Response to smintheus: Conspiracy vs. Manipulation

Smintheus fires back his response to my “obtuse” criticism. Interesting stuff. I’ve only kept the most relevant because it’s very long. But do read the whole thing.
Smintheus’ blogpost in bold.

On being smeared

How low will the superpatriots stoop to justify the neocon agenda of war, war, and yet more war? Pretty darn low, apparently.

After my post the other day on the Qana bombing, the reaction to it among the Fighting 101st Keyboardists was hyperbolic and uncomprehending. By rejecting their conspiracy theory, it turns out I’ve handed a victory to the terrorists.

Why is staging a photo-op a conspiracy theory? Smintheus uses the term with obvious derision, as if to suggest that Arab journalists and their buddies in Hizbullah might have arranged a photo-op was somehow up there with Mossad and the Bush administration blowing up the World Trade Center or the CIA knocking off JFK. Smintheus, do you distinguish between manipulation and conspiracy theory? Why is it so hard to believe that Qana photos might have been faked?

Are Arab photographers and hospital personnel automatically above suspicion? Do you even know about Pallywood? Or is that more conspiracy theory?

You might not be aware of it, but your dismissal of criticism as conspiracy theory recoups the reaction to the accusations of al Durah as staged: you Zionists are just as conspiracy-minded as the Arabs. What this suggests is that any time you accuse someone of manipulation you’ve become a conspiracy theorist. I find it hard to believe that smintheus follows such a procedure in his own life — never met a manipulative person? never steered clear? — much less in his analysis of the neo-con warmongers. So why is manipulation unthinkable from the Arabs? Would that be racist of me? Or would this be an example of the “human rights complex“, in which it’s the identity of the perp that counts. People of color can’t be guilty.


If I have you wrong, smintheus, please let me know. I don’t see anything on your blog about Darfur, but I do see stuff on the UN Human Rights Commission on the record of the USA. Do you know anything about the people who run the show over there? For example, their neglect of Sudanese genocide for decades. Or do you not care as long as they come out with what you want to hear?

One superpatriot even insinuated that I’m dangerously psychotic, literally. He described what purport to be the clinical details of a mental breakdown dating to the 1970s. It is despicable, all the more because the author is allegedly a practicing psychoanalyst. And ‘ShrinkWrapped’ is no lonely ranter; his blog is a favorite among right wingers. Just the other day, Wolcott took aim at him for making “the narcissism of the Left his house specialty.”

I notice you link to Walcott — interesting essay, witty but low on substance — but not to Shrinkwrapped. I cannot find anywhere in Shrinkwrapped’s post where he insinuates, literally, that you are dangerously psychotic. He makes an analogy to psychosis. He suggests that the condition of the left today (you are not the target but the illustration of the larger problem) is dangerous. But your own favorite, Wolcott, is careful to remind those he criticizes for misusing the word “literally.”

But attributing an actual mental breakdown? I suspect that it’s slanderous-and anyhow, it’s malicious in the extreme.

Okay, I’m confused. Shrinkwrapped never even uses the expression mental breakdown. And his point, as I understand it, is that the same mechanism that operates in the psychotic episode he describes — the necessity to maintain self-esteem even as things begin to fall apart — also characterizes your and other “leftist” reactions. I think he saved the “literal” psychotic comparisons for the Jihadis.

For background on the right wing conspiracy theories about Qana, and my own post on the topic, see the Appendix below. Those who haven’t been following this curious story might want to begin there. For the rest of you, I thought I’d proceed straight to the responses from the internet’s superpatriots.

Richard Landes at Augean Stables wrote a lengthy, obtuse rebuttal expressing his conviction that I suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome. That’s about the level of analysis on display throughout. Accordingly, his post has been quoted with approval at various right wing sites. I’ll postpone discussion of Landes, who (touchingly) is deeply concerned about “the tone at Daily Kos”.

Well actually I invoked BDS specifically in response to smintheus’ accusation that the “wingers” have what one might characterize without too much of a stretch as a form of “positive” BDS in which they can’t possibly think straight while Bush is president:

One of the great ironies is that, for all their confidence in their own mental acuity, the Republican superpatriots (but I’m repeating myself) put their minds in a blind trust when Bush was elected. All the evidence suggests that, for many of the Bush partisans, there won’t be much value in retrieving them after 2008.

I actually think my comments were far more substantive than smintheus would have his readers think, and I’ll repeat what I said about his first post, this time concerning his summary of my critique:

I invite any reader to read the various postings and ask yourself whether you felt well informed by this summary. As someone who has, I certainly would give this kind of work, done by a history student, a D (and that would be generous, on the assumption that it’s by a first year graduate student who still doesn’t understand what it is to summarize someone else’s arguments).

By the way, smintheus, it is a sign of profound self-absorption to be incapable of summarizing someone else’s point of view.

