Part 4—A trio of self-appraisals: Is Bryce Covert being a bit disingenuous when she discusses the gender wage gap?
We don’t know how to answer that question. But the question helps us ponder the work of the highly credentialed young journalists now working for partisan news orgs.
An older generation of Sam-and-Cokies are shuffling off the stage. As this so-called “worst generation” exits, they are often being replaced by highly credentialed young journalists who went to the very best schools.
Covert, still 29, is Brown 2006. Her jumbled writing about the wage gap seems to reflect a discouraging trend, in which writers and broadcasters at liberal sites ape the journalistic conduct pioneered by Rush and Sean and the people at Fox.
In yesterday's post, we reviewed some recent work in which Covert had a lot of trouble with a very basic question: What percentage of the gender wage gap may be due to discriminatory behavior?
That is a very basic question about a major policy matter. Covert’s attempts to deal with that question were remarkably murky. Sadly, though, this has been a familiar pattern in recent years as bright young liberals seem to obscure the basic points surrounding this policy question.
In a two-day stretch in 2012, Rachel Maddow produced the most ridiculous example of this pattern, with a liberal policy expert helping her fling the gorilla dust around. That said, this pattern is very familiar. It allows liberals to continue suggesting that the entire 23-cents-on-the-dollar income gap is due to discrimination, a claim no specialist makes.
Covert seemed to be extending this confusion in her recent pieces. Is this “new kid on the lawn” creating this confusion on purpose, in the way Sean Hannity has done, for so many years, with so many tax issues? Was Maddow creating confusion on purpose when she staged her bender in 2012?
We can’t answer those questions! That said, it’s depressing to see the ways in which the new generation at liberal news orgs sometimes seem to be aping the practices of Fox.
We’re thinking of much of the work at Salon. We’re thinking of too much of the work we see on MSNBC, where good work is sometimes done.
In our view, a large amount of slipshod work is being done at our liberal orgs. Today, though, as our series ends, we thought we might consider the ways our new generation of journalists seem to see themselves.
They’re young, and they come from the finest schools. Around the press corps, they are replacing the stars of the so-called “worst generation.”
Their diplomas may seem impressive; their actual work is often quite poor. How do these young journalists view themselves? Let’s start at The New Republic, which has been publishing Covert’s murky work concerning the gender wage gap.
The New Republic has always featured the “new kids on the lawn.” Traditionally, such younger writers have marinated at TNR on their way to starring roles among the Sam-and-Cokies.
The current editor, Franklin Foer (Columbia 1996), first became editor in 2006, when he was 31. For whatever reason, Foer has been publishing Covert’s murky work about the wage gap.
In those pieces, a pair of Ivy League grads have joined forces to extend a ball of confusion. How do such well-credentialed scribes view themselves when they perform such crummy work?
In the current edition, Foer has published a brutal attack on his own kind by William Deresiewicz, a former professor at Yale.
Oof! The views which follow belong to Deresiewicz, not to us. As we see these views published by TNR, we almost want to step in and stop the self-loathing:
DERESIEWICZ (7/21/14): These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.For ourselves, we have no opinion about the wide range of students at places like Stanford and Yale. But as we review the shoddy, sometimes dishonest work being produced by the “new kids” within the upper-end press, we sometimes think we may be seeing a bit of the soulless climbing described in this TNR piece.
When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them—the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education.
It is true that today’s young people appear to be more socially engaged than kids have been for several decades and that they are more apt to harbor creative or entrepreneurial impulses. But it is also true, at least at the most selective schools, that even if those aspirations make it out of college—a big “if”—they tend to be played out within the same narrow conception of what constitutes a valid life: affluence, credentials, prestige.
TNR has issued a cry for help. A different spirit obtained in a recent post at Slate.
In that post, a long list of writers shared their thoughts about David Plotz, who is stepping down after six years as editor. Plotz (Harvard 1992) is a bit long in the tooth to be described as a “new kid.” At any rate, his staffers had many good things to say about him.
As far as we know, Plotz is a thoroughly decent person. We know of no reason to think anything else. That said, Slate has been a very pedestrian news org.
We scan Slate's headlines every day, looking for items to read. We sometimes wonder if anyone ever reads any of its offerings.
Sometimes, decent work by decent writers is presented at Slate. But Slate is a general interest publication, and it’s owned by the Washington Post. It tends to color within the lines. Its young journalists aren't inclined to push back in serious ways against the horrible journalistic culture they are inheriting.
On the whole, Slate is the type of publication which exists to give the impression that debate and discussion are occurring. Can you name a single thing you know because Slate has existed for all these years?
