.

“I tend to be generous with the benefit of doubt,wrote Kathleen Parker, the mildest of conservative Washington Post columnists, in a recent effort at punditry. That’s an understatement, but then, understating is what Parker does. She also excels at writing equivocal near-condemnations that end up in pretzel form and stuck in dead-ends of ambiguity when clarity is called for.

This makes her very useful to the mainstream media, which like to present the illusion of balance while rigging the game. When I see her on a Sunday morning “roundtable” as one of the conservative voices recruited to spar with sharp, aggressive, no-holds barred progressives like Kathleen van der Heuvel  or Van Jones (and a left-biased moderator), I know that the discussion will make any uninformed viewers believe that the truth consists of the midpoint between progressive spin, and Parker smiling and raising her eyebrow. She is, in short, a weenie. A nice weenie, to be sure, but when your job is battling in the marketplace of ideas, unyielding politeness, measured words, and the insistence that all sides have merit—which is often, indeed usually true–results in shorting her side, and giving the contest to the combatant with no such reticence about full-throated advocacy. Parker isn’t wrong. Parker is incompetent at her job, as it has evolved. Thus when she accepted a co-hosting gig in a CNN “Cross-Fire” clone as the Right commentator to Eliot Spitzer’s Left, he completely dominated her (he was also a bully and a boor in the process) until Parker left the show, frustrated and humiliated.

I was horrified recently to discover that Parker had written a column about the President’s non-apology apology that tracked closely with mine (posted the following day), because I dreaded  Ethics Alarms readers concluding that I was cribbing from her. Her column was also notable for its theme, which was signaled by its opening sentences:

“Among the many rules I grew up with, two stand out. The first was to never call someone a liar, which was considered the worst character indictment one could issue. The accuser had best be prepared to fight or be fleet of foot. The other was a dictum so oft- repeated that it is permanently tattooed on my brain: “If you’ll lie by omission, you’ll lie by commission.”

She then proceeded to make the case, much as I did, that the President had lied about how the Affordable Care Act worked and later about his intent when he lied, while she simultaneously tried to give him the benefit of the doubt (of which there is none) regarding whether he was in fact lying.  That’s Parker. Over at MSNBC, Chris Matthews was calling Dick Cheney a racist for calling the President what Parker was too nice to call him, using breath-takingly crazy logic and historic revisionism. “Is this, calling the President a liar, the new language of American politics. Or is it a language specially treated for the country’s first African-American president?” Matthews bleated. (Aside: Interestingly, Chris was at the the NBC roundtable on the Same Sunday that  Kathleen was at ABC’s, and took a more moderate stance, a lot like the Old Chris, before his contract with MSNBC required him to go over to the Dark Side. Am I saying that Chris’s race-baiting and outrageous Obama-boosting these days is at least in part a sham? Indeed I am. Am I suggesting that he’s trying too hard, because he doesn’t believe half of what he says? I sure am. Am I calling him unethical and unprofessional for giving his progressive Obama-loving audiences what they want toi hear rather than what he really believes, which is far more nuanced, fair and rational? Yes.) If the President lies, he’s a liar, and if he’s a liar, it is not the job of the news media or fellow politicians, or past officeholders to obscure that fact from the public by refusing to say so.

Adding race-baiting to Matthews’ furious assertion to the contrary made this one of his lowest points yet. Chris, like all of us, can recall Democrats and pundits calling President Bush a liar when he was not lying, just as they said that he “stole the Presidency,” which is a lot worse. A rule holding that lies cannot be identified for what they are and appropriately linked to their wielders accomplishes nothing other than making it easier for public officials to lie to us.

Which brings me, rather late, I know, to the particular example of Kathleen Parker weenie-ness that sparked this post.

She was writing—this time AFTER my post on the topic, which means maybe people will think she’s cribbing from me (in my dreams, I know)—about rhetorical excesses, and what was wrong with, among other things, Sarah Palin comparing the growing National Debt’s burden on future generations to slavery. I think Parker’s main point goes too far: just because an event is sui generis doesn’t mean that some aspect of it cannot be legitimately used metaphorically to describe something less momentous. The problem with Palin’s comparison wasn’t that slavery is off the table as a potential metaphor, but that Palin’s metaphor was terrible.

