James Fallows shows you how to do this

26 10 2010

Do not piss off James Fallows: he will take off your head, split your torso, slice out your knees, and sever your Achilles heels.

In other words, the man knows how to burn.

Mr Fallows, as I hope you know, is a peripatetic journalist with a wide-ranging curiosity and a rigorous approach to public knowledge—by which I mean he expects that citizens (and more particularly, his readers) have the capacity, and therefore the responsibility, to educate themselves about the world.

Thus, woe unto you if you snipe at him with a faulty rifle.

Consider this response to readers who complained that Fallows, in pointing out that Al Gore was not a signatory of the open letter composed by Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu and signed by 14 other laureates to the Chinese government requesting the release of 2010 Nobelist Liu Xiaobo, neglected to mention the 2009 winner, Barack Obama:

When I returned to my computer just now, after an hour away for lunch, I found several screens full of incoming emails all to the same effect. Here’s a sample:

“I don’t see the name of the 2009 Nobel peace prize winner either–namely Barak Obama.”And:

“The list seems to be missing someone else who might have an influence on the Chinese government, oh heay, where is our fearless leader’s John Hancock? Was President Obama too busy playing golf to bother? Didn’t Obama win one, too?”
I am sorely tempted to use the names of some of these senders, but… Many dozens of emails total, all with this same theme — the hypocrisy of Obama in not speaking up for his fellow laureate, and the hypocrisy of me for not pointing that out. Here is what’s interesting:

– Something must have happened to get a lot of people riled up about the same topic all at the same time. Was it mentioned on Fox? Did it get onto a right-wing site? I don’t know. I just see what’s in the inbox.

– Not one of these people could apparently be bothered to check and see that, within hours of the award, Obama had in fact urged the Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo. The final words of the official White House “statement by the president” were, “We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible.”

He then offers a copy of the headline ‘Barack Obama tells Chinese to release Liu Xiaobo, along with a photo and sub head.

It took me approximately two seconds on Google to find numerous references to Obama’s statement. For tips on how you can do this at home, see here. I’m not blaming anyone for wondering whether Obama had in fact issued a statement. I do blame people for not bothering to find out before issuing a blast.

The combination of ignorance, lack of curiosity, and certitude is a very difficult one to offset.*
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*And lest this last sentence further inflame some people, I mean it very specifically: Ignorance = lack of knowledge, in this case about what Obama had done; lack of curiosity = not spending the two seconds it would take to check; certitude = “was he too busy playing golf?”

Ignorant incurious certitude: a modern curse.

** To spell out an issue that would take more than two seconds to look up: While the original letter was an appeal to China’s President Hu Jintao, it was officially addressed to all heads of state of the G-20 countries, plus the Secretary General of the UN and a few others. So Obama was one of the people on the “To:” part of the letter. That would have made it odd for him to sign it — apart from the more basic fact that serving heads of state do not sign open letters.  The real point is: why didn’t he speak up for Liu Xiaobo’s release? He did — right away. (links included; bold added)

Evidence in the face of ignorance, delivered with heat—that’s how you do it.