SLAPPING MY KNEE
Quillette, Ben Shapiro, and the Myth of Conservative ‘Facts’
The leaders of the ‘intellectual’ right say it’s liberals who traffic in emotion, not them. If only they had a mirror.
“Today's culture wars are framed as a contest between Left & Right, but it's about epistemology more than politics,” tweeted Claire Lehmann. “On one side we have those who value evidence and reason, and on the other we have those who lay claim to knowledge via emotion and drama.”
Lehmann, the editor in chief of Quillette, is echoing a refrain oft shouted from the right: “We are the rational ones, the left is all about emotions. Facts don’t care about your feelings!” The irony, of course, is this mythology the right has built about itself ignores its deeply anti-intellectual roots and embrace of grievance and fear over facts.
Quillette, a site that fancies itself intellectually contrarian but mostly publishes right-wing talking points couched in grievance politics, recently published a piece by Richard Hanania, a research fellow at Columbia University, called “It Isn’t Your Imagination: Twitter Treats Conservatives More Harshly Than Liberals.“
Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at Birkbeck, University of London, said “[a] rigorous study finds that Twitter bans essentially fall exclusively on conservative commentators.” Finally, conservatives have proof of what they know deep down to be true: They are being oppressed. Except even a cursory glance at the “data” shows a shocking lack of rigor, intellectual honesty, and scientific standards.
“I began my analysis by compiling a list of every prominent individual or political party known to have been banned from Twitter since its founding,” Hanania writes. One would expect this to be quite an undertaking since Twitter has suspended thousands of users in its decade of existence, but when you opened the supporting evidence, it was merely a list of 22 cherry-picked names.
And if I were a conservative, I would be offended by those he claimed to own that label. David Duke is a Klansman. George Zimmerman a killer. Tila Tequila is a reality show “star” who dresses in Nazi cosplay. Other people on the list like Baked Alaska, Richard Spencer, and James Allsup are prominent members of the alt-right, also known as neo-Nazis. The tacit admission that modern conservatism is inextricably linked to racist white identity politics should not go unnoticed.
Of course, these data are nonsense for a few reasons:
- The sample was not random but highly biased.
- After pushback, Hania almost doubled the list to 43 (without noting the update in his Quillette piece) but still refused to add any of the prominent accounts on the other side of the spectrum he had been alerted to, such as @KrangTNelson and @classiclib3ral.
- The author tried to extrapolate this cherry-picked data into proof that conservatives are being treated unfairly writ-large but did no research into the transgressions of conservatives vs leftists/liberals and if one group violated the terms of service more than the other. “Are prominent Trump supporters more likely to break neutrally applied social media terms of service agreements than other voters? Perhaps. But are they four or more times as likely? That doesn’t seem credible,” he writes. This is not science, this is a narrative he is backing into.
So why would Quillette, a site atheist Jerry Coyne instructed his readers to “think of it as Slate, but more serious, more intellectual, and without any Regressive Leftism,” publish such a fact-free, embarrassing piece? Why would Claire Lehmann, a woman who embraces the label of “intellectual dark web,” get behind it?
Because the right, despite all its posturing about the left being inextricably tied to their narratives, has become all of what they claim to hate.
Take the National Review for example. NR was founded by William F. Buckley for the express purpose of creating a conservative intellectual tradition. In 1955 he wrote, “Ideas have to go into exchange to become or remain operative; and the medium of such exchange is the printed word.” Of course, those “ideas,” in NR were often repugnant.
Since then it has abandoned that intellectual pretense and employed Dinesh D’Souza, one of the most morally and intellectually bankrupt conservatives in America [citations: 1, 2, 3, 4] and Victor Davis Hanson, a man who might be a talented classicist but whose work has been called "spectacularly stupid" by even those on the right when it comes to his political and social writings.
Both of these men suffer deeply from Conservative Victimhood Syndrome, which attracts them to Trump, a born-rich white man who has failed up his entire life and yet claims to be “treated very unfairly.” D’Souza and Hanson consistently put feelings before facts as evidenced by Hanson’s recent interview with Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker and David Frum’s detailing of D’Souza’s descent in The Atlantic.
National Review now publishes stories like Charcoal Face Masks Deemed an Example of ‘Racism’ and ‘Blackface’. This piece, written by NRO’s Kat Timpf, claims that liberals are saying white women can’t use charcoal facial cleansing masks because it looks too much like blackface. But even a cursory glance at the piece shows it is entirely false.
