EMANATIONS FROM SALEM VILLAGE: The Salem panic lasted nine months!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2015

Part 3—We're in our twenty-third year:
In Monday's profile of Stacy Schiff, the New York Times listed some possible reasons for a famous outbreak.

Alexandra Alter was the reporter. In one brief passage, she listed possible explanations for the famous breakdown in the rational process:

"More than 320 years after the panic subsided, scholars and historians have continued to dig into the archives in hopes of discovering what caused the mass paranoia," Alter wrote. "Common theories include everything from political tensions, economic pressures, misogyny and the psychological strain of constant attacks from Native American tribes to physiological factors like 'conversion disorder' and poisoning from a fungus."

Alter was listing academic theories about the breakdown which produced to the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692. According to Alter, Schiff takes a more modern approach in her new book on the subject.

According to Alter, Schiff "delivers an almost novelistic, thrillerlike narrative of those manic nine months." And sure enough! As Maureen Dowd and others keep proving, we moderns love novels. And thrills!

In that brief passage, Alter listed possible reasons for the mass paranoia which started in 1692. What explains the similar episode which started exactly three hundred years later?

Similar reasons have sometimes been suggested by those who are willing to note that this mass outbreak occurred and continues. (Being journalists, Alter's family isn't inclined to do that.) This includes the apparent misogyny which seemed to lurk in much of the Clinton-hatred which persisted on MSNBC right through 2008—in the Clinton-hatred of Chris Matthews, and in that of Keith Olbermann.

Alas! Even if we're willing to acknowledge that this latest panic has occurred, it isn't easy to nail down its causes. That said, it's easy to note a basic fact about the way our novelistic, thrill-based journalism has tended to deal with the outbreak.

As Alter notes in her piece about Schiff, the panic in Salem largely subsided after just nine months. Our current political panic has extended for twenty-three years, with no clear sign of abatement.

This lengthy panic has extended through other mass paranoias-—the McMartin preschool panic, for instance. That unfortunate panic has come and gone. Our political panic continues.

The current panic plainly resembles that of 1692. In the current panic, ranking members of our political class have been repeatedly observed "taking shape as cats, wolves, boars and, frequently, yellow birds," to borrow Alter's words about the earlier Salem panic.

(According to several experts, people who are nicknamed "Tweety" may be especially likely to make this type of observation.)

Let's note an obvious point. Due to our stifling political correctness, people are no longer believed when they report such events! For that reason, our current accusers have shifted the shape of their own reporting a tad:

Repeatedly, they assert that they have observed our modern witches telling lies. They have sometimes even observed these deviants being "Clintonesque!"

According to our modern accusers, President Bill Clinton kept performing these actions. Starting in March 1999, Candidate Gore was repeatedly observed extending the frightening process.

(When Candidate Gore kept failing to lie, our journalists invented lies for him. This is always a part of the process.)

Today, the accusers report that it's Hillary Clinton who keeps turning herself into a cat or a boar, behavior which is euphemistically described as "telling a lie." Last Sunday morning, Marco Rubio made the direct accusation when he appeared on CNN. Many others, including Chuck Todd, were offering toned-down versions of the familiar claim.

In the past few days, the accusation has been widely voiced on the Fox News Channel, contributing to loathing and panic. What's interesting is the way we respond, or fail to respond, to these ongoing claims.

Reason prevailed in Salem Village after only nine months. But how strange! After 23 years of the current panic, we still refuse to evaluate these frightening claims in a modern, "rational" fashion.

Questions:

In September 2012, did Hillary Clinton lie about the attack in Benghazi? Did the hideous, shape-shifting Susan Rice go on four Sunday shows and give voice to these shape-shifting lies?

(Rice wasn't asked about Benghazi on Fox's Special Report.)

Let's get more specific with our questions:

In that frightening month, did Clinton lie about the persons or groups who staged the Benghazi attack? Did she lie about the motives behind the attack?

Did she lie about the amount of "preplanning" involved in the attack? Did she lie about a videotape? Did she lie to the victims' families?

