Westen’s critiques remain badly off-track

In August, Drew Westen, an Emory psychology professor, had a fairly long, much-discussed New York Times piece that strongly resonated with many of President Obama’s liberal detractors. It also generated a fair amount of criticism from, among others, me.

The piece made all kinds of errors of fact and judgment, making mistakes large and small — about history, the legislative process, public opinion, and public policy. It was an indictment that read as if it was written by someone who simply didn’t know much about American politics.

A month later, Westen did it again, writing a piece for CNN about the legislative process, which made a series of obvious, disqualifying errors, which should have been clear to anyone with a familiarity with the basics.

Today, the New York Times publishes yet another Westen piece, which covers familiar ground, but which again includes claims that simply aren’t true.

Westen asserts as fact, for example, that President Obama “cut a deal with health care industry executives” in 2009 to “block” a public option as part of health care reform. That’s simply not true; there was no such deal. Westen’s piece offers a link to support the claim, but as Jonathan Bernstein explained, the source material doesn’t offer any proof.

In fact, Jonathan had a related item this morning highlighting a variety of even more glaring errors — including events that simply never occurred, which Times editors really should have caught and/or questioned — noting Westen’s “stupid” observations, and concluding that the entire piece is “a total nightmare.”

[Westen] brings you all the disregard for factual accuracy and lack of knowledge about how the government and politics work, but with none of the value added at all….

I have no idea why the Times thinks it’s a good idea to harm its reputation by giving this guy a regular slot, but it’s just awful.

I don’t doubt that Westen’s heart is in the right place — he and I probably share most of the same progressive goals and values — and I’m sure he means well. Psychology isn’t my field, but he’s probably quite accomplished in his area of expertise.

But when it comes to politics, Westen gets key details wrong; he makes up claims that aren’t true; he overlooks relevant details that conflict with his thesis; and at a fundamental level, he seems to lack a clear enough understanding of federal policymaking to draw worthwhile conclusions.

I suspect the New York Times is publishing Westen’s work because it seems inherently provocative — he’s a liberal who’s constantly complaining about Democrats and a Democratic president from the left, raising concerns that aren’t often heard. But Obama has plenty of high-profile, compelling liberal detractors — Paul Krugman, Glenn Greenwald, Robert Reich, Bob Kuttner, Keith Olbermann, et al — whose criticisms are grounded in fact. Westen’s are not.

As for why his critiques seem unique, it’s because Westen’s observations tend to be wrong.