Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words


  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.



The Sophistical Serpent

The Sophistical Serpent

I doubt that politics in our present age in the US is uniquely nasty. The Greeks had a word for sophistry because they had sophists, and before that the people who composed Genesis 3:1-5 made the Serpent a sophist, who changes the issue from what did God command to what was God's motivation.

But to heck with taking the long view. It isn't just that activists and zealots will say anything to gain the moral high ground. Ordinary leftists don't seem to live in the same world I do.

The 26 Feb WSJ (p. A11) printed two letters that accused the Journal and its writers of inconsistency and thick-headedness, if not outright dishonesty. These letters show why our political discourse seems so rancorous and ineffectual.

First, Mike Dalen, the noted Public Censor of Birmingham, lets the Journal know that he is keeping track of their self-serving field switching:
In response to Daniel Henninger's Feb. 20 Wonder Land: "Why Do Democrats Call George Bush a Liar?":
I don't recall a similar editorial when The Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Republicans were dismantling and demolishing President Clinton. Why now and not then?

What Bill Clinton did was never very much in doubt, nor that he was lying about it. The whole thing ballooned because he persisted in his lies. Leave aside all the money scandals. He could have declined to contest Paula Jones' sexual harassment complaint and settled out of court for $80,000 instead of ten times as much. If he had, he would never have had to perjure himself regarding Monica.

Henninger's op-ed column is on to something else. He scolds the Democrats for endangering the Republic by insisting that Bush lied even as headlines show that he has been right about Iraq. But Dalen is not to be stopped. By cleverly comparing apples to oranges, he shows that the Journal has been inconsistent.

A few inches away on the same page, Mr. Howard Dupuis indulges his avocation as a part-time journalism professor by calling the Journal's editors to order on the fundamentals of their craft:
In reaction to your Feb. 20 editorial "The Novak Exception": You've missed the point: Plenty of journalists know many things-the identities of CIA agents, for example-that they don't print. In the extreme, no reporter would write a story about troop movements during a war. This is basic, obvious stuff to most folk, not some conservative-vs.-liberal deal. Bob Novak's guilt lies in violating that fundamental Journalism 101 teaching.

Serious stuff, except that, as the editorial pointed out, Novak had checked with the CIA and had been told that naming Valerie Plame as a CIA employee was not a problem. Mr. Dupuis must have missed that point.

In both these letters, we see leftists using the same rhetorical tactic. Henninger and the editorial make factual statements that need to be addressed and disproved. But our perspicacious pairing disdains the humdrum marshalling of evidence to challenge those statements: Clinton lied, Iraq was trying to build WMD, and Novak's revelation was scarcely a breach of security. Instead, they charge that the Journal is inconsistent and that Novak violated journalistic ethics, charges that would make sense only if they had established a different version of the facts.

It would be easy to lay this rush to judgment to distracting tactics, or perhaps just to inadvertent circular reasoning. The truth may be sadder. Look at Dalen's reference to "dismantling and demolishing President Clinton". Hunh? It is as though they don't just brush aside facts, but are in a world where the facts are different.


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