Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Con(firmation) artists and consistency -- inevitable David Brook edition

David Brooks is deeply concerned with our divided nation:
This mentality also ruins human interaction. There is a tremendous variety of human beings within each political party. To judge human beings on political labels is to deny and ignore what is most important about them. It is to profoundly devalue them. That is the core sin of prejudice, whether it is racism or partyism.
There are some important points (and some questionable ones) made in this column. I'm not sure the 'ism' adds much to the discussion, but it's a topic that deserves more attention (and more pieces like this 2012 episode of This American Life).  It's also a topic for another post.

For now let's stick with the con(firmation) artists thread. That's my somewhat cumbersome term for a school of journalists who get away with cliched, factually-challenged reporting because they appeal to the prejudices of their target audiences and, more importantly, of their peers and superiors. It is a group strongly associated with the New York Times and best exemplified by Brooks.

Much of Brooks' success comes from his ability to craft readable, scholarly sounding pieces that use statistics and anecdotes to reinforce class stereotypes, particularly those held by people on the top have toward people on the bottom. Frequently, when he could not find suitable support for his arguments, Brooks has used facts that aren't actually true. This might simply be the product of sloppiness, but it should be noted that the sloppiness always seems to occur in one direction.

At the risk of oversharpening, if you take the paragraph above and substitute the concept of class in for party, every criticism Brooks makes applies to much if not most of his own work.  He has made a remarkably successful career out of understating the "tremendous variety of human beings" and judging them based on class and other crude demographic labels. What's worse, he continues to resort to statements that simply aren't true (like this claim about vaccines) in order to reinforce various stereotypes.

Does this behavior qualify as "the core sin of prejudice"? I'm not sure, but Brooks' partyism column certainly demonstrates a stunning lack of self-awareness.

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