STOPPED MAKING SENSE: Sympathy for the (various) devils!


Part 4—Noisily pitching our tales:
In this morning's New York Times, Paul Krugman rejects a mandated journalistic claim—the claim that Both Sides Do It.

Krugman focuses on climate denial, which is widespread on the right. Do both sides engage in science denial? It just isn't like that, he says:
KRUGMAN (12/4/15): I often hear from people claiming that the American left is just as bad as the right on scientific issues, citing, say, hysteria over genetically modified food or nuclear power. But even if you think such views are really comparable to climate denial (which they aren’t), they’re views held by only some people on the left, not orthodoxies enforced on a whole party by what even my conservative colleague David Brooks calls the “thought police.”

And climate-denial orthodoxy doesn’t just say that the scientific consensus is wrong. Senior Republican members of Congress routinely indulge in wild conspiracy theories, alleging that all the evidence for climate change is the product of a giant hoax perpetrated by thousands of scientists around the world. And they do all they can to harass and intimidate individual scientists.

In a way, this is part of a long tradition: Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” was published half a century ago. But having that style completely take over one of our two major parties is something new.
One tribe is crazy, the other tribe isn't, Krugman basically says.

On balance, we tend to agree with that view (although it's always been dangerous to leave such assessments to members of warring tribes). On balance, we don't think our own liberal tribe has stopped making sense to the extent that The Other Tribe has.

Having said that, we'll offer a warning:

We've been playing catch-up in recent years. Again and again, our own thought leaders have stopped making sense—and we liberals seem to enjoy this.

We think this is a horrible look; it often makes bad politics. It's amazing to us that liberals and progressives want to play this braindead game. But, quite plainly, we do.

To what extent does our team engage in this general practice? In Sunday's Washington Post, McKay Coppins described the way "democratized media" has enabled the growth of The Crazy (and The Dumb) on the right in recent years.

In recent years, "the fringe has swelled with new Web sites, radio stations, confabs, causes, pressure groups, celebrities and profit-making businesses noisily pitching themselves to the tea party," Coppins writes. "An entire right-wing media ecosystem has sprung up, where journalist-warriors flood social media with rumors of sharia law coming to suburbia and hype a fast-approaching 'race war' in America targeting whites."

Those rumors aren't our rumors, of course. But we have our own "new Web sites" and "profit-making businesses" too. Increasingly, our own alleged thought leaders now pimp silly shit to our members too.

We can't imagine why liberals accept this. But we seem to love our own tribal nonsense more than life itself.

The new and badly degraded Salon is one of our tribe's "new Web sites." At the new Salon, the day doesn't pass when ridiculous writers aren't "noisily pitching themselves," in predictable ways, to us over here in our tribe.

How silly can our hysteria get? It can and does get very silly; it does so every day. Our foolishness gets broadcast all over the rest of the world. It makes our tribe seem very foolish to those who aren't in our tribe.

How silly do our tribe's "noisy pitches" get? How low are our current standards?

This Monday, Paula Young Lee was noisily pitching this indictment of the way the New York Times covered the Planned Parenthood shooting. Her piece appeared at the new Salon:
LEE (11/29/15): [I]n another article focusing on the (white) Colorado community in mourning, the coverage in the New York Times turned it into a lengthy story about the white male victim, Officer Garrett Swasey. It barely managed to mention that Dear had killed two others, both people of color.

To be fair, it had elsewhere identified the victims in a stand-along [sic] post.
Jennifer Markovsky, an Asian woman, and Ke’Arre M. Stewart, a Black man, were at the clinic to be supportive of others seeking services there. They were also parents, and directly connected to the military. Should it matter that they were people of color? According to Jenn Fang of the blog, Reappropriate, the answer is yes...

By effectively omitting Markovsky and Stewart from an article focused on the panegyrics of collective mourning, the New York Times uncritically propagates a cultural stance whereby it is understood that non-white and working-class lives matter...less. Without directly saying so, it is imposing a racialized hierarchy of loss on national narratives of trauma, one that reflexively humanizes a “gentle” white terrorist–Robert Lewis Dear–while erasing the non-white victims. This is not to say that Officer Swasey’s death is not a tragedy. But each one of Dear’s victims is a human being whose loss is deeply felt by their families. Why is that tragedy being made legible exclusively though the axis of white maleness? Why is there no equivalent attention being paid to the suffering and confusion inside Stewart’s and Markovsky’s military communities?
How dumb do we get at our crazy new sites? We get extremely dumb, and we get that way quite routinely.

What was dumb about Lee's complaint, which she was noisily pitching? Before we count the ways, let's establish a few basic facts:

Three people were killed by Robert Dear in the Planned Parenthood attack. That said, the victims weren't all identified at the same time.

Swasey, the white police officer, was identified as one of the victims on Friday, November 27. Markovsky and Stewart weren't identified until Sunday, November 29.

When the article is question appeared at the Times, the identifies of Markofsky and Stewart had just been revealed. Swasey's identify had been known for two days. For that reason, a memorial service had already been held in his memory.

