Monday, January 30, 2006

Poli-Psych's Day In The Sun

The Washington Post profiles the burgeoning sub-field of political psychology in an article from today's edition that describes several studies covering the effects of unconscious biases on political behavior. One researcher at Emory University found that tenacious partisans exhibit an extraordinary ability to spot logical flaws in political candidates' rhetoric—but the effect only held for candidates from the opposing side, as might be expected. Subjects took great pains to downplay the relevance of evidence inconvenient to their own point of view, and this behavior reminded the researchers of the way drug addicts find ways to mentally reward themselves for patently insalubrious behavior. The NYT spotlit this one study in greater detail last week.

But the study that's likely to stir up the most controversy (at least on the right) reached a not-so-shocking conclusion: that conservatives harbor significantly more latent racial prejudice than liberals. The psychologists probably used something similar to these freely available implicit attitude tests to assess unconscious prejudice and match those results up to self-reported data on political leanings. The Republicans quoted in the article fire back with their own allegations of unconscious anti-conservative bias, but peer reviewer and Stanford political psychologist Jon Krosnick says that the majority of the relevant psychological data support the study's findings:
"If anyone in Washington is skeptical about these findings, they are in denial," he said. "We have 50 years of evidence that racial prejudice predicts voting. Republicans are supported by whites with prejudice against blacks. If people say, 'This takes me aback,' they are ignoring a huge volume of research."
The political tactic of dismissing disagreeable evidence by accusing the offending party of bias or pushing an agenda is starting to get tiresome. It may fly in Red America but it's bad logic and even worse politics, because it allows beneficiaries to continue to deny their own unconscious attitudes even as those attitudes continue to influence democratic and social behavior from beneath the surface. Part of the problem is that there are no culturally safe channels in which to discuss race candidly in this country, and that deficiency causes inchoate prejudice to fester in the dark and manifest itself in other, more destructive ways. Some insensitive opinions will unfortunately prove resistant even to the most assiduous attempts at self-examination, but pushing back unjustifiably at the people who gather and interpret the data gets us nowhere.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Southern Dems Pull the 'God' Card

From a couple days ago: the New York Times reports on a disturbing development among southern Democrats—pushing "non-partisan" school Bible study legislation in a bid to solicit votes from Christian values voters. Their proposals purport to "teach the Bible as literature," as opposed to similar GOP bills which would support using the Bible as the primary text and (as implied in the article by Alabama state senator Eric Johnson) require or encourage the teachers to be observant Christians (!). Leaving aside the question of whether or not this is a sound idea in principle for Dems, it seems as though such a Third-Wayish approach to religion will probably backfire both with secular liberals who feel it goes too far and with cultural conservatives who feel it doesn't go far enough. Tim Kaine showed that faith can be successfully woven into Democratic electoral campaigns if it's perceived as sincere, but somehow I doubt the ecumenical tack adopted by the aforementioned southern Dems will come off as such, especially with the GOP offering evangelical hardliners a much juicier alternative.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Impeachment Meme Continues To Spread

Noted without comment: the Lexington Herald-Leader runs the headline "More Americans favor impeaching Bush, poll says." The plot thickens . . .

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A "Game" No Longer

It seems no one quite knows what to make of today's Insight Magazine report, sourced by the usual anonymous administration insiders, that impeachment proceedings are about to be brought forth in Congress. The confusion stems from the fact that Insight is an expressly right-wing publication (it's published by the Washington Times Corporation) and as such bears little resemblance to the other news outlets in which impeachment has heretofore been seriously discussed. The White House's poorly-advised warrantless wiretapping program is what's driving the impeachment coalition, which is said to include some Republicans who disapprove of Bush's end run around FISA. But Arlen Specter, the only major Congressional player who has dared flirt with the I-word publicly, did so in the most noncommittal of fashions last week when he told George Stephanopolous that "impeachment is a remedy" to presidential malfeasance. So the reader is asked to take the word of the article's secret source at face value, a leap made somewhat easier by the magazine's conservative orientation.

But why Insight would want to break this particular scoop is a genuine headscratcher. Any media mention of impeachment, especially in a news context that couldn't possibly be interpreted as anti-Bush, contributes to its validation in the eyes of the public. Unless someone has made a major mistake or there's some other outlandish explanation, this report should be taken as particularly strong evidence that impeachment is indeed a strong possibility. All we can do is wait and see at this point, but this new development makes the "game" look a great deal more serious than it did yesterday.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Another One Bites The Dust

Via Romenesko, we are invited to mourn the passing of the "scrupulously fair-minded" monthly magazine Legal Affairs, which has tanked after five years. It was widely acclaimed by both the left and right as a vehicle for low-spin coverage of legal issues, and its articles have been cited by such authorities as the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Harvard Law Review. Editor Lincoln Caplan explains the logistical difficulties into which modern times have plunged so-called "thought-leader" publications:
For generations, the business model for thought-leader magazines largely depended on a combination of paid subscriptions and paid advertising. Increased competition for readers' time and the shift of advertisers over the past ten years to TV, the Internet, and other media have reduced both sources of revenue for many thought-leader outlets. With rare exceptions, the print magazines most respected as shapers of ideas, opinions, and perspectives either are maintained by wealthy owners who regard the publications as vehicles for participating in public affairs, or are supported by ideologically defined philanthropic contributions, or are struggling to develop new business models that will allow the magazines to maintain their vitality and independence.
Looks like Joseph Epstein was right about one thing: "reasoned cogency" sure doesn't reel 'em in like it used to.

EDIT: More on LA's shuttering from the Reality-Based Community's Steven Teles, who unlike me appears to have actually read an issue or two.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Blog Comments: A Few Naive Observations

How important is it for a newspaper to allow readers to leave comments on its web site? That's the unstated question underwriting the number-one current affair among web media critics, namely Washington Post executive editor Jim Brady's recent decision to suspend comments to one of the paper's blogs after a flood of "profanity and hate speech." Most of the harsh rhetoric was directed against ombudswoman Deborah Howell, who on Sunday made the following factually-challenged statement in a piece defending the reporters who'd broken the Abramoff scandal:
Schmidt quickly found that Abramoff was getting 10 to 20 times as much from Indian tribes as they had paid other lobbyists. And he had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties.
According to Brady, this misrepresentation set off a firestorm of profane ad-hominem attacks from angry liberals in's comments section, which was eventually closed at 4:15 pm on Thursday, Jan. 19. Last night editors restored "some previously posted comments" to the offending blog post, but new comments are still shuttered.

Jay Rosen offers the definitive take on this controversy, incorporating a brief summary of events leading to the shutdown, an informative Q&A session with Brady, his own typically incisive analysis, and reactions from interested parties. Rosen and the other old-media experts try to play it nice and detached with the liberal bloggers, but Steve Gilliard's, Atrios', and Jane Hamsher's rage at Brady's decision can barely be contained. The gist of their complaint is that the Washington Post is unresponsive to and uninterested in reader criticism, a charge that ignores the paper's pioneering leadership among national news dailies in integrating public feedback into its online presence (cf. its chat sessions, Technorati links, and the fact that its other blogs still allow comments).

All the bandwidth spent debating this affair prompted the question that leads off this post: what's the big deal? The Washington Post is the only national newspaper that offers readers the opportunity to make public comments on its content—is this a right or a privilege? Rosen contends that silencing 'partisans' is bad for business; Brady answers that his concern is tone rather than tendentiousness per se. Brady makes a valid point: the Post should in theory be able to apply the same content standards to its comment areas as it does to letters to the editor. I say 'in theory' because the same technology that makes it easier and more attractive for readers to post comments online than write letters to the editor also makes policing the former more difficult than the latter. One of the more common observations made about this whole situation is that rhetorical civility on the Web is a typical casualty of high site visibility combined with perceived anonymity, and that it was foolish of the Post's editors to expect genteel discourse to erupt spontaneously in a moderation-free environment. If so, perhaps it was a mistake (from the Post's perspective) to offer readers the opportunity to post unsupervised comments in the first place.

Steve Gilliard says moderators aren't necessary to keep comment areas clean, citing Slashdot and the Daily Kos as examples. But both are apples to the Post's orange: Slashdot doesn't generally cover politics and DKos's members all share the same underlying value system. It seems likely that due to lack of agreement over what constitutes news "objectivity," living moderators would probably be necessary to enforce the Post's brand of politeness/relevance. The problem wouldn't stop there, though: overzealous readers would continue bickering over the definition of "relevant commentary" and skirting the limits of good taste.

