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Monday, July 23, 2007
 
Editors, Beware of Confirmation Bias

The New Republic looks to have gotten stung again. Back in the 1990s, Stephen Glass wrote a series of highly amusing and highly dubious articles for the New Republic. The articles confirmed the biases of the editors, and so they got published even though there were red flags all over the place.

For example, Glass wrote a book about a group of Republicans who worshipped George H.W. Bush. Well, to the editors of TNR, Republicans are sort of a cult anyway, so it sounded reasonable to them. He also wrote a story about a third-grader who was a computer hacker who became the object of a bidding war between high-tech firms. To the editors of TNR, business has always seemed illogical anyway, so it's possible that an eight-year-old would be coveted by industry.

The current story involves how evil our military personnel are, and hoo-boy, that's a meme that sells well to liberal editors everywhere. The individual anecdotes have been picked apart quite well over at the standard, but this is the one that has a flashing neon sign:

The first episode puts "Thomas"'s unit at a "chow hall" at an unnamed base. A woman eating there is wearing "an unrecognizable tan uniform, so I couldn’t really tell whether she was a soldier or a civilian contractor." The woman's face is described as having been "more or less melted, along with all the hair on that side of her head," by an IED. She sits down for lunch next to the men. Here's how "Thomas" describes what happens next:

We were already halfway through our meals when she arrived. After a minute or two of eating in silence, one of my friends stabbed his spoon violently into his pile of mashed potatoes and left it there.
“Man, I can’t eat like this,” he said.
“Like what?” I said. “Chow hall food getting to you?”
“No—with that fucking freak behind us!” he exclaimed, loud enough for not only her to hear us, but everyone at the surrounding tables. I looked over at the woman, and she was intently staring into each forkful of food before it entered her half-melted mouth.
“Are you kidding? I think she’s fucking hot!” I blurted out.
“What?” said my friend, half-smiling.
“Yeah man,” I continued. “I love chicks that have been intimate—with IEDs. It really turns me on—melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses . . . .”
“You’re crazy, man!” my friend said, doubling over with laughter. I took it as my cue to continue.
“In fact, I was thinking of getting some girls together and doing a photo shoot. Maybe for a calendar? ‘IED Babes.’ We could have them pose in thongs and bikinis on top of the hoods of their blown-up vehicles.”
My friend was practically falling out of his chair laughing. The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall, her half-finished tray of food nearly falling to the ground.


Now, note particularly that the "I" character is our New Republic writer. Now I suppose it is quite likely that the writer goes on to make some point about how if even he, a sensitive writer-type guy, could behave so atrociously, it makes some sort of point about what being in Iraq does to our troops. But is anybody so self-aware and yet so callous? It just doesn't fit.

According to Howard Kurtz, TNR is circling the wagons:

As the criticism mounts, Foer says he sees an ideological agenda.

"A lot of the questions raised by the conservative blogosphere boil down to, would American soldiers be capable of doing things like the things described in the diarist. The practical jokes are exceptionally mild compared to things that have been documented by the U.S. military. Conservative bloggers make a bit of a living denying any bad news that emanates from Iraq."


Hey guys, the coverup is always worse than the crime!

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