Why did the Times mention that service in its report? Because it had already happened! Why did the Times mention Markovsky and Stewart only in passing? Because their identities had been just been revealed!

As Lee strangely noted, the Times quickly published "a stand-along [sic] post" which profiled Markovsky and Stewart. But at our new ridiculous sites, nothing stops us from aping the craziness of the crazy sites of the crazy right.

Good lord! Even though Lee knew that the Times had published profiles of Markovsky and Stewart, she noisily pitched her doctrinaire, jargonized foolishness—doctrinaire foolishness of a type which makes our tribe look extremely dumb to the wider world. The Times was "imposing a racialized hierarchy of loss on national narratives of trauma!" In that way, the tragedy was "being made legible exclusively though the axis of white maleness!"

The new Salon prints such jargonized nonsense in much the way the rest of us breathe. Sadly, the silly outrage concerning this topic spread to New York magazine, when Rebecca Traister went on and on, and on and on, in one of the most ridiculous tributes to cherry-picking and random comparison we have ever seen.

Traister's headline expressed her anguish: "Why Do We Humanize White Guys Who Kill People?" At great length, she offered a crazy-quilt grab-bag of observations and complaints, comparing the way "we" humanize white killers with the way "we" demonize black innocents.

Grabbing single words and short phrases from hither and yon, Traister noted the way the Washington Post and the New York Times had allegedly humanized Robert Dear in their initial coverage. We start with her second paragraph:
TRAISTER (12/2/15): By Monday, reporters had begun to gather information on Dear’s past, including allegations of assault, rape, animal cruelty, and being a peeping tom. A Washington Post story detailed at least eight episodes in which Dear “had disputes or physical altercations with neighbors or other residents.” Yet the headline of the Post story practically conveyed a kind of tenderness, with its description of Dear as “adrift and alienated.” An early version of a New York Times report went further, leading with a description of the shooter as “a gentle loner who occasionally unleashed violent acts toward neighbors and women he knew.” The Times, which has since produced some of the best and most thorough reporting on Dear, soon changed the careless wording of its initial story.

But what the earliest attitudes toward a man who allegedly sprayed bullets into 12 people—people who were parents, cops, friends, husbands, wives, Iraq War veterans—show us is the reflexive sympathy, interest, and dignity that we as a nation, our law enforcement and our media, are capable of extending even to those who commit monstrous acts.

Provided that those monstrous actors are white men.
Grabbing a few random phrases, Traister formed a scripted, mandated judgment about the way "we as a nation" extend reflexive sympathy to the worst offenders—"provided that those monstrous actors are white men."

It's sad to see a major writer play the fool in so vibrant a way. We would agree that our big newspapers may be inclined toward the melodramatic and maudlin in such instances. But is this sympathy extended only to white men?

We decided to check the headlines about the so-called "Beltway snipers," each of whom was defined as black. Had these serial killers been white, Traister could have spent a week deconstructing the alleged tenderness conveyed in headlines like these:
The New York Times, 10/25/02 and 10/26/02:

THE HUNT FOR A SNIPER: THE SUSPECTS; Suspects Spent Year Traveling, Nearly Destitute

THE HUNT FOR A SNIPER: WASHINGTON STATE; Remembering Call to Priest And Quiet Pair

RETRACING A TRAIL: AN UNRAVELED LIFE; The Sniper Suspects: Two Lives in Disarray


RETRACING A TRAIL: IN THE CARIBBEAN; Quiet Neighbor With a Quick Step

RETRACING A TRAIL: A TROUBLED YOUTH; For Teenager, Troubling Bond In Chaotic Life

The Washington Post, 10/25/02 through 1/12/03:

John Lee Malvo; Smuggled Into This Country, A Transient Life in Shelters

Suspect Sought Ex-Wife in Md.; Muhammad Wanted to Gain Visitation After She Fled With Their 3 Children

Muhammad, Malvo Bonded In Mother's Absence

Tight-Knit Town Can't See in Suspect The Boy They Knew; Muhammad Wove Happy Tale in Visit

A Boy of Bright Promise and No Roots; After Transient Childhood, Sniper Suspect Latched On to Strong Father Figure
Was Robert Dear "adrift and alienated?" The Beltway snipers were "nearly destitute!"

Their lives were "unraveled," "in disarray!" In Mother's absence, a boy of bright promise bonded!

Over there in The Other Tribe, their new web sites and their radio shows have created a political culture devoted to The Inaccurate, The Inane, The Nasty and The Crazy. Regular voters are exposed to this nonsense on an around-the-clock basis. This is a deeply unfortunate, destructive state of affairs.

Especially regarding science denial, we tend to agree with Krugman's assessment. Science denial has become the norm Over There in The Other Tribe. At present, it barely exists Over Here.

That said, our own all-too-human tribe is busily playing catch-up. We love to tell our own treasured tales—and most of our treasured tales concern matters of gender and race.

We aren't as crazy as They are yet, but we've worked hard in recent years to close the achievement gap. Some of us are stuffing our pants with money in the process. We're getting on TV!