Despite all the foregoing concerns, it may yet be that offering readers the opportunity to respond publicly to the Post's stories on the Post's web site is a compelling public interest that takes precedence over the staff's interest in not seeing their site sullied by libel and profanity. In my view, this has not been conclusively shown. Much as I hate to agree with Glenn Reynolds, the blogosphere already churns out more daily news commentary than one person could possibly consume, and readers can still email comments to the appropriate Post employees and participate in live chat sessions.

I hasten to add that the ability to leave comments on newspaper web sites is a feature well worth pursuing, and I hope that the Post can find a way to make it work for its more contentious content. In fact, judicious moderation could (if we're lucky) help's comment threads develop a reputation for intelligent inter-ideological conversation, something the blogosphere sorely lacks today. But are comments necessary? Probably not. We got along perfectly well with our non-interactive newspapers before the Internet came along (much better, as it turns out), and it's easier now than ever for laypeople to get their media criticism heard. Taking reporters and editors to task when they err is still vitally important, but unwarranted vitriol from the fringes only cheapens the enterprise for all involved, regardless of what site it appears on.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Osama Tape: What It Means And What He Wants

Earlier today I spent about an hour browsing the Internet for clues about the reasoning and timing behind the recently-released Bin Laden audio tape, in which the terror mastermind both threatens and attempts to appease the United States. Conservative bloggers appear united in their attempts to spin the tape as evidence of a weakened al-Qaeda, but I doubt its subject would so transparently showcase his vulnerabilities. After analyzing the effects of the second-to-last OBL media release, I came to a similar yet somehow different conclusion—the effect of this tape, if not the intention, will be to vindicate Bush's aggressive tactics in the general public's eyes.

The Al-Jazeera satellite TV network broadcast Bin Laden's last audio tape on Dec. 27th, 2004, in time for him to exhort Iraqis not to vote in the upcoming national assembly elections. It didn't receive much media attention here in the U.S. because the Asian tsunami, which had struck just the day before, was dominating the news at the time. But OBL's videotaped message from Oct. 29th, 2004 (only days before the presidential election) produced a marked poll jump for the president and may have even sealed his victory. As the oft-quoted unnamed Bush campaign official said at the time, "We want people to think 'terrorism' for the last four days, [a]nd anything that raises the issue in people's minds is good for us." As it was then, so it is today: Bin Laden is sharp enough to know that his ominous visage and voice strike fear into the hearts of the American public, which translates into poll gains for the party perceived as tougher on terrorism. His indirect potshot at those of us who oppose the war only serves to further marginalize liberals who advocate an immediate pullout (which, according to The Right, is all of us) while strengthening conservatives. However, it's worth noting that most Americans do, according to polls, oppose withdrawing from Iraq immediately, so bin Laden's appeal to public sentiment appears ill-informed.

Most commentators have correctly observed that any overtures toward peace from al-Qaeda probably aren't sincere, but that its threats should be taken seriously. We should always keep in mind that Bin Laden is releasing these tapes for a purpose, and while it's impossible to state unqualifiably that he intends for his public statements to provoke America's militaristic impulses, it's difficult to imagine that he's unaware of their effects.

EDIT: Commenter 'antimedia' asks what bin Laden would have to gain by baiting the US into more aggressive involvement in the Middle East. The answer is simple—many, if not most, residents of Islamic countries already distrust and fear the United States, and our military incursions into their territory exacerbate those sentiments. In other words, every American bomb dropped upon a Muslim nation further galvanizes pan-Islamic public opinion against us, which can only help bin Laden.

FURTHER EDIT: Jefferson Morley of the WaPo blog World Opinion Roundup has compiled a number of similar opinions.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Fetishizing the Media's 'Golden Age'

Something leapt out at me in a recent post about a 'fake' NYT photo on the conservative blog The American Thinker—seems Joseph Epstein's not the only right-winger lamenting the deterioration of this country's news quality:
It appears that the Times, once-upon-a-time regarded as the last word in reliability when it comes to checking before publishing (which makes them so much better than blogs, of course), has run a fake photo on the home page of its website. The photo has since been removed from the home page, but still can be seen here.

. . .

