Part 4—No journalism need apply: Life was challenging in Salem Village, not least for the village's dogs.
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue! In Monday's New York Times, Alexandra Alter reported what happened two hundred years later:
"It started with a prickling sensation on their skin. Then Abigail Williams, 11, and her cousin Betty Parris, 9, complained of feeling pinches and bites. They howled, writhed, went rigid and spoke gibberish. Friends and neighbors gathered in their house to pray and sing psalms.
"Weeks later, a well-meaning neighbor hit on a solution. She ordered a household servant to make a witch cake, mixing the girls’ urine into rye flour that was baked in embers, then fed to a dog, in an attempt to reveal who had bewitched them. Within days, Abigail and Betty named three local women as their tormentors."
How fair was that? A couple of kids had a few bad weeks. So the Villagers took it out on the dogs, feeding them some urine cakes as part of a fact-finding mission!
After eating their "cakes," the dogs conveyed a trio of names to the howling girls. Alter doesn't explain how the dogs could have done this.
Whatever! The girls repeated the names. A famous panic was on!
Alter was profiling Stacy Schiff, who has written a book about this famous breakdown. According to Alter, Schiff doesn't "try to explain the outbreak by attributing it to mundane outside forces." Instead, Schiff told Alter that "she felt she had to take the Puritans’ belief in witchcraft, and their deep fears and constant anxiety, seriously."
Fair enough! That said, we moderns are full of anxiety too, as a person can see from our own modern panics. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was the panic about preschools, in which 4-year-olds said they saw their teachers riding on brooms.
The 4-year-olds were believed. Instead of feeding urine to dogs, we moderns put photographs on milk cartons. Then too, there was the panic which started in 1992, a panic which largely persists.
This panic involved a highly suspicious pair of outliers from Arkansas. When the first high-profile accuser appeared, Jonathan Alter shot her down with a report in Newsweek, a report which detailed the embarrassing factual howlers in the public report for which the accuser had been richly rewarded.
The accuser had made a lot of claims. As Alter quickly showed, some of her basic claims were embarrassingly impossible.
No one fed cakes to dogs. Instead, Alter—he's Alexandra Alter's father—performed some journalism, a vanishing instinct and practice.
At first, this "journalism cure" seemed to take effect. But as the 1990s continued, this modern "replacement behavior" began to be abandoned.
The accusers kept coming forward. Sometimes, they seemed to behave in Salem-flavored ways.
A high-profile Republican congressman shot a watermelon in his back yard, hoping to prove that the witches had murdered a long-time friend. A ballyhooed accuser fell apart before a Senate pseudo-scandal committee. Gene Lyons handled the play-by-play in his 1995 book, Fools for Scandal:
"No sooner had [Senator Paul] Sarbanes begun to question Lewis about a negative Justice Department appraisal of her work when an amazing things happened. Lewis shook visibly, tears welled in her eyes, and she collapsed at the witness table. Although she managed to leave the Senate chamber on her feet, Lewis had to be hospitalized overnight and treated for high blood pressure."
"She never returned," Lyons writes, "Her Whitewater adventure was over, and not a moment too soon. By any rational standard, her appearance had been an absolute disaster."
On that same page, Lyons describes an earlier incident involving part of that same day's Senate hearing:
LYONS (page 122): Senator Barbara Boxer produced a November 1993 letter from Lewis to an attorney in which Lewis had floated a proposal to market "Presidential BITCH" T-shirts and coffee mugs mocking Hillary Clinton. She had listed the RTC office as her business phone. "Being a woman of basically the same ilk and same type," Lewis countered, "I mean that not as disrespect...I have tremendous admiration for the fact that she is a strong woman." She added that she personally had absolutely no objection to being called a bitch.Later that day, Lewis broke down and had to be helped from the room. Needless to say, none of this stopped the era's Whitewater panic.
For moderns who are willing to see, events like these may seem to be drawn from our modern inner Salems, as was the preschool panic. That said, we moderns are inclined to think that Salem is a thing of the past. For this reasons, we take three different approaches to different panics.
It's easy to discuss the Salem panic. It happened long ago. Its participants don't seem like us.
The preschool panic is harder to dismiss and hard to explain. For that reason, we've largely disappeared the embarrassing episode, which went on for years.
The Clinton panic is still in effect. For this reason, it can't be seen as a panic at all. Our modern Village elites still are feeding urine cakes to the dogs, although they've done a bit of shape-shifting in this current panic.
