Interlude—Off-point by paragraph 2: Only in the New York Times could such silliness appear.
A debate has blown up concerning one part of the new feature film, Selma. At our emerging liberal sites, our intellectual leaders and our commenters have stumbled about, displaying the lack of intellectual capital (and moral integrity) which has defined our failing efforts over the past forty years.
Did you see Chris Hayes pretend to address this topic this week? If not, continue reading.
First, though, consider the letter the New York Times ran about Selma this morning.
Good God! On New Year’s Day, the New York Times ran a front-page overview of the Selma debate. As everyone knows by now, the debate concerns the way the film portrays the attitudes and behavior of President Johnson in the run-up to the Selma marches and the drive for the Voting Rights Act.
We haven’t seen the film ourselves. We can only react to what others are saying about the way it portrays Johnson.
But good God! This morning, the Times ran four letters about the debate. Sadly but all too typically, here’s how the first letter started:
LETTERS TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/7/15): Re “Film Casts Johnson as Villain, Restarting Civil Rights Debate” (front page, Jan. 1), about criticism of a film that depicts President Lyndon B. Johnson as “a laggard on black voting rights who opposed the marches”:Did we read that statement correctly? “There is nothing in the film that significantly distorts this historic event or the leadership role played by Dr. King?”
I have seen Ava DuVernay’s new film, “Selma,” and I was also part of this newspaper’s team that covered the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. In my opinion, there is nothing in Ms. DuVernay’s film that significantly distorts this historic event or the leadership role played by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
No one has said that the new film distorts the role played by Dr. King. As we see in the quote from that front-page report, people have said that the new feature film distorts the role played by President Johnson.
What led the Times to publish this letter, which has veered off-point by paragraph 2? We can’t really answer that question. But the foolishness of the selection is all too typical of the work performed by this well-known newspaper.
For the record, the letter was written by Gay Talese. Back in the day, he covered the Selma marches for the New York Times—or at least, so he recalls.
He may have been extremely sharp then. His full letter today is rather muddy and almost completely off point. Ironically, this may have helped propel it to the top of the Times letter pile.
Nothing in Talese’s full letter speaks to the debate about Selma's portrayal of Johnson. It does say unabashedly good things about the film, and it voices a preferred pseudo-liberal line which has emerged in this pseudo-debate. (See postscript below.)
The letter’s off-point, but it voices a script. To some editor at the Times, this may have been enough to propel it to the top of the pile.
In our view, Dr. King was a moral and intellectual giant. He stood as one of the heads of a movement which was so spiritually and intellectually advanced that it’s hard to believe that it really occurred in this low-IQ, venal world.
(Many people took part in this movement. Only a few became famous.)
That said, the debate which has emerged this past week involves the film’s portrait of President Johnson. Only in the New York Times! Only there would a set of letters start with a letter which affirms the portrait of somebody else!
Did the Times do this to advance a script? We have no idea, but we can tell you this:
All around our pseudo-liberal world, our emerging pseudo-liberal leaders have found ways to advance mandated tribal reactions to this (rather minor) debate. In the process, they’ve found it hard to make a simple statement:
On the whole, the film is great. But in some ways, it does misrepresent Johnson.
It isn’t hard to say something like that. Increasingly, though, our emerging pseudo-liberal world is becoming devoted to Hard Tribal Script, like the pseudo-conservative world before it. To cite one example, we thought we saw Chris Hayes sell his soul on this score on Monday night’s eponymous cable program.
(At the new Salon, Andrew O’Hehir critiques the Hayes segment with a high degree of perspicacity. To read his analysis, just click here.)
We may return to this fascinating topic on Friday. Tomorrow, we’ll return to the New York Times editorial about that Missouri school district, an editorial in which the Times pretends to care about “the needs of black students.”
We don’t think the Times has earned the right to voice that type of concern. Over the past four decades, the liberal world has largely walked away from the interests of black kids too.
Increasingly, the truth becomes obvious—and the truth says the problem is us!
We liberals have failed for decades now. As we emerge with our new sites and our mandated scripts, our moral and intellectual shortfalls are only becoming more obvious.
Gay Talese was almost completely off-point, but he gave voice to a current script. The New York Times could see it was good.
He rose to the top of the pile!
Tomorrow: Back to that Times editorial about that Missouri school district
The script according to Talese: Below, you see the final paragraph of Talese’s letter—a letter which is rather jumbled and almost completely off-point:
TALESE: As Mr. Chestnut later co-wrote in his book, “Black in Selma,” “The march to Montgomery was the first enterprise I’d ever seen involving black and white people where the black people set the agenda and ran the show.”Black people set the agenda for Selma! Inferentially, Johnson didn’t!
As bumper stickers go, we tend to prefer “Black and white together” to “Black people can run the show,” although the latter sentiment is plainly accurate.
(For future use, we strongly prefer “Black and white optional.” We’d prefer a world where American kids get to decide if they want to be “black” or “white” at all—where their society doesn’t tell them that their so-called “race” automatically defines who they are.)
For the most part (though not entirely), so-called black people did run the morally and intellectually brilliant civil rights movement. (According to our culture’s norms, Rosa Parks was “black.”)
That said, Talese’s letter basically skips the central point of our current week-long dispute. How did his letter reach the top of the pile?
We can’t answer that question. But the cluelessness of our emerging liberal world has been on display in this week-long debate, and the fecklessness of the New York Times has been on display for some time.
The Times is off-point by paragraph 2! Alas! Our intellectual capital is low. This doesn’t bode well for the world.