Another reason why we're in big trouble

The following exchange comes to us from Tom Blackburn, co-writer of the documentary Orwell Rolls in His Grave.
I reproduce it here because it may shed further light on the peculiar mind-set of Farhad Manjoo–and, more important, on the common journalistic type that he exemplifies: i.e., the blithe would-be “debunker” of whatever troubling reportage the powers that be find inconvenient. While Tom sees such apologists as “right-wing nuts,” I see them primarily as opportunists (whether they’re aware of it or not), concerned far less with ideology than with the progress of their own careers.
Whatever makes them tick, these over-confident Manjoovians are actually more dangerous than any number of overtly far-right propagandists. Because they sound off as “progressives,” they cut a lot of ice with nervous liberals and complacent leftists looking for a good excuse not to accept the awful truth. And while they pose as cool and sober scientists, extraordinarily
“judicious” and, of course, “non-partisan,” their minds are closed as tight as those employed full-time by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News or Bush/Cheney’s White House.
Note, for example, this sarcastic shot from the exemplary Manjoo: “I haven’t yet had the time to look at the evidence you so kindly uncovered and provided me; when I do, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it” (emphasis added). That is quite a statement–coming, as it did, from a reporter recently applauded (by Joan Walsh, Salon‘s editor) for his “open mind.” There Manjoo sounds exactly like a hanging judge who promises to give his prisoners fair trials before he has them executed. It would be funny, if its consequences weren’t so dire.
Dear Mark,

My name is Tom Blackburn. I am the co-writer of “Orwell Rolls in His Grave.” We haven’t met, but I’ve long admired your work, especially in “Orwell”.

I’m attaching something you might find interesting. In reading your “Open Letter to Joan Walsh,” I noticed that you seem to think that Farhad Manjoo was reasonable before the 2004 election but that after it was stolen he went galloping “off into the journalistic herd as it went thundering rightward” and that Salon’s editorial policy therefore followed suit (“such was the consensus that Manjoo, too, suddenly embraced, thereby bringing Salon fully into line with all the corporate media.”)

I believe the e-mails I’ve attached will convince you otherwise. It’s not the kind of evidence that would hold up in court, but it was certainly enough to convince me.

According to what I have read, Manjoo had been covering possible election fraud since November of 2002. It was during that initial month that I wrote to him about Florida and the 2000 election. I had been doing research for “Orwell” and I apparently read his first piece on the possibility of election fraud. He had presented (as I remember) some convincing arguments that there was fraud but then surprisingly concluded that it was clear that Bush had won Florida and Gore had lost. I had seen this many times before. A writer will walk the argument that Gore may have won Florida right up to the precipice, where they push Gore over the edge and declare Bush the indisputable winner.

I thought Manjoo may be able to shed some light on the editorial policy that I assumed must be behind these reversals. I wrote him a brief e-mail trying to sound him out on how he came to his conclusion. He apparently thought all “liberals” regarded the New York Times as their God. He sent me a copy of the Times story on the NORC report with the note: “Given this report, how can you call me a liar?”

So, I pressed him further in a second e-mail, sent him the NORC data and found in his response that I had uncovered a right-wing nut.

I am still almost as stunned now, when I read his response, as I was when I received it— November 14, 2002.

His second point, that I had a “curious forest-for-the-trees failing” is exactly 180 degrees off the mark. The reason I wrote the e-mails was to find out how a writer who had identified so many of the trees couldn’t admit to the existence of the forest.

I only hope that when these right-wing nuts finally do find the forest, they will find it full of
hungry squirrels.

Best Regards,

Tom Blackburn

—–Original Message—–
From: Tom Blackburn
Sent: Saturday, November 09, 2002 10:02 AM
To: Farhad Manjoo
Subject: Voting into the void

Dear Mr. Manjoo,
I am writing to alert you to something that was factually inaccurate in your article. Your comment about the NORC data showing that Bush had probably won is absolutely false. The NORC data showed that Al Gore won under every scenario except one–where the overvotes were not counted. In other words, in every scenario where all the votes were counted, Al Gore won. Everyone knows this. Could you please explain to your readers why you chose to lie about this? I’m assuming that, like everyone who reads the internet, you knew this was a lie. If you didn’t know, I expect to see a retraction in the next Salon edition.

Thomas R. Blackburn

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: RE: Voting into the void
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2002 10:17:54 -0800
From: Farhad Manjoo
To: Tom Blackburn

Here’s how the New York Times, one of the sponsors of the study, reported the story a year ago. Given this report, how can you call me a liar?

“A comprehensive review of the uncounted Florida ballots from last year’s presidential election reveals that George W. Bush would have won even if the United States Supreme Court had allowed the statewide manual recount of the votes that the Florida Supreme Court had ordered to go forward.

Contrary to what many partisans of former Vice President Al Gore have charged, the United States Supreme Court did not award an election to Mr. Bush that otherwise would have been won by Mr. Gore. A close examination of the ballots found that Mr. Bush would have retained a slender margin over Mr. Gore if the Florida court’s order to recount more than 43,000 ballots
had not been reversed by the United States Supreme Court.

Even under the strategy that Mr. Gore pursued at the
ning of the Florida standoff — filing suit to force hand recounts in four predominantly Democratic counties — Mr. Bush would have kept his lead, according to the ballot review conducted for a consortium of news organizations.

But the consortium, looking at a broader group of rejected ballots than those covered in the court decisions, 175,010 in all, found that Mr. Gore might have won if the courts had ordered a full statewide recount of all the rejected ballots. This also assumes that county canvassing boards would have reached the same conclusions about the disputed ballots that the consortium’s independent observers did. The findings indicate that Mr. Gore might have eked out a victory if he had pursued in court a course like the one he publicly advocated when he called on the state to “count all the votes.”

