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May 30, 2007

Fine Work By The New Yorker's Factesque-Checkers

The newest issue of the New Yorker has a long piece by Jeffrey Goldberg about the future of the Republican party. At one point Goldberg goes to the White House to interview Karl Rove, who appears surprisingly optimistic:

“There are two or three societal trends that are driving us in an increasingly deep center-right posture,” [Rove] said. “One of them is the power of the computer chip. Do you know how many people’s principal source of income is eBay? Seven hundred thousand.” He went on, “So the power of the computer has made it possible for people to gain greater control over their lives. It’s given people a greater chance to run their own business, become a sole proprietor or an entrepreneur. As a result, it has made us more market-oriented, and that equals making you more center-right in your politics.”

Ebay is the primary source of income for seven hundred thousand people? That sounds implausible. And it is:

Entrepreneurs in record numbers are setting up shop on eBay, according to a new survey conducted for eBay by ACNielsen International Research, a leading research firm. More than 724,000 Americans report that eBay is their primary or secondary source of income.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess far more of these 724,000 Americans use eBay as a secondary source of income rather than a primary one. If the ratio's 75/25, that makes 181,000 people whose primary source of income is eBay. Hard to spin that into a tale of impending Republican ascendancy.

This is what drives me nigh unto madness about this country's media. Journalists theoretically should be skeptical of what anyone says. They certainly should be skeptical of things that sound implausible. They certainly absolutely should be skeptical of implausible things political operatives say. They certainly absolutely definitely should be skeptical of implausible things political operatives use as a basis for an entire narrative that's flattering to the operative. They certainly absolutely definitely always always always should be skeptical of implausible things political operatives say when those political operatives have a history of STARTING GIGANTIC WARS BASED ON LIES.

Not Jeffrey Goldberg and the New Yorker, though. If Karl Rove tells them something, they rush it into print without asking a single question.


Posted at May 30, 2007 09:58 PM | TrackBack

Hm. Not too much of Jeffrey Goldberg's stuff has panned out... but he keeps being published. How remarkable.

Posted by: Nell at May 30, 2007 10:40 PM

In particular, I count this article among his most shameful, pushing the Big Lie of the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection on the eve of the invasion.


Posted by: Nell at May 30, 2007 10:50 PM

Jonathan, going to that grotesque article, it wasn't the ebay balderdash that struck me but the end of the article, when Goldberg asks if the Republicans are going to win in 2008:

His answer was revealing. “The Democrats have gone too far,” he said. “They’ve grossly miscalculated what the American people want on national security.” When I asked him to describe a set of post-Iraq, post-corruption, post-earmark-scandal ideas that would propel the Republicans back into contention, he said, “Members have to do the hard work, using their own brains to develop our proposals for the future.” Then he said, “The Democrats are going to stumble. It’s just the nature of things.”

This, this boilerplate, this thing that Boehner could have said in his sleep, this thing that New Yorker readers could get from a Republican ad, this lazy slinging together of platitudes - was revealing??? I bet Goldberg might be astonished, say, asking Grover Norquist if he was in favor of a carbon tax on gasoline, to hear Norquist say no. Goldberg could freak himself out, perhaps, by asking if the Bush whitehouse planned to cut and run from Iraq. The best thing would be to candidly spring this question on Tony Snow. Snow's answer would be like so astonishing it would surely knock Goldberg senseless.

If there was a point to that article, I wish I knew what it was. Distressing. The New Yorker can and should get a better political journalist.

Posted by: roger at May 30, 2007 10:54 PM

The New Yorker should hire Jonathan, and you too roger!
Shit, they should hire me as well, I'll sweep up.
It's pretty clear now why Rove, and thus Goldberg is optimistic about elections, and it's sure not due to eBay.

Posted by: Dick Durata at May 30, 2007 11:25 PM

You just failed to interpret what Karl Rove meant. What he was actually saying was that eBay has 750,000 owners.

Posted by: Constantine at May 30, 2007 11:31 PM

OK, but there's still Sy Hersch, right? Mr. Proprietor, as much as I enjoy the scornful take-downs on this site, I would really like to hear more about what the "good guys" are doing these days. Are there good journalists out there? I would love it if you would spend a few column inches just listing them, and talking a little about what they're doing.

Truth be told, I am almost through reading blogs at all - most of what I read are Left takedowns of ridiculous Rightwing bullshit, and it's gotten really old. I understand that this is necessary. But it's not exactly news that Bush, Cheney, etc. are liars, and that most journalists these days are spineless non-journalists and paid hacks. I would like to see more of an effort to discuss and promote the non-bullshit that's out there. Unless of course there isn't any.

