There are at least three news stories sending off toxic fumes right now, all—coincidentally?—suggesting sinister doings on the Left.
First, we have the Ben Rhodes story, where a key Obama foreign policy aide (with no experience in foreign policy but a degree in creative writing) boasts to a journalist on the record about how the Obama Administration, under his brilliant management, tricked journalists into misleading the public.
Second, we have Facebook employees revealing that Facebook is working hard at indoctrinating its users by pushing news items favorable to the Great Progressive Awakening while suppressing stories that might create sympathy for rightward politicians and causes.
Finally, we have the interesting news that the State Department can’t find Bryan Pagliano’s emails from the time he served as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior information technology staffer during her tenure there.
In order for citizens to have any chance of processing these events so as to have an accurate, as opposed to comforting, view of the forces directing their fates, they must banish all biases while simultaneously keeping a firm hold on their accumulated experience. How do we do that? Is it even possible?
The immediate, reflex reactions to stories like these, are, in no particular order,
I don’t believe it.
AHA! I knew it!
ARGHHHH! We’re doomed!
So how did the Mets do today?
The last one, sadly, is the most common. It is also arguably the most unethical, for the corruption of democracy thrives on apathy almost as much as it feeds upon, and nourishes, ignorance. Most Americans don’t know or care who Ben Rhodes is. Most don’t understand why Hillary Clinton’s emails are such a big deal, and are happy to accept that false narrative, fanned by Hillary herself, that it’s all a big invention by the right-wing conspiracy.
“Good” is the response of committed, “ends justify the means” Saul Alinsky -taught progressives. It embodies the Saint’s Excuse, and is, all by itself, a reason to be wary of progressives. Any political movement that applauds lies, misrepresentation and crimes in the pursuit of “the greater good” should be feared, opposed and resisted whatever their shining, virtuous mission.
Despair and panic—the roots of ARGHHHH! We’re doomed! —is just emotion. There are many reasons not to go this route, no matter how the spiders squirm in your stomach and no matter how dry one’s throat becomes. The main one is that emotion isn’t thought, and it is difficult to assess a problem carefully and accurately while your brain is screaming that you should hide. The most important one is that if you are right, and the problem is as bad as you think it is, calm, cool, rational consideration and measured action is essential if you are to have any chance of overcoming it.
“So what?” is the refrain of cynics and dead-souled pessimists. This mindset comes from too many disappointments, too many defeats, and a collective post traumatic stress effect that results in permanent defeatism. It is what smothers the brain and commitment to ethics when one is still alive and functioning after the worst has occurred and the pain subsides.
AHA! I knew it! is the response created by confirmation bias. In all three stories, there is enough doubt to leave open the possibility that the worst conclusion isn’t the correct one. Maybe Rhodes is just an over-worked drone who snapped and decided to tell the world that he was as important as he thought he was. Maybe the Facebook workers had a vendetta against their former employer.
Maybe Hillary’s tech ace at State really didn’t send any e-mails during her..okay, I can’t even write that one. Maybe an evil troll stole the e-mails? No? Okay, how about this: maybe State is as incompetent as every other segment of Obama’s accountability-free, politicized, un-managed administration, and the e-mails were just unintentionally and innocently lost? Tragically, I think that is a real possibility.
Finally, there is “I don’t believe it,” the other side of confirmation bias. Good, loyal progressives shield themselves from the steady drumbeat of evidence that things are not all sunny and benign on their side of the street by employing remarkable powers of denial. On MSNBC yesterday, for example, MSNBC hosts Tamron Hall and Thomas Roberts and their four Clinton-favoring guests described Bill Clinton’s long record of marital infidelity as “alleged affairs” or “alleged misconduct” in following Donald Trump mentioning them once again over the weekend. (This was either denial or intentional disinformation: with the news media, you get both, sometimes simultaneously.
None of the six responses is objective. We must make out best efforts to find a seventh that our emotions, brains , logic, needs for survival and sanity, and basic fairness can muster. What is it?
Well, attaining that stage is incredibly difficult, but it is possible if we recognize that no other state of mind will find genuine solutions to the various problems assaulting our culture and civilization, except by dumb luck. Therefore…
1. We must have the courage and integrity to accept that our prior assumptions may have been wrong.
2. We must be skeptical, accepting that until alternate explanations have been ruled out, the worst may not be true, but not so skeptical that we balk at recognizing that the remaining doubt is minimal.
3. We must be willing to go where the facts as we come to know them lead us, and be open to the possibility that they show that we have been wrong, lied to, misled, duped or manipulated.
4. We must recognize the symptoms of bias and denial.
5. We must be brutally honest about the elements of trustworthiness.
6. Finally, we must understand that discovering that we are wrong a positive development, and admitting we were wrong is a sign of character, not defeat or weakness.
Now let’s try to apply these techniques to each of the stories.
Ben Rhodes: We can’t ignore what the Rhodes profile seemed to be saying. Loyal left-leaning Slate helpfully told us “how we should read” the piece, and the tortured explanation it offered might even be the right one. More likely, however, is that Occam’s Razor applies: the aide was telling the truth, had reached the perilous stage where he assumed that everyone believes that the ends justifies the means where Obama’s policies are concerned (“If you like your current health care plan, you can keep it. Period.”), and so he boasted about what most honest observers had already noticed long ago. The Obama administration is not above spinning facts to mislead the public, and the pre-biased journalists often uncritically do the White House’s bidding.
Now, that may still not be true in this case, but the fact that it has been true in other policy matters is relevant, and cannot be denied.
Relevant to the verdict on Rhodes is how he and the White House, as well as the journalists he said he manipulated, are handling the fallout. Rhodes, presumably under orders, got on his blog and denied that the profile accurately reflected his views. Many of the journalists blamed the writer of the profile, as “attack the messenger” is a classic defense when the messenger delivers a cat that got of a bag.
An objective analyst would also have to factor in the White House’s reaction, via Josh Earnest, its spokesman. Initially, Earnest shrugged off the backlash over the piece as “sour grapes” from opponents of the deal. This is pure deflection, attempting to shift the focus to the motives of critics rather than the substance of the criticism. People tend not to default to this tactic when a real explanation for alleged wrongdoing is available. No, the fact that Obama’s chronically weaselly mouthpiece chose this as his first respond doesn’t prove anything. It is suspicious, though.
Then Earnest told reporters that Rhodes’ “I didn’t mean what I said” post ”was not something that was written at the request of the President.” Do you believe that? Is it deceit (The President didn’t request that he write it, he demanded it)? Earnest also said that he didn’t think Obama was even aware of the controversy. Is THAT credible?
Then he said Rhodes was spurred to write the post to counter “an attempt by opponents of the Iran deal to suggest that somehow the effort to protect the deal was based solely on spin.” Rhodes’ own words suggested that!
Verdict: a lie.
Earnest said no administration official lied about the agreement and said he’s never heard Rhodes use the term “Blob” to describe a group that includes Clinton or anyone else. “Blob” was the term used by Rhodes in the profile. Does Earnest sound desperate to you? He does to me. “He doesn’t think what he said he thinks because I’ve never heard him say that”?
Finally, Earnest claimed that after several conversations with Rhodes, he believes the aide’s description of reporters was “not how it was intended.” “Based on that reaction, I am confident he would say it differently if given a chance,” Earnest said.
All right: does this response suggest that Rhodes was telling the truth and that the White House spins to mislead the public, or not? A mitigating factor is that Earnest is a fumbling paid liar, and could make anyone seem guilty by defending him. I also stipulate that the issue of whether the Obama administration routinely fudges facts and distorts the truth to gain political support was settled for me long ago, the first time the President cited fake activist-generated statistics again after he had been roundly criticized for using them earlier. However, objectively, there is no way to plausibly argue that Earnest ‘s furious spinning doesn’t increase the likelihood that Rhodes initially told an inconvenient truth.
We can’t know for certain. On a predominance of the evidence standard, however, Rhodes seems guilty as charged.
I’ll examine the Facebook and missing e-mails stories in the next post.