[I cut a lengthy discussion of Shrinkwrapped’s patient history of Michael C. and smintheus’ accusation that it was a direct assault on him (Michael Clark who also went to an ivy league school in the late 1970s). That’s for SW to deal with. Smintheus’ concludes with the following summary of SW’s critique:]

Shorter babble: To reject the superpatriots’ gross error (regarding the time-stamps of photographs from Qana) is a mark of a desperate and crumbling mental state. Facing up to error is not, as historians are prone to say, getting the facts straight.

Actually, I think the point was that the criticism leveled by “superpatriot” (Richard North) went far beyond the time stamps, and for smenthius to focus only (note, I do not say obsessively) on this issue represents something of a failure to appreciate the big picture. Indeed, I think it’s not unreasonable to argue that focussing only on this to the exclusion of the vast amount of evidence for manipulation in the Qana affair, represents something of a desperate move.

Herds of a feather

The Augean Stables website features an illustration of a different Labor of Herakles than the one it takes its name from. I kid you not.

That’s because I still haven’t found a good illustration of piles of impacted cowshit to match what’s going on in the media. If you have one, let me know. Short of that, the hydra struck me as a good substitute, because unlike Herakles cleaning the Augean Stables (he only had a day, we may have a couple of years), those of us who try to clean the MSM stables often run into hydra-headed snakes attacking every chance they get.

But more than mere foolishness, Richard Landes shares SW’s fondness for psychological analysis from afar. In fact, he shows up at Shrinkwrapped to gush about the repulsive post I just described:

    this is a fantastic post. i guess this is the best of the blogosphere….in a way it’s harder for me to believe that the left is so unhinged — i was genuinely surprised by the tone at Daily Kos (which i don’t read)

When Herakles is done with that Hydra at the top of the website, he’ll have to clean up the irony that’s dribbled all over the Stable floor from the cattle-herder’s complaints about the tone of the anti-war left.

Huh? What irony? Am I missing something?

What’s more, Landes accuses me of ad hominem attacks upon those who refuse to let go of the discredited ‘evidence’…thus demonstrating that he thinks the term refers to unwelcome deductions about the intellectual honesty of his fellow partisans. For smears, by contrast, the term ‘fantastic’ applies.

Okay, just a small collection of the remarks I found ad hominem:

  • an absurd little weed that the true-believers rushed to cultivate
  • Here is really all that you need to know about the Bush partisans. Mere facts stand little chance against their cherished fictions. Bile points the way toward ‘truth’.
  • It’s the paradox of idiocy. The idiot treats his own misinformed foolishness as a mark of distinction, the height of sophistication. The refusal to see sense is a natural corollary of the inability to see it.
  • most of the other fatheads on the right were huffing and puffing this story up.
  • how much play the nuts were giving an allegation
  • on hare-brained blog posts about, well, nothing at all
  • the American superpatriots leapt upon the AP story and tore flesh.

As for substantive analysis, it boils down to repeating that North got the time-stamp stuff wrong and the rest is just “writing obsessively about inconsequential aspects of the dress and location of rescuers in these pictures.”

Anyway, Landes’ evident pride in not reading Daily Kos squares perfectly with the grand-eloquent hash he made of my Qana post—which by his own admission appeared at Daily Kos. It’s far from clear that he understood even the basic point that any conspiracy theory involving the collusion of photographers from multiple news agencies is, by its nature, ‘improbable’. Strong evidence, rather than a mélange of confusions and ignorance, needs to be brought to bear to support an improbable theory.

Interesting. It’s “improbable” that there would be collusion of photographers from multiple news agencies… This assumes a) that these photographers were ethnically and ideologically diverse, b) that they would have to be in active collusion, rather than merely duped, and c) that this kind of thing is not common.

I understand smintheus’ reluctance to believe this. I too was astonished at the degree of dishonest complicity between news agency “cameramen” and Palestinian “actors” when I first saw the rushes from Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000. So I can understand the reluctance to believe this. So I invite you, smintheus, and anyone else who finds such a phenomenon “improbable,” to visit The Second Draft and immerse yourself in the world of news manipulation by multiple cameramen. The unbelievable part is not the notion that Arab photographers like Talal abu Rahmeh would fake stuff, but that our media organizations would be so easily duped.

There’s much discussion about just how far the Adnan Hajj affair goes. The evidence of Pallywood is that both in the realm of faking it, and in the realm of MSM editors’ credulity, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For Landes as for so many other Fighting Keyboardists, rejecting their laughable errors, questioning their assumptions, ignoring their inconsequential observations, and excluding their unproven inferences is tantamount to-OK, you got there ahead of me-playing the dupe to Hizbollah (if not actively supporting Islamofascism). Only a fool, you see, does not understand that Hizbollah is capable of propagandizing.

Okay, now I see the irony on the floor of the stables. This paragraph, intended as clinching sarcasm, is actually a pretty good summary of what’s wrong with smenthius’ approach. I’m still trying to figure out if he rejects that final comment about “only a fool…” (as implied by his sarcasm). By the way, I have no problem with people questioning my assumptions and unproven inferences… it’s the lack of substance and the excess of rhetorical contempt that I object to.

