G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.
I was somehow able to figure out a way to comment on a thread at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog on the phony infographic though GLP commenter Clarence from Baltimore suffered the fatal blows of Coates’ banhammer. Sorry, this isn’t the Marines; I had to leave him behind.
Apparently I still had one social media account available that had not been banned at the site. I’d run through all my Google email accounts, Twitter, one Facebook and some others like a 19 year-old runs though Visas and MasterCards.
The conversation was only superficially about rape statistics, and it provided a glimpse into the Machiavellianism that undergirds modern advocacy journalism.
Amanda Marcotte’s critique of the graphic made the rounds and was parroted by Coates and others. Marcotte wrote “the Enliven Project has the best intentions and they’re on the right path.”
Coates felt that Marcotte did enough by putting up a post in the first place that pushed back on the graphic. I, of course, disagreed. Marcotte could do anything she wants with her Slate space. But it’s important to deconstruct her thoughts on the matter – to look at what she did not say. Enliven deserves much more than just a gentle nudge and a “it’s OK, you’ll get ‘em next time.” Dylan Matthews of WaPo deserves much more than just a quick and non-judgmental exposure of his lack of journalistic chops and his dishonesty. Nobody has used condemnatory language on these people, yet they were sloppy and deceitful.
So I pushed back on Coates’ assertion that Marcotte’s post was somehow sufficient. I pointed out that she did not call Enliven or Matthews out for their shoddy advocacy and journalism. He responded:
No she doesn’t. Enliven is an advocacy group. That’s what they do. There’s nothing to be “let off the hook” for. I don’t know what else one would from her on Matthews. Taking apart the data and pointing out that he posted something that was misleading seems pretty fair.
I am saying that advocacy groups–no matter their politics–generally have a greater allegiance to their cause than to the most thorough presentation of facts.
I asserted that Coates thought that advocacy was more important than truth. This
sounds is Alynskyist – a modern, media/academic/activist Machiavellianism. He replied:
I am most certainly not. This post is here for a reason. Advocacy groups report what they think advances their ends. Journalists should generally be skeptical of any data they produce. I think Matthews should have been significantly more skeptical more skeptical.
But what he is doing and what Enliven are doing aren’t the same thing. You can’t attack Amanda Marcotte for not pointing out that Enliven was doing “Advocacy.” That’s what they are.
Except, Coates acknowledges that advocacy groups are inherently blinkered, yet he doesn’t think that Marcotte should take them to task for their skewed advocacy. I pointed out that Marcotte has never shied away from criticizing MRAs – Men’s Rights Advocates, as they are sometimes called- some of whom cherry-pick extreme data to support their arguments. Coates side-stepped that and addressed his own journalistic bias:
Indeed there is something very wrong with it. And whether Enliven was being dishonest or sloppy, their errors should be pointed out.
I think it can’t be separated from bias which Matthews and Marcotte–and for that matter me–certainly are. It is deeply tempting to be less than skeptical of those whom you agree with. But it’s a temptation we be in the habit of resisting.
This is the difference between critique and criticism. A look at the sausage-making process is in order. Just glossing over the superficial facts – the eye-catching graphic and the loose stats behind it – won’t fix the tendency of shrill activists to use the most extreme data and assumptions to push their agenda. The entire machine works in interlocked fashion, and it is almost completely pointless to cite the rebuttal of someone within that machine (Marcotte, and to an extent, Coates). This is an unveiled argument for myself and others who are often called “reactionary”. As some have put it, who will watch the watchers?