Monday, March 06, 2006

Gary Younge - deliberately misleading?

In Gary Younge's piece in the Guardian today he manages to make some points that are misleading, some that are untrue and some that merely miss the point. Par for the course for a Guardian columnist I know, but what bothers me is whether he knows he's being misleading (to put it charitably) or not.

In other words Mr Summers's problem was not that he blundered, but that he was brave. Quite what is brave about suggesting women are not as clever as men, supporting the US army or hounding out a black academic is not clear.

As Tim has pointed out, what Summers said was that men have a greater degree of differentiationin intellect than women - leading to more geniuses and more imbeciles. You can draw your own conclusion as to where Younge fits in on this scale. As for "supporting the US army," what Summers did was campaign to allow the army to put recruiting posters on campus - arguing that a ban was unconstitutional. Given the fanatical level of anti-military feeling among the senior common rooms of America, such a position can be argued to be at least independent, if not actually brave. Finally, looking at Cornell West. The Economist noted that the issue was not Summers's hounding of West, it was that the system of unchallengeable tenure had led to a position where celebrity professors were doing no teaching - fobbing classes off on graduate students. In compensation Harvard gave out a staggering number of honours - 95% of students compared to Yales 50%. That West stormed off when told he should actually do some teaching says more about West than it does about Summers.

A couple of years ago a British journalist won a major award for columns supporting the Iraq war on the grounds that to do so was "brave". Whether the award was deserved is irrelevant; the judges' adjective is the issue. What, after all, is "brave" about supporting the policies of both your government and the sole global superpower against a country that posed no threat?

A couple of points on this. Firstly, the definition of brave here is that the article was written in a climate where liberal opinion was unanimously opposed to the war. To stick your neck out against the prevailing consenssu is, well brave. If a Guardian columnist had, in 1989, written an article asserting that the Pol Tax was both necessary and the fairest available form of financing local government he would have been supporting Government policy. But it would also have been brave since it went against the prejudices and beliefs of his colleagues.

Next point. No threat? At all? A country that had consistently displayed violence internally and regionally? With demonstrable links to terrorism both secular and Islamic? That everyone accepted wanted to have biological and chemical weapons, even if opinion is divided as to whether they had them and where they went. That had previously sought to acquire nuclear weapons? No threat at all? Poor helpless little Iraq, bless it.

Barely had the ink dried on sermons extolling western civilisation last month than scenes of colonial barbarism involving British troops beating Iraqis filled our screens.

The troops, having been attacked with grenades and mortar rounds, located the attackers and, instead of shooting them, as they would have had every right to do under international law (as well as the law of common-sense) instead gave them a kicking and sent them on their way. Barbarism? Younge needs to gain a sense of perspective.

How many women, blacks, working-class people or Muslims get to speak, let alone be heard?

What does this mean? As Tim notes, of that list, it's only working class people that don't have regular columns in the Guardian. Is Younge really saying that these don't get a chance to speak? To whom? Where? It's nonsense. The whole bloody article is complete and total rubbish. To manhandle his argument into any sort of shape, Younge has had to squeeze the facts into convenient shapes, even when, by doing so, he either misrepresents them or totally makes them up. In this sense Gary Younge is the David Irving of journalism.

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