March 16, 2005

Inconvenient things…

I’m still thinking about this notion that “facts have a liberal bias.”

If we’re talking classical capital-L Liberalism (i.e. Enlightenment liberalism), then, yes, I think this is an interesting and, perhaps, accurate assertion. The classical conservative is a tradition-bound creature and a worshiper of authority and received (often divine) knowledge. Americans are classically liberal. And journalism is a classically liberal enterprise. We don’t have many capital-C Conservatives.

Or do we…

Check out this from Slate:

In his new book, Taking Heat: The President, the Press, and My Years in the White House, Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary, lays out various “biases and predilections” of “the liberal press.” Among these is its ‘belief that government is a mechanism to solve the nation’s problems,” its insistence that “emotional examples of suffering…are good ways to illustrate economic statistic stories,” and its tendency to stay “fixated on the unemployment rate.” Fleischer might just as well have complained that the press believes the Earth revolves around the sun.

This isn’t liberal bias. This is Liberal bias (a bias displayed equally by FOX, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, etc.). It is certainly an ideological bias–one that can’t be helped. While our noetic field is different from the Enlightenment, it is still heavily influenced by that period.

Facts, sometimes, are inconvenient things for the classical conservative.

49 Responses

  1. Libteam 

    Inconvenient facts

    It’s been a while since I visited the Rhetorica Network. I think I just forgot about it and that’s sad because it’s a highly intellectual blog with a lot of thought and insight into the subject.

    I popped in today and read this post about facts ha…

  2. Sisyphus 

    Excuse me, but aren’t the quotes Noah attacks in his Slate piece from ABC’s The Note?

    Does Fleischer quote them in his book? Does he attribute them?

  3. acline 

    That’s a good question for Noah.

    I’m not attacking Fleischer; I’m merely using these quotes as an example of something that does exist. If they turn out to be from an interview rather than his book, as Noah clearly suggests, then I will correct this post.

  4. re: “I’m merely using these quotes as an example of something that does exist.”

    If you say so, but you said something different before.

    Get back to fundamentals…

  5. acline 

    S- I re-read the entry you cited. I’m not sure what it is you’re referring to re: “said something different.”

  6. In the previous entry, it seemed that you found The Note’s quotes to be fodder for “liberal media” bias ranters, whereas you had produced a different list for “L” Liberal media.

  7. acline 

    S- Well, I’m coming at this entry from a different angle. In the earlier one, I offered a list to illustrate some specific commonalities. In the current one, I’ve simply climbed a few rungs higher on the abstraction ladder.

    Do you think I have contradicted myself (entirely possible).

  8. re: “In the current one, I’ve simply climbed a few rungs higher on the abstraction ladder.”

    I get that: “facts have a liberal bias”

    I’m honestly not sure if the Noah/The Note quote creates a gap or a contradiction.

  9. acline 

    S- I’m not entirely comfortable with this idea. My post is really my way to work it out. Tell me what you think about the assertion.

    A gap? I can see that.

  10. re: “Tell me what you think about the assertion.”

    Facts are inconvenient whenever they contradict ideology. Just as the “fact” of the workers were inconvenient to the 19th Century classical liberals when they gained power.

    Or the “fact” that conservation was inconvenient to the classically liberal ideology of mechanism.

    Utilitarianism gave way to welfarism in Europe because facts have a liberal bias?

  11. rgrafton 

    Village Idiot checking in again to ask what is the genesis of the “facts are liberal” meme? When I clicked on the Google link, it was all lefty blogs, some quoting Jon Stewart, neither do I consider fair, balanced or reliable. But I don’t consider Tim Noah fair, balanced or reliable either. In Noah’s article in Slate, his point #1 presented the classic divide between left and right. Do we believe in a “hands off” government, or do we believe in “we’re from the government and we’re here to help” style of government? Obviously, Noah is from the latter camp, but that doesn’t make him right or wrong, it just identifies his politics. As to #2, as you (Doc) have mentioned before, you can prove anything with anecdotal evidence/reporting, but that doesn’t make it so. There is too much of this type of “tell a story” type journalism for my taste. Reporters could be making stuff up, for all we know, because how could we check it independently? And lastly, Noah doesn’t mention the hit our economy took after the 9/11 attacks. This was a unique (so far) situation, and for Noah to ignore it, brings back my original thought that this is just more political hackery. Of course, the True Believers are convinced and their POV is reinforced by Noah’s article, but he doesn’t offer much to those who don’t share his particular brand of partisanship. For a more interesting interview with Ari Fleischer, check out the interview CJRDaily did with him: http://www.cjrdaily.org/archives/001372.asp

  12. rgrafton 

    Good catch, Sis! I decided to wade through all the lefty blogs on the Google link, and it appears that Jon Stewart invented the “facts are liberal” bit. It’s just another way to say “we’re right and they’re wrong”.

