Supplemental: The Clintons earn too much money again!


Adopting Fawn Brodie’s procedures:
Early next year, our nation will embark on it latest White House campaign.

The two-year campaign will be endless. Increasingly, the coverage of these campaigns is built around journalistic cartoons.

Did we see one such cartoon growing again in today’s New York Times?

Chelsea Clinton is leaving her post at NBC News. This is a strikingly trivial matter.

That said, did we spot a certain cartoon in the Times? Headline included, Amy Chozick’s news report started like this:
CHOZICK (8/30/14): Chelsea Clinton to Leave Well-Paid NBC News Job

Less than three years after she embarked on a new and lucrative career as an NBC News special correspondent,
Chelsea Clinton said on Friday that she would leave that position.

In a letter posted on her Facebook page, Ms. Clinton said she had decided to depart NBC News to focus on philanthropic work at the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. She and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are also expecting their first child this fall. At the same time, her mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is mulling a presidential bid in 2016.
In the headline and in the first paragraph, readers were instantly told that Clinton’s position at NBC was “lucrative” and “well-paid.”

Such statements can’t be said to be false. Nor is it clear why this assessment appears right in the headline.

Is Chozick extending the newest cartoon? Before long, she composes a passage which does strike us as misleading or false:
CHOZICK: Ms. Clinton’s tenure at the news outlet was not a smooth one, less because of her feel-good reports than because a media-shy first daughter was hired as a television journalist earning a six-figure salary. (In 2009, NBC News hired Jenna Bush Hager, a daughter of former President George W. Bush, as a special correspondent for the “Today” show, drawing similar criticism.)
That paragraph makes suggestions and claims which strike us as inaccurate:

To some, that passage may suggest that the criticism of Clinton’s tenure came at the point of her hiring. In fact, the criticism which Chozick is surfing came several years later, when it was reported, without confirmation, that Clinton was being paid $600,000 per year.

As far as we know, there has been no “similar criticism” of Jenna Bush, which is fine by us. In a quick and yet still tedious search, we found no news reports about Bush’s salary, and very little speculation about that tedious subject.

Chelsea Clinton was paid too much money! As we noted yesterday, a cartoon seems to be forming around the potential candidate who is Clinton’s mother.

Candidate Gore just couldn’t stop lying. It’s beginning to seem that a Candidate Clinton is going have too much dough.

As everyone knows (but careerists won’t say), the press corps’ cartoon about Candidate Gore ended up changing world history. By way of contrast, this growing cartoon about Candidate Clinton may have no major effect.

That said, our major journalists certainly love their cartoons! In March 2000, the Washington Post’s ombudsman, E. R. Shipp, used a different terminology to describe this low-IQ process.

We’ve quoted this passage many times. Needless to say, the entire press corps ignored it (headline included):
SHIPP (3/5/00): Typecasting Candidates


The Post provides its share of "who's winning the horse race" stories and those that dissect a candidate's strategy—the "insider" stuff that many readers tell pollsters they could do without, thank you.

But The Post has gone beyond that kind of reporting in favor of articles that try to offer context—and even conjecture—about the candidates' motives in seeking the office of president. And readers react—sometimes in a nonpartisan way, more often not—to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama. Gore is the guy in search of an identity; Bradley is the Zen-like intellectual in search of a political strategy; McCain is the war hero who speaks off the cuff and is, thus, a "maverick"; and Bush is a lightweight with a famous name, and has the blessings of the party establishment and lots of money in his war chest. As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
In that passage, Shipp described the way the Post was fashioning four cartoons, one of which made a “whipping boy” of the Democratic front-runner. (The headline called this “typecasting.”)

As Shipp continued, she described some ways in which the Post had portrayed Gore as a “delusional” liar. She explicitly cited erroneous news reports in the Post.

That portrait of Gore was a deadly cartoon. Routinely, it was built out of blatantly inaccurate reporting. People are dead all over the world because the Post (and the rest of the corps) behaved that way for two years.

The “Clinton has too much money” cartoon seems tame by comparison. But make no mistake—Chozick has started to push that cartoon into her news reports.

When did this culture of cartooning take hold in the national press? In the last few days, we’ve continued to marvel at this culture as we’ve perused a pair of high-profile books.

We refer to Rick Perlstein’s 2008 best-seller, Nixonland. Also to Fawn Brodie’s 1981 “psychobiography,” Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, one of Perlstein’s principal sources.

We’ve been amazed by Perlstein’s portraits of the young Nixon and his parents, but Brodie’s cartooning came first. Because she was a major figure, it’s amazing to see the ludicrous ways she arrived at her various judgments—which, to be fair, were often less demonized than those of her successor.

At some point, we’ll be returning to the portraits penned by these two writers. To our surprise, we do see an important theme in Brodie’s book which transmigrated into the coverage of Candidate Gore, eighteen years later.

Quite routinely, on page after page, Brodie’s work in her bio of Nixon was blatantly absurd. It’s stunning to think that journalistic and academic elites tolerated such ludicrous chains of reasoning in real time. It’s even more surprising to see Perlstein hailing Brodie thirty years later.

Cartoons abound in both books. Unless it’s entertainment we seek, this is a dangerous culture.

Supplemental: The endless desire to see lives destroyed!


Rachel Maddow in eastern Ukraine: On last evening’s TV show, Rachel Maddow really seemed to be flying.

To our taste, she wasted a lot of time with a lot of piffle-fed topics. She wasted time discussing herself, as she constantly does.

At one point, she turned to her favorite topic. Early on, she made an odd remark:
MADDOW (8/28/14): The defense rests! Today was the last day of testimony in the federal corruption trial of Republican Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Today, the judge in the case rejected a request by the defense counsel for an acquittal. And so, tomorrow the jury is going to hear closing arguments. After the closing arguments, the jury will start its deliberations.

Governor McDonnell and his wife are facing 14 felony charges. If they’re convicted of those charges, they are facing many decades in prison.
They’re facing “many decades in prison?” We were surprised by that statement. In its reporting on the trial, the New York Times routinely says that the McDonnells face “up to twenty years” in prison.

The Washington Post, the tabloid of record, rarely seems to say how much time the McDonnells could face. In January, though, when the miscreants were indicted, the Post reported thusly: “The couple could face a maximum of 30 years in prison, though they probably would serve far less.”

For ourselves, this prosecution increasingly seems ill-advised. There is no law in Mr. Jefferson’s state forbidding a pol from taking money and loans from a businessman. Meanwhile, Governor McDonnell seems to have done virtually nothing to help Jonnie Williams, the businessman who extended $170,000 in gifts and loans to the governor and his wife.

(Most of that was in loans. To create a bit of perspective, the amount in question represents roughly one week’s salary for cable stars who are paid $7 million per year.)

To us, this prosecution increasingly seems like an overreach. On Maddow’s show, however, it provides a never-ending chance to imagine one’s enemies being frog-marched off to prison, whether for “basically” the rest of their lives or for “many decades.”

(On July 28, Maddow said the McDonnells are “facing basically life in prison.” Last December, when it seemed there might be no indictment, she said the point of such prosecutions is to see that “people are punished and incidentally humiliated and ruined.”)

Technically, Maddow has a high IQ. With adult supervision, she could probably be a fabulous journalist.

That said, we often marvel at her deportment and at some of her apparent values.

We’re often amazed at the way she longs to see people get ruined. Her longing to see the McDonnells rot in jail has persisted through the course of this underwhelming trial. She loves to complain about this heinous offense described below, as she did again last night:
MADDOW (continuing from above): Governor McDonnell and his wife are facing 14 felony charges. If they’re convicted of those charges, they are facing many decades in prison.

Now, nobody knows exactly how the prosecution and the defense are going to sum up their cases or what image they will try to leave in the minds of the jury.

But regardless of what they say, I think this one probably will stick:

As a surprise part of this trial, the evidence reviewed in court over the course of these many days of testimony in Richmond, included many, many, many photos of Governor Bob McDonnell driving a white Ferrari
—a white Ferrari, the use of which was one of the gifts, was from a Virginia businessman, who federal prosecutors say constituted a bribe of the governor.

The governor and his staff and his lawyers seem to have understood early on that the white Ferrari thing, with all of these pictures of it, was not a good look for the governor.

Last year, even before the start of the trial, the governor’s spokesman tried to explain the white Ferrari away. Quote, "The governor’s spokesman said, as a favor to the businessman, the family drove one of Jonnie Williams’ cars and his Range Rover back to the lake house, and then they drove the Ferrari back to Richmond." Quote, "There was no recreational use of the vehicles."

Understand that? The use of the Ferrari was not at all recreational! There was definitely no fun involved!

Bob McDonnell was merely doing an onerous favor for a Virginia resident! As governor, he’s also responsible for being a valet parking attendant of not inconsiderable skill. But it’s not fun! It’s definitely never been fun!

During the trial, Governor McDonnell reiterated the “favor” excuse, adding that he didn’t even want to drive the white Ferrari. He said his kids egged him on to drive the car not once, but twice, during the lakeside vacation that the businessman paid for.

Governor McDonnell even testified that he didn’t even know that the Ferrari was at the lake house. He hadn’t noticed it! It had been tucked away in a garage, perhaps under a cover. He said, at some time during vacation, quote, "We saw it was a very significant high-performance car."
Maddow’s complaint went on from there. On the videotape of the segment, you can watch Maddow clowning and snarking at remarkable length about the fact that McDonnell drove Williams’ Ferrari on one or two occasions.

Plus, the Ferrari was white!

“I think this one will probably stick,” the pill-popping star opined last night. To appearances, Maddow wants the McDonnells to spend “many decades” in prison because, on one or two occasions, they got to drive somebody’s car.

We really wonder about Maddow’s innards when we see her performing her Hunt for the White Ferrari shtick month after month after month. What makes a person long to see other people destroyed over such consummate trivia?

On several days this week, we talked about tribal impulses as they surface in eastern Ukraine and in the Islamic State.

We asked if you ever think you see the same atavistic impulses surfacing over here, especially within our own tribe. When we watch Maddow wet herself at the thought of McDonnell being frog-marched to jail, we wonder which wires are hanging loose inside her high-IQ brain.

Go ahead—watch that segment. She’s clowning and snarking and creaming herself as she hopes that two people get ruined.

Supplemental: A script became official today!


The frameworks of Journalist County:
Today, the script became official.

It started in an innocent fashion, with Amy Chozick reporting Hillary Clinton’s comments about Ferguson.

Basically, Clinton said next to nothing, but people had been demanding to hear it. In this morning’s New York Times, Chozick started her nothingburger news report like this:
CHOZICK (8/29/14): Nearly three weeks after the shooting of Michael Brown prompted widespread protests in a St. Louis suburb and a national examination of race and police tactics, Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday praised President Obama’s response to the episode and called for a swift investigation into the circumstances that led to the unarmed black teenager’s death.

In a paid speech at a technology conference in San Francisco, Mrs. Clinton said she watched the funeral of Mr. Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. “As a mother, as a human being, my heart just broke for his family,” she said.
Interesting! Clinton does want an investigation! And she feels bad for the parents!

We don’t say this to criticize Clinton. There was never any reason to think that she would have some magical thing to say about these events.

Still, did you notice that one tiny point? According to Chozick, Clinton made these remarks “in a paid speech.”

That’s an unusual point to include in a report of this type. Later in her “news report,” Chozick made it official:
CHOZICK: Mrs. Clinton, who earns roughly $200,000 per speech, challenged the largely white audience to “imagine what we would feel, what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers, instead of the other way around,” or if one-third of all white males “went to prison during their lifetime.”
Actually, that was a pretty good point by Clinton. But good God! When have you ever seen a passage like the one we’ve highlighted?

Clinton earns roughly $200,000 per speech! We don’t think we’ve ever seen a fact like that inserted into an account of what some pol said in a speech. The fact that Chozick crammed it in tell us it’s now official:

Hillary Clinton has too much money! It will be said, again and again, over the next several years.

This is what the “press corps” does when it comes up with a standard group framework—when it decides what it wants you to think about a certain pol.

In June and July, the Washington Post went a thousand miles out of its way to create concern about Clinton’s vast barrels of cash. Today, the Times has made it official:

The script has been locked into place.

Starting Tuesday, September 2: Our award-winning series, “The Houses of Journalist County.”

If the Clintons are too damn rich, what about the glorious people who are advancing this script? We’ll visit them in their basement apartments, trying to steer our gaze away from the degradation and squalor.

We’ll review their favorite tricks for making ends meet on $15 million per year. Did you know that Diane Sawyer loves a good meatloaf sandwich?

Monday is Labor Day, of course. After that, we’ll be setting up shop in The Houses of Journalist County!

METAPHORS AND FACTS: He’s looked at life from one side now!


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.

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.
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?

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

Supplemental: New York Times triggers blasphemy rampage!


How to read newspaper profiles: At the start of the week, the New York Times managed to start an Internet blasphemy rampage.

It did so with a rumination on the existence of angels. Here’s how the rampage was triggered:

On Monday morning, the Times ran profiles of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson side-by-side on the paper’s front page.

Front-page profiles of this type tend to be soft and unhelpful. Routinely, they include second-hand information and musings which may be, in the famous phrase, “more prejudicial than probative.”

The 1400-word profile of Brown was written by John Eligon. He touched off the blasphemy rampage with just his fifth paragraph.

(For an explanation of the term, “blasphemy rampage,” see this earlier post.)

Below, you see the first four paragraphs of Eligon’s profile. The information included there is utterly pointless. But it presented an upbeat portrait, as was perfectly sensible:
ELIGON (8/25/14): It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God. Mr. Brown was a prankster, so his father and stepmother chuckled at first.

“No, no, Dad! No!” the elder Mr. Brown remembered his son protesting. “I’m serious.”

And the black teenager from this suburb of St. Louis, who had just graduated from high school, sent his father and stepmother a picture of the sky from his cellphone. “Now I believe,” he told them.

In the weeks afterward, until his shooting death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9, they detected a change in him as he spoke seriously about religion and the Bible. He was grappling with life’s mysteries.
On its face, that’s utterly pointless. But, by standard reckoning, it’s cheerful and upbeat. In the weeks before his death, Brown was growing philosophical. “He was grappling with life’s mysteries.”

So far, so good! Readers thought they were getting to know what Brown was actually like.

At this point, Eligon slipped. He penned a slightly puzzling paragraph and due to a single turn of phrase, an Internet rampage began:
ELIGON (continuing directly): Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.
Some of that paragraph doesn’t make much sense. The fact that you “live in a community that has rough patches” doesn’t mean that you’re “no angel,” if that’s what it was intended to say.

Meanwhile, had Brown had been involved in one scuffle? Had he dabbled in alcohol? Those don’t seem like hugely significant facts.

On the other hand, Brown had menaced a convenience store clerk just ten minutes before his fatal encounter with Officer Wilson. In that fifth paragraph, Eligon bumped the severity of that behavior down in several ways.

This was classic front-page profile writing. It started with some catchy nonsense, then segued ahead with a turn of phrase built out of Brown’s vision of Satan chasing an angel.

But uh-oh! As he segued out of his opening, Eligon said that Brown “was no angel.” (The young man had “both problems and promise.”)

In some precincts of the “left,” you aren’t allowed to say things like that at this point in time. And so, the rampage started.

We first became aware of the rampage when we read Joanna Rothkopf’s post at Salon. Let’s give credit where credit is due:

Quite correctly, Rothkopf saw that Eligon’s profile “was a generally poignant piece about Michael Brown,” a “generally respectful article.” To read her post, click here.

That said, the new Salon has little respect for its readers or for the truth. For that reason, the site’s famously frenzied editors refashioned what Rothkopf had said, offering these headlines:
Michael Brown was “no angel,” according to outrageously skewed New York Times report
People took to Twitter to express their outrage over the teen's skewed portrayal
To Rothkopf, the profile was “generally respectful.” In Salon's headlines, editors changed that assessment to “outrageously skewed.”

Rothkopf was certainly right about the overall profile. It started in an upbeat way, envisioning Brown as the new Spinoza. As it continued, it put a largely cheerful spin on the events of the young man’s life.

Rothkopf was right about the overall tone. But by the time she composed her post, the blasphemy rampage was underway. Perhaps for that reason, she complained that “the generally respectful article has unwittingly demonstrated the media’s unconscious bias.”

How had Eligon done that? Rothkopf posted the text of his fifth paragraph. Then, she offered this:
ROTHKOPF (8/25/14): In an article that purports to be about the spiritual curiosity of a doomed teen, why is it necessary to hedge the writer’s argument with harmless details of his allegedly fraught youth? Because certain media outlets have aggressively spread certain details of Brown’s life, it seems that every news outlet needs to include details of Brown’s drug use and petty theft (which are normal teenage offenses) in order to remain “objective.” In reality, the inclusion of these details represents the public will to say that maybe, just maybe, Brown’s fate was unavoidable.
Truthfully, none of that makes sense. (On the whole, does the article purport to be about the spiritual curiosity of a doomed teen?)

None of that makes sense. But according to Rothkopf, the profile shouldn’t have mentioned the “harmless details” of Brown’s life, including drug use and “petty theft.” Through some unexplained chain of reasoning, she judged that Eligon’s inclusion of those matters “represents the public will to say that maybe, just maybe, Brown’s fate was unavoidable.”

You’re right! That doesn’t make any sense. But this is the new Salon.

Rothkopf is two years out of Middlebury. She spent her junior year at the Sorbonne, studying literature and cinema.

Her journalistic chops are extremely slight. In a wonderful turn of phrase, the young scribe then offered this:

“Expectedly, people have taken to Twitter to express their outrage at the piece, zeroing in on the phrase ‘was no angel.’ ”

“Expectedly?” Was that the word she meant? According to Rothkopf, it’s now expected that people will voice their outrage over a single turn of phrase in a lengthy profile which is “generally respectful.”

Is that what Rothkopf meant to say? Sadly, what she said is all too true!

As always, the blasphemy outrage was majorly dumb, but that’s what our tribe has become. We used to laugh at Rush’s listeners for this. Today, we’re ditto-heads too.

Can we talk? Eligon’s profile of Michael Brown was largely pointless. But it was also upbeat and cheerful—you might even say respectful. No serious person would think it was some kind of attack on Brown, let alone a statement of “the public will to say that maybe, just maybe, Brown’s fate was unavoidable.”

That last assessment was very dumb, but Rothkopf writes for the new Salon. She posted tweets from outraged scribes, who rose in sacred fury.

You have to be dumb to rampage like that. But on one point, there can be no mistake:

Our team is reflexively dumb now too! There’s no way that this sad turn can really be good for the nation.

METAPHORS AND FACTS: From Nerdland, professor responds to Klein!


Part 4—The quality of our discourse:
We wouldn’t have written Joe Klein’s piece ourselves. In fact, we didn’t write it.

That said, it isn’t gigantically hard to see what Klein was saying. For background, see yesterday's post.

We’d say that Klein made two different points. Given the way our discourse works, that’s often one too many.

We’d say that Klein made these two claims. We’re paraphrasing:
Joe Klein’s two points (paraphrased):
1) The story of Michael Brown’s death is more complex than it seemed at first.
2) There are cultural problems in black America which need to be addressed.
Uh-oh! As everyone knows, you aren’t allowed, in certain precincts, to make anything like that second statement. That said, this is the part of Klein’s column we’d paraphrase that way:
KLEIN (8/21/14): [W]e have developed new historic truths over the past 50 years. A great many bodega owners won’t see Michael Brown as a metaphor for anything. They see potentially threatening customers every day. Blacks represent 13% of the population but commit 50% of the murders; 90% of black victims are murdered by other blacks. The facts suggest that history is not enough to explain this social disaster.


Race remains an open wound. There is a new generation of black intellectuals who are raising the issue in thoughtful, provocative ways. “The Case for Reparations” by the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is compelling, even if the case is not a particularly strong one. We’ve had 50 years of drastically improved political, educational and employment opportunities for blacks, which have produced a burgeoning middle class, but a debilitating culture of poverty persists among the urban underclass. Black crime rates are much higher than they were before the civil rights movement. These problems won’t be solved simply by the recognition of historic grievances. Absent a truly candid conversation about the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation, they won’t be solved at all.
In that passage, Klein refers to “a debilitating culture of poverty” within “the urban underclass,” and to “the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation,” apparently within that lower-income subpopulation. That’s why we paraphrased Klein as referring to “cultural problems.”

Personally, we don’t have a giant problem with references to “cultural” problems within some part of black America. Here’s why:

There are obvious cultural problems within white America, as modern liberals often note, perhaps without using that term. Unless we’re mistaken, there are cultural problems within every society and every population, all over the world.

Given our nation’s brutal racial history, it would be odd to think that black America was the one population on earth within which there were no “cultural” problems, shortfalls or imperfections. But that bit of tribal scripting has seemed to emerge in parts of the “left” in recent months.

This may help explain one hapless reaction to Klein’s imperfect essay, in which he repeatedly cited the brutal racial history of the past 400 years.

That reaction was authored by Melissa Harris-Perry. It came to us in the form of an open letter to Klein, a letter delivered from Nerdland.

Harris-Perry was writing from Nerdland! That humble-brag peeped over her shoulder as she delivered her rebuttal to Klein on her MSNBC program last Saturday.

The tape and transcript of her rebuttal are available here, with an additional link to Klein’s column. Harris-Perry called Klein’s column “cringe-worthy.” We’d call her rebuttal “much worse.”

In our view, here’s why:

In our view, Harris-Perry’s attitudinal delivery was unfortunate, given the importance of the topics under review. Like her pitiful reference to Nerdland, it represented a bit of cable show business.

It was designed to pleasure us the rubes—us the liberal rubes.

That’s our view on Harris-Perry’s tone and trappings; your mileage may of course differ. With that in mind, let’s consider what the professor said.

Throughout, Harris-Perry read chunks of what Klein said, then offered rebuttal or comment. Below, you see was the first chunk of her rebuttal.

We’d have to say she’s already lost, or at least pretending to be, perhaps for tribal effect:
HARRIS-PERRY (8/23/14): You write:

“At first, it seemed a perfect metaphor for 400 years of oppression: a white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager multiple times. He is shot with his hands up, it is reported, at least once in the back.”

Joe. When a community is reeling from an unarmed teen shot to death, when his body was left for hours in plain view of the community, when no arrests have been made for his slaying, when those who are protesting the killing are met with militarized local police force and tear gas–it is not a metaphor.

The people of Ferguson and the nation are mourning the death of a real person.
They are responding to actual events and actions taken by the local government. That this death and those actions are consistent with a long history of similar deaths and actions makes them historically rooted. Not metaphorical.
Coming from a university professor, we’d have to call that sad. Sad, and just a bit Ukrainian, in the sense we’ve been exploring over the past three days.

It’s certainly true—Brown’s death can be said to be “historically rooted.” That’s the point Klein seemed to be making with his repeated references to our “400 years of oppression.” (Klein: “black women have been casually violated by white men in America for 400 years.” Also: “all too often in the past, we’ve exonerated racist thugs who were clearly guilty” in the killing of blacks by police.)

Plainly, Michael Brown’s death can be said to be “historically rooted.” That doesn’t mean that the killing can’t also be a “perfect metaphor” for those centuries of brutal conduct, in the way Klein used the term.

That said, not every shooting is an act of oppression or even injustice. Klein’s point in discussing “perfect metaphor” was fairly easy to discern:

According to Klein, the initial description of Brown’s death made it a remarkably clear-cut example of heinous injustice. As more facts have surfaced, the nature of the killing has become less clear.

“The people of Ferguson and the nation are mourning the death of a real person?” This is an obvious fact, but it doesn’t begin to contradict what Klein said about “perfect metaphor.” Is it even dimply possible that Harris-Perry doesn’t understand that? Assuming she isn’t just clowning around, her next chunk is deeply pathetic:
HARRIS-PERRY (continuing directly): “But the perfection of the metaphor is soon blurred by facts,” you write. “The gentle giant, Michael Brown Jr. ...seems pretty intimidating in a surveillance video...

Joe. “Seemed pretty intimidating” is not a fact.

The fact is the surveillance video shows an apparent petty crime–one that Officer Darren Wilson did not know about when he stopped Michael Brown and one that does not carry a death sentence even if a person is guilty of committing it.

“An autopsy, requested by Brown’s parents, shows six bullet wounds; the kill shot is into the top of the victim’s head-which raises another possibility, that the officer, Darren Wilson, fired in self-defense.”

Joe. It is certainly a possibility, but let us traffic in facts:

Officer Wilson was armed. Michael Brown was not. Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown. Michael Brown is dead. Officer Wilson has not been arrested. On the day that the Ferguson police finally made Officer Wilson’s name public, they also released the surveillance video you mentioned despite knowing that it had no bearing on the officer’s decision to stop Michael Brown. Those are the facts.
“Those are the facts?” Truly, that’s deeply pathetic, especially from a university professor who signs her address as Nerdland.

Those are the facts? Actually, no—those are some of the facts! More specifically, those are the facts which help Harris-Perry keep her narration a bit of a “perfect metaphor”—a simplistic story with no moral ambiguity or factual uncertainty.

In that passage, she is picking and choosing her facts. She even includes the most pointless fact of them all. (Robbing a convenience story doesn’t carry a death penalty!) She’s also evading Klein’s simple point:

As more facts have emerged, the story has become a bit less clear that it was in its initial telling, in which a “gentle giant” doing nothing wrong was “shot in the back.”

Brown’s aggressive conduct in the store raises the possibility that he may have behaved aggressively at Officer Wilson’s car. It’s also entirely possible, of course, that he didn’t behave aggressively toward Wilson—and if he did, that doesn’t necessarily justify Wilson’s subsequent conduct.

The story got more a bit complex when that surveillance tape surfaced. But, like tribal players all over the world, Harris-Perry wishes away the facts that don’t serve her preferred thesis—and she pretends she doesn’t know what Klein is talking about.

“Those are the facts”—good God! Those are some of the facts! That is perhaps the most basic distinction we can ask a person to make.

Harris-Perry makes some actual points as she responds to Klein. When Klein presented his crime statistics, we’d say he wasn’t careful enough, especially given the seriousness of what was being discussed.

Klein was discussing the lives of black kids, both in St. Louis and in Baltimore! Harris-Perry makes one valid rebuttal here, but skips past an overall point:
HARRIS-PERRY (continuing directly): You cite these statistics:

“Blacks represent 13% of the population but commit 50% of the murders; 90% of black victims are murdered by other blacks.”

Joe. If you want to just cite random crime facts that have nothing to do with this case, how about this one: 83% of white victims are murdered by other white people.

Your statistics about black homicide perpetrators have nothing to do with what happened August 9. We know who shot Michael Brown to death–and it wasn’t a black man. And how about this stat: On average, between 2006 and 2012, nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person. Two times a week. That fact would suggest Michael Brown had plenty of reason to be afraid of Darren Wilson.
It’s true that Klein’s “statistics about black homicide perpetrators have nothing to do with what happened August 9.” But the statistics cited by Harris-Perry indicate that blacks are being murdered at a much higher rate than other Americans, and that these murders are largely committed by other blacks.

The victims include a lot of black kids who are doing nothing whatever that’s wrong. It’s silly to think that a high murder rate of innocents can’t be described as a “cultural” problem, but that rule now exists in some precincts like Nerdland.

To see what we mean, read on:

At this point, the professor from Nerdland played her most pitiful card. Truly, this is low and grimy, sick and dumb, however pleasing it may seen to us the obedient rubes:
HARRIS-PERRY (continuing directly): You go on.

“A debilitating culture of poverty persists among the urban underclass. Black crime rates are much higher than they were before the civil rights movement.”

Joe. The American crime rate overall—regardless of the race of the perpetrator or victim—is higher than it was in 1960. And crime has dropped precipitously since its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. It is the poverty that is debilitating because it severely reduces access to sufficient nutrition, housing, health care, quality educational opportunities, and sustainable employment opportunities.

As for the “culture of poverty,” is that American jazz, blues, or hip-hop you are referencing? Because those are some of the cultural products of the black American poor.
Good God! That's amazing. Just wow.

Again, we think Klein was careless in some of the ways he discussed crime statistics. Harris-Perry makes an accurate clarification here.

But good God! Look at that highlighted passage. Klein is talking about the culture of a very high murder rate. Pulling out her cheapest, most disrespectful card, Harris-Perry pretends that he must hate the sweaty music of blacks!

Wow! What else can be said?

We liberals watch Harris-Perry thinking we’re seeing a top-rate professor. Here’s what you can often learn from watching her TV show:

Our black professors can be as pathetic as their useless white counterparts! Especially on the TV machine, our elites are often a worthless gang of high-paid tribal clowns.

Tomorrow: Touré gets it (exactly halfway) right

Supplemental: Where do our cartoons come from!


In Perlstein’s case, we can tell you:
Increasingly, the journalism of our election campaigns is a series of low-grade cartoons.

The process has been unfolding for some time. We were surprised by Rick Perlstein’s cartooning when we revisited his 2008 best-seller, Nixonland, a few weeks ago.

Nixonland concerns itself with some very important historical questions. But in Chapter Two, The Orthogonian, Perlstein constructs a remarkable series of highly peculiar cartoons.

There’s a cartoon of the young Nixon himself, along with cartoons of his mother and father. There’s even a cartoon of Yorba Linda, the community where Nixon was born.

There’s even a peculiar cartoon of the dirty, humiliating role of work in American life.

The scholarship is appalling. The logic is that the crackpot. The sensibility is drawn from the world of the silly cartoon.

Where do our cartoons come from? In this case, we can show you.

Below, you see part of Perlstein’s cartoon of the young Nixon. On August 16, we discussed this peculiar passage.

We don’t know which is worse in this passage—the gong-show logic, the ridiculous scholarship, or the unvarnished hatred Perlstein is willing to direct at a child.

We highlight the first of the chunks which constitute this initial cartoon. Below, we’ll show you where it came from:
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.”
Really? When the 7-year-old bopped that kid on the head, he was displaying his “rage?”

In our earlier post, we included chunks of the oral history interview in which Gerald Shaw, the “victim” in question, laughed about the horrible incident and described the years of friendship and play he shared with Nixon, extending into high school.

Today, we can show you where Perlstein’s pollywog passage comes from.

In his endnotes, Perlstein doesn’t cite a source for his account of the rage-driven victimization. That said, the passage was basically cut-and-pasted from Fawn Brodie’s often ridiculous 1981 “psychobiography” of Nixon.

Many scholars have rolled their eyes at Brodie’s often-peculiar book. This is the passage in question:
BRODIE (page 24): There was rage in Nixon as a child. At age seven, when he wanted a jar of pollywogs a six-year-old friend had captured in the irrigation canal, and the boy would not give them up, Richard hit him on the head with a hatchet. The victim bore the scar all his life.
Brodie provides a source for her passage. She cites the very same oral history interview we excerpted a few weeks ago, in which Nixon’s “victim” laughs about the traumatic event and describes his ongoing friendship with his rage-filled friend.

Brodie skipped Shaw’s lengthy account of the continuing friendship. She only discussed the troubling “rage” Nixon displayed toward his victim—when he was 7 years old.

Basically, Perlstein cut-and-pasted Brodie’s account. For ourselves, we’re less concerned with the sketchy scholarship than with the extremely peculiar judgment. If you were going to borrow a passage from an historian, why would you choose to help yourself to a ludicrous judgment like that?

As Perlstein continues, he offers two more demonic anecdotes from the life of the young Nixon. In this case, he sources each passage to Brodie’s 1981 book. This is odd, because Brodie’s interpretation of the job appeal to the Los Angeles Times is completely flattering to the “studious, ambitious, respected” young Nixon (pages 77-78), while Perlstein apparently felt compelled to complete his demonic cartoon of the Damien-like fifth-grader who was already willing to grovel.

Why would someone compose such an ugly cartoon about a mere child? There is no scholarship involved, just the ability, and the desire, to construct a cartoonish portrait.

Why would someone compose that cartoon? We can’t answer that question, but Perlstein also composed a cartoon about Yorba Linda itself. In this August 18 post, we showed you his long portrait of the “godforsaken little burg” where Nixon was forced to spend his earliest years.

We were struck by the stunning condescension of that highly peculiar passage. For whatever it may be worth, Brodie’s portrait of Yorba Linda was quite different. “To the visitor Yorba Linda seemed like a languid paradise,” she wrote (page 66). She described the “sweet-smelling air” from “thousands of acres of young trees” and the glorious climate, with the fog occasionally rolling in from the coast.

Picture postcards of the area “advertised the Promised Land,” she wrote. She described the play of the children, who “hunted rabbits or rattlesnakes in the summer and chased tumbleweeds in the fall.” She quoted the novelist Jessamyn West, Nixon’s older second cousin, describing this era in Yorba Linda as “the Midas-time” of her life.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Perlstein’s cartoons of Nixon’s parents. In the case of Nixon’s demonically lying mother, Perlstein’s extremely peculiar cartoon was rather plainly adopted from Brodie—and we’ve begun to wonder if Brodie’s original cartooning may have affected the coverage of a later White House campaign.

Brodie’s often ridiculous psycho-biography appeared in 1981. That seems like ancient history today, but it was only eighteen years until the coverage of Campaign 2000 began.

Good lord! In the many cartoons the mainstream press composed concerning Candidate Gore, they often compared him to Nixon. And good grief! One of the press corps’ most punishing themes seems to have transmigrated from Brodie’s poorly-reasoned book.

It had only been eighteen years. Could it possibly be? Did the influential reporter we have in mind cadge his ridiculous, punishing theme from Brodie’s once-famous book?

We’ll consider that question on Friday. Warning! Once we let the cartoons start, they may be hard to turn off.

Supplemental: The tribal hatred just keeps on coming!


In today's Times, the Yazidis are us: In today’s paper, the New York Times describes the tribal hatred aimed at the Yazidis.

Azam Ahmed did the reporting. We thought of conduct which was described in Nazi-occupied Poland, then in the Balkans and in Rwanda. Ever so briefly, we also thought about us:
AHMED (8/27/14): The afternoon before his family fled the onslaught of Sunni militants, Dakhil Habash was visited by three of his Arab neighbors. Over tea, his trusted friend Matlul Mare told him not to worry about the advancing fighters and that no harm would come to him or his Yazidi people.

The men had helped one another over the years: Mr. Mare brought supplies to Mr. Habash’s community in the years after the American invasion, when travel outside their northern enclave was too dangerous for Yazidis. Mr. Mare bought tomatoes and watermelon from Mr. Habash’s farm and sometimes borrowed money.

But his friend’s assurances did not sit right with Mr. Habash. That night, he gathered his family and fled. Soon afterward, he said, he found out that Mr. Mare had joined the militants and was helping them hunt down Yazidi families.

“Our Arab neighbors turned on all of us,” said Mr. Habash, who recounted his story from a makeshift refugee camp on the banks of a fetid stream
near the city of Zakho, in Iraqi Kurdistan. “We feel betrayed. They were our friends.”
Ahmed spoke to one of the people accused of turning against the Yazidis. Among us humans, loathing of The Other is deeply bred in the bone. People succumb to these tribal impulses all around the world, not just in eastern Ukraine:
AHMED: “I called my closest friend after we fled, an Arab man who owned a shop in our village,” said a Yazidi man who identified himself only as Haso, declining to give his first name out of fear of reprisal. “When I asked him what he was doing, he told me he was looking for Yazidis to kill.”

The friend denied Haso’s account. But he grew angry when a journalist referred to the militant group as ISIS, because the militants now prefer to be called the Islamic State.

Another Yazidi refugee, Qasim Omar, said that just before ISIS reached his village, Arab neighbors began flying the group’s black flag from their homes.

“Before ISIS came, the Arab villagers had already helped them,” said Mr. Omar, 63. “I couldn’t believe it. They were our brothers.”
Do not refer to them as ISIS! That's not what they say any more!

Ahmed also describes the way some Arabs have “risked their lives to save persecuted friends.” That happens everywhere too, among the “righteous Gentiles.”

Tribal loathing seems to be deeply bred in the bone. Presumably, mistrust of The Other was once a survival skill.

It surfaces in different ways within different cultures. Do you ever get the feeling that you see this loathing in ours?

We don’t mean, Do you see it when you watch Fox? We are asking a different question:

Do you ever think you've spotted this impulse among those within your own tribe?

METAPHORS AND FACTS: Simplified stories and Michael Brown’s death!


Part 3—What Joe Klein wrote:
Full disclosure. We used to do a comedy bit on the subject of “simple solutions.”

(One such “simple solution:” “We’re going to send it all back to the states! We’ll let the states run the government, those magnificent states!” That was one premise in that bit. You can fashion the punch-lines.)

We used to try to make people laugh at the existence of “simple solutions.” Perhaps for the reason, we were drawn to Joe Klein’s essay concerning Michael Brown’s death.

Klein’s brief essay appeared at Time. These are the headlines on the piece, headlines he may not have written:
Beyond a Simple Solution for Ferguson
Why we need to address race relations in a thoughtful, provocative way
We’re opposed to simple solutions! Beyond that, we support “thoughtful” analyses!
Those headlines drew us to Klein’s essay, large chunks of which we wouldn’t have written. The essay started like this:
KLEIN (8/21/14): At first, it seemed a perfect metaphor for 400 years of oppression: a white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager multiple times. He is shot with his hands up, it is reported, at least once in the back. The young man is a “gentle giant” with no adult criminal record. He seems guilty of nothing more than walking while black, albeit down the middle of the street. This takes place in a town that appears to have been cryogenically preserved from the 1960s, before the Voting Rights Act was passed. An estimated 67% of its citizens are African American; its government is melanin-deprived. The mayor of Ferguson, Mo., is white; 50 of the 53 police officers are white. Demonstrators come out to protest the atrocity–nobody is calling it an “apparent” atrocity yet–and the police respond in gear that makes a St. Louis suburb look like Kandahar.
Can we talk? As best we can tell, no one is calling Michael Brown’s death an “apparent atrocity” even now!

We ran the phrase through Nexis; we got zero hits in the past month. Google also provides no hits, aside from Klein’s own usage.

If we had edited Klein’s piece, we would have suggested that he state that point a different way. That said, it isn’t hard to discern Klein’s larger point as he starts his piece.

As originally reported, Michael Brown’s death seemed to involve an especially heinous crime—a heinous crime straight from a Hollywood script.

In the original narration, Brown had literally been “shot in the back,” a traditional symbol of heinous conduct. He had also been shot “with his hands up,” the traditional sign of surrender.

As initially described, the shooting death of Michael Brown seemed remarkably heinous. (It may yet turn out that this was the case.) That said, does anyone really not understand what Klein meant by this statement?

“At first, it seemed a perfect metaphor for 400 years of oppression.”

In that passage, Klein seems to be saying that African-Americans have in fact experienced “400 years of oppression” in this country. (That statement is true, though not all-inclusive.) He seems to be saying that the heinous nature of the initial description made the shooting a perfect distillation of all those previous heinous acts.

It’s hard to see how anyone of the “left” could find that statement offensive. But uh-oh!

As Klein continued, he said the actual facts in this case may not be quite so clear-cut, or quite so perfectly heinous. He said the actual story isn't as simple as that initial report.

For ourselves, we wouldn’t have written most of the following passage. Still, we’d say that Klein’s point concerning “metaphoric truths” remains abundantly clear:
KLEIN (continuing directly): But the perfection of the metaphor is soon blurred by facts. The gentle giant, Michael Brown Jr.–nicknamed Bodyguard by his friends–seems pretty intimidating in a surveillance video, in which he is seen taking cigarillos from a convenience store, tossing the diminutive clerk into a snack display as if he were a bag of Doritos. The alleged robbery occurs 10 minutes before the confrontation with the cop. The inevitable Rev. Al Sharpton says the video is an attempt to “smear” the young man. Then more facts emerge, and other eyewitnesses allegedly describe a more aggressive Michael Brown–more like the fellow in the video. An autopsy, requested by Brown’s parents, shows six bullet wounds; the kill shot is into the top of the victim’s head–which raises another possibility, that the officer, Darren Wilson, fired in self-defense. And now we have a metaphor of a different, far more difficult sort: about the uncanny ability of Americans to talk past each other when it comes to race relations, and also about the struggle between facts and metaphoric truths.
We’re puzzled by much of that paragraph. Personally, we wouldn’t have made the inevitable snide reference to Reverend Sharpton, especially since a lot of people have made the claim that Michael Brown was “smeared.” Nor do we understand the logic of this sentence:

“An autopsy...shows six bullet wounds; the kill shot is into the top of the victim’s head–which raises another possibility, that the officer, Darren Wilson, fired in self-defense.”

At this point, we’d say it’s still possible that Wilson fired in some form of self-defense, at least in his final shots. That said, we don’t understand how a kill shot into the top of Michael Brown’s head “raises [that] possibility,” absent some further explanation which Klein does not provide.

Given the “perfect metaphor” framework, we’re also struck by an omission. By the time Klein wrote his essay, the world had learned that Michael Brown wasn’t “shot in the back.”

As Klein noted in paragraph one, the claim that Brown was “shot in the back” helped make this a “perfect metaphor.” The perfection of the story erodes a bit when this claim turns out to be false.

Michael Brown wasn’t “shot in the back.” Still, it seems likely that Wilson shot at Brown as he fled, a form of policing we would regard as extremely shaky (and possibly illegal), absent some unusual justification. If we understand what Michael Baden has said, it may even be the case that Brown was winged in the arm by one shot as he fled, although that remains to be determined.

We’re puzzled by some of that second paragraph. That said, we agree with something else Klein says. We agree that the surveillance video from the convenience store “blurs the perfection of the metaphor.”

We know what we're supposed to say. Here's why we say that instead:

As Klein said, the metaphor was made more perfect when Brown was described as a “gentle giant.” That is to say, the story was simplified—made less complex—by the idea that Brown hadn’t done anything wrong, perhaps in his whole life.

Pleasing stories—metaphorical tales—are fashioned in such ways. That said, the surveillance tape suggests the possibility that Brown may have behaved inappropriately, even perhaps aggressively, in his initial encounter with Officer Wilson.

This makes the story less simple-minded. It complicates the original perfect tale.

Can we talk? Every good pseudo-liberal knows what to say at this point! Every well-scripted pseudo-progressive—each ditto-head of the so-called left—will rise in exquisite indignation to recite a well-rehearsed point:

Stealing from a convenience store does not involve a death penalty!

The analysts always start to cry when liberals recite this point. When they see this occur, it makes them think there is no hope for our struggling, script-ridden species.

It’s certainly true! Stealing from a convenience store is not a capital crime! It couldn’t explain, or justify, Wilson’s conduct in firing at Brown as he ran down the street, if that’s what he actually did.

It certainly couldn’t justify shooting at Brown as he tried to surrender, if that’s what Wilson did.

(Just for the record, liberals are also expected to say that Wilson didn’t know about the convenience store theft. Some liberals are still saying the theft didn’t occur, long after Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, has apparently said that it did.)

Stealing from a convenience store shouldn’t get somebody killed! But the aggressive conduct seen on that tape does undermine the moral perfection of the original story.

It makes it less a fairy tale and more a story drawn from real life. It suggests the possibility of aggressive conduct by Brown when he encountered Officer Wilson—a possibility that didn’t exist in the original “perfect metaphor.”

This doesn’t mean that Wilson was justified in shooting at Brown as he ran down the street, if that’s what he did. But it raises the possibility that the story will be more complex than the initial telling.

Did Brown behave aggressively at the police car? We have no way of knowing. Moments later, is it possible that Brown behaved in some aggressive way which may have led Wilson to fire those final shots, perhaps unwisely or even illegally? That possibility didn’t exist in the tale originally told, in the tale where a “gentle giant” had been “shot in the back,” full stop.

For ourselves, we don’t know why Wilson would have fired at Brown as he fled. That strikes us as reckless policing.

(Unless Wilson was firing warning shots, it means that he was trying to shoot Brown “in the back.”)

But yes—that convenience store tape introduces possibilities which were absent from the original tale. The original story featured a gentle giant. In the revised tale, that same individual seems to have menaced a much smaller person just ten minutes before.

At this point, we can’t tell you what happened when Brown encountered Wilson. Let’s return to Klein’s basic point concerning “metaphor.”

As Klein continues, he wails away at Sharpton, just as Maureen Dowd does today in her latest clown-cry column. Quite often, major pundits use Sharpton to create simplified tales of their own.

For ourselves, we would have left Sharpton out of this piece. But it’s fairly clear what Klein has in mind as he continues to talk about “metaphoric truths:”
KLEIN (continuing directly): Sharpton has made a living off metaphoric truths since the late 1980s, when he promoted a terrified young woman named Tawana Brawley, who claimed that she had been raped by six white men, including the local prosecutor. Her story was later shown in court to be false, but the metaphoric truth was undeniable: black women have been casually violated by white men in America for 400 years. The undercurrent was strong enough that few black leaders rose up to take on Sharpton. The fetishizing of black sexuality by white men (and women) was too close to the bone, an infuriating historic truth.
Brawley’s original story was a “perfect metaphor” too. Isn’t it fairly clear what Klein means by that?

What does Klein mean when he says that Brawley’s story was a “metaphoric truth?” Among other things, he means that it was a thoroughly simplified story, with clear-cut heroes and clear-cut villains straight out of B-grade westerns or Hansel and Gretel.

He means that the story didn’t contain a hint of ambiguity, whether moral or factual. He means that the story was a cartoon—a story so simple that any child would read its moral dimension.

In our view, Klein’s column is somewhat clumsily written. We don’t understand a few of things he says as he continues on from this point. But he clearly makes a statement with which many current progressives will disagree:

Rather clearly, Klein says there are cultural problems in the black community—problems in the “the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation.” He says that those cultural problems won’t be solved by falling back on simple-minded stories which feature perfect villains and perfectly innocent victims.

That doesn’t tell us what the truth will turn out to be concerning the conduct of Wilson. It doesn’t tell us the truth about policing nationwide.

It says that the society’s larger problems are more complex than a simplified tale in which a gentle giant is shot in the back. It says we can’t address our problems by selling each other cartoons.

For ourselves, we wouldn’t have written large parts of Klein’s column, but we’re somehow able to grasp the gist of what’s being said. But all over Corporate Liberal Land, silly people are coming forward to sell us simplified, stupenagel stories—stories which are “perfect metaphors,” of the kind Rush Limbaugh has always sold.

Some of these simplified, stupid stories involve particular events. Some of these simplified, stupid stories involve the shape of the culture.

That said, the people who sell these simplified stories are peddling product. You shouldn’t be fooled by the lofty titles which sometimes precede their names.

