Archive for the ‘Journalism and its discontents’ category

What Ailes The Republican Party?

July 19, 2016

I’ve been thinking about Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against that omphalos of evil, Roger Ailes, since it dropped.  You all know the essence:

In a suit filed Wednesday in superior court in Bergen County, N.J., Carlson alleges that Ailes “unlawfully retaliated” against her and “sabotaged her career after she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”

“I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better,” the complaint says Ailes told Carlson last September when she complained to him. He allegedly added, “Sometimes problems are easier to solve that way.”

Even in that first story, there was plenty of evidence that Ailes is a serial harasser, a man for whom the women in his employ are objects to be manipulated (in the root sense of that word) at his pleasure:

While an executive at NBC, Ailes was accused of making sexually suggestive comments to various female underlings, according to a 2014 biography of Ailes, “The Loudest Voice in the Room.” A young woman named Randi Harrison said Ailes offered to her increase her salary by $100 a week if she would have sex with him, according to the book. A producer named Shelly Ross said Ailes posed “romantically suggestive questions and made flirtatious comments about her appearance.” Ross said she told him, “This is making me uncomfortable.”

Over the next several days, many more women have come forward to add their accounts:

In recent days, more than a dozen women have contacted Carlson’s New Jersey–based attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, and made detailed allegations of sexual harassment by Ailes over a 25-year period, dating back to the 1960s, when he was a producer on The Mike Douglas Show. “These are women who have never told these stories until now,” Smith told me. “Some are in a lot of pain.” Taken together, these stories portray Ailes as a boss who spoke openly of expecting women to perform sexual favors in exchange for job opportunities…

Vouet,_Simon_-_Lucretia_And_Tarquin

Read the whole piece at that link for some heart breaking memories.

If Ailes is really gone, the nail in the coffin may have been hammered by the Fox News megastar,  Megyn Kelly:

According to two sources briefed on parent company 21st Century Fox’s outside probe of the Fox News executive, led by New York–based law firm Paul, Weiss, Kelly has told investigators that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances toward her about ten years ago when she was a young correspondent at Fox. Kelly, according to the sources, has described her harassment by Ailes in detail.

New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman has been doing seriously good work on this story, which makes this nugget from his Kelly post so interesting:

According to two sources, Monday afternoon lawyers for 21st Century Fox gave Ailes a deadline of August 1 to resign or face being fired for cause.

So, good.  It looks like a truly monstrous figure is on his way out.

I’m as thrilled as anyone at that likely outcome, for all that Ailes’ well-padded crash ($40,000,000 buys a lot of whisky to cry into) is coming decades late.  But there’s a larger story that isn’t getting enough attention.

That is:  Roger Ailes isn’t just a network boss who has managed to deliver ratings to his owner.  He has been perhaps the single most important figure in the forging of today’s Republican party.  His Fox News has set the agenda, constructed the alternate reality, shattered the norms, and altered much for the worse what it means to be a Republican leader or voter.

He’s the architect and engineer of the hate-based, race-focused, anti-science, know-nothing tendency in American politics.  His triumph, his conquest of so much of American government at every level, has reached its apotheosis in the home-video version of Triumph of the Will we’re all seeing in Cleveland this week.  And he is a person who has, throughout his entire working life it seems, defined women as toys to be played with or broken at his whim.

I do not suggest that the Republican party, even in its current desperately debased state, is filled with people who would do as Ailes is alleged to have done.  But Ailes’ signal success has been in shaping how the party thinks, how its members and leaders think the world works.  And that influence is shot through with a sense of whose views count and whose don’t.  In Ailes life, half the world doesn’t rise to the level of agent, of people whose existence demands respect.

The fish rots at the head.

Image:  Simon Vouet, The Rape of Lucretia, 17th century. (Not my favorite of this subject. Rubens’ is great, and I’m a sucker for Tintoretto’s pearls.  But I wanted to keep the post SFW, so Vouet will do.)

I’ll Take Journalism I Disdain For $1,000, Alex

March 7, 2016

This, in today’s Grey Lady, got my goat:

While Mr. Sanders’s direct rhetoric is an enduring source of his success, Mrs. Clinton has a way of meandering legalistically through thickets of caution and temporization.

