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.Do Obama and Holder come from “fundamentally different backgrounds?” If we might borrow from the bard, it’s pretty much as you like it.
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 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.Duh! On the surface, those comments by Dyson strike us as rather excessive. But then, Baker made little attempt to explain Dyson’s remarks.
“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.
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 PrettyIn 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.
I feel stunning
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.
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.