The happiest time of the year continues!


Keep history alive:
There’s nothing we dislike quite like this time of the year.

On the other hand, fund-raising is necessary. For many years, we never asked. We’re kicking ourselves for that now.

That said:

As our fund-raising drive enters Day Two, we’ll link you to Gene Lyons’ new column at The National Memo. The column concerns Hillary Clinton, who you may not be supporting for president.

She isn’t our ideal candidate either. That isn’t the point of the column.

Lyons writes about the history of the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, which is being fancifully revived by Harper’s, of all publications.

Quite literally, Lyons wrote the book on the topic, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater. In the part of his column shown below, he refers to Doug Henwood, the writer who revives the Whitewater foofaw in the current edition of Harper’s.

He also cites an important newspaper, the New York Times:
LYONS (10/22/14): For that matter, why am I bothering with Henwood?

Two reasons. First, personal disappointment that such slipshod work could appear in Harper’s. Twenty years ago, the magazine stuck its journalistic neck out to publish my article and book, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.

Second, because Henwood’s piece signals the inevitable return of what I call the “Clinton Rules.” Particularly when it comes to the couple’s background in darkest Arkansas, no allegation of wrongdoing, regardless of how conclusively disproved, has ever disappeared from the national news media.

That such shoddy standards have become well-nigh universal in American political journalism is no excuse. Because everybody involved back in 1996 understood that calling out The New York Times—which originated and sustained the Whitewater hoax—was a serious business, Harper’s actually dispatched a fact checker to Little Rock, where we spent several days bulletproofing the manuscript.

Clearly, no such effort went into Henwood’s essay.
As Lyons notes, the New York Times “originated and sustained the Whitewater hoax.” The Times then played a leading role in what came next, the twenty-month war against Candidate Gore which sent George Bush to the White House.

Despite these facts and many more, it pains Lawrence O’Donnell to criticize the Times, a fact he restated this very week. Therein lies a remarkable tale.

It would be hard to overstate the code of silence which surrounds the workings of our political journalism over the past three or four decades. Lyons and his writing partner, Joe Conason, wrote two books on the Clinton-era part of this tale, Fools for Scandal (1996) and The Hunting of the President (2000).

At this site and at our companion site, we’ve chronicled where the virus went after that. As you may have noticed, we’ve done so to almost complete, total silence.

It isn’t just Lawrence! Everybody understands that these topics must not be discussed. In order to keep that discussion going, we’re asking for your support.

Tomorrow, we plan to bring Ben and Jerry, or possibly even Ben or Jerry, into this vital discussion. For today, we recommend the Lyons piece, however you feel about Hillary Clinton.

We’ll also ask for your support:

If you want to keep history alive, you can just click here.

Supplemental: The legacy of Ben Bradlee!


Style section, then Richard Nixon:
We never met Ben Bradlee. Manifestly, he seemed like a very impressive man.

Until today, we hadn’t realized that Bradlee was such a major swell. Before we praise his mother, let us record these unusual facts, from the world’s leading authority:

“Josephine de Gersdorff, Bradlee's mother, was a direct descendant of Heinrich XXIX, Count of Reuss-Ebersdorf, who was a lineal descendant of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, King John of Denmark and King John II of France and Bonne of Bohemia and John V, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst. Bradlee's maternal great grandfather was Dr. Ernst Bruno von Gersdorff, who was a third cousin of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom through Heinrich XXIX.”

Our own mother wasn’t descended from the Holy Roman Emperor. She just thought she was.

Now, for that impressive claim. We don’t know if this is accurate:

“His mother, Josephine de Gersdorff (1896–1975), was awarded the French Legion of Honor for helping keep children safe from Nazi Germany during World War II.”

To state the obvious, that's a tremendous claim to be able to make.

We spent some time this morning thinking about Bradlee’s legacy. It seems that people who knew him admired him. Plus, he invented the Washington Post’s Style section, and he led the Watergate chase.

Style, and Nixon’s forced resignation! These are very important elements in modern newspaper culture, not necessarily in good ways.

That takes nothing away from their invention. We’re talking about where they led.

We were already planning to spend next week discussing the press corps’ coverage of White House campaigns post-Nixon.

We’ve become more and more intrigued by what happened to the coverage starting with Candidate Muskie. The invention of “Style section journalism” is fairly clearly part of that tale. So too for the pursuit of Nixon, in which, as far as we know, the work was respectable, good.

That said, even Maximilian I couldn’t have saved us from the culture which followed. Increasingly, we’re intrigued by how badly the trends have worked against presidential-level Democrats, even as we in the liberal world keep cheering those trends along.

As far as we know, Ben Bradlee was sharp. After Bradlee, the whirlwind?

GATEKEEPERS GONE: Three recent reports from the Times front page!


Part 3—Incompetence of the watchdogs:
How does our discourse get infected by The Crazy and The Dumb?

For starters, our gatekeepers are gone. It never exactly made sense to think that a couple of high-profile men—Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley—were supposed to sift and edit the things we were permitted to hear.

As a matter of theory, that never made sense—but the system did work that way to a large extent. Thanks to those men, and others like them, The Crazy rarely got on the air.

Today, The Crazy is all around us. Selling The Crazy is big business now, and the gatekeepers are long gone.

In theory, though, we still have the watchdogs. In theory, we still have people who can debunk The Crazy and The Dumb.

That’s the theory, but our watchdogs tend to be quite unimpressive. Today, we’ll consider some recent work by the New York Times.

In a wide array of ways, the New York Times produces work which just isn’t real impressive. Simply put, the famous newspaper isn’t especially sharp.

The mediocrity of its work is a key part of The Way We Are. Consider three recent front-page reports in the Times, the regent of the American press corps elite:

Arrests for assault in Sayreville: This Monday, a 2333-word report appeared at the top of the Times front page. Inside the paper, the continuation of the report consumed the full expanse of page A20. The layout included four color photos and a map of New Jersey.

Nine reporters were named in the hard-copy byline for the report. And uh-oh! The lengthy report reads like it was written by nine different people.

The report concerns the recent arrest of seven football players at Sayreville (N.J.) War Memorial High School “on hazing and sexual abuse allegations.” In what follows, you are charged with making a distinction between the alleged criminal conduct, which isn’t under discussion here, and the quality of the journalism performed by the New York Times.

As we’ve read and reread the Times’ lengthy report, we’d have to say the journalism isn’t especially good. Chronologies are sometimes hard to follow; character profiles are puzzling. (The head coach of the high school team “had a prominent mustache and used phrases like ‘put a whupping on teams’ and ‘take your lumps.’”)

At times, the reporters write like natives of Mars: “The order of the attacks that week is not clear. The victim in one of them, who could not be reached for comment, did not smile or laugh.”

Also this:
SCHWEBER, BARKER, GRANT ET AL (10/20/14): One freshman said his classmates showed their discomfort with the attacks in their body language. ''They would look around like, 'What are they doing?' '' he said. ''It's weird.''
Most strangely, the report turns on a description of a type of sexual assault which, as described, doesn’t exactly seem physically possible. The nine reporters just cruise along, failing to see the oddness of their description.

This front-page report was very long. It was also very murky. Plainly, the nine reporters don’t know what actually happened. Given the length of the report, it takes a lot of effort just to tease out what is being alleged.

On the bright side, the long report is highly entertaining. If you don’t mind our saying so, the report lets subscribers read at length about very exciting charges.

Remember when this sort of conduct produced the New Jersey preschool child abuse scandal, with its later overturned verdict? We don’t know what happened in Sayreville. But we thought about that unfortunate episode as we fought our way through this nine-person front-page report.

Hysteria concerning Ebola: Next to the giant Sayreville effort, another front-page report concerned Ebola hysteria. Of the three reports we cite today, we think this was the worst.

How bad is the judgment at the Times? In our view, Jennifer Steinhauer (and her editors) showed amazingly bad judgment as she opened her report in the way shown below.

We say that for two or three reasons. This front-page report appeared right next to the Sayreville effort:
STEINHAUER (10/20/14): In the month since a Liberian man infected with Ebola traveled to Dallas, where he later died, the nation has marinated in a murky soup of understandable concern, wild misinformation, political opportunism and garden-variety panic.

Within the escalating debate over how to manage potential threats to public health—muddled by what is widely viewed as a bungled effort by government officials and the Dallas hospital that managed the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States—the line between vigilance and hysteria can be as blurry as the edges of a watercolor painting.

A crowd of parents last week pulled their children out of a Mississippi middle school after learning that its principal had traveled to Zambia, an African nation untouched by the disease.

On the eve of midterm elections with control of the United States Senate at stake, politicians from both parties are calling for the end of commercial air traffic between the United States and some African countries, even though most public health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a shutdown would compound rather than alleviate the risks.

Carolyn Smith of Louisville, Ky., last week took a rare break from sequestering herself at home to take her fiancé to a doctor's appointment. She said she was reluctant to leave her house after hearing that a nurse from the Dallas hospital had flown to Cleveland, over 300 miles from her home. ''We're not really going anywhere if we can help it,'' Ms. Smith, 50, said.
In our view, that passage displays extremely bad judgment, of a very familiar kind. Three quick reasons:

Editorialize much? Steinhauer lists three examples of the ways people have reacted to Ebola. In two of the examples, people in southern locales behave in ways which are completely crazy. In the third example, politicians support a policy Steinhauer doesn’t favor.

That’s just basically clownish. Also unfortunate is the statement that pols are adopting the position in question “even though most public health experts...said a shutdown would compound rather than alleviate the risks.”

That presentation is short, unreasoned, unexplained, cavalier. It helps explain the tribal divide which is badly harming the nation.

Here’s one more horrible problem:

Disapprovingly, Steinhauer says that “politicians from both parties are calling for the end of commercial air traffic between the United States and some African countries.” We looked to see if she cited examples. Horrifically, here’s all she wrote:
STEINHAUER: With fear riding high, Democrats, particularly those running for office, have supported a travel ban.

''Although stopping the spread of this virus overseas will require a large, coordinated effort with the international community,'' said Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, a Democrat in a tight race, ''a temporary travel ban is a prudent step the president can take to protect the American people.”
From that, a person might think that Hagan is “calling for the end of commercial air traffic between the United States and some African countries,” the formulation with which Steinhauer started.

In fact, that isn’t what Hagan has supported. But so what? Steinhauer and other Times reporters have spread that idea around. On-line, Mark Rappeport even claimed that Hagan had flipped last week from an earlier stand, a claim which was plainly inaccurate. Later, he posted a “clarification” and changed an antagonistic headline.

Times writers tend to be careless. In these ways, they keep getting “Democrats in tight races” defeated. They’ve been bumbling along in such ways for a good many years.

What Officer Wilson has said: It’s a basic part of The Way We Are. Journalists at the New York Times just aren’t especially sharp.

To a certain extent, we’d extend that judgment to last Saturday’s front-page report about what Officer Darren Wilson has said to “authorities” about the shooting of Michel Brown.

For the most part, Lawrence O’Donnell bungled his criticism of this report Monday night. Still, O’Donnell was making a valid point by the end of his ten-minute presentation, in which he told us that it pains him to criticize the Times.

What was wrong with that front-page report? The problem was a matter of emphasis, but it was very important.

To their credit, three Times reporters explained the problem at the start of their report. That said, the distinction is extremely basic, and it was quickly forgotten:
SCHMIDT, APUZZO AND BOSMAN (10/18/14): The police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two months ago has told investigators that he was pinned in his vehicle and in fear for his life as he struggled over his gun with Mr. Brown, according to government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation into the matter.

The officer, Darren Wilson, has told the authorities that during the scuffle, Mr. Brown reached for the gun. It was fired twice in the car, according to forensics tests performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The first bullet struck Mr. Brown in the arm; the second bullet missed.

The forensics tests showed Mr. Brown's blood on the gun, as well as on the interior door panel and on Officer Wilson's uniform. Officer Wilson told the authorities that Mr. Brown had punched and scratched him repeatedly, leaving swelling on his face and cuts on his neck.

This is the first public account of Officer Wilson's testimony to investigators, but it does not explain why, after he emerged from his vehicle, he fired at Mr. Brown multiple times. It contradicts some witness accounts, and it will not calm those who have been demanding to know why an unarmed man was shot a total of six times. Mr. Brown's death continues to fuel anger and sometimes-violent protests.
That highlighted point is extremely basic. As O’Donnell eventually explained, the major question in this case concerns the reason why Wilson kept firing at Brown even after the struggle at the car was over.

Schmidt, Apuzzo and Bosman acknowledged that problem in the highlighted passage. But after that, they seemed to forget this basic point—and they only discussed what Wilson has said about the struggle at the car.

They didn’t offer Wilson’s account of why he kept firing at Brown after that, eventually killing him. As they continued, they injected Wilson-friendly interpretations into their work, while failing to note that their account has little to do with the key question at hand.

In recent days, we’ve struggled with each of these front-page reports. But on a very regular basis, the work performed by the New York Times just isn’t super-impressive.

Our gatekeepers are long gone. We’re left with newspapers like the Times to serve as back-ups—as watch-dogs.

Here’s a very basic fact about the troubling Way We Are. For some, this fact is highly counterintuitive:

Our elite newspapers just aren’t very sharp. O’Donnell may not be much better.

Tomorrow: The newer watchdogs at Salon

Supplemental: Our fund-raising drive has started at last!


Our least favorite time of the year:
No one puts anything off to quite the extent that we put off our not-always-annual annual fund-raising drive.

It’s our least favorite time of the year! Despite the distaste, only a fool could ignore the need.

In the next week or so, we’d like to lay out our excuses for the past year’s work. We’d like to establish some goals for future work. And we’d like to seek out an actual sponsor for our companion site, How He Got There.

The half-told story at that site really ought to be finished. (Most of the research has been done.) At some point, it got depressing to beat on into the face of the wind—into the face of the code of silence which surrounds many of the topics we’ve explored since 1998.

(At that time, we weren’t really aware of the code of silence.)

Remember when the Irish saved civilization? Actually, we don’t either! Still, we think someone should record our recent political/journalistic history, just in case the time ever comes when people want to stop clowning around with their darling Rachel and learn how to fight to win.

(Last night, Rachel started her week with almost five minutes of funny dogs. In our view, a person could almost see an agenda in that remarkable choice.)

We’ll offer more of these mewlings in the days ahead. For now, though, consider the great season open, perhaps as an adjunct to the World Series:

If you want to support this site, you can just click here.

In the days to come, we’ll try to speculate about where such support could take us.

Last night, Lawrence recalled his astonishing statement from eight weeks back:

“In 30 years of studying the New York Times coverage of these cases, I have never been critical of their work until yesterday.”

In that statement, you can see the undisguised heart of the problem we’ve described down through the years.

Lawrence gets paid for conduct like that.

To even the score, click here!

Supplemental: Lawrence O’Donnell challenged the Times!


Then said it pained him to do so:
Did Lawrence O’Donnell even read that New York Times report?

In our view, he cast himself in the watchdog role, then quickly floundered and flailed. Even worse was something he said midway through his performance.

For background, see our previous post.

Good God! The analysts cried and ran from the room when they heard Lawrence make the highlighted statement:
O’DONNELL (10/20/14): Remember—if you’re on the scene on the street as an eyewitness and a gun is being fired, your ability to flawlessly report every distinct sound while trying to protect your own life might be imperfect.

And the courts understand that. Juries understand that. The law and juries do not demand perfect consistency between circumstantial evidence and eyewitness evidence,

But the New York Times does.

The New York Times has demonstrated that its reporters and editors have been woefully incompetent in evaluating the evidence in this case. It pained me to have to say as much on this program eight weeks ago. The next day, the New York Times public editor agreed with my criticism of the Times article that I ripped apart for you that night, right at this desk.
In that passage, O’Donnell was grossly misstating the type of consistency discussed in last Saturday's New York Times report. For unknown reasons, he was focusing on the number of gunshots which were fired when Michael Brown was killed, a point the Times report didn’t address or discuss.

There was plenty to clarify in the Times report. Near the end of his ten-minute segment, O’Donnell made a key point—the Times article focused on the struggle at the car, not on the later shots which actually killed Michael Brown.

By the nine-minute mark, Lawrence was making a very strong point. Along the way, he had floundered and erred, offering absurd criticisms of the Times report.

Can we talk? The New York Times routinely does horrible work. Much of the most consequential bad journalism of our era has come from the New York Times.

But so what? Despite this rather obvious fact, Lawrence felt he had to say that it pains him to criticize the Times! Eight weeks ago, he made truly hideous comments when he offered his original criticism of the Times’ reporting about Michael Brown:

“In 30 years of studying the New York Times coverage of these cases, I have never been critical of their work until yesterday.”

Believe it or not, Lawrence actually said that. Last night, he went there again.

According to the civics texts, it’s Lawrence’s job to criticize the New York Times when it gets things wrong. According to the civics texts, that would be part of his basic civic duty.

That said, you almost never hear the powerful New York Times criticized on MSNBC. Lawrence and Rachel simply don’t go there. When Lawrence does, he’s careful to say how much it pains him to do so.

That was a horrible moment last night. But it tells you something very important about the way our discourse actually works—about The Way We Are, about our floundering culture.

“In 30 years of studying the New York Times coverage of these cases, I have never been critical of their work until yesterday.”

A major TV star actually said that! That pitiful comment is very much a part of The Way We Are.

GATEKEEPERS GONE: Lawrence O’Donnell in watchdog role!


Part 2—Competence gone:
Was there ever a time when the theory was accurate?

On balance, we’d say there was. At one time, we had a pair of powerful gatekeepers—Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley.

Neither man was crazy or dumb. If you or your message was crazy or dumb, it wasn’t likely that you could get it on the air.

Today, that gatekeeper system is gone. What Dr. Keith Ablow did last week is, by now, completely the norm.

What did Ablow do last week? He aired twelve minutes of manifest lunacy on John Gibson’s mid-day show on Fox News Radio.

For yesterday's post, click this.

Ablow played the shrink all through the hideous segment. With manifest lunacy, he described the America-hating thoughts which have been running through Barack Obama’s America-hating head.

Anyone can gin up stories like that. But when such stories are ginned up by a fairly well-known commentator on a major radio network—by a man who once had his own syndicated TV show!—many citizens won’t understand that they are hearing The Crazy.

In the days of Cronkite and Brinkley, people like Ablow weren’t allowed on the air. Performances like his weren’t broadcast by the nation’s major news organs.

Today, heinous work of this kind is completely the norm. For better or worse, our gatekeepers are manifestly gone.

Work like this is completely the norm. Salon pushed back against Ablow and Gibson, but major news organs did not.

Our biggest news organs can no longer keep such craziness out of the discourse. Nor are they inclined to challenge such conduct—to cast themselves in the secondary role of the vigilant watchdog.

For years, we’ve argued that our biggest news organs should treat such events as news. It’s news when major figures like Ablow toy with the public in such ways. It ought to be reported as news—but organs like the New York Times shrink from providing that watchdog service.

In one way, it may be just as well. It isn’t just that the New York Times lacks the will to play that role.

On balance, the newspaper also lacks the smarts. But then, so do the liberal watchdogs who are now part of our sprawling, incompetent corporate media.

What happens when major liberal stars cast themselves as watchdogs? Consider Lawrence O’Donnell’s attempt to challenge the Times last night.

Lawrence challenged a front-page report in Saturday’s New York Times. In that report, Michael Schmidt described some of what Officer Darren Wilson has reportedly told “investigators” about the killing of Michael Brown.

Schmidt cited anonymous government sources. This is the way he started:
SCHMIDT (10/18/14): The police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two months ago has told investigators that he was pinned in his vehicle and in fear for his life as he struggled over his gun with Mr. Brown, according to government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation into the matter.

The officer, Darren Wilson, has told the authorities that during the scuffle, Mr. Brown reached for the gun. It was fired twice in the car, according to forensics tests performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The first bullet struck Mr. Brown in the arm; the second bullet missed.

The forensics tests showed Mr. Brown's blood on the gun, as well as on the interior door panel and on Officer Wilson's uniform. Officer Wilson told the authorities that Mr. Brown had punched and scratched him repeatedly, leaving swelling on his face and cuts on his neck.

This is the first public account of Officer Wilson's testimony to investigators, but it does not explain why, after he emerged from his vehicle, he fired at Mr. Brown multiple times. It contradicts some witness accounts, and it will not calm those who have been demanding to know why an unarmed man was shot a total of six times. Mr. Brown's death continues to fuel anger and sometimes-violent protests.
Schmidt sourced his information to unnamed government officials. He later said that his account of Wilson's statements did not “come from the Ferguson Police Department or from officials whose activities are being investigated as part of the [federal] civil rights inquiry.”

If it’s accurate, Schmidt’s report seems to include some new forensic information. Meanwhile, the reporter stated an important point in his fourth paragraph:

Wilson’s account of the struggle at the car does not explain why he fired at Brown multiple times after he left his car. That remains the major question in a potential criminal case. Wilson’s account of the fight at the car doesn’t resolve that question.

