Category Archive 'Journalism'
06 Nov 2011

Different Media Covering Occupy Wall Street Differently

, ,

03 Oct 2011

WaPo Smears Perry

, , , , , , , ,


The bottom of an antique souvenir saucer presents the image of similarly named topographic feature in Virginia.

The Washington Post set some new sort of record for opportunistic associative campaign smear reporting, by proceeding to headline a story informing its readers at length that Rick Perry hunted deer and entertained guests at hunting camps belonging to family and friends located in rural spot, known locally decades ago as “N-word-head.”

Wikipedia identifies the origin of such toponyms and mentions their date of extinction on official US maps.

In several English-speaking countries, Niggerhead or nigger head is a former name for several things thought to resemble a black person (“nigger”)’s head.

The term was once widely used for all sorts of things, including products such as soap and chewing tobacco, but most often for geographic features such as hills and rocks.[citation needed] In the U.S., more than hundred “Niggerheads” and other place names now considered racially offensive were changed in 1962 by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Nor did “N-word-head” survive as the name of the area in which the Perry and Reed families’ hunting camps were sited. At some unknown point in the past, again decades ago, someone unknown removed and painted over the sign once identifying a rural Texas location by that name.

The Post obviously had no reason to believe that either Rick Perry, or any member of his family, had named the area “N-word-head.” The Post had no reason to believe that Rick Perry, or any member of his family, had erected a sign consisting of a rock with the “N-word-head” name painted on it. The Post had no reason to attribute any kind of meaningful responsibility for the existence or use in the distant past of that toponymic expression to Rick Perry at all. But associating a conservative Republican presidential candidate with the N-word, even so tangentially, is a way of flinging a big handful of mud at him, and who knows? Some of it might get into some voters’ heads and actually stick.

As an example of political opposition politics, or of journalism, this kind of thing is about as unethical, low, underhanded, cowardly, and despicable as you can try to get away with. I notice that the reptiles and invertebrates that wrote this contemptible story did not even sign their names to it, and I’m not surprised.

—————————-

Herman Cain dramatically diminished my liking and respect for his candidacy yesterday by jumping right in and trying to make hay by using this bilge. Screw him.

14 Sep 2011

Are Men Finished?

, , , ,

50ftWoman

The big brains at Slate discuss “The End of Men,” the topic of an impending debate to be held at NYU on September 20th, featuring Hanna Rosin. Slate never even tells us who (or what) will be debating the negative on September 20th.

Hanna Rosin’s 2010 Atlantic cover story, “The End of Men,” was one of the most talked-about magazine articles in recent years. “Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind,” wrote Rosin, an award-winning journalist for Slate and the Atlantic. “But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed.” …

Why are men finished, exactly? Rosin says they’ve failed to adapt to a modern, postindustrial economy that demands a more traditionally—and stereotypically—feminine skill set (read: communication skills, social intelligence, empathy, consensus-building, and flexibility). Statistics show they’re rapidly falling behind their female counterparts at school, work, and home. For every two men who receive a college degree, three women will. Of the 15 fastest-growing professions during the next decade, women dominate all but two. Meanwhile, men are even languishing in movies and on television: They’re portrayed as deadbeats and morons alongside their sardonic and successful female co-stars. …

Rosin: The question I always have to respond to is, ‘[if women are taking over] why are there so many more men in power?’ If you look at Hollywood, or you look at the Fortune 500 list, or you look at politics, there’s a disproportionate number of men in the higher positions of power.

Slate: Why is that, then?

Rosin: Men have been at this for 40,000 years. Women have been rising for something like 30 or 40 years. So of course women haven’t occupied every single [high-powered] position. How would that be possible? The rise of women is barely a generation old. But if you look at everything else, like the median, the big bulge in the middle, it’s just unbelievable what has happened: Women are more than 50 percent of the workforce, and they’re more than 50 percent of managers. It’s just extraordinary that that’s happened in basically one generation. It seems like whatever it is that this economy is demanding, whatever special ingredients, women just have them more than men do.

This is the kind of analysis that is actually taken seriously by the scientific, intellectual American elite that is so much better qualified to make all the decisions for the rest of America.

