Part 5—Touré gets it (exactly half) right: At one time, the American press corps was Walter and David. People, that was it!
The press corps today is more varied. The range of voices from which we hear is being greatly expanded.
Major newspapers and major web sites are hiring an amazing number of 20-somethings. Youth is being widely served. Often, this produces very poor journalistic results.
A wider array of progressive voices are being featured at some news orgs, MSNBC being one major example. And a wider array of blacks and Hispanics appear at our major orgs.
In theory, these are good ideas. In practice, mileage may vary. Example:
In the Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post, Professor Dyson was holding forth. How did that work out?
A detractor would say that Dyson was working at Maureen Dowd’s level. As Dowd would do in Wednesday’s column, Dyson complained about Obama’s reactions to Ferguson.
Obama has been “cautious to a fault” in discussing Ferguson, Dyson said. On matters of race, “the president mostly weighs in only when exigent demands leave him little choice:”
DYSON (8/24/14): That was the case when Obama eloquently explained the grief and anger that swept black communities after Zimmerman, the killer of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, went unpunished. It was also true with Ferguson. If Obama felt and looked weary at the prospect of repeating himself—"I've said this before," he reminded us—it hardly matched the moral weariness of black victims witnessing history tragically repeat itself. Like a Hollywood film franchise, race in the United States—especially police violence against blacks—is haunted by sequels: The locations may change, the actors are different, but the story remains the same.Dyson often drives us nuts. What kind of professor can’t see the difference between Newtown, Hurricane Sandy and Ferguson—the last of the three being the site of an ongoing criminal investigation?
Given Obama's extraordinary talent for talking the nation through tough times, his remarks on Ferguson were extremely disappointing.
The best thing Obama did was to send Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson, although he should go himself, just as he went to Newtown, Conn., and to communities ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
What kind of professor can’t see the difference between a president speaking after a trial (the Zimmerman trial), as opposed to during a grand jury probe (the Ferguson investigation)?
Further question: What makes Dyson think that Obama, with his low approval ratings, possesses the kind of “extraordinary talent” that would let him “talk the nation through” the “tough times” posed by events at Ferguson?
Ferguson involves matters of race, the gigantic topic on which it’s hardest to get people to abandon their preconceptions (many of which may be admirable). Beyond that, we live in absurdly tribal times.
No matter what Obama chose to say on a trip to St. Louis, can we really imagine a case in which his comments turned out to be helpful? Where we the people would let the fellow of whom we no longer approve talk us through the events?
Let’s give Obama some credit! We’ll guess that he understands the way the world works better than the professor does, the professor the corporate suits have picked for Our Own Cable Channel.
In theory, it seems like a good idea when the press corps includes a wider range of voices—when youth is served, when black and brown observers appear, when progressive ideas are expressed.
In practice, though, a black professor can work at the level of Dowd. Concerning her most recent column, in which she joined Dyson in complaining that Obama hasn’t journeyed to Ferguson, we’ll outsource the labor to Brother Pierce, only noting two points:
No one who wrote an unreadable mess like Dowd’s Gettysburg Golf Address column could ever get into an AP class at any American high school. Also, when Dowd complained in Wednesday's column that Obama is sleeping behind the caddy shack, her own newspaper was reporting, on its front page, that he was fashioning an end run around Congress to create a world climate regime.
Just like the progressive professor, the clueless Dowd thought Obama should jet to St. Louis on Air Force One to lecture us on the things we should think.
Our guess? Obama knows how crazy that idea is. He is working around his low approvals and his hopeless Congress to change the world in various ways, including on climate and immigration. Is he asleep behind the shack? He even seems to be working out the terms of our next world war!
Dowd’s column was spectacularly clueless, even for her. In his earlier Sunday piece, Dyson made some accurate points about the nation. But he seemed rather clueless to us about the possibilities available to Obama.
That said, the professor thundered and blew. The suits who try to create cable profit looked down and saw it was good!
They give us the young, and they give us a wider range of American voices. This sounds like an obvious great idea, but the work won’t always be great. One more example:
In our view, the work was two steps down from awful when the professor from Nerdland replied to Joe Klein last week. For background, see yesterday's post.
We’ll assume her work was done in bad faith. Can any professor be dumb enough to state the immortal words, “Those are the facts,” in the way this professor did?
Is there any way the professor from Nerdland really thought Klein had a problem with jazz? Rather plainly, wasn’t the slippery scholar just playing a famous old card?
You never know what you’re going to get when the suits pick your leaders for you! That said, Touré got it (exactly half) right in his own column this Sunday, which appeared in the Washington Post’s Outlook section.