On last night’s program, O’Donnell cast himself in the role of watchdog concerning the Times report. In the course of a ten-minute monologue, he even made some accurate statements about various questions surrounding this case.

To watch the whole segment, click here.

That said, it didn’t take long for Watchdog O’Donnell to go substantially wrong. Instantly, he battered the Times for “pretend[ing] it had a scoop” in its front-page report.

Now that our gatekeepers are gone, how competent are our watchdogs? Barely two minutes into his segment, this would-be watchdog said this:
O’DONNELL (10/20/14): The useful information in the New York Times article is the circumstantial evidence leaked by the government officials who told the Times that the FBI forensics tests show that the officer’s gun was fired twice inside the car, with the first bullet hitting Michael Brown in the arm and the second bullet himself him completely...

The Times then gets very confused about what those forensic findings mean. The article says it “contradicts” some witness accounts, but then fails to point out any contradictions, because the New York Times and its reporters do not seem to understand what an actual contradiction is in eyewitness testimony.
How competent are today’s high-profile corporate media stars? With our gatekeepers dead and gone, just how competent are our potential watchdogs?

Lawrence O’Donnell is very well-paid. He likes to say that he went to Harvard. He has been a major media figure for more than fifteen years.

But alas! Less than three minutes into his watchdog report, O’Donnell was flatly wrong:

In the passage quoted above, he mocked the Times for getting “very confused” about those forensic findings. More specifically, he said the Times “failed to point out any contradictions” in its report.

He said that the Times doesn’t seem to know what an actual contradiction looks like!

Gack! The Times report does specify at least one “direct contradiction” between Officer Wilson’s reported account and an eyewitness account. That contradiction is specified in the passage below. Did Lawrence read this report?
SCHMIDT: Few witnesses had perfect vantage points for the fight in the car, which occurred just after noon on Aug. 9. Mr. Brown was walking down the middle of the street with a friend, Dorian Johnson, when Officer Wilson stopped his S.U.V., a Chevy Tahoe, to order them to the sidewalk.

Within seconds, the encounter turned into a physical struggle, as the officer and Mr. Brown became entangled through the open driver's-side window.


Mr. Johnson's description of the scuffle is detailed and specific, and directly contradicts what Officer Wilson has told the authorities.

Mr. Johnson has said that Officer Wilson was the aggressor, backing up his vehicle and opening the door, which hit Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brown and then bounced back.

''He just reached his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around his neck, and he was trying to choke my friend,'' Mr. Johnson told reporters after the shooting. ''He was trying to get away, and the officer then reached out and grabbed his arm to pull him inside the car.''

Officer Wilson then drew his weapon, Mr. Johnson said, and threatened to shoot.

''In the same moment, the first shot went off,'' he said. ''We looked at him. He was shot. There was blood coming from him. And we took off running.''

Never, Mr. Johnson said, did Mr. Brown reach for the officer's weapon.
We don’t know what happened at the car, but that sounds like a fairly direct “contradiction” to us! But as he continued last night, O’Donnell acted as if the Times was only claiming contradictions concerning the number of shots which Officer Wilson fired.

On and on the watchdog went, explaining that witnesses are often wrong about the number of gunshots which get fired. He acted as if he hadn’t read the actual Times report.

O’Donnell has been a high-ranking media figure for fifteen years. Did we mention the fact that he went to Harvard?

Despite serial proclamations of greatness, Lawrence bungled quickly last night. In our world, the gatekeepers are gone—and the watchdogs are often incompetent or heavily biased.

Having said that, let us also say this: There was plenty to clarify about that Times report.

The Times report focused heavily on the struggle at the car. After the initial disclaimer shown above, it largely abandoned the central question which remains in this case—the question of why Wilson fired a large number of gunshots, killing Brown, after the struggle at the car was over.

There was a great deal to clarify in that report. But when he tried, our liberal watchdog was almost instantly wrong.

Cronkite and Brinkley are gone, long gone. For better or worse, no one can play the gatekeeper role at this time.

Our gatekeepers are gone, and even worse, our watchdogs just aren’t very sharp! That’s certainly true of the New York Times, a point we’ll examine tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Horrible front-page reporting

The Way We Are: We’re in Week 3 of our current award-winning series, The Way We Are. The series examines the way our discourse actually works, as opposed to the way we might hear it described by major media figures.

