Fiddling While It Burns

Rolling Stone on Rick Perry | 27/10/2011

I thought I’d dust off the blog for this.

I have a real problem with Rolling Stone‘s political journalism: namely, I think it’s shit. It’s basically Fox News for the left, and like Fox News, people who are already invested in its particular flavour of bullshit have a very hard time regarding it critically.

Personally, while I probably fit somewhere into the centre-left, I think good journalism is more important than pleasing politics, and so this sort of polemicism masquerading as journalism annoys me like an itchy bum at a job interview. So, when I saw people on Twitter praising Matt Taibbi’s vicious profile of US Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, I started to read it, but soon felt compelled to make a running list of the gross violations of basic ethical and journalistic practice in the article.

It really is a running list, in the sense that you’ll only understand exactly what I mean by following along with the article online, but you can get the gist of the thing.

Here goes:

Breaks Godwin’s Law, page 1 paragraph 8.

Unbacked polemical innuendo, paragraph 9.

Overt distortion, top of page 2.

More unbacked innuendo (and baseless comparison to a serial killer), page 2 paragraph 2.

More dodgy innuendo trying to turn a very responsible act into corruption through outright defamation in paragraph 7.

Unsourced smear quotes paragraphs 9-11.

Guilt by association, last paragraph of page 2.

Page 3 paragraph 1. Can you identify one solid problem with this nuclear waste storage facility beyond general nose-holding? Note that you could find someone to tell you a nuclear waste dump was too close to ground water if it was on the moon.

Comparison to Soviet Russia in paragraph 2. Paragraph 3 tries to twist transparency into corruption.

Baseless inference of influence, comparison to organised crime in paragraph 6.

Another comparison to a serial killer at the bottom of page 3.

Calls Perry a “hick Texas rancher” page 4 paragraph 1, casts what could easily be a sincere inspiration to pursue politics as cynical, lazy. Would be interested to see whether this Fred McClure feels he’s been misrepresented in the use of those quotes.

Page 4 paragraph 6, finally we get some numbers – but it’s a bit suspect to imply that appointing donors is corrupt, since all appointees are expected to be Republicans and therefore Republican donors in a donation culture.

Accusing Perry of being out of line with Tea Party principles before the Tea Party existed, multiple times this page.

Economically illiterate attack on openly pro-business politician for allowing foreign investment, page 5 paragraphs 1-3.

Tricks with innumeracy: page 5 paragraph 6 pretends that two schemes totalling US$563 million are some vast amount of money for a state like Texas. Paragraph 7 pretends ‘borrowing’ from a state insurance fund is the same as borrowing from foreign lenders in the form of bonds.

Paragraph 13, now notice the article has been leaning significantly on the person Perry beat in a primary campaign as a source.

Page 5 last paragraph, implies that Perry is insincere in his Christianity, once again without basis.

Page 6 paragraph 3: Holocaust reference.

Page 6 paragraph 4: A “dangerous nuclear-waste dump that might blow up 30 years from now”? Hasn’t even offered any evidence that the waste dump is dangerous, let alone that it’s somehow going to spontaneously turn into a nuclear warhead and detonate.

Paragraph 7: Again, attacking the common-sense decision to administer Gardasil at state expense as implying corruption.

Taibbi’s writing is aesthetically quite lovely, like Rolling Stone‘s other political writers. That’s a big part of the problem – the ability to spackle over the holes in one’s argument with beautiful prose excuses all manner of evil to the casual reader. Personally, I don’t think it’s good enough, although it’ll undoubtedly be a very popular article with the magazine’s audience.

So that’s what I consider to be 22 major journalistic lapses, without even making a phone call. I would love to be told why these points aren’t problems.


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