Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Reason Magazine, Sarah Palin, and the Huffington Post

In a webbed "candidate profile" of Sarah Palin, Reason.com writes:
Regarding the invasions of Iraq and Aghanistan, she said, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God."
The actual quote is available in a variety of places. The following is from the Huffington Post; the accompanying video of the speech is no longer up:

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God," she exhorted the congregants. "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

What she is saying is not that the war is a task that is from God but that her listeners should pray that it is. She even says it twice over. Asking people to pray that something is true implies, not that you know it is true, but that you are afraid it might not be.

Reason converted "Pray that X is true" into "X is true." That is either incompetent journalism or a deliberate lie.

During the 2010 elections, I found I had a new hobby—defending Tea Party candidates from claims that they were nuttier than they actually were. One pleasant surprise was the discovery that the Huffington Post, at least in the cases I looked at (example), was a reliable source of information, even when reporting on people whose views they obviously disagreed with. 

One unpleasant surprise was discovering, on Reason.com, words attributed to a candidate, given in quotation marks, which the candidate had not said. The author of the piece had altered both words and meaning. When I pointed that out to him by email he defended what he had written. The misquote was only corrected after I pointed it out to someone else at Reason.

I find it unfortunate that the leading libertarian magazine is a less reliable source of information than a leading publication on the other side.

35 Comments:

At 7:34 PM, November 08, 2011, Anonymous Andy said...

I don't even know why Reason gives space to these nutjobs. Aren't there more important things to talk about?

 
At 9:42 PM, November 08, 2011, Blogger Gary Y. said...

It is difficult to reason correctly about an issue when some of the facts presented are untrue. "Reason," if only by virtue of it's name, claims and should be held to a high (perhaps even a higher) standard.

 
At 10:44 PM, November 08, 2011, Blogger Milhouse said...

Andy, by "nutjobs" do you mean the liars who make stuff like this up about Palin? Or are you calling Palin a nutjob, in which case I call on you to justify that. As far as I can tell there is nothing even slightly nutty about her. She may not be a full-blown libertarian, but she's about the closest thing one can find in the mainstream of major party politics.

 
At 5:31 AM, November 09, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Palin didn't help her case by writing a novel in the middle of the sentence.

 
At 11:19 AM, November 09, 2011, Blogger AIG said...

Not totally surprising. Reason has become increasingly a platform for "libertarian" political candidates, and increasingly ideological in its "analysis" (or sometimes lack off).

"Libertarians" got a bit too confident in themselves during the 2008 election, thinking that since Ron Paul got a better than expected showing, that they "didn't need the republicans anymore". Of course, what they should have learned from the 2008 campaign (and this one), is that "libertarian" candidates like Ron Paul have managed to attract zealots on a personality cult high. Not exactly main-stream Republicans or Tea Partiers.

Reason needs to focus on the issues, not on personality. Ron Paul doesn't need any more outlets for his personality cult. He's got enough.

 
At 11:39 AM, November 09, 2011, Anonymous RKN said...

What she is saying is not that the war is a task that is from God but that her listeners should pray that it is.

If that is indeed what she meant, it was an odd way to state it, because I'm sure Palin would agree that everything happens according to "God's plan". In which case it doesn't make any sense to say to her listeners they should pray - "ask for strenuously; entreat" - to God that the war be His plan.

Then again, this is a woman who once compared herself to Shakespeare, evidence notwithstanding.

 
At 12:55 PM, November 09, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, you nailed it. There is every difference betwenn hoping X is Y and saying X is y

 
At 1:07 PM, November 09, 2011, Anonymous neoclassical_libertarian said...

Random question: Professor Friedman, do you have any plans of writing a book like "Free to Choose" and doing a documentary like your dad did in 1979 and 1980? We are in a similar situation: a one-term president like Carter with high unemployment. We need American politics to shift toward more classical liberal traditions. I know you are not a fan of mainstream political culture, but you should really do something.

 
At 2:46 PM, November 09, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

I am not planning to write a book like Free to Choose or do a TV show. What I have been doing is recording my talks and webbing them, and when other people video my talks webbing those. Not as effective as a TV show, but a lot easier to make happen and a lot less work.

My current book project is a book on legal systems very different from ours. My next is a third edition of _Machinery of Freedom_. Neither will be targeted at the sort of mass audience or broad issues that Free to Choose was directed at.

 
At 2:48 PM, November 09, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

RKN thinks Palin was saying something in an odd way. I disagree. Insofar as his point is correct, it would apply to all prayers--why ask God to do things differently if he is already in control of what is happening?

