THE DUMBNESS OF THE WHALE: What Herman Melville so memorably said!

MONDAY, MAY 18, 2015

Part 1—The New York Times, all at sea:
In the famous forty-second chapter of his longest, most famous book, Herman Melville had his famous narrator, Ishmael, explain a famous obsession.

Above all else, Ishmael explains, it was the dumbness of the whale which had him spellbound—“appalled.”

All last week, we thought of the passage we show you below as we followed the coverage of the consensus scandal which was quickly and dumbly christened “Deflategate:”
MELVILLE (1851): Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the dumbness of the whale that above all things appalled me.
Forget his other attributes. It was the dumbness of the whale which left Ishmael in horror, appalled.

More than forty years ago, Melville got it right! By now, the astonishing dumbness of the whale has become both perfectly clear and almost completely invisible.

In the past few weeks, this dumbness has been put on vivid display in the press corps’ pseudo-discussion of the Deflategate fandango. In the process, no one has “done it dumber” than the New York Times’ David Waldstein.

Waldstein’s column about this matter appeared in last Friday’s editions. Let’s build a quick chronology of recent events:

Wednesday, May 6: On Wednesday, May 6, the NFL issued its official report on this matter, the so-called “Wells report.” According to the Wells report, it is “more probable than not” that two employees of the New England Patriots deliberately underinflated some footballs last January, in violating of NFL rules.

Just for the record, “more probable than not” means that the two employees may not have engaged in these actions. That said, it was also deemed “more probable than not” that Tom Brady, the Patriots’ handsome star quarterback, was “generally aware” of the actions which the two employees committed or then again possibly didn’t.

Thursday, May 14: On Thursday, May 14, the Patriots issued a rebuttal to the Wells report. The next day, the Times hurried Waldstein’s column into print, then began revising it as the morning wore on.

In hard copy, Waldstein’s column bore the headline shown below. The headline reflected the general shape of the press corps’ consensus:

“Patriots’ Rebuttal Is Foray Further Into Farce”

In our hard-copy New York Times, Waldstein’s column was bannered across the top of the first page of the “Sports Thursday” section. In subsequent editions, major portions of the column were substantially changed—you might even say dumbed down.

That said:

In Waldstein’s column, and in dozens just like it, the American people were exposed to the dumbness of the whale. They were also denied the most basic facts about our latest consensus scandal.

In what way was Waldstein’s column so preternaturally dumb? Let us start counting the problems:

In paragraph 5: In paragraph 5 of his hard-copy text, the scrivener wrote this: “From the Patriots’ standpoint, the science is indisputable.”

That sounded intriguing, though imprecise. To what “science” did Waldstein refer? Did he mean that the science in question really is indisputable? Or did he simply mean that that’s what the Patriots claim?

Who knows? In standard fashion, Waldstein never described “the science” in question. He never explained what the Patriots think the science tells us about the case.

He never said if he thinks the Patriots are right in their belief. The basic science of the case was quickly, completely abandoned.

In paragraph 8: In paragraph 8 of his hard-copy text, Waldstein seemed to say that the NFL had made some “preposterous claims” in its official report. But he never explained what those claims were, and the word “preposterous” was removed from the later versions of his piece, including the version which now appears on-line.

In paragraph 13: In paragraph 13 of his hard-copy text, Waldstein said that the Patriots “matched every far-fetched claim in the Wells report with one of their own.”

That sounded intriguing. But he never explained what the NFL’s “far-fetched claims” actually were. The word “far-fetched” has been removed from the later versions of his column.

Also in paragraph 13: In paragraph 13 of his hard-copy text, Waldstein also said this: “The Wells report engaged in a few logical contortions to show that the footballs the Patriots used in the first half of the A.F.C. title game in January were, in general, significantly underinflated…”

That sounded dishonest! But Waldstein never explained what the NFL’s “logical contortions” were. Needless to say, the unpleasant claim has been removed from the later versions of his column.

In paragraphs 16 and 17: Wow! In paragraphs 16 and 17 of his original text, Waldstein seemed to describe egregious misconduct by NFL officials. This is the text which appeared in our hard-copy Times:
WALDSTEIN (5/15/15): Finally, in a rebuke to league officials initially for leaking inaccurate figures that said the balls were egregiously below the minimum air pressure at halftime, the Patriots suggested that the real and less damaging air-pressure figures were intentionally suppressed to minimize their effect on the public, and only released in conjunction with more damning text messages.

“One can only speculate,” the Patriots said, “why it was so important for the league that the accurate halftime information be withheld from the public until it was ultimately part of a report that downplayed the science and instead relied on selective texts.”
Say what? NFL officials “initially leaked inaccurate figures?” They “intentionally suppressed the real and less damaging air-pressure figures?”

Waldstein’s original text seemed to accuse the NFL of egregious misconduct. But wait a minute! Did league officials really leak inaccurate figures to the press? Or is that just the Patriots’ claim?

Alas! In his initial column, Waldstein left these basic questions unclear and unresolved. He never explained what the “inaccurate figures” in question actually were.

In the later version of Waldstein’s column, his text was changed in a major way. The column now says that the Patriots contend that the league engaged in this conduct. It says the Patriots make this contention; it offers nothing more.

Even in his original text, Waldstein didn’t say whether any inaccurate data ever appeared in the press. As readers of this site may know, the dumbness of the whale is routinely displayed in this practiced manner.

Waldstein’s original column was dumbed down, in major ways, by the New York Times. But don’t be fooled! Even his original text stands as a tribute to the dumbness of the whale—to the dumbness which controls the way our discourse works.

Even in its original form, Waldstein’s column played by the rules which have been on display in almost all opinion columns, news reports and pundit discussions of this exciting consensus scandal. Alas! He focused on the least significant aspects of the rebuttal report. He avoided the basic facts of the case in favor of silly anecdotal matters—silly “evidence” which was interpreted in the dumbest possible way.

Keeping faith with the consensus, Waldstein emphasized the allegedly “farcical” nature of the Patriots’ rebuttal. He never explained the remarkable information which is found in that rebuttal report.

Even in its original form, readers of Waldstein’s column were shielded from the most basic facts of the case. Instead, they encountered the talking points which controlled the pseudo-discussion observed all through the “press.”

Months before, a consensus judgment had been reached on this matter. Even in his original text, Waldstein seemed to know that he mustn’t explain how weak that consensus is.

Here's how vast the dumbness is. An editor at the New York Times dumbed even that column down! But this is the way our consensus scandals are served to the public.

In the global perspective, nothing much turns on the “Deflategate” matter. That said, the press corps’ discussion of this matter constitutes a perfect example of the problem Melville described, decades ago, as “the dumbness of the whale.”

Judgment first, information never! As we’ll show you all this week, that’s the way this event has been processed all through the brainless whale we still describe as our “press corps.”

Tomorrow: By rule of law, three basic facts the public can’t be told

Much as Melville said: We can’t link you to Waldstein’s original column, which stressed the allegedly “farcical” nature of the rebuttal report.

Good boy! But even that piece was considered too strong, perhaps too suggestive of real information! An amended version “survive[d] the wreck,” as Melville so memorably put it.

43 comments:

  1. "We can’t link you to Waldstein’s original column"

    No? Alas.

    And neither can you link us to the famous article in the 1970 Nashville paper in which a never named reporter "who knew" Al Gore, is recalled to have misquoted Eric Segal and made the fatal suggestion that both Al and Tipper were models for "Love Story."

    Gack! That whale of a dumb mistake caused hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi's to stare up from their grave at Chris Matthews. It is a shame we do not know the name of the reporter who made it.


    "In their phone conversation a few days ago, Mr. Gore reminded Mr. Segal that while Mr. Segal was on his book tour for ''Love Story,'' a reporter for The Nashville Tennessean who knew that Mr. Gore and the author were friends had asked if there was not a little bit of Al Gore in Oliver Barrett. Mr. Segal said yes, there was, but the reporter ''just exaggerated,'' Mr. Segal said. ''He made it to be the local-hero angle.''

    Melinda Henneberger, reporting the recollection of two guys sighting a whale a quarter century before. New York Times 12/14/1997

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just because you are late with your disclaimer doesn't mean you need to throw false allegories around.

      Delete
    2. It is very plausible that Eric Segal would have remembered that a reporter covering his book tour a quarter of a century earlier made up something he didn't say about both Al and Tipper being his muse for Ollie and Whatshername. I think he would have done that even if Al had not reminded him of it. He probably kept a scrap book of all his clips from that tour. It must have been exciting for him, the celebrity and all. I still like Yellow Submarine better.

      Delete
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      Delete
  2. "More than forty years ago, Melville got it right!"

    No further comment need be directed toward the man who sees the speck in the eyes of others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the forty second chapter of his famous book "How He Got There", this apparent typographical error, intentionally written as troll bait, will be explained in geometric logic by Bob Somerby.

      If you donate he will get there. To Chapter 42 we mean. As of now the narrative has hardened at Chapter 6.

      Delete
    2. It was more than forty years ago. Wasn't it? After all Gregory Peck starred in Moby Dick before he brought Atticus Finch to life where we first learn about all the false allegations white women make about rape. So it had to be 40 years before Bob started blogging in 1997.

      Delete
    3. White women do make false allegations about rape. Blacks do make false allegations about police brutality. False allegations and people eager to believe them because of racism have been around a long time.

      Delete
    4. Was it not "more than 40 years ago"?

      Delete
    5. "It was the dumbness of the whale which left Ishmael in horror, appalled."

      That sounded intriguing, though imprecise. To what “dumbness” did Ishmael refer?


      Is it the kind of dumbness which Bob attributes with greater and greater frequency to liberals of all kind, pseudo and non? Or is it the classic meaning of dumbness, as in "deaf and dumb" meaning the whale could not sing like his Humpback brethren?

      We don't know. Bob doesn't say. This post is deep. But murky.

      Delete
    6. Of course the smartness of the Gatekeepers used to protect us.

      That led smug liberals to sleep in the woods only to see progress on their agenda snatched away by the dumb elites of our tribe who made others dislike us by labeling them "others."

      Now that progress is as elusive as the great white of Melville's day over two score years gone by. And perhaps more.

      Delete
  3. Fantastic. Thanks, Bob.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bob makes a strong case that once a Conventional Wisdom is established, the media will report in terms of this CW. Actual facts no longer matter. This type of reporting means that those with the ability to create a CW have enormous power.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. And to this day those who create the CW have us calling the War Between the States the "Civil War (CW)" instead of the War of Northern Aggression (WNA).

      Delete
    2. I have to ask, what version of "Moby Dick" is being quoted here? The text reads:
      "Chapter 42 - The Whiteness of The Whale

      A picture for the book Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

      What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid.

      Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught."

      It's the whiteness, not the dumbness, of the whale that appalled Ishmael.

      Delete
    3. Literary allusion, a rhetorical device, not literal. A play on words.

      Delete
    4. Yes, good catch. However, I think you need to allow Bob some poetic license here.
      Also, remember, Melville's novel is an allegory.

      Delete
    5. The Howler is Al Gorey.

      Delete
    6. @ 12:02 you did not, in fact, have to ask. Excessive literalism is a symptom of something. It can be treated. You should go away and get something for it.

      Delete
    7. The chapter contains a long and detailed examination of "whiteness". That being the case, what can it tell us about "dumbness"?

      Delete
    8. Wow, 12:02. It seems like Somerby fudged on a quote from Moby Dick, changing a rather key word into something that fit his narrative.

      Delete
    9. Hey, whales are no dumber than other life forms. And not many are white. Kind of like the real world.

      Delete
    10. 12:02 to answer your question, the version being quoted is the St. Bob version of "Moby Dick." In that version the outcome is different. The crew ends up killing Captain Ahab for ignoring all the fine young black whales. They poison his strawberries.

      Delete
    11. I think I take umbrage at Somerby's allegorical suggestion that being white means being dumb.

      Delete
    12. When asked on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday if he was ready to go after Clinton with a “hard edge,” Sen. Sanders pointed the finger back at the media.
      “I’ve never run a negative political ad in my life. People in Vermont know that I run in many, many campaigns. I don’t believe in ugly 30-second ads. I believe in serious debates on serious issues. I’ve known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. Maybe I shouldn’t say this. I like Hillary Clinton. I respect Hillary Clinton. Will the media, among others, allow us to have a civil debate on civil issues? Or is the only way to get media attention by ripping apart someone else? I certainly hope that’s not the case.”
      Sanders was then asked if he was ready to “sharply point out” where other Democratic candidates have not fought for the middle and lower classes. He responded, “of course.”
      “The American people want to hear serious discussions on why they’re working longer hours for low wages. They want to know about why year after year we have these disastrous trade agreements, why the rich get richer and everybody else gets poorer. Are you in the media prepared to allow us to engage in that serious debate? Or do I have to get media attention by simply making reckless attacks on Hillary Clinton or anybody else? I don’t believe in that. I believe in serious debates on serious issues.”

      Delete
    13. I'm glad to see that both Democratic candidates are bypassing the media agenda in order to focus on issues and voter questions.

      Delete
  5. Just for the record, the "so-called Wells report is "so-called" because, despite the fact that the NFL refers to it that way, others might not.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Going to Harvard must be a burden --- you end up smarter than everyone else and live a life of complete elitist exasperation with your lessers, the rubes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The really smart ones get in to Harvard but don't go. Or are Asian Tigers and end up having to sue the damn place.

      Delete
  7. Liberals are hiding in the woods, hunting white whales with The Professors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Strong effort young one.

      Liberals don't hide in the woods. They slept there. Until they woke up. Which made things worse. Now they and the professors please the tribe for attacking Moby and his ilk for not acknowledging their white privilege. So everybody dislikes them.

      Keep working on your Book of Bob.

      Delete
  8. The score tells the whole story. The Patriots did better in the second half when their under inflated balls were removed. It proves how dumb they were to play with their balls to begin with.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Your Howler gets results!

    Saturday:

    "In the past two days, we’ve seen virtually no one discuss the false information which was attributed to “NFL sources.” We’ve seen no one discuss the Patriots’ claim about the NFL’s refusal to share the accurate information."

    Monday:

    "Thursday, May 14: On Thursday, May 14, the Patriots issued a rebuttal to the Wells report. The next day, the Times hurried Waldstein’s column into print..."

    From Waldstein's column:

    "Finally, the Patriots contended that league officials initially leaked inaccurate figures that said the Patriots’ balls were egregiously below the minimum air pressure at halftime. In addition, the Patriots suggested that the real and less damaging air-pressure figures were intentionally suppressed to minimize their effect on the public, and only released in conjunction with more damning text messages.

    “One can only speculate,” the Patriots said, “why it was so important for the league that the accurate halftime information be withheld from the public until it was ultimately part of a report that downplayed the science and instead relied on selective texts.”"

    See how quickly Bob's criticism on Saturday that nobody had discussed the claims got the New York Times to discuss the claims last Friday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I didn't have time to read this. Nice effort, though.

      Delete
    2. That's great, because you are still with Bob's original point' then.

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete
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