Sunday, September 03, 2006

Some Bias with Dinner

This article is noteworthy as an example of bias by omission. It deals with the subject of some comments that Rumsfeld made allegedly comparing opponents of the War in Iraq to Nazi appeasers in the 30s. There is one direct quote from a Republican that makes no reference to the incident, saying merely that Rumsfeld has done "a great job," and also a mention (but no quote) that Rumsfeld believes his comments were misconstrued. So much for the "cons." On the "pro" side we have direct quotes from Charles Schumer and Howard Dean and indirect quotes from Joe Biden and Barbara Boxer.

What is nowhere quoted, but would seem relevant, are the actual comments from Rumsfeld that started the debate.

This article didn't mind printing them:

Indeed, 1919 was the beginning of a period where, over time, a very different set of views would come to dominate public discourse and thinking in the West.

Over the next decades, a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be accommodated, then the carnage and the destruction of then-recent memory of World War I could be avoided.

It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored. Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else's problem. Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace, even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal clear. It was, as Winston Churchill observed, a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.

There was a strange innocence about the world. Someone recently recalled one U.S. senator's reaction in September of 1939 upon hearing that Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II. He exclaimed:

"Lord, if only I had talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided!"

I recount that history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. Today -- another enemy, a different kind of enemy -- has made clear its intentions with attacks in places like New York and Washington, D.C., Bali, London, Madrid, Moscow and so many other places. But some seem not to have learned history's lessons.

And of course, nowhere in here is it implied that anyone who opposes the Administration's Iraq policy is the moral equivalent of those who appeased the Nazis. What is asserted - and it can hardly be denied - is that the world faces a threat from "a new kind of fascism" (by which Rumsfeld presumably means militant Islam) for which many in America are all too willing to make exucses to avoid confrontation.

We can, of course, debate about the seriousness of the threat and the appropriateness of an armed response - but I don't think there is anything at all "unfair" about Mr. Rumsfeld speaking in these terms about the conflict. Notice in particular the line with which the quotation finishes:

Today -- another enemy, a different kind of enemy -- has made clear its intentions with attacks in places like New York and Washington, D.C., Bali, London, Madrid, Moscow and so many other places. But some seem not to have learned history's lessons.

If Rumsfeld is drawing a direct comparison between Nazi-appeasers and current opponents of the War on Terror, he is certainly being tactful about it. First, he concedes that the enemy is a "different kind of enemy." So much for any direct comparison to the Nazis. Second, note that the specific charge is that people have not "learned history's lessons." In other words, the accusation is not that people are Chamberlainesque hand-wringers, unable to act. It is simply that they haven't learned the appropriate lessons from history. The charge is one of ignorance, not cowardice.

One may well object to the conclusion, but the characterization is far from "unfair." More to the point, it is most decidedly not a reductio ad hitlerum.

The article linked above fails to quote Rumsfeld because it is attempting to mislead. I grow increasingly tired of people who continue to believe that there is no liberal bias in the media. I'm really not sure what else could explain the necessity of such a subtle character assasination.


At 7:31 PM, Blogger noahpoah said...

Saying that there is a liberal bias in the media implies that all, or at least most, of the media tend toward liberal points of view. This seems absurd to me.

"The media" is - sorry, are - anything but monolithic. I have a hard time believing that this kind of misrepresentation of a right-wing public figure's words is any more or less common than misrepresentation of left-wing public figures' words, statistically speaking.

I don't doubt that if you were to pick a media outlet at random, it (i.e., its editors, reporters, etc...) would have a bias toward one end or the other of the political spectrum. But if there's any overriding bias in "the media" as a whole, surely it's a bias to sensationalize, and surely this can cut either to the right or the left, depending on any number of circumstances.


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