24 Aug 2011

5.9 Earthquake Hits Virginia

, , , ,

Yesterday afternoon, when the earthquake hit, I was two steps up a rickety flight of stairs in an old warehouse in Remington, Virginia where we’re storing some of the many books we cannot fit into the charming, antique Virginia farmhouse we are currently inhabiting.

I thought someone must be opening an exceptionally violent garage door on the other side of the wall, then began guessing someone was running some piece of heavy machinery nearby in the building. The vibration stopped, and I proceeded upstairs.

I only learned that it was an earthquake when I got back to the car and turned on the radio.

WMAL, 63 AM, the station I listen to El Rushbo on, switched over to full-time broadcasting about this major news event. Sean Hannity never even came on. Instead, Conservative talk radio host Chris Plante was dragged out a pizzeria, where he had been lunching, back to the studio to cover what was essentially a non-event.

Chris and his associates interviewed all sorts of ordinary people, who testified to all of their personal earthquake experiences (typically just as interesting as mine).

My blood ran cold when Chris Plante, the conservative, proceeded in Pavlovian journalistic manner to interview a state legislator from Prince George County about “government’s response.” I would have said, in his position: “Response? What response? There was no actual damage. No injuries. There wasn’t anything anyone needed to do.” But, no. The politico happily bloviated on and on about how each and every level of government bureaucracy, all the “first responders” in particular, turned on every flashing light and siren, and spun their wheels vigorously. Our rulers, guardians, supervisors, and protectors had to justify their existence by seeming to take control, and keeping the rest of us alerted and informed, even if there was nothing in particular to alert us about, beyond potential heavy traffic resulting from government offices releasing their personnel to commute home early.

Even a conservative commentator, like Chris Plante, can be found to behave as a true product of the culture of journalism and officialdom, when push comes shove (even in the case of a minor 5.9 push), the journalist Plante goes running to Big Brother to participate in, and to cover with canine respect, the charade of official expertise gravely protecting us, the helpless public, from all perils and vissiscitudes, even in an instance where there is nothing but the empty semblance of a real event.

Bah, humbug!

Being engaged in something, kind of, sort of, resembling journalism myself, as you can see, I, too, felt obliged to cover the terrible earthquake of 2011, and here from BuzzFeed are 20 photographs of some of the worst damage.

24 Jun 2011

Watch the Bachmann Campaign Distribute That Rolling Stone Article in Iowa

, , , ,


Rep. Michele Bachmann

Abe Sauer, blogging at The Awl, contends that Rolling Stone’s recent hit-piece on Michele Bachmann by Matt Taibbi represents a classic example of leftie journalism taking deliberate aim at an opponent and then shooting itself in the foot.

The backlash against the lashing out against presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has already begun. Following the Palin blueprint, Bachmann plans on fully leveraging the negative publicity with her base: they see leftist attacks as a point of pride and an indication of strength. …

It’s forgivable that Rolling Stone’s take-down is at best re-reported and at worst poorly sourced. It’s less forgivable that it’s self-detonating. It’s a screed that warns America that Michele Bachmann is to be taken seriously—right before doing exactly the opposite.

The profile is the kind of battle-axing of Bachmann that is going to do great pageviews for the magazine but ultimately play right into her hand. It gives Bachmann legitimate evidence that the fabled leftist mainstream media is attacking her. Consequently, it will make her more popular with a base that looks for which conservative leader is being most reviled in the media, and then assumes that person is their best bet. (It’s not a coincidence that Tim Pawlenty has completely avoided harsh criticism from the MSM while at the same time being unable to gain traction with Tea Party-influenced primary voters.)

Not only is the profile unnecessarily mean, it’s sloppy. …

On the same day Taibbi’s story hit the web, The Blaze called it a “seemingly slanderous” piece that “attacks Bachmann’s faith.” Elsewhere it was called an “anti-Christian hit piece.” By tomorrow, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bachmann’s own campaign distributing photocopies of it in Iowa.

But Bremer’s greatest complaint is Rolling Stone “smearing the town of Stillwater as some whites-only, wealthy gated community that propelled Bachmann to the national scene.” And Avidor said that “the smear of Stillwater is what sticks out for me.”

“I can’t believe he ever came here,” Bremer said. Actually, he didn’t: Taibbi confirmed to me that he never set foot in Minnesota for the piece.

05 Mar 2011

Yale Pundits Make the News

, , , , , ,


Typical Yale secret society initiation (clothed phase) (click on image for larger version.)

This year’s February 19th Pundits’ initiation party apparently featured slightly heavier drinking than usual. A student informant (who knows if he was telling the truth?) told the Yale Daily News that five attendees wound up at Yale-New Haven Hospital and six others at Yale’s Department of University Health.

11 out 50 attendees rendered so hors de combat by drinking that they had to seek medical attention? Not just impressive, Homeric really. Vital positions have been taken in military engagements whose memories echo through history with lower percentage casualties.

The same person (who could possibly be just a little prone to exaggeration) also told the YDN that he saw “a member of the Pundits forcing attendees to kiss each other and that a Pundit forced a male friend’s face onto another’s penis.”

Three Dog Night clearly composed this little number after one of the Pundits’ parties.

———————————————

This year’s Pundits initiation party rapidly achieved national news coverage.

IvyGate coverage

CBS tell all

New York Post story

———————————————

Some helpful (inside Yale) background.

A pundit is an expert, a vendor of influential, nay, determinative opinions. According to Wikipedia, it even seems most probable that the common vernacular use of the term pundit has “its origins in a Yale University society known as “The Pundits” which, founded in 1884, developed a reputation for including among its members the school’s most incisive and humorous critics of contemporary society. … Several members of the society have also gone on to become leading political pundits, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author and energy expert Daniel Yergin. Other notable Yale Pundits include A. Whitney Griswold, Lewis H. Lapham and Joe Lieberman.”

The founder of the Pundits, as an undergraduate at Yale, was the illustrious William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943), who went on to become essentially the leading Humanities scholar in the United States in his day, and a long-time, enormously admired professor at Yale. Billy Phelps was, in fact, the original prototype of the star professor, whose lectures were so witty, so brilliant, and entertaining, that attendance at his course became known as a not-to-be-missed feature of the Yale undergraduate experience. Phelps was in the first half of the last century what Vincent Scully was when I was an undergraduate.

The Pundits (founded in 1884) doubtless did not originally hold naked parties, but contented themselves with assembling the wittiest and most brilliant members of the Senior Class for a weekly dinner at Mory’s, and participating in a series of elaborate pranks and lampoons intended to deflate pomposity and pretension.

When I was an undergraduate, late 1960s-early 1970s, the Pundits had become moribund and inactive. They seem to have been revived in the late 1970s, during a period in which a reaction to all the leftwing piety and politically correct cant of the Vietnam era set in and Yale undergraduates began once again reveling in undergraduate life, throwing parties, and reviving fraternities and other social organizations.

My Yale informants tell me that it was Yale’s oldest a capella singing group, the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus, founded in 1938 and usually referred to as “The SOBs,” which began throwing regular naked parties during the late 1980s. The Pundits, known earlier for lobster-and-champagne lunches on the steps of Sterling Memorial Library, had some kind of ties to the SOBs and, from them, acquired the custom of the naked party.

I found, via the Yale Daily News, a Hustler article published in 2007, by a-then-sophomore describing the Pundits taking advantage of Ivy League naked parties hitting the national media to spoof the New York Times.

[W]hen the New York Times called, the Pundits weren’t about to cooperate. One of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers wanted to do a story about them, but the tricksters just did what they do best—they fucked with someone’s mind. Assigned to get a firsthand account of a naked party at Yale, Times reporter Rachel Aviv contacted the Pundits. They would later bring her to a real one, but not before throwing a special shindig on her behalf. Mr. E’s eyes light up recounting the story: “Instead of a lot of people drinking and mingling in a dark, well-decorated room, we brought her to a brightly lit library in which just a couple dozen of us were sitting around and playing board games.

After the Taboo, Uno, Scrabble, etc. were concluded, we did some naked charades and then, to top it off, some naked trust falls off a table.” Likewise, Ms. Aviv’s story on the seedy underbelly of an Ivy League school was collapsing faster than Judy Miller could say, “WMDs.” The Times reporter had to be freaking out, but maybe she was just confounded by the intensity of naked charades. The evening’s coup de grâce came when the revelers gathered into groups of three to eight, distributed condoms and left. The bewildered journalist could do nothing but struggle to jot down a few notes and then slide her pants back on. The Pundits, explains one tall and impeccably dressed member, “make sure there’s never a moment when everything’s okay.”

The resulting Rachel Aviv story.

If the Pundits were fucking with the media’s mind back in 2007 on the naked-parties-at-Ivy-League-schools meme, why, I wonder, do not reporters this year worry that those mischievous Pundits may be playing mind games with them again?

Undergraduate binge-drinking, hazing rituals, and naked parties are all ingredients perfectly calculated to make journalists sit up and beg the same way ham affects my basset hound.

It may very well be that this year’s Pundits’ initiation party scandal is just one more of the nation’s leading prankster organizations elaborate satirical spoofs.


William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943), founder of the Pundits.

13 Jan 2011

Why the Left’s Blood Libel Backfired

, ,

In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin discusses why the left’s attempt to exploit the Tucson tragedy failed: both new alternative media and, for once, professional journalists actually did their job, and even the White House declined to follow the loony left’s lead.

In the end, they only discredited themselves.

Why were the last four days a mini-disaster for the swampland of the left? It boils down to: facts, response and time.

Members of the left pounced first and didn’t much care about the facts. Before it was clear just how crazy Jared Loughner is, the left blogosphere and their more high-minded print compatriots were ready to affix blame on their opponents. As the facts emerged, more quickly and thoroughly than every before in the 24/7, twitter-driven media environment, the narrative fell apart. A chorus on the left claimed causation between Sarah Palin and the killings (and then the amorphous “climate” and the deaths) and didn’t much care for a careful analysis until it became clear their preferred narrative was false. As for the president, he doesn’t buy it at all. He said: “And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.” (Emphasis added.) Or, as I put it, rhetorical civility and mental illness are discrete problems. And it doesn’t help the liberal line when it turns out this particular lunatic was a-political and didn’t watch news.

So, for my friends on the left: facts count. You can’t spin a narrative and not be expected to be called on the underlying, flawed premise.

The response was unlike anything I have seen since the emergence of the new media. It wasn’t just conservatives that rebutted the left’s narrative, but diligent reporters. We think of “rapid response” as a campaign skill, but in reality that is how pundits, activists, reporters and politicians now react. Because the left’s narrative was so noxious — Sarah Palin or a floating cloud of conservative meanness caused a mass murder — the right was filled with indignation and responded passionately, quickly and effectively. And, meanwhile, in the race to report on the biggest story of the year, the working press furiously disclosed the facts, which, as I noted above, undercut the left’s storyline.

And then there is time. The reason I believe that Obama entirely avoided politics, indeed rebuked the Krugman-Daily Kos narrative, is because he saw the pushing and shoving, read the polls, figured which way the wind was blowing, and steered clear of associating himself with the tone-deaf left. Conversely, because the left couldn’t restrain themselves, they pounced immediately and left a trail of inanity on twitter and websites.

25 Nov 2010

DNA Testing and a Legend of the Roman Origin of a Chinese Village

, , ,


Cai Junnian has green eyes

Newspaper reports are sketchy. They never mention the specifics of the testing or identify the alleged results, and they do not offer a mention of the names of the scientists doing the testing or refer to any papers. They just tell the story.


Telegraph
:

Genetic testing of villagers in a remote part of China has shown that nearly two thirds of their DNA is of Caucasian origin, lending support to the theory that they may be descended from a “lost legion” of Roman soldiers.

Tests found that the DNA of some villagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56 per cent Caucasian in origin. Many of the villagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair, prompting speculation that they have European blood.

A local man, Cai Junnian, is nicknamed Cai Luoma, or “Cai the Roman”, and is one of many villagers convinced that he is descended from the lost legion.

————————-

English.news.cn:

Chinese and Italian anthropologists this week established an Italian studies center at a leading university in northwest China to determine whether some Western-looking Chinese in the area are the descendants of a lost Roman army of ancient times.

Experts at the Italian Studies Center at Lanzhou University in Gansu Province will conduct excavations on a section of the Silk Road, a 7,000-km-long trade route that linked Asia and Europe more than 2,000 years ago, to see if it can be proved a legion of lost Roman soldiers settled in China, said Prof. Yuan Honggeng, head of the center.

“We hope to prove the legend by digging and discovering more evidence of China’s early contact with the Roman Empire,” said Yuan.

Before Marco Polo’s travels to China in the 13th century, the only known contact between the two empires was a visit by Roman diplomats in 166 A.D.

Chinese archeologists were therefore surprised in the 1990s to find the remains of an ancient fortification in Liqian, a remote town in Yongchang County on the edge of the Gobi desert, which was strikingly similar to Roman defence structures.

They were even more astonished to find western-looking people with green, deep-set eyes, long and hooked noses and blonde hair in the area.

Though the villagers said they had never traveled outside the county, they worshipped bulls and their favorite game was similar to the ancient Romans’ bull-fighting dance.

DNA tests in 2005 confirmed some of the villagers were indeed of foreign origin, leading many experts to conclude they are the descendants of the ancient Roman army headed by general Marcus Crassus.

In 53 B.C., Crassus was defeated and beheaded by the Parthians, a tribe occupying what is now Iran, putting an end to Rome’s eastward expansion.

But a 6,000-strong army led by Crassus’s eldest son apparently escaped and were never found again.

————————-

And here we see why. The science actually debunked the legend, but the press published the legend and misreported the DNA test results.

An article in the Journal of Human Genetics 52 (7): 584–91, titled: Testing the hypothesis of an ancient Roman soldier origin of the Liqian people in northwest China: a Y-chromosome perspective. seems to explain that DNA testing proved the exact opposite of the accounts in the newspapers.

ABSTRACT:

The Liqian people in north China are well known because of the controversial hypothesis of an ancient Roman mercenary origin. To test this hypothesis, 227 male individuals representing four Chinese populations were analyzed at 12 short tandem repeat (STR) loci and 12 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP). At the haplogroup levels, 77% Liqian Y chromosomes were restricted to East Asia. Principal component (PC) and multidimensional scaling (MDS) analysis suggests that the Liqians are closely related to Chinese populations, especially Han Chinese populations, whereas they greatly deviate from Central Asian and Western Eurasian populations. Further phylogenetic and admixture analysis confirmed that the Han Chinese contributed greatly to the Liqian gene pool. The Liqian and the Yugur people, regarded as kindred populations with common origins, present an underlying genetic difference in a median-joining network. Overall, a Roman mercenary origin could not be accepted as true according to paternal genetic variation, and the current Liqian population is more likely to be a subgroup of the Chinese majority Han.

This example illustrates why it is inadvisable to base one’s views on Anthropogenic Global Warming or the existence of Bigfoot on newspaper accounts.

05 Aug 2010

Hitchens and Cancer

, , , ,

Christopher Hitchens shares his current near-death experience.

The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of “acceptance,” hasn’t so far had much application in my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. Of course my book hit the best-seller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just can’t see any ironies here: would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

Hitch writes wittily and one admires his courage, but I must say I do find myself a bit puzzled by the eagerness of professional literati like Hitchens not merely to share, but to avidly harvest, process, package, and market such close-to-the-bone experiences as a personal fatal illness.

My own natural inclination is to regard broad areas of personal life and experience, particularly this kind, as completely private. I would no more desire to tell an audience of strangers what I thought when I learned I had a fatal condition than I would care to disrobe in public.

It seems certain to me that my attitude must be a residual feature of my primitive, ordinary American, working class origins. Nothing could be more characteristic of membership in the Ivy League, elite world of high achievement, celebrity, and success than rushing, as quickly as possible following any notable experience, to the keyboard and hurrying one’s account of myself and whatever into print.

All experience was once considered useful for the forging of the human character. Today, all experience is simply more fodder for publication.

True members of the community of fashion are always marketing themselves. One can picture Hitchens arguing with Charon about not being permitted to retain his Blackberry and the lack of Wifi access from the River Styx. There would be such a huge opportunity for a major feature on exactly what a chap sees, and everything he experiences, as he is drawn irresistibly in the direction of that bright white light. How frustrating it would be!

Let’s hope Hitchens beats the odds and can go on writing and self-revelating for a long time yet.

19 Jul 2010

Best Headlines of the Day

, , , , ,

Glenn Reynolds: John Galt was unavailable for comment.

———————————
Ed Driscoll: The Road to Perdition is Becoming Increasingly Rather Bumpy.

