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Daily Howler: We Heathers pick-and-choose our facts. Here--let The Doctor show you
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HEATHERS DON’T CHECK! We Heathers pick-and-choose our facts. Here–let The Doctor show you: // link // print // previous // next //

Errands abound: Tomorrow, we’re on our way to Chapel Hill, on a mission of major importance. Today, we’re running important errands. Tomorrow, we’ll post, then depart.

Special report: We, Heathers!

PART 3—HEATHERS DON’T CHECK: Remember when pundits would talk about the “criminalization of politics?” In recent weeks, we have once again seen the psychiatrization of same.

We Heathers have been out in force, calling Sarah Palin a liar. But as in 1999, so today: Calling the politician-you-hate a liar no longer seems enough. Today, as then, we Heathers like to mix some psychiatry in. And sure enough! The Doctor was IN at The Daily Beast when Michelle Goldberg shrieked and clattered about Sarah Palin’s disturbing lies (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/23/09). You see, Palin wasn’t a regular liar. The Doctor went one step beyond:

GOLDBERG (11/18/09): All politicians may lie, but not all politicians lie like Sarah Palin. Many people in public life lie to avoid getting caught when they do something wrong; call them “I did not have sex with that woman!” lies. Or they mislead about their own experiences and accomplishments, like Hillary Clinton and her untrue tales of dodging bullets in Bosnia.

Palin, however, lies when there’s little to be gained by lying, and she lies when everyone knows the truth. If Bill Clinton were a Palin-style liar, he’d still be insisting that his relationship with Monica Lewinsky was entirely chaste, or he’d claim that he never denied it in the first place. If Hillary Clinton lied like Palin, she’d put the Bosnia anecdote in her next memoir. Palin’s new book, Going Rogue, coupled with her recent media appearances, evinces a dishonesty that seems as much clinical as opportunistic. Maybe Palin really does suffer from narcissistic personality disorder.


This summer, remember, Todd Purdham wrote in Vanity Fair that several Alaskans had told him, “independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—‘a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy’—and thought it fit her perfectly.” At the time, this struck me as a stretch, since all politicians are narcissistic and grandiose to one degree or another. But it turns out there’s a real connection between this disorder and Palin’s chronic dishonesty.

Goldberg isn’t a shrink, of course; she just plays one on TV. (She diagnosed Palin in The Beast—and on last Thursday’s Larry King Live.) In the course of rendering her inexpert diagnosis, she borrowed a framework from the last decade—a framework the Heathers aimed at Candidate Gore when he was the pig they were trying to kill. Palin lies when there’s little to be gained! Having adopted this Gore-tested framework, Goldberg’s next step was perfectly clear:

Let’s turn to the DSM! It seems to fit Palin perfectly!

In our view, this sort of thing is dumb on its face. (Purdum is the world’s biggest Heather.) It’s a substitute for thought and argument, resorted to by the preening Heathers who define a lightweight age—who substitute this sort of clatter for winning progressive argument. But can we talk? If you’re going to diagnose someone as a psychiatric liar, you might want to start by making sure that her “lies” are really inaccurate.

Not every inaccurate statement is a lie, of course. Sometimes, people just make mistakes. But if you’re going to call someone a liar—even worse, a pathological liar—you might want to start by making sure that her statements aren’t actually accurate.

Goldberg seems to have spent little time on this part of her task. In this passage, we see The Doctor identify the first of the “lies” which led to her troubling diagnosis:

GOLDBERG: To be sure, some of the factually incorrect stuff in Going Rogue may be the result of ignorance as much as dishonesty. On page 391, she writes, “Ronald Reagan faced an even worse recession. He showed us how to get out of one. If you want real job growth, cut capital gains taxes and slay the death tax once and for all.” Every assertion in these sentences is untrue. The current recession is far worse than anything Reagan faced. Reagan did not get rid of the estate tax, which Palin calls the “death tax.” And capital gains taxes are lower now than they were during the Reagan administration. But Palin might not be being deliberately misleading; maybe she just doesn’t know any better. The same could be true when she claims that Barack Obama “opposed laws that would protect babies born alive after botched abortions.” Maybe it was ignorance rather than deceit that led Palin to sound off about “death panels” a few months ago.

