Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Quickies: Establishmentarianism, American Style

I hadn't planned to post anything today, but this article at Reason’s "Hit and Run" section about the 2012 presidential campaign goosed me too imperatively to ignore:

Competing fact checkers were now pouncing on hyperbolic claims at GOP presidential debates. Bookstores were filling up with titles like The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality. Then on the eve of the Republican National Convention, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse taped a virtual “kick me” sign on the campaign by telling Politico, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

Sure enough, the fact-checking establishment flipped its collective wig the very next day in response to the convention speech by vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. “Paul Ryan Fails—the Truth,” was the headline employed by liberal blogger Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post. “Beyond factual dishonesty,” harrumphed New York Times editorial board member David Firestone. “As I listened to Paul Ryan,” political writer Melinda Henneberger wrote at the Post, “I couldn’t remember ever hearing an acceptance speech so rich in untrue un-facts.”

The "fact-checking establishment" did indeed go to town on Romney and Ryan -- and in virtually every instance, Romney or Ryan had spoken the exact truth, while the "fact checker" was in contravention of it. The cited article lists many such instances. If you were paying attention during the campaign, you probably heard about a lot of them.

But what's most significant about the above article is that wee phrase "fact-checking establishment." Ponder it for a moment.

The aim of an "establishment" in any field is to decree who may, and who may not, play in its game. Sometimes, the "establishment" arises spontaneously, from the coalescence of a number of highly regarded participants; sometimes, it's merely a brassy, self-nominated group that wants control over the activity. In either case, it will attempt to demand a position of authority over its field: the power to rule some "in" and others "out." Viewed from that perspective, "establishment" is really just a synonym for "union."

Which leads us to an overwhelming question...
Oh, do not ask what is it; I'll put it in big print:

Isn't the notion of a "fact-checking establishment" inimical to the idea of objective truth, and therefore hostile to the checking of facts?

Food for thought.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

What have facts to do with their work? It's about speeding the creation of byvshie liudi.

Graybeard said...

It's also a defacto way of saying that news services don't provide facts or truth. If they did, there would be no need for fact-checkers.

KG said...

Hijack the language, and you dictate the terms of the debate.
Something the GOP has yet to devise a countermeasure for.