WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE! Sorkin hears a Who!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2011

PART 1—SERVING THE OWNERSHIP CLASS: The best journalism we saw last week was a scornful review of the worst. At Salon, Glenn Greenwald scorched a piece by Andrew Ross Sorkin, a young, post-journalistic tribune of the high plutocrat class.

Sorkin had ventured off to observe the creatures who occupied Wall Street. Greenwald featured the following part of his piece—the passage where Sorkin describes why he went where the wild things are:
SORKIN (10/4/11): I had gone down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week, before nearly 700 people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.

''Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?'' the C.E.O. asked me. I didn't have an answer. ''We're trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,'' he continued, clearly concerned. ''Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?''

As I wandered around the park, it was clear to me that most bankers probably don't have to worry about being in imminent personal danger. This didn't seem like a brutal group—at least not yet.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” Thoreau once wrote. By way of contrast, Sorkin went to Zuccotti Park because Daddy Warbucks called.

It may be unfair, but this reads like a parody of journalism after the fall. The post-journalist receives a call from “the chief executive of a major bank.” The plutocrat says he’s concerned about his personal safety. And so the post-journalist hurries off to assess the danger.

In this case, things look OK—for now. Having walked around in the lion’s den, the pimple-faced errand boy announced that his owners don’t really have to worry. “At least not yet,” he skillfully added, doing his damnedest to pimp the concern his plutocrat minders want spread.

The beasts don't look brutal. Not yet.

In attacking this piece, Greenwald showed a good eye for the lunacy of the post-journalist world. But since he focused on the chronology, we thought we might look at the part of Sorkin’s column in which, to quote Greenwald, he adopts “the now-familiar journalistic tone of a zoologist examining a bizarre new species of animal discovered in the wild.”

What did Best Boy Sorkin see when he went where the wild things are? This is the way his column started:
SORKIN: ''I think a good deal of the bankers should be in jail.''

That is what Andrew Cole, an unemployed 24-year-old graduate of Bucknell University, told me Monday morning in Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Mr. Cole, an articulate young man dressed in jeans, a sweatshirt and with a blue wool beanie on his head, had just arrived by bus from Madison, Wis., where he recently lost his job.
Did Andrew Cole, 24, have “a blue beanie on his head?” We will assume that he did. We’ll also assume it’s no accident that Sorkin led his piece with this image. According to Nexis, the New York Times has offered only five references to American men wearing beanies in the past year. Three were references to criminals (this includes Jared Loughner); one involved a man who was forced to wear “a freshman beanie” back around 1900. The fifth reference came in a travel piece about the “waterfront chic” of a hip town in Oregon. The owner of a night spot was described “wearing his scraggly braids beneath a beanie while working the taproom bar.”

Was young Cole decked out in a beanie this day? We will assume he was—and we’ll assume that a certain Best Boy saw the potential there. When boys like Sorkin are sent to war, they know they must write to please the generals. They will often pick-and-choose interview subjects, seizing folk who can help them spread approved images.

So it was that Sorkin seized upon these comically aggrieved beasts:
SORKIN: Some people have suggested the Occupy Wall Street protest is a mere form of street theater, that the protesters have a myriad of grievances with no particular agenda. All of that may be true.

Edward Heath, 36, of Chicago, who is unemployed, said he was participating in the protest, in part, to ensure a more fair tax regime. When I asked about his views on Warren Buffett's "Buffett Rule," he replied: "I really can't comment because I haven't heard of him." But this group may be worth paying attention to if for no other reason than they are organized and growing in ranks. (They are beginning to link up with union organizations.) Later this week, more protests are expected to be staged around the country with the number of protesters swelling. And they are beginning to form groups to develop demands.

"We're disenfranchised," said Chris Cobb, a 41-year-old writer and designer from Brooklyn who was conducting mock interviews with a cardboard television camera and microphone emblazoned with the Fox News logo.
Warren Buffett has been very hot—but Edward Heath, 36, hasn’t heard. Meanwhile, Cobb was more or less talking to people who weren’t actually there.

We weren’t in the park that day. We can’t describe the range of people from whom Sorkin chose. But he did seem to highlight a comical lot—a group he tried to make comical. As he did, he served his masters two different ways. He kept building his column around the suggestion that these people really might be dangerous. And he kept avoiding any consideration of the concerns these wild things had raised.

Andrew’s owner had called him with a fear about personal safety. Result? All through the piece, Sorkin kept returning to questions and insinuations along this line. “There was nothing particularly menacing or dangerous about Mr. Cole,” he said early on—but he kept returning to insinuations about what he called “the public’s lust for the scalp.” In this passage, he seemed to pick and choose his facts with some care:
SORKIN: Consider the protests a delayed reaction to the financial crisis that has now reached a fever pitch as the public's lust for scalp has gone unfulfilled. In Chicago on Monday, one sign read: ''If corporations are people, why can't we put them in jail?''

In Zuccotti Park, several protesters were gathered around a laptop watching an online video that had just gone viral of Rosanne Barr, the comedian, recently interviewed by a newscaster.

"I am in favor of the return of the guillotine," she told a newscaster, in reference to bankers, with a straight face. "I first would allow the guilty bankers to pay, you know, the ability to pay back anything over $100 million," she said, before adding that they should go to "re-education camps and if that doesn't help, then being beheaded." She made the comments without a hint of laughter, yet the group watching around the laptop seemed to be quite amused.
Concerning Barr, Sorkin withheld the news they were even willing to share on Fox. On the October 3 Special Report, Bret Baier reported Barr’s remarks—but he provided a bit of context, telling the folks that Barr “says she is running for prime minister of America for the Green Tea Party.” And if you read the Daily Mail, you even learned that Barr recently said that she “would also be running for Prime Minister of Israel.” Why did the wild things seem amused, even though Barr made her troubling comments “without a hint of laughter?” Perhaps because they thought she was joking, since she actually said this:

“I first would allow the guilty bankers to pay, you know, the ability to pay back anything over $100 million personal wealth because I believe in a maximum wage of $100 million. And if they are unable to live on that amount, then they should, you know, go to the re-education camps and if that doesn't help, then be beheaded.” (Our emphasis)

As journalists will often do, Sorkin removed the part of this passage which made it into a joke. Shocked by the words which remained, Sorkin attacked the amusement the wild things took from Barr’s (misreported) words.

At several points from his first sentence on, Sorkin quoted wild things saying that some bankers should be in jail. He referred to this as “the public’s lust for scalp,” but he never tried to say if any illegal acts were involved in the recent financial disasters. Writing like an anthropologist—an anthropologist from Zarkon—he finally offered this assessment of what the wild things think: “At times it can be hard to discern, but, at least to me, the message was clear: the demonstrators are seeking accountability for Wall Street and corporate America for the financial crisis and the growing economic inequality gap.”

Duh. Having managed to discern the world’s most obvious message, Sorkin worked hard, all through the piece, to avoid any sort of assessment. Instead, he closed his column with the perfect nonsense which follows—with silly, brainless pseudo-gotchas designed to please the ownership class which throws him his very good steaks:
SORKIN: Ms. Evans, who said she has made a career of participating in protests, said she had just flown to New York from Los Angeles to join Occupy Wall Street. How did she get here, I asked. "Virgin America," she replied with a smile. But doesn't Virgin America represent the corporations you are trying to fight? "No," she insisted. Referring to Richard Branson, she said, "He's working on creating solar planes."

As I was leaving, having spoken to scores of protesters, I noticed two of them walking over to the A.T.M. at Bank of America. As much as this group may want to get away from Wall Street and corporate America, it may be trapped by it. In the eyes of these young protesters, until they can unshackle themselves from the system—or perhaps make the system work for them—the sense of unrest is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
These beanie-wearing people are protesting corporate wrongdoing. But they fly around in airplanes! And they use bank machines!

You really have to be ownership’s boy to write such perfect nonsense. But then, in some ways, the manifest garbage of this pseudo-journalist isn’t much better than what some of the pseudo-left have done in the past few years.

