Defending David Catanese: A journalist should have the freedom to play devil’s advocate.

David Catanese has been pulled from his Missouri beat over at Politico for the sake of a Twitter experiment:


Despite his clear disclaimer, a pack of dogs descended on him from across conventional and social media, making it vicious and making it personal. Like the guy who tweeted back, “female reporters at Politico frantically looking up number of sick days they have left to avoid awkward @davecatanese convo tomorrow.” Daily Kos called for his head: “Why does Akin apologist David Catanese still have a job at Politico?”

Not only should Catanese keep his job, he should be promoted to editor. (Sadly, he got pulled off his beat instead.) He has shown the ability to fearlessly challenge popular opinion and explore the unpopular perspective – even if it is painfully, undeniably wrong. This is an important quality of a good editor, on par with sound judgment.

While I’m ideologically waaaaaaay over here, as far across the room as I can get from Todd Akin (I don’t know where Catanese is), I applaud a mind willing to process his comments in an unexpected light, under the pressure of an entire country throwing up in their mouths at the sight of the weasel from the tea-party-run St. Louis suburbs. We should all strain ourselves to avoid the evils of Groupthink. When faced with a comment like Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment, we should put it under the microscope before we denounce it — even if every fiber of us tells us to denounce it. That’s how we understand why it is wrong. Otherwise, we’re just participants in an echo chamber.


Over on my Facebook page, Sean Jones countered: “Why do we need a fine tooth comb for Akin’s comments when they come from the same bile-spewing mouth that co-authored “forcible rape” legislation? Do we also need to verify that every comment made from David Duke is/isn’t racist?”

I replied, “It’s not the same thing as ‘verifying a comment isn’t racist;’ it’s taking a racist/sexist/classist comment (or one we suspect to be so) and dispassionately deconstructing it as a thought experiment. I think it’s an effective way to understand how we translate ‘commonly held beliefs’ or observations about the world into ideology.”

I wanted to make the distinction between analyzing a comment to see if it is racist/sexist and analyzing a comment we accept as racist/sexist to understand the rationale behind it. The former isn’t that valuable to me: personally, I don’t doubt Todd Akin is what we’d call “sexist.” The second is massively valuable. How would we justify our theoretical worldview? What would the world look like to us if this were true? (A fairly dismal place, we’d conclude, but what would we pick up along the way in our thought experiment?) Isn’t this more useful than an opposing viewpoint we hate, but we don’t understand?


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