ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

VDH on Paris Burning

Victor Davis Hason (my favorite Democrat) has this article by Bruce Thornton about the flames in Paris and the way that the journalists are covering the insurgency:

Troubling “Facts” of the Paris Riots
How our newspapers might turn bias to balance.
by Bruce Thornton
Private Papers

The media's techniques for smuggling opinion into what are supposed to be news stories are so pervasive that often we don't even notice when they are at work. Here's an example from the Friday, November 4 New York Times, in a story about the Muslim riots in Paris. Most of the article simply describes the events and the political fallout for various French politicians.

It's in the last paragraph that the reporting of news gives way to disguised opinion: "The continuing unrest appears to be fueled less by perceived police brutality than by the frustration of young men who have no work and see little hope for the future." In Saturday's coverage, this opinion migrates to the front of the story, with references to "underlying frustrations" and "decades of high unemployment and marginalization." To statements such as these any perceptive reader should respond, "Says who?"

Notice the use of the impersonal weasel-word "appears." Appears to whom? The Times writer, a French politician, an academic, an imam, or the rioters? The way this opinion is phrased obscures the fact that it is a mere opinion, an interpretation of the events described, not a fact. As such, the source of the opinion should be identified so we can evaluate its usefulness and integrity. But to say it "appears,” unconnected to a person with a point of view, is an evasion of responsibility. If this explanation was deemed so important for the story, then surely the reporter could have found someone to give him a quote expressing the opinion so that at least we'd know whose ax is being ground. And a thorough reporter would be sure to find other people with alternative interpretations in order to provide balance and give the reader a fuller range of opinion on the matter. Without this sort of attribution, however, the opinion then must be that of the writer and the editors of the Times. At which point we need to be asking why a newspaper that continually proclaims its professional objectivity is putting opinion into what's supposed to be a news story.

But it's not just the concealment of the opinion's source that is troubling. The opinion itself reflects a certain ideology, a set of modern prejudices about human behavior. To attribute the riot to "frustration" and "no work" is to indulge a highly questionable view of human action that reduces it to environmental forces outside the individual. This materialist determinism — the idea that material causes in the environment, especially economic ones, are the prime mover of humans — is not a scientific fact but an ideological prejudice whose roots lay in pseudo-scientists like Marx and Freud. It discards the fact of human free will and ignores the many complex and conflicting motivations of people that explain their actions. Sometimes people burn and loot out of economic frustration and hopelessness; sometimes they do so because of the innate joy in destruction and in the power that such destruction temporarily bestows; sometimes they do so because they want stuff for free; sometimes they do so in pursuit of some value or ideal; and sometimes they do so just for the sheer hell of it.

In the case of the Paris rioters, there are other explanations for their behavior that are more accurate than liberal clich├ęs about “frustration.” As Dr Jack Wheeler puts it, “The problem is not that these Moslem kids are unemployed, but that they are unemployable. They are illiterate, unskilled except in crime, don't speak French well, refuse to assimilate into French culture and think being Moslem is more important than being French. Worse, they are paid by the French welfare state not to work, living well off the dole (and crime). The problem was epitomized by these words of a young Moslem rioter to a French reporter: 'In the day we sleep, go see our girlfriends, and play video games. And in the evening we have a good time: we go and fight the police.'”

But don't expect the Times to explore these alternative interpretations. The Times endorses the opinion consistent with the liberal-left world-view of the paper's editorial board, a vision of human nature in which notions like free will and unmotivated evil are superstitions that have been unmasked by science. People in reality are just passive victims of the larger forces controlling their destinies. Thus the unjust economic system (i.e. capitalism) and its oppression are to blame for destructive actions, for man does live by bread alone, and so if he acts up it's only because he doesn't have enough bread. All those Muslim youths have no autonomous wills, no values or ideals they hold dear, no spiritual beliefs that justify their actions. They are just passive victims who can only react to the injustice around them.
If only France's economic system could be characterized as capitalistic... if anything, the statist economic policies of France (which are antithetical to free-market principles) have resulted in this situation.

At least the cars that they're burning are environmentally friendly... although I'm not sure they're environmentally friendly when they're ablaze. But, let's admit it... if you're going to burn a car, it's cuter if it's a nice, small Puegot rather than some gas guzzling SUV. I mean, those things are scary when they're lit up!

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler