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Rounding Up the Usual Suskinds



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I wanted to point to a section of the Goldberg File today (My word! What the hell is that at the top right of your screen?!? A subscription form?!?!?!) because I think it makes a really great point, but is a teeny bit unfair:

Suskinder, Gentler Press Corps But let’s not give short shrift to liberal media bias. For instance, when Ron Suskind wrote not one but two flawed attacks on the Bush White House, the mainstream media took it all at face value. To this day we still take it on faith that someone in the Bush White House mocked liberals for living in the “reality-based community.” But now that Suskind is embarrassing the Obama White House, everyone is deeply, deeply dubious that Suskind himself is a member of the reality-based community. Which — hey, look at that! — brings us right back to The Today Show. As Byron York recently pointed out, when Suskind was invited on The Today Show to discuss his anti-Bush book, the interview might as well have been conducted by Suskind’s publicist. When it’s his Obama book, he gets grilled as some sort of the flim-flam man. Or consider Slate’s Jacob Weisberg. He got the pneumatic tubes of the interwebs a-buzzing recently with his pretty devastating review of Suskind’s Confidence Men. The headline for his review:

Don’t Believe Ron Suskind His book about Obama is as spurious as the ones he wrote about Bush.

And here’s his first paragraph:

As an editor, you develop a B.S. meter — an internal warning system that signals caution about journalism that doesn’t feel trustworthy. Sometimes it’s a quote or incident that’s too perfect — a feeling I always had when reading stories by Stephen Glass in the New Republic. Sometimes it’s too many errors of fact, the overuse of anonymous sources, or signs that a reporter hasn’t dealt fairly with people or evidence. And sometimes it’s a combination of flaws that produces a ring of falsity, the whiff of a bad egg. There’s no journalist who sets off my [male bovine excrement] alarm like Ron Suskind.

(Note: I bowdlerized the term that rhymes will full-knit out of fear it would get snagged on spam filters like Dom Deluise’s cape when he crawls under a barbed-wire fence). This is all fine and dandy, as far as I’m concerned. Except, as Inspector Columbo might say, one last question: Why didn’t Weisberg tell us this before? Search Slate, which he was editor of during the Bush years and is now the CEO of, and you’ll find bazillions of references to Suskind. Weisberg even participated in an online debate with Suskind, and he ended up agreeing with Suskind and disagreeing with Bob Woodward, a point Weisberg highlighted in Newsweek as late as 2009. Funny how it becomes an imperative to shout “Don’t Believe Ron Suskind” only when what Ron Suskind has to say becomes inconvenient.

One of the reasons this kind of bias is so insidious is that it is, at best, semi-conscious, and often unconscious. In other words, I don’t think Weisberg woke up one morning in 2006 and asked himself whether he had a duty to tell his readers that Suskind set off his B.S. detector. Just like I don’t think he woke up today and asked himself how he could carry water for President Obama and discredit his detractors. Maybe he did — I dunno — but I think it’s likelier that neither of these things ever occurred to him. Because the most powerful bias of all is probably confirmation bias, and Weisberg’s B.S. detector probably really did just stark perking while reading things he’d rather not believe to be true about President Obama. And it really didn’t while he was reading things he’d rather believe were true about President Bush. It doesn’t make it any more excusable in the sense that ignorance — and self-delusion — are never really satisfying excuses. But I don’t think Weisberg and any number of other liberals jumping all over Suskind are twisting their mustaches over this stuff.

On an east-coast-cocktail-party-establishment-RINO-elite side note, I was actually something of a guest of Weisberg’s once a few years ago — at a Clive James book launch party at Weisberg’s boss loft in Tribeca. I recall him being a decent enough sort for the twenty minutes or so that we talked. Also, that the hoes-d’oevrues were skimpy, that all the important people were crowded around Malcolm Gladwell in a corner, and that a Capote-esque figure told me that his cats were on Prozac and gave me a sincerely wounded look when I laughed in his face.



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