odd time signatures

Reputation Management and the Art of Argument

Anyone who knows me for about ten minutes knows I don’t back down from arguments…usually. The only reason I walk away is when they turn personal, because at that point, the larger issue gets lost in a strand of venom. Anyone who follows me on Twitter (and if you’re not, you can follow me here) knows I don’t back down easily when responding to an attack on me or someone I respect. Taken together, those two declarations seem contradictory, but they’re not as much as they seem. Twitter’s real-time nature means accusations can be tossed out, captured, retweeted and made into concrete before one has a chance to get from their phone to their laptop, whether they are true or false. A one-to-many character attack left unanswered will replicate itself into something people believe. If you don’t believe me, have a look sometime at some of the different affinity groups on Twitter (follow the #tcot tag for fun sometime) and see how rapidly a lie can spread. 

About the TSA

Many have assumed my defense of The Nation article published on Wednesday is some sort of statement of support for stripping citizens of civil liberties. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am, however, bothered by what I view as an orchestrated crescendo in publicity over this particular issue at the holidays, resplendent with hyperbole and lots of demagoguing. From terms like “gate rape”, which marginalize real victims of real rape, to the claim that TSA screening procedures are a government plot to intimidate us all, the discussion has descended into a hole of acrimonious government-bashing, with no real solutions for how to actually get those zillions of passengers through the gates and on the plane in the safest possible manner.

This is because no one seems to want to name the elephant in the room. Here it is: There is no such thing as “keeping us safe.” None. Zero. Zip. Nada. You’re not safe when you walk through the door, you’re not safe when you get in the car, you’re not safe riding your bike in the bike lane and you’re not safe getting on a plane. Terrorists or no terrorists, there are enough whackadoos in this world looking for attention and destruction to off us all without the benefit of jihad or other motivations. But since September 11, 2001 the business of telling us a) we’re not safe; and b) ramped-up security measures will keep us safe has been the security blanket applied by press, pundits and yes, politicians.

Which of course, leaves a non-partisan and entirely political dilemma. The first politician to step up and admit that airport security is at best a random and fleeting thing will be the next politician blamed when something inevitably can and does go wrong. And when it does, we will also hear about how incompetent that same government was for not “keeping us safe.” See how that works?

Why bring all of this up? Because the entire debate over the TSA has gone off the rails and become the new “gotta win” argument on both sides — conservative and liberal alike. Only, no one really understands what it is they want to win, or at least, they’re not articulating it. Anyone can criticize. Here, I’ll do it: Believing that scanners and body searches will prevent the next terrorist attack is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. It’s a waste of time, effort, is invasive,demeaning, and has very little return on the investment.

There. I criticized. Now what, folks? Feel any safer? Feel the need to get on a plane and travel? We’re heading out for a wedding at the end of February. Suppose I stood up and blogged between now and then that the TSA procedures were government invasion of my privacy, “gate rape”, eroding my civil liberties and ruining this country. A reality: I’ve still gotta get on the plane.

So there’s been some pushback on the critics, on those who are more than willing to condemn this administration for enforcing security measures approved before their time and put into place. Thinking back to the undie bomber incident, I recall all sorts of news time being spent grilling Napolitano and the administration on how security screenings had failed and how they were going to fix them. We had DeMint calling for the guy to be tortured and Susan Collins going all quavery about trying the guy in a civilian court because well, he committed a crime that should be tried in a regular court of law. We had Fox News beside themselves with glee over the opportunity to call the administration “soft on terror” and Glenn Beck terrorizing everyone daily on TV.

Ignore the politics at your own peril. Ramp up the criticism without any corresponding suggestions for real security measures (and no, interviewing every passenger isn’t going to work, no matter what Israeli businessmen say on Countdown), and you play right into the political hands of the far right, who will take that scary black guy out of office for you and put in a nice, clean-cut white dude who will gladly torture, search, and subject American citizens to even more “security measures”. 

This is the environment into which came a series of personal attacks, accusations, and challenges.

Reputation Management

I have made PDFs of the timelines involved. Here is mine, Marcy Wheeler‘s, Jason Leopold‘s, and Shoq‘s. They go back as far as the 23rd, when TSA measures were the topic of discussion but not yet the topic of an article published by The Nation which contended that an orchestrated PR campaign financed by Koch-related entities was responsible for ramping up the rhetoric, heat and publicity on the TSA searches.

The article was flawed in some ways, but in others, it wasn’t. The flaws invited commentary on the motives of the authors, the politics of the authors, the skill of the authors, and the integrity of The Nation — a publication which I often disagree with when it comes to opinion, but rarely when it comes to facts. However, because of the controversy, I set out to verify some of the facts in their article and was able to do that easily.

Here’s the problem, as I see it. By the time this article was published, there was a narrative set around these screenings. Anyone polluting that narrative by pointing out external interference was not welcomed into the discussion and would instead be subject to harsh criticism. As is often the case with Internet postings, whether on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, comments or message boards, alignments behind personalities come with the ensuing argument, which is exactly what happened here. I raised a question – not even an objection –  about why it was that both narratives couldn’t be in play, and also questioned why the harsh criticism of The Nation — a publication much more often on the side of its now-critics than not — and was met with the instant judgment that I was somehow an apologist for the administration. 

The discussion continued into this afternoon and evening, long after I withdrew from it and moved on to other things. Yet I found myself drawn back into it by this claim by Marcy (emptywheel):

@gracels BC @Shoq‘s efforts seem to be directed at discrediting work of those who examine exec overreach. In his mind, we’re on $$ train.

I know this guy Shoq pretty well and was a bit surprised to hear that accusation, since I know his primary objection is the instant lineup behind the critics and ensuing clamor. I objected, and received an hour or more worth of non-stop tweets from Marcy asking me if I wanted the links to support her claim, provided I agreed in advance to agree with her.

I don’t play by those rules. I was also in the car, on my phone, trying to do a search and read four different timelines with many, many tweets on it. As you might imagine, it’s an ineffective way to do things. I did, however, locate this strand of tweets and will quote Shoq’s comment and followup here:

11/24 CommentI realize it’s gd marketing, but “gate rape” trivializes real rape, and is over the top. “Rape” implies an intent.

11/25 Follow-up CommentI apologize you take it as some insinusation. I respect professionalism & skill. I think of what you do as marketing ideas.

11/25 Follow-up Comment: [email protected] “Selling (and marketing)” people on what you reporting, as you see it, is what you do. I see no problem with my words

Goodness. These were the comments that I was supposed to agree in advance were accusations of bad faith? And not agree once, but 14 times? (If you really need to see the harangue, check the PDFs. You’ll find it all in there, but here’s a sample, all received in the span of one hour on the road, last to first. These were coming so fast and furious I didn’t see them all until I returned home and could actually look at the entire timeline, because I limit my mobile downloads to 20 tweets for bandwidth purposes.

@KaroliOkay? For the 15th time you refuse to look at evidence of @Shoq accusing good liberals of bad faith???
@Shoq You got links confessing your accusations of bad faith? Bc you and @karoli have only -1 minute.s.
@KaroliGoing to be in abuot 5 minutes. Want the tick tock links this whole convo is about, or want to refuse proof, still////
@KaroliTick tock. 12:38 we offered you links before you refused them 13 times….. At this point, count yourself as missing the oppty.
@KaroliI[m only saying you have refused–13+ times–to actually look at those accusations.
@Shoq continues to make this allegation–“Selling (and marketing)” people on what you reporting, as you see it, is what you do.”
@Karoli “darling.” I’ve offered now, 13 times. Say, “I’ll see your links and promise to treat them fairly.” Or count yourself co-opted.
@Karoli I’m a bully because I offer proof 12 times but you refuse to take it?
@Karoli I count 12 offers to provide support for my argument w/ agreement you’ll treat that argument fairly. But you refused that offer.
@Karoli OK, so once again, you can’t do your cherry pick to “prove” your truth. This is becoming a daily accusation from you/
@Karoli You understand if we agreed to a search we’d give you these cray things call inks? You still scared of the search?
@Karoli I’m waiting. An easy yes or no: you want evidence that Dems accuse Civil Libertarians of being in it for the $$ to be made public?
@Karoli Do you want to acknowledge @Shoq‘s comment about “you pros like you and Marcy to grapple with these issues. That’s your craft.”?
@Karoli You want the links? I guess not. Cause you’re on a roll, huh?
@Karoli I offered the links, you REFUSED to look at them. What does that say???
@Karoli You REFUSE to see the tweets with any promise you’ll treat them fairly. OK. That says something, huh?
@Karoli As refused.
@Shoq I officially take our offer–“we’ll show you the tweets @Shoqhas accused us of being in it for the $$ in exchange for an admission–
@Karoli No. I’ve made an offer. We”l do your work if you agree to treat us fairly. You’ve refused offer now 4 times. What R you afaird of?
@karoli Tick tock, tick tock. I’m assuming then you don’t want to be shown the [email protected]Karoli
@Karoli Fine. You want the links. Or you want it established you refused them for your specious claims to have exmained on your own?
@Karoli How many times should we offer to do your work for you before it becomes clear you don’t want to see what we’ll show you?
@Karoli We’ll show them to you–but with the expectation you’ll be honest about your response.
@Karoli Want to find them? We

That’s not all of them. While I’m in the car, trying to manage keeping the driver awake and focused, this is being broadcast all over Twitter to anyone bothering to listen. And many were. That’s my reputation she’s spamming all over Twitter because I dared to question her claim that someone was saying she markets ideas? Don’t all writers market ideas? You’re nuts if you think otherwise.

