Supplemental: Concerning the desperate need for a hook!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2014

The use of the magic photo: Kevin Drum links to our earlier post about Peter Baker’s use of the magic photo. Agreeing with our deathless judgment, the gentleman says this:
DRUM (8/20/14): Look, I've been there. You want to say something interesting. You need a hook. But come on. If you want to make the case that racial issues are more immediate for Holder than for Obama, go ahead. But don't pretend that an ordinary White House photograph tells you anything. That's just embarrassing.
After posting this morning, this thought occurred to us:

Baker needed a magic hook for that “News Analysis.” That’s because of what he says in his “News Analysis.”

What Baker is actually saying is this: Obama’s a lazy, uncaring cretin who doesn’t give a rat’s asp if black kids get shot and killed. That’s an extremely ugly charge, of course.

It’s hard to know how you could get to an “analysis” like that without using some ridiculous hook. How would you start that “analysis” without some ridiculous hook?

One more point:

It’s stunning to see the way the mainstream press has begun to loathe Obama. In today’s Times, Baker’s “analysis” and Maureen Dowd’s column are written from the same script.

It’s a deeply ugly script. All joking aside, we often wonder if our journalists are actually real human people. Is human life an elaborate joke of the gods, as Homer and Rod Serling said?

An additional source for that question: Yesterday, we received our copy of Fawn Brodie’s 1981 “psychobiography,” Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character.

The book is painful to read. It’s stunning to think that, in 1981, the New York Times felt it had to review it respectfully.

For a strange time, click this.

Even more stunning is the fact that Rick Perlstein cites the book all through Chapter Two of Nixonland. Persistently, he embellishes Brodie’s already absurd presentations. (See future posts.)

Brodie’s book is numbing to read. All kidding aside, it made us wonder where we actually are.

We challenge you. Click that link.


Supplemental: Salon and Rothkopf get it right!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2014

Willing to ask, what is truth: We’re happy to say that the new Salon has done something journalistic!

To convince yourselves, click here.
A bright young kid named Joanna Rothkopf is the virtuous party. (Middlebury, class of 2012!)

Working from a New York Times report, Rothkopf said there are conflicting accounts of the way Michael Brown came to be shot and killed. She said the grand jury which convenes today will have to figure out what actually happened.

Rothkopf didn’t do a perfect job of paraphrasing the Times. Still, it’s nice to see Salon step outside the realm of hard scripting for once.

Here’s what the New York Times said at the start of today’s report, Frances Robles reporting:
ROBLES (8/20/14): As a county grand jury prepared to hear evidence on Wednesday in the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer that touched off 10 days of unrest here, witnesses have given investigators sharply conflicting accounts of the killing.

Some of the accounts seem to agree on how the fatal altercation initially unfolded: with a struggle between the officer, Darren Wilson, and the teenager, Michael Brown. Officer Wilson was inside his patrol car at the time, while Mr. Brown, who was unarmed, was leaning in through an open window.

Many witnesses also agreed on what happened next: Officer Wilson’s firearm went off inside the car, Mr. Brown ran away, the officer got out of his car and began firing toward Mr. Brown, and then Mr. Brown stopped, turned around and faced the officer.

But on the crucial moments that followed, the accounts differ sharply, officials say. Some witnesses say that Mr. Brown, 18, moved toward Officer Wilson, possibly in a threatening manner, when the officer shot him dead. But others say that Mr. Brown was not moving and may even have had his hands up when he was killed.
According to Robles, “the accounts of what witnesses have said come from some of those witnesses themselves, law enforcement authorities and others in Ferguson. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation.”

Who are these witnesses? We don’t know.

How sharp are the differences in their accounts? We don’t know that either. Nor do we have any way of knowing what actually happened when Brown was killed, beyond the obvious.

That said, this report from the New York Times is important. Here’s why:

If you watched cable news last night, you saw the world splitting in two. In our view, Our Own Liberal World was on the wrong side of the divide once again.

On Fox, you heard complaints about prejudgment. On MSNBC, prejudgment was being applauded. Many people spoke as if the purpose of our justice system is to reach the verdicts which will calm those who have prejudged.

What actually happened when Brown was killed? We can’t tell you that. But once again, we liberals have cast ourselves on the side of old-fashioned southern justice.

The claim that Brown was shot “in the back” has already turned out to be wrong. But then, many of our claims turned out to be wrong in the Trayvon Martin killing, including the early heinous claim that two shots were fired that night—a warning shot and a second “kill shot.”

That heinous claim appeared in the New York Times, courtesy of lawyers for the Martins. The claim that Brown was shot “in the back” was being repeated on the front page of the Washington Post last Sunday, long after it should have been clear that newspapers should be careful.

How does southern justice work, whether performed by red or blue cadres? Wesley Lowery’s report in today’s Washington Post describes the ugly two-step which has wreaked havoc all through our American history.

Let’s hear it for southern justice! Fresh from his recent imprisonment, Lowery describes the way the mob burned the QuikTrip down:
LOWREY (8/20/14): The red and white gas station at the corner of West Florissant Avenue and Northwinds Estates Drive was the victim of a rumor.

On Sunday, there was a false report that employees of the gas station had called 911 to report that Michael Brown, whose fatal shooting by police 11 days ago precipitated the crisis in the city, had robbed the place. Enraged protesters burned the gas station to the ground.

Destroyed, it sat unattended for days, emerging as the depressing backdrop for cable news live reports—a sign of the chaos and destruction that engulfs the streets of Ferguson after each nightfall.
There you see the ugly two-step, live and direct from American history:
First step: Rumor starts; enraged mob believes it.
Second step: Mob burns store to the ground.
Or kills bad person. Whatever!

This is a time-honored part of our American history. The embarrassment in recent years involves the way the liberal world has cast itself in the role of the mob.

Last night, The One True Channel was prejudging rather hard. Our stars discussed the way the grand jury has to please the angry people in the street.

Many people in the street have prejudged the facts. In part, this has happened because of the failure of our alleged journalists.

This morning, Salon is saying the facts aren’t settled yet. Such words have never pleased the mob. In comments, Rothkopf is getting pounded by advocates of Our Own Southern Justice.

Journalistic values have often been AWOL in the past week. This morning, Salon and Rothkopf clambered back on board the bus.

This just in from Postscript land: We understand. In this case, you know what happened.

Please understand one basic fact. The mob has always said that!

NO JOURNALISM, NO JUSTICE: Two men walk into a White House photo!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2014

Part 3—The dreams of Baker and Dowd: Do journalistic values matter at times like this?

Does it matter if we deal in facts instead of cartoons and novels? Are life-forms of our type even able to tell the difference?

We asked those questions all last night as we rotated through the three news channels. That said, this morning’s New York Times is a tribute to non-journalistic values.

Let’s start with the novel Peter Baker typed for the paper’s front page.

Baker’s piece is presented as a “News Analysis.”
As it starts, it’s built around what Baker sees, or thinks he sees, in a White House photo:
BAKER (8/20/14): The two men in open-collar shirts sat facing each other, papers and a BlackBerry strewn on a coffee table, sober looks on both their faces. One leaned forward, gesturing with his left hand, clearly doing the talking. The other sat back in his chair, two fingers pressed to his temple as he listened intently.

When violence erupted last week after a police shooting in Missouri, President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. huddled on Martha’s Vineyard where both were on vacation. But as the most powerful African-Americans in the nation confront its enduring racial divide, they come at it from fundamentally different backgrounds and points of view.

Mr. Holder, 63, is the one leaning forward, both in the photograph released by the White House and on the issues underlying the crisis in Ferguson, Mo. A child of the civil rights era, he grew up shaped by the images of violence in Selma, Ala., and joined sit-ins at Columbia University where protesters renamed an office after Malcolm X. Now in high office, he pushes for policy changes and is to fly on Wednesday to Ferguson to personally promise justice in the case of a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer.

Mr. Obama, 53, is the one seemingly holding back in the White House photograph, contemplative, even brooding, as if seeking to understand how events could get so out of hand. He was too young and removed to experience the turmoil of the 1960s, growing up in a multiracial household in Hawaii and Indonesia. As he now seeks balance in an unbalanced time, he wrestles with the ghosts of history that his landmark election, however heady, failed to exorcise.
Do Obama and Holder come from “fundamentally different backgrounds?” If we might borrow from the bard, it’s pretty much as you like it.

Do the two men have “fundamentally different points of view” about the nation’s racial divide?

To the extent that we know what that means, we find it hard to believe. But we certainly wouldn’t base our judgment on what “seemingly” can be seen in a single White House photo.

Good God! The New York Times may as well give Baker an etch-a-sketch machine! Just for starters, go ahead—just look at that White House photo!

Is it really clear to you who is “doing the talking?” It isn’t real clear to us! But if Holder is the one doing the talking, wouldn’t a second photo, moments later, perhaps show the roles reversed?

The caption beneath the photo says this. Truly, we are lowly:

“After returning from vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told President Obama at the White House on Monday that he would go to Ferguson, Mo.”

How do we know that Holder told Obama? How do we know that Obama didn’t tell Holder where to go?

