Posted tagged ‘MSM nonsense’

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

He’s got a lot of nerve: George Will commits science wankery of high order.

January 7, 2010

Thanks (sic–ed.) to nutellaontoast over at Fire Megan McArdle (now there’s a blog to love…ed.) I clicked through to Will’s meditation (FSM, I hate it when you link through to the Post — ed.) on cosmic scales of space and matter-density…which led him somehow to solar system dynamics…which led him to the divinely ordered (sic) glories of the federal constitution and the very profligate divinity that achieves change in creation through mass murder.

Don’t believe me?  Then consider this:

…in 1787 other people — Americans call them the Founding Fathers — who were influenced by Newtonian physics and the deist idea of God as cosmic clockmaker, devised a constitutional system of separated powers, checking and balancing one another, mimicking what they considered our solar system’s clocklike mechanics.

Today, we know there is a lot of play in the joints of the Constitution and that every 40 million years or so asteroids more than half a mile in diameter strike Earth. Yet the Constitution still constitutes, and the fact that flora and fauna have survived Earth’s episodes of extreme violence testifies to the extraordinary imperative of life.

Uh, is it just me that wonders at someone who conflates events that transpire over a couple of hundred years with those that require tens of millions to play out?

I mean, if it’s all just numbers, let me assure Will of one thing.  In a few billion more years or so — maybe a hundred, perhaps fewer “generations” of asteroid-strike mass extinctions, following Will’s assumption — we may be sure that both Constititution and life on earth take a final bow.  And of course, if you use more sane measures, say median species survival time, it will be rather less — a few million years or so. (I couldn’t lay my hands on the right number fast, so I asked my secret advisor on all things biological if that’s the right scale, and with the caveat that it varies from group to group, I have dispensation for the claim. 😉

And so on. But why bother.  This is just freshman bloviating taking up space on what should be one of important arenas for public discourse  in the world.  The real message, the not even barely veiled subtext is one of Will’s usual themes.  Science is at best decoration — nice wallpaper to surround the serious thoughts of real intellectuals.

It is a terrible, destructive trope, this use of science as background music, and never an intellectual end in itself. Trope is too grand a word; it’s a trick, really.

Will knows just enough to recognize that science as an enterprise has a particular kind of authority, one eroded but not destroyed by the sustained attack he and others have led on the whole notion of expertise instead of ideology as a guide to statecraft.

He wants that authority; he and others who use the language and images of science to argue against its methods seek to appropriate it to provide cover for all the assumptions-not-in-evidence and teleological reasoning that passes for elite punditry these days.

And yes, all this is truly an over reaction to a lazy, mail-it-in piece of crap from a columnist long past his sell-by date.  The real story underneath Will’s desperate attempts to opine with and on technical matters is that he hasn’t a clue, and it shows.

Here, amidst his mumble of veiled climate change denialism (see, e.g. this: “The discovery, two decades ago, of a bed of dinosaur fossils on Alaska’s North Slope suggests that temperatures may have been warmer long ago, before there were human beings to blame for that…”) and the musings about asteroid strikes and a folksy account of the expanding universe (“Into what is it expanding? Hard to say.”)  what ultimately emerges is the realization that Will has heard about all this stuff somewhere, or an intern has come up with a half dozen or so BBC.com stories or the like, and Will merely mashed all this together into something he hoped no one would notice made no sense whatsoever.

And even if that’s the likeliest explanation for why this thing appeared, I’m still pissed.  We — and by this I mean everyone who tries to make sense of the worlds we live in, political, material, historical, whatever — have a duty of care.  And by everyone I mean all of us from your humble, though not pajama clad blogger to those titans who possess leasehold on irreplaceable media real estate.

You, me, and damn sure George Will are obligated, at the very least, to make sure we don’t leave our audiences stupider after they’ve read our stuff than they were before. Will routinely fails at this minimal task.  This is just one more example.

Image: Rafael, “School of Athens,” detail with Plato and Aristotle, Heraclites and Diogenes, 1509.

