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Liberal Lies and Straw Men
by Gary Larson
13 February 2004

Editorials in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune demean Bush and libel Rumsfeld, stirring hate, inciting enmity, making a mockery of rational discourse.  

The Left flies under permanently false colors.
-- David Horowitz, “The Politics of Bad Faith” (1998)

Set up a straw man.  Kick it.  Rip it.  Set it ablaze.  Nasty trick in demagogues’ bags?  Sure it is.  And one of the oldest Machiavellian tricks in the book, easy.

It’s a tactic used by politicos both left and right, also by unhinged news media nowadays doing their best imitations of Party organs.  The latter include a Midwest mainstream daily where I live, whose editorials defame President George W. Bush, and libel Donald Rumsfeld, clearly to incite enmity, thus to stir an angry party base.  Works, too, gauging from uninformed, sometimes hateful letters to editors from party faithful, reciting spin as fact and partisan invective as reason.

That newspaper is the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a mouthpiece of and for the ardent liberal class. The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund dubs it “one of the most left-wing newspapers in the nation,” a tag it richly deserves, if recent con jobs on its readers are any measure of that.  Think of a newspaper equivalent to The Nation magazine and you’ll get the picture.

Straw man tactics invite clueless, ofen livid letters to editors, but these fail to do true justice to a democracy in which informed citizens are expected to weigh in on issues.  When “advertisements contain the only truths to be relied upon in a newspaper,” as Thomas Jefferson facetiously wrote, we’re in perilous straits.  Alas, his facetiousness becomes reality!   

Partisan lies and straw men erected to “oust” an “unelected” “unilateral” “tax-breaks-only-for-the-rich” “deserter” “cowboy” and his “regime” are staples of the assault.  These and other one-line lies are recited, manta-like, ever-so glibly, by “liberal” media that’s anything but liberal in the classic, or a literal sense.  Closed minds are a byproduct of the assaults, designed (or so it seems) to provoke loathing, more than to enlighten. Unfounded assertions and wild-eyed accusations (e.g., “Bush lied!”), touted as “fact” then accepted by the naïve, boggle the mind.  (P.T. Barnum got it right.)

Naturally, straw men have no place in editorials or anywhere else. Period.  They’re pernicious, doing harm to human dignity.  Whether as name-calling shortcuts for coherent argument, or as nutty media ploys to avoid dealing straight-up with facts, they debase rational discourse.  Sloganeering and cheap political posturing are among the results -- dumbing-down not only deviancy, as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan (D-NY) famously said, but also of America itself.    

Three editorial statements in “my” paper may illustrate here this actually illiberal mugging of truth and plain sensibilities: 

Exhibit #1:  “Osama bin Laden wasn’t even on the [Bush] agenda in 2000...” (in editorial titled “Saddam, Osama,” Jan. 19.)  Plainly false, easily verified as untrue by even a cursory Internet check.  Editors likely know better, but trot out a falsehood to make Bush the Straw Man (and not, say, the dilatory Clinton?) somehow culpable for 9/11.  It gets worse.  Read on.   

Exhibit #2:  “Donald Rumsfeld…took pains [in the 1980s, as Special Envoy to President Reagan] to reassure [sic] Saddam that those activities [gassing of Kurds and Iranians] wouldn’t be a problem…” (in “Saddam’s trial,” Jan. 3).  Patently false, a ghastly charge, clearly over the top, makes Rumsfeld no less than accessory to Saddam’s mass murder.  Easily refuted by declassified State Dept. reports, this line does not pass the giggle test, even by supermarket tabloid standards.  Libel, anyone?  With nasty malice aforethought by the editors?  Could be.  

Exhibit #3:  “Bush implied [sic] that every American got tax relief last year, but that’s not true…” (in “State of the Union,” Jan. 21).  President Bush said -- or “implied” -- nothing of the sort.  Classic spin, it’s the very definition of straw man.  Make up something out of whole cloth, or straw, then rip it.   Such is the juvenile-type intellectual dishonesty found all too often in mainstream media.  What the president really said:  “You [Congress] have lowered taxes for every American who pays income taxes.”  Quite true.  
Clearly an agenda, not rational argument, drives such attacks.  Facts are dismissed, “dissed” or ignored.  Witness a Paul Krugman or a Molly Ivans column, fomenting hate by distorting facts, building straw Bushmen to rip.  Their deceits and disregard for truth do not go unchallenged, though, in an era of Internet connections. (Why the growth of “blogs” and e-zines?  To combat the grip on news and views by left-liberal media, just maybe?)

Why the straw men?  Obviously, to “get Bush” at any cost.  Anything goes to trash this president -- a good and decent man, a real-life Christian to vilify.  Would that punditry about him, and this administration, be based on reality, rather than straw men, a la Emmanuel Goldstein, the hate object in Orwell’s classic “Nineteen Eighty-four.”  Fomenting hatred cannot be good for the soul, or for the United States, and brings on a set of fearsome consequences -- a topic too far, for another day.

Gary Larson is a retired association CEO and former business magazine editor residing in Minnesota.  He is not the cartoonist of the same name.  Larson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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