Derfner’s Enderlinian Logic Questioned: Fallows on the staging hypothesis

In one of my lengthy responses to Derfner’s rattled cage I discussed his strange argumentation for dismissing the “staged” hypothesis. He invoked a list of “respectable, impartial” journalists — Fallows, Schapira, Weimann, Leconte, Jeambar — and, after accepting their conclusion that the Israelis did not kill Muhammad al Durah, then proceeds to the following logical syllogism.

Furthermore, that each of these investigators also dismissed the possibility that the shooting was “staged” – I think that alone is reason enough to brush aside the idea that Abu Rahme, the al-Duras and a cast of helpers pulled off a colossal hoax to blacken Israel’s name by faking the death of a 12-year-old boy.

This is classic Enderlinian logic: If the Israelis don’t object loudly to what I’ve done, then it must be true. We historians call this an argument ex silentio — from silence and consider it a fallacy. The problem is that there are more reasons for silence than the one the argumenter wants his audience to assume.

In Derfner’s case, there are two problems with this formulation. First, even if these journalists had dismissed the possibility of “staging,” both Derfner and the public need to look at the evidence themselves. But second — and here we come to the more disturbing element of Derfner’s method of argumentation — it systematically misinforms the reading public to tell them that “these investigators also dismissed the possibility that the shooting was staged.”

I have already dealt with both Esther Schapira, whose response literally contradicts this characterization of her position, and that of Gabriel Weimann, who is careful to insist on a position of academic modesty: he does not know, and therefore excludes no possibility.

“I told the journalist that I can’t support any scenario but I certainly can’t reject any for the very same reason.”

Along the same lines, Fallows now writes for attribution:

“As I wrote in the Atlantic in 2003, my own guess is that the ‘truth’ of this case will never fully be known. But of course I am interested in and open to whatever explanation or scenario the evidence ultimately supports.” (email of July 13, 2008)

This is much more than a distinction without a difference. These journalists have refused to weigh in because they do not feel they have enough evidence to permit so radical an interpretation of the evidence. In the case of Esther Schapira, this decision did not reflect the absence of evidence, but the awareness that just to grant that Israel was not responsible was already a very risky and highly controversial proposition.

My findings, that it is most unlikely that he was killed by the Israeli soldiers for a number of reasons, came as a surprise to me and already caused an outcry, and I got life threats and needed police protections when I appeared in public. As I was aware of the emotional impact of that scene I stuck strictly to facts and findings and left out everything that seemed like speculation.

It is, therefore, utterly inappropriate to use a silence that is itself the product of an understandable caution, to argue that these writers have formally “dismissed” the possibility of staging.

So out of his list of five “impartial” journalists, three make clear he cannot use their “silence” as a proof of rejection. The only two figures who concluded that they thought that, although the first 9/10 of Talal’s footage consists almost exclusively of staged footage, that they do not believe the actual al Durah sequence was staged, were Denis Jeambar and Daniel Leconte. These two are distinguished by two important details:

First, they never did any investigation of the case, never saw the full material. They made their judgments entirely on the basis of Talal’s footage, without any of the other elements of the investigation.

Second, they were under heavy pressure to distance themselves from the MENA news agency’s position (staged), and dropped all “interest” in the case upon being given evidence — scars from Jamal’s wounds — that was at once irrelevant and untrue.

The is no substitute for examining the evidence oneself.

The only problem is, in a world of Emperor’s New Clothes courtiers like Enderlin (the chamberlain) and Derfner (one of the court flunkies), if you dare to question the consensus, you might be accused of being a fool, or a conspiracy freak.

I recommend the red pill: it may be painful, but at least it’s real.

6 Responses to Derfner’s Enderlinian Logic Questioned: Fallows on the staging hypothesis

  1. oao says:

    derfner does not WANT evidence. and you’re giving him too much attention.

  2. abu yussif says:

    bottom line: for ol’ larry an opinion poll of famous people can trump the cold hard facts. and he calls himself a “journalist”.

  3. Michelle Schatzman says:

    A couple of typos on the penultimate line of paragraph 4 : “it is systematically misinforms” and “tham”.


  4. oao says:

    for ol’ larry an opinion poll of famous people can trump the cold hard facts. and he calls himself a “journalist”.

    but it’s so much easier than having to bother looking at the evidence yourself, no? particularly if there is a risk that the evidence will contradict your dogma.

  5. Fallacy of the Week: Argument ex silentio and chirping crickets…

    An argument ex silentio claims "You respond with silence, thus I am proven right." From Wiki: "In general, the claim that the absence of something demonstrates the proof of a proposition. An argumentum ex silentio (‘argument from silen…

  6. […] have an ongoing debate with James Fallows about the Al Durah Affair (here, here, and here). Indeed, he and Gabriel Weimann (mentioned below) are the first people to whom I showed Pallywood. […]

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