Yes, Dan Mitchell, There Are Conservatives Worth Following on Twitter

An outbreak of epistemic closure in SF Weekly prompts emergency medical treatment.

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Keoki Seu / Flickr

Writing in SF Weekly, Dan Mitchell argues that there are no conservatives or libertarians worth following on Twitter or other social-media platforms. "I've always been open to all sane, honest opinions, including from the right," he assures his readers, noting that he frequently read William Safire, William F. Buckley, George Will, James Kilpatrick, and Robert Novak in print, but that this new era just hasn't produced anyone on the right that isn't "nearly all nonsense" or "outright insane."

I'm afraid I've seen these symptoms before: Mitchell is infected with an advanced case of epistemic closure, a condition described in the peer-reviewed Web journal JulianSanchez.com in 2010. Its spread to San Francisco is no surprise, given the conditions in which it thrives. Upon closer examination, it's clear that Mitchell himself was engaging in some very high risk behavior.

As he put it:

I see a lot more different kinds of stuff now than I did when all I had was print and broadcast news. That includes conservative opinion journalism. I see a lot more of it than I used to. The difference is that now, it's nearly all nonsense -- and that's when it's not outright insane. I don't see it by seeking it out, it just makes its way into my feed, usually when it's being made fun of by one of the normal, smart people I follow.

Would you believe that I've conducted some research on this very subject? The conclusion I've reached is that liberals who tweet the most inane things conservatives say in order to highlight and ridicule them are not in fact disseminating a representative sample of conservative thought.

Said Mitchell a bit farther on: "You might think someone like Erick Erickson might offer something of substance, at least sometimes, given that CNN decided he was worth that network's money and airtime." Yikes. Outsourcing your judgment about substance in political commentary to U.S. cable news executives is another major risk factor for acute epistemic closure.

There's more.

"I tried some libertarians such as the once-very-good Reason magazine and its writers and editors, but among their many other problems, they have allied themselves with the likes of John Stossel, who is about as big a buffoon as a person can be without actually putting on a clown suit," Mitchell writes. Perhaps its a mistake to write off the entire staff of a magazine whose work you respect because they're friendly with the only broadcaster in America friendly to their ideas?

And finally, there's this:

I tried David Frum, who to his credit is willing to disagree with his ideological cohorts -- even to the point of being labeled an apostate and cast out. But when it comes to it, he's just as much of a witless propagandist as any of them. The New York Times today published an astonishing report by Kurt Eichenwald revealing that the Bush administration was warned far more before 9/11 about an impending attack by al Qaeda than had been previously known. Frum responded with an appalling bit of hackwork that doesn't even really acknowledge Eichenwald's revelations -- whereupon I dumped Frum from my Facebook feed. 

Again, perhaps it's a mistake to cease reading a writer whose work you generally found worthwhile on the basis of any single blog post, even if it is actually flawed. On a wide array of subjects, David Frum writes with valuable insight. And while I have no opinion about the merits of the post linked above, surely his whole body of work isn't rendered valueless if he is biased in favor of the proposition that the president for whom he was formerly employed wasn't culpable for 9/11. There is hackery, and there is understandable bias. That is an example of the latter.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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