Asked whether she would fire the head of the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to remedy water problems in Flint, Mrs. Clinton gave a nearly 200-word response emphasizing the need for a full investigation to “determine who knew what, when.” Mr. Sanders’ 16-word response drew enormous applause: “President Sanders would fire anybody who knew about what was happening and did not act appropriately.”

On the one hand, fine:  as a performance critique, that’s a perfectly understandable distinction to draw (though in this case even the stated critique is patent BS, about which more in a moment).  But there’s more to political journalism than amateur theater criticism.

William_Hogarth_028

Some interest, even a glimmer of curiosity in the quality of the content of the answer would be welcome.

So, let’s take a look.  When asked if she would fire people at the EPA over the Flint crisis, here’s what Clinton actually said:

CLINTON: Well, I think that the people here in the region, who knew about this and failed to follow what you just said, rightly, the law required, have been eliminated from the EPA.

COOPER: So far, one person has resigned.

CLINTON: I don’t — well, I don’t know how high it goes. I would certainly be launching an investigation. I think there is one. I was told that — you know, some of the higher-ups were pushing to get changes that were not happening.

So I would have a full investigation, determine who knew what, when. And yes, people should be fired. How far up it went, I don’t know. But as far as it goes, they should be relieved, because they failed this city.

But let me just add this, Anderson. This is not the only place where this kind of action is needed. We have a lot of communities right now in our country where the level of toxins in the water, including lead, are way above what anybody should tolerate.

(APPLAUSE)

We have a higher rate of tested lead in people in Cleveland than in Flint. So I’m not satisfied with just doing everything we must do for Flint. I want to tackle this problem across the board. And if people know about it and they’re not acting, and they’re in the government at any level, they should be forced to resign.

So — yes, she’d fire people when and as they were found to be culpable, but such actions, she argues, are not enough.  I’d go further, and say that they’re cosmetic, unless the same duty of care that Flint deserves is applied across the board.

And I don’t know about you, but to me, the demand to take the lessons of Flint on the road is hardly a legalistic detour into “thickets of caution and temporization.”  The gap between that characterization and what was actually said (and not quoted in the offending thumb-sucker) is, shall we say, interesting.  Given the Times‘ history with Hillary, I’d even say, suggestive.

I know it’s a lot to ask (it isn’t, actually. It’s merely impossible for current practitioners to answer — ed.) but I’d like to see even a hint of acknowledgement that what Clinton said may have been less dramatic than Sander’s reply, but, just maybe, contained something worth thinking about.  Even more, some recognition that two hundred words is not too much to spend on the problem of failed infrastructure, the abandonment of governmental responsibility, and poisoned kids.

Just for perspective — the average speaker takes roughly 80 to 90 seconds, maybe a skosh more, to utter two hundred words.  I’d have thought a hero of the English language like a New York Times reporter might have the stamina to stick it out that long.

Color me grumpy.

Image:  William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment from the Humours of an Election series, c. 1755

The Love Song Of David Brooks, Or Who You Gonna Believe…

October 30, 2015

Bobo, or your own lyin’ eyes.

Amazingly enough, I’m not going all John Foster Dulles on Brooks’ latest grotesquerie:  all you need to know can be read in this brief passage:

At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable.  What matters is how a candidate signals priorities.

Umm. David.  We remember George Bush’s plans.  They signaled his priorities just fine…and he proceeded as promised to turn a robust budget surplus into the biggest upwards income redistribution in memory, along with deficits from here to Atlantis.

I had thought to fisk the whole damn column, which is full of low-hanging fruit.  But really why bother?  It’s all there in that don’t “get too worked up “by what alledged “wonks” actually say about the policies they wonkishly espouse.  Because it’s not like they mean it.

Except they do.

And once again we see:  David Brooks is a terrible public figure not because of his politics but because of his character, his willingness to be a loyal apparatchik transcribing whatever counts as pravda in that universe in which Republicans are the natural party of power.

Pieter_Brueghel_the_Elder_-_The_Dutch_Proverbs_-_Google_Art_Project

Or to put it another way: he both is and broadcasts a stupid person’s idea of what a smart conservative sounds like.

