Journalists versus gadflies

I find amusing, in a bitter kind of way, the first sentence in a New York Times article about Jerome Corsi’s book on Obama, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality (which is, by the way, one of Amazon’s top sellers and will debut this week as No. 1 on the Times‘ own best-seller list).  In the very first clause of the article, there’s an attack on Prof. Corsi:

In the summer of 2004 the conservative gadfly Jerome R. Corsi shot to the top of the best-seller lists as co-author of “Unfit for Command,” the book attacking Senator John Kerry’s record on a Vietnam War Swift boat that began the larger damaging campaign against Mr. Kerry’s war credentials as he sought the presidency.  (Emphasis mine.)

For those unfamiliar with this slightly old-fashioned insult, a “gadfly” is defined as “A persistent irritating critic; a nuisance,” or “a person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands, requests, etc.”   In other words, a gadfly isn’t necessarily a liar — he may indeed be absolutely right — but he’s so annoyingly persistent that this fact alone negates his message.

The rest of the article points out three factual errors in the book (whether Obama truly stopped using drugs when he said he did; whether he attended a particularly inflammatory Wright sermon; and whether he dedicated a book to his family), along with the implication that there are others.  It does not acknowledge whether the bulk of the book, aside from these three errors is true.  The article’s main point is that this is just another nasty attack, a la the attack on John Kerry (a book that also had mistakes), and that (nudge, nudge, hint, hint) Times‘ readers would do well to avoid sullying their minds by reading the book.

It was interesting to read the article, which complains about fairly small errors while assiduously avoiding larger substance, within minutes of having read Bruce Walker’s John Edwards and the Truth Scandal.  Walker makes a point many of us have seen in the last few days, but he makes it exceptionally well:  namely, that the Edwards’ scandal isn’t about whether he cheated on his wife, but it is about the fact that he lied repeatedly to the American people as he was running for President, and that the media was both complicit in this lie and unwilling to report on its unraveling.

Walker points out that we really shouldn’t be surprised, either that Silky Pony was really a sneaky little stallion, or that the media tried to create its own version of the truth.  (And here’s an update on the lies, and more lies, infecting that story.)  After all, the Left has always considered the truth to be the story that’s expedient at a given point.  Orwell understood this 60 years ago, but we keep being surprised all over again.

And that’s why I get hung up on that word “gadfly” in the opening clause of a New York Times article sneeringly attack a book that, in turn, attacks Obama.  Whether the book is true or not, whether it has big truths and small mistakes, or small truths and big mistakes, is entirely irrelevant.  What matters is that Corsi has distinguished himself by irritating the Left.  He is to be swatted down, not because of any substantive material he advances (and I strongly agree with swatting down people who advance big lies), but because he’s getting in the way of the Leftist juggernaut.  It’s that — not his factual errors — that make him anathema to the Left.  That is why the Times writes a snide article about Corsi, rather than writing a careful analysis of the actual charges in the book itself.

Given this approach to “journalism,” is it any surprise that the New York Times‘ stocks are reaching junk bond status?  Readers aren’t turning away from the Times because of competition from new media.  They’re turning away from the Times because they recognize that the product has become worthless.

In the 1930s, when Walter Duranty was peddling his garbage from the Soviet Union, people had no alternative sources by which to judge those lies, and competition was limited anyway.  The Times therefore could get away with this kind of shoddy Leftist journalism.  Nowadays, however, with the ability instantly to expose errors and bias, and with thousands of alternative media out there, a newspaper no longer can survive based on a sort of monopolistic cachet.  In order to distinguish itself, it needs to have quality writing (that always matters) and scrupulously honest reporting.  Since the Times is unwilling to deliver the latter, people in this fluid marketplace will always look for a better product.

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  • 11B40


    I agree with your point; an editor if not the writer should have caught the using of facts not in evidence.

    Alternatively, it may be a case of Thesaurus-itis. Sometimes writers check the old Thesaurus for similar words but don’t actually look up the definitions of those words to see the variance. I see this a good bit on TV also where the impulse to use a different word, perhaps to establish one’s superior vocabulary, actually leads to an inaccuracy. Other times, it’s more of the connotation-denotation thing.

  • 1Lulu

    The labels “extremist”, “hard-line” and “gadfly”, among others apply only to Conservatives. Hence Cindy Sheehan would be none of the above in the media, though she is all of the above in practice. The day the media describes Al Franken as a gadfly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a “hard left justice” in the same article that classifies Scalia as a “hard right justice”, then I will know we have actually achieved parity in journalism.

  • David Foster

    “Readers aren’t turning away from the Times because of competition from new media. They’re turning away from the Times because they recognize that the product has become worthless.”

    The NYT has hurt itself very much thru its political bias. Even without the bias, though, they’d be having a hard time. It is rare for a company that was successful at one stage of a technology to be successful in the face of a disruptive technology: it requires exceptionally talented leadership, and I’ve seen no evidence that Pinch Sulzberger qualifies.

    See Christensen & Raynor’s book (my review here) for a good discussion of disruptive technologies and busines strategy.

    NYT would be undergoing considerable suffering in any case: they have added greatly to their pain in two ways:

    1)The political bias
    2)The family ownership and 2-class stock sructure, leading to the retention of a leader who would not likely have been hired for such a position absent the family connection.