Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Invidious comparisons

We had a speaker at the SWOTT conference do a presentation on bias in the media. One of her pieces of evidence was a picture of Osama bin Ladin which--brace yourselves--had detectably higher levels of red tint in it.

There are a number of things one could say here. Maybe all pictures on magazines have higher levels of red or, perhaps, some other visual alteration to make the picture more attractive or fetching to the eye. Maybe Osama bin Ladin has usually pale skin, or the photograph was over exposed. One could go on. These are the sorts of questions a social scientist would ask, questions that suggest alternative explanations and ways to test for them.

But when I asked, the answer was, "Well, the press has an obligation to show the truth in an unbiased way. I escaped from Nazi Germany and I know how dangerous it is when the truth is distorted. I mean unless you want to go back to that..."

There are a number of things one could say to this. Of course the most salient, at least for me, is the equivalence between our press and that of the Nazis. I don't know all that Goebbels was up to but I am confident it went far beyond 'tinting.' It is like calling in doctor for a sucking chest wound only to have him say, "First, let me have a look at that hangnail." But it goes beyond that. Sometimes a difference in degree is a difference in kind.

Suppose that you could put the American Press treatment of bin Laden and the Nazi treatment of their enemies on a continuum, it might be that their distance from one another on that continuum is so far as to make even implied equivalences tendentious if not offensive. Progressive income tax and Communism both reasonably be placed on a single continuum of policies to redistribute income I am sure we would agree. It would still be both insulting and unjust to react to a suggestion that the poll tax be abolished by saying, "Hey, I lived in the Soviet Union under Stalin. You want to take us back to that?"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Today begins the Summer Workshop on Teaching about Terrorism. I had a great time at the reception last night. It was such a change from the Al Musharaka group. Here are a bunch of people hear because they are interested in Terrorism and so I am not the only conservative. In fact, I caught a few people doing what I always do at academic conferences, giving my conservative opinions couched in non-committal language. So a guy who is an expert on WMD said that the window of opportunity 'may' be closing on taking out the 'possible' Iranian nuclear program by air bombardment. Another guy admitted to reading the National review, but only after several drinks.