In addition, the review found statistical support for the complaints of many voters, particularly elderly Democrats in Palm Beach County, who said in interviews after the election that confusing ballot designs may have led them to spoil their ballots by voting for more than
one candidate.

More than 113,000 voters cast ballots for two or more presidential candidates. Of those, 75,000 chose Mr. Gore and a minor candidate; 29,000 chose Mr. Bush and a minor candidate. Because there was no clear indication of what the voters intended, those numbers were not included in the consortium’s final tabulations. “


E-mail #2

—–Original Message—–
From: Tom Blackburn
Sent: Thursday, November 14, 2002 9:52 AM
To: Farhad Manjoo
Subject: Gore Won Florida

Dear Mr. Manjoo,

It’s hard for me to believe that you are as uninformed as you pretend to be. Let me explain this to you as simply as I can.

In my previous e-mail I stated the simple fact that “in every scenario where all the votes were counted, Al Gore won.” If you look at the data that I just forwarded to you, you will see that this is the case.

I realize that you are using very deceptive language here to avoid telling what actually occurred. You apparently want to leave the reader with the false impression that George W. Bush would have won the election even if the Supreme Court had not intervened.

I do not know if this is a line in the editorial policy of Salon that you are not allowed to cross or whether you, on your own, are intentionally misleading the reader.

Your statement “dozens of news organizations spent months and millions of dollars to try to determine whom the state had really chosen to be president” contains two lies.

The first is that the news organizations spent months trying to determine the winner. The news organizations did not spend a single minute trying to determine anything. They hired the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. They then lied about the results.

The second lie in your statement is that the news organizations tried to determine who was “really chosen” by the voters. It became painfully obvious after the media consortium published the results of the NORC recount (after many delays), that their real interest was in showing that Bush won and being unable to do that, they decided to distort the results in the way that the New York Times did, in the excerpt you sent me. I am currently working with someone on a documentary film on the media and this very subject is something we chose to highlight.

Look, your article repeats the lie that the media consortium started, as though it were fact. In addition, you added a few lines of your own in order to lead the reader into believing that the media companies actually looked into this themselves. I stand completely by my original statement.

You sir, unfortunately, are no different than most of the journalists in this country today. You are a shill for the corporate agenda of
your empl
oyer. Trying to defend your position by sending me the Times article is nothing more than a silly exercise in cynicism. You know what you’re doing in your article, and so do I.


Thomas R. Blackburn

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: RE: Gore Won Florida
Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2002 10:04:18 -0800
From: Farhad Manjoo
To: Tom Blackburn


Say you’ve caught me; say, just for a moment, just for pretend because it makes you feel good, that you’ve tripped upon the boot of a larger body of conspiracy, a Web of lies and distortions designed, as you say, to “shill for the corporate agenda.”

I want to know: 1) What would be my motive and my employer’s motive to do so? To cover up the truth as you see it? What would be the NYT’s motive? Can you think of one good reason why the NYT would “lie” to protect the president?

2) And how do you explain, then, your curious forest-for-the-trees failing?

Isn’t it curious, Tom, that the very article in which I pushed this corporate agenda was about how corporations are trying to take over democracy? Either you didn’t see that, or you’re so thick in the soup of conspiracy that you believe the whole thing to be a deception: you’re the type who believes that everything you read that doesn’t conform to your personal version of the truth must be a deliberate lie, aren’t you?

I haven’t yet had the time to look at the evidence you so kindly uncovered and provided me; when I do, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. But I’d just like you to know that neither I nor Salon nor anyone else is cowed by corporate or government agents into disagreeing with your personal view of the truth.

Believe it or not, we don’t need to be conscripted by third parties in order to issue statements not in line with your politics.


0 replies on “Another reason why we're in big trouble”

Excellent points made in your prelude/overview of the e-mails.

The manipulation of individuated/collective psychology within a densely propagandized social climate [unreality, if you will] encompasses different levels of coercion/intent. It definitely manifests in various ways.

You’re right in line with Chomsky’s thinking on such matters: “professionalism” can be equally destructive within a democracy as those rabid Big Few who actually do consciously conspire toward the diabolic horror show we’re now experiencing.

Re: the Orwell doc, I have to admit I often use the quote you used in it referencing Goebbels’ position on an ideal media system/ostensible diversity concealing an actual uniformity. That really nails it.

George Carlin:

“There’s no real enlightened self-interest”, he says. “I don’t think [recent wars] have anything to do with spreading democracy and giving people free choice, because there are no free choices… There is an ownership class in America… People say, What about the antiwar movement and Vietnam? Yeah, how long did it take? And it didn’t happen until the ownership class decided it was no longer in their interest. Same thing with the civil rights movement… People are dreaming if they think they have rights. They’ve never had rights. There’s no such thing… These are privileges, temporarily granted to the people to keep them placated so that the market economies [and corporatist political systems] can function.”

And people say, Oh, your conspiracy thing. Listen, don’t be making fun of the word “conspiracy”. It has meaning. Powerful people have convergent interests. They don’t always need a meeting to decide on something. They inhabit the same clubs. They sit on the same boards. They have all this common ownership and they are very few in number. They control everything, and they do whatever they want. [Their] two-party system keeps the people at bay. They give them microwaves, fanny packs, sneakers with lights in the heels, dustbusters, to keep them distracted, keep them just calm enough that they’re not going to try something.

“Scratch a cynic, you’ll find a disappointed idealist. That really rang a bell with me. Within me there is this flame of wishing it were better, wishing people had better lives, that there was more of an authentic sharing and harmony with nature. So this thing that sometimes reads as anger to people is largely a discontent, a disappointment in what we have allowed to happen to us as a species and as a culture.”

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