Before I start the conclusion of the ideological bullies post, I’ll just reiterate that I like Slate and think they generally do a good job.
It’s too bad they have ideological bullies on staff, but they do. And since that’s they case, it’s good to understand common manipulative tactics. We talked about disguising opinions as journalism and shifting goalposts in the last post. Let’s have a look at two more common tactics to silence dissent.
Manipulation tactic # 3: The question is settled.
One way an ideological bully silences others is to convince them the question is already settled – in the bully’s favor, of course. Everyone else has seen the light. If you don’t, the problem is with you.
There’s a clever trick of citing a study as a preface to the real point. It sounds like this, “Well, polls show that the majority of voters already accept my premise, so my question is whether you want to agree now or a week from now?” The idea is to slide it past very quickly as a well-acknowledged and uncontested fact, which automatically puts anyone who doesn’t agree with “the majority” in the position of a fringe protester.
Dahlia Lithwick frequently cites unspecified and maybe imaginary proof, e.g., “Polls show the majority of Americans now think gay marriage is a right, so the question is…” Take offense if you will Dahlia, but before we get to whatever the question is, I want a link to the pollster’s raw data to review.
Bullies like to project evil motives onto their opposition. You’re either with the good guys or the bad guys. During Political Gabfest, Emily Bazelon and David Plotz agreed Caitlyn has received an appropriately glowing reception.
John Dickerson, who is Bazelon and Plotz’ co-host and the main draw of the show, pressed them: Does the media coverage represent the public’s views?
Bazelon snorted, “I think we can imagine what the grumbling is” and shared the thoughts of someone less evolved than herself probably are.
Manipulation tactic # 4: Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain!
One of the oldest tricks in the book is omitting and obscuring contradictory information. This is implicit in all manipulation, but is often a standalone tactic with ideological bullies. I’ll take the heat off Slate momentarily and direct your attention to George Stephanopoulos. The anchor recently interviewed Peter Schweizer, author of Clinton Cash. The discussion was notable for Stephanopoulos’ aggressive defense of the Clintons. He went on to question Schweizer’s credibility and accuse him of partisanship.
This was initially hilarious as Stephanopoulos. of course, actually works for the Democratic party when he isn’t interpreting the news. So he’s partisan, by definition. It became even stranger when, two weeks later, he defiantly admitted to donating at least $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation. I don’t think people expect much from Stephanopoulos, but he managed to fall well short of whatever low standards were in place. He remains on ABC’s staff, a telling point.
Let’s go back to Emily Bazelon, who is an endless source of material for ideological bullying. In a July 2009 New York Times Magazine article, Bazelon relayed an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The justice stated: “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.”
Wait a second. Which populations do we not “want to have too many of”? Bazelon was an experienced reporter who certainly recognized the explosive nature of this comment. But Ginsburg shares her world view, so Bazelon chose not to ask the justice to elaborate on what sounded suspiciously like an endorsement of eugenics. No follow up questions.
Ideological allies always shield each other and attack everyone else. But if the person being shielded, for instance, is deciding landmark cases for the United States, we deserve to know that. Or if the guy being shielded moderates debates where he actually works for one of the candidates, that is important to know too.
Before we decide whether to accept the prescribed world view and slanted coverage of ideological bullies, we must be able to recognize these individuals. The media is teeming with people attempting to push this view. I feel a little bad for picking on Slate, but it’s because ideological bullies like Bazelon and Lithwick have no place at an otherwise respectable enterprise.