So the formerly authoritative New York Times has published a picture distributed around the world on the home page of its website, using a prop which must have been artfully placed to create a false dramatic impression of cruel incompetence on the part of US forces.
I'm a fairly young man (25 this past December), so I might be forgiven for not recalling in detail this Golden Age of News Media, when the stories were all 100% error-free and the journalists carried no agenda other than keeping the public as objectively informed as possible. That's one explanation; another is that the recent proliferation of online media police has merely increased the number of errors and inconsistencies the public hears about. Still, a comprehensive study to answer the question of whether the overall number of newspaper story errors has risen in recent years might help explain why the media's credibility has sustained such damage lately. My own guess would be that for various reasons, people are now more motivated than ever to find fault with the news, and that the memory of a mythically vigilant and universally trusted press is nothing more than the misbegotten offspring of imagination and nostalgia.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Joseph Epstein and the Fall of the Newspaper

Media Nation points us to today's item of discussion, a medium-length essay from this month's Commentary magazine about the decline of the American newspaper written by author and Weekly Standard contributor Joseph Epstein. Things aren't like they used to be, says Epstein, who wistfully longs for the days when Walter Lippman accorded universal respect among the educated and a person's socioeconomic status and political inclinations could be surmised by his choice of newspaper. The American public has been abandoning traditional papers for other information sources over the past fifteen or so years for four main reasons, he tells us:

1) The overwhelming surfeit of information now available via television, the Internet and wireless devices has drawn (particularly young) people away from newsprint-based media.

2) The one-size-fits-all format of newspapers is ill-equipped to serve a public that wants and expects an individually-tailored flow of information that is delivered instantly, free of personally irrelevant material, and congenial to its existing opinions.

3) University-educated journalists use newspapers to foment unwarranted public anxiety and advance their own left-wing agendas.

4) Once the exclusive province of supermarket gossip-rags, lurid scandal- and celebrity-driven material has infected even the "serious" media in this country in their desperate attempts to boost readership at any cost.

Points 1 and 2 are well-taken if rather obvious, and I have emphasized both on several occasions; point 4 is also depressingly evident. As a liberal, I am ideologically obligated to argue against point 3, which in this case isn't very difficult. Epstein principally faults "investigative journalism" for"put[ing] in place among us a tone and temper of agitation and paranoia"—in other words, scandal-mongering for profit. But this is merely an extreme formulation of the newspaper's Fourth Estate role, which many papers were rightly pilloried for not fulfilling during the run-up to the Iraq war. And consider the alternative: a media that offered little more than government cheerleading would probably draw an even smaller readership than it does today.

The overuse of information leaks as raw material for investigative reporting, Epstein continues, degrades a paper's credibility, especially when the reported information turns out not to be true. Granted, I guess, but an administration that valued debate and dissent would allow its employees to speak on-the-record without fear of termination. As Jay Rosen has explained, the current White House has engaged in a concerted attempt to starve the press of the resources it needs to do its job properly, thus not only shielding its own inner workings from the public eye but also indirectly contributing to the media's credibility backslide by driving outlets to rely on secret sources.

Epstein also plays the standard right-wing "liberal media" card, arguing that because most university humanities departments are liberal, and because most modern journalists graduated from such departments, they must be pushing a liberal agenda on the job. These sentiments will surely ring true in the collective intuition of Commentary's conservative subscribers, but he offers no evidence that any one reporter or paper has consistently pushed any specific agenda, nor does he define which aspects of "liberalism" newspapers might be most likely to promote. Epstein also has this to say about journalism's halcyon days:
Pre-university-educated journalists did not, I suspect, feel that the papers they worked for existed as vehicles through which to advance their own political ideas. Some among them might have hated corruption, or the standard lies told by politicians; from time to time they might even have felt a stab of idealism or sentimentality. But they subsisted chiefly on cynicism, heavy boozing, and an admiration for craft. They did not treat the news—and editors of that day would not have permitted them to treat the news—as a trampoline off which to bounce their own tendentious politics.
A little hard data would have gone a long way toward validating this opinion as more than just a sentimental slice of nostalgia. To my knowledge, it has never been conclusively demonstrated that the median political bias of American newspapers has shifted left over the past 50-odd years. And even if such a shift could be proved, there's no evidence that many or most journalism schools routinely indoctrinate their students with a liberal viewpoint. Of course, all of this could very well be true, but it'll take more than some old coot's say-so to prove it.