13 Jul 2010

The Swiss Were Right

, , , ,

In the aftermath of the Swiss decision to reject the American bid to extradite Roman Polanski, the predicatable indignant editorials are beginning to appear.


Eugene Robinson
, in the Washington Post, is not at all satisfied with the outcome.

It’s relevant that Polanski has never shown remorse. He claimed in a 1979 interview that he was being hounded because “everyone wants to (have sex with) young girls.” It’s irrelevant that the victim, now a middle-aged woman, has no interest in pursuing the case and reliving a traumatic episode. What matters is what Polanski admitted doing to her 33 years ago — and the fact that Polanski decided to run away rather than face the music.

Swiss officials noted the obvious: that Polanski never would have visited Switzerland if he had thought he was putting himself in legal jeopardy. Since he’s not a legitimate candidate for kidnapping and rendition by the CIA, he’s now home free — unless he somehow makes another mistake. He’ll always have to look over his shoulder.

That’s punishment of a sort, but not nearly enough. How about this: As long as he steers clear of U.S. justice, why don’t we steer clear of his movies?

I strongly disagree with the majority of the journalistic community on this one, and since I’ve already explained why at considerable length, today I plan to take pleasure in quoting myself.

The most interesting aspect of all of this is the fact that Roman Polanski’s flight thirty one years ago was precipitated by precisely the same sort of journalistic feeding frenzy which has been replayed all over again recently. A firestorm of sensationalized accounts of Polanski’s misdeed alarmed the publicity-conscious judge who intended to set aside the conventional processes of justice and overrule a plea bargain already agreed to by both the prosecution and the defense.

Polanski did not escape justice. He had already served a 42 day term of imprisonment, which was supposed to constitute his actual sentence. Polanski also settled privately with the young lady, paying her a sum of money of a specific amount never publicly disclosed. What Polanski escaped was injustice.

He escaped a breach of the normal, impartial, and objective processes of justice, which were in the process of collapsing due to official cowardice and unwillingness to resist a wave of public indignation, mischievously created by irresponsible journalism.

Long-standing cultural restraints on sexual expression and activity have been dwindling away in America for all of the last century, but one powerful prohibition not only survives, but continues to be able to turn ordinary Americans into something very much resembling belligerent Muslims bent on wiping out any stain upon the chastity of their females in blood: the issue of age.

Underage sex is still a kind of priapic third rail. And like Nabokov’s Humbert, Roman Polanski proved to be another sophisticated European gentilhomme d’un certain âge susceptible to the charms of the knowing nymphette. His sin happens to be relatively unique in being capable of getting Americans in general worked up into a lather of righteous indignation just as effectively in 2009 as in 1978 or in 1955 (the publication date of Lolita).

In exactly the same way that the idea of black sexual aggression directed at white women was once upon a time so horrifying an idea to the general community in certain American states that any close resemblance to that supreme phobia could suffice to set into motion the processes of storytelling which would fit the details of the actual case into the terrible archetype, frequently with lethal results, so too today is the idea of adult sexual aggression directed at children a compelling, and potentially dangerous, archetype.

Let’s try another literary trope. Picture Roman Polanski, not as Humbert Humbert, but as Tom Robinson, the black defendant in To Kill a Mockingbird. Just like the Polanski case, To Kill a Mockingbird features a public frenzy of indignation at a defendant accused of being a sexual aggressor toward an innocent victim, who is supposed to be protected from the advances of anyone like the defendant by powerful social taboos. Just as in the Harper Lee novel, adjudication of the Roman Polanski case revolved around issues of just who was the actual initiator and whether female consent had been given. Fearful archetypes and framing narratives can work in exactly the same in either case, can’t they?

09 Jul 2010

Weasel Words Headline Award

, , , ,

To CNN:

“Washington and Russia agree to swap intelligence gatherers”

I can just see the historical headlines:

“British hang American intelligence gatherer Nathan Hale.”

“Intelligence gatherers Julius and Ethel Rosenberg electrocuted at Sing Sing.”

08 Jul 2010

The End is Always Near

, ,

Matt Ridley points out that predictions of imminent doom have been with us for a long time, in the Huffington Post of all places.