Is the New York Times run by rational animals? As he continued, Baker constructed a “News Analysis” which would have struck us as dumb as an op-ed column. Quoting some highly personal claims, he continued discussing “the differences between the two men:”
BAKER (continuing directly): The differences between the two men have drawn criticism since the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, as some African-Americans praise Mr. Holder for his outspokenness and lament or even denounce Mr. Obama for his caution. Michael Eric Dyson, a prominent author and Georgetown University professor, called the president’s public statement on Monday a “stunning epic failure” that seemed to blame black men rather than armed police.

“This is a community aflame with a passion to know the truth, and Obama is treating it dispassionately and with distance,” he said. “There is no blood flowing through the veins with empathy.”

On the other hand, Mr. Dyson said: “Eric feels it in his gut. It rises to his brain. It’s expressed on his tongue.” Mr. Holder, he added, is “an up and down race man who understands the moral consequences of the law on the lives of black people.”

Such sentiments exasperate the White House, which denies any substantive distance between the two. Aides to Mr. Obama said he has been less visceral in his public remarks than his comments after the Trayvon Martin case because there is still an active investigation.
Duh! On the surface, those comments by Dyson strike us as rather excessive. But then, Baker made little attempt to explain Dyson’s remarks.

Question: When did Dyson call Obama’s statement a “stunning epic failure?” Using Google and Nexis, we find no record of any such comment.

On that basis, we assume that Dyson said these things in an interview, though Baker doesn’t say.

That said, in what way does Dyson think that Obama “seemed to blame black men rather than armed police” in Monday’s press conference? And by the way—what did Obama supposedly blame black men for?

As he repeated those aggressive statements, Baker didn’t even try to explain what Dyson actually meant. The level of insult is rather high. Attempts at elucidation barely exist.

Inside the hard-copy paper, Baker’s editor got into the act. Pathetically, the Times offered this boxed sub-headline:

“A child of the civil rights era whose views resonate with many.”

Needless to say, Holder’s real or imagined views are also loathed by many! That silly sub-headline is simply a version of the widely-mocked hook, “Some say.”

Baker was soon lost in the weeds of Pleasing Insider Gossip. He noted that Obama and Holder are so close that their families vacation together. Their wives are “even closer!”

It didn’t seem to occur to Baker that these revelations undermine his basic hook—the notion that Obama and Holder have “fundamentally different points of view” about our “racial divide.”

Baker’s piece was built upon the way a photograph seems to seem. Judged by journalistic norms, the piece strikes us as empty, dumb, unhelpful, clueless, unfortunate.

That said, Maureen Dowd’s column in today’s Times may be the dumbest she’s ever written. And that covers a lot of piddle from a deeply piddle-prone scribe.

Dowd is fuming and spouting today about the fact that Obama 1) plays golf and 2) refuses to fly to St. Louis “to raise consciousness” (her actual words).

The problems with this suggestion would occur to anyone other than Dowd. Meanwhile, this is her boxed sub-headline, as written by Dowd herself:

“Barry is bored”

Dowd’s act about the debutante “Barry” is just amazingly old. Today, she ratchets her tired old themes even further. But nothing will keep this piddle from appearing over the next few years.

Can we talk? As we’ve long noted, Maureen Dowd has been visibly crazy for years. But here is today’s most instructive fact:

At the Times, no one can’t tell!

Do journalistic values matter at all at the Times? As we’ve long noted, Dowd built seven columns in Campaign 2000 around Candidate Gore’s deeply concerning bald spot.

Her final column of the campaign appeared on the Sunday before the nation voted. Pathetically, it started like this, Dowd-written headline included:
DOWD (11/5/00): I Feel Pretty

I feel stunning
And entrancing,
Feel like running and dancing for joy . . .


O.K., enough gloating. Behave, Albert. Just look in the mirror now and put on your serious I only-care-about-the-issues face.

If I rub in a tad more of this mahogany-colored industrial mousse, the Spot will disappear under my Reagan pompadour.
In a journalistic world, a caring person would have taken this person by the arm and lead her away to a safe, quiet place. But life-forms at the New York Times have never been able to see the ugliness or the craziness of Dowd’s never-ending work.

As we said at the start of this piece, it isn’t clear that we the humans know how to process journalistic values. This morning, the life-forms at the New York Times are determined to showcase this fact.

Supplemental: No leaders, no justice!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2014

Where has the leadership been: We were surprised by a conversation on last evening’s Maddow program.

Maddow interviewed Lizz Brown, a St. Louis talk show host. Before introducing her guest, Maddow indirectly raised a pair of questions we have been puzzling about.

According to Maddow, some local people had suggested that the all-night protests should be all-night no more. Wondering if those people could really be local leaders, Maddow decided to ask Brown:
MADDOW (8/18/14): Tonight in Missouri, police are not imposing the midnight to 5 a.m. curfew that they imposed the last two nights. But there was an effort today by groups who want to be seen as leaders on the ground, whether or not they are—

There was an effort today, at this press conference, to ask people, ask protesters to please not protest after dark, not just tonight but for the next five nights.

Who has the credibility, locally, to make that kind of “ask” in this community right now? Who had that kind of credibility coming into this crisis, and who is earning that kind of credibility by being a leader, by being a trustworthy leader now as we are on Day 9 of this crisis and presumably heading into Day 10?

Joining us now is Lizz Brown. She’s an attorney and columnist for the St. Louis American.
For what it’s worth, Brown seems to have written exactly one column for the St. Louis American, a venerable black weekly. Whatever! It was close enough for cable!

Back to the issues at hand:

For days, we’d been wondering why local black leaders didn’t suggest that the all-night protests stop running all night.

In several ways, the all-night protests seemed maddeningly self-defeating. For days, we’d wondered why local leaders weren’t trying to promote a better approach, an approach more likely to win.

And that wasn’t all! As we noted this morning, we wondered where local leaders have been when we read those anecdotal reports about widespread racial speed traps in the Ferguson area. If those anecdotal claims were accurate, why hadn’t local leaders addressed this appalling state of affairs?

Where has local leadership been? Lizz Brown balled her fists and stated these views:
BROWN: I think that we have to start the conversation with the observation that, prior to what has happened in Ferguson, there’s been a leadership void.

There has been a leadership void politically. We have one African-American elected official in the Ferguson area.

There’s been a political void with respect to organizations reaching out and connecting with young people. There’s been a political void in the sense that citizens have pulled themselves out of the political process.

So there’s a void for leadership in this community. And I think that some of the things that we’re seeing on the ground right now is a reflection of the fact that there is a void.
According to Brown, leadership has been lacking. When Maddow asked if any leadership has been emerging, Brown extended her scathing assessment:
MADDOW: And over the course of these nine days, have you seen anything productive toward building trusted leadership? I mean, rather than people just leaping into the void and declaring themselves in charge or declaring themselves an inspiration? Have you seen anything constructive and ground-up and real in terms of people essentially earning their way into positions of trust?

BROWN: One of the things that I’ve seen—

There’s a person that I have worked with in the past who has stepped quietly in to begin to organize young people. He’s brought together about 60 or 70 young people who came to him with questions of, “What do we do?”

And this person’s expertise is political. He’s a community organizer. And what he has done is, he’s managed to begin to train these young people and as of today—

All 60 of those young people, before this event, they were not registered to vote. But as of today, they are registered to vote. And they’re coming together to try to figure out a plan moving forward. Because they’re being taught that it matters that you, whether or not you engage yourself politically. You have to have control of your political world.

I submit to you, Rachel, that had there been active and engaged political activity within this community, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.
All sixty of those young people weren’t registered to vote? If that’s even close to true, we’re being told a terrible secret about the modern world.

Those are Brown’s assessments, not ours. For ourselves, we have no knowledge of the St. Louis community.

Actually, check that:

On Sunday, we watched the televised meeting at Ferguson’s Greater Grace Church. We couldn’t help noting that local clergy seem to be showing plenty of leadership when it comes to six-course meals.

Perhaps we’re being unfair. That said, Brown’s portrait was scathing.

Above, we’ve showed you Brown’s assessment of the scene in Ferguson. That said, we’ve been struck, for many years, by the lack of leadership from the nation’s leading civil rights organizations.

Sixty years ago, these groups provided some of the most brilliant political and moral leadership in modern world history. What ideas have you heard from them lately? Where has that leadership gone?

Try this:

All across the American spectrum, life is very good today for those who sit at the top. That may affect moral and political leadership in Ferguson churches. It may affect the quality of leadership in our national civil rights orgs.

In our view, it plainly affects intellectual leadership on our “cable news channels.”

In our view, Maddow was providing some very weak “journalistic” leadership last night. We’ll continue exploring that topic this week. We suspect that Brown may have spoken some terrible truths about the rest of our world.

Still coming: The Post on those racial speed traps

NO JOURNALISM, NO JUSTICE: In search of journalistic values!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2014

Part 2—A tale of three news reports: As a matter of theory, journalistic values are very important at a time like this.

As a matter of theory, journalists should help citizens know when certain facts have been established. They should also caution citizens about the facts which aren’t known.

We humans are strongly inclined to leap ahead of known facts. As a matter of theory, journalists are supposed to drag us back into line.

Needless to say, this is all theory. In practice, journalistic and scholarly norms are routinely honored in the breech. (Just check our Nixonland posts.)

Last night, for instance, we’d have to say that Rachel Maddow continued to nail down a basic fact—she simply isn’t a journalist. The mindset seems to be missing inside her true-believing head.

More on that problem at some point, perhaps even later today! For now, let’s discuss—or try to discuss—three different news reports.