In his conclusion, Epstein concedes that he doesn't have a cure in mind for newspapers' persistent case of malaise. He describes his ideal journalistic preferences thusly:
for a few serious newspapers to take the high road: to smarten up instead of dumbing down, to honor the principles of integrity and impartiality in their coverage, and to become institutions that even those who disagreed with them would have to respect for the reasoned cogency of their editorial positions.
But even he's pragmatic enough to see that general-circulation papers pursuing such a course would quickly crash and burn in this day and age. The bold and skeptical "impartiality" to which Epstein and most American media critics on the left and right pay so much reverence has unfortunately been obsolete for years. In its place we find in our papers a journalism rendered toothless and exhausted by constant allegations of bias and online a near-total information polarization between adverse ideologies. I can't predict the future any better than Epstein, but judging from what I've seen, news objectivity doesn't look to be in the cards.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Impeachment Game mk. II

Occasional Nation contributor and key Nixon impeacher Elizabeth Holtzman weighs in on Bush's eligibility for involuntary removal from office in a recent online piece. Contrary to my recent musings on the subject, she observes that discussion of impeachment is on the rise in Congress and among "ordinary" people, of which I doubt many Nation readers consider themselves members. While the evidence she advances concerning the illegality of the president's warrantless-wiretapping program is indeed troubling, Holtzman's essay overlooks the main reason that impeachment is still extremely unlikely at this time: its standards are sufficiently high and vague that initiating the process is effectively left up to the discretion of the dominant party in Congress. The Wikipedia article on impeachment underscores this point:
For the executive branch, only those who have allegedly committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" may be impeached. Although treason and bribery are obvious, the Constitution is silent on what constitutes a "high crime." Several commentators have suggested that Congress alone may decide for itself what constitutes an impeachable offense.
A casual look back at American history is all that's necessary to see that the passage of impeachment proceedings against a president is an exceedingly rare event. A slightly closer investigation reveals that all three Congresses that successfully passed articles of impeachment were controlled by the party opposing the president. Historical precedents aside, Holtzman fails to address the significant divisions in American public opinion regarding the propriety of warrantless wiretapping and, more generally, the president's conduct vis-a-vis the War on Terror and Iraq. The preponderance of the available evidence suggests that impeachment requires either 1) behavior universally recognized across party and ideological lines as criminal and unforgivable or, 2) given less transparently malicious evidence, an unfriendly Congress. Since neither of those conditions prevail today, I continue to denounce all impeachment-related activity as dangerously quixotic and dispossessive of more productive liberal pursuits.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

ID Just Doesn't Know When To Quit

In his highly readable opinion on Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, US District Court Judge John E. Jones III meticulously explains how the Intelligent Design movement adapted its recent attempts to manipulate biology class curricula from a series of court-invalidated creationist strategies. He traces the history of fundamentalist opposition to evolution from the 19th century to the present, as reactionary Christian forces were pushed by the legal system from openly cowing public school districts into banning Darwinism outright through "balanced treatment" and "creation science" to its current machinations, which involve nominally subtracting God from the controversy. Now that Jones has prudently ruled against teaching ID in science classes, its supporters have found yet another as-yet-unplugged loophole: offering a high school philosophy course that purports to "teach the controversy" while in fact promoting ID.

To the extent that Intelligent Design has any place in the classroom, it should probably be addressed in a philosophy or sociology course that focuses on the advocacy movement itself rather than its dubious "scientific" pretensions. But it's clear from a cursory glance at its syllabus that the current class is nothing more than an attempted end run around the Dover decision:
In their suit, the parents said the syllabus originally listed 24 videos to be shown to students, with 23 "produced or distributed by religious organizations and assume a pro-creationist, anti-evolution stance." They said the syllabus listed two evolution experts who would speak to the class. One was a local parent and scientist who said he had already refused the speaking invitation and was now suing the district; the other was Francis H. C. Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, who died in 2004.

A course description distributed to students and parents said, "This class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."
The California school board that approved this course has very closely followed the pattern of legal circumvention set by its ideological forebears and detailed in the Kitzmiller opinion. Fortunately, one unstated subtext of Jones' history is that every constitutional and statutory roadblock these religious fanatics encounter seems to drive them to adopt increasingly less effective measures. Perhaps one day they'll give up completely; until then, our justice system will continue to waste its resources on their futile crusade.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

To Leak Or Not To Leak?

I'm a little behind on this but I'm going to talk about it anyway: on Wednesday, the New York Times published an editorial attacking the Bush administration for investigating several recent leaks of classified information to news outlets. The paper observes that conscientious insiders need to be able to blow the whistle on government wrongdoing without fear of legal liability, and that reporters shouldn't be held responsible for identifying their sources. After raising some salient points concerning the use of national security as a pretext for conducting business in secret and the differences between the disclosures of Valerie Plame's identity and Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, the editorial concludes: "Illegal spying and torture need to be investigated, not whistle-blowers and newspapers."