They parade about on your TV screen, pretending they don’t understand Joe Klein’s horrific column. They sell our tribe barrels of indignation, just as Hannity does.

Tomorrow, we’ll review one televised reaction to Klein’s horrific column. We wouldn’t have written Klein’s column ourselves, but we’re able to read what he wrote without turning into a clown.

People, Hansel and Gretel are dead! Citizens of all descriptions ought to start spreading the word.

Tomorrow: Truly, horrible work

Supplemental: The culture of cartooning!


Looking ahead to the next unbearable race:
Hillary Clinton has too much money! Mitt Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car!

Candidate Gore is the world’s biggest liar! He perspires too much, like Nixon!

It’s official! Next Tuesday, we’ll be starting our award-winning series, “The Houses of Journalist County.” The series represents our reaction to the press corps’ deep concern, expressed in June and July, that the Clintons 1) get paid too much for speeches and 2) own way too many houses, more specifically two.

Back in June, Diane Sawyer kick-started this heartfelt theme—she of the $80 million reported net worth. As the Washington Post turned this theme into the press corps’ latest cartoon, we decided to take a look at the way our big “journalists” live!

In our award-winning series, we’ll explore three or four different themes. We’ll review the wealth of a few journalistic leaders, especially as seen through the lens of their various “cottages.” We’ll also be asking a basic question:

What kind of journalism can we expect from people who live as they do?

For comic relief, we’ll explore the ways these multimillionaires try to convince us the rubes that they’re really just like us. For a recent sample of this art form, see Parade Magazine’s profile of Meredith Vieira, which appeared last Sunday.

“I want people to see the real me,” Vieira says on the hard-copy cover. Inside, and in a few other profiles, we find a few of the most laughable cons we’ve ever seen from a major celebrity journalist.

In our new series, we’ll also discuss an interesting strain of modern journalism. Over perhaps a dozen years, a few daring scribes critiqued the “buckraking” which produces the modern journalist’s wealth.

In our experience, Jacob Weisberg started this discussion in 1986. See his challenging piece for The New Republic, written when he was still just a lowly senior at Yale.

It’s a bit ironic that Weisberg started this thread. We say that because, in the present day, the gentleman seems to be firmly ensconced in The Houses of Journalist County.

We’d have to say it shows in his work, the very pitfall he discussed in the winter of 86. Having said that, we believe The Houses of Journalist County may pull “Jake” out of his rut!

Our current interest in this topic dates to the cartoon the Post began shaping about the Clintons’ vast wealth.

Don’t get us wrong—a candidate’s wealth can certainly be a legitimate point of concern. Nor is Hillary Clinton our idea of the ideal candidate.

That said, we began to worry about journalists’ wealth in the fall of 1999. It happened when Mary McGrory (and quite a few others) made a mockery of the first Gore-Bradley Democratic debate.

For the most part, the debate concerned the two candidates’ health care proposals. But so what? In the Washington Post, McGrory spent the better part of her next two columns mocking Gore’s funny clothes.

A speculation popped into our head. McGrory already had outstanding health care—and she didn’t seem to care if we the lesser folk do.

As the corps has become more rich, it has become more fatuous. We recommend Simon Malloy’s piece about Maureen Dowd’s latest cartoon.

(We’re recommending Salon!)

We aren’t crazy about Hillary Clinton either. But we reject the horrible Sawyer as the arbiter of the nation’s political judgments and choices. In the wake of Sawyer’s purring at Clinton about her deeply troubling wealth, the Washington Post began to construct the press corps’ latest campaign-ready cartoon.

Next week, we’ll start our deathless series on this award-winning topic. Starting tomorrow, we’ll briefly return to Rick Perlstein’s cartoon of Richard Nixon in Nixonland’s Chapter Two.

(For our previous post on the subject, just click here.)

The culture of cartooning has started to drive the coverage of our White House campaigns. Next week, we’ll examine the wealth which makes our “journalists” want to waste their time composing these stupid cartoons.

In the meantime, two books about Nixon help us see the way this kind of cartooning looks. A modern nation can’t run on cartoons.

Nor should its citizens want to.

A note about Nixonland: Perlstein’s book examines deeply important historical themes—themes which help define our politics right through the present day.

Nixonland explores extremely important themes, but it also includes a bizarre cartoon. It amazes us that Perlstein wanted to draw it.

We think the culture of such cartooning is toxic. Tomorrow, we’ll see how it looks.

Supplemental: Additional late-summer fun in Ukraine!


We’ll always have Donetsk:
Travel writers have always praised late summer in eastern Ukraine.

In this morning’s New York Times, Kramer and Roth describe another of the region’s seasonal festivals. In today’s episode, a traitor is tied by the side of the road and motorists stop to abuse her.

For yesterday’s episode, just click here. Hard-copy headline included:
KRAMER AND ROTH (8/25/14): With Peace Talks Near, Prisoners in Ukraine Are Abused

On the sidewalk of a busy street beside a checkpoint, a bearded gunman wrapped a woman in a Ukrainian flag and forced her to stand, sobbing in terror,
holding a sign identifying her as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery. “She kills our children,” it read. Because the woman was a spy, said the gunman, a pro-Russian militant, everything that would happen to her would be well-deserved.

Passers-by stopped their cars to get out and spit, slap her face and throw tomatoes at her. Her knees buckled. She struggled to mumble in protest of her innocence and to shake her head in denial.

This theatrical scene of abuse unfolded a day after the rebel movement had paraded Ukrainian prisoners of war down a main thoroughfare here at bayonet point, then dramatically washed the pavement behind them.


The drama that played out on the streets of Donetsk Monday seemed sure to ratchet up tensions. A military unit of Russian nationals from the region of North Ossetia, in southern Russia, held the woman at a checkpoint in a roundabout in Donetsk known as “the Motel,” for a nearby hotel. The men, smiling and gesturing toward the woman, waved over cars for drivers to observe or take part.

“We should hang you on the square,” one woman in the crowd yelled, then walked up and spat in the face of the victim,
then kicked her in a thigh, causing the woman accused of spying to stagger back.

The gunmen looked on. At times, the pro-Russian soldiers posed beside the crying woman to take selfies on their smartphones, or playfully twirl her hair with their fingers.

At one point, a fighter walked a few paces back, crouched in the street and aimed a Kalashnikov rifle at the woman in a mock execution. The woman shut her eyes. “Open your eyes, stand up straight!” another of the gunmen yelled.
Just your typical seasonal stuff.

Again, we make an unpleasant point. The tendency to loathe The Other is deeply bred in the bone. We humans all have an impulse in this direction. Presumably, reflexive loathing of The Other was once a survival skill.

When our reptilian brain directs us to loathe, it also directs us to believe every unpleasant thing we might hear about Those People. It suggests that we start making up facts about how The Others are.

In various forms, this goes on all over the world. We sometimes think we see versions of this happening over here.

METAPHORS AND FACTS: Wilson wasn’t riding alone!


Part 2—Eleanor Clift’s false fact: Especially at times like this, our discourse will often be driven by false or unfounded facts.

These bogus facts are often transformed into “narratives”—selective stories designed to promote a preferred view of some incident.

Our discourse is often clogged with bogus facts. Often, these facts are put to partisan use—but where do those bogus facts come from?

Uh-oh! All too often, our bogus facts come from our major journalists. Consider one small example:

On Sunday, C-Span presented a lengthy program which it called a “Roundtable Discussion on Race in America.”

The discussion involved three well-known pundits. They were hosted by C-Span’s Peter Slen. To watch the discussion, click here.

On and on the discussion went. Roughly 96 minutes in, Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift said this about the militarization of police. We’ll highlight a blatant false statement:
CLIFT (8/24/14): Some jurisdictions, you know, big cities, need some of this armament. But Ferguson? It seems very much over the top and they seem like they are not at all trained to use it.

Taser—a Taser would have been much more effective in dealing with Michael Brown, but they say Tasers aren’t 100 percent effective. So maybe they ought to make them more effective.

Plus the fact there was a second police officer in the car with Wilson, I believe. That could be the backup with the gun. I think there is going to be some definite review of the procedures they used in Ferguson and whether those were the ones they were trained [in].
Did the “armament” in question belong to the Ferguson police, or to the St. Louis County police? We still aren’t clear on that point, which pundits routinely gloss.

We also cringed (so Digby wouldn’t have to) when Clift suggested that Tasers would have been a better tool in the case of Michael Brown. Unless we’re mistaken, the one prior instance of a Ferguson policeman killing a citizen involved the use of a Taser, not a gun, back in 2011.

Tasers are dangerous too. Depending on what occurred between Wilson and Brown, it isn’t clear that Taser use was necessary, appropriate or feasible.

Those are relatively minor points. We were most struck by Clift’s belief that Officer Wilson was riding with a second officer on the day he shot Michael Brown.

From this remarkable bungled claim, we quickly discerned an apparent fact: Eleanor Clift probably shouldn’t have been on TV discussing this high-profile matter.

Good grief! Fifteen days after Brown was killed, Clift still didn’t know the barest basics about the way the shooting occurred! And you probably know what happened next:

Wilson was by himself in his car that day. But none of the other C-Span participants corrected Clift’s misstatement.

Slen didn’t correct or question Clift’s error. Neither did her fellow panelists, Paul Butler and Armstrong Williams. As you know if you own a TV, that sort of thing just isn’t done to a pundit of Clift’s stature.

People! Professional courtesy!

Clift’s error won’t change the world. That said, somebody out there in C-Span land now believe a bogus fact because he saw Clift advance the claim as three other people looked on.

Clift’s error isn’t especially important. It doesn’t figure in any of the partisan narratives currently being voiced about this high-profile case.

This morning, in the Washington Post, we encountered a more significant error. We clicked a featured link from the Post’s web site and found Joshua Alston, a former Newsweek scribe, saying this about negative portraits of Brown:
ALSTON (8/25/14): The defamation machine is so predictable...

Cherry-picked details of [Brown’s] life may not matter for the inquest into his shooting. But that doesn’t make his character irrelevant. His character definitely matters.

It matters to the black people who are still alive, those of us who have to continue to muster the resolve to participate in and contribute to a country in which Brown was shot and left to languish, uncovered, for hours on the pavement.
Uh-oh! According to Sunday’s New York Times, it seems that Brown may have been left uncovered for perhaps 15 minutes. For background, see yesterday's post.

In typical fashion, the Times made little apparent effort to establish the accuracy of this claim, which theoretically lay at the heart of its front-page fact-check.

That said, it seems fairly clear that Michael Brown’s body did not lay uncovered “for hours.” And this particular fact really matters. It lies at the heart of a widespread narrative, in which the body’s lengthy exposure was a sign of contempt by local police for Ferguson’s black citizens.

Was the body “left to languish, uncovered, for hours?” Almost surely, no. But the Post is still publishing this claim—and there it was again last night, broadcast on CNN!

Once again, it was Van Jones who made this apparent misstatement last night. In the 11 PM hour of CNN Tonight, he told Don Lemon that the body was left uncovered “for four or five hours.”

As we noted yesterday, Jones is very smart and very fair. That said, he continued to make this inaccurate claim a full day after the New York Times seemed to say that the length of time in question was maybe 15 minutes.

Needless to say, Lemon didn’t question Jones’ remark. On TV, it isn’t done.

(As we post, CNN still hasn’t produced the transcript of last night’s 11 PM hour, in which the channel exploded with “Breaking News”—with an apparent audiotape of the gunshots which killed Brown. CNN made major claims all through this hour. It ought to produce a transcript.)

Where do our bogus facts come from? All too often, they come from our top-ranking journalists.

In the case of Clift, these journalists may go on TV to discuss matters they haven’t been following closely. In the case of Jones, they may keep repeating a bogus claim even after it seems to get debunked in a New York Times front-page report.

Moderators and other pundits almost never correct or challenge such claims. In the world of ranking pundits, this just isn’t done.

All too often, our major journalists are the source of our many false facts. All too often, these bogus facts turn into important partisan narratives.

Last week, Joe Klein used the term “metaphor” as he described this familiar process. What did Klein mean by that term?

Tomorrow, we’ll review what he said,
warts and all. On Thursday, we’ll review an attempt at rebuttal.

Tomorrow: Metaphors and facts

We’ve changed our headline for the week: We’ve changed our headline for the week to streamline our topic. Some of the questions we previewed yesterday will be discussed in supplemental posts.

Supplemental: Three stages of human evolution!


Also, all this week, new voices in the press: In this morning’s New York Times, Kramer and Higgins present a portrait of ourselves at a slightly different time, in a slightly different culture.

Their profile comes from Russkie-loving eastern Ukraine. Yesterday, locals staged a little parade with captured Ukrainian scum.

In eastern Ukraine, it's just like cable. An attractive blonde woman shall lead them!
KRAMER AND HIGGINS (8/25/14): Leading the procession was an attractive young blond woman carrying an assault rifle, followed by several dozen captured Ukrainian soldiers, filthy, bruised and unkempt, their heads shaved, wearing fetid camouflage uniforms and looking down at their feet.

Onlookers shouted that the men should be shot, and pelted the prisoners with empty beer bottles, eggs and tomatoes as they stumbled down Artyomovsk Street,
Donetsk’s main thoroughfare. A loudspeaker played Tchaikovsky’s “Slavonic March,” a familiar Russian patriotic piece. Behind the prisoners were two tanker trucks spraying soapy water, demonstratively cleaning the pavement where the Ukrainian soldiers had passed.

People in the crowd shouted “fascists!” and “perverts!” and separatist fighters held back a man who tried to punch a prisoner.

The Geneva Conventions’ rules for treating prisoners of war prohibit parading them in public, but the treatment of the wounded, disheveled prisoners seemed to offend few of those watching, who in any case had turned out for the promise of seeing a ghoulish spectacle. “Shoot them!” one woman yelled.

“They are attacking our city,” said Tonya Koralova, 46, a nurse who watched the men pass. “They are fascists. I am in favor of this parade.”


In Donetsk, the Independence Day parade became a macabre antithesis of a celebration of martial glory, as onlookers peered into the demolished, incinerated hulks of defeated Ukrainian tanks that the separatists had hauled onto Lenin Square, curious about their charred interiors where Ukrainian Army crews had met their deaths.
How wonderful that they met their deaths! And of course, you always want to scrub the streets after the scum have passed!

It can be lovely in Donetsk at this time of year. Not that far away, of course, another group from an earlier century has been posing with severed heads, before the severed heads get hoisted up on those antique stakes.

According to Kramer and Higgins, the macabre parade in Donetsk only attracted several hundred onlookers; that was the profile’s good news. Still, it serves as a reminder of where we humans come from—from the land where We have a very hard time seeing the merit in Them.

We humans aren’t built to see the merit, or the humanity, in The Others. Looking around our emerging news orgs, we think we see some people who are struggling with this age-old challenge. Even over here!

We’re living in a time of tribal polarization right here in this country. We aren’t parading folk through the streets, and we aren’t yet putting heads on stakes. Nor are we often displaying the values which made Mandela and Dr. King celebrated world figures, the moral giants of the modern age, the ones who will be remembered.

In part, we’re living in a time of polarization because various corporate groups are finding their profits there. For our money, Rush and Fox News went there first. In recent years, certain corporate pseudo-progressive orgs have been rushing to make their own money by teaching Us the rubes how we can better loathe Them.

As this process unfolds, some new groups are being welcomed into the media mix. In some cases, this is plainly a good idea. Which doesn’t mean that the new practitioners will always do good work.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll start with the young. It might seem like a good idea to let the young be heard.

Is it true? Should youth be served? Tomorrow, we’ll look at their work. For today, that piece in the Times is ringing a whole lot of bells.

Tomorrow: Who said it? “Never trust anyone under thirty.”