Concerning the shooting of Michael Brown: Lawrence O’Donnell performed an act of journalism last night.

Or at least, we think he did. MSNBC hasn’t yet posted the transcript of his 10 PM program. Given the way the news org works, you can’t be entirely sure that they ever will.

(CNN’s 10 PM hour has already been posted.)

Here’s what we think we saw Lawrence do—and it was journalistic. We think we saw him establish the fact that, even though Michael Brown plainly wasn’t “shot in the back,” he might have been shot at, even hit, from behind.

That’s what we thought we saw Lawrence establish in a long, careful interview with Shawn Parcells, one of the pathologists who conducted that second autopsy for the Brown family.

Conceivably, one of the wounds on Brown’s arms could have come from behind. That’s what we thought we saw Lawrence establish last night.

That said, the transcript hasn’t been posted yet. The videotape of the segments in question are available on-line, and you can find them here. For ourselves, we’ve exhausted our patience with MSNBC’s endless Purex ads through a fruitless search for something we saw on Rachel Maddow’s second hour last night.

A person can only sit through so many of those Purex ads. In fairness, someone has to pick up the tab for Maddow’s $7 million salary.

For notes on that oddly fruitless search, see our third topic, below.

Concerning those traffic stops: Yesterday, we discussed the rather peculiar front page of Sunday’s Washington Post. Midway through Manuel Roig-Franzia’s lengthy human interest report, we were struck by some anecdotal accounts by some Ferguson residents.

Why are people in Ferguson angry with local police? We came away from this passage with an obvious question:
ROIG-FRANZIA (8/17/14): The fraught relationship between African Americans, a majority in Ferguson, and the nearly all-white police force long preceded the eruption of protests.

In interview after interview, black men and women talked about their fears of random stops while driving in the city, as well as in neighboring municipalities.

Marcus White, an acquaintance of Brown who works for a moving company, said he frequently has to spend the night in his employer's office because he can't find anyone to drive him home to Ferguson.

"They'll tell me, 'I don't go past Goodfellow,' " he said, referencing one of the streets near the line that separates the county of St. Louis from the city of the same name.

Many here have their own catalogue of towns that they dare not drive through. They sketch long, circuitous routes to avoid the small areas where they feel most targeted, a concern buttressed by statistics that show far higher numbers of traffic stops involving African Americans than whites in the St. Louis suburbs.

"More than four people in the car, they're going to pull you over," said Earl Lee Jr., a 41-year-old warehouse worker who lives in a nearby suburb. "Tint on your windows, they're going to pull you over. Too early in the morning, they think you're up to something. Too late, they think you're up to something. When are you supposed to drive?”
Needless to say, people have been aware of “speed traps” for a very long time. In this case, people were describing absurd situations caused by extensive racial speed traps.

An obvious question popped into our heads: Assuming those reports are accurate, why would such a situation have been tolerated over the course of time? Why hasn’t local leadership addressed this absurd situation?

This question didn’t arise in Roig-Franzia’s report; there’s no reason why it had to. In today’s supplemental post, we’ll show you what happened earlier last week when a twenty-something at the Post tried to address the statistics Roig-Franzia cited—the “statistics that show far higher numbers of traffic stops involving African Americans than whites in the St. Louis suburbs.”

We’ll also post the striking remarks by a St. Louis columnist about the lack of local leadership in the black community.

Last week, we averted our gaze when Maddow discussed those statistics concerning traffic stops. Simply put, Maddow almost totally lacks the journalistic mindset.

Later today, we’ll show you what happened when a kid at the Washington Post tried to tackle this topic. Youth is being served at the Post. In the process, all too often, readers are not being served.

Concerning improved police work: Granted, it happened after midnight. But we’re almost certain we saw it.

We refer to a conversation between Rachel Maddow and James Cavanaugh, MSNBC’s law enforcement analyst.

In this conversation, Cavanaugh briefly flipped the channel’s relentless, pounding script. He recalled the large numbers of deaths which occurred in Newark and Detroit, and in other cities, during racial disturbances of the 1960s and 1970s.

Noting the lack of deaths during the Ferguson protests of the past week, Cavanaugh said we ought to give credit where it is due. Law enforcement is now functioning better in such situations, or so Cavanaugh said.

We know we saw Cavanaugh make these remarks to someone last night. We’re fairly sure he spoke with Maddow, who (we’d say) received his comments less than enthusiastically.

We don’t even know if Cavanaugh is right in his assessment. We thought his comments were journalistically interesting because they flew in the face of the party line which is constantly churned by anti-journalists like Maddow on The One True Channel.

This morning, we fought through MSNBC’s Purex ads in search of the segment with Cavanaugh. The segment doesn’t seem to have been posted at Maddow’s site.

