How Do You Get Away With Writing Something Like This?

Some days I think I am not cynical enough. An item from the Washington Post, by a man named Ed Rogers, runs as follows:

FBI Director James Comey has made two recent speeches where he warns us there is an emerging trend of police officers standing down or demonstrating reluctance to engage criminals because they are worried about sparking a situation similar to the riots in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore. Comey’s comments do not fit the Obama administration’s narrative on crime, and drew criticism from civil rights activists, law enforcement unions and the White House. Well, what do these groups have in common?  That’s easy — they’re almost all Democrats, and they may be going down a slippery slope of promoting policies that have the effect of being pro-crime and anti-gun at the same time. Calling Democrats “pro-crime” may sound a tad harsh, but if you are for inhibiting police activity, causing fewer arrests and making mass releases from prison, what else would you call it? The politics of this issue are not fully formed, but if the Democrats don’t watch it, they run the risk of being the “pro-crime” party in the United States. 

Now, I always like to assume that people I disagree with are operating in good faith; that they are generally decent instead of malicious, and not trying to distort or propagandize but merely seeing things through a different lens. And so my instinct, with something like this, is to start to patiently explain why it’s wrong. The FBI director has said, without any evidence (he has “a sense”), that Black Lives Matter is causing the crime rate to rise. Ed Rogers quotes the FBI director as if his hunch is factual, then dismisses all criticism because the people making it are Democrats rather than because they’re actually wrong on the facts. Then, using his assumption that crime is increasing because of criminal justice reformers, which he still has no evidence for, Rogers concludes that Democrats are now a pro-crime party. (Note the way he dismisses police objections to the FBI Director’s suggestion: police = “law enforcement unions”; somehow police unions are now members of the radical pro-crime left!)

Oh, but Jesus, why bother? Why even bother? I could spend 10,000 words carefully unweaving and analyzing Rogers’s falsehoods. But what could possibly persuade someone who thinks his opponents are literally in favor of crimes, i.e. that Democrats like to see people get raped and robbed? That would make all Democrats basically callous monsters, which I think Rogers might even say they were. You can’t have a sensible discussion with someone like that; I’m willing to assume that he’s operating in good faith, but he’s assuming that my side wants people to be victimized by crime. 

Sometimes, when I read stuff like this, and get angry about it, my friends ask me why I pay any attention to it. “I mean, yeah, what do you expect?” they say.

“Well, this was in the Washington Post! That’s a major national newspaper!” I reply.  “What kind of editor publishes an assertion like ‘democrats have caused crime to go up and are pro-crimes’ and demands no factual support?”

“Yeah,” says my cynical friend. “I guess I don’t really have as much respect for the Washington Post as you do. And I don’t really spend much of my time thinking about what some right-wing dick said about Democrats.”

Look, my friend is right. I shouldn’t get exercised over this. The problem is that I am desperate to assume that the extreme cynical perspective, which is that even our major national newspapers will print any old shit, and that people on the right are often not sincere disagreers but manipulative fabricators, is not true. I really don’t want to accept that conclusion, because I think it’s cheap, and I think it’s very easy to dismiss your opponent by just scoffing “You’re not serious” than actually engaging with the substance of what they have to say.

But I’ve looked at the substance of what Ed Rogers has to say. He’s deliberately misstating what motivates criminal justice reformers, and he’s attempting to convince his readers that something he has no evidence for is true. His editor bears equal responsibility, for allowing someone to repeat such an outrageous claim without any documentation.

I don’t mean to be a cynic. I really don’t want to be one. I want to clearly and carefully dissect arguments, because people on the right say that leftists argue with emotion rather than logic, and dismiss them as evil without hearing them out. But I heard them out on this. And I saw no logic, no substance. Just an unproven assertion, and then denunciation and innuendo. I saw a person who is a high-ranking political commentator telling me that I like crime, for no reason other than that I think police should be slightly more disinclined to shoot black men in the forehead. What kind of dishonesty is this? How can I be expected to engage in sober-minded political discussion when this is the level we’re at? How can I keep myself from coming to the conclusion that people like Ed Rogers are operating in bad faith, and are shameless propagandists wilfully opposed to the truth? I can’t think of a way. The evidence is clear, and though I’m loath to admit it, people on the right really often are manipulative fabricators, and the media really will just print any old shit.

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