PS:  Krugthulu agrees.  What I like best about this is the absence of even a shred of collegial courtesy.

Which is as it should be.  If you’re going to opine in public, then it’s your job to do so by saying what you really think.

Image:  Pieter Breughel the Elder, Dutch Proverbs — The Topsy Turvy World. 1559.  I highly recommend checking out the image at the link.  The notes embedded in the picture explain it’s relevance here.  See, e.g. the roses before swine above.

 

Because No One Knows The Essence Of Blackness…

October 8, 2015

….like an  old, filthy-rich white guy.

Alexander_H_Stephens_circa_1875_by_Brady_&_Co

Here’s noted sociologist of race and authenticity, Rupert “Bug-Eyed Monster” Murdoch

“Ben and Candy Carson terrific. What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide?…” [via TPM]

Ummm.

Rupert…

…Protip:

Take it from a  fellow person of the Caucasian persuasion:

You don’t get a vote.

Or, consider the shorter:

Bugger off, mate.  May all your chooks become emus and kick your dunny door down.

(PS — anyone besides me think it … let’s just say “odd” … that the new owner of National Geographic should fall in love with a stone-cold evolution denialist? Just askin’.)

Image:  Brady & Co, Cabinet card portrait of Georgia politician Alexander H. Stephens with a servant, formerly a slave c. 1875.

In Which David Brooks Sets A World Record For Long Jump Over A Shark*

September 8, 2015

David Brooks is an embarrassment — not news, I know.  But while he’s always been glib, his intellectual sloth has only deepened as over and over again, reality has refused to accord his views the respect he believes they deserve.

Case in point:  today’s column, titled “The Anti-Party Men: Trump, Carson, Sanders and Corbyn”.

The entire thing is a dog’s breakfast — centered on a cynically ahistorical description of political parties, an argument that, in effect, the Republican Party’s inability to rein in its crazies is caused by a rise in “assertive individualism.” That, of course, omits all that uncomfortable record of explicit radicalization built into the fabric of Nixon’s southern strategy and its sequels.

But that’s Brooks’ problem:  he aims to dismiss Trump, and to a lesser extent Carson, as betrayers of an imagined American ideal, and he doesn’t want to confront what their current success says about the Republican Party as a whole.  So, enter Bernie Sanders.

The problem Brooks has there is that Sanders is not the same type of candidate as the GOP’s id-sters: he’s running a conventional Democratic campaign, drawing on a conventional subset of the Democratic base, and he’s advancing ideas that are, for the most part, absolutely within the Democratic party mainstream.  Brooks entire anti-party indictment of Sanders is that he is an independent who merely caucuses with the Democrats.

That’s weak tea, which Brooks seems to sense, which may account for this, the straw of nonsense that breaks this column’s back:

These four anti-party men have little experience in the profession of governing.

These sudden stars are not really about governing. They are tools for their supporters’ self-expression. They allow supporters to make a statement, demand respect or express anger or resentment. Sarah Palin was a pioneer in seeing politics not as a path to governance but as an expression of her followers’ id.

Let’s review:  Carson and Trump:  no experience in any elected office.

Sanders:  four terms (eight years) as mayor of Burlington, VT.  Member of the United States House of Representatives for sixteen years.  Currently a second term United States Senator with almost nine years on the job.  Among other roles, he serves now as the ranking member of the Budget Committee — one of the big three committees that have jurisdiction over taxes, appropriations and budget policy.**  The ranking member, of course, is the senior member of the minority party on a given panel, which is to say that Bernie Sanders is currently serving as the Democratic party’s lead force on the committee that articulates the large scale policy structure of federal spending.

But David Brooks has said that Bernie Sanders has little experience in the profession of governing, and Brooks is wants to appear to be an honorable man.

Brutus_and_the_Ghost_of_Caesar_1802

Seriously:  Sanders has managed departments that plow snow and fill potholes; he’s handled constituent services for the state of Vermont for more than two decades.  He’s caucused with Democrats and carries a full portfolio of the bread-and-butter of legislative work, the committee duties where so much of the legislative process really happens.  Whatever you think about his politics, his self-identification, his campaign, one thing is simply a fact:  Bernie Sanders has spent most of his adult life immersed in the daily practice of governing.  (And his supporters, pace Our David, include among their number those who are less interested in self-expression than in Sanders’ emphasis on the need to reform the US economy.)

