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TYRRELL: The Taranto principle

- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

COMMENTARY:

Years from now, in journalism schools, they will call it the "Taranto Principle." At least that is what they will call it, if they still have journalism schools years from now.

In the future, the great republic may only have blog schools, those being schools where students are taught to sit in their underwear in front of their luminescent laptops and pound out semi-literate diktats to — for the most part — an unobservant world. The amalgamation of all this indignation is today called "The Blogosphere." Its competing rants are occasionally treated as significant in the media, though lunatics howling on street corners are not. Very curious.

What is the Taranto Principle? It is a principle laid down by the Wall Street Journal's perceptive editorialist, James Taranto. Mr. Taranto, in his column "Best of the Web Today," surveys the media and reports daily on their output with special emphasis on their contradictions, hypocrisies and — most deliciously — imbecilities. Like all other thoughtful observers of American media, Mr. Taranto recognizes they are heavily biased toward the Democratic Party and the left in general. Yet, while many who hold that this advances the Democratic Party and the left, Mr. Taranto believes it has a harmful effect on left-wing politics, often causing left-wing candidates to lose at the polls.

According to the Taranto Principle, the media's failure to hold left-wingers accountable for bad behavior merely encourages the left's bad behavior to the point that its candidates are repellent to ordinary Americans. According to Mr. Taranto, in 2004 the media quietly went along with Sen. Jean-Francois Kerry's exaggerated claims to heroism and military prowess, thus encouraging his braggadocio and leaving him utterly unprepared when his fellow vets stepped forward and demonstrated he had been a dreadful showoff in Vietnam.

Officers who had fought alongside him served up evidence that his exploits were embellished and sometimes completely made up. They cast doubt on his medals and most damningly reminded us that in testimony on Capitol Hill Mr. Kerry had accused his fellow soldiers of war crimes. The vets reproduced the video, video any journalist could have laid hands on.

The vets' assault on Mr. Kerry is now called "Swift Boating" by left-wingers and journalists alike, who insist the vets' charges were "lies," though four years later it is apparent the so-called lies composed an accurate rendering of blowhard John Kerry's war record. Had the media treated his initial boasts with some skepticism, he might have been better prepared for the vets' response. The left-leaning media spoiled Mr. Kerry and brought out the worst in him to the revulsion of enough voters to lose him the election.

Now the Taranto Principle can be seen in the reporting on Gov. Sarah Palin. As a former mayor and sitting governor, she has about as much experience as former President Jimmy Carter had in 1976. Moreover, she obviously has more executive experience than the Democratic presidential candidate. Yet the media have let her experience become a vexed issue. Worse, at the highest level of media she has been subjected to unwarranted scurrilities that are without precedent in a presidential election. Just the other night an idiot comedy show portrayed her daughter and husband in an incestuous affair. The consequence of this is that Mrs. Palin is running away with the women's vote and doubtless picking up sympathetic men also.

According to this variation of the Taranto Principle, the media circulate infamies that encourage leftists to confect greater infamies, thus causing the defamed candidate to cop the sympathy vote. That vote will have consequences in this increasingly bizarre election.

Meanwhile the press continues to treat the inexperienced and gaffe-prone Sen. Barack Obama as though he is the next John F. Kennedy. Among the howlers is the presumption that he is an orator of great gifts as Kennedy was an orator of great gifts. In truth, the Prophet Obama suffers one of the strangest oratorical disabilities I have ever seen in a presidential candidate, to wit: his dependence on the teleprompter.

We know of politicians who depend on the teleprompter for fluency. Mr. Obama, however, relies on a teleprompter so he will not be heard talking down to the electorate. If he is not lecturing with his nose in the air he is all uhhs and ahhs. Perhaps if he had served as mayor in a small town he would have gotten over this revealing disorder.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute.