The Dish is not always journalism, today it looks like … libel

In a post entitled “Outrage is not a cognitive deficit,” the Dish remarks

Beinart’s essay has broken through – despite underground smear tactics against Peter by AIPAC (yes, I’ve read the ad hominem emails). It has done so not because it is not open to dispute or debate or more nuance. It has done so because there is too much truth in it to ignore.

Hmm. Something seems to be missing in there. Oh, that’s right: any words from these alleged emails, which would show the reader the Dish is correctly identifying inappropriate ad hominems* and “underground smears.”

Technically, one can’t find any words, let alone a link, that would indicate there even are such emails. I believed Andrew that such emails existed, but without any quotes, I didn’t trust him that these emails meant what he told his readers they meant.

So I emailed AIPAC’s spokesperson, Josh Block, and this is what I got:

Since the piece was published, I’ve replied to the three people who’ve emailed me about Peter’s piece: one checking for a comment (decline), one for a fact check and one for my personal take, and I shared Jon Chait’s clip with a group of 10 friends.  To be honest, there hasn’t been very much interest, and there certainly isn’t any campaign against Peter, who has had many friends at AIPAC for years.

Evidently, Block is the guy who would have sent out any emails that Andrew could have seen. Therefore, if Andrew cannot indicate and quote emails which substantiate his claim of having personally read “ad homimen”/smearing comments from AIPAC representatives, his claim amounts to libel and a violation of the trust of his readers.

The Dish seems to have served us a blunt violation of journalistic ethics. Without the emails, that’s the most plausible interpretation. With a retraction, there’s a kinder interpretation: that outrage can in fact be a cognitive deficit.


* NOTE: Saying someone has a great reputation or is a great guy — like people do about, I don’t know … Richard Goldstone, maybe? — is also a kind of ad hominem, “inverse ad hominem” (sometimes called “positive ethotic ad hominem”).  Ad hominem arguments are not necessarily out of bounds or inherently unworthy.

Robert Solomon had a good discussion of that subject in one of his essays on Nietzsche. I can’t resist quoting one of Andrew’s supposedly favorite books here, one which he seems to me to continually misunderstand or not register:

I have gradually come to realize what every great philosophy so far has
 been: a confession of faith on the part of its author, and a type of involuntary
 and unself-conscious memoir; in short, that the moral (or immoral) 
intentions in every philosophy constitute the true living seed from which 
the whole plant has always grown.

So, here’s an extreme, and easy, example of how wrong it would be to hold to a rigid standard prohibiting anything that is plausibly ad hominem: How can one argue about the “philosophy” of Alfred Rosenberg, without saying something about the kind of personality that would produce it?

It’s obvious that we should discredit ad hominem arguments when they are meant to prevent us from having any grasp on what the other party is saying. It’s also obvious that they should be discredited when they are libelous.

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