Surely, though, Palin knew that she told the McCain campaign, in writing, that Bristol was pregnant, and so her story about McCain’s ace investigators digging the information up on their own was a lie. Either she was lying last year, when she told Sean Hannity that before accepting the offer to join the McCain ticket, she’d taken a family vote, or she was lying on Monday, when she told Oprah Winfrey she’d done no such thing...

For our money, Goldberg’s reading in that first paragraph is highly unimpressive. This recession is worse than the one Reagan faced; for our money, Palin’s statement is simply wrong about that. But it isn’t clear that Palin meant to imply that Reagan got rid of the estate tax—and the fact that “capital gains taxes are lower now” doesn’t mean that lowering same couldn’t be a way to fight this recession.

In short, Goldberg’s powers of analysis already seem less than impressive—a common mark of the modern “Heather,” of whatever gender.

At any rate: In the highlighted part of that second paragraph, Doctor Goldberg identifies the first of Palin’s troubling “lies.” But do you notice something odd about Goldberg’s work in that passage? That’s right! Doctor Goldberg simply asserts that Palin “told the McCain campaign, in writing, that Bristol was pregnant.” (Since Palin’s book seems to say something different, this statement is therefore a lie!) But Doctor Goldberg makes no attempt to document her own statement of fact! How does she know that Palin told the McCain camp in writing, in such a way as to turn the book’s account into a lie?

Is it true? Did Palin “tell the McCain campaign, in writing, that Bristol was pregnant?” Goldberg cites no source for this claim, showing the lazy approach the typical Heather will take to such issues of fact. Good Heathers all, we in turn are simply supposed to accept her statement as accurate.

But is it true? Did Palin “tell the McCain campaign, in writing, that Bristol was pregnant?” Did she do so in such a way as to make her book’s statement a lie? Like you, we don’t know The Doctor’s source. But she may be working from this recent CBS fact-check, in which Steve Chaggaris offered this account of this troubling trivia:

CHAGGARIS (11/16/09): Yet Palin should have known the campaign was aware of the pregnancy by that point: She told the campaign's vice presidential vetters as much, in writing, far before she was chosen to be John McCain's running mate.

Palin and the other vice presidential short-listers were asked to fill out a written questionnaire during the vetting the process, according to a "senior official close to the vetting process" who talked to reporters on September 2nd, 2008.

Palin revealed Bristol's pregnancy on this written questionnaire, adding that she wanted to discuss the pregnancy orally with the campaign, according to the campaign official.

A written report, which included info about the pregnancy, was presented to campaign manager Rick Davis as well as McCain before the campaign flew Palin down for the meeting she describes on Page 214.

This may well be The Doctor’s source; you’ll note that her language tracks that of Chaggaris, as often happens when We Heathers cut-and-paste stories we like. But how do we know that Chaggaris is right? As many have done in recent weeks, he simply accepts the claim of an unnamed McCain “senior official,” citing something this unnamed official said on September 2, 2008.

Sorry. As anyone but a Heather would know, the fact that a senior official (presumably) made this statement doesn’t make it accurate. Some background:

On September 1 of that year, the McCain campaign began taking a lot of heat for its allegedly fumbled vetting of Palin. Starting that day, campaign officials began scrambling to insist that their procedures had been wondrously thorough. Some senior official may have said that Palin told the campaign in writing, far before the time she was chosen—and this claim may even be accurate. But on that same day, other officials seem to have told the Washington Post’s Dan Balz something different. Balz’s report appeared on the front page of the next day’s Post. It started like this

BALZ (9/3/08): Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was not subjected to a lengthy in-person background interview with the head of Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential vetting team until last Wednesday in Arizona, the day before McCain asked her to be his running mate, and she did not disclose the fact that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant until that meeting, two knowledgeable McCain officials acknowledged Tuesday.

It isn’t clear that Balz’s account jibes with the (somewhat murky) account found in Palin’s book. But it does contradict what Chaggaris wrote; it may contradict what Goldberg asserted, as if she had her information on loan from God. When did Palin tell the team? Is the account in her book thus rendered inaccurate? Is her fleeting statement bogus? It’s possible. But Goldberg makes no attempt to say how she can be so sure.

And things get worse as The Doctor proceeds. Goldberg seems to have no idea that she should source— should document—her own claims about basic facts. But uh-oh! When she does deign to source her claims, she does so quite unwisely:

GOLDBERG (continuing directly):The Associated Press fact-checked Palin’s false claims about relying on small donations in her political campaigns, allowing for open, competitive bidding on a natural gas pipeline and avoiding conflicts of interest as Wasilla mayor. (Palin accused the AP of doing “opposition research,” as if any attempt to hold her accountable for her own words must be a partisan plot.) As the Boston Globe reports, there’s overwhelming evidence that Palin is lying when she disavows all responsibility for her infamous $150,000 shopping spree.

As the Boston Globe “reports?” In fact, Goldberg links to this Boston Globe editorial—an exceptionally unintelligent editorial at that.

According to Goldberg, Palin went on an “infamous $150,000 shopping spree.” According to Goldberg, “there’s overwhelming evidence that Palin is lying when she disavows all responsibility” for this spree (whatever that means). In a rather murky way, the Globe editorial seems to semi-agree. “No one close to the campaign backs up Palin’s version” of this matter, the editorial murkily says; it then offers three clipped quotes from campaign officials who weren’t talking about the wardrobe matter when they made the clipped statements in question. The Globe doesn’t quote anything Palin specifically said about the actual wardrobe matter. The Globe simply makes a sweeping assertion: No one backs up what she said.

No one backs Palin, the Globe dumbly said. But wouldn’t you know it? Just three days later, the New York Times reported a detailed interview with the well-known stylist who bought all those clothes for Palin and her family—the person who actually went on that spree. (Palin wasn’t present, she says.) And wouldn’t you know it? “Overwhelming evidence” to the contrary, Lisa Kline, the stylist in question, agrees with what Palin has said:

LIPTON (11/19/09): ''Wardrobegate,'' as Ms. Kline's $150,000-plus fashion transformation became known, undermined Ms. Palin's carefully crafted homespun image when the news broke two weeks before the election. Details about pricey designer clothes and a whirlwind $75,062 trip to Neiman Marcus outraged both Democrats and Republicans and may have played a role in derailing Senator John McCain's presidential ambitions. The Boston Globe recently called it ''the most damaging piece of information about'' Ms. Palin to emerge from the 2008 campaign. In her new memoir, ''Going Rogue,'' Ms. Palin is still trying to distance herself from the incident.

It was a ''trumped up controversy,'' [Palin] writes. ''I never asked the New York stylists to purchase clothes, many of the items were never worn, many others were intended for the use of other people, and in the end the wardrobe items were all returned. It certainly wasn't true that I or my family had been on any kind of 'big-time shopping trips.' ''

All true, Ms. Kline said this week.

Kline was there—and she backs Palin’s account. Does Goldberg have any real evidence to the contrary? We doubt it. (There certainly isn’t any evidence in that Globe “report.”) But this is very much the way we Heathers now manage the news.

You see, the modern Heather invents or chooses the facts he or she will run with. He or she simply decides whose account of the facts to accept. Presumably, The Doctor was itchin’ to diagnose, much as her Heather pals did ten years back. And so, much like her colleagues before her, she tended to pick-and-choose facts. (Back then, they largely invented.)

The “facts” fit her novel—her diagnosis. Unfortunately, your nation’s culture has become a joke in the hands of good doctors like this.

Sometimes senior officials are wrong: Sometimes senior officials misstate, whether on purpose or from error. This too was part of that Balz report:

BALZ (9/3/08): Last weekend, two campaign officials told The Washington Post that the background investigation of the finalists included an FBI check of any possible ongoing criminal investigations. That information was incorrect. A knowledgeable official said Tuesday that the vetting team had hoped to run such a check but that FBI officials declined to do so because that type of inquiry is reserved for people nominated for senior administration jobs. The official also said the FBI was uncomfortable providing the information to a political campaign, rather than to government officials.

One U.S. law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the FBI does not conduct any kind of background checks or criminal history searches on behalf of political candidates or parties.

Sometimes, campaign officials say things which turn out to be false. Unless their names are Wallace or Schmidt, in which case we Heathers have now decided that—not unlike with the pope in Rome—their claims are considered infallible.

TOMORROW—PART 4: Then and now, new types of doctors.