The Obama TANG Defense
Booman takes issue with a timeline I wrote on the history of triggers and the public option. He says (rightly) that I put “February” on an entry that should have been “January” — Sam Stein told me at one point about conversations he heard in February about Rahm pushing triggers, and said he had written about it. When I went looking for the link I found the post referencing January instead and didn’t change the date.
BooMan then adopts the same argument that right wingers used to refute the Texas Air National Guard story about George Bush, which has become an Obama White House staple: if a source can be discredited or the reporting contains minor errors that in no way affect the validity of the central claim, this should nonetheless become the focus and the story should be dismissed entirely. And so, because Sam Stein didn’t write his story until July we’re supposed to conclude that Sam’s a liar, or it didn’t happen, or there’s not enough evidence to believe it happened, and therefore it’s “dishonest” to claim that Rahm was floating the idea of triggers in January. It’s also apparently “totally dishonest” to accept the word of reliable journalists that the “anonymous sources” they are relying on for information are credible.
In a perfect world, nobody would rely on anonymous sources. And frequently, journalist do so in order to allow them to make accusations that are false that they won’t have to stand behind when they later turn out to be false. But at that point, you have to look and see if the claim is credible. And there’s absolutely no evidence Sam is reporting anything that isn’t true here, as BooMan implies when he attacks the veracity of Sam’s story. The fact that the White House communicates with reporters regularly only “on background” and insists on anonymity is something that bothers BooMan not at all — in fact, he is eager to capitalize it when stories that come out don’t represent his rosy view of Obama.
Matt Taibbi says that he was warned that the TANG defense would be the White House strategy in response to his piece on the big bank giveaway:
When we went to print with the latest Rolling Stone piece about Obama’s economic hires, a couple of my sources advised me to expect some nastiness in the way of a response from Obama apologists. One jokingly suggested that there would be a waiting period to see if anyone even read the piece first, and only if there was enough negative buzz would I start getting hit with the charges of being an irresponsible conspiracy theorist, factually sloppy, and so on.
And sure enough, Tim Fernholz’s piece attacking Taibbi came out in the American Prospect on Friday. (Running the TANG defense and attacking the President’s critics seems to be a Prospect specialty these days.)
There are a couple of things going on here — one, a White House strategy of using the TANG defense when they don’t have any way to substantively refute something that could hurt Obama’s popularity. It’s pretty insane to assert that Taibbi is wrong in saying Obama is too cozy with Wall Street. But Fernholz attempts to delegitimize Taibbi on the basis of “you’re not from our world, you just don’t know the rules, and therefore your critique is invalid.”
Taibbi made minor errors that should have been caught by a fact checker. I’m guessing Rolling Stone, like most publications, has cut back on staff. But I question why these details are anyone’s big takeaway from the piece. Or perhaps more rightly, why they are the big takeaway in a “liberal” publication like the Prospect.
But the second thing that’s happening is the White House manipulation of those who heavily invested emotionally in the Obama campaign and in his success. These supporters understandably don’t want to believe anything bad about him, and are going to give him the benefit of the doubt — even when he doesn’t deserve it.
Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual. These are personality types bolstered with sophisticated marketing techniques, not policies, governing approaches or ideologies. But for those looking for some emotional attachment to a leader, rather than policies they believe are right, personality attachments are far more important. They’re also far more potent. Loyalty grounded in admiration for character will inspire support regardless of policy, and will produce and sustain the fantasy that this is not a mere politician, but a person of deep importance to one’s life who — like a loved one or close friend or religious leader — must be protected and defended at all costs.
These are sophisticated marketing techniques. And they’re being cynically run by sophisticated people (who know they’re peddling bullshit) on the not-so-sophisticated (who believe what they want to believe). The question with regard to those peddling the TANG defense is always going to be: are they playing the role of bullshit artist, or the dupe?