  13. acline 

    RE: It’s just another way to say “we’re right and they’re wrong”.

    This isn’t about con-versus-lib politics. I thought I made this plain:

    “If we’re talking classical capital-L Liberalism (i.e. Enlightenment liberalism), then, yes, I think this is an interesting and, perhaps, accurate assertion. The classical conservative is a tradition-bound creature and a worshiper of authority and received (often divine) knowledge. Americans are classically liberal. And journalism is a classically liberal enterprise. We don’t have many capital-C Conservatives.”

  14. Sisyphus 

    “This isn’t about con-versus-lib politics. I thought I made this plain:”

    Or did he…

    Perhaps you should re-read the second half of your post, ac, rather than re-quoting the first half?

  15. acline 

    “This isn’t liberal bias. This is Liberal bias (a bias displayed equally by FOX, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, etc.). It is certainly an ideological bias–one that can’t be helped. While our noetic field is different from the Enlightenment, it is still heavily influenced by that period.”

    Yes, I did. Fleisher isn’t even remotely the point or the subject of this post.

  16. rgrafton 

    Well, Doc, you may be thinking in terms of Conservative and Liberal, but let me assure you that the lefties who post/comment on the blogs you linked to via Google are thinking con vs. lib politics when it comes to usage of “facts have a liberal bias”. The classic example (which I feared would cause me to have a permanent smirk) was in the comments section of the Kos post after Dan Rather’s Fake but Accurate Memo Report. Of course, there was much crowing, high-5ing and assertions that GWB Is Going DOWN, when amid all this triumphalism, one poster said without further comment “facts have a liberal bias”. In view of later “facts”, who could dispute it?

  17. acline 

    R- re: the lefties who post/comment on the blogs you linked to via Google are thinking con vs. lib politics when it comes to usage of “facts have a liberal bias”.

    Yes. But I’m doing something different. What has their inability to deal with this assertion as an epistemological question rather than a partisan question got to do with my treatment of it?

    Nothing.

  18. rgrafton 

    OK, you’ve dissed Sis because he focused on Ari Fleischer in the Slate piece (which, btw, is what the Slate piece was about!) and now you’ve dissed me for my focus on the Google link, even though the link was exclusively lefty blogs/comments about “facts have a liberal bias”. If you don’t want your readers to read the links, don’t include them in your post. But since you did include links to both Slate and Google, please explain, in non-academic language, what the purpose, and what your purpose was in including them. Some of us have obviously missed the point, and I would appreciate some clarification.

  19. acline 

    R- It is NEVER my intention to diss readers–especially ones as loyal as you and Sys. So please forgive me.

    Re: links

    If you use source material, you should link to it. Hence, my linking to Slate. You’ll notice I said nothing about Fleischer or Noah [On further reflection, I do think I should have edited out Noah’s final assertion. While it is certainly partisan, my use of it also appears to be partisan, as if I agree with it because I quoted it. Not so. Rather, I saw it as a natural Liberal reaction and, perhaps, a bit of proof for the original assertion. For example: Suppose a conservative society believes the earth is the center of the universe and the sun revolves around it. The fact that this isn’t so challenges that society’s world view. In fact, it destroys it. For the classical Conservative, this is violence of the worst sort. Hence, the persecution in certain conservative societies of those would gather and disseminate facts about the world. I AM NOT SUGGESTING FLEISCHER IS SUCH A PERSON!!!] The quotes–no matter from the book or The Note–simply happen to be an excellent example of classical Conservative thought slipping into the public sphere from an otherwise classically liberal-mined person (be it Fleischer or the editor of The Note). This doesn’t mean Fleischer is a classical Conservative.

    As for the Google link, I simply thought it was interesting to see how many places had used the assertion and how many different ways it had been used.

    My post was a stab at understanding what the assertion could possibly mean. I also took the opportunity to apply it to the discussion of so-called liberal media bias. It seems to me that the assertion is understandable in the context of the intellectual/political split between the ideologies of classical Enlightenment liberalism and classical conservatism (which have almost nothing to do with our contemporary use of those terms).

