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James Taranto loses his marbles

Every day – and I can’t remember when or why it started but it did – I get emails featuring James Taranto’s “Best of the Web” writings for the Wall Street Journal. Often I agree, insofar as I know enough to agree. But yesterday’s email was extremely odd. In it, Taranto quotes a certain Simon Moloy, writing at something called MediaMatters, who earlier in the week had accused Taranto of having said something racist, in this. Maloy wrote thus:

The implication of Taranto’s theory is that African-Americans aren’t sophisticated or observant or intelligent enough to know real racism when they see it, and are thus continuously duped en masse into voting for Democrats. It couldn’t be the case that black voters actually care about issues and have real reasons for voting Democratic, they’re just puppets who are motivated by racial sentiments that Democrats prey upon.

Now I don’t know how reasonable this complaint against Taranto is, which Taranto himself quotes in his reply, the one in yesterday’s email. To know about that, I would have to know a lot more about the USA than, having never even been there, I know now. But this I do know. Maloy was not himself saying that black voters are “just puppets”. When Maloy used this phrase, he was saying, rightly or wrongly, that that was what Taranto said. Any observer of this spat, with only Taranto’s reply to this critic to hand, can see that, because Taranto himself included the above quote. Taranto then accuses Maloy of believing this sock puppet thing himself. And Taranto calls him a racist. Says Taranto:

MediaMutters’ suggestion that black voters are “just puppets” is racist and repugnant.

It would be, if the suggestion had actually been suggested. But clearly, it was not.

I can think of nothing polite to say to defend Taranto on this, other than perhaps that the balance of his mind was disturbed by being called a racist himself. He seems to be combining illogicality (a clear misreading of something he actually quotes) and tactical stupidity (supplying all the evidence of his obvious misreading to even the most casual of readers) to a truly amazing degree. What was he thinking?

Don’t misunderstand me. I hate what the current clutch of Democrat politicians appear, from this side of the Atlantic, to be doing to the USA and its economy, and I hate what else they seem to want to do to the USA even more. I too wish that black people in the USA were more reluctant to support such disastrously statist policies, which I think will harm them along with everyone else except the posh people in charge of them. I rejoice when I hear that black people are participating in Tea Parties and arguing that the scope of the US Federal Government should be reduced.

But because of that I want to see arguments against the statist tendency that carry some weight. This latest counter-argument of Taranto’s, if you can call it that, can only expose Taranto to ridicule and contempt. Indeed, I presume that it already has. Were I a Democrat, I would trumpet Taranto’s foolishness as loudly as I could. No wonder Democrats like to call their opponents racists, if this is the kind of thing they can get them to say in reply.

I’m also not impressed that Instapundit (whom I admire greatly) recycles Taranto’s accusation for all the world as if it made perfect sense. I guess that’s the price you pay for Instapundit managing to link to so much, so often. Every so often he gets things wrong too.

37 comments to James Taranto loses his marbles

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    Media Matter specialises in knotting its knickers when it discovers nasty statements by right-wing haters such as Limbaugh, Steyn, etc. Their role in life is not journalism, but “opposition research”. I would suggest that Mr Maloy’s paraphrase of Mr Taranto’s ‘theory’ has been judiciously fine-tuned.

    Cheers

  • CFM

    Media Matters is a statist/socialist/communist propaganda organ specializing in collectivist slander and goofiness.

    Taranto failed to engage brain before running mouth, and effectively fell back on the grammar school retort, “I know you are”. Such rhetorical ineptitude notwithstanding, this remains a case where “consider the source” applies to Media Matters.

    Point to Taranto by default.

  • RRS

    @ B.M. :

    You do place caveats on what you got from the reading of Taranto’s response to the M.M. perversion of his April 19 piece.

    The point he made was that there was were no such implications in his prior piece (true, I will happliy send youi a copy via S.Net if you have deleted yours).

    When people distort (actually lie) about what one writes and convert that to a “racist” imputation without grounds, the choice of the false imputations IS indicative of the viewpoint charged.

    What Taranto has done is to point out how vital it is to the present coalition that is the Democrat Party, and its liberalist fringes, that the “racism” element in political issues be maintained (it has begun to fragment on specific issues). There was no basis from anything he has ever published that would support the imputations made by M. M

    So therefore, why would such imputations be made, in the form of the M.M. wordings quoted, unless they are the observations of M.M.?

  • Darius Roth

    Point to Taranto by default.

    No not really, all he has done is call his own judgement into question and hand the bad guys a cheap win. Pity.

  • Linda Morgan

    When Maloy used this phrase, he was saying, rightly or wrongly, that that was what Taranto said.

    Wrongly, Brian, wrongly!

    First, Maloy does not write that Taranto “said” the term “just puppets” to or about anyone at all. Rather, he says that the “implication of Taranto’s theory” is that black voters are “just puppets.”

    I don’t see any such implication in Taranto’s column, but I’m not the least surprised that some flunky at MediaMatters is braying such nonsense and introducing a term like “just puppets” as they do.

    As to Taranto’s response about “MediaMutters’ suggestion,” he’s dashing them with a dose of their own medicine. They mischaracterize – make up, actually – his “implication,” so he throws it back in their face as their “suggestion.” And really, the notion that black voters are “just puppets” is MediaMatters’s suggestion in that they are the ones who put the smear in play – who suggested it as an explicit term for the “implication” of Taranto’s “theory” about black voters. Sheesh at all the weasel words.

    Were I a Democrat, I would trumpet Taranto’s foolishness as loudly as I could.

    Aw, the Dems got bigger fish to fry. And smaller fish. All kinds of fish. A lot of fish. And by hook or by crook or some dumbass at MediaMutters (I like that), they’re aaallll going to have to be nice fried racist fish, before the Dems are through.

  • CFM

    “. . . all he has done is call his own judgement into question and hand the bad guys a cheap win. Pity.”

    Yes. Quite right.

    I still give the thumbs down to Media Matters just on principle. A pox on ‘em.

  • “Loses his marbles” implies permanent insanity and is a bit strong. “Loses his temper” or “Loses his rag”would be better.

    Or “temporarily loses his reading comprehension skills in his haste to get back at some people who have annoyed him”.

  • good lord

    brother, you have to be kidding me. taranto is being cute, but its pretty obvious what is going on.

    taranto says the media and the left relentlessly throw down the race card and try to paint republicans as racists. he further states that this campaign inevitably has an effect on black voters’ attitudes towards republicans. in a bit of delicious irony, which i am sure is lost on the collectivists, media matters does exactly what taranto accuses them of by twisting his words and coming up with the puppet business. taranto never called black voters puppets or stupid. media matters read what they wanted into the story and then created an ad hominem and tried to put it in taranto’s mouth. taranto simply returned the favor using the media matters piece.

    taranto’s reply is as nonsensical as media matter’s. that is the point. he is using media matter’s rhetorical technique of distortion and lying in plain sight to point out the absurdity of media matter’s piece.

  • Owinok

    Interesting. Still, just because there are some black people at tea party meetings proves nothing one way or the other. Or does it?

  • Ed Snack

    Actually Brian, it’s dead easy (how reasonable is the complaint against Taranto); read Taranto’s original column. Moloy is quite deliberately distorting what Taranto wrote and as such is as guilty of racism as almost anyone accused these days.

    The odd thing is, by their unspoken attitudes most American liberals are indeed closet racists although they themselves can’t see it. Moloy perfectly expresses it, that’s what they believe, revealed in an uncautious moment. The US left sees nothing strange in assertions that Blacks should vote for Obama simply and only because he claims to be “black”, surely a racist notion in itself.

  • Still, just because there are some black people at tea party meetings proves nothing one way or the other. Or does it?

    It proves that black people are not excluded from tea party meetings, making the racist claims a bit dim witted.

  • Taranto: “The smear artists of MediaMutters have put forward a racist idea and falsely imputed it to us in an effort to defame us as racist because we criticized Democratic politicians.”

    Do you think this is consistent with the idea that “Taranto … accuses Maloy of believing this sock puppet thing himself”?

    Taranto’s remark about “MediaMutters’ suggestion that black voters are ‘just puppets’” admittedly is sloppy and even misleading. I think he just meant that he wasn’t the one who introduced this “foul idea” into the discussion, it was MediaMatters.

    Micklethwait: “Now I don’t know how reasonable this complaint against Taranto is, which Taranto himself quotes in his reply, the one in yesterday’s email. To know about that, I would have to know a lot more about the USA than, having never even been there, I know now. But this I do know.”

    No, you’d merely have to read Taranto’s initial piece. Let me summarize:

    Taranto wrote that Democrats have an interest in portraying all opposition as racist in order to discourage black voters from considering alternative points of view.

    MediaMatters then misdescribed Taranto’s position to be, “[black voters] are just puppets.”

  • jdm

    When Maloy used this phrase, he was saying, rightly or wrongly, that that was what Taranto said.

    Say what? Maloy was claiming that Taranto inferred it. In other words, he added his interpretation to Taranto’s (set of) point(s). It’s elementary rhetoric.

    I don’t understand how Taranto could be much more clear about this kerfuffle than this:

    The smear artists of MediaMutters have put forward a racist idea and falsely imputed it to us in an effort to defame us as racist because we criticized Democratic politicians. This is one of the clearest examples we’ve seen of how the appeal to fear works.

    but perhaps we over here are just more used to hearing all the different ways one can be called a racist.

  • RRS

    Hey Spambot: Did I write something ugly?

  • Brian, follower of Deornoth

    Since accusations of racism are true until proven otherwise, whoever gets his accusation in first is bound to come off best.

    Peace through anticipatory retaliation.

  • James Taranto

    I do not believe for a second that MediaMutters induced Micklethwait to write this scurrilous attack on me by threatening to reveal personal secrets about him that are so embarrassing I cannot even describe them here.

    I wrote “MediaMutters’ suggestion,” not “assertion” or “claim.” The initial sentence of this comment is meant to illuminate the difference. It makes an obnoxious suggestion by disclaiming the belief in its truth. Similarly, MediaMutters raised the suggestion that black people are “just puppets” by falsely and baselessly attributing this view to me.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    In the US, Taranto’s miscue is colloquially referred to as a ‘brain fart’. Apparently an ongoing one, if the message just above is genuine.

    James (if it is you), give it up: you boobed.

  • Linda Morgan

    Hey Spambot: Did I write something ugly?

    With respect to my own (still invisible!) submission of late last night, I’d pose the same question of the same sclerotic gatekeeper, but for the fact that I don’t even want to look sideways at that repulsive thing whose wanton whimsy keeps me from commenting for months on end until I foolishly forget about its arbitrary awfulness.

  • Linda Morgan

    Well blast dangit, then. Since my above complaint got past blind botty, I’m going to attempt an approximation of my (much) earlier but (still) unposted comment again because I’m just in that sort of mood. Caution and propriety and to the wind, then:

    When Maloy used this phrase, he was saying, rightly or wrongly, that that was what Taranto said.

    Wrongly, Brian, wrongly!

    First, Maloy does not write that Taranto “said” the term “just puppets” to or about anyone at all. Rather, he says that the “implication of Taranto’s theory” is that black voters are “just puppets.”

    I don’t see any such implication in Taranto’s column, but I’m not the least surprised that some flunky at MediaMatters is braying such nonsense and using a term like “just puppets” to do so.

    As to Taranto’s response about “MediaMutters’ suggestion,” he’s dashing them with a dose of their own medicine. They mischaracterize – make up, actually – his “implication,” so he throws it back in their face as their “suggestion.” And really, the notion that black voters are “just puppets” is MediaMatters’s suggestion in that they are the ones who put the smear in play – who “suggested” it as an explicit term for the “implication” of Taranto’s “theory” about black voters. Sheesh at all those weasel words!

    Were I a Democrat, I would trumpet Taranto’s foolishness as loudly as I could.

    Aw, the Dems got bigger fish to fry. And smaller fish. All kinds of fish. A lot of fish. And by hook or by crook or some dumbass at MediaMutters (I like that), they’re aaallll going to have to be nice fried racist fish, before the Dems are through.

  • Arty

    “Were I a Democrat, I would trumpet Taranto’s foolishness as loudly as I could.”

    Isn’t that what you’re doing? And why did you drag Instapundit into this? I’m not saying you lost your marbles Brian but it looks like you’re wrestling with some demons right now. Battle fatigue perhaps?

  • J Potter

    Below is the last paragraph from Taranto’s reply – the situation is basically he never said that black voters were just puppets, Media Matters said that as their view of his statment, even though to a neutral observer there is no basis for their view of his statement.

    “The smear artists of MediaMutters have put forward a racist idea and falsely imputed it to us in an effort to defame us as racist because we criticized Democratic politicians. This is one of the clearest examples we’ve seen of how the appeal to fear works.

  • Chris Philips

    I would have to know a lot more about the USA than, having never even been there, I know now.

    If ANYTHING you know about the US came from Media Matters, the Daily Kos, the Huffington Post or the Obama White House, you have been misinformed.

    Cheers,

  • mikesixes

    Taranto often pretends to miss the point of critics who twist his remarks into something offensive. Sometimes this draws his adversaries into very funny exchanges. I presume that’s what he was doing when he falsely attributed racist sentiments to the mediamutters wanker who had falsely attributed those sentiments to him.

  • George Ditter

    Brian – To be sure about this, I’d have to know a lot more about London than I do since I have never been there, but I have heard that there used to be a guy named Jonathan Swift who was a writer. Maybe before you launch your next criticism you should broaden your knowledge of irony and its uses

  • George

    Not noted thus far is that a charge of racism is a very serious one, and for MM to make such a charge against Taranto amounts to an attempt at character assasination. I would think that anyone of good will would sympathize with and assist Taranto in defending himself from this attack. He is too much of a gentleman to call them what they are, but I will do it: those freaks at MM are scum.

  • Rodney Hoiseth

    For those of you whose introduction to James Taranto’s column was this post, be apprised that Taranto’s prose is not to be consumed by the weak of mind. If you took Micklethwait’s conclusion at face value and proceeded to comment without going back and considering the sources and drawing your own conclusion, I suggest that your reading and thinking skills are much better suited to what you will find at MediaMutters.org than at “Best of the Web Today”.
    (Oh, and Linda, your forbearance is awesome! ;-)

  • Max

    Here is what I think Taranto was doing. I missed it on the first couple of readings too. He is, as a joke, deliberately misreading the Simon Maloy paragraph to mean something that was not intended.

    Here is what Maloy wrote, with my extra words inserted to make it clear what he means:

    The implication of Taranto’s theory is that African-Americans aren’t sophisticated or observant or intelligent enough to know real racism when they see it, and are thus continuously duped en masse into voting for Democrats. [Taranto would like you to believe that i]t couldn’t be the case that black voters actually care about issues and have real reasons for voting Democratic[. Oh no! Rather than accept that the perception of racism is because the racism is real, Taranto thinks it's more plausible that] they’re just [weak-minded] puppets who are motivated [manipulated] by racial sentiments that [evil] Democrats prey upon.

    Here is how Taranto is deliberately misreading the same paragraph to mean something very different but without changing any words:

    The implication of Taranto’s theory is that African-Americans aren’t sophisticated or observant or intelligent enough to know real racism when they see it, and are thus continuously duped en masse into voting for Democrats. [That is plausible because i]t couldn’t be the case that black voters actually care about issues and have real reasons for voting Democratic[. Actually], they’re just puppets who are motivated by racial sentiments that Democrats prey upon.

    Then, for comic effect, Taranto pretends to take this latter reading as the intended one, completely ignoring that the last sentence of Maloy’s paragraph is supposed to be read as sarcastic, and then acts all appalled over Maloy’s “racist and repugnant” remark.

  • Rocco Papalia

    You’re over analyzing this. Taranto’s point is that by deliberately and falsely imputing to Taranto the assertion that African Americans are ‘just puppets’, it is, in fact, MediaMutters that composes this slur, commits it to print and distributes it to the world thereby raising an ugly assertion that no one else had raised.

    To to WalMart and buy an IQ booster kit…

  • I’m just piling on to a point that’s been made by several others, but I’ll add my vote to the opinion that Brian missed the irony in Taranto’s piece. Media Matters provided a “case study” to the point that Taranto posited in his original post; namely, that the American left uses the charge of “racism” to attempt to marginalize opposing points of view. To find “racism” in Taranto’s original post requires a truly skewed perspective. The irony comes into play in that the only racist sentiment in the exchange, that American blacks are merely easily manipulated “puppets”, was put forth by no one except Maloy. I doubt if Maloy actually believes that, nor do I think Taranto would seriously attribute those sentiments to him, but Maloy is the one who threw out the “R” word. If there is a racist here (and Maloy says there is), Maloy has to bear the stigma.

  • Um, no. Taranto at no time even hinted that black voters were puppets. He did say that the Democratic Party claims racism at every opportunity, and mercilessly attacks any libertarian/conservative black voter as some sort of race traitor. All of which is true. Just look at how the Democrats and their faithful minions treated Secretary of State Rice.

