What’s So Bad About Trig Trutherism?
I just don’t get the hostility to Trig Trutherism. Over on Volokh, Dave Kopel takes Human Events to task for publishing a column arguing that Obama is a Muslim. Kopel quite properly warns that the weekly’s willingness to publish such nonsense undermines the credibility of everything else they print. But then he concludes:
Of course even eminent publications such as The Atlantic can have a writer who wallows in malicious speculation based on extremely weak and poorly-considered evidence. Jerry Curry’s article [arguing that Obama is Muslim] is not proof that Human Events never produces good articles, nor is Andrew Sullivan’s Trig Trutherism proof that The Atlantic does not publish good articles. However, because reading time is finite, when I choose to read an edited periodical, I try to choose periodicals for which I have confidence that the editors have done a good job in selecting reliable, credible columnists. Accordingly, Human Events’ retention of Curry as a columnist, like The Atlantic’s retention of Sullivan, often make me choose to prioritize reading other periodicals instead.
Whoa – The Atlantic, of all magazines, lacks credibility because it employs Andrew Sullivan, of all people? Sullivan’s sin is something called Trig Trutherism – or the theory that Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter Bristol is the biological mother of Palin’s baby Trig. Let me say that I am not a Trig Truther, a movement I had not even heard of until about week ago. I gather only that Responsible People are not Trig Truthers. That’s enough for me. I consider myself a Responsible Person, and in areas in which I am ignorant, I rationally rely on social proof.
Still, Trig Trutherism strikes me as a rather venial sin. It does not at all compare to such noxious theories as 9/11 Trutherism or Birtherism. These latter call into question the very legitimacy of the United States government, which in turn suggests that they are driven by radical dissatisfaction with the current order. If the media started to treating these ideas seriously, the consequences could be catastrophic. But Trig Trutherism? All it calls into question is the legitimacy of Sarah Palin. Little harm would come even if it became respectable. Thus, magazines are much less culpable when they tolerate it.
Moreover, there is a difference between hosting someone’s blog and publishing his edited work. A piece run in a magazine does indeed enjoy the editors’ implicit endorsement that it is at least worth considering. Blogs, by contrast, are unedited. Readers like Kopel surely understand that Sullivan can publish things on his blog that would not necessarily be deemed worthy in the page of The Atlantic. The Atlantic‘s published articles do not lose credibility by reason of what Sullivan writes on his blog.
Further, every man is entitled to have a few irresponsible opinions. Indeed, opinion-mongers should have irresponsible opinions, for otherwise no false though conventional ideas would ever be challenged. It also makes them a lot more interesting. (I hope Kopel has some himself.) Andrew Sullivan, like him or not, is pre-eminent journalist and writer. If he indulges in one irrational obsession on his personal blog, neither The Atlantic nor Sullivan’s readers need be disturbed by it.