Opinion as Historical Fact

30 01 2009

The problem with the elliptical trainer is that over the course of 50-60 minutes my mind starts to wander. Yesterday I had my iPod on and was watching CNN’s close-captioned coverage of the Illinois governor’s closing statement at his impeachment hearing – no, you can’t comment on the proceedings here, I’ll delete it. Afterwards, two CNN talking heads were discussing what was going on, when one said to the other that the reason the Governor chose to boycott all but this portion of the trial was that he could not be challenged in his closing statement. The other head said yes, that was exactly the reason.  Now, it might very well be the reason, but unless someone can point me to some statement by the Governor that such was his reasoning, this was nothing more than a guess.  This kind of stuff happens all the time in Civil War literature. Take for instance the opinion, long stated as fact, that McDowell’s advance on Manassas was slow due to a fear of masked batteries. Or that Oliver Otis Howard deliberately tried to sabotage the reputation of Abner Doubleday at Gettysburg (I wrote about it on Dmitri’s blog here and here). An article by a “big shot”  perpetuating that old saw compelled me to write a very long letter to the editor of a magazine criticizing the author-in-question’s practice of presenting opinion – in the case of Howard, completely unsupported opinion – as fact.  And also in that case, citing as support another of his own works in which he presented the same unsupported opinion as fact.

Damn that elliptical machine.