Supplemental: The Clintons earn too much money again!

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30, 2014

Adopting Fawn Brodie’s procedures:
Early next year, our nation will embark on it latest White House campaign.

The two-year campaign will be endless. Increasingly, the coverage of these campaigns is built around journalistic cartoons.

Did we see one such cartoon growing again in today’s New York Times?

Chelsea Clinton is leaving her post at NBC News. This is a strikingly trivial matter.

That said, did we spot a certain cartoon in the Times? Headline included, Amy Chozick’s news report started like this:
CHOZICK (8/30/14): Chelsea Clinton to Leave Well-Paid NBC News Job

Less than three years after she embarked on a new and lucrative career as an NBC News special correspondent,
Chelsea Clinton said on Friday that she would leave that position.

In a letter posted on her Facebook page, Ms. Clinton said she had decided to depart NBC News to focus on philanthropic work at the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. She and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are also expecting their first child this fall. At the same time, her mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is mulling a presidential bid in 2016.
In the headline and in the first paragraph, readers were instantly told that Clinton’s position at NBC was “lucrative” and “well-paid.”

Such statements can’t be said to be false. Nor is it clear why this assessment appears right in the headline.

Is Chozick extending the newest cartoon? Before long, she composes a passage which does strike us as misleading or false:
CHOZICK: Ms. Clinton’s tenure at the news outlet was not a smooth one, less because of her feel-good reports than because a media-shy first daughter was hired as a television journalist earning a six-figure salary. (In 2009, NBC News hired Jenna Bush Hager, a daughter of former President George W. Bush, as a special correspondent for the “Today” show, drawing similar criticism.)
That paragraph makes suggestions and claims which strike us as inaccurate:

To some, that passage may suggest that the criticism of Clinton’s tenure came at the point of her hiring. In fact, the criticism which Chozick is surfing came several years later, when it was reported, without confirmation, that Clinton was being paid $600,000 per year.

As far as we know, there has been no “similar criticism” of Jenna Bush, which is fine by us. In a quick and yet still tedious search, we found no news reports about Bush’s salary, and very little speculation about that tedious subject.

Chelsea Clinton was paid too much money! As we noted yesterday, a cartoon seems to be forming around the potential candidate who is Clinton’s mother.

Candidate Gore just couldn’t stop lying. It’s beginning to seem that a Candidate Clinton is going have too much dough.

As everyone knows (but careerists won’t say), the press corps’ cartoon about Candidate Gore ended up changing world history. By way of contrast, this growing cartoon about Candidate Clinton may have no major effect.

That said, our major journalists certainly love their cartoons! In March 2000, the Washington Post’s ombudsman, E. R. Shipp, used a different terminology to describe this low-IQ process.

We’ve quoted this passage many times. Needless to say, the entire press corps ignored it (headline included):
SHIPP (3/5/00): Typecasting Candidates

[...]

The Post provides its share of "who's winning the horse race" stories and those that dissect a candidate's strategy—the "insider" stuff that many readers tell pollsters they could do without, thank you.

But The Post has gone beyond that kind of reporting in favor of articles that try to offer context—and even conjecture—about the candidates' motives in seeking the office of president. And readers react—sometimes in a nonpartisan way, more often not—to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama. Gore is the guy in search of an identity; Bradley is the Zen-like intellectual in search of a political strategy; McCain is the war hero who speaks off the cuff and is, thus, a "maverick"; and Bush is a lightweight with a famous name, and has the blessings of the party establishment and lots of money in his war chest. As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
In that passage, Shipp described the way the Post was fashioning four cartoons, one of which made a “whipping boy” of the Democratic front-runner. (The headline called this “typecasting.”)

As Shipp continued, she described some ways in which the Post had portrayed Gore as a “delusional” liar. She explicitly cited erroneous news reports in the Post.

That portrait of Gore was a deadly cartoon. Routinely, it was built out of blatantly inaccurate reporting. People are dead all over the world because the Post (and the rest of the corps) behaved that way for two years.

The “Clinton has too much money” cartoon seems tame by comparison. But make no mistake—Chozick has started to push that cartoon into her news reports.

When did this culture of cartooning take hold in the national press? In the last few days, we’ve continued to marvel at this culture as we’ve perused a pair of high-profile books.

We refer to Rick Perlstein’s 2008 best-seller, Nixonland. Also to Fawn Brodie’s 1981 “psychobiography,” Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, one of Perlstein’s principal sources.

We’ve been amazed by Perlstein’s portraits of the young Nixon and his parents, but Brodie’s cartooning came first. Because she was a major figure, it’s amazing to see the ludicrous ways she arrived at her various judgments—which, to be fair, were often less demonized than those of her successor.

At some point, we’ll be returning to the portraits penned by these two writers. To our surprise, we do see an important theme in Brodie’s book which transmigrated into the coverage of Candidate Gore, eighteen years later.

Quite routinely, on page after page, Brodie’s work in her bio of Nixon was blatantly absurd. It’s stunning to think that journalistic and academic elites tolerated such ludicrous chains of reasoning in real time. It’s even more surprising to see Perlstein hailing Brodie thirty years later.

Cartoons abound in both books. Unless it’s entertainment we seek, this is a dangerous culture.


Supplemental: The endless desire to see lives destroyed!

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2014

Rachel Maddow in eastern Ukraine: On last evening’s TV show, Rachel Maddow really seemed to be flying.

To our taste, she wasted a lot of time with a lot of piffle-fed topics. She wasted time discussing herself, as she constantly does.

At one point, she turned to her favorite topic. Early on, she made an odd remark:
MADDOW (8/28/14): The defense rests! Today was the last day of testimony in the federal corruption trial of Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Today, the judge in the case rejected a request by the defense counsel for an acquittal. And so, tomorrow the jury is going to hear closing arguments. After the closing arguments, the jury will start its deliberations.

Governor McDonnell and his wife are facing 14 felony charges. If they’re convicted of those charges, they are facing many decades in prison.
They’re facing “many decades in prison?” We were surprised by that statement. In its reporting on the trial, the New York Times routinely says that the McDonnells face “up to twenty years” in prison.

The Washington Post, the tabloid of record, rarely seems to say how much time the McDonnells could face. In January, though, when the miscreants were indicted, the Post reported thusly: “The couple could face a maximum of 30 years in prison, though they probably would serve far less.”

For ourselves, this prosecution increasingly seems ill-advised. There is no law in Mr. Jefferson’s state forbidding a pol from taking money and loans from a businessman. Meanwhile, Governor McDonnell seems to have done virtually nothing to help Jonnie Williams, the businessman who extended $170,000 in gifts and loans to the governor and his wife.

(Most of that was in loans. To create a bit of perspective, the amount in question represents roughly one week’s salary for cable stars who are paid $7 million per year.)

To us, this prosecution increasingly seems like an overreach. On Maddow’s show, however, it provides a never-ending chance to imagine one’s enemies being frog-marched off to prison, whether for “basically” the rest of their lives or for “many decades.”

(On July 28, Maddow said the McDonnells are “facing basically life in prison.” Last December, when it seemed there might be no indictment, she said the point of such prosecutions is to see that “people are punished and incidentally humiliated and ruined.”)

Technically, Maddow has a high IQ. With adult supervision, she could probably be a fabulous journalist.

That said, we often marvel at her deportment and at some of her apparent values.

We’re often amazed at the way she longs to see people get ruined. Her longing to see the McDonnells rot in jail has persisted through the course of this underwhelming trial. She loves to complain about this heinous offense described below, as she did again last night:
MADDOW (continuing from above): Governor McDonnell and his wife are facing 14 felony charges. If they’re convicted of those charges, they are facing many decades in prison.

Now, nobody knows exactly how the prosecution and the defense are going to sum up their cases or what image they will try to leave in the minds of the jury.

But regardless of what they say, I think this one probably will stick:

As a surprise part of this trial, the evidence reviewed in court over the course of these many days of testimony in Richmond, included many, many, many photos of Governor Bob McDonnell driving a white Ferrari
—a white Ferrari, the use of which was one of the gifts, was from a Virginia businessman, who federal prosecutors say constituted a bribe of the governor.

The governor and his staff and his lawyers seem to have understood early on that the white Ferrari thing, with all of these pictures of it, was not a good look for the governor.

Last year, even before the start of the trial, the governor’s spokesman tried to explain the white Ferrari away. Quote, "The governor’s spokesman said, as a favor to the businessman, the family drove one of Jonnie Williams’ cars and his Range Rover back to the lake house, and then they drove the Ferrari back to Richmond." Quote, "There was no recreational use of the vehicles."

Understand that? The use of the Ferrari was not at all recreational! There was definitely no fun involved!

Bob McDonnell was merely doing an onerous favor for a Virginia resident! As governor, he’s also responsible for being a valet parking attendant of not inconsiderable skill. But it’s not fun! It’s definitely never been fun!

During the trial, Governor McDonnell reiterated the “favor” excuse, adding that he didn’t even want to drive the white Ferrari. He said his kids egged him on to drive the car not once, but twice, during the lakeside vacation that the businessman paid for.

Governor McDonnell even testified that he didn’t even know that the Ferrari was at the lake house. He hadn’t noticed it! It had been tucked away in a garage, perhaps under a cover. He said, at some time during vacation, quote, "We saw it was a very significant high-performance car."
Maddow’s complaint went on from there. On the videotape of the segment, you can watch Maddow clowning and snarking at remarkable length about the fact that McDonnell drove Williams’ Ferrari on one or two occasions.

Plus, the Ferrari was white!

“I think this one will probably stick,” the pill-popping star opined last night. To appearances, Maddow wants the McDonnells to spend “many decades” in prison because, on one or two occasions, they got to drive somebody’s car.

We really wonder about Maddow’s innards when we see her performing her Hunt for the White Ferrari shtick month after month after month. What makes a person long to see other people destroyed over such consummate trivia?

On several days this week, we talked about tribal impulses as they surface in eastern Ukraine and in the Islamic State.

We asked if you ever think you see the same atavistic impulses surfacing over here, especially within our own tribe. When we watch Maddow wet herself at the thought of McDonnell being frog-marched to jail, we wonder which wires are hanging loose inside her high-IQ brain.

Go ahead—watch that segment. She’s clowning and snarking and creaming herself as she hopes that two people get ruined.

Supplemental: A script became official today!

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2014

The frameworks of Journalist County:
Today, the script became official.

It started in an innocent fashion, with Amy Chozick reporting Hillary Clinton’s comments about Ferguson.

Basically, Clinton said next to nothing, but people had been demanding to hear it. In this morning’s New York Times, Chozick started her nothingburger news report like this:
CHOZICK (8/29/14): Nearly three weeks after the shooting of Michael Brown prompted widespread protests in a St. Louis suburb and a national examination of race and police tactics, Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday praised President Obama’s response to the episode and called for a swift investigation into the circumstances that led to the unarmed black teenager’s death.

In a paid speech at a technology conference in San Francisco, Mrs. Clinton said she watched the funeral of Mr. Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. “As a mother, as a human being, my heart just broke for his family,” she said.
Interesting! Clinton does want an investigation! And she feels bad for the parents!

We don’t say this to criticize Clinton. There was never any reason to think that she would have some magical thing to say about these events.

Still, did you notice that one tiny point? According to Chozick, Clinton made these remarks “in a paid speech.”

That’s an unusual point to include in a report of this type. Later in her “news report,” Chozick made it official:
CHOZICK: Mrs. Clinton, who earns roughly $200,000 per speech, challenged the largely white audience to “imagine what we would feel, what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers, instead of the other way around,” or if one-third of all white males “went to prison during their lifetime.”
Actually, that was a pretty good point by Clinton. But good God! When have you ever seen a passage like the one we’ve highlighted?

Clinton earns roughly $200,000 per speech! We don’t think we’ve ever seen a fact like that inserted into an account of what some pol said in a speech. The fact that Chozick crammed it in tell us it’s now official:

Hillary Clinton has too much money! It will be said, again and again, over the next several years.

This is what the “press corps” does when it comes up with a standard group framework—when it decides what it wants you to think about a certain pol.

In June and July, the Washington Post went a thousand miles out of its way to create concern about Clinton’s vast barrels of cash. Today, the Times has made it official:

The script has been locked into place.

Starting Tuesday, September 2: Our award-winning series, “The Houses of Journalist County.”

If the Clintons are too damn rich, what about the glorious people who are advancing this script? We’ll visit them in their basement apartments, trying to steer our gaze away from the degradation and squalor.

We’ll review their favorite tricks for making ends meet on $15 million per year. Did you know that Diane Sawyer loves a good meatloaf sandwich?

Monday is Labor Day, of course. After that, we’ll be setting up shop in The Houses of Journalist County!

METAPHORS AND FACTS: He’s looked at life from one side now!

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29, 2014

Part 5—Touré gets it (exactly half) right: At one time, the American press corps was Walter and David. People, that was it!

The press corps today is more varied. The range of voices from which we hear is being greatly expanded.

Examples:

Major newspapers and major web sites are hiring an amazing number of 20-somethings. Youth is being widely served. Often, this produces very poor journalistic results.

A wider array of progressive voices are being featured at some news orgs, MSNBC being one major example. And a wider array of blacks and Hispanics appear at our major orgs.

In theory, these are good ideas. In practice, mileage may vary. Example:

In the Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post, Professor Dyson was holding forth. How did that work out?

A detractor would say that Dyson was working at Maureen Dowd’s level. As Dowd would do in Wednesday’s column, Dyson complained about Obama’s reactions to Ferguson.

Obama has been “cautious to a fault” in discussing Ferguson, Dyson said. On matters of race, “the president mostly weighs in only when exigent demands leave him little choice:”
DYSON (8/24/14): That was the case when Obama eloquently explained the grief and anger that swept black communities after Zimmerman, the killer of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, went unpunished. It was also true with Ferguson. If Obama felt and looked weary at the prospect of repeating himself—"I've said this before," he reminded us—it hardly matched the moral weariness of black victims witnessing history tragically repeat itself. Like a Hollywood film franchise, race in the United States—especially police violence against blacks—is haunted by sequels: The locations may change, the actors are different, but the story remains the same.

Given Obama's extraordinary talent for talking the nation through tough times, his remarks on Ferguson were extremely disappointing.

