Dangerous Logic

06Oct08

I came across a piece that disturbed me the other day on The Corner. It was written by Stanley Kurtz in response to the recent NYT Obama-Ayers piece. I can understand how Kurtz might not wish to reach the same conclusion as the NYT article, whose conclusion found no meaningful link between the two men, but in coming to the opposite conclusion, I believe he raises several points that are not only invalid, but dangerous to let pass for sound reasoning in our public discourse.

Kurtz begins his piece by asserting that the NYT didn’t give enough space to both sides of the argument. As a result, they weren’t fair and failed in their practice of journalism.

Yet the article makes no serious attempt to present the views of Obama critics who have worked to uncover the true nature of the relationship. That makes this piece irresponsible journalism, and an obvious effort by the former paper of record to protect Obama from the coming McCain onslaught.

This logic would be valid if it didn’t make such an extraordinary assumption. Namely, it assumes that people don’t lie, and thus all viewpoints should be presented equally. Newspapers aren’t supposed to print lies, and if one side’s argument is based on, or consists simply of, lies, then it’s conceivable that a newspaper should exclude that point of view. I’m not saying that that’s the case here, and the principle could certainly be abused, but there is no adversarial system for journalism as there is in law. To claim that there should be is to encourage flawed journalism.

Second, Kurtz claims that the NYT simply tows the Obama talking points. This would be a valid argument to discredit the piece, but only if campaigns never told the truth. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this is the case. Certainly campaigns do lie, but it cannot be given that their all their statements are false. To say that the NYT piece is invalid because it reaches the same conclusion as the Obama campaign is flawed.

Third, Kurtz claims that ignoring the FOIA request angle ignores an important point of the story. Put simply, information that is hard to get to does not by its nature necessarily imply a cover up. Journalists are not required to gloat about how hard their jobs are in their work, and the FOIA aspect of the story does not prove a relationship between Ayers and Obama. Addressing this point might merit further investigation, and that the NYT didn’t press the point might be an example of bias, but that is a conclusion that would require more evidence than simply not mentioning the FOIA requests.

Fourth, Kurtz criticizes the NYT piece for not proving innocence in Obama’s board selection:

The Times article purports to resolve the matter of Ayers’ possible involvement in Obama’s choice to head the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, yet in no way does so. Clearly, the article sides with those who claim that Ayers was not involved. Yet the piece has no credibility because it simply refuses to present the arguments of those who say that Ayers almost surely had a significant role in Obama’s final choice.

Here, Kurtz is using uncertainty to criticize uncertainty. This proves nothing.

So, I agree that Kurtz has some legitimate questions in this piece, but I feel that these questions were far overshadowed by his flawed questioning… and that’s why his piece is so dangerous. It is precisely the illogic above that we need to break away from in political discourse.

And, I have to add, even if Obama and Ayers were friends, how does Kurtz really think this would affect an Obama presidency? What impact would this show for future decisions? Would more vacant buildings be destroyed? Education overhauled? Is there anything in Obama’s legislative record to support that theory?

I doubt it.

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