When I was a student, in the 1970s, the world was coming to an end. The adults told me so. They said the population explosion was unstoppable, mass famine was imminent, a cancer epidemic caused by chemicals in the environment was beginning, the Sahara desert was advancing by a mile a year, the ice age was retuning, oil was running out, air pollution was choking us and nuclear winter would finish us off. There did not seem to be much point in planning for the future. I remember a fantasy I had – that I would make my way to the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, and live off the land so I could survive these holocausts at least till the cancer got me.

I am not making this up. By the time I was 21 years old I realized that nobody had ever said anything optimistic to me – in a lecture, a television program or even a conversation in a bar – about the future of the planet and its people, at least not that I could recall. Doom was certain.

The next two decades were just as bad: acid rain was going to devastate forests, the loss of the ozone layer was going to fry us, gender-bending chemicals were going to decimate sperm counts, swine flu, bird flu and Ebola virus were going to wipe us all out. In 1992, the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro opened its agenda for the twenty-first century with the words `Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being.’

By then I had begun to notice that this terrible future was not all that bad. In fact every single one of the dooms I had been threatened with had proved either false or exaggerated. …

I now see at firsthand how I avoided hearing any good news when I was young. Where are the pressure groups that have an interest in telling the good news? They do not exist. By contrast, the behemoths of bad news, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year and doom is their best fund-raiser. Where is the news media’s interest in checking out how pessimists’ predictions panned out before? There is none. By my count, Lester Brown has now predicted a turning point in the rise of agricultural yields six times since 1974, and been wrong each time. Paul Ehrlich has been predicting mass starvation and mass cancer for 40 years. He still predicts that `the world is coming to a turning point’.

Ah, that phrase again. I call it turning-point-itis. It’s rarely far from the lips of the prophets of doom. They are convinced that they stand on the hinge of history, the inflexion point where the roller coaster starts to go downhill. But then I began looking back to see what pessimists said in the past and found the phrase, or an equivalent, being used by in every generation. The cause of their pessimism varied – it was often tinged with eugenics in the early twentieth century, for example – but the certainty that their own generation stood upon the fulcrum of the human story was the same.

I got back to 1830 and still the sentiment was being used. In fact, the poet and historian Thomas Macaulay was already sick of it then: `We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason.’ He continued: `On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us.’

25 Jun 2010

Beware: Journalists at Work

, , ,

David Brooks writes General Stanley McChrystal’s epitaph.

Who could possibly imagine that a military commander’s staff had unkind things to say about members of the president’s staff?

Rolling Stone sold a lot of copies, reporter Michael Hastings made a big splash, and General McChrystal had his career ruined, it was all just a day’s work for the news business.

Most people in government, I find, are there because they sincerely want to do good. But they’re also exhausted and frustrated much of the time. And at these moments they can’t help letting you know that things would be much better if only there weren’t so many morons all around.

So every few weeks I find myself on the receiving end of little burst of off-the-record trash talk. Senators privately moan about other senators. Administration officials gripe about other administration officials. People in the White House complain about the idiots in Congress, and the idiots in Congress complain about the idiots in the White House — especially if they’re in the same party. Washington floats on a river of aspersion.

The system is basically set up to maximize kvetching. Government is filled with superconfident, highly competitive people who are grouped into small bands. These bands usually have one queen bee at the center — a president, senator, cabinet secretary or general — and a squad of advisers all around. These bands are perpetually jostling, elbowing and shoving each other to get control over policy.

Amid all this friction, the members of each band develop their own private language. These people often spend 16 hours a day together, and they bond by moaning and about the idiots on the outside.

It feels good to vent in this way. You demonstrate your own importance by showing your buddies that you are un-awed by the majority leader, the vice president or some other big name. You get to take a break from the formal pressures of the job by playing the blasphemous bad-boy rebel over a beer at night.

Military people are especially prone to these sorts of outbursts. In public, they pay lavish deference to civilian masters who issue orders from the comfort of home. Among themselves, they blow off steam, sometimes in the crudest possible terms. …

McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.

By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him.

The reticent ethos had its flaws. But the exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important.

Another scalp is on the wall. Government officials will erect even higher walls between themselves and the outside world. The honest and freewheeling will continue to flee public life, and the cautious and calculating will remain.

The culture of exposure has triumphed, with results for all to see.

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the 'Journalism' Category.

















Feeds
Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark