In my own search for a journalistic standard to replace the used-up “objectivity” norm, I’ve tried to evoke a model of “intellectual honesty.” Honesty, which, curiously, is a word that seldom pops up among defenders of journalistic objectivity, means a lot of things but at least it means the writer stop trying to conceal his own beliefs or ideological orientation (or what critics perfer to call “bias.”)
But, to me at least, “intellectual honesty” means you can’t just state your bias and then defend it in a convenient world from which facts that do not support your pre-existing beliefs have been banned. Intellectual honesty means acknowledging and dealing inconvenient facts that tend to rebut your overall argument.
Former Pres. George W. Bush is not a journalist, although he is in some sense an author, most recently of “Decision Points,” a memoir of his presidency in which he makes a first post-presidential stab at polishing up his tarnished legacy. I’ve read only excerpts and, most recently, a pretty tough review by George Packer of the New Yorker. Packer covered — and wrote his own award-winning book about — the Iraq War, which is certainly one of the key issues that Bush needs to address if he aspires (and I make no claim that this is a Bushian aspiration) to intellectual honesty.
Packer finds Bush’s treatment of the issues around the Iraq war woefully lacking, and there’s plenty of chapter and verse within the full review. But in one short paragraph that doesn’t have much Iraq in it, Packer indicts Bush for a lack of intellectual honesty — the kind that comes with leaving out inconvenient facts.
“Every memoir is a tissue of omission and evasion; memoirs by public figures are especially unreliable. What’s remarkable about ‘Decision Points’ is how frequently and casually it leaves out facts, large and small, whose absence draws more attention than their inclusion would have. In his account of the 2000 election, Bush neglects to mention that he lost the popular vote. He refers to the firing, in 2002, of his top economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, but not to the fact that it came immediately after Lindsey violated the Administration’s optimistic line by saying that the Iraq war could cost as much as two hundred billion dollars. In a brief recounting of one of the central scandals of his Presidency, the Administration’s outing of the intelligence officer Valerie Plame, Bush doesn’t acknowledge that two senior White House aides, Karl Rove and Lewis (Scooter) Libby, alerted half a dozen reporters to her identity.”