Thursday, September 16, 2004

When Relativists Try To Moralize

Slate's Michael Crowley, in a piece taking Kitty Kelley to task for her always-suspect reportage, can't ultimately escape his own relativism.

After pointing to example after example of Kelley's questionable accuracy (saying, at one point, "After close to 30 years and five breathless tell-alls, it's clear that Kelley is no meticulous historian who nails down her facts with airtight precision"), Crowley finally gives in to the Dan Rather defense: it doesn't matter if the "facts" are true, per se. False facts help us discover the spirit of the truth.

Says Crowley
...[I]t may be that Kelley has something valuable to offer, despite her unsavory means. The news media have largely given George W. Bush a pass on "character" issues and allowed him to rope off his first four decades as "young and irresponsible years." Particularly now that Bush's allies are savaging the young John Kerry's character, it seems only fair that Bush's should be subjected to a painful colonoscopy. The view might show Bush's integrity as not quite what the White House makes it out to be, and the public will be able to look it over with due skepticism.
In other words, it doesn't matter if the anecdotes in Kitty Kelley's books are outright lies, what matters are the questions they raise.

Crowley's argument makes little sense. First of all, it's prima facie ridiculous to claim that the media has "given Bush a pass" on character issues. But even if we accept his premise, there's a fundamental distinction between Bush and Kerry on this that Crowley and his political soulmates are too addled to recognize: George W. Bush admits that he was something of an idiot until he stopped drinking at 40, and claims that he has since been profoundly changed. John Kerry still points to the character of the "young John Kerry" as the reason we should elect him.

If John Kerry had come out and simply said "Hey, when I was young, I did some things I now regret. If I had it to do over again, I'd have kept my medals pinned on and my mouth shut a little more," he'd be leading by 10 points right now, and his service record would be a minor issue at best.

But Kerry's youth is relevant for exactly the same reason Bush's is irrelevant: because of the relative weight each candidate places on his youth as evidence of his worthiness to serve as president. Bush's youth is irrelevant (except as a "before" picture for comparison purposes) because he claims he's no longer the same guy. Kerry's youth is relevant because he claims he's exactly the same guy.

But aside from the political issue, it's profoundly disturbing that we now live in a society where many journalists believe that false facts and forged documents do us a service by supposedly leading us to some sort of deeper truth. This worldview is what has led us to Dan Rather's absurd "Let's not concentrate on the fact that the documents are fake; let's concentrate on what those fake documents say!" defense.

On wonders what other "deeper truths" they are feeding us by way of false facts.

No comments: