October 05, 2002

OUTRAGE

OUTRAGE: Mark Shields committed one of the most egregious acts of intellectual dishonesty in recent memory tonight on CNN's The Capital Gang (which will be replayed tonight at 11 PM Eastern and tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM Eastern). His "Outrage of the Week," prefaced by the note that comments to Congressional representatives were running 100 to 1 against invading Iraq, was this quote from Tuesday's Best of the Web, compiled by James Taranto:

"Based on the e-mail we receive, we'd say 95% of readers of this column support a war in Iraq, and of those who don't, perhaps half are either openly anti-Semitic or just plain nuts."
Here is the actual item, in its entirety:
Stupidity Watch
Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez doesn't understand how to gauge public opinion. "Forget what you've heard," he writes:
National polls, some of which suggest 70% of Americans support a war against Iraq, are not to be trusted. Roughly 75% of the readers of this column are opposed, and that many people can't be wrong.

Twice now I've raised questions about the wisdom of such an undertaking, and several hundred people have backed me up.

Lopez apparently doesn't know what a "representative sample" is. It's unlikely that readers of his column represent a cross-section of Americans, and even unlikelier that the minority of readers of his column who write to him with their opinions do. Based on the e-mail we receive, we'd say 95% of readers of this column support a war in Iraq, and of those who don't, perhaps half are either openly anti-Semitic or just plain nuts. But of course our readers are a self-selected group too.

Lopez's stupid argument doesn't even have the virtue of originality; the New York Times' Thomas Friedman made essentially the same argument two weeks ago.

Note first that the emphasis on "this" ("this column") was in the original, but omitted from the CNN graphic. Note also that Shields, in noting what activists who contact Congress are saying, committed the very same logical fallacy that Lopez committed, and that Taranto was illustrating.

There are two possibilities here. One: Shields is a bald-faced liar. He saw the BotW item, and intentionally took it out of context to reverse the meaning. Two: Shields is lazy. Someone took the quote out of context and sent it to him, and he didn't check the context.

Neither explanation is an acceptable excuse. Mark Shields owes his viewers an apology.

UPDATE: If you're following a link from Best of the Web or Instapundit (or anywhere else), you're stuck in archive-land, and you're missing my most recent posts, in case you're interested.

Posted by John Tabin at October 5, 2002 09:03 PM
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