Why Newspapers are Dying: George Will Has Reached His Sell-By Date edition

October 12, 2009

Some of the problems faced by traditional newspapers (the MSM, dead tree dept.) are imposed from without.  It’s not anyone in particular’s fault that the emergence of the intertubes and related digital developments is destroying most of the economic pillars on which newspapers have prospered for a long time.

But there are plenty of wounds that are self inflicted.  No one has forced newspapers to emphasize, say, style at the expense of reporting, especially the kind of gasbag opinionizing that dare not speak its name.  See this latest via Balloon Juice for just one small instance of major media deciding to render themselves irrelevant.

And most bizarrely, no one has forced folks to create a star system of punditry, despite the fact that the only unique advantage major media possesses over the digital wild west is a knowledge of journalistic craft and the institutional infrastructure that supports sustained inquiry and local and or investigative reporting.

But that’s a disastrous miscalculation.  Training up an institution to do real reporting well is hard — and would provide one distinctive competitive advantage over independent knights of the keyboard. Opinion writing does not.  Anyone, even yours truly, can take a whack at it; over time big, fixed cost dinosaurs can compete on neither quality nor quantity  (or, as we say in my house — both Rock and Roll.)

And if, for example, that house organ to the powerful, The Washington Post has to rely on work like  that George Will eructates to lay claim to a distinctive place in our media culture…well, on the evidence of his latest, the end can’t be far off now.

In fact, if I were Fred Hiatt (what a horrible thought…really for Fred or me….) I’d demand my money back.  There truly is nothing there, no actual facts, no analysis, no thoughts.  It’s got some of the Will trademarks — the mandarin disdain; the cocktail-party level faux sophistication (look at me! I look at paintings! the pretentious anglophilia); the relentless projection (I’m not really a sneering asshole;  YOU are!); but at bottom, this is just Will finally going alll Norma Desmond on us.  From top to bottom this reads as an almost pitiable cri de coeur:   “pay attention to me; I used to be somebody!”

The winceable stuff starts right at the top, with a typical Will trope:

Consider nature. Not the placid nature that Constable painted, but nature as Tennyson saw it, “red in tooth and claw.” To glimpse a state of nature as Hobbes imagined it, where human life is “nasty, brutish and short,” visit the Whole Foods store on River Road in Bethesda.

Ooh, ooh teacher, I know this one!

If you want to impress the gullibles, and you want to assert an authority you have not earned, make sure you scatter into your writing/speech — preferably near the top — two or three droplets from the handbook of safe bits of smart-people stuff.  Here we have a famous painter, a nicely canonical poet, and the one quote everyone has heard from someone you can be pretty sure most of your readers have not read well (or recently) enough to expose you for the superficial pseud you are.

Will does this all the time — he is glib, he affects a broad and deep knowledge, he has plenty of access to research assistants.  And particularly in a town like DC, which dotes on culture in the service of power, this kind of stuff goes down a treat.

It’s pitiable nonsense, of course, neither good writing nor in fact an intelligent reading of his sources.  Tennyson’s godawful poem* contrasts nature to human beings — the poet! —  and their relationship to the divine, which has in essence nothing to do with what Hobbes is talking about. But who cares — certainly not Will.  Rather, these are just cliches with Dior labels attached–  “red in tooth…” and so on, both familiar and useful reminders of the speaker’s status.

Will at this point isn’t worth a whole lot of effort to fisk or debunk.  All you will find in this latest evidence of fatal decline is a tally of imagined horror:

*Liberals arguing over parking spaces to buy expensive vegetables proves that those who think that George Will is an idiot are just as awful as those who bring guns to political rallies.

*He argues (really?  is that the verb?  — ed) that because he does not like liberals, therefore liberals are elitist hypocrites.

*He asserts that liberalism’s interest in rights has somehow destroyed the civility, even the legitimacy of the health care debate.

*He thinks that a local traffic dispute proves  that liberals stand on rights too much to resolve disputes — and that, by implication somehow this means that whatever it is that stands for conservatism ought still to command respect.

That is:  this is one long screed of “I hate you guys,” so much so that in the end, it is not worth the bother of deconstructing.  Just take one short quote for an illustration and you’ll get the whole.  Consider:

If our vocabulary is composed exclusively of references to rights, a.k.a. entitlements, we are condemned to endless jostling among elbow-throwing individuals irritably determined to protect, or enlarge, the boundaries of their rights. Among such people, all political discourse tends to be distilled to what Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School calls “rights talk.”

