Saturday, October 24, 2009


Steve Benen looks at this week's "Obama thesis" story and sees it as yet another reason why the mainstream press shouldn't be trying to pursue stories percolating in the right-o-sphere. I feel just the opposite: it's a good argument for a mainstream-press focus on such stories ... at least in theory. I agree that it probably wouldn't work in practice.

Here's what happened: Back in August, Brian Lancaster at the blog Jumping in Pools posted an alleged excerpt from Barack Obama's senior thesis at Columbia, the first ten pages of which, Lancaster said, had been given to Joe Klein of Time "for an upcoming special edition about the President." The thesis, as described to Lancaster, contained some rather un-thesis-like language ("In Los Angeles and New York, the poor reach to me with bleary eyes and all I can do is sigh"). It contained some language that seemed more appropriate to a wheat-pasted political flyer on a lamppost: ("Entitled Aristocracy Reborn, this paper chronicled the long struggle of the working class against, as Obama put it, 'plutocratic thugs with one hand on the money and the other on the government.'") And it insulted the Constitution in, well, precisely the way right-wingers would assume Barack Obama might have back in his undergraduate days (or now, for that matter):

... The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy.

Michael Ledeen learned about this from a reliable source -- somebody on Twitter. He didn't look at the date of the Jumping in Pools post, didn't notice that JiP describes many of its posts as "satire," and didn't check with Joe Klein, or even Google the passage to read how it was described by Klein in Time (or even to determine whether any "special edition" of this kind had been published since August). He just ran with it, in a Pajamas Media post. Rush Limbaugh ran with it also.

Klein pointed out that none of this was true. Learning he'd been stupid and gullible, Ledeen backtracked (though he stupidly described the quotes as "plausible"). Limbaugh made similar noises.

In a better world, this would be a great story for the mainstream press. It could go in the slot usually reserved for the bank robber who writes his note to the teller on an envelope with his home address on it -- y'know, not "The World's Dumbest Criminals," but "The World's Most Gullible Political Polemicists."

Or maybe the mainstream press could just regularly fact-check kerfuffles from the non-traditional media, the way campaign ads re regularly fact-checked. Done right, this would be a service -- and would be quite revealing. There'd be some fringy left-wing theories to be debunked, but most of them would come from way, way off the beaten path. Other subjects of debunking would come from ideologically unaffiliated kooks like Alex Jones -- again, far off on the fringes.

The right-wing stuff, by contrast, would come from "respectable" figures, with direct ties to the GOP and the conservative mainstream. And there'd be much, much more lunacy coming from the right. It would be good for America to have that pointed out on a regular basis.

That's what we'd learn if the press did this debunking correctly. Alas, what would really happen, in all likelihood, is that the debunkers would desperately seek "balance," so they'd make sure it seemed as if the wackaloon quotient was roughly equivalent across the political spectrum.

Still, in a better world, this could be done properly. It would be a service to America -- and an embarrassment to the right and the GOP.

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