It was always the sophomores who irritated me.
Seniors were a delight: discourse with one was like watching a young eagle that had learned to fly on its own, and the delight they experienced in their new skills, hard-won over four years of library grind, was palpable. Juniors had learned enough to be fumbling towards their own understandings and trying out various arguments to see what fit for them. And even the Frosh were wide-eyes in wonder, eager to save the world, but humble enough to know they first had to learn about the world before they could contribute to it (this was decades ago, before they came in thinking they already knew how to fix the world and believing that those who had yet not done were inadequately compassionate or dedicated to “social justice!”).
But the sophomores were the irritating ones. Listening to them was often no more than listening to a string of declarations of belief that, when challenged, they could little defend, and generally felt no need to do so. Like religious zealots, they mistook intensity of conviction and firmness of statement as the only “argument” they needed. They had learned enough they could opine, but not argue; declare, but not defend.
Michelle Smith of Associated Press has been contacting me to discuss the America Project. It is a seller’s market for me these days with the press, and I choose carefully with whom I interact. Generally I do that by looking back at recent articles of the journalist contacting me, finding a few assumptions that they have woven without argument into their stories, and simply ask them to justify them, or even, simply show that they can grapple with the question. After all, as Thomas Sowell is wont to say, Most people will do anything for their convictions except examine them.
So in the case of Ms. Smith, after a handful of texts between us where I answered her basic questions about the America Project, at the point the conversation started to become substantive, I introduced this wrinkle. I looked at her work and the assumptions that she has made and woven into her work without argument (e.g., dismissing claims of election fraud as “baseless” and using words like “insurrection” without acknowledging that until we look at evidence we do not know whether an insurrection occurred on November 3 or January 6). So I decided to test her gently. Here is how that went:
And before I answer you that, I need to assess your intellectual integrity.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that it was illegal of the Wisconsin election commission two unilaterally change certain requirements regarding “Indefinitely Confined” voters. As a result of which an extra 160 thousand votes were counted in the election.
Do you believe the Wisconsin Supreme Court is guilty of being a conspiracy theorist?
Would you support examining those 160 thousand votes ballots?
If those ballots were 99.2% for one candidate, would that be evidence of fraud in your eyes?
Answer me those questions and I will be happy to continue communicating. But you need to understand that the entire world of journalism is being a path to my door, and I pretty much pick and choose whom I talk to, and people whom I cannot trust me intellectually honest are not people who get any time with me. Answer the questions and we can happily have a good relationship.
To which Ms. Smith responds:
I appreciate you getting back to me, and I would love to speak with you more. I’m obviously interested in speaking with you, or else I would not be texting with you at 5 am! I would love to better understand your goals with the America Project and what you envision. Carl said you read some of my stories, so you know I am a professional journalist, and I work for AP. I’m not going to get into a back and forth answering gatekeeping questions. It’s up to you if you want to talk to me, and I hope you do!
Sadly, Ms. Smith. I am willing to talk to journalists who are capable and willing to engage in intellectual discourse, not just looking for ones looking to snatch quotes to shore-up a narrative upon which they have already settled and are incapable of critically examine.
However, I do commend Ms. Smith for her courtesy, which is rare enough among journalists these days. So I grade her a C+, but without prejudice, so she can reattempt the course at some later date if she chooses, or if at some point my grading curve shifts far enough that we are digging into the Cs.