Monday, July 26, 2010

The Trig Truther Theory: Why I'm Giving Up on Andrew Sullivan

Here's what we've always known about Andrew Sullivan, blogger: He's smart, but he's also passionate, contrarian, paranoid and reckless. On his best days, that's made him an entertaining -- if sometimes annoying -- read. (And important: His work on the Bush Administration's torture policies was crucial.) On his worst days as a blogger (we'll put aside his career as an editor) it's led him down the path of outright calumny.

But I've kept reading. Why? In part because he's just about the biggest thing going in the political blogosphere. His traffic, it's well known, forms the cornerstone that keeps other very smart blogs alive at The Atlantic's website. He's a one-man industry. In recent years, he's added staff that allowed him to function as a kind of meta-blogger -- he didn't necessarily comment on every story or debate out there, but at the very least he would point you to the most important debates happening elsewhere on the web.

I think, though, that it is finally time for me to stop reading Andrew Sullivan. His pursuit of the "truth" about Trig Palin's parentage has gone from weird to boring to, now, simply embarrassing.

It was Sullivan's self-righteous reply to guest-blogger Dave Weigel, I think, that finally broke me of the Sullivan habit. Here's the critical bit.

We journalists are and should remain the lowest of the low life forms in a political democracy. We should not be hobnobbing with the powerful, let alone bragging about it, and begging for scooplets to get Politico-style pageview moolah. We should not be garnering our reputations and angling to get on cable or playing water-slides with the people we cover.

We should be asking the most uncomfortable questions of the many frauds and phonies and charlatans who are in public office - and enjoy being despised by the legions of true-believers who actually credit the endless bullshit shoveled out into the public by frauds like Palin.

Broadly speaking, there's nothing to quibble with here. More narrowly, though, Sullivan is adopting the pose of disingenuous conspiracy mongers everywhere -- from 9/11 truthers on back through the decades -- and it goes something like this: "I'm not saying (preposterous statement here). I'm just asking questions!"

There is, however, asking questions and asking questions. I get that Sullivan believes his questions about whether Trig Palin is really Sarah Palin's son could, supposedly, be easily answered if she'd just release her medical records. I get that she's not done that. And I get that Sullivan believes there are enough inconsistencies about Palin's birth story -- how her water broke in Texas, and how she flew back to Alaska to give birth -- that warrant questioning.

At this point, though, it is fairly obvious that final answers won't be forthcoming. That doesn't necessarily mean that Sullivan should stop asking -- but in the manner of conspiracy theorists everywhere, his constant repetition of questions without obtaining new or satisfactory has crossed the line from mere question-asking into outright advocacy of a theory. The questions become, themselves, the evidence. Sullivan obviously doesn't believe this -- he's doing journalism, after all! -- but that doesn't change the reality of it.

This wouldn't be so troublesome, I suppose, except that Sullivan's characteristic self-righteousness causes him to castigate other journalists who believe their energies are better spent elsewhere. Journalists don't want to look like fools for pursuing a line of questioning that they (rightly) suspect they'll never prove, and he treats them with contempt. It's all a little embarrassing and painful to read Sullivan assault them. It feels, in fact, like following a distant relative's descent into madness -- in real time.

And to what end? If Sullivan is right and Sarah Palin faked her pregnancy to raise her grandchild as her own -- well, so what? Though some of the story might've played out in public, it's essentially a private affair. The things that Sarah Palin believes and wants to do this country are bad enough. Focus on them, instead of unprovable theories that raise more doubt in the public mind about the questioner than the object of the questions.

Andrew Sullivan has every right to keep pursuing this story. But I can't imagine it's worth my time as a reader to follow his futile pursuit. I'm removing his feed from my RSS feeder. I can find crazy elsewhere.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

I'm no fan of Palin, but I think that if someone wants to prove that Palin is a disingenuous political opportunist, there are certainly many, many ways to do so without getting into a demand that she document what went on with her lady-parts. Repeat after me, Sullivan: if it's covered by her bathing suit, it's off-limits. Period.

j.d. said...

Yep - still glad I quit blogging.

Anonymous said...

"Sullivan: if it's covered by her bathing suit, it's off-limits."

Um, what? She made her kids part and parcel of her, he's not addressing the state of her vagina, he's asking whether she's lying about a subject that most people would be pretty interested in. You can't be a media whore and then get upset when the media asks a bunch of batshit questions, i.e. is the POTUS a manchurian islamo-fascist candidate?