Stating the Obvious in Las Vegas

"Telling the truth, if the truth hurts, is a 'gaffe,'" Markos Moulitsas said in his YearlyKos keynote address. "So you can't say the obvious -- things like 'capturing Saddam will not make us safer' -- because reality and Washington D.C. do not mix... And that's why we're crashing the gate."

Actually, what was clear at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, where the three-day conference was held, was that the blogosphere has already crashed through. And one of the greatest pleasures of the conference was hearing the obvious stated as the obvious -- instead of the usual "one side claims this, while the other side claims that" notion of "balance."

Nowhere is the danger of this false definition of balance laid out more clearly than in F.U.B.A.R.: America's Right-Wing Nightmare, by Sam Seder and Stephen Sherrill, both of whom were on hand in Las Vegas, signing books and fearlessly stating the obvious. They devote a seriously funny -- but also deadly serious -- chapter to how the mainstream media's weak-kneed devotion to what it considers balance results in anything but.

In "The Media Is Not Your New Friend," the authors focus on the New York Times, and on its chief political correspondent, Adam Nagourney, in particular. Using Nagourney's coverage of John Kerry in 2004, they show what happens when the idea of balance is combined with the media's internalization of right-wing claims of "liberal media bias":

The Times knows that the right wing considers the Times' coverage to be "liberal." This is deeply wounding to the Times, and they'll do almost anything to counter it. The method they've chosen for this is the idea of "balance." Balance is their paramount virtue.

What this means in practice is this: Every Issue Has Two Sides and They Must Be Presented Equally. All The Time.

No conclusions can be drawn by the reporter. When any fact that is generally considered true by the culture is challenged, it is immediately taken off the table of General Assumed Knowledge and put in a different category, the category of Things We Can Never Really Know... When that happens, the Times sees its job as simply to present "both sides."

This is what led to reporting that gave greater credence to far-fetched claims of WMD than expert opinion casting doubt on them. And to show just what lengths the Times went to in providing intellectual cover for the war (a.k.a. be "balanced"), Seder and Sherrill have a scathing section called "Tom Friedman Through the Ages," in which they show how Friedman would have written about other big events in history, like the fall of Rome:

(August 21, 410 A.D.) THE ALPS -- I was at a dinner party last night with some friends and was struck by their pessimism. Yes, Alaric and the Visigoths have overrun the entire peninsula, yes, they've sacked Rome, and yes, they have flayed and burned most of the relatives of the guests at the dinner, and yes the entire city is on fire, and yes they're slaughtering and raping the remaining inhabitants. Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I think this might be the best thing to ever happen to Rome.

Fortunately, because of the growing force of the blogosphere (and books like F.U.B.A.R.), stating the obvious as the obvious is also getting some much needed intellectual cover.

More Dispatches from YearlyKos:

Lenny Lind / CoVision Inc.

Lenny Lind / CoVision Inc.

Lenny Lind / CoVision Inc.

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