In the current panic, no one literally says that the Presidential BITCH has been observed turning herself into a cat. That claim would be treated as strange by the liberal press.
As the current panic developed, the ancient claim that a witch had been spotted began to take a modern shape. The Clintons, along with their warlock Gore, became known for their "problem with the truth." This week, this has produced the revitalized claim that Candidate Clinton lied in September 2012 about the Benghazi attack.
Due to our stifling political correctness, we no longer dunk the accused into local ponds. But That said, here's something else we don't do—we don't make the slightest attempt at fashioning the "journalism cure."
It doesn't even occur to our "journalists" to examine the accuracy of these claims. Consider just the past week:
Starting last Thursday, Candidate Clinton was being widely accused, again, of lying about Benghazi, even to the families of those who died. She is said to have lied about who staged the killing attack. She is said to have lied about their motives, and about the amount of "preplanning" which went into the attack.
In the past week, have you seen a single news org present a report about that attack? A report which would describe the current state of intelligence about that killing attack?
Fellow villagers! Who did stage that killing attack? Have you seen a single news org report on that question this week? Have you seen any attempt to describe the current state of our actual knowledge?
Was that insulting YouTube videotape some part of the motive for the attack? Was it the sole motivation? What is the current state of intelligence? Have you seen even one news org ask?
There's one other question about the attack which has disappeared into the realm of indistinct but frightening accusation. That involves the amount of "preplanning" which went into the attack.
In real time, Republicans quickly said and suggested that months of preplanning had occurred. According to this theory, the attack had been planned to coincide with the anniversary of September 11. The appearance of the YouTube video had played no role at all.
In the past week—in the past year!—have you seen any news org attempt to report the state of the intelligence concerning these claims? For ourselves, we have not.
As we've long told you, basic facts play almost no role in our discourse as it now exists. Our discourse is basically accusation. Cake is then fed to us dogs.
Let's note one important exception:
In December 2013, the New York Times broke from the pack. Committing an act of journalism, it published an exhaustive, 7300-word report on the Benghazi attack.
This report seemed to say that the YouTube video was part of the motivation for the attack. But so what? In a time of mass paranoia, such claims must be shoved to the side.
Everyone else will understand a basic fact about panic culture. They will know that this impulse—the impulse to perform journalism—must be denied at this time.
In nineteen hundred and ninety-two, Jonathan Alter performed journalism concerning Gennifer Flowers. In his Newsweek report, he wrote about the embarrassing errors which littered her exciting report about her torrid, twelve-year affair with Bill Clinton—a torrid affair which didn't seem to have actually taken place.
Flowers was paid very large sums for her exciting reports. Performing journalism, Alter noted that Flowers had made impossible factual claims, not unlike the 4-year-olds in the preschool panic.
He also noted that Flowers had made some crazy claims about her own past. In the short run, Alter's act of journalism helped stall the new political panic.
Six years later, Flowers was back, being hailed as the world's most truthful human. In 1999, she went on Hardball, then on Hannity, to tell us about the Clintons' various murders.
No one said boo about her disgraceful, ludicrous claims. On Hannity, where she got the full hour, she used the time to tell the world that Hillary Clinton is the world's most gigantic lesbo.
By now, our village had gone Full Salem. We emailed Alter, a very nice person, asking him why Flowers was now being hailed for her truthfulness, given his own reporting about her past, crazy claims.
Her sent us a rather fuzzy email explaining, or seeming to explain, why the corps had evolved in this way. The actual truth is fairly simple:
A panic had taken hold. It now controlled the Village.
Alter's daughter wrote an interesting report about Salem Village for the New York Times this week. It's easy to see a panic for what it is when the panic occurred in 1692.
It's harder to spot the kinds of panic which have controlled our modern discourse. Awkwardly, those panics deeply involve institutions like the New York Times. Journalist families have a large stake in failing to notice such facts.
Given the way our human minds work, we'll always have Betty Parris! She was just a 9-year-old kid who believed what she had heard from a dog. The problem began when Village elders began to believe what she said.
In Salem, the panic lasted just nine months. Our panic has lasted for 23 years, and it continues apace.
Such panics spread in mysterious ways. The accusations can worm their way inside everyone's heads.
Clear vision can be hard to attain when a panic makes its way through a frightened, irrational village. We even thought we heard ripples of this panic on you-know-who's cable program last week.
Tomorrow: Cable host remembers Bill Clinton