[...]

The best thing Obama did was to send Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson, although he should go himself, just as he went to Newtown, Conn., and to communities ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Dyson often drives us nuts. What kind of professor can’t see the difference between Newtown, Hurricane Sandy and Ferguson—the last of the three being the site of an ongoing criminal investigation?

What kind of professor can’t see the difference between a president speaking after a trial (the Zimmerman trial), as opposed to during a grand jury probe (the Ferguson investigation)?

Further question: What makes Dyson think that Obama, with his low approval ratings, possesses the kind of “extraordinary talent” that would let him “talk the nation through” the “tough times” posed by events at Ferguson?

Ferguson involves matters of race, the gigantic topic on which it’s hardest to get people to abandon their preconceptions (many of which may be admirable). Beyond that, we live in absurdly tribal times.

No matter what Obama chose to say on a trip to St. Louis, can we really imagine a case in which his comments turned out to be helpful? Where we the people would let the fellow of whom we no longer approve talk us through the events?

Let’s give Obama some credit! We’ll guess that he understands the way the world works better than the professor does, the professor the corporate suits have picked for Our Own Cable Channel.

In theory, it seems like a good idea when the press corps includes a wider range of voices—when youth is served, when black and brown observers appear, when progressive ideas are expressed.

In practice, though, a black professor can work at the level of Dowd. Concerning her most recent column, in which she joined Dyson in complaining that Obama hasn’t journeyed to Ferguson, we’ll outsource the labor to Brother Pierce, only noting two points:

No one who wrote an unreadable mess like Dowd’s Gettysburg Golf Address column could ever get into an AP class at any American high school. Also, when Dowd complained in Wednesday's column that Obama is sleeping behind the caddy shack, her own newspaper was reporting, on its front page, that he was fashioning an end run around Congress to create a world climate regime.

Just like the progressive professor, the clueless Dowd thought Obama should jet to St. Louis on Air Force One to lecture us on the things we should think.

Our guess? Obama knows how crazy that idea is. He is working around his low approvals and his hopeless Congress to change the world in various ways, including on climate and immigration. Is he asleep behind the shack? He even seems to be working out the terms of our next world war!

Dowd’s column was spectacularly clueless, even for her. In his earlier Sunday piece, Dyson made some accurate points about the nation. But he seemed rather clueless to us about the possibilities available to Obama.

That said, the professor thundered and blew. The suits who try to create cable profit looked down and saw it was good!

They give us the young, and they give us a wider range of American voices. This sounds like an obvious great idea, but the work won’t always be great. One more example:

In our view, the work was two steps down from awful when the professor from Nerdland replied to Joe Klein last week. For background, see yesterday's post.

We’ll assume her work was done in bad faith. Can any professor be dumb enough to state the immortal words, “Those are the facts,” in the way this professor did?

Is there any way the professor from Nerdland really thought Klein had a problem with jazz? Rather plainly, wasn’t the slippery scholar just playing a famous old card?

You never know what you’re going to get when the suits pick your leaders for you! That said, Touré got it (exactly half) right in his own column this Sunday, which appeared in the Washington Post’s Outlook section.

Toure is one of the hosts of MSNBC’s The Cycle. As with all opinion pieces, his piece could have been improved.

We’re going to edit out one thing he wrote! But overall, we thought he made a very good point about our so-called “information wars,” the subject of his piece.

This is the way he began:
TOURE (8/24/14): An information war is being waged in Ferguson, Mo., each salvo meant to shape public perceptions of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.

Through this war we've learned that the 18-year-old Brown had marijuana in his system when he was killed, suggesting he was of poor character, and that police officer Wilson shot Brown six times, a use of force that could seem reckless or excessive. We've been told that Brown was a "gentle giant" who would have started attending classes at a technical college this month, but we've also seen a grainy convenience-store video in which he does not look gentle. We have seen a video of Wilson receiving an award, looking professional and happy...

Such snippets and images are efforts to shape public opinion about these men. They could influence St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch as he weighs whether to bring charges against Wilson. They could also influence the potential jury pool, showing prejudicial evidence that may not be admissible at trial.

In an information war, the news media is deployed as a weapon, our collective mind becomes a battlefield, and biases are land mines waiting to explode.

I feel confident stating that neither Brown nor Wilson is an angel—because no one is. But that doesn't matter, because the two men have been reduced to symbols.
Uh-oh! Try to ignore what he said about angels. (He returned to the imagery later.) Meanwhile, we dropped one snippet which was so poorly sourced that it shouldn’t have gone into print.

That said, Toure gives a helpful account of the familiar tribal warfare he calls “information war.” He is describing real tribal war, of a very familiar type. We’d be more inclined to call it “spin war,” but no phraseology is perfect. “Information war” works OK too.

In these information wars, partisans pick and choose and invent their facts, trying to shape our perceptions of the participants in an event. In this case, the participants are Wilson and Brown.

“The two men have been reduced to symbols,” Toure instructively says. As he continues, he says something else that’s important and accurate—at least up to a point:
TOURE (continuing directly): Information wars suggest that character is destiny and that character is knowable, as if a handful of snapshots or tweets constitute an autopsy of the soul. They are waged in all kinds of legal battles, from civil suits to contract negotiations to public divorces.

But when there's a black victim involved, the information takes a different and predictable turn: The victim becomes thuggified. This is an easy leap for many minds, given the widespread expectation of black criminality. If you become nervous when you see a young black male approaching on the street, it is not hard to convince you that a kid who was shot was not one of the "good ones," that he was scary and maybe did something to deserve it. Information wars thrive on America's empathy gap—the way some people struggle to see any kinship or shared humanity with strangers who don't look like them.
Everything said there is true. But it’s only true up to a point, and something else that's important and true is perhaps being omitted.

It’s true! When a kid like Michael Brown is killed, he will (in some places) be “thuggified.” To some extent, that has actually happened with Brown. To some extent, it happened with Trayvon Martin, whose case Toure discussed in his next paragraph.

It’s also (mostly) true that this unfortunate part of our war “thrives on America's empathy gap—the way some people struggle to see any kinship or shared humanity with strangers who don't look like them.”

That’s an important point. We’ll guess that many white Americans, and some black Americans, have an easy time assuming / imagining / picturing the worst about kids like Michael Brown. There are many reasons for this, the racial disinterest of MSNBC’s multimillionaire hosts being one recent part of the syndrome.

That is accurately called an “empathy gap.” But it’s only one of our country’s empathy gaps—and empathy gaps are quite active all around the world.

Toure did a very good job discussing that empathy gap. For that reason, we were struck by his failure to mention another such gap by the time he ended his column.

Can we talk? In some quarters, there is an obvious “empathy gap” regarding police officers! People will often assume the worst about kids like Michael Brown. Others will sometimes assume the worst about people like Darren Wilson.

What actually happened in Ferguson on August 9? At this point, we can’t really tell you.

We bring one preconception to the case. In our view, police officers shouldn’t fire their guns at people as they flee except for very substantial cause.

That said, what actually happened that day? We’re waiting to find out. But please understand one key point:

There’s lots of empathy in the world, even in eastern Ukraine or in the Islamic State. Unfortunately, this empathy extends to those within the tribe. All other people are loathed.

Toure did a very good job explaining the empathy gap that can affect kids like Michael brown. He pretty much skipped the empathy gap which may harm that other tribe.

For extra credit only: Toure wrote about “perfect victims.” Klein wrote about “perfect metaphors.”

To what extent were they saying the very same thing? Compare, contrast and further discuss, trying to be empathetic.

Supplemental: New York Times triggers blasphemy rampage!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2014

How to read newspaper profiles: At the start of the week, the New York Times managed to start an Internet blasphemy rampage.

It did so with a rumination on the existence of angels. Here’s how the rampage was triggered:

On Monday morning, the Times ran profiles of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson side-by-side on the paper’s front page.

Front-page profiles of this type tend to be soft and unhelpful. Routinely, they include second-hand information and musings which may be, in the famous phrase, “more prejudicial than probative.”

The 1400-word profile of Brown was written by John Eligon. He touched off the blasphemy rampage with just his fifth paragraph.

(For an explanation of the term, “blasphemy rampage,” see this earlier post.)

Below, you see the first four paragraphs of Eligon’s profile. The information included there is utterly pointless. But it presented an upbeat portrait, as was perfectly sensible:
ELIGON (8/25/14): It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God. Mr. Brown was a prankster, so his father and stepmother chuckled at first.

“No, no, Dad! No!” the elder Mr. Brown remembered his son protesting. “I’m serious.”

And the black teenager from this suburb of St. Louis, who had just graduated from high school, sent his father and stepmother a picture of the sky from his cellphone. “Now I believe,” he told them.

In the weeks afterward, until his shooting death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9, they detected a change in him as he spoke seriously about religion and the Bible. He was grappling with life’s mysteries.
On its face, that’s utterly pointless. But, by standard reckoning, it’s cheerful and upbeat. In the weeks before his death, Brown was growing philosophical. “He was grappling with life’s mysteries.”

So far, so good! Readers thought they were getting to know what Brown was actually like.

At this point, Eligon slipped. He penned a slightly puzzling paragraph and due to a single turn of phrase, an Internet rampage began:
ELIGON (continuing directly): Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.
Some of that paragraph doesn’t make much sense. The fact that you “live in a community that has rough patches” doesn’t mean that you’re “no angel,” if that’s what it was intended to say.

Meanwhile, had Brown had been involved in one scuffle? Had he dabbled in alcohol? Those don’t seem like hugely significant facts.

