Chris Barsanti defends Posner

In my earlier diatribe about Richard Posner’s recent, fatuous analysis of media bias, I failed to clarify that I studied his law and economics theories in a jurisprudence course and have had some exposure to his thoughts and criticism since then.

(Even rape, under Posner’s scheme, is best examined under a free market analysis; as the whip-smart Dahlia Lithwick has observed:

[Posner’s] essay on rape reads almost like a parody of the substitution of economic for moral reasoning. (“[A]llowing rape would lead to heavy expenditures on protecting women, as well as expenditures on overcoming those protections. The expenditures would be offsetting, and to that extent socially wasted.”))

So my hostile reaction to Posner’s current essay is not based solely on the flawed arguments advanced in it, but on what I perceive to be his generally flawed and mechanical way of looking at the law, society, and — dare I say it? Yes, I dare — ethics.

But Chris Barsanti, who often writes in to disagree with me, sends along the following general defense of Posner, which doubles as a partial defense of the essay in question.

Although I must state up front that I also found numerous things to disagree with in Posner’s “Bad News” article, I think it’s hardly correct to say the man is incapable of nuanced thought.

Let me also state that I am definitely biased in this matter as I interviewed the man some time ago — about his excellent book Law and Literature — and found him to be an incredibly bright guy to spend an hour or so chatting about books with; Capital-I Intellectual. Besides his own books, his articles are almost always worth reading, and his book reviews in The New Republic are generally excellent, not to mention the fact that he was practically the only major reviewer to take apart in rather precise fashion the shoddy logic and rhetoric that made up Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.

Of course, Posner makes a huge mistake by using Bernard Goldberg’s fatuous whining as a cornerstone of his Times’ piece’s liberal media argument — so he’s definitely far from perfect. For another, CNN was actually far more liberal (on the environment and the arms race, especially) under Ted Turner’s tutelage than its current spineless configuration.

But there’s also some things that Posner gets right in this piece, namely: “The public’s interest in factual accuracy is less an interest in truth than a delight in the unmasking of the opposition’s errors. Conservatives were unembarrassed by the errors of the Swift Boat veterans, while taking gleeful satisfaction in the exposure of the forgeries on which Dan Rather had apparently relied, and in his resulting fall from grace. They reveled in Newsweek‘s retracting its story about flushing the Koran down a toilet yet would prefer that American abuse of prisoners be concealed.”

And lest we forget, the media actually IS generally composed of liberals (I would have been hard-pressed to find a Republican in my j-school class); and if we think that that NEVER skews their reporting (though almost always on the small stuff, not the larger stories where they do tend of late to follow the administration line), we’d be pretty naive. Sort of like pretending that Wall Street wasn’t choked with Republicans. Where Posner goes wrong, I think, is assuming that because most journalists define themselves as liberal then QED their reporting must be liberal. Plus, using CNN as an example of liberal journalism is pretty laughable (NPR, God bless ’em,
that’s another story).

I will admit that Posner’s often guilty, in his perhaps-overly prolific writing career, of some gross generalizations and thinly-argued points that take far too much account of rabidly free market economic theories (he does teach at U of C, after all). But this is also a man who has always been considered too free-thinking, and even liberal, by the conservative establishment for the GOP to ever put him up for the Supreme Court.

I guess my point in this overly-long letter is to say that I don’t think we should so roundly disparage one of the country’s few public-arena intellectuals just because he gets it totally wrong from time to time (I disagree with Harold Bloom more often than I agree with him, yet wouldn’t think he’s incapable of nuanced thought).


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