In the past few years, we've built an ever-expanding web of treasured tribal tales. These treasured tales have routinely been built around inaccurate, embellished and disappeared facts. We're teaching ourselves how to stop making sense when discussing our favorite topics.

Given the role of race in American history, we ought to be embarrassed by the things we keep doing. But, quite plainly, we aren't.

The Other Side has lost its mind. In response, undisciplined players on Our Team have declared a general holiday. Our former gatekeepers are gone, long gone. At the new Salon, and in other locales, we now gambol and play.

We gambol and play and noisily pitch the stories our tribe wants to hear. On Monday, we plan to start a long review of some of the stories we've told in recent years.

We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for the various stories we've told. But our former gatekeepers are long gone. In their absence, we've apparently had the chance to learn who we always were.

Important final point: Your lizard brain will say that this is all untrue. Just for the record, that's what their lizard brains say!


  1. The new Salon (not so new anymore, for David Talbot still uses it to pitch his latest conspiracy books) can scarcely run a story unless there's some anti-white angle. It's shouldn't be surprising when they disapprove of stories lionizing a fallen officer who is white. No doubt the Times was eager to push the story as a balance to all the lousy white cops they've been covering the past couple of years, and I'm sure they would have been all the more delighted had the fallen officer been of black. Unhappily, facts can often step in the way of good, ideologically pure journalism.

    When they're not painting white people, or white men, or old white men, with a ridiculously broad brush, they're bitching about how Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins & Co., are giving similar treatment to all Moslems for the behavior of some Moslems. You see, over at calling superstitious nonsense superstitious nonsense is racist, especially if you're white. (I was going to say "white and privileged," but that would be a pleonasm.)

    I didn't see their article on how use of the verb "to bitch" was a symptom of sexist white male psychosis, but I hear it was "brilliant" and "devastating."

    1. The comments, many from black people, nearly all disagreed with that premise. It was very silly.

  2. "That said, our own all-too-human tribe is busily playing catch-up. We love to tell our own treasured tales—and most of our treasured tales concern matters of gender and race."

    Yep. And it takes a more gullible, less rational mind and more severely atrophied brain to believe those crippling and damaging tales than to be skeptical of climate change orthodoxy.

    1. The consequences of believing the nonsense about word definitions are far less serious than the consequences of believing that climate change is a myth. If we fail to address climate change soon, the planet will be unfit to live on.

    2. If we take "progressives" like Hillary Clinton at her word when she says we should regard the accused as guilty until "evidence emerges" proving their accusers wrong, or "progressives" like Loretta Lynch at her word when she says "We will take action" against anti-Muslim speech, there is far more to worry about in the immediate than skeptical climate change speech. A planet on which views like theirs prevail isn't one fit to live on.

    3. She said women who have been assaulted should be taken seriously. She hasn't said that the men who assault them don't deserve their day in court. Taking a person's words out of context like that and pretending they have made a generalization about how to evaluate truth of a factual statement is mendacious.

    4. No, she said women who claim they have been assaulted "should be believed."

      No, they should not be believed. It is the accuser who should be expected to wait for her day in court, for "evidence to emerge" to prove her veracity, not the accused. The That's how America works. There is no taking her words out of context. They couldn't be plainer. You grasp at that because you recognize her stated view as wrong and dangerous, because it is. It is the view of mainstream progressives.

  3. The comments section just keeps getting results!

    Bob wisely backs off from trying to compare anything much on the left to Trump and Hewitt. If he worked a little harder, he probably COULD find something in that class(lessness), it's just not as pervasive on the left, you wouldn't find it in one of our candidates for the Presidency. You would and will find a lot of, well, trumped up attempts to compare something like Benghazi or even a bit of actual Hillary bragging about this or that. But that's lame.
    There are, obviously, examples of very stupid journalism. The supposed over glorification of the white victim goes back to stuff written and said about white civil rights workers killed in the south. The people who pimp this kind of thing are not exactly original. Yet, it can fairly be argued, their real object of their ire is the liberal establishment anyway, so we are back to, yes, false equivalencies.....

    1. What has Trump said that approaches the stupidity and dangerousness of what Hillary Clinton said when she directed "everybody" to reflexively believe those accusing others of serious crimes, until the accused is proven innocent?

      “I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence."

    2. To address your question: Everything.

    3. You addressed that question in the way you did because you tried but found you could not put forth an example.

    4. 8:59, I feel it's safe to assume that whatever your are attempting to accuse Clinton of is false, and would be easily identifiable as false given any context.

    5. She was asked whether Bill's rape accuser should be believed, since she previously said rape accusers have the right to be believed, and answered “I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence."

      A statement more ignorant and dangerous than anything Trump has said.

  4. Climate change is a much more complex issue than Krugman and Bob Somerby claim. There's no space to go into it here, but there are lots of problems with most politicians' and pundits' understanding of climate science.

    1. Don't take the word of pundits and politicians.
      Instead, try scientists or Exxon's internal studies.

    2. Most published research findings are false

      "The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue."