Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tom Sowell is one of the best and brightest around.

Tom Sowell is one of the best, bravest, and courageous author/columnists around. I don't agree with him on everything, but I do on many things. See my annotations.

Cheap shot journalism

By Thomas Sowell

Syndicated column, September 12, 2006

Recently one of those increasingly familiar New York Times editorials disguised as news stories was headlined "Conservatives Help Wal-Mart, and Vice Versa."

It's hard to find anything on TheNYTimes editorial page that makes any sense. It is a national disgrace.

There was a chart with photos of people from conservative think tanks saying things favorable to Wal-Mart's side of the controversies surrounding that company, along with dollar amounts over them and their statements, indicating how much Wal-Mart had donated to the think tanks where these individuals work.

Walmart, Costco, Target etc. provide good products at incredibly low prices. This helps you, me, and, most important, poor people.

Jackie Kennedy shopped at The Gap.

Buried deep inside the story, near the end, there was a passing comment that "labor unions have financed organizations that have been critical of Wal-Mart." But there were no people or statements singled out with dollar amounts over them.

The double standard was evident in another way: The damning charge was that these conservative think tanks and the scholars who work there "have consistently failed to disclose their ties" to Wal-Mart.

There was no charge that liberal think tanks like the Brookings Institution, or the scholars there, "failed to disclose their ties" to their donors.

AEI is referred to as "conservative." Brookings is never called "liberal" nor even (rarely) "left of Center."

It is very doubtful if most of the scholars at either liberal or conservative think tanks know who all the many donors to these institutions are—or care.

For one thing, there is money coming from all points of the political compass and from a whole spectrum of special interest groups. You can say whatever you feel like and, if it doesn't suit one think tank, it will suit another.

Some Think Tanks, not The American Enterprise Institute which is the best, will put out "official" statements.

Caveat: I have hung my hat at AEI since 1978. They have been very good to me, and I think the opposite is true as well.

It so happens that I work for a think tank, though not one mentioned in this New York Times "news" story, and I could not name five donors to the Hoover Institution if my life depended on it, though I am sure that there are far more than five.

I can mention more than 20 AEI. Some wealthy people are very nice, and just folks. That's nice to know. Some have helped fund my program.

Most astonishing: The biggest funder of the program in recent years has been Bernard Schwartz, who was President Clinton's biggest funder ( ! )

For all I know, I may have defended some of those unknown donors—or I may have bitten the hand that feeds me by attacking them in this column.

It is by no means unknown for different scholars at the Hoover Institution to come out publicly on opposite sides of controversies. Nor is that unknown at other think tanks, liberal or conservative.

Hoover is one of the best, perhaps second to AEI.

Why then should we "disclose"—even if we knew—who the donors are, as if we were delivering commercials for our sponsors?

I believe it is all a matter of public record.

Why do conservative donors contribute money to conservative think tanks or liberal donors contribute money to liberal think tanks? Is it rocket science that people are more likely to contribute money to those they agree with?

Or is it something sinister, as the New York Times implies—at least when the think tank is conservative?

Such cheap-shot journalism tells us more about the people who engage in it, and the constituency to which they appeal, than it tells us about those they write about.

Spot-on, Tom

What it tells us is that there are people so narrow and shallow that they cannot understand how anyone else could possibly disagree with what they believe without having sold out.

Somehow such journalists, or those that they appeal to, believe that they are so iron-clad right that no one could even mistakenly disagree with them without being bought and paid for by the bad guys.

Are we talking world-class chutzpa or what?

Tom has written excellent work on differential ethnicity. It is not chuzpadik for him to use the word chutzpa. Many people mis-pronounce it as Shootspah. Two of my heroes, Sen. Heny M. "Scoop Jackson and President Bush #43 (in that order) couldn't handle the word "nuclear." I have had trouble on occasion with the "election."

The self-infatuated idea that nobody could disagree with you for honest and informed reasons is far more dangerous than any influence that donors' money may exercise.

Far more is involved here than cheap-shot journalism. It is the audience for such journalism that is the real concern.

I was a speech-writer with LBJ during Vietnam. It was largely a conscript force. 57,000 names are that Wall. Although I opposed it at the time, as a Wall of Shame, it has become (properly so) a national treasure, particularly so when balanced by The Three Soldiers by the late great realistic sculptor Frederick Hart, who has gained a cult following. (America has a way of letting both sides win...)

We taped a marvelous program with Hart at his mansion in Virginia.

BTW: The public television program Think Tank, which I immoderate, plans to expand, with some younger co-hosts. I don't mind self-promotion for a cause I believe in.

The political poison in the air is, (I think) greater today than then. I think that is due to 7/24 news, blogs, partisanship, cell phones, little TV sets in cars (not safe) etc.

Our whole educational system, from the elementary schools to the universities, is increasingly turning out people who have never heard enough conflicting arguments to develop the skills and discipline required to produce a coherent analysis, based on logic and evidence.

The implications of having so many people so incapable of confronting opposing arguments with anything besides ad hominem responses reach far beyond Wal-Mart or think tanks. It is in fact the Achilles heel of this generation of our society and of Western civilization.




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