Put it another way:  Sanders has a deep history of explicit policy experience behind him, a set of views and arguments that inform an extensive body of proposals in his presidential campaign.  Trump and Carson?  Not so much.***

Which is to say:  Brooks is not just wrong here, he’s guilty of one of two sins here:  either he’s utterly, contemptuously, slothfully ignorant, or he knows Sanders’ record, and he’s chosen to hide that knowledge from his readers.

I could go on (you know I could) — but there’s no point.  When a piece of work is based on a false premise, that’s pretty much it.  An interesting question would be why the challenges to perceived front-runners in our two parties are so different in kind and quality.  But actually engaging that mystery (not!) would require explicit acknowledgement that the Democrats remain the kind of civic institution, a coalition across a range of interests, backgrounds and views that Brooks extols, while the Republican party, increasingly, does not.  And if the two parties are not the same, what’s a faux-centrist water carrier for the GOP elite to do?

I gotta confess to an journeyman’s complaint here.  I disdain Brooks’ argument and the view he’s attempting to advance, but there’s nothing new (or terribly wrong) in that — what’s political writing for if not to dispute public life?  What really gets me here is the sheer contempt the basic craft, the job of any writer making a case.  Brooks’ attempt to lump Sanders into a category in which he manifestly does not belong is purely lazy.

And obvious!

And unnecessary!

Brooks could have written the entire column on Trump and Carson as case studies in the rise of iconoclasm in politics and the piece would have read fine. He wouldn’t perhaps, have been able to write the same jeremiad about “solipsistic bubbles”**** in which his adopted countrymen choose to ignore the reasoned advise of the wise men Brooks has chosen for them.  Too high a price, I suppose.

*An homage to my grandfather Tom, as it happens, who once held the world record for long jump on horse. Truly. An insight into his horsemanship — and perhaps his post-dinner judgment — can be found here.

**It’s the weakest of the three committees involved in managing the federal budget; Appropriations and Finance have more direct power.  But Budget is where the large scale policy agenda for federal spending gets its day.

***You could make the case that Carson has lots of positions, and you’d be more or less right.  That said, a slogan and a paragraph do not a policy position make.

****That the phrase better describes the media village in which Brooks resides than it does most of America is a case of projection we can pass over in silence.

Image: Edward Scriven, engraving from an original by Richard Westall, “Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar,” 1802.

 

And I’ll Take Racist Media for $200, Alex

October 1, 2014

Alex:  What is the question that evokes the answer:  “A cartoon with a watermelon punchline referencing the President of the United States.”

We reply in chorus: “What was the racist garbage in the Boston Herald today?”

Again, this has been picked up in the comments, but it’s been making me crazy for a couple of reasons.  For the obvious one, I’m just going to outsource to Charles Pierce, who knows the Herald very well indeed:

 Let’s move along down my personal resume to The Boston Herald, where the current editors, whom I know well, today made me ashamed ever to have set foot in the place, let alone worked there for six years. They ran an editorial cartoon by someone named Jerry Holbert. In the cartoon…the White House intruder is in the bathtub while the president is brushing his teeth. The caption reads: “White House Invader Got Farther Than Originally Thought.” This is what the cartoonist, Holbert, has the intruder saying from the tub.

“Have you tried the new watermelon-flavored toothpaste?”

Pierce notes the hollow contempt for those of us disgusted by this in the non-apology that followed our outcry, the assertion that there’s not a racist bone in Holbert’s body, that he was just referencing his own kids toothpaste, and that, wait for it….

…we didn’t mean to offend anyone.  Take it away, Charles:

Of course, it was not meant to offend anyone. That was just a bonus. What it was meant to do was to appeal to the base prejudices of the elderly white suburban demographic to which the Herald has been pitching itself for three decades. It is racist hooey pitched to fans of racist hooey. Period. And, like so many other things, it is different with this president. It is different because there are no rules.