Yet people do pray, and one of things they naturally pray for is that they are doing the right thing—what God wants them to do. As in this case. I'm not sure how she could have made it much clearer, given that she not only said it, she said it twice.

 
At 3:28 PM, November 09, 2011, Blogger Jehu said...

Christians frequently pray, not simply to ask God for favors (although they're commanded to do precisely that too), but also to attempt to align their own will with God's will. Some call that process discernment.

 
At 4:49 PM, November 09, 2011, Anonymous RKN said...

why ask God to do things differently if he is already in control of what is happening?

More precisely, as in this case, why ask God that the tasking of soldiers be His plan when all plans are His plan?

People pray based on the belief that God may be swayed with regard to the outcome of future events.

I'm not sure how she could have made it much clearer, given that she not only said it, she said it twice.

Twice repeating something silly doesn't make one clear.

That's not a justification for misquoting her, I agree with that much.

 
At 4:52 PM, November 09, 2011, Anonymous Patrick R. Sullivan said...

Good for you, for pointing out what the facts were, David.

Now, since you're responding to questions, I'd be very interested in where you think your father would have come down on the ideas of Scott Sumner on the Fed targeting NGDP. Say, this:

http://online.wsj.com/video/sumner-nominal-gdp-target-can-save-the-recovery/98168505-2753-4490-A0CF-A482AF96A263.html?KEYWORDS=scott+sumner

 
At 6:20 PM, November 09, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RKN wrote: "Then again, this is a woman who once compared herself to Shakespeare, evidence notwithstanding."

Does anyone else see the irony in this counter argument from RKN? Hint: That's not quite what Palin said!

-CC

 
At 8:35 PM, November 09, 2011, Blogger Milhouse said...

If that is indeed what she meant, it was an odd way to state it,

There is no possible doubt that it is what she meant, and there's nothing at all odd about how she stated it: she was consciously echoing Lincoln, who was reported to have said "let us not pray that God is on our side, but that we are on His".


Then again, this is a woman who once compared herself to Shakespeare, evidence notwithstanding.


There are many ways in which she is indeed like Shakespeare, and one of those ways is the one she meant. She coined a useful portmanteau word, and was mocked for it, as if using words of ones own coinage is somehow a bad thing. She was right to point out that Shakespeare coined rather a lot of words.

 
At 8:37 PM, November 09, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

Patrick asks what my father would have said about something.

Macro isn't my field, and I can't speak for what my father would have said. I suggest asking Anna Schwartz, as the nearest equivalent available.

 
At 11:44 PM, November 09, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, so her speechwriter is not an idiot. It does make Reason look bad. It does not make Sara Palin look good - the consensus is that she does not have the capacity to understand the subtleties of what she is mouthing off. Nor does her target audience.

 
At 7:44 AM, November 10, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

"It does not make Sara Palin look good - the consensus is that she does not have the capacity to understand the subtleties of what she is mouthing off."

My point was not that Palin looked good but that Reason was saying something that wasn't true.

But you might want to worry about how well based your confident opinion of her intellect is, given that your information is filtered through media which have repeatedly misrepresented her on this particular quote. The error isn't original with Reason. Are you equally willing to take "the consensus" for gospel when it goes against your beliefs?

And, in this case, no subtlety is required. Her point was a conventional one for a religious believer--that we should pray we are doing the right thing. The only surprising element was the blatant dishonesty--or perhaps intellectual incompetence--of the various people who misquoted her.

 
At 7:46 AM, November 10, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

RKN writes:

"More precisely, as in this case, why ask God that the tasking of soldiers be His plan when all plans are His plan?"

Most Christians believe in free will, which implies that human beings are capable of error, hence capable of going things that God does not want them to do. So there is nothing strange in praying that you--or, in this case, your soldiers--are doing what God wants them to do.

 
At 8:20 AM, November 10, 2011, Blogger Milhouse said...

Ok, so her speechwriter is not an idiot. It does make Reason look bad. It does not make Sara Palin look good - the consensus is that she does not have the capacity to understand the subtleties of what she is mouthing off. Nor does her target audience.

What makes you think she had a speechwriter write this for her? And whose "consensus" is this? That of idiots who think they're psychic?