On the other hand, Brown had menaced a convenience store clerk just ten minutes before his fatal encounter with Officer Wilson. In that fifth paragraph, Eligon bumped the severity of that behavior down in several ways.

This was classic front-page profile writing. It started with some catchy nonsense, then segued ahead with a turn of phrase built out of Brown’s vision of Satan chasing an angel.

But uh-oh! As he segued out of his opening, Eligon said that Brown “was no angel.” (The young man had “both problems and promise.”)

In some precincts of the “left,” you aren’t allowed to say things like that at this point in time. And so, the rampage started.

We first became aware of the rampage when we read Joanna Rothkopf’s post at Salon. Let’s give credit where credit is due:

Quite correctly, Rothkopf saw that Eligon’s profile “was a generally poignant piece about Michael Brown,” a “generally respectful article.” To read her post, click here.

That said, the new Salon has little respect for its readers or for the truth. For that reason, the site’s famously frenzied editors refashioned what Rothkopf had said, offering these headlines:
Michael Brown was “no angel,” according to outrageously skewed New York Times report
People took to Twitter to express their outrage over the teen's skewed portrayal
To Rothkopf, the profile was “generally respectful.” In Salon's headlines, editors changed that assessment to “outrageously skewed.”

Rothkopf was certainly right about the overall profile. It started in an upbeat way, envisioning Brown as the new Spinoza. As it continued, it put a largely cheerful spin on the events of the young man’s life.

Rothkopf was right about the overall tone. But by the time she composed her post, the blasphemy rampage was underway. Perhaps for that reason, she complained that “the generally respectful article has unwittingly demonstrated the media’s unconscious bias.”

How had Eligon done that? Rothkopf posted the text of his fifth paragraph. Then, she offered this:
ROTHKOPF (8/25/14): In an article that purports to be about the spiritual curiosity of a doomed teen, why is it necessary to hedge the writer’s argument with harmless details of his allegedly fraught youth? Because certain media outlets have aggressively spread certain details of Brown’s life, it seems that every news outlet needs to include details of Brown’s drug use and petty theft (which are normal teenage offenses) in order to remain “objective.” In reality, the inclusion of these details represents the public will to say that maybe, just maybe, Brown’s fate was unavoidable.
Truthfully, none of that makes sense. (On the whole, does the article purport to be about the spiritual curiosity of a doomed teen?)

None of that makes sense. But according to Rothkopf, the profile shouldn’t have mentioned the “harmless details” of Brown’s life, including drug use and “petty theft.” Through some unexplained chain of reasoning, she judged that Eligon’s inclusion of those matters “represents the public will to say that maybe, just maybe, Brown’s fate was unavoidable.”

You’re right! That doesn’t make any sense. But this is the new Salon.

Rothkopf is two years out of Middlebury. She spent her junior year at the Sorbonne, studying literature and cinema.

Her journalistic chops are extremely slight. In a wonderful turn of phrase, the young scribe then offered this:

“Expectedly, people have taken to Twitter to express their outrage at the piece, zeroing in on the phrase ‘was no angel.’ ”

“Expectedly?” Was that the word she meant? According to Rothkopf, it’s now expected that people will voice their outrage over a single turn of phrase in a lengthy profile which is “generally respectful.”

Is that what Rothkopf meant to say? Sadly, what she said is all too true!

As always, the blasphemy outrage was majorly dumb, but that’s what our tribe has become. We used to laugh at Rush’s listeners for this. Today, we’re ditto-heads too.

Can we talk? Eligon’s profile of Michael Brown was largely pointless. But it was also upbeat and cheerful—you might even say respectful. No serious person would think it was some kind of attack on Brown, let alone a statement of “the public will to say that maybe, just maybe, Brown’s fate was unavoidable.”

That last assessment was very dumb, but Rothkopf writes for the new Salon. She posted tweets from outraged scribes, who rose in sacred fury.

You have to be dumb to rampage like that. But on one point, there can be no mistake:

Our team is reflexively dumb now too! There’s no way that this sad turn can really be good for the nation.

METAPHORS AND FACTS: From Nerdland, professor responds to Klein!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 2014

Part 4—The quality of our discourse:
We wouldn’t have written Joe Klein’s piece ourselves. In fact, we didn’t write it.

That said, it isn’t gigantically hard to see what Klein was saying. For background, see yesterday's post.

We’d say that Klein made two different points. Given the way our discourse works, that’s often one too many.

We’d say that Klein made these two claims. We’re paraphrasing:
Joe Klein’s two points (paraphrased):
1) The story of Michael Brown’s death is more complex than it seemed at first.
2) There are cultural problems in black America which need to be addressed.
Uh-oh! As everyone knows, you aren’t allowed, in certain precincts, to make anything like that second statement. That said, this is the part of Klein’s column we’d paraphrase that way:
KLEIN (8/21/14): [W]e have developed new historic truths over the past 50 years. A great many bodega owners won’t see Michael Brown as a metaphor for anything. They see potentially threatening customers every day. Blacks represent 13% of the population but commit 50% of the murders; 90% of black victims are murdered by other blacks. The facts suggest that history is not enough to explain this social disaster.