To us, The Way We Are seems grim. For all previous posts, click here.

Links to all posts: The Way We Are!


Read each thrilling installment:
In our award-winning series, The Way We Are, we explore the way our national discourse actually works, as opposed to what schoolchildren read in their civics books.

Be sure to read each thrilling installment! We’ll post all links below:

Week One—The Way We Are
Part 1: Bill Clinton discussed those “storylines,” like Krugman and Shipp before him
Part 2: When Cillizza failed to respond, it was classic press behavior
Part 3: Breaking (almost) all the rules, the New York Times discussed the sexist trashing of Hillary Clinton
Part 4: Storyline ahoy! Maureen Dowd is still upset about 1994!
Part 5: Cokie pretended to name the scripts which drove Campaign 2000

Week Two—The Way We Argue
Part 1: Bombs away! Ben Affleck and Bill Maher staged a televised fight
Part 2: Affleck’s trio of bombs proved listening can be hard
Part 3: Affleck kept repeating his script, the way fundamentalists do
Part 4: Kristof agreed with Harris and Maher. And yet the bombs still fell
Part 5: Increasingly, our liberal world leans toward the dogma rules

Week Three—Gatekeepers Gone
Part 1: The doctor was IN—and was out of his mind. No dimwit need not apply!

Supplemental: Concerning a powerful photograph!


Post reader gets it right:
Each Saturday, the hard-copy Washington Post includes a full page of letters from its readers.

The page is called Free for All. This Saturday, a Post reader from suburban Gaithersburg, Maryland got something very right.

She had written in praise of a photograph which ran ten days before. This is what she wrote:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (10/18/14): Michel du Cille’s photo of Esther Tokpah, the 11-year-old Liberian whose parents died of Ebola [“A new generation of orphans,” front page, Oct. 8], deserves the highest award possible. It told a story of haunting bewilderment and grief in the face of tragic reality. The courageous presence of physician Jerry Brown, offering words of comfort, added poignancy to this extraordinary window into one of our world’s unspeakable nightmares. I am humbled, heartbroken and grateful.

K— J—, Gaithersburg
“I am humbled, heartbroken and grateful.“ Those are unusual things to say about a photograph. But there the photo in question was, published again by the Post.

Especially in black and white, it’s an astonishing photo. On-line, the Post presents the photo in color, in which it loses some of its remarkable power.

On Saturday morning, we looked at the photograph in question in black and white:

It shows the 11-year-old girl who had lost her parents. Tears are streaming from her eyes. Her lips are pursed extremely hard against her grief.

We’ve looked at that photograph quite a few times since we first saw it Saturday morning. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a more penetrating photo. It’s the kind of photo which makes you wonder why any of us ever do any of the things we do.

We can’t show you the photo in black and white. In color, we think it shows us much less.

Still, we’ll suggest that you give it a look. In our view, the reader from Gaithersburg had a good eye.

The photo does deserve the highest commendation, if we’re still able to think that commendations matter. It may also make a person want to look away. Especially in black and white, its power explains the unusual set of reactions the reader described.

Why do we do the things we do? That very unusual photograph left us asking that.

GATEKEEPERS GONE: The doctor was IN—and was out of his mind!


Part 1—No dimwit need not apply:
At one time, it couldn’t have happened.

Or so the theory goes.

At one point, the theory says, we had competent gatekeepers. They kept our discourse on track.

They kept The Crazy out of the discourse—The Crazy and The Big Dumb.

They restricted the things we the people could hear—the ideas we were allowed to ponder. It was hard to hear crazy shit at that time, thanks to the work of our gatekeepers. It was highly unlikely that you would get scripted by people who were well-intentioned but basically dumb.

Did such a golden age ever exist? There’s no easy way to answer that question. But when you hear this theory advanced, you’ll typically hear two gatekeepers named:

Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley.

There were lots of newspaper back in that day; some of them left a great deal to be desired. But there were only two, or possibly three, TV networks doing news. And TV had perhaps become the major medium guiding the American discourse.

Cronkite and Brinkley were different people, but neither man was crazy or dumb. They restricted the things we the people could hear. They sifted out the crazy and the dumb.

It couldn’t have happened, the theory says, when they were sifting the things we got to hear. Americans couldn’t have heard last week’s radio interview with the heinous Keith Ablow.