    The MM “complaint” (as you phrase it) has no basis in fact. The statement was a twisted funhouse mirror of what Maloy thought (if you’ll excuse the term) Taranto was saying. The latter has every right to quote his opponents back at them in order to underline their own foolishness. As others have observed, that passage illustrated Maloy’s own mindless bigotry.

    So how does this put Taranto at fault? His opponent reacted in an unthinking and racist (or at least racialist) manner that had nothing to do with Taranto’s original post, and the man calls him out on it. And this makes Taranto the fool!?

    Um, no. And um, yes, you do need to drop over for a visit, or at least do one helluva lot more research on the politics of modern race relations in the US before you start calling the locals out. Especially considering that the left (God, I hate that term!) has been whipping out the race card at every opportunity lately, including the President himself. It was one of his favorite attacks during the campaign, wherein he repeatedly used variations on the “you’re just saying that because I’m black” theme against his opponents.

  • Penny

    Although Maloy was not himself saying that black voters are “just puppets,” the idea was his, it originated with him, it was an idea that came into his head.

  • Linda Morgan

    (Oh, and Linda, your forbearance is awesome! ;-)

    Just getting in some practice for the ObamaCare lines and the rest of the rationing to come!

  • Matt

    Taranto didn’t say that “black people are puppets”, he doesn’t believe it, and his argument wasn’t designed to suggest it. That idea and statement was not present in the dialog until Media Matters brought it out and accused Taranto of promoting it. Obviously MM doesn’t believe it. Their argument is Taranto said it and it’s wrong. But even though it’s not a statement they believe it can be attributed to them because they are the only ones that were thinking it.

    Pretend we were having a discussion about what to have for dinner and I say, “Well Thai food is out, It’s horrid.” Even though I’m suggesting it in a negative fashion, I’m still the one suggesting it. “Well I know you love Thai food, I think we all want pizza.” Even though I’m now attributing the statement about Thai to you, I’m still the one that brought it into the conversation, it remains my suggestion. If no one else in the conversation had been thinking of Thai food, I’ve placed the idea in their heads even thought I was listing your supposed preference. I know that people in our group generally don’t like Thai food, so I suggest that you do to make people less receptive to anything else you may suggest. I think this is called a straw man.

    Likewise Media Matters suggested something racist by accusing Taranto of thinking it in an effort to get people to ignore his actual reasoning. As Taranto pointed out, this is exactly what his first article had been accusing them of doing to keep blacks voting democrat.

  • harryr

    African-Americans know what is or is not racist, without needing any assistance from pundits and politicians. The dems don’t play the race card to fool black folks, they play it to fool white folks. They want to ghettoise their white supporters from anti-dem ideas by playing on white fears and anxieties about appearing to be or associating with racists. Thats the target audience and that is the point Taranto missed.

  • Paul Marks

    Brian.

    “Mediamatters” is a far left smear site (beloved of the “mainstream” media) that specializes in taking words out of context or (when that does not work) just making stuff up (a classic example is when Bill O’Reilly talked about black players on his school football team being the people who protected him from getting his bones broken by opposing teams – the left reworked that as O’Reilly claimed that black people he went to school and college with tried to break his bones, i.e. the exact opposite of what his “claim” actually was).

    If you wish to attack the “theory of James Taranto” please quote in full what he said – i.e. what this theory actually was (if he had a theory at all).

    What did he actually say about black people (anything?) – I have read your posting and I still do not know.

    As for Mr Taranto’s counter attack against MM – he was wasting his time.

    All he needed to say was “this is a far left smear site that dishonestly twists what people say – it is utterly contemptable”.

    Further comment is a waste of time.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course what James Taranto did in his reply was to take MediaMatters words out of context and reverse their meaning (MM accuses him of treating black people as “puppets” so he twists the words to claim that MM are calling black people “puppets”).

    This is what MM does all the time Brian.

    So what James Taranto did is called IRONY – i.e. he was using the MM “interpretation” of words method on their own statement (get the words – twist them – reverse the meaning).

    I am often accused of having an “unEnglish” (although I was born here and have lived here all my life) lack of understanding of irony (and it is true that it is something I despise), but I would have thought you (as the ultimate Englishman) would have spotted irony at once.

    However, I still think that Mr Taranto was wasting his time.

    He should have just told MM to go fuck themselves.

  • jdm

    He should have just told MM to go fuck themselves.

    I think he did. But his style and the WSJ’s editor’s probably asked him to try again ;-)