Monday, August 20, 2012

Finally, a Name: Post-Truth Politics!

Via Jay Ackroyd at Eschaton an article by James Fallows in The Atlantic, which gives the name to a dread that has seized me and the nation: post-truth politics. Wow. Wish I'd thought of it...

Post-truth politics. That's what they're it calling these days!

Now we can call it something, although Fallows links to two other writers, where it is unclear who uncorked this gem of a term (mixed metaphors, anyone?). Still, Garance Franke-Ruta, also of The Atlantic, puts it well enough in the tag to her article on political lies:
Fact-checkers are no longer enough: If lies are going to be repeated, the truth needs to be, too.

All the pieces state the obvious, that if politicians are turning almost exclusively to lies, then journalists might actually have no choice but to abandon their "he said, she said," so-called balanced view in which the object is to report what different sides say without pointing out the obvious fallacies. Imagine that! As truth vanishes from the landscape, journalists will cave and face the job of rooting out the truth. What a novel idea.

Hope it happens before Hell freezes over -- or the Earth goes up in smoke.

There's no end to the material, as grist for the post-truth world, that the Romney/Ryan campaign produces, but let's at least take a look at the latest clunker in the truthiness department, Niall Ferguson's twice-baked take-down of the Obama presidency in Newsweek, entitled "Obama's Gotta Go."

I am not promoting this rag, just showing the scene of the crime.

Read the piece at your peril.

Then, to restore your sanity -- and partake in the sanity of others -- read the following smackdowns by:

Paul Krugman:
There are multiple errors and misrepresentations in Niall Ferguson’s cover story in Newsweek — I guess they don’t do fact-checking — but this is the one that jumped out at me. Ferguson says:
The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit. But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period.
Readers are no doubt meant to interpret this as saying that CBO found that the Act will increase the deficit. But anyone who actually read, or even skimmed, the CBO report (pdf) knows that it found that the ACA would reduce, not increase, the deficit — because the insurance subsidies were fully paid for.

Brad DeLong catches Ferguson trying to weasel out of the above statement, then skewers the man but good:
Niall Ferguson writes:
Paul Krugman Is Wrong: In my piece I say:
The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit. But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period...
I very deliberately said “the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA,” not “the ACA.” There is a big difference.
The "But" at the start of the second sentence in the quote tells readers two things: (i) that Obama has violated his pledge--that he promised that the ACA would not increase the deficit, but that it did--and (ii) that the rest of the second sentence will explain how Obama violated his pledge.
The rest of the second sentence Ferguson saying that Obama violated his pledge by "close to $1.2 trillion" by adding "insurance coverage provisions".
A reader who trusted Ferguson--and I hope no such readers will exist by the end of today--would tell you that Ferguson's quote says:
  • Obama pledged that the ACA would not increase the deficit.
  • Obama broke his pledge.
  • The ACA increased the deficit by $1.2 trillion.
Now comes Ferguson to tell us that he lied.

Sorry for such a long except. Read the rest to see the carnage.

Back to James Fallows as he reacts to Ferguson in an article entitled "As a Harvard Alum, I Apologize":

Yes, I know, you could imagine many sentences that would follow that headline. But here is what I have in mind right now:  A tenured professor of history at my undergraduate alma mater has written a cover story for Daily Beast/Newsweek that is so careless and unconvincing that I wonder how he will presume to sit in judgment of the next set of student papers he has to grade. It's by the irrepressible Niall Ferguson, it is headlined "Obama's Gotta Go," and its case rests on logic of this sort:
Certainly, the stock market is well up (by 74 percent) relative to the close on Inauguration Day 2009. But the total number of private-sector jobs is still 4.3 million below the January 2008 peak.
Hmmm, what might possibly be the flaw in this comparison? Apart from the fact that Obama did not take office until January 2009 and that private sector jobs have recovered better in his first three-plus years than they did under George W. Bush.

Noah Smith on his blog Noahpinion (love the title -- "Niall, the British Empire is over. Accept it."):
I have been known to tease a fellow blogger or two, but there is really only one writer who makes me truly mad, and that is British historian Niall Ferguson. I will explain exactly why he makes me so mad at the end of this post. First, though, I want to say a few words about Mr. Ferguson's cover story in Newsweek magazine, entitled "Hit the Road, Barack". I should note that it imposes a heavy psychic cost for me to do so, since it requires that I actually read Niall Ferguson. But the public duty to expose BS and promote truth and intellectual honesty overrides such selfish concerns.

 A long post but well worth the read.

Niall Ferguson examining his head, apparently to no avail.
 No worries, many others are busy doing it.

So we move into the post-truth world. There's a lot of work to do. As Tom Courtenay said in The Dresser (with Albert Finney), "Shall we make a start?" Thought I'd end on a British note.

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