Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, October 20, 2014

To Lie About Lying

It's difficult to realize how extreme Megan McArdle has become, especially when one reads a lot of right-wing material. Her posts on Ebola were so dishonest they deserve an additional look.

McArdle once said that she wrote her MBA program's gossip column and her style has not changed since. She begins "Ebola and Politics Don't Mix" with a summary of her twitter and Facebook feeds, and then writes "Ebola's Greatest Threat: A Third World Pandemic" (a contradiction of terms) with a personal anecdote about her little adventures that just happens to perfectly illustrate her point.

McArdle says that Ebola is worrisome but you should not be worried, and everyone is both worrying too much and not worrying enough about the right stuff to be worried about. She also tells us that Yuval Levin says that our real concern is Ebola traveling to cities in Nigeria, for instance, although she also says Ebola did in fact travel to Lagos and was contained.

In her first post McArdle points out that we can't close borders to keep out Ebola, we couldn't identify the US case because the patient lied, and the hospital's staff did not follow containment protocol because all organizations are prone to failure. She explains that the government cannot do a better job than individual hospitals because the CDC has already issued instructions on dealing with Ebola, and she also explains those instructions don't call for isolating patients from Africa with a high fever. As proof she links to the CDC guidelines, which say to isolate patients with high fevers suspected to have Ebola.

In her second post she points out that we need to take steps to contain Ebola in the US, which we will certainly do because we are a rich country with a good health care system. Presumably we will do this not because the government uses its wealth and power to coordinate efforts to stamp out a disease, as it has done so many times before, but because our hospitals are really great even though they are full of unavoidable errors that end up spreading epidemics instead of containing them.

But despite the egregious nature of McArdle's mindless anti-government rhetoric, it is her libel of NIH director Francis Collins that is most offensive. While lecturing conservatives and liberals about politicizing Ebola, McArdle devoted two posts to bashing government success and excusing away corporate/private failure. To do so she had to ignore reality, namely any attempt by this or any other government to create a vaccine against Ebola. And to do that, she had to libel Mr. Collins.

Libel, according to one on-line legal definition, is:
Published material meeting three conditions: The material is defamatory either on its face or indirectly; The defamatory statement is about someone who is identifiable to one or more persons; and, The material must be distributed to someone other than the offended party; i.e. published; distinguished from slander. Criminal Law. A malicious defamation expressed either in printing or writing or by signs or pictures, tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead, with intent to provoke the living; or the reputation of one who is alive and to expose him to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.
Megan McArdle presented Collins' statements about an Ebola vaccine as a "meme" and coyly said,"I think they’re, um, misplaced." She added:
It’s not exactly the first time that an organization has claimed that some crisis could have been averted by giving them boatloads of money … and sadly, not the first time that such pronouncements have been treated, not as a self-interested party schnorring for a bigger budget, but as the modern equivalent of tablets handed down from Mt. Sinai. I generally support higher government spending on basic scientific research, but I'm narrowly skeptical of the claim that a doubled research budget would almost certainly have delivered a vaccine for a rare virus that had, until now, never infected a patient on U.S. soil. Medical research is not a vending machine that spits out a candy bar when you put in a quarter; it’s a slot machine where a lot of the time, you pour in a bunch of money, and walk away with nothing.
McArdle avoids directly accusing Collins of being a liar but her implication that he lied is perfectly clear. She maliciously and publicly mocks him, saying he is a schnorrer, a sponger or beggar, to undermine his authority.

A journalist has a duty to check on the validity of the information she presents in her work. McArdle did not check even the NIH website to verify Collins' statements before hitting print and wrote another post about Ebola without correcting her earlier statements.

Paul Krugman calls this The Age Of Derp, which is "a determined belief in some economic doctrine that is completely unmovable by evidence." It's worse to pretend the evidence does not even exist, or to be too ignorant and incurious to look for it.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'm not too happy with Paul Krugman, frankly.

This is the age of pretending that right-wing Democratic corporate whores are the best we can do.

Susan of Texas said...

At least we have plenty of practice.