Parker then went on, since she is incapable of focusing her thoughts on one side only, to mention the attacks on Palin for doing this, noting that they were “so vicious that the attacks themselves are beyond comparison.” Then she alluded to Martin Bashir’s attack that I had made the center of my post. At least I knew that, but a typical Parker reader who doesn’t watch the lowest-rated of MSNBC’s shows, which means that it is approximately as popular as reruns of  “Petticoat Junction” over at TVLand, would have no idea what she was referring to.  Here’s how she described it:

“One in particular was so awful that I won’t repeat it. Just as Palin didn’t deserve such an onslaught, people reading this column in good faith don’t deserve to have such wretched thoughts imposed on their psyches.”*

How many genteel Post readers imagine, in their wildest dreams, that the “awful” attack consisted of a broadcaster on a national cable network advocating that someone shit in Sarah Palin’s mouth? My guess: not a one. So they don’t know, and because Parker is too nice, too polite, and too much of a weenie to actually inform her readers about how disgusting and unprofessional Martin Bashir is, or even that he was the one who made the “awful” statement, he has escaped part of the just consequences of his actions, as has his irresponsible network, which is allowing him to keep his job despite an obscenity that should have seen him ushered out MSNBC headquarters with a police escort. Those misinformed Post readers might tune Bashir in some day, when they should have been warned to stay away.

It is not Kathleen Parker’s job to be nice. It is her job to inform us, and if she can do that and still not give readers the vapors, wonderful, and I salute her. BUT…

Not calling lies lies, liars liars, and refusing to report horrible conduct because it’s just, just too icky for words compromises the truth, misleads the public, and helps to make unethical practices effective, common, and risk-free.

Truth-telling is no job for weenies.

* On the Post website, to be fair, this included a link to the Bashir video.


Sources: Washington Post 1, 2, Newsbusters

22 thoughts on “Op-Ed Columnist Kathleen Parker, Case Study: Why A Truthteller Can’t Be A Weenie

      • Helping sell the lie (and smear campaign, I might add) is not ameliorated by eventually coming around. I know people who were targeted and attacked and harassed because of worthless piles of humanity like her defending that shitstain.

      • Can I Parker Parker? Because she drives me nuts sometimes, but I think it’s better to judge slowly and be sure of yourself rather than barge off half-cocked and then have to retract vehement statements (or, what’s more likely, not retreat an inch and just make an ass of yourself defending a clearly wrong position).

            • I have now. Thanks! Great article!

              I love pretty much all the quotes attributed to him. A sampling from wikiquote (which I’m sure isn’t the most reliable source):

              “I would rather be beaten and be a man than to be elected and be a little puppy dog. I have always supported measures and principles and not men. I have acted fearless[ly] and independent and I never will regret my course. I would rather be politically buried than to be hypocritically immortalized.”

              Of course that could easily be modern fabrications attributed to him to add weight to it. It sure sounds good though…

            • Watching the “Alamo” now.

              Maybe its better for self preservation to be a corrupt politician. Being voted out on principle ends up leaving you isolated and dead in a former Catholic Church.

              • That should not be taken with seriousness. Our society is in need of revamping our heroes. And I don’t mean comic book heroes. But real mean with real chests and real hearts who despite flaws as we all have, have dug in and stood for virtues and burned themselves out in pursuit.

              • Davy’s fate is one of the great ironies of history, and one area where the remake, which I generally don’t like for its political correctness, hypocrisy and bland cast (even the TV miniseries was more stellar, with James Arness as Jim Bowie, Brian Keith as Davy, Raul Julia as a terrific Santa Anna, and as Travis—a young, pre-jackass Alec Baldwin!), does a good job, as does Billy Bob, except that he’s physically wrong: Crockett was closer to John Wayne dimensions. David Crockett was a self-promoted hero, whose reputation had been inflated and whose claim to genuine heroism was slim. Yet he stumbled into a situation that made him live up to his own legend, and justify his fame, and there is every reason to believe that he acquitted himself well on that score. Without the Alamo, Davy would be a footnote at best, and largely unknown. As it was, he is the symbol of an American archetype, and a really good, vivid, colorful, admirable one.

                Nobody likes dying in a massacre, but we all have to go sometime, and in retrospect, I think for Davy Crockett, things worked out for the best….for him and us.

                • I think the difference between “heroes” and the common man is heroes do find themselves in situations where they have to decide that a near 100% risk for the greater good (whether they know it or not) is better than self preservation.

                  The untold heroes are those “common men” who risk a great deal for a very few. Be they fathers or mothers for their children or the fireman who ends his career to pull a baby from the flames.

                • Ah, but every rendition of the Alamo, Jack, is like Superman, who is a reflection of what society wants it to be at the time. I personally like the 2005 Alamo (other than a few items, starting with the fact that the Shrine IS NOT in line with the long barracks… Idiots). It acknowledges the flaws of the heroes, yet transcends and inspires to a greater good virtue for which to voluntarily sacrifice. And it gives a fair shake for the Mexicans (heroic and dedicated) while still portraying Santa Anna for what he was.

                  • I agree with the historian who said of the Duke’s version, “Everything in it is wrong, but it feels right.” Wayne was also fair to the Mexicans, though only generally—having one of the defenders saying at one point, “Even as I was killing them, I was proud of them.” And, unfortunately, a night battle, while accurate, is hard to follow. Better score, too.

                    We need both films, actually—the “print the legend” version, and the other.

                    • I grew up on the Wayne version (my dad pretty much watched a movie a weekend and we discussed the values of it, an they were mostly old movies such as Tora Tora Tora, Midway, Alamo, Longest Day, etc when he wasn’t researching the civil war and Audie Murphy), but we were poor so I only ever saw the taped version from TV (which was edited for length). When I saw the full version and the (inapty named) Immortal 32 from Gonzalez were carted in on a chuck wagon, I felt a little betrayed, because they SNUCK in On horseback. It didnt stop me as a boy from reenacting every scene though.

                      And I liked the TV version too.

                      One thing I especially liked about the 2005 version was the portrayal of Mexican general Castrillon, who DID REFUSE to run at San Jacinto because he’d never run before while some of his men still stood.

                      The thing about War and Ethics:

                      Would you rather have 5 living men tryin to finalize what is right out of 10 original hardnosed brave men who couldn’t agree on what was right OR 9 weak willed go-with-anything-as-long-as-they-are-comfortable men who do anything the strong man says?

        • It’s safer. But taking any position involves the risk of being wrong. If you are, you admit it, learn, and go forward.
          But yes, I’ve had episodes, right here in fact, where I wish I had parkered.

          • It’s just like the discussion TGT and I had many moons ago about administration’s responsible reporting of information. In any instance of transferring ideas/information/knowledge, always express with utmost confidence the particular items you know FOR SURE and abstract everything else to a level that you do know for certain or identify those unknowns as unknowns and pass no judgment or interpretation on them without identifying such as speculation.

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  2. Mr. Marshall

    I did not completely understand your statement that Palin’s remark comparing the debt to slavery was a terrible metaphor. I have used similar metaphors in the past but rather than use the term slavery I use the term indentured servitude. I prefer that term to slavery not because of the racial sensitivities but because it reflects an actual practice. As you know indentured servants were primarily of European descent that were required to work off the debt of passage to America. While not perfect in that future generations are not paying off their own debt but the debt of their parents, it does seem to me that it is a close approximation.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on an improved metaphor to characterize the increased burdens on future generations

    • I’ve used indentured servitude as an apt analogy as well. Because at some point the system of debt servicemen will be so onerous that to solve it, we will all be indentured servants in practice.

  3. Sounds like we need a new acronym for people like her: CINO (Conservative In Name Only). I think we’d be happier if she did sort of a Martha Stewart program and showed us recipes and stuff like that. It would be “a good thing!”

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