All the other segments have been posted from Maddow’s midnight hour last night. In total broadcast time, they add up to roughly 37 minutes, suggesting that one additional segment is somehow missing in action.

Journalistically, we thought Cavanaugh’s presentation was interesting. However you rate its general point of view, MSNBC is rapidly becoming the most one-sided of the news channels. At this point, we’d have to say that Fox provides a much wider spectrum of views that The One True Channel does.

Journalistically, we thought Cavanaugh’s presentation was interesting, for several reasons. Journalistically, we went to find it—and it wasn’t there.

Tomorrow: “Murder,” she said

Later today: The Post limns those traffic stops

All this week: Reporting Michael Brown!

MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2014

In search of journalistic values: Michael Brown’s death is a major event. All this week, we’ll be discussing the way our major news orgs have reported, or have failed to report, the unfolding chain of events.

According to our civics texts, we need good journalism at times like this.
In our view, the journalism hasn’t been especially good to date.

Final note: We're postponing our award-winning series, The Houses of Journalist County.

We still plan to present that award-winning work, with its links to inspiring photo spreads. But these events come first.

Supplemental: Nixon’s godforsaken burgs!

MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2014

When journalists fashion cartoons: Was Richard Nixon already crazy when he was just 11?

That’s the sense of Rick Perlstein’s writing in his 2008 best-seller, Nixonland.

We started discussing this topic last weekend. This is the highly peculiar passage in question:
PERLSTEIN (page 21): Richard Nixon was a serial collector of resentments. He raged for what he could not have or control. At the age of seven, he so wanted a jar of pollywogs a younger boy had collected from the forbidden canal that he beaned the kid in the head with a toy hatchet (his victim bore the scar for life). He ever felt unfairly put upon: at age ten he wrote a letter to the mother he revered, rendered distant by the raising of four other often-sickly boys, for a school assignment in the voice of a pet. Addressed “My Dear Master,” it spun out fantastic images of unearned persecutions. “The two dogs that you left with me are very bad to me…While going through the woods one of the boys triped [sic] and fell on me...He kiked [sic] me in the side...I wish you could come home right now.” A few months later, he betrayed another foreshadowing trait: groveling to elevate his status in life. “Please consider me for the position of office boy mentioned in the Times paper,” he wrote to the big-city daily his family took and which he devoured, the reactionary Los Angeles Times. “I am eleven years of age...I am willing to come to your office at any time and I will accept any pay offered.”

He contained his raging ambition in the discipline of debate...
When Richard Nixon, just turned 11, tried to get that job at the Times, was he already “groveling to elevate his status in life?” When he wrote that composition at age 10, was he, “a serial collector of resentments,” showing that “he ever felt unfairly put upon?”

Wow! We’d have to say those claims are inane. Inane, and tending toward cruel.

On Saturday, we asked what it means about our culture when an historian is honored for making the types of presentations and claims you see in that cockeyed passage. We think it means something bad.

For what it’s worth, Perlstein’s sourcing of this trio of claims is virtually non-existent. In his 1987 biography of Nixon, Stephen Ambrose presented the full text of the “My Dear Master” composition and of the letter to the Times. According to Ambrose, Nixon’s mother provided both documents to Bela Kornitzer in connection with Kornitzer’s 1960 biography, The Real Nixon.

(Ambrose offers no wild interpretations of the documents. He does say that the “My Dear Master” document was a favorite of Nixon’s “numerous psychobiographers,” who “go to great lengths to analyze its hidden meanings.”)

As best we can tell, Kornitzer’s name isn’t mentioned anywhere in Perlstein’s sourcing. (We’re not saying it should be.) At the start of his Chapter Two, he provides an all-encompassing note citing biographies by Leonard Lurie and Fawn Brodie as the sources readers should see “for Richard Nixon’s early life.”

Through the bulk of his adult life, Lurie was a public school administrator; he also wrote a biography of Nixon in 1972. Brodie wrote a widely-criticized psychobiography of Nixon in 1981. Presumably, Perlstein is adopting the unflattering interpretations presented in those earlier books as he helps us see that Nixon was already nutty at 7. Because of the pollywogs!

What does it mean when our era’s major writers are praised for this kind of work? We’d suggest it means that modern journalistic culture is adopting the norms of the novel—or more accurately, of the cartoon.

In one final post on this topic, we’ll review the crazily unflattering portraits Perlstein drew of each of Nixon’s parents; we’ll struggle to discern the basis on which he felt free to sketch these cartoons. For today, let’s look at the remarkable portrait he draws of the town where Nixon was born—and of the many “godforsaken burgs” where Nixon campaigned for the Senate decades later.