[...]

Race remains an open wound. There is a new generation of black intellectuals who are raising the issue in thoughtful, provocative ways. “The Case for Reparations” by the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is compelling, even if the case is not a particularly strong one. We’ve had 50 years of drastically improved political, educational and employment opportunities for blacks, which have produced a burgeoning middle class, but a debilitating culture of poverty persists among the urban underclass. Black crime rates are much higher than they were before the civil rights movement. These problems won’t be solved simply by the recognition of historic grievances. Absent a truly candid conversation about the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation, they won’t be solved at all.
In that passage, Klein refers to “a debilitating culture of poverty” within “the urban underclass,” and to “the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation,” apparently within that lower-income subpopulation. That’s why we paraphrased Klein as referring to “cultural problems.”

Personally, we don’t have a giant problem with references to “cultural” problems within some part of black America. Here’s why:

There are obvious cultural problems within white America, as modern liberals often note, perhaps without using that term. Unless we’re mistaken, there are cultural problems within every society and every population, all over the world.

Given our nation’s brutal racial history, it would be odd to think that black America was the one population on earth within which there were no “cultural” problems, shortfalls or imperfections. But that bit of tribal scripting has seemed to emerge in parts of the “left” in recent months.

This may help explain one hapless reaction to Klein’s imperfect essay, in which he repeatedly cited the brutal racial history of the past 400 years.

That reaction was authored by Melissa Harris-Perry. It came to us in the form of an open letter to Klein, a letter delivered from Nerdland.

Harris-Perry was writing from Nerdland! That humble-brag peeped over her shoulder as she delivered her rebuttal to Klein on her MSNBC program last Saturday.

The tape and transcript of her rebuttal are available here, with an additional link to Klein’s column. Harris-Perry called Klein’s column “cringe-worthy.” We’d call her rebuttal “much worse.”

In our view, here’s why:

In our view, Harris-Perry’s attitudinal delivery was unfortunate, given the importance of the topics under review. Like her pitiful reference to Nerdland, it represented a bit of cable show business.

It was designed to pleasure us the rubes—us the liberal rubes.

That’s our view on Harris-Perry’s tone and trappings; your mileage may of course differ. With that in mind, let’s consider what the professor said.

Throughout, Harris-Perry read chunks of what Klein said, then offered rebuttal or comment. Below, you see was the first chunk of her rebuttal.

We’d have to say she’s already lost, or at least pretending to be, perhaps for tribal effect:
HARRIS-PERRY (8/23/14): You write:

“At first, it seemed a perfect metaphor for 400 years of oppression: a white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager multiple times. He is shot with his hands up, it is reported, at least once in the back.”

Joe. When a community is reeling from an unarmed teen shot to death, when his body was left for hours in plain view of the community, when no arrests have been made for his slaying, when those who are protesting the killing are met with militarized local police force and tear gas–it is not a metaphor.

The people of Ferguson and the nation are mourning the death of a real person.
They are responding to actual events and actions taken by the local government. That this death and those actions are consistent with a long history of similar deaths and actions makes them historically rooted. Not metaphorical.
Coming from a university professor, we’d have to call that sad. Sad, and just a bit Ukrainian, in the sense we’ve been exploring over the past three days.

It’s certainly true—Brown’s death can be said to be “historically rooted.” That’s the point Klein seemed to be making with his repeated references to our “400 years of oppression.” (Klein: “black women have been casually violated by white men in America for 400 years.” Also: “all too often in the past, we’ve exonerated racist thugs who were clearly guilty” in the killing of blacks by police.)

Plainly, Michael Brown’s death can be said to be “historically rooted.” That doesn’t mean that the killing can’t also be a “perfect metaphor” for those centuries of brutal conduct, in the way Klein used the term.

That said, not every shooting is an act of oppression or even injustice. Klein’s point in discussing “perfect metaphor” was fairly easy to discern:

According to Klein, the initial description of Brown’s death made it a remarkably clear-cut example of heinous injustice. As more facts have surfaced, the nature of the killing has become less clear.

“The people of Ferguson and the nation are mourning the death of a real person?” This is an obvious fact, but it doesn’t begin to contradict what Klein said about “perfect metaphor.” Is it even dimply possible that Harris-Perry doesn’t understand that? Assuming she isn’t just clowning around, her next chunk is deeply pathetic:
HARRIS-PERRY (continuing directly): “But the perfection of the metaphor is soon blurred by facts,” you write. “The gentle giant, Michael Brown Jr. ...seems pretty intimidating in a surveillance video...

Joe. “Seemed pretty intimidating” is not a fact.