Timpf quotes three tweets as evidence, one from a person with eight followers and two by comedians. It is unclear if the tweet from the first person (who soared up to nine followers) was meant seriously or in jest but the others were clearly comedy from comedians, and Timpf was either too lazy, dishonest, or dunderheaded to see that.
This equation of “look at this outrageous thing we found 1-3 examples of out of a country of more than 300 million with no context” + “liberals are oppressing you with this ridiculousness” = “big story on conservative website” is not unique.
NRO was forced to retract another of Kat Timpf’s stories because it cherry-picked facts and left out context just like the Quillette piece, only this time, the claims were much more serious. Timpf claimed a University of Missouri student had been targeted for violating Title IX because he had “asked another student out on a date and is physically larger,” completely leaving out that he had stalked and harassed the female student over a period of months.
Timpf was not alone. The Daily Wire, a site run by Ben Shapiro, published the same specious story but refused to retract it even when the truth was exposed. Shapiro, whose tagline is “facts don’t care about your feelings,” has a long history of publishing misleading stories meant to inflame the right wing then either not correcting the mistake or taking weeks to do so.
When Young Kim, a California Republican, was in a tight race for Congress in southern California, The Daily Wire ran a story with the headline, “GOP Elects First Korean American Woman To Congress. But You Wouldn’t Know It.” It began:
“While leftists are howling at the moon over the ascent of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman elected to Congress, the media has almost virtually ignored another historic victory from Tuesday night's midterm: Young Kim of the CA-39, the first Korean American elected to Congress, who is also a Republican.”
In fact, Young Kim narrowly lost that race, but the fact that they couldn’t wait for the results to push a narrative over leftist hypocrisy speaks volumes. After several days they put a disclaimer, “UPDATE: Despite early returns, Kim did not in fact win in CA-39. Instead, [Gil] Cisneros won a narrow victory over Kim,” on the article.
Other stories that were disproven after the Daily Wire published them include “Mohammed Is Most Popular Name For Newborn Boys . . . In The Netherlands,” Ben Carson Finds $500 Billion (Billion!) In Errors During Audit Of Obama HUD and “AWFUL: Top Democrats Refuse to Stand, Clap for Navy SEAL Widow Honored by Trump” among others.
You might not expect that from an editor in chief who says things like, “From Covington to Smollett, if a story seems perfectly constructed to fit a narrative, it probably is.” But the reality is the modern right is engaged in all of the practices they claim are unique to the left.
According to The New York Times, Shapiro is “the cool kid’s philosopher, dissecting arguments with a lawyer’s skill and references to Aristotle.” Current Affairs, a left-wing political magazine, did a deep look at Shapiro shortly after The New York Times published their story and ran a withering piece that takes apart this narrative with ease:
“What dispirited me about Shapiro’s approach is that he’s clearly not actually very interested in facts at all. The role that race plays in American life is a serious sociological question, one that isn’t answered easily. But Shapiro plucks only the statistics that suggest race doesn’t matter, and pretends the statistics that suggest it does matter don’t exist.
Nobody can trust him, because if he comes across a finding showing that incarceration rates more closely follow crime rates than racial demographics, you can bet it will appear in his next speech. But if someone shows that a white man with a criminal record is far more likely to receive a job callback than a black man without a criminal record, you’ll never hear it mentioned.”
But one need not even delve that far into Shapiro’s alternative-fact reality to see that he is given far too much credit for his debating skills. He recently got into a fight on Twitter with Ilyse Hogue of NARAL about motherhood in politics and it took only minutes for Shapiro to grow frustrated with his inability to win and shoot back: “You are aware you work for an abortion organization, correct? You might want to sit out the motherhood discussion.” Not only does this make very little sense considering 59 percent of women having abortions are mothers, but also Hogue is herself a mother and Shapiro is not.
Lehmann, Shapiro, NRO, and more expose the lie that the right puts facts above feelings. In 2017, Yale professors did a study and found they could turn conservatives into liberals by allaying fears for their safety. By giving them a thought exercise of imagining they were completely safe and protected from threats, Republicans became significantly more liberal when asked about their stances on social issues. Now we see why Shapiro and his ilk are so invested in fear mongering about the radical left with intellectual dishonesty.