How do we liberals practice to lose? As he starts Chapter Two, Perlstein shows how to create the class resentments Nixon drew upon with great success all through his adult career:
PERLSTEIN (page 20): Chapter Two/The Orthogonian

By 1966 Richard Nixon had been clawing all his life. Whenever a dirty job had to get done, he had been there to do it.

From the time he was a boy in the Southern California citrus groves, staying up half the night to man the creepy little potbellied orchard heaters that kept the frost from the trees but not the black smudge from the boy tending them, to stain his clothes for school the next day; from the time his father built a combination grocery and gas station and made it his second son’s dirty job to begin each day in the dark, at 4 a.m., driving to the Los Angeles market to select the day’s produce; from the time he was denied a chance to go to Harvard because he could only afford to live at home; from the time he was blacklisted from his little local college’s single social club because he was too unpolished; from the time he was reduced to sharing a one-room shack without heat or indoor plumbing while he was working his way through Duke Law School; from the time, finishing third in his class, he trudged frantically from white-shoe Wall Street law firm to white-shoe Wall Street law form and was shown the door at each one (he ended up practicing law back home, where, forced to handle divorce cases, he would stare at his shoes, crimson-red with embarrassment, as women related to him the problems they suffered at the marital bed). To the time, back from the war, he begged Southern California’s penny-ante plutocrats, navy cap in hand, for their sufferance of his first congressional bid; to the time he trundled across California in his wood-paneled station wagon, bringing his Senate campaign into every godforsaken little burg in that state with so many scores of godforsaken little burgs.

The town he was born in, Yorba Linda, was just that sort of godforsaken little burg. Frank Nixon has built a little plaster-frame house there in 1910 across from a cruddy, oversize ditch that must have shaped one of the boy’s earliest indelible impressions of the world.
Was California full of “godforsaken little burgs” when Nixon ran for the Senate in 1950? Had Nixon been born in one of those “godforsaken burgs,” across from a “cruddy” ditch?

As a boy and then as a youth, was Nixon involved in a series of “dirty jobs” as he worked to help his family, even as they lost two of his brothers to childhood diseases? And by the way, in a different vein:

Do you really believe that, as a young lawyer, Nixon “would stare at his shoes, crimson-red with embarrassment,” as women explained the basis for their legal actions? In notes, we looked for a source for that entertaining claim. There is none. But then, these passages are cartoons.

Our view? When “historians” write about dirty jobs in godforsaken burgs, they are teaching us liberals how to lose. Somewhat ironically, they are encouraging liberals to recreate the sense of resentment on which Nixon often drew for his electoral success.

In our mind, it’s a losing game when liberals trade the norms of journalism and scholarship for the culture of cartoonized novels. Later this week, we’ll explain why.

That said, was Nixon crazy at age 7? If he was, Perlstein has no apparent way to know it. But as Nixon knew by the late 1960s, regular voters will always hate the swells who express their contempt for regular people in this ridiculous, sneering manner.

For the record, these same techniques were used against Candidate Gore during Campaign 2000. According to one major journalist, he was a creepy little guy by the age of 6!

This signaled other scribes that it was OK for them to pile on. But then, progressives always stand to lose the most when basic rules and procedures are abandoned in favor of clowning and license.

Did Nixon grow up in a cruddy burg? Let's sneer when we say those things, liberals!


NO JOURNALISM, NO JUSTICE: The Washington Post’s (rather bad) front page!

MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2014

Part 1—Today, we get one basic fact: In a case where we don’t have a whole lot of facts, we finally got one basic fact in this morning’s New York Times.

Here it is:

According to the New York Times, 18-year-old Michael Brown wasn’t shot in the back.

If Brown had been shot in the back, it would have been hard to imagine a scenario in which the shooting was legal. As it turns out, Brown was shot at least six times—but he wasn’t shot in the back.

This brings us to the front page of yesterday’s hard-copy Washington Post. On a journalistic basis, we thought that front page was strikingly bad.

Even before we learned today’s fact, that front page seemed pretty awful to us. This is the way the featured news report started in our hard-copy Post:
BROWN, LOWERY AND MARKON (8/17/14): Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Saturday declared a state of emergency in this roiling St. Louis suburb and imposed an overnight curfew, telling a group of shouting residents that order must be restored after days of protests over the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.

The governor's extraordinary action came as the attorney for a key witness described the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown as an execution-style slaying. Lawyer Freeman Bosley Jr. said Dorian Johnson, a friend of Brown's, has told the FBI that Officer Darren Wilson confronted the two because they were walking in the middle of the street.

Wilson cursed at the pair and ordered them onto the sidewalk, Bosley told The Washington Post. When they refused to comply, he said, the officer grabbed Brown's throat through the window of his cruiser, pulled out a pistol and shot him. Wilson then chased Brown, shot him in the back and shot him five to six more times as Brown's hands were raised, Bosley said.

The account, combined with Nixon's declaration, made for another day of chaos and confusion in this small community...
On a journalistic basis, we have no idea why the Post would have published that report at all, let alone in the featured spot on its Sunday front page.

In the Post’s report, Bosley inaccurately said, for the ten millionth time, that Brown had been shot in the back. This made it “an execution-style slaying,” the Post rather colorfully added.

Had Michael Brown been shot in the back? There was nothing new about this claim, which had already been repeated about ten million times by that point.

But so what? For unknown reasons, the Post seemed to treat its interview with Bosley as a piece of breaking news. On a journalistic basis, we have no idea what the Post would have decided to do that.

On the brighter side, we strongly doubt that Bosley’s account “made for another day of chaos and confusion” in Ferguson. Surely, everyone in Ferguson had heard the claim that Brown was shot in the back ten million times before Bosley spoke with the Post.

(Although it too may be somewhat inaccurate, Bosley’s account of the number of times Brown was shot was perhaps somewhat new. The Post didn’t seem to know that.)

On a journalistic basis, it was strange to treat the Bosley interview as front-page, breaking news. In the process, the Post advanced an inflammatory though apparently inaccurate claim for the ten millionth time.

To us, that seemed like strange journalistic behavior, even before we learned that the claim in question was inaccurate. And uh-oh! Right next to that news report, Manuel Roig-Franzia’s 2300-word “human interest” profile seemed almost as odd.

As a journalist, Roig-Franzia sometimes strikes us a very good novelist. In yesterday’s profile, it seemed to us that his picking-and-choosing of facts came early and often.

Here’s the way Roig-Franzia started. Warning! Be prepared for classic human interest, of the “two lives intersected” type:
ROIG-FRANZIA, BROWN AND LOWERY (8/17/14): It took just three minutes.

A speck of time on a snoozy side street, a stretch of asphalt winding through a modest working-class neighborhood of three-story garden apartment buildings that's easier to find a way into than out of.

There, two lives intersected when a white police officer named Darren Wilson and a black teenager named Michael Brown—one in a patrol car, the other on foot—found themselves together on Canfield Drive in the middle of a summer Saturday.

When they met at 12:01 p.m. on Aug. 9, the two were coming from different places, different mind-sets—Brown filling free hours with a friend, Wilson coming off an emergency call about a 2-month-old baby struggling to breathe.

Brown, barely 18, stood 6-foot-4 and 292 pounds and wore a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. Wilson, a lanky 28-year-old with short-cropped blond hair who had six months earlier won a commendation for "extraordinary effort in the line of duty," steered a police cruiser behind him.

At 12:04, Brown was dead, shot multiple times by Wilson. "Big Mike," as his friends called him, did not have a gun.

The conflicting accounts of those three minutes—the tortured exercise of assigning blame—have provoked intense protests and turned this inner-ring St. Louis suburb into a parable of race, class and justice. There has been no resolution, no definitive account of what happened in that flash of a hot afternoon or of the two men at the center of it.

Police records, public documents and more than a dozen interviews on the streets here and in other St. Louis suburbs are beginning to reveal details of the killing and clarify points on a timeline that began with a theft of less than $50 worth of cigars from a convenience store and culminated with Brown's death.

A key witness—Brown's friend Dorian Johnson—has told the FBI that he thought the robbery was a "prank," said Johnson's attorney.
It’s true! As Roig-Frania writes, “There has been no definitive account of what happened” in the interaction which resulted in Brown’s death. On a journalistic basis, we’d have to say this:

As we read Roig-Franzia’s account of that day’s events, it struck us as rather selective. A few paragraphs later, he even offered this:
ROIG-FRANIZA: Both men are now forever entwined with Ferguson, but neither had particularly deep roots here.

Brown was only spending the summer with his grandmother while making plans to attend a vocational school. Wilson was in his fourth year on the police force after working for two years on a force nearby. He lives miles away in a house with a swimming pool in the suburb of Crestwood.
Is that swimming pool part of this case? Or is it part of a novel?

The shooting death of Michael Brown is a very important event. The speed with which events have unfolded—including events in the middle of the night—have made Brown’s death and its aftermath a very tough challenge for journalists.

All in all, we’d say the journalism has been rather poor, in a few ways which are quite familiar and in one or two ways which seem new. This helps create a major societal problem.

The shooting death of Michael Brown is a very important event. According to our civics textbooks, citizens need accurate facts about what is known when such events occur.

Citizens also need to be reminded about what isn’t yet known.

According to our civic textbooks, that helps define the journalist’s role in our most important events. As we watched some major news orgs last week, we thought we noticed a major lack of journalistic behavior.

No journalism, no justice! That’s pretty much what our civics texts have always pretty much said.

Tomorrow: Murder, she said