Saturday, September 29, 2012

Terence Corcoran: A punch line without a joke

In a “letter” in The National Post, Mr. Corcoran provided some selected excerpts he believes prove  I have “accused” Margaret Wente of “sexism”.   This is silly.  In fact I sometimes agree with her on gender issues, were it not for the arrogance with which the views are delivered.

Of course things taken out of context can be made to do almost anything.   Corcoran’s examples omit essential context, such as hyperlinks and the errors the comments were intended to address.   I’ll take them here (in reverse order):

3) In example 3, Corcoran highlights what he feels is the smoking feminist gun, quoting this:

 In the meantime, perhaps the Globe could do their part to address the situation by hiring a young male editor for Margaret.

In the column in question, Ms. Wente had written, "More U.S. men have gone on disability than found work" (adding little to a previous Hanna Rosin feature on ‘The Death of Men’ and the disappearance of traditional male jobs). The point of my post was to show that her figures appeared to be wrong, and should read, as they do in this Fox report:

Fox News:  More Americans went on disability than found jobs over the last three months, according to fresh figures crunched by the Senate Budget Committee. 

There is a difference between the ‘number of Americans’ quoted in an official statistic and the ‘number of men’.  Wente’s sentence appears to be a mis-quote or statistical error, as deserving of a correction from the Globe as any mis-spelling.

Mr. Corcoran, in his zeal to find a  feminist under every bed (post), omits  the post's point – the altered statistic.  He focuses instead on a passing line  in relation to the error, which suggests that if Wente needs an intern to verify a quote, she might hire a male, since her version of the stat may have had the effect of increasing the number of unemployed males.  I also make an observation about whether the ‘Republican war on women’ (widely quoted term – didn’t invent it) has any relation to resentment about disappearing male manufacturing jobs.  This is hardly "accusing" Wente of “sexism”.  

2) National Post readers would be unaware of the hyperlink in relation to the word "female" in the sentence "This blogger's female" that Corcoran highlights (perhaps that was the intent).  Links provide context.  Omitting them changes the meaning by removing its reference.  In this case “female” links to a widely discussed Margaret Wente column in which she claims blogging is a uniquely guy thing - that bloggers are male - not an article I found objectionable, but sort of funny in that it was a female "anonymous blogger" involved in the  controversy  under discussion. Corcoran removes the irony by removing the link to Wente’s previous column.  

1) Oh, come on. Does this amount to an "accusation" of "sexism"?  Using Ms. Wente's description of Stephen Pinker, I asked about a serious omission on her part:

Why are statistics from the same organization (the U.S. Bureau of Justice) “the best there are” when Steven Pinker uses them, but “ridiculous” when used by the American Association of University Women?

That post refers to a problem given more scope here; Ms.Wente’s failure to cite the source of statistics used to disparage a women’s organization.  Here are the relevant ethical guidelines: 

 “It is dishonest to base an editorial on half –truth”, says the code of conduct of the Ontario Press Council. “The Press Council supports free expression of opinion that purports to be based on statistics but believes that readers have the right to know where the statistics come from.”

Half-truths are indeed dishonest, as are quotes taken out of context.    


  1. Now that you a target, every word and sentence you write will be used against you. My suggestion would be that here on-wards a clinical analysis without elaboration will be warranted to avoid spending time defending against frivolous attacks, much like a scientific journal approach.

  2. It would be a fair challenge to use thoughtful, articulate, and cogent reasoning against the writer of said arguments, and I really don't think the (female) blogger in question has much to worry about from the likes of Wente. I find it interesting that many try to twist and subvert arguments to mean differently, when what is written, in my opinion, simply means what was written...

    Perhaps Churchill (W, PM of Great Britain in the first half of the last century, I also give credit where it is due!) said it best... "The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end there it is"

  3. somehow it is not surprising that, when faced with criticism, they do their best to dig up dirt on the accuser as opposed to investigating the accused.

  4. I discovered the hard way that Corcoran will pick a fight with anyone over anything, even if he can't win.

    I poked fun at him last night on my Twitter account. Instead of letting it die in the Twitter noise where only he, my 3 followers and I would ever know that I wrote it, decided to call me out on his own account. So, not content with me allowing me to prove him wrong on *his* Twitter feed, decided, I suppose for good measure, to punch himself in the stomach and Tweet this:

    'I write what is true as see it, but not "truth."'

    So, Professor, I guess you can add me to your membership of Thought Police.

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