    One last thing: My final statement grammatically refers to the Fleischer quote. This is unfortunate in one respect: While I certainly intended that referral, I do not intend to criticize Fleischer for being a classical conservative. That’s a rare beast in America. I do intend to highlight, in regard to the “facts” assertion, the classically conservative ideas about the press he is credited with holding.

  20. re: “Hence, the persecution in certain conservative societies of those would gather and disseminate facts about the world. … I do intend to highlight, in regard to the “facts” assertion, the classically conservative ideas about the press [Fleischer] is credited with holding.”

    I give up. Really.

    Noah’s journalistic quackery attributing a fake but true Fleischer quote says nothing about classically conservative ideas about the press held by others. It says volumes about the quackery being passed off as “Enlightenment Liberal” press and critics being slandered as classical conservatives for pointing it out.

  21. acline 

    S- What’s Noah got to do with anything I’m saying?

  22. Because “fake but true” are classically [in the modern sarcastic sense] facts with a liberal bias.

    Noah creates a fake quote, but you want to know what Noah, whom you quote, has to do with what you’re saying. Un-F’in-believable.

    Not only is the quote so badly fabricated by Noah, it is not even representative of the flat Earth society you claim.

    ac: “The quotes–no matter from the book or The Note–simply happen to be an excellent example of classical Conservative thought slipping into the public sphere from an otherwise classically liberal-mined person (be it Fleischer or the editor of The Note).”

    So, fine, go back to the original Note and point out the classical conservative thought, please.

  23. acline 

    S- Okay…I get it. You don’t like what Noah did.

    Here’s a thought experiment: Pretend we don’t know Noah or Fleischer. Just two guys. The quotes as portrayed do, IMO, represent a CC ideology and do, as an example touching the interests of this blog, help me try to understand what the original “fact” assertion could possibly mean. We can certainly disagree about that. In fact, THAT would be interesting.

    BTW, do you have another source besides V. (I can’t get his page to load to re-check) that says the quotes are fake, which I take to mean untrue, i.e. never spoken, do not conform to reality, and do not conform to what Fleischer believes?

  24. Sisyphus 

    ac: “The quotes as portrayed do, IMO, represent a CC ideology …” [emphasis added]

    OK, I consider the “Mother Earth” enviro-whacko types to be demonstrating a classically conservative ideology. One that pre-dates the “Scientific Revolution” of mechanism. Pre-Francis Bacon ideology.

    Appeals to heredity/monarch-like authority and Divine inspiration of Truth fall along those lines.

    “as portrayed”, you see that in Noah’s quote?

    ac: “… that says the quotes are fake, which I take to mean untrue, i.e. never spoken, do not conform to reality, and do not conform to what Fleischer believes?”

    I am very interested to know what word(s) you would use to describe the accuracy to attribution and context Noah used. If “fake” is the wrong word, I would like a better one, please.

  25. acline 

    S- Now I see what the problem is. You think I’m dissing conservatives on the sly. I’ll bet you think I’m going to disagree with you about the environmentalists.

    No.

    Much of environmentalism is founded on CC ideology. CC thinking can occur anywhere along our simplistic right-left concept of politics. Democrats can think in CC ways just as Republicans can.

    Again, Fleischer and Noah are MEANINGLESS in regard to what I’m trying to do here–understand the “facts” assertion.

  26. ac: “Now I see what the problem is. You think I’m dissing conservatives on the sly. I’ll bet you think I’m going to disagree with you about the environmentalists.”

    No, ac, you really, REALLY, don’t.

    The difference is between criticizing the press as heretics and criticizing the press as charlatans.

  27. acline 

    S- Well, okay, you’ve convinced me. I have no idea what you’re getting at. But, then I’m thinking the same about you πŸ™‚

    (Remind me to tell you a VERY funny story about a presentation I gave at an academic conference, in which another academic and I talked right past each other for nearly 10 minutes…and no one bothered to put a stop to it haha!)

    re: The difference is between criticizing the press as heretics and criticizing the press as charlatans.

    Which of these am I doing (if you’re suggesting that I hold one pole of this dichotomy or that I’m doing one of these)?

    Oh, and this might help clarify things a bit: Do you think this post is about press criticism or engages in press criticism?

  28. Sisyphus 

    re: “But, then I’m thinking the same about you :-)”

    No doubt.

    re: “Which of these [heretic/charlatan] am I doing (if you’re suggesting that I hold one pole of this dichotomy or that I’m doing one of these)?”

