Thursday, January 14, 2010

In-Depth Analysis

Here’s a hypothetical situation for your consideration:

You are a graduate student and you have just presented your final thesis to the Doctoral Review Panel. They are tasked with reviewing your work and accepting or rejecting your thesis. You will (or will not) receive a Ph.D. based on their evaluation.

You look forward to the critique of your scholarship, but what comes back is instead a critique of you as an individual; your background, religion, and the people with whom you associate. The committee finds your beliefs and associations to be inappropriate, and denies you the Ph.D.

Would you consider that to be a fair review?

In the case of W. Cleon Skousen, his scholarship is reviewed by Alexander Zaitchik at The review is referenced in my previous post, and includes these quotes:
The book is “…a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology.”
The book is “…an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history.”
The book is “…a textbook full of aggressively selective quotations intended for conservative religious schools…”
The author is “…not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it.”
and finally…
"No conservative organization with any mainstream credibility wanted anything to do with him.”
Note that nothing is mentioned about the scholarship of the book. Are the quotations accurate? Do the citations support the arguments? Do other references show that Mr. Skousen took his quotations out of context?

We don’t know.

What we do know is that Mr. Zaitchik believes Mr. Skousen is properly characterized as a “right-wing crank” and that people who don’t accept that analysis run the risk of being characterized in the same fashion.

Why is that? Here’s a statement by Mr. Zaitchik that might reveal the answer: “Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recast the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by French and English philosophers.”

It appears that Mr. Zaitchik believes the influence of the Bible on our Founding Fathers receives too much emphasis in Mr. Skousen’s work. That orientation is enough to discredit and disqualify Mr. Skousen’s scholarship.

If you’d like to see the intensity of feeling that supports Mr. Zaitchik’s point of view, look at the comments that flow from the article. He is not alone in his beliefs.

This is what passes for “In-Depth Analysis” in our anti-Republican culture. It relies on characterization over fact; emotion over substance.

Let me offer a technique for performing your own in-depth analysis. First, keep your antennae up, and see if you note a double-standard in criticism associated with a point of view. When you sense there might be a political context to the situation, do the following:

Look for “The Themes.”
Look for “The Hatred.”
Watch for “Substance.”

In the case of Mr. Zaitchik’s review, there is a theme of Republican bigotry, a very strong animosity (if not outright hatred), and very little substance.

With a little work, we can figure out whether what we see is “In-Depth Analysis” or just an everyday anti-Republican “Hit Piece.”


  1. Below is a comment from the article you posted. The commenter below has an open mind. I believe he has an open mind because when we question conclusions and consider all angles, that is when we understand there are multiple sides to every argument (open mind). I believe those who subscribe to dogma dictated to them without question are those who are intolerant and exhibit "outright hatred" for other ideologies.

    In fact, my experience trying to rationally debate political topics unsuccessfully has convinced me that a person denies reasonable arguments, only if his beliefs are indoctrination (artificial). However, I notice that if he develops his own beliefs he is able to tolerate other ideas.

    link to comment from the article reviewing Skousen's book:

    You miss something that's essential about anyone's ideology. Just because he likes Skousen's ideas doesn't mean he agrees with everything Skousen has written. Just because he's a Mormon doesn't mean he agrees with everything the church preaches. This is the sort of gotcha article that says very little about Beck himself and focuses almost entirely on an author he admires. If Beck is so easily dismissible then why do his ideas have such power? The Senate just cut funding to Acorn, which was largely because Beck drew attention to the corruption in that organization. He did the same with the Van Jones story. The guy cares about protecting the constitution of this country, and he's sincere about it.

  2. Journalizer:

    Excellent post! It was good to see your commenter point out the divisive characterizations in our political discussions, and then see that same person rise to the defense of a person under attack.

    Now we just need to find a way to ensure these good citizens have a greater impact on our culture...