‘The Taranto Principle’

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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 Web log 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 an — for the most part — unobservant world. The amalgamation of all this indignation is today called “The Blogosphere.” Its competing rants are occasionally treated as significant in the press, 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 press and reports daily on their output with special emphasis on their contradictions, hypocrisies and — most deliciously — imbecilities. Like all other thoughtful observers of American press, Mr. Taranto recognizes that 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 that 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 press’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 press quietly went along with Senator 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 that 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 Kerry accused his fellow soldiers of war crimes. The vets reproduced the video, video that 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 that the so-called lies composed an accurate rendering of blowhard Mr. Kerry’s war record. Had the press treated his initial boasts with some skepticism, he might have been better prepared for the vets’ response. The left-leaning press 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 Governor Palin. As a former mayor and sitting governor, she has about as much experience as President Carter had in 1976. Moreover, she obviously has more executive experience than the Democratic presidential candidate. Yet the press have let her experience become a vexed issue.

Worse, at the highest level of press 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 Ms. 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 press 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 Senator Obama as though he is the next JFK. Among the howlers is the presumption that he is an orator of great gifts as JFK 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 that 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 telling disorder.

Mr. Tyrrell 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.

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