How Conservatives Make Themselves Untrustworthy: A Case Study Starring Brent Bozell


Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, is one of the heroes of the hard right. Joined by  reporter Tim Graham on Bozell’s media watchdog website ( it only bites liberal media, but that’s still a mouthful) Newsbusters,  he provides a depressing example of how conservatives sabotage their credibility and end up crippling their ability to persuade even when they are right, which is frequently.

In a column called “America’s Wrong To Love Football?,” Bozell and Graham complain about an NPR segment that makes the exact same point Ethics Alarms has made many times.[ You want one? Here’s one.]  After citing just some of the waves of evidence that professional football (and probably college football too) is maiming and, in slow motion, killing a large percentage of its players, they write one dishonest, irrelevant, fallacious and rationalized argument after another:

“Count on flower children at NPR to go over the edge with this issue..”

Conservatives used to use the ad hominem tactic of denigrating all liberals as hippies–drugged out, long hair, unwashed, funny clothes, pacifists, Communist sympathizers–in the Nixon era. It was a cheap shot even then—Counter their positions, don’t make fun of their haircuts!—but 50 years later it’s pathetic, and screams “I’m estranged from reality!” How many people under the age of 60 even know what “flower children” were?

Bozell and Graham continue..

“The problem isn’t the size and strength, and therefore power of professional football players. No, it’s — ready? — the evil game of football itself…”

This is devoid of logic. If the huge athletes and the way the game of football is played maim human beings, then the sport—game, sport, sport, game– of professional football maims human beings. No, Brent, it’s true, the rule book never hurt anyone. Nevertheless, the sport of pro football, as it is played, results in a large number of young men losing their minds before they are sixty. That doesn’t make the game of football “evil,” it makes the sport unacceptably dangerous. No, that doesn’t make the game “evil”—Deford never says it was “evil.” It makes people–like you, in fact—who pretend the game isn’t unreasonably dangerous and misrepresent the arguments that it is—complicit. It corrupts them. It corrupts society to have the culture spend so much money, passion and time on a sport once we know it kills people and ruins lives.

“Commentator Frank Deford used to love football, but now he just drops bombs on it. On Wednesday’s Morning Edition on National Public Radio, Deford’s weekly commentary was titled “What Is Football Doing to Us as a People?” He asked on air “So what is football doing to us as a people? How do we explain an America that, alone in the world, so loves this savage sport?…”

It is a legitimate and revealing question. Bozell and Graham just don’t like the answer. Yes, Deford loved football, until he learned that it was turning healthy young men into sad, tortured, middle-aged dementia victims while the NFL’s  leadership tried to cover up that fact. Like any decent, ethical person, he changed his mind according to new information, something conservatives like Brent Bozell often regard as heresy.

“This is your taxpayer-funded broadcasting in action: Planned Parenthood selling dead baby parts is just a “women’s health” group aiding “medical research,” but the NFL is organized savagery….”

Wow—now there’s a dishonest sentence! First of all, the problem with Planned Parenthood is that it promotes and perform abortions while employing people who regard snuffing out a human life with the detachment of someone swatting a mosquito. It doesn’t “sell dead baby parts,” and congratulations, the Right using that false characterization allowed the news media to disregard the other genuine ethical problems revealed in the hidden video series. Never mind that, however, because the NFL has as much connection to Planned Parenthood as it does to aardvarks. IF Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts, that would still not preclude NPR from believing both that practice and the NFL’s profiting from brain-damaging activity to make billions was “organized savagery,” or that one was but not the other, without breaching logic or consistency in any way.

This is the fallacy of The False Dichotomy, nauseatingly cross–bred by Bozell with Rationalization #22, Comparative Virtue, or “It’s not the worst thing.” Yes, Brent, selling dead baby parts, if that was what was going on, would be a bad thing. It’s existence, which is in your mind, not realty, would still not make criticizing the NFL for paying young men to destroy their minds and bodies, devasating the lives of themselves and their families, unreasonable.

“It’s true that America loves not just the speed and grace of the game on offense, but the noisy crunch of the game on defense. Surely, the “savage” nature has increased over the years along with the size and speed of the players on the gridiron. But no one in America is rooting for brain injuries and suicides. It’s insulting even to think this.”

Only two kinds of people can think this is an appropriate, persuasive or ethical argument: con artists and idiots. The technique is to grotesquely misstate the real position being opposed so it seems ridiculous. Abolitionists opposed slavery because, among other things, it involved the brutalizing of human beings and the destruction of families; they never asserted that those who supported slavery cheered for the whipping of slaves or the selling of children. The slavery enablers just were willing to look past these unpleasant features for the economic benefits slavery provided. No critic of football argues that the mindless fools cheering for the game are even thinking about the consequences to the players, and they certainly aren’t rooting for future dementia. Bozell’s gross characterization is the real insult, to the intelligence of his readers.

