Thursday, August 23, 2012


Where exactly does the boundary lie between News (note the capital letter) and commentary?

Take Niall Ferguson. As an historian, he attempts to anchor his arguments in fact. News is, of course, fact. But our definition of fact can still be problematic.

An article he wrote has polarised opinion in the US and fired many liberals with fury at the way he has misrepresented facts, as I attempt to show for anyone in my Tutorials who's interested . . .

This is the original article:

This piece deconstructs the argument Ferguson attempts to make:

And this piece from the supposedly authoritative Lowy Interpreter (based in Sydney) suggests that people will just keep saying whatever they want about anything:


  1. Since this was posted Paul Krugman has also weighed in against Ferguson at:

    Ferguson responded:
    "The other day, a British friend asked me if there was anything about the United States I disliked. I was happily on vacation and couldn’t think of anything. But now I remember. I really can’t stand America’s liberal bloggers....

    My critics have three things in common. First, they wholly fail to respond to the central arguments of the piece. Second, they claim to be engaged in “fact checking,” whereas in nearly all cases they are merely offering alternative (often silly or skewed) interpretations of the facts. Third, they adopt a tone of outrage that would be appropriate only if I had argued that, say, women’s bodies can somehow prevent pregnancies in case of “legitimate rape.”

    Their approach is highly effective, and I must remember it if I ever decide to organize an intellectual witch hunt. What makes it so irksome is that it simultaneously dodges the central thesis of my piece and at the same time seeks to brand me as a liar."

  2. Another good perspective, this time from Esquire's Stephen Marche:
    Ferguson's critics have simply misunderstood for whom Ferguson was writing that piece. They imagine that he is working as a professor or as a journalist, and that his standards slipped below those of academia or the media. Neither is right.