Do your best to navigate through mud season



Dear Editor:

The editorial “Mud season has arrived” in your Oct. 25 issue starts well but then is rapidly sucked down into the classic fallacy called Tu Quoque, which roughly translates from Latin as “You’re another.” It appears to suggest that there is a procedural and cognitive equivalence between conservatives’ negative advertising and that of the center-left.

We have seen this logical error repeatedly foisted off on the public, these days predominantly (and demonstrably) by the reactionary populists of the right. Its promulgators would have us believe that since each side has negative things to say about the other, neither is to be believed as intrinsically more trustworthy and truthful than its detractors.

It is easy enough to say that one’s opponents are talking through their hats. And if one is serving up what is red meat to one’s comrades it comes as little surprise that the banquet will be liberally seasoned with attempts to debunk the opposition. But that does not mean that all opinions are equal. Some are backed by facts that can be independently verified (e.g., global warming), and presented by people who have methods of doing that verification.

I used to tell my students to be wary of sources that were solely or primarily internet-based, arguing that any fool could put up a website without any oversight whatever, and that plenty of them do. By contrast, I said, a printed book from a reputable publisher generally had at least four close readings (acquisitions editor, copy editor and fact checker, indexer, final proofreader) and sometimes more. Even a novice newspaper reporter, scribbling furiously to make a midnight deadline, could count on at least one editor’s reading a story before it ran; and as my old managing editor at the Portland daily once told me, “We do not expect our editors to know everything. We do expect them to be BS detectors.”

Your editorial was written by a professional journalist who surely knows this very well; it seems therefore disingenuous (or wool-gathering) to collapse the crucial distinction between, say, a fake news troll farm in Macedonia or the former Soviet Union on the one hand and The American, which rightly prides itself on being once again voted New England’s best weekly paper of the year, on the other.

This conflation is doubly pernicious. For one thing, the so-called “enemies of America,” the press, is the only player of the two armed with safeguards against flawed “facts” (whether due to simple ignorance or calculated malicious misrepresentation) thanks to an editorial process virtually nonexistent in its opponents, and to erase that difference is sloppy thinking at best. But for another, it risks reinforcing a cynical dismissal of the electoral process — the “Don’t vote, they’re all the same” cliché — a shabby bit of laziness at most times but especially dangerous in so critical an election as this, on which control of the House rests and possibly the Senate as well.

Of course mud will be slung. Your editor correctly notes that there is an awful lot of it flying about these days, and like the stables of fabled Augeus, it may be that nothing short of altering the course of a river can flush it clean. But Heracles didn’t accomplish that by shrugging his shoulders and pretending that there was really not much difference between a clean stable and one desperately in need of mucking out. To my fellow voters, I say: Yes, there really is a difference, and your challenge is to show up and use your head to choose, as wisely as God may give you grace to do, among the options presented. Like the Greek hero, you can always wash the mud off after you get home from your labor.

 

Nick Humez

Trenton and Painesville, Ohio

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