Toure is one of the hosts of MSNBC’s The Cycle. As with all opinion pieces, his piece could have been improved.
We’re going to edit out one thing he wrote! But overall, we thought he made a very good point about our so-called “information wars,” the subject of his piece.
This is the way he began:
TOURE (8/24/14): An information war is being waged in Ferguson, Mo., each salvo meant to shape public perceptions of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.Uh-oh! Try to ignore what he said about angels. (He returned to the imagery later.) Meanwhile, we dropped one snippet which was so poorly sourced that it shouldn’t have gone into print.
Through this war we've learned that the 18-year-old Brown had marijuana in his system when he was killed, suggesting he was of poor character, and that police officer Wilson shot Brown six times, a use of force that could seem reckless or excessive. We've been told that Brown was a "gentle giant" who would have started attending classes at a technical college this month, but we've also seen a grainy convenience-store video in which he does not look gentle. We have seen a video of Wilson receiving an award, looking professional and happy...
Such snippets and images are efforts to shape public opinion about these men. They could influence St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch as he weighs whether to bring charges against Wilson. They could also influence the potential jury pool, showing prejudicial evidence that may not be admissible at trial.
In an information war, the news media is deployed as a weapon, our collective mind becomes a battlefield, and biases are land mines waiting to explode.
I feel confident stating that neither Brown nor Wilson is an angel—because no one is. But that doesn't matter, because the two men have been reduced to symbols.
That said, Toure gives a helpful account of the familiar tribal warfare he calls “information war.” He is describing real tribal war, of a very familiar type. We’d be more inclined to call it “spin war,” but no phraseology is perfect. “Information war” works OK too.
In these information wars, partisans pick and choose and invent their facts, trying to shape our perceptions of the participants in an event. In this case, the participants are Wilson and Brown.
“The two men have been reduced to symbols,” Toure instructively says. As he continues, he says something else that’s important and accurate—at least up to a point:
TOURE (continuing directly): Information wars suggest that character is destiny and that character is knowable, as if a handful of snapshots or tweets constitute an autopsy of the soul. They are waged in all kinds of legal battles, from civil suits to contract negotiations to public divorces.Everything said there is true. But it’s only true up to a point, and something else that's important and true is perhaps being omitted.
But when there's a black victim involved, the information takes a different and predictable turn: The victim becomes thuggified. This is an easy leap for many minds, given the widespread expectation of black criminality. If you become nervous when you see a young black male approaching on the street, it is not hard to convince you that a kid who was shot was not one of the "good ones," that he was scary and maybe did something to deserve it. Information wars thrive on America's empathy gap—the way some people struggle to see any kinship or shared humanity with strangers who don't look like them.
It’s true! When a kid like Michael Brown is killed, he will (in some places) be “thuggified.” To some extent, that has actually happened with Brown. To some extent, it happened with Trayvon Martin, whose case Toure discussed in his next paragraph.
It’s also (mostly) true that this unfortunate part of our war “thrives on America's empathy gap—the way some people struggle to see any kinship or shared humanity with strangers who don't look like them.”
That’s an important point. We’ll guess that many white Americans, and some black Americans, have an easy time assuming / imagining / picturing the worst about kids like Michael Brown. There are many reasons for this, the racial disinterest of MSNBC’s multimillionaire hosts being one recent part of the syndrome.
That is accurately called an “empathy gap.” But it’s only one of our country’s empathy gaps—and empathy gaps are quite active all around the world.
Toure did a very good job discussing that empathy gap. For that reason, we were struck by his failure to mention another such gap by the time he ended his column.
Can we talk? In some quarters, there is an obvious “empathy gap” regarding police officers! People will often assume the worst about kids like Michael Brown. Others will sometimes assume the worst about people like Darren Wilson.
What actually happened in Ferguson on August 9? At this point, we can’t really tell you.
We bring one preconception to the case. In our view, police officers shouldn’t fire their guns at people as they flee except for very substantial cause.
That said, what actually happened that day? We’re waiting to find out. But please understand one key point:
There’s lots of empathy in the world, even in eastern Ukraine or in the Islamic State. Unfortunately, this empathy extends to those within the tribe. All other people are loathed.
Toure did a very good job explaining the empathy gap that can affect kids like Michael brown. He pretty much skipped the empathy gap which may harm that other tribe.
For extra credit only: Toure wrote about “perfect victims.” Klein wrote about “perfect metaphors.”
To what extent were they saying the very same thing? Compare, contrast and further discuss, trying to be empathetic.