My response to Marcy: We write because we want to be read, because we want to influence the debate, because it’s THAT important to us. And yes, for you and for me, that also translates into making money. Anyone who says they don’t craft their headline to get attention is a liar. Anyone who says they don’t use sensational terms to cause heads to snap up at attention and put eyeballs on their ideas is lying, too. This is hardly bad faith. It’s reality. What’s the point of writing if not to be read? And even when you received an apology it wasn’t enough for you to stop. It just rolled on and on, off your keyboard and right onto the screen, screw anyone who dares to disagree with the Great and Mighty Marcy and Her Cabal of Wronged Writer/Crusader/Libertarian Heroes.

I like and respect Jason Leopold. It would do him a disservice to say that he doesn’t craft what he writes with the intention of getting people to read it. In fact, his choice of headline was challenged in the midst of all this last night, and after defending it (and having a misunderstanding of the criticism), he agreed that the criticism was valid. OF COURSE we choose headlines to command attention, or SEO, or whatever it is we think will get some traction behind what we write. That is part of what we do and saying so doesn’t mean what one writes is somehow disingenuous. Leave the purity party for someone else. Writing it and getting no eyeballs is silly. 

So this is how I manage my reputation. I’ve supplied you with the offending tweets, and the followup tweets. There was one other that offended, but it didn’t deal with money accusations at all. It dealt with tribes.

Shoq Well, I am glad all of Greenwald’s friends have agreed with him. Unity is important.

Tribal Politics

Human nature dictates that we gravitate toward those with whom we feel the most comfortable. When it comes to politics, there are many different tribes. We have the progressive libertarians, a la Marcy. The pragmatic liberals, where I fit well as does Shoq. We have the centrist liberals, centrist conservatives, Tea Party conservatives and conservative libertarians. There are the moral conservatives and the fiscal conservatives. They come together and they come apart. The divide between moral conservatives and fiscal conservatives is opening up now as Republicans prepare to take charge of the House. And yes, there’s a divide between the pragmatic liberals and the progressive liberals/libertarians, which really comes down to a question of purity versus pragmatism. Rarely do these conflicts manifest themselves on the ideological level. Most liberals agree in principle with progressives. Where the divide comes is in what may be possible, what tactics/actions to take, and what is not possible.

When the divides open, tribes gather round their leaders. In this sphere, the leaders are the Greenwalds and the Hamshers and the Amatos and the Digbys, etc. What inevitably happens in these conversations is this: Policy discussions turn personal. As people align behind the person speaking their truth with regard to policy, questioning that policy or their arguments is interpreted as an attack on the leader rather than questioning the policy or position or argument. Consequently, the rhetoric ratchets up higher and higher and higher.

In this discussion tonight, Marcy ramped things up by accusing Shoq of McCarthyism; that is, making baseless accusations. He returned the favor by saying she was on a jihad. When conversation devolves to this level, there’s very little hope for dragging it back to the high road and returning to an honest discussion of policy. I’m often accused of being an apologist for not stepping on a hard line or being more critical of the Obama administration, because when discussing policy in tribal form, I could not possibly be a “good liberal” and agree with what is being done. There is no room to inhabit a space if it is not owned by a tribe.

Damaging the Debate

If you’ve made it this far, you must be wondering where I’m going with this. In my view, the ramped-up hyperbole, rhetoric, and tribalism in our political debate on all sides makes it impossible to reach consensus on almost anything. When one starts with an assumption that extra-tribal voices are worthless, we’ve moved from democracy to something else, something darkly dictatorial and authoritarian. Everyone feels righteous to such an extreme that “rightness” becomes the goal, rather than resolution.

That’s where we are now. It’s a zero-sum game for all tribes. The only remaining question is who will emerge triumphant. Whatever the outcome, there will be blood and I fear for not only 2012, but our future in general, because we’re heading toward a road where fractures run so deep, so wide, and reputations have been so damaged that there will be no road to rehabilitation.

This country isn’t polarized. It’s fractured, and coming apart. Nothing illustrates that more clearly than this entire post and the underlying discussions that brought it here.

As for my reputation, I’ve put the evidence out there for anyone who cares to look at themselves. All four timelines, links, quotes and the debate. All I can do is let facts speak for themselves. If I missed anything, point it out and I’ll add it. I’m not afraid of facts. I’m not afraid to be wrong. I’m not afraid to apologize in situations where I am. What I am afraid of is that the stakes are raised so high at this point that nothing other than total capitulation in all circumstances will drown out dissent not only on the right, but also on the left, making us no better, different, or more attractive than the next demagogue in line.

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