Posted by: Guest at May 30, 2007 11:47 PM

Please, oh please, let's hope that Karl Rove believes this is truly the situation, so that he will be surprised when all those eBay "moguls" -- the ones who are selling on eBay because they lost their job, or can't make it on the WalMart wages/benefits, or who are trying to raise money to buy decent body armor for their National Guard family member in Iraq -- don't vote Republican.

Do they really think people whose source of income is an online garage sale will join their Country Club Revolution? I just hope that this is finally the lie -- the self-deception -- that actually hurts the GOP for a change. They've written off the Hispanics, might piss off the Libertarians if they mistreat Ron Paul, and they're even starting to lose some of the evangelicals. I think Karl is getting desperate.

Posted by: whistler blue at May 31, 2007 12:53 AM

Nothing is driving the country to the right, it is already there. Liberal areas are little teeny tiny islands awash in a huge sea of right wing nut balls.

Posted by: rob payne at May 31, 2007 12:59 AM

Perhaps, just as they bury the facts at the end of a long article because they don't think you'll read to the end, they now think theirs no point in reading to the end in lengthier sentences, to see if there might be contracdictory clauses towards the end, kind of like when Chris Matthews cuts people off when he thinks people are about to offer a contradictory clause. I call it but-on-the-other-hand-O-phobia. I'd give it a fancy Greek or Latin name if I went to Stutts, but I didn't.

Posted by: Jonathan "verbose guy" Versen at May 31, 2007 03:41 AM

So the Republicans are going to have to use their own brains. At last.

Posted by: Aunt Deb at May 31, 2007 10:36 AM

I don't know that the fact-checkers' job is to correct misstatements by people who are not the article's author. If I say "the sky is green", it is in fact true that those words came out of my mouth. They may themselves be false, but I still said them.

Whether Goldberg is on the hook to point out that Rove is deluded, I don't know. It would be nice if they could profile a bunch of people who can get their facts straight.

Posted by: dr2chase at May 31, 2007 11:24 AM

Hey, Guest, I agree with you in part. You might be interested in a project that I am mounting in Austin: the Withdrawal Project. It rips off Al Gore's power point presentation idea, except the power point presentation is about Withdrawing from Iraq - having zero American soldiers in Iraq by January 2009. How we got into Iraq, how we can get out. That is the deal. The Project is ultimately meant to be open source, with materials that anybody in any community can use to host a Withdrawal party. This is just getting on its feet, but it might be something you would be interested in.

Posted by: roger at May 31, 2007 01:10 PM


I share your frustration with journalists' lack of skepticism. I've noticed that they are particularly bad when it comes to anything having to do with numbers. I really think that a large portion of American journalists are functionally illiterate in math. Remember Ted Koppel bemoaning all of those numbers that Gore and Bush used during one of their debates in 2000? He thought it was just so darn confusing.

I think the eBay number is even worse than you suggest. What does it mean for eBay to be your "primary source of income"? If a teenager makes more on eBay than he or she gets in allowance, is ebay a primary source of income? How about stay at home parents. If they make money on eBay, it may be a primary source of income for that spouse, even if the "working" spouse brings in the majority of income. Since the research was conducted for eBay, and eBay has a vested interest in inflating this number, it seems reasonable to question what the number really even means.

Posted by: ScienceGuy at May 31, 2007 02:56 PM

Whether Goldberg is on the hook to point out that Rove is deluded, I don't know.

Let's just say that if the article had been quoting Joe Bob Aryan, who was explaining how the Nazi death camps were really fakes built by the invading Soviet troops to impugn the Germans, the article would have found some way or other to intimate the dubiety of that remark.

Then again, I must admit, to see Karl Rove reduced to babbling about eBay users is sorta satisfying.

Posted by: Anderson at May 31, 2007 05:58 PM

FWIW, from a nuts-and-bolts perspective: The real responsibility was Goldberg's -- he absolutely should have noted that Rove's assertion was factually dubious. But even if he didn't bother to look it up himself, the fact-checkers definitely should have. No, they couldn't have nixed the quotation entirely (assuming it's accurate), but they should have at least flagged the assertion as inaccurate, bringing it to Goldberg's attention and nudging him to qualify it. And then he should have fixed it. So either the factcheckers failed to do the job that Goldberg should have done for himself, or Goldberg and his editors ignored their concerns. Fortunately, since the NY-er devotes almost no space to readers' letters, we won't have to read any letters they might get about this or other slips.

Posted by: Mollie at June 1, 2007 06:12 PM

Ebay is the primary source of income of UPS and Federal Express. An auction site beyond 10 miles distant is useless, as far as I'm concerned. The shipping kills it. Use Craigslist.

Posted by: Todd Boyle at June 3, 2007 01:55 PM