These accusations have persisted for more than three years. Three years ago, they were used to savage Rice. In the wake of last week's hapless congressional hearing, they were turned against Clinton again.

How have our journalists dealt with these accusations over the past three years? How have they dealt with these accusations in the past week?

Tomorrow, we'll help you see what our journalists haven't done. There's a reason why Salem's panic lasted nine months while ours persists year after year.

Tomorrow: We'll always have (Betty) Parris

15 comments:

  1. This is a very forced metaphor. Why not abandon it and just speak plainly about what is happening?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The McMartin case was a panic of sexual fear and hysteria, and one might make a case the Duke LaCrosse Team Hoax was similar. Political grudges may be a different sort of thing. The real problem here is the post is ALL metaphor. Bob used to expose group think based on people saying things that simply didn't happen, that were not in any sense true. Even when you were dealing with "terrible people", Bob made an honest effort not to speculate about motive. Marco Rubio is a liar and his motives are plain enough. It might be interesting to explore what such people THINK they are saying.

      Delete
    2. Here's the problem. How can we explore "what such people THINK they are saying", when journalists don't do their job?

      Plus there are "Clinton Rules" in play, where anyone can say any goddam thing they want about the Clintons. It is so common place now after years and years of this going on without any pushback that the supposed journalist sitting there just lets it go without batting any eye.

      Nobody goes around calling other major politicians LIARS so boldly except when they're talking about the Clintons. Then, anything goes.


      RUBIO: Well, she'll be the Democratic nominee. Someone who comes from a political dynasty and that, in itself, is going to bring fund-raising capabilities and so forth. People may think she had a good week. I think this is the week it was proven that she lied about Benghazi.
      "This is the week it was proven that Clinton lied about Benghazi?"

      Rubio had made a very serious charge. But here's how Gangel reacted:

      GANGEL (continuing directly): So here's the good news for Marco Rubio. You are on the rise. The betting folks say you are now the most likely person to win the Republican nominee over Jeb Bush. Democrats say you are formidable, that they are scared of you. So why is it taking you so long to get traction?

      Delete
    3. Paul Ekman, in his book Telling Lies, states that all people lie multiple times every day. He defines a lie as intent to deceive combined with knowledge of the truth.

      Clinton seems to have had neither in these Benghazi examples. Simple contradictory statements made at different points in time are not "lies," according to professors who study this stuff.

      Delete
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  2. I don't agree with the comment above. I think The Daily Howler is nothing if not plain spoken. And the witch trials do have lots in common with today's horrible media environment.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "what our journalists *haven't* done"

    Oh fiddle. The Bigger Problem, ALWAYS, is Somerby.
    Unless he "used to" be good. (Right, Greg?)





    You heard it here first.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Witches were the scapegoats for bad events (stillbirths, crop failure, death of livestock, illness). How is Clinton being made a scapegoat for anything? The fear and contagion of belief arose partly from the vulnerability to these random events, just as fear of child abuse arises from concern about one's own kids. In what way is Clinton representative of any threat?

    I can perhaps see it on the right, if she embodies everything Democratic that would be wrong for our country. But how can she represent anything like that for Democrats, such as Obama or Sanders supporters or someone like Dowd? Is Somerby suggesting she is an all-purpose bogeyman too far right for purist liberals and too-far left for conservatives?

    What I don't understand is how any threat she represents could evoke such strong feeling that it would motivate the relentless attacks on her. Only sexism seems powerful enough as a motive.

    That's why this metaphor doesn't work for me. I think political and sexual motives are sufficient without hypothesizing broader fears like those that troubled people in other times.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "In what way is Clinton representative of any threat?"

      Are you serious? There is a game on where they're playing for all the marbles. Clinton wins and the right wing is devastated.

      *****************
      “I do think that we’re cooked as a party for quite a while as a party if we don’t win in 2016. So I do think that it’s going to be hard to dig out of something like that,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus

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  7. Rubio pulled the same crap at the debate Wednesday night.

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