Clearly we need to strike some balance between national security prerogatives and the public's right to know about government operations that may compromise their civil liberties, but an unlimited right to leak information with impunity sends the wrong message. While I'm in no position to formulate a legal framework for determining when sources should be prosecuted vs. protected, I do believe that at least two factors should be taken into account: 1) the probable intentions of the leaker/whistleblower and 2) the leak's real-world effects. Ascertaining an informant's motives may not always be possible, but it's difficult to see any rationales behind the spying and torture disclosures other than genuine concern about the programs' morality, legality, and efficacy. The Plame leak, on the other hand, may very well have been an act of revenge against individuals who held legitimate objections to the government's prosecution of the War on Terror. As to point 2), no member of the administration has yet shown (though many have so asserted) how the warrantless wiretapping revelations have adversely affected their ability to fight terrorists. Many on the right have commented that the news of secret torture-prisons abroad has hurt America's image, but we all deserve better than an international image predicated on lies and secrecy.

To be sure, there are circumstances under which leakers should be aggressively pursued. But those decisions need to be based upon the national interest, not on how poorly the leak reflects on the sitting administration.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Left Attacks, Right Defends: Yep, Looks Like Another SC Nom

The Senate takes up Samuel Alito's nomination next week, and everybody and their mom has got something to say about it. Advocacy groups from People for the American way on the left to the Judicial Confirmation Network on the right are weighing in with radio and TV ads that take a philosophical approach rather than focusing on the judge's record. For example:
Conservatives, for their part, are capitalizing on ethnic pride to rally Italian-American support for Judge Alito with public events and newspaper advertisements. The efforts are aimed particularly at the Northeastern States, where some moderate Republican senators have expressed doubts about his confirmation.

And in Arkansas, home to two moderate Democratic senators whose votes are considered to be in play, another group, the Judicial Confirmation Network, is running Christmas-themed commercials beginning this week on African-American gospel radio stations. In them, the Rev. Bill Owens, a black pastor, urges support for Judge Alito to protect public displays of Nativity scenes and menorahs, and to uphold the right of schoolgirls to "draw pictures of our Savior, Jesus Christ, for class projects."
I certainly hope that no senator's vote ends up turning on Alito's ethnicity or his support for public nativity scenes, but I suppose that's what the polls say Arkansas and the northeast care about. The liberals mentioned in the article seem to be taking a slightly more relevant tack:

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, said the group's goal was to persuade the public that Judge Alito and his supporters had tried to obscure his lifelong commitment to a "right-wing" legal philosophy.

And at a time when Congress will be debating renewal of the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act and the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program, officials of the liberal groups said they hoped to call attention to Judge Alito's record of writings and opinions supporting law enforcement and presidential power.

"I think people's greatest fear is that Judge Alito would side with big government," said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice. "He would side with allowing government to intrude on individual personal lives."

I guess they may as well get out as much information as they can on Alito's philosophy now, because we won't be hearing much about it in committee. I don't expect that these ads will change too many people's opinions, because if history's any indication, it'll be a partisan slugfest regardless. My question is: why are these organizations spending so much money running media ads when they're only looking to influence the votes of 100 people? My only guess is that the plan is to sway senators through their constituents, but it'd be interesting to find out whether how well it actually works.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Middle East Psyops v2: Cleric Edition

The same PR organization the Pentagon tasked with planting fake news in Iraqi newspapers is spreading the gospel again, this time with the help of Sunni clerics in violence-riven regions of Iraq. The Lincoln Group is working with (and sometimes paying) religious leaders to help craft messages aimed at stoking Sunni voter turnout and quelling the predominantly-Sunni insurgency from within. Is this sound strategy? Mark K. thinks not; Cori of Rantingprofs doesn't see the problem. My personal belief is that money tends to taint the persuasive process (especially where religion is concerned), and therefore the revelation that clerics were being paid to shill for the American military won't go over too well with the natives. And as I have noted previously, info-war techniques that rely upon absolute secrecy run a high risk of backfiring due to the speed and thoroughness of global news circulation.

Besides, if we really want to endear Iraqis to the concept of democracy, we have to show them the importance of full disclosure to the democratic process. As is the case with torture and domestic spying, having to play by the rules is the price of being able to claim the moral high road.