Linked to their desire to deny any sympathy to the Lebanese civilians under attack,

I actually feel enormous sympathy for the Lebanese civilians under attack. I just think the responsibility for those attacks fall on Hizbullah, and when the media gets duped by staged scenes which arouse virulent hatreds against Israel, distract from Hizbullah’s role, paralyze moderates in the Arab and Muslim world I think it’s a compounded tragedy. And then when media commentators like smenthius pour bile over those of us who object to the media’s credulity and its negative consequences, it contributes to a prognosis in which these Lebanese civilians will suffer still more, and they won’t be the only ones.

is a passionate defense of the Israeli offensive, the Bush administration’s indifference to the suffering in Lebanon, and above all a full-throated assault upon the MSM. The latter is the flower-bed of their rage, I suspect, and the justification for so much bile directed against conspiracy-deniers. They fancied that they’d caught the media red-handed, and that their triumph would also help to discredit all the stories of carnage in Lebanon and Iraq.

Iraq is another good example of what I’m talking about. I presume that the stories of carnage he refers to are those caused by the aggressors — US, Israel. (Correct me if I’m wrong here, s.) But where’s the most revolting and appalling violence against civilians coming from in Iraq? Muslim on Muslim violence. The discrediting of stories of violence is not about whether it happened or not (although the tendency to inflate civilian casualties certainly does exist), but who’s doing it. I sometimes get the sense that whenever a civilian is killed in Iraq for some people this is automatically the US’s fault, no matter what the religious persuasion of the man who wades into a crowd of civilians and blows himself up.

Here for example is Landes’ introduction:

    An extremely revealing piece at Daily Kos on the Qana Affair (hattip LGF) Smintheus, who has been known to rail against the MSM for getting their stories wrong, expresses his serene confidence in the MSM getting it right. One has to ask — as with the critics of Qana — how much what one wants to believe effects [sic] the evidence… in this case, apparently, a deep desire to believe Israel guilty, and the Hizbullah and the MSM innocent.

I believe you’d search in vain in my post for any expression of “serene confidence in the MSM getting it [what?] right,”

I was referring to comments like this:

  • After a British blogger managed to convince himself that wire service photos from Qana had been staged, wingers in the U.S. competed to embellish the baseless accusation. And though the AP published an article rebutting the charge, fevered minds on the right are having none of it.
  • He [Richard North] claimed, improbably, that bodies extracted from the bombed building had been manipulated by rescuers in order to create propaganda for Hizbollah, and that the photographers had gone along with the fiction…
  • The Associated Press went so far as to publish an article on Aug. 1 demolishing the allegations.

If smenthius’ belief in the improbability of media’s falling into a Hizbullah propaganda trap, and in the decisive nature of the media’s defense, are not evidence of misplaced (if not serene) confidence, I’m not sure what is.

or a desire to believe anybody guilty or innocent of whatever these parties are supposed to be guilty or innocent of. That’s simply the beginning of a catalogue of errors, unfounded assumptions, misreadings, and condescensions that pepper his paragraph-by-paragraph commentary on my post. It’s worth poring over as an example of how the true-believers can read a fairly straight-forward essay and end up on another planet. Here is his conclusion:

    And in the end, as they rub their hands in combined agony and glee, clucking over how Israel’s crimes have intensified global jihadi sentiments around the world, they protect one of the major sources of our woe: a deeply irresponsible media.

    Tragedy amplified by smug partisanship.

    But where does this smug hostility come from? What on earth possesses smenthius [sic] and his friends to think they know what’s going on in Lebanon? I guess, when it tells them what they want to hear, they believe the MSM. My question is, why is this what you want to hear?

Perversely, the one element which is most glaring by its absence from Landes’ ‘analysis’ is the central point: that the Qana conspiracy theories reflect the intellectual dishonesty of the extreme right wingers. Oh well, I suppose there are only so many issues one can mangle in a diatribe.

And here I thought I’d get an answer to my questions. But no… I get a repetition of my alleged “intellectual dishonesty” and dismissal as an “extreme right winger.” What happens to all this if, as the evidence continues to show, Qana was staged?

I’ll spare the reader a discussion of smenthius’ Appendix. Read it, by all means. It’s largely repetitious, and recommends a look at Jefferson Morley at WaPo, which is, like smenthius, long on derisive opinion and short on substance.

2 Responses to Response to smintheus: Conspiracy vs. Manipulation

  1. Tocano says:

    Actually, I think the hydra may, in fact, draw the best parallel to the challenge we face today.

    “For every head that is cut, two more grow to take its place.”

    While we are in conflict with the Islamic extremists, whenever we cut one down, the MSM does such an excellent job demonizing that action, that it inspires additional jihadists to join the cause. As time progresses and more like smintheus appear to defend the MSM, the phrase “two front war” takes on especially frightening poignancy.

  2. Eliyahu says:

    Was smintheus the name of the mouse god? Perhaps the collective name for the mice who supposedly ate the bowstrings of the Assyrian army invading Egypt at the time of Taharka [or Tirhaka]? [as in Herodotos?]

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