Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has been a tireless tracker of the truth for years (just visit his incomparable archives, as he often suggests). But he has some blind spots — as do we all. Unfortunately for someone who’s in the business of pinning the truth on liars, he’s not particularly responsive to fixing his own mistakes or issuing corrections.
For instance, on 2 September, he made the statement that President Bush’s “Thursday morning statement [about nobody anticipating levee breaches] to Diane Sawyer wasnt necessarily as dim as it looked” and agreed with Matt Yglesias that “none of the relevant policymakers” did. Was that true? They were obviously anticipating flooding, that’s why a mandatory evacuation order was issued on Sunday. Flooding from water higher than the levee would have been even more catastrophic than that from a levee breach, because the level of the lake or the river would have had to be higher than the top of the levee. Pressure from high water is a primary cause of levee breaches. The statement that nobody anticipated a breach makes no sense.
On 7 September, Somerby took on the statements of Kanye West and others along the lines of “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” After repeatedly accusing “pseudo-liberals” of “pleasuring themselves” with the idea that race might have played into the lack of speedy response to help the trapped, hungry residents of New Orleans (and ignoring the documented racism in accounts of police in Gretna preventing people from walking across the Crescent City Connection bridge to reach food and water) he morphs comments by West and Don Imus into a subhead reading “MORE OF BUSHS HATRED OF BLACK FOLK.” Prior to that usage, the words “hate” and “hatred” don’t appear in Somerby’s post. And once again, he makes an absolutist argument. By saying that poor whites were also disadvantaged by a lack of response, he pretends the racial aspect doesn’t exist. West and others didn’t say race was the only factor, that’s just Somerby’s construct.
Today, he’s criticizing California Democrat Rep. Diane Watson for complaining about the use of the word “refugees.” He references Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly, who uses a quote from an LA Times article:
“These are American citizens, plus they are the sons and daughters of slaves,” said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). “Calling them refugees coming from a foreign country does not apply to their status. This shows disdain for them. I’m almost calling this a hate crime.”
Drum complains about the concept that the use of “refugee” would be a hate crime, but Somerby’s objection is different:
Kevin notes how stupid it is to refer to this as a hate crime. But lets go farther: Who exactly has called the New Orleans storm victims “refugees coming from a foreign country?” Answer: No one has made such a statement. Watson is pleasuring herself.
Of course, the primary meaning of “refugee” according to references like the Merriam-Webster Dictionary does associate it with people who cross national boundaries:
Main Entry: ref·u·gee
Pronunciation: “re-fyu-‘jE, ‘re-fyu-“
Etymology: French réfugié, past participle of (se) réfugier to take refuge, from Latin refugium
: one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution
Criticizing word usage of spoken comments without audio reference is always difficult, because you’re dependent on the capabilities of the transcriber. But I can see how two very simple typographical changes to the statement would pretty much invalidate Somerby’s hyperbolic line of reasoning.
“These are American citizens, plus they are the sons and daughters of slaves,” said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). “Calling them refugees — coming from a foreign country — does not apply to their status. This shows disdain for them. I’m almost calling this a hate crime.”
It’s entirely possible that Watson was explaining what the term “refugees” meant to her and why she objected to it. For some reason, Somerby was more willing to give Bush a pass on ignorance of the possibility of a “breach” than he is on Watson’s possible attempt to explain why she was offended by “refugees.”
Personally, I like Somerby’s work overall. But an awful lot of this material seems as if it’s ill-thought-out padding, and if it continues without correction, it hurts his credibility.