We’ll grant you this—Dr. Keith Ablow isn’t a giant figure in the American discourse. He isn’t Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly. He isn’t as significant as Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes.

That said, Ablow is a regular contributor on the Fox News Channel. Last week, he was interviewed on John Gibson’s Fox News Radio program.

Gibson once hosted the 5 P.M. program on the Fox News Channel. Last Tuesday, he spent twelve minutes letting Ablow discuss Ebola in much the way Luke Brinker described at the new Salon:
BRINKER (10/15/14): Psychiatrist Keith Ablow, a member of Fox News’ Medical A Team, embarked on an unhinged racial rant against President Obama this week, charging that Obama wants Ebola to spread in the U.S. because his “affinities, his affiliations are with” Africa, “not us.”

Speaking with Fox News Radio host John Gibson yesterday, Ablow discussed his conspiracy theory at length. Attempting to channel Obama’s inner thoughts, Ablow imagined that the president opposes sealing America’s borders to travelers from Ebola-stricken countries because Obama believes, “if only unconsciously,” that the U.S. has inflicted a “plague of colonialism” on the world and that travel restrictions would therefore be unfair.

“You miserable people have destroyed so much in the world in terms of good things, and now you’re going to build a wall?,” Ablow pictured Obama saying.
“Really? To insulate yourself from things that are devastating other nations when your gains are ill-gotten? And the very fact that you can build a wall—you’re using wealth that you never should have had to build it. This is just another manifestation of you didn’t build that, business.”

Ablow’s armchair psychiatry grew particularly disturbing when he speculated that Obama hasn’t implemented a travel ban for west African countries because the president’s “affinities, his affiliations are with them. Not us. That’s what people seem unwilling to accept. He’s their leader...we don’t have a president.”
If you click here, you can listen to Gibson’s twelve-minute discussion with Ablow. As his source, Brinker cited this earlier report by Eric Hananoki of Media Matters.

At one time, the theory goes, that interview couldn’t have happened on major radio stations. There were gatekeepers in the media who didn’t allow such lunacy on major broadcast outlets.

Is Keith Ablow really that crazy? Or does he just play a crazy doctor on TV?

We can’t answer that question, though it’s fairly clear that Gibson knew that Ablow’s presentation was nuts. That said, there was a time when such ludicrous presentations would not have been allowed on major media outlets.

Those days ceased to exist a long time ago. Today, we live in an age of The Crazy and The Dumb—in an age with the gatekeepers gone.

All around the countryside, you can see and hear the effects of having our gatekeepers gone. You can certainly hear the effects of their absence if you listen to Ablow’s twelve-minute discussion with Gibson.

Here’s the problem:

Many people who listened that day couldn’t tell that Ablow’s presentation was basically crazy. They may have thought the heinous Ablow was basically making sense.

In an earlier age, those people wouldn’t have been misled that way. Ablow’s lunacy wouldn’t have been allowed on a major radio outlet.

When we listened to that tape, we heard the effects of having our gatekeepers gone. But then, we see and hear the absence of competent gatekeepers all across our broken American discourse.

It’s easy for liberals to sense their absence when we hear the lunacy broadcast by Fox. It may be harder for us to sense the gatekeepers’ absence when we watch MSNBC, or when we read the work at the new Salon, or when we read the New York Times.

That said, competent gatekeepers are generally gone from all those sites. All too often, they’ve been replaced by men in suits—by corporate producers eager to sell us The Crazy and The Dumb.

This morning, Salon was selling The Dumb in this, its featured report. (Some commenters could tell how dumb it was.) Chuck Todd and Willie Geist were selling The Dumb on yesterday’s Meet the Press.

MSNBC was selling The Dumb on several of last Friday night’s shows. And all around the emerging liberal world, highly passionate, young liberal writers keep selling versions of The Dumb—well-intentioned but clueless theoretics which are destined to make laughing-stocks out of the liberal world.

We have an important secret to tell you—we the people aren’t always tremendously sharp. This is very much part of The Way We Are—and, with our gatekeepers gone, no one can protect us from our credulous reactions to waves of dumb ideas.

Ablow was selling The Crazy last week. The Crazy is a big industry now. Unfortunately, so is The Dumb.

Tomorrow: We’re sorry, but this was just dumb

Coming later today: Links to all previous posts in our current award-winning series, The Way We Are