    I’m not suggesting you are. I am suggesting that the example you are using does, and as a result, tints (taints?) the examination of the “fact” assertion.

    In other words, let’s say the doctor who bleeds with leeches accuses a Snake-oil salesman of being a charlatan. The Snake-oil salesman defends by accusing his critic of being a closed-minded, tradition-bound, authority figure. Both claim to possess “facts.”

    Which “facts have a liberal bias”? Both?

    Facts are inconvenient whenever they contradict ideology. The Liberal bias is found in the methodolgy used to discover those facts and the testability of the context surrounding those facts.

    This can be taken further to the ideology guiding the application of those facts. The classic atomic fission “fact” versus the technological application as power plant, bomb, medicine, etc.

    re: “Oh, and this might help clarify things a bit: Do you think this post is about press criticism or engages in press criticism?”

    I’m betting you wish it wasn’t, but you did “also [take] the opportunity to apply it to the discussion of so-called liberal media bias.”

  29. acline 

    re: “Facts are inconvenient whenever they contradict ideology. The Liberal bias is found in the methodolgy used to discover those facts and the testability of the context surrounding those facts.”

    I agree. But the Liberal is more open than the Conservative to facts changing reality. (Alert for unalert readers: Fercrissakes, please, I DO NOT mean left-right, Demo-Repub).

    Re: engage in press criticism

    Okay, but not on the level of criticizing Fleischer or Noah. I don’t care about them. They merely provide me an opportunity. In fact, I’m confortable with most of what Volokh had to say–except for his simplistic dichotomy. He was doing specific press criticism of Noah. Fair enough. I used Noah’s text to get at something else I wanted to say.

    Hmmmmm…so I think I understand you better. Now what? πŸ™‚

  30. re: “But the Liberal is more open than the Conservative to facts changing reality.”

    Changing reality, hehe!

    I agree that the Liberal is more open to adjusting his ideology when presented with new, challenging, facts.

    Rather than “facts have a liberal bias” it might be better to say that occaisionally “facts have an anti-ideological bias”.

    If your ideology is dogmatic, facts were never really problematic to begin with. That’s what faith and belief are for.

    There is an attractiveness to facts that prove wrong conventional wisdom and/or undercut The Powers That Be in some way. Of course, that’s not always the best measure of fact, but definitely tend to be facts with a Liberal bias.

  31. acline 

    re: changing reality

    As a transactionalist, I tend to see it this way.

    re: all that other stuff

    Yes. These are some of the same concerns I have with the “facts” assertion.

    re: “If your ideology is dogmatic, facts were never really problematic to begin with. That’s what faith and belief are for.”

    Yes. But doesn’t this provide evidence for the “facts” assertion?

    re:”There is an attractiveness to facts that prove wrong conventional wisdom and/or undercut The Powers That Be in some way. Of course, that’s not always the best measure of fact, but definitely tend to be facts with a Liberal bias.”

    Yes again. And this seems to me to indicate that Postman was right about thinking in terms of information (statements ABOUT facts in the world) rather than simply raw facts.

  32. rgrafton 

    I know this will seem wildly OT at this point, but I do want to respond to Doc’s comment of 3/18/05 @7:35p.m. with three points:

    1) Thanks to your additional comments, I have a clearer understanding of the point you were attempting to convey;

    2) Even with the additional information, I still think your choice of the Google/Slate links was a poor one—the Google links seem to counter your point, the the Slate piece—-well, I still don’t get how it advances your idea (but that’s OK, I don’t wanna know! πŸ˜‰ ;

    3) This is a good example of how the words “conservative” and “liberal” (big or little C or L) have become verbal land mines.

    One more thing which is OT to this comment, but on topic as to Sis’ “Lexicon” link; I thought it was interesting that when the Luntz article showed up on Memeorandum, the only bloggers commenting on it were on the left, in which they thoroughly denounced Luntz as a dishonest liar, etc. But to my admittedly untrained ( or maybe uneducated) eye, there is not much (if any) difference between what Luntz does and what Lakoff does. What say you, Doc?

  33. acline 

    S- Off to class now. Thanks for the “:Clout” link. I missed it first go-round. More on it later…

    R- re: poor choice

    I’m certainly open to that. I could have used a hypothetical example.

  34. re: “Yes. But doesn’t this provide evidence for the “facts” assertion?”

    I think that depends on how much you define classical Liberalism as founded on empiricism.

