One of the things I landed on, hard, in my post about the great Rush Limbaugh smear was the fact that Media Matters, in order to smear Rush, did some very selective editing so as to destroy entirely the context in which his “phony soldier” comment arose. It seems that another “respected” member of the MSM has been caught engaging in the same tactics — although there is a caveat about this, because it’s unclear whether the source material is itself a fake.
Anyway, here’s the story. In connection with the Scott Thomas Beauchamp affair (that’s the one where TNR’s roving Iraq correspondent told some patently fake stories and TNR is sticking to them), Glenn Greenwald (of sock puppet fame), claims to have received an unsolicited letter from Col. Steven A. Boylan, the Public Affairs Officer and personal spokesman for Gen. David G. Petraeus. Greenwald reprints the letter with lots of ellipses, ends by throwing in his own opinion about the redacted letter:
Everyone can decide for themselves if that sounds more like an apolitical, professional military officer or an overwrought right-wing blogger throwing around all sorts of angry, politically charged invective. Whatever else is true, it is rather odd that this was the sort of rhetoric Col. Boylan chose to invoke in service of his apparent goal of proving that there is nothing politicized about the U.S. military in Iraq.
What’s interesting is all the stuff behind the periodic ellipses in Greenwald’s repost of the alleged letter. The Dread Pundit Bluto received, from Greenwald himself, a copy of the entire email that Boylan purportedly sent (and Boylan has not confirmed whether he did, in fact, send the email). Bluto reprints the entire email, bolding all the bits Greenwald left out — bits that give context to what Boylan allegedly said. Here’s are just the first few paragraphs of the entire letter, with the parts that Greenwald redacted highlighted in bold:
I had hoped to post this in response to your article, but apparently it is closed already.
I am not sending this as anyone’s spokesperson, just a straight military Public Affairs Officer, with about 27 months overall time in Iraq who is concerned with accuracy, context and characterization of information and has worked with media of all types since joining the career field in 1991. The issues of accuracy, context, and proper characterization is something that perhaps you could do a little research and would assume you are aware of as a trained lawyer.
I do enjoy reading your diatribes as they provide comic relief here in Iraq. The amount of pure fiction is incredible. Since a great deal of this post is just opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinions, I will not address those even though they are shall we say — based on few if any facts. That does surprise me with your training as a lawyer, but we will leave those jokes to another day.
You do have one fact in your post — then Brigadier General Bergner did work at the National Security Council on matters concerning Iraq. Not surprising as he had returned from a year plus deployment to Iraq as the Multi-National Division – North Assistant Division Commander. It would seem reasonable that someone with Iraq experience would work issues at the NSC that was familiar with and had experience in Iraq. All else after that portion in your post about Major General Bergner is just your wishful thinking to support your flawed theory.
So, right off the bat, we learn why Greenwald received the unsolicited letter, we learn that Boylan is not writing in his professional capacity, and we learn that he has just a few factual quibbles with Greenwald’s view of events. You should definitely head over to Bluto’s place to see the rest, and to get a sense of just how much Greenwald changed the meaning of the original text with his selective redactions.
As I noted in my Rush post, the tactic that Greenwald and Media Matters use is the “reporting” equivalent of those movie advertisements that say “Johnny Critic of ABS news said ‘It’s amazing….’” And then, of course, when you track down the whole Johnny Critic review, you discover he actually said “It’s amazing that anybody would pay money to see this piece of garbage.”
I’ve said it before and before, and I’ll say it again and again: if you read anything in the MSM, double and triple check the facts supporting the reporter’s or pundit’s conclusions. They often do not play fair.
UPDATE: I seem to have gotten linked at Salon, and I’ve had a few people take issue with the fact that Greenwald included a link to the original letter at another website. I don’t care.
The bone I’m picking is with the fact that he created a straw man against which to argue when he selectively edited the original letter and used that selectively edited text as his target. Once Greenwald did that, he created a strong disincentive for readers to trot over to the link and read the whole thing. His readers trust that Greenwald, in his redaction, nevertheless preserved the original text’s meaning — which he did not.
So my beef is with a stylistic approach to argument, not with the argument itself. There are three reasons that lead people to edit their opponent’s statements to suit their own argument, rather than arguing against what their opponent said in the first place: carelessness (my most common sin), intellectual puniness (and I won’t accuse Greenwald of that), or an agenda (which Greenwald openly displays and which Media Matters displayed when it went after Rush).
So, Greenwald had an agenda, and he pursued it. That’s fine, but he used a smarmy lawyer’s tactic to do it, and that’s not fine. He deserves to be called on that tactic.
UPDATE II: Check out Best of the Web, and scroll down for the discussion on 101 Ways to Abuse a Quote, which is another example of the point I’m making. Incidentally, it gives a name to the use of ellipses that I describe above: dowdification.
UPDATE III: Lorie Byrd has chimed in with her always interesting take on the ellipses issue:
The Greenwald post linked above is a good example of how those on the left have argued the issues surrounding the war in Iraq by omitting relevant facts. The media has done the same in much of their reporting. The way Greenwald omitted the section citing the errors Boylan noted from his post trying to paint the email as bizarre is the same way those on the left have debated the war in Iraq. They often link to a report, but then will cherry pick certain portions, while ignoring any favorable ones. In some cases, positive reports are not mentioned at all, but are omitted entirely. It is no wonder so many Americans still believe there has been no progress made in Iraq.
As with me, her beef isn’t with the underlying factual argument, it’s with the way Greenwald selectively editing his opponent’s writing to create a factual straw man he could then attack.
UPDATE IV: I had the misfortune to get linked at a site called Balloon Juice, which has a large readership, so I can anticipate a big dose of snarky, ill-informed comments coming in. Just FYI, after Balloon Juice castigated me for being unfamiliar with the purpose behind ellipses, I wrote this response (and yes, my response is snarky too, but I’m tired of being challenged for things I didn’t write or accused of being ill-informed about things I know quite well):
Sweetheart, I know all about using ellipses when writing to reduce the amount of text or tighten an argument. As a lawyer, I use it all the time to remove extraneous, or irrelevant material. I actually get that bit.
My problem was, and continues to be, that Greenwald removed substantive material to create a straw man against which he could argue. That’s a stylistic approach that interests me irrespective of the merits of Greenwald’s factual assertions (something I quite carefully and explicitly did not touch upon). I simply found dishonest the way in which Greenwald castigated Boylan’s writing after having edited it down to something that it did not start out to be.
So, if anyone is doing the la-la-la, hide the facts approach to writing, you’d better check in with Mr. Greenwald. All I did was point out the elephant in his intellectual living room. I didn’t put it there.