Dilbert’s rules of reading

In Molière’s Bourgeois Gentleman, Monsieur Jourdain famously discovers that he has been speaking prose all his life without knowing it. Like Monsieur Jourdain, I find that I have been following the rules for reading formulated by cartoonist Scott Adams (Dilbert) without knowing them. In the Wall Street Journal column “Trump and Ukraine: What We Know,” Adams writes:

If you’ve followed the Ukraine phone-call news, you might have noticed reality branching into two completely different movies. In one, President Trump was doing his job of protecting the republic by asking an allied country to help out on an important legal investigation. The other movie involves Orange Hitler bullying a foreign country into meddling in our elections by “digging up dirt” on a political opponent.

Which movie is the real one, if such a thing exists? I’d like to offer a rule of thumb for evaluating political news: If a fact is reported the same by both the left-leaning and the right-leaning press, it’s probably a fact. If not, wait and see.

It’s also smart to wait a week or two before you make up your mind, as the fog of war often makes early reporting unreliable. But after the fog clears, if all sides agree on a fact, it’s probably a fact. Or at least it’s credible, even if future reporting debunks it.

Following his own rules, Adams comes out here as of today:

If you strip out the parts of the Ukraine story we can’t yet know to be true, you still know enough to have a responsible opinion. Vice President Biden was handling the Ukraine portfolio while his son had a financial interest in Ukraine, and that is enough of a conflict to merit an investigation. We all agree that the sitting president is responsible for protecting the integrity of American elections and generally keeping foreign interference in U.S. politics to a minimum. That’s what Mr. Trump was doing on the Ukraine phone call. (For those of you who say such matters should be handled at lower levels of government, my experience in corporate America tells me nothing much gets done until the bosses talk and agree. I assume government is similar.)

All sides can also agree that Mr. Trump was serving his own re-election interests by asking Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden. But we also agree our political system allows that—even encourages it—so long as the president is also clearly pursuing the national interest. Before the Democratic primary, would it be good for the country to know more about Joe Biden’s relationship with Ukraine? Democrats should appreciate finding out soon if there is anything of concern, because I assume they don’t want to go into the general election with a candidate who has some surprises in his Ukrainian closet.

What we all agree to be true about Joe and Hunter Biden is that they had the types of interactions with Ukraine that raise eyebrows and invite a closer look. We also all agree that protecting the integrity of American elections should be a top priority for a president.

Adams’s rules for reading will continue to be of service for the foreseeable future.

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