Thiessen’s disaster

Jane Mayer (whose book I haven’t yet read) reviews Marc Thiessen (whose book I won’t waste my time on)  in the New Yorker.  It does a pretty good job of exposing Theissen for the hack he is and when combined with Alexander‘s and Stewart‘s treatment of him should really relegate this guy to the dustbin of history*.
But I’m not posting this to further pile on Thiessen (after all, I’ve done that twice already here) but because of something Mayer writes a couple of things that can be useful for analysts (or anyone else) trying to convince an audience.
…Thiessen explains that he got a rare glimpse of the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program when, in 2006, he helped write a speech for President George W. Bush that acknowledged the program’s existence and offered a spirited defense of it. “This program has given us information that has saved innocent lives,” Bush declared.

In an effort to bolster the President’s speech, the C.I.A. arranged for Thiessen to see classified documents, and invited him to meet agency interrogators. He says that he emerged convinced of the program’s merit.
Another way to say that is ‘Thiessen went to get a briefing by people who had a vested interest in him reaching a particular conclusion.’  Now, obviously I don’t know this but one does wonder how much effort a speechwriter would have put in to examine counter arguments.  I don’t expect the guy to do a rigorous ACH but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that he tried to find alternate opinions.  That’s fine while he was writing speeches and his job was to describe policy but he’s now moved into the realm of pundit which means his arguments should meet a higher degree of rigor.
This reminds me of people who get their first encounter with those who have mighty reputations.  It may be organizational (special forces, FBI, Israeli intelligence, take your pick depending on your own specific community) or it may be individual (whoa, it’s THAT guy!) but in either case the temptation is to consider that source to have unquestioned credibility.  It’s kind of like being starstruck.
In any case it’s argumentum ad verecundiam and should be a big no-no.
*Or to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post…really kind of the same thing nowadays.

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