“The left has it out for professional football. Their partisans tried a few years back to give the NFL a permanent black eye with the violent off-the-field domestic-violence offenses of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, as if their horrible behavior is the norm in the sport. For the past 15 years there’s been an organized campaign to strip “Redskins” from Washington though it’s leftists, not Indians who are upset. Now some are using the concussion controversy to talk parents out of letting their children play football altogether.”

Deeper and deeper. Keep digging, Brent. How can anyone pay any attention to a pundit who would make such an intellectually bankrupt and dishonest argument? The fact that studies show conclusively that repeated mini-concussions from playing football cause progressive brain disease would justify questioning the ethics of following the sport if all players were canonized saints and  the Washington franchise was re-named, “The Inoffensives.” Meanwhil, Bozell is employing both a fallacy and another rationalization. The rationalization is # 27. The Victim’s Distortion:

When someone belongs to a group that is commonly treated with bias, or has a history of being so, or when an individual feels, perhaps legitimately, that he or she is personally discriminated against or disliked because of external factors such as  appearance, social background, past indiscretions, or personality problems, the victim mindset creates the conditions of a potentially crippling rationalization. Such individuals can become incapable of distinguishing legitimate criticism from bias, and thus may refuse to acknowledge their own wrongdoing or mistakes, choosing instead to attribute the criticism to irrational and unjustified animus. Someone may be biased against you, however, and still be right in their assessment of your misconduct. We have to learn to be able to separate the critique from the critic, especially when our own ego wants the criticism to be unfair and invalid.

Yup, NPR periodically goes off on progressive/liberal/Democratic causes of dubious validity. That doesn’t make it wrong about football, though.

The fallacy is “The Messenger’s Curse,” a close cousin to the ad hominem attack. Bozell, addressing his loyal flock, is trying to discredit Deford’s case by discrediting NPR, claiming some bizarre, unwarranted  anti-football bias. My question is, why isn’t Bozell biased against organizations that market heroes and find nothing troubling about those heroes punching out their girl friends—on camera, yet? Why isn’t he biased against an organization that, recent documents seem to show, intentionally kept the fact that the game was slowly killing their players away from the players at risk? I’ll admit it: the NFL has proven that it is run by greedy ghouls and liars, just like the tobacco moguls of old, swearing that nicotine wasn’t addictive, and I detest organizations like that and the scum that runs them. Why doesn’t Bozell? Why doesn’t Rush Limbaugh? Why doesn’t conservative ideology permit basic human compassion, caring, responsibility and common sense?

What the hell is the matter with these people?

Imagine, Bozell is saying: science has shown that playing football promotes brain disease, and that the more blows a player’s head sustains and the younger a head starts getting hit, the greater the chance of its owner ending up a shambling hulk who is a danger to his family and himself, and these left-wing nuts are using that information to try to “talk parents out of letting their children play football’!  The nerve of them! The fanatics! Those communists!

What is nuts, Bozell, you utter dolt, is for any parent who understands the science to allow their child to play football. Ever. That’s nuts.

I don’t know what it is that draws the same individuals who see clearly enough to reject the idea of open borders, abortion on demand, hate speech laws, race preferences, and unlimited U.S. debt to adopt such self-discrediting and unsupportable positions like this one. It only takes one such res ipsa loquitur to make a rational, open-minded moderate think, “These people are morons.” No, they aren’t morons. Bozell isn’t really a moron (or a dolt), but his lock-step, unreasoning hatred of the Left and his inability to look at each issue objectively rather than through the prism of ideology makes him seem like one. Thus prominent conservative opinion-makers like Bozell can’t let go of the nonsense, totally debunked, that LGBT citizens are a threat to society, and shouldn’t have the same rights and privileges as anyone else. They make themselves look illiterate by denying science when it shows that their beliefs regarding the universe requires an update, as beliefs sometimes do. Since they can’t distinguish their best positions from their worst, and will not demonstrate one of the most important trust-building trait of all—the ability to say “You are right, and I am wrong,” they can’t persuade effectively when they are right.

It’s a tragedy for them, and for the culture. I can’t feel too sorry for them, however, when they publish crap like this.

14 thoughts on “How Conservatives Make Themselves Untrustworthy: A Case Study Starring Brent Bozell

  1. I would wonder about the statistics for Rugby, one of my favorites. Rugby is played with no pads, no helmet, yet is considered a contact sport. Happily, the rules are somewhat more stringent…going for a head-shot will not just get you ejected from the game but, possibly, from the sport as well. I would also point out that a team that targets opponents, paying bounties for a debilitating injury, is…how shall I say this…’frowned upon’.

    • dragin,
      There’s some research to suggest that getting rid of the helmet in football would likely reduce brain injuries. The equipment is great at protecting against skull fractures, but does almost nothing against concussions. What’s more, psychologically the helmet has the effect of making the wearer feel invincible and therefore more liable to charge head first (something that’s now technically illegal) and be more aggressive in general.

      Without helmets, players might be less cavalier about throwing themselves into harms way. At least, so goes the theory.

      • Oh, there is no doubt eliminating helmets or going back to the leather variety would help. Can you imagine players crashing heads together like they do with their helmets now?

        But it’s an academic exercise, like pointing out that there would be less damage if players were banned one they weighed more than 200 pounds. Ain’t going to happen.

    • Boy, what a bad article. I had problems with the Will Smith film, but this guy—well, the comments nail him very well. He really does sound like he’s on the NFL payroll.

        • Wayne, what does the accuracy of the movie have to do with anything? The fact that the author concentrated on the movie makes me doubt his credibility all by itself. The Frontline documentary “League of Denial,” which inspired the movie, is substantive and accurate. Using the flaws of the movie to claim that the CTE research is bogus is like saying we shouldn’t have declared war on Japan because Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” is full of howlers.

        • Wayne,
          Jack’s right. Nearly all the of the current science points to a link between football and CTE. Even if Omalu’s research was suspect or biased, it since been independently confirmed by numerous other groups. Researchers at Boston University have diagnosed CTE in 87 of 91 brains of former NFL players, several of whom are in their 20s.

          The way American Football is currently played (at all levels of the game) is dangerous. And, we now know, those risks are doubled for children, because their brains are still developing and even sub-concussive blows can cause irreparable damage.Whatever the movie got wrong is irrelevant; the reality of the situation is damning enough.

  2. What the hell is the matter with these people?

    Imagine, Bozell is saying: science has shown that playing football promotes brain disease, and that the more blows a player’s head sustains and the younger a head starts getting hit, the greater the chance of its owner ending up a shambling hulk who is a danger to his family and himself, and these left-wing nuts are using that information to try to “talk parents out of letting their children play football’! The nerve of them! The fanatics! Those communists!

    If only it were the Right Wing who are the only ones doing this kind of thing.

    1. Science says X
    2. X contravenes my ideological beliefs
    3. Therefore Science is a tool of the devil, X is NOT TRUE, it’s all a (communist, fascist, rethuglican, librul) plot.

    It’s because both sides are guilty here that this has become accepted practice. Hence fact-free nominees – Trump. I hate to think what a Left-wing version of him would look like. Barbera Boxer perhaps?

  3. There’s a reason conservatives have some reasonable positions and some wacky ones. It’s the same reason liberals do. In general, most people pick a faction: a collection of causes that through historical chance find themselves affiliated. They either pick it because they were raised in it, or because it makes them feel good based on their own desires. They find reasons to justify each point the faction believes in. When they happen to accidentally be right about something, some of the reasons they find to believe it will be the right ones. That doesn’t mean the people can see clearly.

    There are exceptions; some people actually don’t quite agree their faction on some issue or other. Most feel they shouldn’t broadcast it lest they find themselves accepted by nobody, because nobody shares all of their beliefs. That, or they feel they shouldn’t weaken their own faction on an issue of lesser importance.

    Principled people are rare, because it takes courage to live by and stand up for principles, and because most people can’t even define a principle, much less act consistently on it. Most of the people who do know how to keep principles don’t know how to evolve them into better ones.

    However, a better understanding of this problem will point us towards a solution. To that end, an article of mine about why people aren’t very good at being good. Any feedback would be appreciated. <a href=

  4. I suspect youth league and high school football are also dangerous. I’m turning sixty-five this year and have two high school buddies who played a great deal of youth league football (full pads in seventh and eighth grade) and four years of JV and then varsity high school football. They were pretty crazy guys, behaviorally, but both bright-90th+ percentile, from good, actually very successful families. They were both competent to good athletes.

    They have both been basket cases, physically, financially and emotionally for at least the last twenty years or so (or maybe longer). I strongly suspect it has something to do with CTE. While I used to think only crazy guys played football, I’ve come to believe even youth league and high school football can make guys crazy.

    • Bill,
      It’s really sad. For years, friends and I would make fun of Troy Aikman for his rambling, often incoherent commentary during games (when I still watched NFL games) until I saw “League of Denial” and heard his former agent relate an episode in which he carried on a series of repetitive conversations with him following a concussion he received during a play-off game.

      I used to think he was stupid, now, I realize football made him stupid.

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