Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Silly and the Ignorant

On Monday, when many Jewish blogs shut down for Yom Kippur, Glenn Greenwald wrote a long post called "A Glossary of Terms in Foreign Affairs".
As we debate the many scary enemies and exciting possibilities for new wars -- escalation in Afghanistan, our very own "Cuban Missile Crisis" against the Persian
Hitlers, the Socialist Menace in Venezuela -- events can become very confusing. Compounding that problem are the many complex, technical terms often used in media discussions of foreign affairs. It's therefore helpful to keep track of the relevant terms --- ones just from the events of the last week alone -- to maximize clarity as we debate our imperial responsibilities:
He then goes on to offer a long list of snippets he's cut from statements made by all sorts of people. The point of the exercise is very simple: The Americans are bad or hypocrites for saying bad things about the Iranians while being worse themselves. Anyone they've ever looked askance at, be they Iranian, Venezualian, Russian, Palestinian and what have you, are exactly as good or bad as the Americans, except that they're generally better. And of course, the Israelis are the worst of all, no doubt about that.

Greenwald probably has a handle on constitutional matters, the legality of torture, habeas corpus and similar themes he generally writes about. I doubt his positions are as obviously correct as he makes out, but at least he's arguing about things he understands. Foreign relations, clearly, are not his forte. As for basic things such as political context, wheat and chaff, historical depth precedent and significance - these are clearly beyond his ken, even though you'd think no-one could get through a freshman's year at college without at least bumping into them.

Using his method of snipping two sentences from any context and setting them up as proof of intent or identity or anything, I assure you I could prove that Yassir Arafat was a staunch Zionist, Franklin Roosevelt a fascist, Abraham Lincoln a racist, and Martin Luther King a male chauvinist pig and serial fornicator. (Actually, that last one, taken out of context, was true - though totally irrelevant to the man's historic greatness). Detach yourself from the world people live in, and allow yourself to edit their words to serve your purposes regardless of truth, and you can prove just about anything. (Well, I don't suppose there are any sentences that could be misquoted to make Gengis Khan seem a Wall Street executive, or Julius Ceaser an atomic scientist. Some leaps of anachronism truly are beyond plausibility. I think).

Greenwald is an important blogger, and many people read him to learn things. Were I to be caught writing a post like that I'd be embarrased to leave home for a month, but I guess Greenwald and I have different positions on intellectual integrity, and on truth and how it might be determined, not only on things such as whether Israel is the world's worst offender.

He didn't (stay at home). As a matter of fact, the very next day he was on television, explaining to the viewers of MSNBC that America and Israel are bullies, and Iran is their much-maligned and misunderstood victim. He proudly posted the You-tube link at his blog so readers who missed it might catch up.

The funny part of the story is that his positions were so outlandish that the person brought in to counter him was none other than Arrianna Huffington, hardly a fan of Bibi Netanyahu she. The sad part of the story is that of the five talking heads who appear in the 8-minute section of this current affairs TV program, not a single one - not one - had anything informed to say beyond the usual cliches. They were brought in to talk about the growing tensions between Iran and the world, or perhaps Iran and the United States. You'd think a panel on that would have included an expert on Iran, say, one on the constuction of nuclear weapons, perhaps an expert on the decision-making process in the American government, an international-relations buff, perhaps an expert on miltary matters, or the gathering of intelligence.

Nope. Two journalists, two bloggers, and an anchor; and nary any relevant expertise from any of them. Maybe it isn't so surprising Greenwald allows himself to write such intellectually sloppy blog posts.


Anonymous said...

In this month's Atlantic Magazine, Mark Bowden wrote an excellent piece called the "Story Behind the Story," discussing American news media and bloggers and snipping. This is a very worthwhile read. Here is the link:

Greenwald is only one of many, on all points of the political spectrum, who engage in these distortions. Which doesn't excuse. Just pointing out he has a malady we should all be aware of.

Joe in Australia said...

It oght to be spelled "cliches" or "clichés" if you're feeling pedantic.

Joe in Australia said...

And "oght" ought to be spelled "ought" .... Why can I not correct spelling errors without introducing one of my own?

Yaakov, I wouldn't critique these errors of form if I did not gain so much pleasure from your work's substance. So please take my comments as the compliment they were intended to be.

Yaacov said...

Hi Joe -

thanks for the correction, I'm not offended in the slightest. I've made the correction in the post.

Empress Trudy said...

Glenn and his cabal of fawning acolytes at Salon are not naive. They are actively and aggressively antisemitic. Moreover both Glenn and his sidekick John "Juan" Cole have spent the entire week at Salon grinding out one pro Iranian agitprop sheet after another. In fact in the entire history of Glenn's so called coverage of Iran he has never once had a single stern word to say about anything that has ever transpired there. And yesterday when somehow a reprint of an article from Der Spiegel criticizing Iran made it through Salon's censors, Glenns minions swooped down on the letters to the editor column denouncing it as Zionist lies.

It would be humorous if it weren't painfully obvious that Glenn, what with his history of ghost writing for Pat Buchanan and his legal defence of neo nazi hate groups, must be in the pay of the Iranian government.