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.”One tribe is crazy, the other tribe isn't, Krugman basically says.
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.
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.How dumb do we get at our crazy new sites? We get extremely dumb, and we get that way quite routinely.
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?
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.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."
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.
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:Was Robert Dear "adrift and alienated?" The Beltway snipers were "nearly destitute!"
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: A TROUBLED YOUTH; The Devoted 'Stepson'
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
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!