Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Olbermann, Glenn Beck, and Joe the Plumber

By now everyone with an Internet connection is probably aware that Keith Olbermann wants dirt on Glenn Beck:

From the Washington Independent, linked below, after the jump:
Glenn Beck’s Twitter feed has become a must-read. In a message from last night, Beck told his followers to “FIND EVERYTHING YOU CAN ON CASS SUNSTEIN, MARK LLOYD AND CAROL BROWNER.”

I don't know why I've got this phrasing in my head, but: Find everything you can about Glenn Beck, Stu Burguiere, and Roger Ailes.
Olbermann is engaging in some common Leftist techniques here, which are in desperate need of deconstruction.

Like the war declared against Joe the Plumber after he dared commit lèse majesté against The One, Olbermann is attacking the messenger. Somehow, he thinks that he can invalidate what Beck has told us, if he is able to dig up some dirt on Beck. That shouldn't be too tough; Beck is a recovering alcoholic who admits to have been a real dirtbag when he was on the sauce.

It doesn't matter if we like Beck or not. I sometimes think he's melodramatic, but he performs a valuable service by bringing out indisputable facts (including video of the man's own words) that the MainScream Media refuses to notice. Olby thinks that proving Beck has committed some infraction in any way changes those facts. It doesn't. The facts stand on their own merits. Logicians refer to this particular fallacy as ad hominem (against the man), because it fails to address those facts.

But the way the quote was worded, it appears that another common Leftist trope is in play. It's called "moral equivalence". Olbermann deliberately words his call for dirt on Beck, his producer, and his TV boss, using similar language to Beck's call for evidence against Obama Administration officials. He is implicitly employing another fallacy, with its own Latin name (don't they all have one?): tu quoque (you too!). Can anyone object to Olbermann doing to Beck what Beck is doing to Sunstein et. al.?

Yes, we can! There is actually an exception to ad hominem being a fallacy: When the argument is about the judgement, temperment, or veracity of someone we are being asked to trust with power, or whose testimony is being considered to judge someone's guilt, then ad hominem attacks aren't fallacious at all. They go to the heart of how that person will wield that power, or whether we can justly convict someone based upon that testimony.

If Glenn Beck held, or were a candidate for office, so that his signature on some piece of paper or oral instruction to subordinates could coercively direct billions of dollars of money (either by government spending it outright, or forcing individuals and businesses to spend it), or he were a witness at a trial, then whatever dirt can be found on him could be quite relevant. Unlike those he's been exposing of late, (apparently soon to include Sunstein, Lloyd, and Browner) he is not any of those things. In fact, he has told his audience not to trust him:
So do I ask you to trust me? Nope. Instead, I ask you to do something that this whole broken system of government and media has taught you not to do: trust yourself. Empower yourself. Take charge of your own life. Don't take my or anyone else's word for anything. Read, question every angle and trust your gut.
On the contrary, it is President Obama who asks us to trust him personally, that his ability to lead, to surround himself with the right kind of people to follow his leadership, will make all the difference. Beck is showing us what kind of people they are, and by extension, what kind of person Obama is. By unleashing the Kossacks on Beck, Olbermann shows us what kind of person he is.

[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full article.]
UPDATE: Olbermann has called off the Kossacks, at least for now:
I am talking about calling off the Baker Street Irregulars - while reserving the right to reactivate them.
It seems Olby read an NYT columnist express some reservations similar to my own, and decided he didn't want to "be Glenn Beck" by getting down in the gutter with him.

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