I got the remnants of my day job to get back to, so I’m just going to touch on the most clueless bit of attempted contrarian justification for this bit of garbage, this, coming from Jonathan Chait:

I don’t think the joke hinges upon black people liking watermelon. I think the joke is about the Secret Service’s security failures. Obama himself is not even the subject of the joke — his perspective is that of, or close to, the reader’s. The point of the joke is that White House security is so lax that a random person could wander into the president’s living quarters undetected and take a bath, and regard this as so casual he could chat about a commonplace topic as toothpaste.

Glad that’s clear.

Black people liking watermelon is certainly not the main comic premise of the cartoon

Well, that’s alright then, dear, isn’t it?

and was probably not intended as a secondary premise, either.

And you know this, how? Because you’ve peered deeply into Holbart’s eyes?  You’ve seen into his soul?  You know him to be a good man?

The cartoonist, Jerry Holbert, explained that he came up with watermelon because he was thinking of his kids’ Colgate watermelon-flavor toothpaste.

My kids. Yeah. That’s it!

Possibly he made a subconscious connection between a black president and watermelon.

Because, of course that’s what anyone would do when contemplating the first African American president.

But it seems very doubtful this was his intent.

“Seems?”

“Seems!”

“Seems…”

Two things:  1 — when an experienced reporter falls back on “seems” you know they got nuthin.  They’re telling you what the wish to be true, not what they know, or necessarily even think is likely.

and 2:  Chait should know better, but has tangled himself up around race before, so may not, but racism, like sexism, or anti-Semitism or any form of bigotry and dehumanization of the other, is not about what is in someone’s heart.  It’s not a question of essence, of identity, of who someone is.  It’s all about what one does and says.  Action in the world defines both the sin and the good deed.

In this world, as opposed into that swelling in Chait’s spotless mind’s eye, Holbert used one of the oldest caricturers with which slave-holders benefiting from stolen lives and labor sought to limn African Americans as simple, lazy and unoppressed by their oppression.  It’s an explicitly racist trope, and everyone who’s reached the age of reason (Holbert is my age to the year) knows it.

Turner Slave-ship

Holbert may be certain that he has not one prejudiced bone in his body, but what he or Chait thinks about intent or the “real” import of this cartoon is utterly irrelevant.

The cartoon speaks for itself, and its creator, and its defenders…to the shame I fear they will not feel.

J. M. W. Turner “Slave-ship”  1840

Not Even Trying To Hide It: Politico’s The President Must Die Edition

October 1, 2014

So, today we learn via  TPM* that a bottom feeder by the name of Ronald Kessler, writing at Politico, has nailed the real take-away from the Secret Service scandal:

Agents tell me it’s a miracle an assassination has not already occurred. Sadly, given Obama’s colossal lack of management judgment, that calamity may be the only catalyst that will reform the Secret Service. (h/t Commenter JPL at Balloon Juice)

Give him credit (sic).  With this, Kessler hits the daily double.  He blames President Obama for something no other — and for “other,” read, I’m afraid, white — President would be expected to do:  get involved in the day to day management of his protective detail.  And then Kessler adds that in imagining a fix for the problem, he regrets the necessity of the president’s death.

37.884

I’m gobsmacked. Completely.  On the one hand, there’s nothing new here.  It is just one more instance in the long-running guerrilla propaganda war to delegitimize and disempower a twice elected president.  Its impulse is profoundly anti-democratic, deeply committed to the control of government by any means available.  It’s part and parcel of the series of incidents large and small that run from heckling during a State of the Union (imagine the reaction if someone had done that to C+ Augustus!) to a claim that somehow this President mustn’t appoint anyone to be approved by the current sitting Senate.

And yet, this ain’t just the eternal return of the same.  You have here a writer openly near-predicting the murder of the first African American president; accusing him of the basic failures that make that murder likely, and consoling himself that after that murder, things may get better.  It’s as near to cheerleading an assassination as I can imagine, while steering just clear of an explicit call for that event.

In a civilized society, advertisers and readers would flee Politico as if it suffered from the combined effects of Ebola, the bubonic plague and rabies.  And they would spit on the sidewalk anytime Mr. Kessler dared show his face.  In this one…

*No link to Politico; no rewarding the sewage rakers.

Image: Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Death of Caesarbetw. 1859 and 1867.


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