Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Nothing disturbs Megan McArdle more than dishonesty, especially in professional circumstances. She was just devastated about the Heartland Institute document leak, and simply cannot believe that Peter Gleick lied to get them. She has written five posts on the matter and promises us more, as she is utterly fascinated by fakery in the media. In her latest post, McArdle wonders how anyone could ever be so unprofessional as to lie.

[...] I am not surprised by leaks--but I was very surprised that a man of Gleick's stature would take this sort of risk, on such flimsy evidence.

It is, on the other hand, perfectly acceptable to pass on propaganda when a drug company employee tells you that 80% of drug company profits come from the US, and therefore health insurance reform will kill innovation. It is also acceptable to believe whatever you are told from company flacks without question--and without proof.
Scientists and journalists are held to higher standards than, say, your average computer hacker. Trust in our work product is dependent on our personal integrity, because it can't always be verified independently.
Which is why an Ivy League reputation is so very useful. People assume you know more than you actually do. And when you lie to your readers they can't verify the information, which you are at pains to point out.*
Impersonating an actual person is well over the line that any reputable journalist needs to maintain. I might try to get a job at a Food Lion to expose unsafe food handling. I would not represent myself as a health inspector, or the regional VP. I don't do things that are illegal--at least, not things that are illegal in the stable western democracy in which I live.

McArdle is far too careful for that. She also would never be so foolish as to admit that she had done anything wrong; she makes up new lies every time an old lie is exposed.
Nor would I ever, ever claim that a document came from Heartland unless I had personally received it from them, gotten them to confirm its provenance, or authenticated it with multiple independent sources.
Instead she would accept a fake statistic and lie that she had seen corroborating evidence on financial statements.
Or perhaps she would read a grossly wrong blog post, not bother to check any sources, and tell her audience that the Black Panthers carried guns at a Bush rally.
Or lie about Goldman, Sachs to a television audience.

But she would never break the law.
McArdle is so distraught by the Heartland deception that she goes on to insinuate, without actually accusing him, that Gleick himself wrote the allegedly fake memo. But even if he did not write it, there must be something terribly wrong with a person who would lie to further his agenda.
And ethics aside, what Gleick did is insane for someone in his position--so crazy that I confess to wondering whether he doesn't have some sort of underlying medical condition that requires urgent treatment. The reason he did it was even crazier. I would probably have thrown that memo away. I might have spent a few hours idly checking it out. I would definitely not have risked jail or personal ruin over something so questionable, and which provided evidence of . . . what? That Heartland exists? That it has a budget? That it spends that budget promoting views which Gleick finds reprehensible?

Jail? Personal ruin? Why would he worry about those? It's perfectly okay to lie to further your agenda. As long as you never admit you it and your agenda is backed by right-wing billionaires, that is. Otherwise you will find yourself in serious trouble, when the liars on the right toss you into the churning machinery of their propaganda machine.

*McArdle: "But they were not speaking on the record, and financial statements are not necessarily a very good guide to allocating the net profitability of a drug, because of various tedious pricing strategies involving market timing that you can read about in an exhaustive volume from the OECD that I have on my desk, if you want to come to my office, or spend $100 to buy it yourself."


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

That's a whole lotta bloviation attempting to cover up the fact that the documents Heartland itself has verified are damning.

Susan of Texas said...

It only counts when liberals do it.

KWillow said...

Wow! A smart person went undercover! to expose corruption of a powerful group!

Reminds me of the Far Side comic showing covered wagons in a circle defending themselves against Indians. One of the wagons is burning because the Indians fired a flaming arrow! One man says to another "Hey! They're firing burning arrows! Can they DO that?"

BillCinSD said...

I thought her 80% number was a hypothetical?