Occupy Wall Street is a battle for the hearts and minds of the public. The children of the corporate class will try to undermine the protest. They will play silly, stupid games—much like what others have done.

Tomorrow: Desperately needing The Other

Also the striving Petri: In Saturday’s Washington Post, Alexandra Petri wrote the same piece, toned down a bit. Click here; more tomorrow.

14 comments:

  1. "According to Nexis, the New York Times has offered only five references to American men wearing beanies in the past year."

    Here's five more beanies:

    here:http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/09/12/nyregion/20100912-skullcaps-interactive.html?ref=nyregion

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Beanies?" I could have sworn those were zuchettas.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Back in the day when there were still people around who called themselves socialist or (even!) communist, they were regularly challenged in the same way. So how can you take a pay check from a company or institution in this capitalist economy? How can you buy goods made by such companies in stores owned by companies or by private moms and pops? People actually thought they were scoring points with these questions.

    ReplyDelete
  4. And the correct response would be (and this goes for environmentalists who get the same treatment): Yes, and I plan to continuing availing myself of all the advantages of a capitalist economy in pursuit of my political goals. To disarm unilaterally would be to cede the field to my opponents.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm really surprised, as a total backer of the demonstrations, how much I disagree with both Greenwald and then "The Daily Howler," whom I find in this instance to be way over the top defensive. Yes, Sorkin is a member of the N.Y. Times establishment, but no more so than Krugman. His snark about the protesters should have, in this instance, been taken with a grain of salt or even humor. To a lot of Americans, these people ARE hippies, but he presented what they had to say without really deriding it, seems to me.
    When Sorkin finally explained to the Wall St. Suit what the protests were about he was pretty much on the money, for which the Daily Howler brought the snark in schoolboy form ("duh"). We should be generally thankful for every instance we get that fair a hearing in the New York Times. This was brought home for me by the interview Harry Shearer did with Naked Capitalism's Yvves Smith on sunday (easy to download on ITunes). Speaking as one of the great unwashed, even when the issues are presented in very basic terms (Smith did a great job) this stuff is very hard for the layman to follow.
    Sorkin gave a good answer to the suit's question, and Greenwald and Somersby should have given credit where credit is due. As the Howler has argued so many times in other situations, this may well pay off in the long run as far as winning people to our side.

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  6. Bob says the protests are against "corporate wrongdoing," meaning, I believe, that they're not protesting against all corporations. From what I've read, I don't think their goals can be defined so precisely. If asked precisely who they're protesting, I believe they'd give a variety of answers, including "all corporations", "all financial corporations", "misbehavior by government and by corporations", and "general economic conditions".

    Bob wrote, "the children of the corporate class will try to undermine the protest." I don't know who Bob defines as the "corporate class". No doubt he includes owners, i.e. anyone who owns stock. I supposed he includes employees.

    I'm also unsure what Bob means by "children". I don't think he means it literally. Does it mean people who derive a benefit from corporations? In that case, would the term include customers? How abouit government employees whose salary comes from wealth created by corporations?

    Second point of disagreement: If the protest is against corporate misbehavior, I think the corporate class should be enthusiastic supporters, not opponents. Here's a personal example. After retirement, I was engaged as a technical expert on a lawsuit against AIG, who had committed a fraud amounting into the hundreds of millions of dollars. I was angrier than most at AIG's fraud for two reasons. First of all, their fraud hurt my reputation as an insurance person. Secondly, I had worked for a company that was hurt by their fraud. Their fraud allowed them to take business away from companies that were behaving honestly.

    Here's an analogy. Bob spent years teaching in the inner city. If people were demonstrating against Atlanta's massive, systematic cheating on student tests, would Bob, a member of the "inner city teaching class", want to undermine those protests? Of course not.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I was wondering when you were going to get to this. Good write up. I especially like this part:

    "It may be unfair, but this reads like a parody of journalism after the fall. The post-journalist receives a call from “the chief executive of a major bank.” The plutocrat says he’s concerned about his personal safety."

    Nice job.

    ReplyDelete
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