  35. acline 

    S- Yes. Hmmmmmmm…so how much of a role do we/should we ascribe (historically, mythically, etc.) to empiricism in classical Liberalism?

  36. Sisyphus 

    re: “… do we/should we …”

    What do the “facts” say?

    That really is your answer.

  37. Sisyphus 

    BTW, I’m less interested in your answer than the authority by which you give one and if it’s been “technicalized” to use a Postman term.

  38. acline 

    S- I’m interested in your last assertion. I’ve got some writing to do today on my essay. I’ll get back to this later this evening.

  39. acline 

    re: “I’m less interested in your answer than the authority by which you give one and if it’s been “technicalized” to use a Postman term.”

    My authority is academic and disciplinary. And much of disciplinary thinking is certainly “technicalized.” In regard to empiricism in classical Liberalism, however, I’d be giving you my opinion based on nothing more than my understanding of the situation. I could speak with authority on claims to empiricism as a rhetorical tool of classical Liberalism.

  40. “facts have a liberal bias.”

    “I could speak with authority on claims to empiricism as a rhetorical tool of classical Liberalism.”

    BINGO! Isn’t that what you mean when you say that the “fact” assertion is interesting and, perhaps, accurate?

    “classical conservative is … a worshiper of authority”

    authority derived from where? academic titles and disciplines?

  41. acline 

    re: what I mean

    Well, I’ll always mean that to some extent. It’s what I do πŸ™‚ But am also trying to understand the “facts” assertion in terms of accuracy beyond my disciplinary understanding–hence, the qualifier.

    Academia certainly has its share of CC thinking. Disciplinarity, to a certain extent, demands it.

  42. Sisyphus 

    re: “facts” assertion in terms of accuracy beyond my disciplinary understanding

    re: “epistemological question”

    re: “It seems to me that the assertion is understandable in the context of the intellectual/political split between the ideologies of classical Enlightenment liberalism and classical conservatism (which have almost nothing to do with our contemporary use of those terms).”

    Can you unpack that a bit more so that we, as participatory transactionalists, can be more effective?

  43. acline 

    S- I think it’s unpackable in terms of the third quote.

    I use the term “understandable” because I’m looking for a way to understand this curious assertion:

    “Facts have a liberal bias.”

    As a speech-act, this is known as an “assertive”: statements that may be judged true or false because they purport to describe a state of affairs in the world. F(p) in which F= illocutionary force (i.e. assertive) and (p)= propositional content (i.e. the subject “facts” have (possess as part of a state of being) something called “liberal bias”).

    But before we may judge the assertion as true or false, we have to understand it. Part of that means understanding it in a context of some sort. I linked to Google and Slate as a way of suggesting possible contexts (not exclusive contexts). And I chose to try to understand it in the context of Enlightenment Liberal thought versus classical Conservative thought. My choice was not arbitrary, but it certainly also was not exclusionary. We may consider this assertion in a number of contexts.

    Further, understanding requires us to understand the semantics of this act in the given context.

    I understand “facts” to mean: Information based on witnessed occurrences and/or observed measurements. I understand “have” in its conventional sense doing conventional grammatical work. I choose to understand “liberal” in the context of Enlightenment Liberalism rather than its current usage as an adjective describing our common understanding of the political left (or the Democratic Party) in modern American politics. I do not choose to understand “liberal” in this latter sense because I then am unable to make any sense of the assertion other than as a political canard. I understand “bias” to mean: A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment.

  44. Let me offer a suggestion, then.

    A new post beginning with, and building on, your last comment.

    I would also recommend relevant links to Situation Semantics or other applicable theories useful to “to understand the semantics of this act”.

    This is also important, perhaps, to remove the baggage associated with the contexts of this assertive utterance that you choose not to consider (and insist we make the same choice) found in the Google link and Noah’s quasi-journalism.

  45. acline 

    Re: new entry

    Okay. Look for it tomorrow before noon.

    Re: insist we make the same choice

    Yes, but isn’t this the same insistence every interlocutor makes simply by communicating? Participants are free to disagree and discuss.

  46. re: “same insistence”

    I’m not criticizing you for insisting on it. But I do hold the opinion that the interlocutor needs to be clear and transparent about what is the topic to be discussed.

    I would point you back to R’s “dissed” comment as the basis of my suggestion and the reason that what I am asking is not based on what you are insisting on.

  47. acline 

    S- re: clarity

    I still believe I WAS clear. But, then, that’s not necessarily my call to make. We’ll see what happens tomorrow πŸ™‚