 
At 9:50 AM, November 10, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AIG Writes:

"Reason needs to focus on the issues, not on personality. Ron Paul doesn't need any more outlets for his personality cult. He's got enough"

He seems to get a pretty honest treatment here:

http://reason.com/archives/2008/03/28/in-search-of-the-perfect-human

 
At 10:29 AM, November 10, 2011, Anonymous Patrick R. Sullivan said...

You may not be a macro specialist, David, but you wrote quite ably about monetary theory in your Price Theory textbook. In fact, I once pointed Sumner to your explanation of 'the price of money' when it's bought and sold (rather than lent and borrowed) on his blog, The Money Illusion. He liked it.

But, if you're not following that debate (such as Christina Romer's open letter to Ben Bernanke, in which she essentially pumps for Sumner's prescription of targeting the right side of the Equation of Exchange), so be it.

Also, and at risk of being ungallant, I don't think Anna Schwartz even remembers, these days, what she wrote in the 1960s.

 
At 6:13 PM, November 10, 2011, Blogger Joe said...

To Friedman: Since someone brought up the off-topic idea of making a documentary, I want to express my related wish to see a video or audio of you in a debate.

I recently reread 'Machinery of Freedom' and noticed the dedication to Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, with the passage:

"He is merely someone who starts out already knowing and understanding everything I had to say on the subjects of this book as of 1973, which makes the ensuing argument very much more
interesting."

Which makes me wish I could hear it. Since I enjoy your talks/writing so much, I suspect I would enjoy seeing arguments documented too.

 
At 8:11 PM, November 10, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David said: ... given that your information is filtered through media which have repeatedly misrepresented her on this particular quote.

Well, that is freedom of speech: each media source says what they want and we listen and choose. The failure would be if all media say the same thing - because of government censorship, corporate control (hi, Noam), religion or any other reason.

 
At 4:05 PM, November 11, 2011, Blogger Bob Murphy said...

Great post, Dr. Friedman. I love your defenses of the "nutjobs." I personally think the all-time worst one was people calling Dan Quayle and idiot, when the teacher who made the cue card had misspelled "potatoe" on it. Of course he's not going to contradict the teacher with cameras rolling on something that isn't that obvious; the plural is "potatoes" after all.

 
At 4:11 PM, November 11, 2011, Blogger Bob Murphy said...

AIG wrote:

Reason needs to focus on the issues, not on personality. Ron Paul doesn't need any more outlets for his personality cult. He's got enough.

AIG, just so you know, actual Ron Paul supporters (you probably think of them as "Paultards") were furious at Reason for what they perceived to be as slights to the good doctor's name.

For example, the devastating newsletter story was on Reason--I know several Paul fans who have never forgiven Reason for that story--and here's a Ron Paul site complaining about Reason's senior editor rolling her eyes about Ron Paul's chances.

So, you really have no idea what you are talking about.

 
At 5:10 PM, November 12, 2011, Anonymous Robert S. Porter said...

Or, Bob, you're just a deeply ideological person who has spent too much time wallowing in the Fever Swamp to notice Paul's popularity. Yep, that's it.

 
At 6:58 AM, November 13, 2011, Anonymous Nightrunner said...

"Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God,"

How can you be any nuttier than that? Was killing Osama a task from God?

 
At 8:35 AM, November 13, 2011, Blogger Milhouse said...

The failure would be if all media say the same thing - because of government censorship, corporate control (hi, Noam), religion or any other reason.

Really? I would want them all to say the same thing, out of concern for the truth. I suppose you'd call that "religion".

 
At 9:14 AM, November 13, 2011, Blogger Milhouse said...


How can you be any nuttier than that? Was killing Osama a task from God?


Um, yes, I'd say so. Why do you think it wasn't?

 
At 3:25 PM, November 13, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that Reason has removed the quoted passage from the article.

 
At 2:53 PM, November 14, 2011, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Ok, so her speechwriter is not an idiot."

According to the Huffington Post account, the speech was given three months before she was chosen as McCain's VP candidate, so while she could have had a speechwriter for it, I wouldn't assume that she did.

 
At 6:16 PM, November 14, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David wrote: I wouldn't assume that she did

Upon reflection I have to agree. What she said is a bunch of worthless platitudes. Dont need a speech writer for that.

 
At 9:01 AM, November 17, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very good. I think we should hold ourselves to the highest possible account.

 
At 10:49 PM, November 20, 2011, Anonymous js290 said...

Look no further than Reason sending Peter Schiff into OWS asking if the Occupiers want to be part of the 1%. It doesn't help inform the Occupiers the root cause of the correctly observed economic injustices. It doesn't help the "libertarian" cause.

 

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