“If our vocabulary is composed exclusively…” And if it’s not, as patently it isn’t?  What’s there?  A lazy old man whose moral and intellectual hemmorrhoids are acting up.

See e.g., the very health care dispute to which Will makes reference.  The argument about the public option is heated indeed, but it’s not about a right.  Rather its about what would be the best politically possible way to reach a particular policy goal:  how to insure as near to everyone as possible at the lowest cost to society.  End of story. Which Will has to know, unless he picked this as the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.  (That universal health care can be expressed as a right isn’t what the left is arguing about.  It’s how to achieve the end of instantiating that right — or as it is sometimes conceived, that essential moral and pragmatically social-order-serving obligation of a modern developed society.)

“rights a.k.a. entitlements.”  So free speech is an entitlement?  The free exercise of religion?  How about the expectation as a human right that in detention one will not be subject to torture?  If these are entitlements, then the eternal Inigo Montoya rises up once more.

“Endless jostling among elbow throwing individuals?”… Timing is everything, but on the weekend of the LBGT march on Washington, I’d have to ask if Will thinks it inappropriate for someone to take to the streets, peaceably, elbows and all, to jostle his delicate sensibilities with demands for equal treatment under the law.  Note also the sleight of hand:  “to protect, or enlarge.”

Speaking as someone enjoying my bloggy moment of free speech, its protection in all kinds of ways (net neutrality, e.g.) seems important.  To condemn it ever so slickly by conflating it with enlarging…well, from the point of view of the writer’s craft, that’s slick, skilled, and wholly dishonest.  (Also, I’m not so sure what is so bad in the abstract about enlarging rights:  from sufferage to equal access to public benefits, as in Title 9 seems like exactly the logic of a view of humanity that accepts the essential notion of equal treatment under law.)

“Among such people” — ahh, here’s the real nub. Who are these people? Will never says. The wrong sort, no doubt.  They’re the imagined Prius drivers who dare to shop at Whole Foods.  They are pissed off drivers slowing for speed bumps, profiled in a strangely anachronistic Post piece that presents as new what has happened in neighborhoods all over America (all over the world) when traffic engineers use their tools to shift driving habits.**

Whoever they are, these mythical liberals, these hypocrites, these folks who dare speak of rights — they are not, in fact, the people who have truly provoked the great George Will.  Rather, those offenders would be, I think (a) the large subset of the governing party that is ignoring everything he has to say, and (b) the American voters who have sent a young, smart, not-one-of-us man to the White House, along with 60 of the wrong party to the Senate and a similarly large delegation to the House.

Which is to say that most of Will’s career has been, in effect, repudiated by those results.  The electorate and a growing (though not yet dominant) faction of the ruling party understands that Will has gotten most of the important calls wrong for a very long time now.  They and we realize that he has nothing much left to say, given how thoroughly his earlier arguments have been shown to be wrong — not through debate, nor the easy abstractions of armchair argument, nor by raising his Constable with any of a number of Turners, but in the hard school of the real world in which he has lined up on the side of grotesque political and policy failure.

Which leaves Will with this:  a column that says nothing, as little-boy-nastily as possible.

And that, my friends (channeling my inner McCain, there folks — sorry) leads back to the beginning at which we will end.  If the Post doesn’t start breaking some real journalism soon; if all it has to offer is “such people” kvetching by tired old Gloria Swanson impersonators, then what reason for being will they have?  Why would anyone lay down a buck or whatever they charge these days for wrap any self-respecting fish would reject?

*and endless.  I dare you to read the whole thing.  And I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Will has not.

**It may come as news to Will, but this has happened before.  And what usually goes down is this:  people get pissed off for a while about speed bumps or other bits of traffic engineering when they first are installed, and then they just deal, as most folks figure out that slowing down in neighborhoods full of kids is not the worst idea in the world.  Only a world-class asshole would assume that the “conflict” between neighborhoods and drivers passing through was a measure of political sincerity or sophistication.

Image:  Vincent van Gogh, “Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)” 1890