Apologies

Monday morning I posted a commentary (They Shoot Mules, Don’t They?) about MSNBCs Keith Olbermann. I talked about how loud and offensive Olbermann can be, particularly when he engages in counterattacks against Fox News and Bill O’Reilly.

Not long after I posted that piece on Huffington Post, (Sunday evening) I received an e-mail from an editor at the site which read, “While we appreciate your contributions to HuffPost, your latest post isn’t for us. We look forward to your future submissions.”

When I asked for specifics, the editor responded, “For us, your latest post too often crosses the line from analytical criticism toad hominem attack and name-calling – thus the decision to not have it on the site.”

An ad hominem attack is defined as attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument. In another post on Huffington by contributor, lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz, (September 24, 2009) he writes, “The definition of the ad hominem fallacy is to respond to substantive arguments solely by attacking the person who offered them.”

In my critique of Mr. Olbermann, I said that in spite of good points, he has gotten his facts wrong on several occasions and cited Politifact.com as a source on statements the MSNBC host put forth to viewers (July 6, 2010) concerning tax subsidies. Of seven statements made by Mr. Olbermann, Politifact found that two were “False,” three were “Half True,” and two were rated “Mostly True.”

I argued that for Mr. Olbermann, or anyone with a large and potentially influential national presence on television,credibility is vital to millions who are trying to make informed decisions about both policy and people in government. In short, Mr. Olbermann should get his facts straight before he speaks on any issue. If an error is discovered, he should follow-up with the corrective information.

However, in my description of Mr. Olbermann I used excessive sarcasm in describing what I believe to be his obnoxious behavior – even going so far as to suggest “shooting the talking A#$.”

For those words, I apologize to Mr. Olbermann, Huffington Post readers as well as readers to this site.

Whenever anyone, including myself, engages in name-calling, it lowers the bar for reasonable debate on any issue.

I was attempting to make two points:

First, you don’t need to act loud and obnoxious to make your case.

Second, and more importantly, if you have a national platform, whether it’s television, radio, print or the Internet, you have a responsibility to act appropriately and make your argument using facts and reasoned argument, not inflammatory personal attacks against the opposing side.

In my opinion, both MSNBCs Keith Olbermann and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly regularly cross the line of reasonable debate. While this leads to higher ratings and ad revenue, it leaves many of the rest of us distressed at a degraded dialog and calls into question the credibility of anyone who relies on those kinds of tactics to make their point.

However, that is no excuse for me to engage in similar characterizations. No, I’m not getting soft, just smart enough to realize I need to pay closer attention to my own principles.

While some might point to the fact that the language I used was tame compared to many of the things Olbermann, O’Reilly and others have said, I violated my own standards of reason and went too far in my descriptive rhetoric of Mr. Olbermann, and for that, I sincerely apologize.

I extend my apology to the editors at Huffington Post and appreciate their frankness in reminding me of the rules of the road.

14 comments… add one
  • John, DC November 23, 2010, 9:15 am

    As a faithful reader, I appreciate your apology, but I found your take on Keith, whom I am a fan of, within bounds….all good though!….

  • Bruce, CT November 23, 2010, 9:17 am

    Funny, I really did’t think your piece on Olbermann required an apology.
    But my sensibilities have been formed in the context of being a NY trial lawyer. So my bar is set pretty low.
    Don’t expect a similar mea culpa from Keith. His elevated sense of self assurance – even when all facts point to the contrary – is what has become most grating about him. I find that his antics render him more Beck-like than O’Reilly like.
    Anyway, keep up the good work. This country can never move forward if we keep making up our own “facts” for the sake of partisanship. We can solve our problems if we agree on the facts and speak honestly with each other on how we might address them.

  • Cherilyn, CA November 23, 2010, 9:21 am

    Sometimes we need to be reminded of good manners, eh?

  • Elaine, CA November 23, 2010, 9:24 am

    I thought you were right on with your comments. It’s terribly unfortunate that the big boys have a difficult time accepting the truth without getting nitty picky. Oh well, I guess the point is that we all have to live and play by the rules.

  • David, CA November 23, 2010, 9:25 am

    Good job on the apology. It takes a high level of integrity to do that.

  • Steve, CA November 23, 2010, 9:30 am

    Well done, Jim.

  • Richard, CA November 23, 2010, 9:31 am

    It is important to check oneself against one’s own principles and very big of you to apologize for going too far. Although, [I didn’t think] it wasn’t that far, and self-righteous people, even with a good message, are tempting targets for their attitude as well as or in spite of their message. And if [Olbermann] is going to claim the moral high ground over Fox News then [he] should make sure [he has] the facts straight.

    I like Keith for a lot of what he has done and continues to do, but he is pretty strident and hard to take some times.

    The world would be a much better place if we saw leaders acting this way. Could you imagine Kim Jong-Il saying, “Gee South Korea, I just don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. Sorry about all that bombardment the other day, that was really inappropriate of me.”

  • Gary, CA November 23, 2010, 9:32 am

    Very well written and you admit, you are not above making an apology. It certainly stirred some thought and discussion, I hope.
    Yes, can’t we trust that someone of his stature would tell the TRUTH?

  • Clark, CA November 23, 2010, 9:33 am

    Honorable on your part!

  • Myles, CA November 23, 2010, 9:46 am

    No apology needed in this direction. Both these guys are paid to get viewers and ratings which result from a high number of viewers. Raised, authoritative voices get ratings. I’m reminded of the expression, “Say anything with authority and people tend to believe it.” You could say the world is flat authoritatively, e.g., as Olbermann and O’Reilly speak, and a percentage of the population would agree with them.

  • Donna, CA November 23, 2010, 9:57 am

    It’s always good to take the high road.

  • Julian, CA November 23, 2010, 10:02 am

    The Obermann article simply confirms my general lack of faith in what any “news” person says. I know how easy it is for me to capture an audience and spin my opinions into my chatter, sandwiched in between a couple of honest observations. I know that “facts” are about as reliable as “statistics,” or as my statistics professor for three terms referred to them as “sadistics.”

    When I had a TV, I enjoyed Obermann’s theater, but took it for nothing other than that. Unfortunately for us humans, we have this abiding preference for theater that seems to supersede our interest in what life might otherwise have to offer—or we to offer it. I rankle when I hear the media and Pentagon people refer to “the theater of war” or “the Afghan theater.” That jerks my cord about as woefully as me being referred to as “a consumer.”

  • John, CA November 25, 2010, 9:13 am

    Your take on KO is spot on, but agree the mule thing was, at least for you (not for me), unusual. Apology great, it got a lot of folk’s attention. Someday you have to tell me when exactly, as in age, do ethics appear. Like, a five year old smacking down another kid’s ice

  • Colman, MD November 27, 2010, 9:06 am

    It’s good to see the readers reactions. I think I’ll stick to C-SPAN and leave the MSNBC, FOXies and assorted ankle-biters to themselves.
    Keep it going.

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