Ideological inference

IDEOLOGICAL INFERENCE…. When it comes to political commentary and analysis, it’s easy to make certain assumptions about the perspective of the writer/speaker. It’s a lazy habit that many of us make, and I include myself in this. If a prominent political media voice was critical of Bush/Cheney, one assumes he/she is on the left. Those who go after Obama must be on the right.

But it’s worth remembering that these are just assumptions, and they’re often wrong. This came to mind the other day when the Washington Post‘s Andy Alexander addressed Dan Froomkin’s departure.

[The paper’s decision was] not about ideology. My original Omblog post quoted Hiatt as saying Froomkin’s “political orientation was not a factor in our decision.” In my discussions with Froomkin, he has not cited ideology as the primary reason. And several veteran Post reporters have dismissed that as the cause. In an online chat this week, Post Pulitzer-winning columnist Gene Weingarten, who expressed “respect” for Froomkin and regret that White House Watch was ending, said: “I don’t know why Froomkin’s column was dropped, but I can tell you that the diabolical conspiracy talk is nuts. Froomkin wasn’t dropped because he is too liberal; things just don’t work that way at the Post.”

I’m not in a position to say whether ideology played a role here or not. The Post insists the decision had nothing to do with politics — DougJ has a compelling item with healthy skepticism — and for all I know, the paper’s line may very well be true.

But I’m still struggling with the premise. Dan Froomkin had an “ideology”?

The official response from the Post emphasized the idea that Froomkin’s ouster had nothing to do with him being “too liberal.” OK, but how do we know he was a liberal at all?

It gets back to this problem about ideological inferences. Froomkin wrote, extensively and eloquently, about Bush administration wrongdoing. He called out the Bush White House on its disastrous policy in Iraq, its torture policies, its abuses of power, its secrecy, and its lies.

It’s assumed, then, that Froomkin must be left of center. But that’s, at best, speculative and unfounded — can’t a conservative also find fault in the Bush White House’s failures, abuses, and crimes? Why can’t political observers in the media be able to call it the way they see it, without being pigeonholed into one group or another?

It’s only been five months since President Obama took office, but Froomkin has been plenty critical of the president since January. Hell, for all I know, conservatives would have ended up loving Froomkin for his efforts to hold this Democratic White House accountable for its errors. Regrettably, we’ll never know.

Put it this way: if the president, any president, lies about something important, it’s a lie no matter what the ideology is of the person who hears it. Froomkin was considered some kind of ideologue because he had the audacity to a) notice White House wrongdoing; and b) use a media platform to write about it.

By that reasoning, we could use a lot more ideologues in media.