We can think of nothing important which has emerged from Slate. That’s why we were struck by the tone which emerged from its writers’ recollections of Plotz.
Very few people talked about the journalism performed by Slate. Many people talked about the games that are played within Slate’s offices or on its various company outings.
There seems to be little self-loathing at Slate! Indeed, John Swansburg (Yale 2000) expressed a very different point of view about the brilliant stars who produce all that piddle at Slate.
Gack! Swansburg is describing the people around him. Presumably, though, he's also describing himself:
SWANSBURG (7/14/14): The Plotz moment I keep coming back to occurred at last year’s retreat upstate. Dinner had just concluded, and we had all retired from the dining room to the bar. I happened to walk into the room with Plotz. As we waited to catch the bartender’s eye, he surveyed the room, looking at the group of people he had brought together to put out this magazine. I’d seen David proud before—of a great piece we’d published, of a killer headline someone had written, of having won a contentious debate, of having invented a new string of curse words of Iannuccian complexity to lob at his beleaguered laptop. But I’d never seen him beam with this wattage. He turned to me and said, “This is the most talented group of people Slate has ever had.”Swansburg didn’t identify any of the “great pieces” which had emerged from this “great magazine.” For ourselves, we can think of no breakthrough work which has emerged from all those “smart, funny, creative, ambitious, industrious people with big hearts to match their big brains.”
With all the pressures Plotz bore as editor—putting out a great magazine, pushing it to keep ahead of the curve and the competition, growing its audience, making it profitable—it was always Slate’s people who came first. Plotz liked to say he had a no assholes policy, but that was a misleading name for it: His policy wasn’t not to hire assholes. It was to affirmatively seek out smart, funny, creative, ambitious, industrious people with big hearts to match their big brains. Those are rare birds, but Plotz has an incredible knack for finding and nurturing them. It was astonishing to look around the room that night and see so many talented people so happy in one another’s company...
For ourselves, we’d have to say that Slate has been a highly self-satisfied plodder. That said, the young scribes working there seem to think that they’ve been doing great work.
What would great work actually look like? Let's consider the situation faced by younger journalists:
As younger journalists enter the fold, they confront a broken and broken-souled journalistic culture. The nightmares of ongoing mainstream press culture has been there for all to see.
Some of these nightmares involve the lazy or dishonest treatment of policy matters. Some involve the crazy ways in which the Sam-and-Cokies have felt free to burlesque our major public figures, often working as a group (link below).
The world has been full of journalistic atrocities for younger scribes to reject. Very little of that spirit has seemed to obtain at Slate.
This leads us to our third self-appraisal. It came to us last night through Rachel Maddow’s Dream.
We’re so old that we can recall when “Bob Dylan’s Dream” was new! Last night, Maddow described the dream that haunts her sleep. To share in the sharing, click here:
MADDOW (7/24/14): Ever have that anxiety dream? You’re back in school—“You know nothing about the subject matter?” The analysts exchanged sly glances as Maddow described her torment.
I have this anxiety dream like three times a week.
You’re back in school. It’s the last day of school. You have not done any of the coursework. You’ve not done any of the reading. You’ve not, in fact, attended any of the classes and you know nothing about the subject matter.
But finals are today! And now, naturally, you will fail and you will not graduate.
I have that dream three times a week. But that, in real life, is sort of happening right now in the U.S. Capitol. It’s finals week at the Capitol, and nobody has apparently done the work and the panic is starting and some of it happened on tape today, and that is next.
We can’t say that we blame Maddow for having that dream! We were watching, two years ago, when she threw the gorilla dust all about the gender wage gap—when, to be perfectly honest, it seemed she really must be lying in some of her representations.
In the wider sense, we've watched the self-promoting, not-always-obsessively-honest work of the so-called “new kids on the lawn.” Sometimes, Maddow and others do good work. More often, we think we're seeing something else.
The Sam-and-Cokies are shuffling away, leaving a broken culture behind. Are you happy with their replacements?
On balance, we’re sorry—we aren’t. We were struck by the portrait which came from that former professor at Yale—and by the air of self-satisfaction found in the memoirs at Slate.
The culture they invented: To see Sam and Cokie at their worst, review the transcript you will find within this post.
The sounds of their laughing and chuckling haven’t been included. As they clowned around, a history-changing election was just two weeks away.
George Stephanopoulos gets some credit for pushing back against their clowning that day. But that appalling journalistic culture largely rules our world.
They were mocking Candidate Gore that day, a game which ended very badly. Last month, the Washington Post started in on the Clintons all over again.
Wherever those highly-credentialed new kids were found, silence pervaded the land. We're sorry to say it, but in our view, the kids are not all right.