Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Oracle Strikes Back

A.C. Kleinheider took the time to notice the gentle barb I aimed his way here, where I noted that he sometimes claims knowledge of people's thoughts and, therefore, freely ignores what they say or do. Kleinheider admitted doing this and graciously offered that he might do a better job in the future in differentiating his speculations from his knowledge, but otherwise defended the practice on the basis that he is a "commentator" practicing "opinion journalism," as opposed to being a "forensic" journalist.

In response, The Oracle must say that he disagrees with the notion that speculating about unexpressed thoughts and motivations is intrinsic to the practice of opinion journalism.

That is not to say that many writers of opinion don't approach their tasks in this way. Speculations of this sort are the playground of poor writers and sloppy thinkers, as they provide an easy means for expressing cynicism or casting aspersions on the actions, thoughts, or motivations of others. That is the reason that poor political bloggers and journalists do nothing else. Listen to Sean Hannity or a host of other talking heads in the Crossfire style format, and you'll wait a long time for a thought that is not attached to some attack on a person's motives. Responding to actual expressed ideas and deeds is much more challenging than simply claiming to know someone's unexpressed inner thoughts, and responding to attacks on motives is much more difficult for the other party.

In the way of illustration, suppose that instead of responding to The Oracle in a manner that acknowledged a good faith disagreement, Kleinheider had simply written that The Oracle had no interest in this subject, but only raised the issue because he surreptitiously desired for some of Volunteer Voters' traffic to come his way. Of course, Kleinheider has no way of knowing whether that is true or not, but it is a plausible theory, and it is much more easy to simply attack a motive than to respond to an argument. At that point, The Oracle would be on the defensive. He might express umbrage and deny that he ever thought such a thing, but, of course, no one can see The Oracle's thoughts, and The Oracle might just be lying.

Good opinion writers don't do this sort of thing regularly, though arguably all lapse into it from time to time. The Oracle is not arguing that Kleinheider is a poor writer or sloppy thinker -- I wouldn't waste my time if that were the case. However, Kleinheider too often engages in this kind of empty cynicism, and when he does so he wastes both his talents and his web space.

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