Saturday, July 23, 2005

"Anatomy of a Rumor."

Marty Schwimmer, a lawyer, has "An Anatomy of a Rumor" but characterizes a post of mine badly enough that it took me a while to absorb his whole analysis. He writes:
Ann Althouse a law professor, reads Wonkette's piece, notes that she had come to the same 'conclusion' that Wonkette did, and therefore she concludes that the NY Times had intentionally placed the bits about Peppermint Patty (and a photo of Roberts in a 'all-male wedding photograph' (as in photo of the groomsmen)) to plant the notion that Roberts was closeted.
Here's what I wrote in the linked post:
I read the same NYT piece Wonkette did.

And the same notion crossed my mind. I do think the NYT piece was subtly constructed to plant this idea. Just look at the series of photographs they chose: young John in plaid pants, young John with his boys' school pals, young John in a wrestling suit with his fellow wrestlers, John with footballers, and -- the final pic -- John smiling in an all-male wedding photograph. The article also says Roberts married his wife when both were in their forties and that that their children were adopted.
A notion crossing one's mind is not a "conclusion" -- in quotes or out of quotes. My point is that reading the NYT piece was making me think something. Once conscious of the notion arising in my head, I set out to track down what was making me think something that I had not directly read in the article. "Conclude" is even too strong a word for my suspicion that the Times had tried to make the nominee look gay.

But I am aware that my commenters and other blogs, including Powerline, have picked up the notion that "the left" is deliberately rumormongering and that my post is a link in the rumor chain and taken to mean that the NYT in fact tried to hurt the nominee by creating the rumor. Schwimmer makes the important point that many people will only read Powerline. And Powerline, notably, doesn't even link back to me, but only to Charmain Yoest, who writes that I "might have a point" about the NYT article.

Schwimmer writes:
Gordon Allport, in the 'The Psychology of Rumor' describes the manner in which rumors are transmitted (I'm using Malcolm Gladwell's summary of Allport from his book 'The Tipping Point'): The story is leveled - details essential for understanding (such as the fact that Wonkette is a humorist) are removed. The story is sharpened - the source of the 'facts' are no longer Wikipedia and the NY Times but 'the left' and 'Democrats.' The story is assimilated - the story is changed to make sense to those spreading the rumor. The Democrats are spreading a scandolous rumor about the innocent nominee for their own purposes.

That story will [make] more sense then that someone would make a not particularly funny joke about Roberts being on the wrestling team, at least to those who will link to the Powerline without checking the links back to Manhattan Offender and Wonkette.
This is decently analyzed, but it doesn't really get my role straight. I checked Wonkette after I read the Times piece and thought it made the nominee look gay. I figured if the article was really giving off that impression, Wonkette would probably have something to say about it -- and she did. So my thoughts didn't have an origin in Wonkettish japery. My thoughts had their origin -- as much of my blogging does -- in reading a newspaper article with an awareness of my own impressions. I wasn't passing along and transforming a rumor (though getting some confirmation of the impression from Wonkette did encourage me to blog the impression).

People should notice how strong a move Powerline made! John H. Hinderaker, a lawyer, wrote:
They Were Already Beneath Contempt...

...but now some Democrats have sunk lower. They are hinting that John Roberts is a homosexual because he was once photographed--more than thirty years ago--wearing plaid pants. You think I'm making this up?...
Now, I'm the only one who brought up the pants. Am I suddenly "some Democrats"? Or is the NYT "some Democrats"? Who's doing the hinting in Powerline's analysis? If you're going to hurl such contempt out into the world, shouldn't you get it straight whom you're talking about?

The fact is: not one person, let alone any "they," "hint[ed] that John Roberts is a homosexual because he was once photographed... wearing plaid paints." One person, me, thought that the NYT was trying to create the impression that the nominee is gay through (among other things) a photo layout that included the picture with the pants. Innumerable people have pointed out that the pants, while awful, are not the sort of thing a gay man would favor. But you have to see the sequence of photos of Roberts grouped with lots of men and not one woman. The overall picture of enthusiastic male comradery is quite strong. Yet, of course, the NYT has complete deniability. Shame on me, they can say, for reading anything into it. That's why I considered it "subtly constructed."

I started out writing this post irked at Schwimmer for making me look like the person who deviously extracted that satire from the observation that the NYT is making Roberts look gay, and I do want to correct that. But in the end, it's Powerline that I'm really irked at. Is this Powerline's modus operandi or just an isolated lapse?

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