The fact is the surveillance video shows an apparent petty crime–one that Officer Darren Wilson did not know about when he stopped Michael Brown and one that does not carry a death sentence even if a person is guilty of committing it.

“An autopsy, requested by Brown’s parents, shows six bullet wounds; the kill shot is into the top of the victim’s head-which raises another possibility, that the officer, Darren Wilson, fired in self-defense.”

Joe. It is certainly a possibility, but let us traffic in facts:

Officer Wilson was armed. Michael Brown was not. Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown. Michael Brown is dead. Officer Wilson has not been arrested. On the day that the Ferguson police finally made Officer Wilson’s name public, they also released the surveillance video you mentioned despite knowing that it had no bearing on the officer’s decision to stop Michael Brown. Those are the facts.
“Those are the facts?” Truly, that’s deeply pathetic, especially from a university professor who signs her address as Nerdland.

Those are the facts? Actually, no—those are some of the facts! More specifically, those are the facts which help Harris-Perry keep her narration a bit of a “perfect metaphor”—a simplistic story with no moral ambiguity or factual uncertainty.

In that passage, she is picking and choosing her facts. She even includes the most pointless fact of them all. (Robbing a convenience story doesn’t carry a death penalty!) She’s also evading Klein’s simple point:

As more facts have emerged, the story has become a bit less clear that it was in its initial telling, in which a “gentle giant” doing nothing wrong was “shot in the back.”

Brown’s aggressive conduct in the store raises the possibility that he may have behaved aggressively at Officer Wilson’s car. It’s also entirely possible, of course, that he didn’t behave aggressively toward Wilson—and if he did, that doesn’t necessarily justify Wilson’s subsequent conduct.

The story got more a bit complex when that surveillance tape surfaced. But, like tribal players all over the world, Harris-Perry wishes away the facts that don’t serve her preferred thesis—and she pretends she doesn’t know what Klein is talking about.

“Those are the facts”—good God! Those are some of the facts! That is perhaps the most basic distinction we can ask a person to make.

Harris-Perry makes some actual points as she responds to Klein. When Klein presented his crime statistics, we’d say he wasn’t careful enough, especially given the seriousness of what was being discussed.

Klein was discussing the lives of black kids, both in St. Louis and in Baltimore! Harris-Perry makes one valid rebuttal here, but skips past an overall point:
HARRIS-PERRY (continuing directly): You cite these statistics:

“Blacks represent 13% of the population but commit 50% of the murders; 90% of black victims are murdered by other blacks.”

Joe. If you want to just cite random crime facts that have nothing to do with this case, how about this one: 83% of white victims are murdered by other white people.

Your statistics about black homicide perpetrators have nothing to do with what happened August 9. We know who shot Michael Brown to death–and it wasn’t a black man. And how about this stat: On average, between 2006 and 2012, nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person. Two times a week. That fact would suggest Michael Brown had plenty of reason to be afraid of Darren Wilson.
It’s true that Klein’s “statistics about black homicide perpetrators have nothing to do with what happened August 9.” But the statistics cited by Harris-Perry indicate that blacks are being murdered at a much higher rate than other Americans, and that these murders are largely committed by other blacks.

The victims include a lot of black kids who are doing nothing whatever that’s wrong. It’s silly to think that a high murder rate of innocents can’t be described as a “cultural” problem, but that rule now exists in some precincts like Nerdland.

To see what we mean, read on:

At this point, the professor from Nerdland played her most pitiful card. Truly, this is low and grimy, sick and dumb, however pleasing it may seen to us the obedient rubes:
HARRIS-PERRY (continuing directly): You go on.

“A debilitating culture of poverty persists among the urban underclass. Black crime rates are much higher than they were before the civil rights movement.”

Joe. The American crime rate overall—regardless of the race of the perpetrator or victim—is higher than it was in 1960. And crime has dropped precipitously since its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. It is the poverty that is debilitating because it severely reduces access to sufficient nutrition, housing, health care, quality educational opportunities, and sustainable employment opportunities.

As for the “culture of poverty,” is that American jazz, blues, or hip-hop you are referencing? Because those are some of the cultural products of the black American poor.
Good God! That's amazing. Just wow.

Again, we think Klein was careless in some of the ways he discussed crime statistics. Harris-Perry makes an accurate clarification here.

But good God! Look at that highlighted passage. Klein is talking about the culture of a very high murder rate. Pulling out her cheapest, most disrespectful card, Harris-Perry pretends that he must hate the sweaty music of blacks!

Wow! What else can be said?

We liberals watch Harris-Perry thinking we’re seeing a top-rate professor. Here’s what you can often learn from watching her TV show:

Our black professors can be as pathetic as their useless white counterparts! Especially on the TV machine, our elites are often a worthless gang of high-paid tribal clowns.

Tomorrow: Touré gets it (exactly halfway) right