Thomas Frank (and Those Pesky Footnotes)

By Batocchio

Via Rick Perlstein, here's Thomas Frank illustrating points from his new book The Wrecking Crew with a brief video tour around the D.C. area:

(I grew up in the D.C. area, so I wish Frank had mentioned the neighborhood names, but he's sure right about the number of palatial estates that have cropped up in the past decade or two. The lawyers in the crowd should know, but unless the road itself is private, shouldn't Frank have every right to film whatever he wants, as long as he doesn't step on their actual property?)

Earlier this month, Frank was interviewed on Fresh Air and Democracy Now!

Shifting gears somewhat, in her New York Times review of The Wrecking Crew, Michiko Kakutani took Frank to task for omitting what she deemed crucial information. It turns out that, as Jonathan Schwarz demonstrates, Frank was using "a literary convention known as a "footnote.""

It brings to mind Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard, reviewing Al Gore's The Assault on Reason for The Washington Post and claiming in his opening sentence that Gore didn't use footnotes. Those 20 pages of endnotes apparently eluded Ferguson. The Post issued a correction and Ferguson admitted his error, but he got the smear "out there" first.

It's funny how reviewers not checking citation tends to hurt liberals but help conservatives. (Perhaps it's because reality has a well-known liberal bias.) Recently, Jerome Corsi has been trumpeting the "nearly 700 footnotes" in his latest hit job, The Obama Nation, a mighty tome whose "scholarship" has been attested to by none other than Mary Matalin. It's been refreshing to see Corsi receiving some frank and deservingly harsh critiques, but Matalin has to be happy Corsi's still won prominent coverage. As Digby noted:

But the job of a book like this isn't necessarily to get people to buy the book, but rather to legitimize some of these existent themes by having it be publicly discussed. It's another way of getting out the word, that's all. They don't care if the media is refuting it or not --- after all it's the "liberal media." Why would anyone think they would tell the truth? In that respect, regardless of the factual pushback, they have already succeeded.

Indeed, they're "debating it" right now on Lou Dobbs. Dobbs just made the point that none of the "attack" books about John McCain are on the NY Times best seller list like Corsi's book and that must tell you something. Mission Accomplished.

If it's on TV, if it's on the NY Times bestseller list, if it's footnoted, it must be true – at least, if it's from a conservative. (It's surprisingly common for a conservative author to disown his or her own thesis later, but that's another post.)

Bob Somerby's pointed out we've seen this footnote attitude before – with Ann Coulter's 2002 Slander. As he documented back then, New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin was very impressed by Coulter's "780 footnotes," even though many of Coulter's claims were (shockingly!) false. Dr. Limerick reviewed all of Coulter's claims in Chapter 2 of Slander, and then blacked out the unsupported claims, resulting in images like this. In its own way, it may be as illuminating a picture as that drawn by Thomas Frank, but both the conservative "scholarship" racket and Thomas Frank's critique of movement conservatism would be useful to remember this week and in the campaign forward.