Supplemental: Race on campus, two reactions!


Professor versus journalist:
We were struck by Randall Kennedy's column in Friday's New York Times.

Kennedy is a professor at Harvard Law School. In a recent incident, pieces of black tape were affixed to his official portrait and to the portraits of other black professors at Harvard Law.

In his column, Kennedy offered his assessment of this situation. We thought the bulk of his reactions made sense, which virtually isn't allowed at this point in time.

He even typed a disallowed word. We join his column in progress:
KENNEDY (11/27/15): Last Thursday, on my way to teach contracts, I received an email from a student who alerted me to the defacement. I saw the taped photos, including my own, right before class. Since then I have been asked repeatedly how I feel about having been targeted by what some deem to be a racial hate crime. Questioners often seem to assume that I should feel deeply alarmed and hurt. I don’t.

The identity and motives of the person or people behind the taping have not been determined.
Perhaps the defacer is part of the law school community. But maybe not. Perhaps the defacer is white. But maybe not. Perhaps the taping is meant to convey anti-black contempt or hatred for the African-American professors. But maybe it was meant to protest the perceived marginalization of black professors, or was a hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis, or was a rebuke to those who have recently been taping over the law school’s seal, which memorializes a family of slaveholders from colonial times. Some observers, bristling with certainty, insist that the message conveyed by the taping of the photographs is obvious. To me it is puzzling.

Assuming that it was a racist gesture, there is a need to calibrate carefully its significance.
On a campus containing thousands of students, faculty members and staff, one should not be surprised or unglued by an instance or even a number of instances of racism. The question is whether those episodes are characteristic or outliers.
Kennedy makes these points in that passage:

First, he says he doesn't "feel deeply alarmed and hurt" by the piece of tape which was placed on his portrait.

It isn't entirely clear why he says this. But he notes that the motive for the act hasn't yet been determined. It could even be a "hoax," he says, using a word whose obliteration has sometimes made us liberals seem dumb in recent years, when a fair number of these incidents have turned out to be hoaxes.

(Conservatives hear about the hoaxes. We liberals are kept in the dark. Did you ever see the resolution to the "Klan at Oberlin" story? No you didn't, but many conservatives did.)

Kennedy complains about those who "bristle with certainty" about what this gesture must surely mean. He says that, even if this does turn out to be "a racist gesture," it may not represent the outlook of anyone except the lone pilgrim who engaged in the act.

To us, these assessments make obvious sense. For a reaction which seems to make less sense, consider today's piece by Steven Petrow at the Atlantic concerning events at Duke.

According to his identity tag at the Atlantic, Petrow is a columnist for the Washington Post and USA Today. (According to the leading authority, he's "an American journalist and author who writes frequently on modern-day etiquette.") He's also a 58-year-old Duke grad who serves on the board of the Duke Alumni Association.

Petrow writes about a recent visit to Duke in connection with a series of racial incidents. On a journalistic and human basis, we think one part of this passage tilts toward the appalling:
PETROW (11/30/15): As an alumnus, and a member of the Duke Alumni Association board of directors, I’d been following the highly disturbing series of events on campus: In April, an undergraduate hung a noose from a tree near the student union; in October, a Black Lives Matter poster was defaced with the “N” word; students of Asian ancestry have been repeatedly ridiculed and stereotyped. Then, in November, while Jack Donahue slept in his dorm, he told me, an individual entered and scrawled on a corridor wall with a black sharpie: “Death to all fags @Jack.” Donahue is gay.
We can't evaluate each of those incidents. That said, we were struck by Petrow's treatment of the noose incident from last April. Here's why:

The noose was found in the tree on April 1. Petrow links to this report in the Duke Chronicle, a report which was published that very day, before anyone had any idea who had done this or why.

By April 2, the Duke administration knew who had hung the noose. On May 1, the administration announced the findings of its investigation into the incident. Here's the summary, as reported by Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed:
JASCHIK (5/4/15): Duke University announced Friday that the student who left a noose on a tree in April, unsettling the campus, had done so out of "ignorance and bad judgment." While the student has received a sanction from the university, Duke will allow the student to return next semester.

The university also published an apology from the student (whose name has not been revealed). The apology has suggested to some on campus that the student is from outside the United States. Duke declined to comment on the background of the student. However, sources with knowledge of the situation said that the person in question was indeed an international student.
This report from Duke Today includes the student's letter of apology, with his full explanation.

Was the student in question a foreign student who didn't understand the symbolism of a noose in the American South? We can't tell you that, although that seems to be the judgment reached by the Duke administration and perhaps by law enforcement.

That said, the resolution of the case got little attention in the national press. Here's the amazing part:

In his piece in the Atlantic, there is no sign that Petrow is aware of the way the matter was resolved. It's stunning to think that he would link to the April 1 Duke Chronicle piece, written when no one knew squat about what had occurred, but not to this May 1 Duke Chronicle piece, which presented more information.

Petrow is a national journalist. He's also connected at Duke. Is it possible that he actually doesn't know how this matter was resolved?

We can't answer that question. But based upon his piece at Atlantic, it seems that some students at Duke are very upset by the incidents to which he refers. It's stunning to think that he wouldn't present full information about the incident which probably got the most national attention.

The noose incident wasn't a "hoax." Based upon the limited reporting its resolution attracted, it seems it may have involved a misunderstanding on the part of a foreign student, rather than an act of racial animus. (Would you understand the cultural meanings of various symbols in Korea or Japan?)

We went through many comments to Petrow's piece. None of the commenters seemed to know what the administration seems to have judged. At times like these, a certain preference for upset and bedlam may sometimes exist.

Professor Kennedy is urging calm reflection. Very few others are. We think the Atlantic should be embarrassed by the piece it chose to run. We've also thought this on several occasions:

Certain adults seem to enjoy seeing decent young people upset.

STOPPED MAKING SENSE: Einstein and the plastic giraffe!


Part 1—Days of non-explanation:
We heard some really bad "explanations" over the Thanksgiving break. For starters, consider what happened last Friday.

A young lady who's three years old was happily banging us on the head with a plastic giraffe. Challenged on her wayward conduct, she offered a shaky explanation:

She wasn't hitting Uncle Bob. Her toy giraffe was doing it!

Her 9-year-old sister quickly informed her that her "explanation" didn't make sense. But so what? Like a budding Candidate Trump, she doggedly stuck with her story!

The plastic giraffe was doing it? Now that was a bad explanation— although, we'll grant you, its author was only 3. What explains the bad explanation we'd already heard as we drove to her domicile?

It may have been the worst "explanation" in so-called human history! Last Wednesday, on NPR, Ari Shapiro was hosting All Things Considered. His interview with Professor Frank started off like this:
SHAPIRO (11/25/15): It was the discovery that changed the universe—or rather, our understanding of the universe. One hundred years ago today, Albert Einstein presented his theory of general relativity. So for the next few minutes, this is going to be a safe space for everyone who might think they have a vague understanding that maybe the theory of relativity is a really big deal, but maybe you don't really know exactly why or what that means.

Consider this a physics amnesty. Astrophysicists and NPR blogger Adam Frank promises not to judge as I ask some really ignorant questions right now. Hey, Adam!

FRANK: Hey, how's it going, Ari?

SHAPIRO: Let's start with the basics on this 100th anniversary. What exactly is the theory of general relativity?
"What exactly is the theory of general relativity?" the NPR host innocently asked. We'd have to say they were famous last words. The worst explanation of all time proceeded directly from there!

What does a non-explanation look like? If you're curious, we'll suggest you read the transcript of the Frank/Shapiro exchange, to which we'll return on Friday. For today, let's consider the larger meaning of the non-explanation NPR broadcast that day.

All across the country, people were traveling to holiday destinations. Upon arrival, they received inexpert explanations from people as young as 3.

Here's the problem:

Ari Shapiro is 37; Professor Frank is 53. Meanwhile, All Things Considered has been around since 1971. At least within our own liberal tribe, it's considered one of our brightest news programs.

In fairness, the segment in question concerned a matter of physics. It's the kind of segment certain news orgs broadcast to flatter consumers and to extend their own brand.

It doesn't matter if NPR listeners can't explain relativity. Still, what does it mean when our brightest news program can offer a segment like that?

In our view, the question is well worth considering.

Surely, we weren't the only ones who noticed the non-explanatory nature of Wednesday's segment. Surely, people in other cars must have wondered about what they heard.

That said, Shapiro showed no sign of knowing that he'd offered listeners a non-explanation—and Professor Frank didn't seem to realize either! Indeed, when their short segment was done, they closed things out like this:
SHAPIRO: That's Adam Frank, who teaches astrophysics at the University of Rochester. Thanks for the explainer!

FRANK: Oh, it was great. Thank you.
Riding along in the car, we were fairly sure that the explainer hadn't been great. Three nights later, we checked the transcript—and it turned out we were right! Indeed, we're not sure we've ever seen so perfect a non-explanation. It was handed to us by a professor who does know physics, on one of our brightest news programs.

Did NPR listeners actually know that this "explainer" didn't make sense? And if we the people can't spot a problem like that, how many other non-explanations might we be willing to swallow, ingest and accept?

It's easy to spot the non-explanations when they come from the other tribe. Increasingly, we're struck by the profusion of non-explanations which come to us from authority figures within our own liberal/progressive tents.

Many of those bad explanations concern matters of gender and race. We pondered that fact as we reread Ta-Nehisi Coates' widely-praised new book during Thanksgiving break.

We're going to start a lengthy review of that fascinating book at the start of next week. In the meantime, let's review a few of the non-explanations which seem to surround us at this time. Some of them come from the other tribe. A fair number come from us.

On this morning's Morning Joe, the pundits were explaining why our discourse seems to have stopped making sense. In a highly unusual departure, much of what they said was correct.

That said, it seemed to us they could spot the shortcomings in everyone but themselves! Their guild has dished tremendous bunk in the past thirty years. They failed to mention this fact.

Why has everyone else stopped making sense? On that, their views were fairly strong. Tomorrow, let's review what the savants said. Also, let's visit Chuck Todd.

Tomorrow: The question not asked

THREE DAYS OF THE TURKEY: Christopher Matthews does it again!


Our own leading turkey takes flight:
With the gatekeepers gone, we're learning what we the people have presumably always been like.

When the major political parties were in the hands of elite gatekeepers, potential candidates like Candidate Trump weren't allowed into the mix.

Now, we pick our candidates almost wholly through primaries. With media gatekeepers gone as well, we're learning that there's a pretty good market for a hopeful like Trump.

Over here in our liberal tents, we can see the many misstatements of a person like Trump. We can't see the way we love our own brand of dissembling, most of which currently turns on matters of gender and race.

Over in the conservative tents, they can see this about us. They're told about it every day. Much of what they're being told is, alas, perfectly accurate.

There's something else we liberals can't see. We can't see how dumb we liberals have been for all these countless years.

We can see that The Others are dumb. We can't spot the trait in ourselves.

How dumb have we been for all these years? Last Friday night, the biggest turkey of them all took wing and flew again.

Chris Matthews was hosting a panel which included Eliana Johnson, Washington editor for the National Review. A bit of background on Johnson:

She graduated from Yale in 2006; she joined the National Review in 2012. In the interim, she spent three years as a segment producer for Sean Hannity at Fox.

Three years producing segments for Sean? Journalistically, that's a horrible background. Having offered that word of warning, let's return to last Friday's Hardball.

At one point, Matthews asked Johnson why so many conservatives say that Obama's a Muslim. The turkey was soon in the air.

As any Hannity droog would do, Johnson quickly recited the standard canard concerning Candidate Clinton. And good God! Matthews quickly affirmed and embellished Johnson's claim. He then tossed in an older canard concerning Candidate Gore!

With apologies, we haven't been able to compare the transcript of Friday's Hardball program to videotape. The tape of the horrible segment in question doesn't appear at the Hardball site.

That said, the transcript seems to provide a reasonably faithful version of the exchange, which we watched several times at the end of last week. What are we the people actually like? The exchange offers a taste of the journalistic inventions of the past twenty years.

We start with the canard about Candidate Clinton. Here's what happened when Matthews asked why Republican voters keep saying Obama's a Muslim:
MATTHEWS (11/20/15): Why do people keep saying that, Eliana? They do they keep telling pollsters that?

JOHNSON: Well, I have to say, I do think it's amusing that it's Hillary Clinton, it's the Clintons who first put this out there about Obama being a Muslim.

MATTHEWS: Why did she do it?

JOHNSON: I think because it's a pretty effective way, when you start to question whether somebody is American in their origin.


MATTHEWS: Do you think that's an American thing to do?

JOHNSON: No, I don't. I think it's an abominable campaign tactic. But I do think it's worth it to remember that it was, in 2007, the Clintons who did this.

MATTHEWS: I know. It's their original sin.

JOHNSON: The dirtiest campaign in the country.
We hate to spoil the party, but Clinton didn't "first put out there about Obama being a Muslim." By way of contrast, Candidate Trump spent several years broadcasting versions of this canard in every possible forum.

Despite this minor problem, Matthews didn't simply agree with Johnson's mandated canard. He actually added to her claim, calling this action-which-didn't-occur the Clintons' "original sin."

The Clintons' conduct was un-American, our number-one turkey intoned.

Surely, that would have been awful enough. But this particular corporate gobbler wasn't finished yet:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Jeanne, if you name it on this— I know it was Al Gore who used the Willie Horton—



MATTHEWS: We know that history.


MATTHEWS: Why is that funny? It's terrible.
Good God! After playing the old Clinton-called-Obama-a-Muslim card, Matthews even reached all the way back. He repeated the pitiful RNC claim that it was really Candidate Gore who invented the ugly, racialized mess concerning Willie Horton.

(In real time, no one pimped that line more than Hannity, though this was before Johnson's time. Last Friday, Chris helped the horrible Johnson out, reciting this old canard for her.)

Can we talk? In the realm of "cable news," Matthews is the original Trump. He was Trump before Donald Trump was a gleam in cable's eye.

At the time, Matthews was being made extremely rich by his corporate owner, conservative zillionaire Jack Welch. He played the Trump role for many years with his crazy Clinton/Gore-hating misstatements.

The liberal world just sat there and took it. E.J. Dionne? Lawrence O'Donnell? They both agreed not to notice. Today, they're on MSNBC!

At this point, we the liberals can actually see that Trump is making crazy, inaccurate, harmful misstatements. Because he's in the GOP, we're able to see it and say it.

We were too dumb and ineffective to ever react to Matthews. We still can't bring ourselves to understand the way our favorite liberal media stars have covered for his appalling conduct every step of the way.

Today, we watch Chris on our own One True Channel; we see our darling Rachel fawn about how much she loves and admires the man she calls her dear friend. He still says things like the ones shown above. We're too hopeless and soft to react.

Why does our tribe favor Matthews today? Because he gives us the R-bombs we deeply love—the R-bombs we seem to love more than life itself. We're inclined to ask nothing more from our "intellectual leaders."

Those R-bombs are our own tribe's version of Donald Trump's Syrian/Muslim slanders. They convince us that The Very Bad People can all be found Over There. In all of human history, tribal groups have rarely asked for much more.

("Moral equivalence," we liberals will cry. Like people who swallow Hannity-Johnson's guff, we liberals know three or four plays.)

We can see what They are doing. It's harder for us to see the truth about the multimillionaire corporate turkeys who have been assigned to Us down through these many destructive and deeply ridiculous years.

He knows from un-American: Matthews knows all about un-American.

In the wake of 9/11, he shared these thoughts about ex-candidate Gore with Don Imus, who was extremely influential at the time:

"He doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American, even."

Yes, he actually said it! He said it on Imus' radio show, which was still being simulcast on MSNBC at that time.

We liberals just sat there and took it. For the record, Christopher Matthews was still Donald Trump at that point in time.

Imus was in rare form that morning (November 2, 2001). For a fuller account of his thoughtful remarks, just click here, then scroll to The Daily Update.

We've accepted this crap every step of the way. Who in the name of creation are we to mock the gullible average voters in the other tribe?

THREE DAYS OF THE TURKEY: Candidate Clinton draws a pair!


Part 2—Pinocchio script never dies:
Watching Lawrence O'Donnell last night, we learned two possible facts.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne doesn't read the Washington Post. Neither does Lawrence O'Donnell!

How did we learn these possible facts? We learned them when Dionne and O'Donnell discussed Candidate Trump's endless stream of misstatements and apparent misstatements.

As you may know, Lawrence has always been a fan of shouting the forbidden term "lie." To see him doom Candidate Kerry's chances by doing this in 2004, you can just click here. For amusement purposes only!

(Lawrence managed to get himself suspended from MSNBC as an additional part of this process. Only part of his performance that night is included in that tape. We've never found a videotape of his two-segment meltdown, which liberals unwisely applauded at the time.)

For ourselves, we think the forbidden term "lie" remains journalistically tricky. It's also politically tricky. Calling some candidate's statement a "lie" allows his supporters to change the subject in several different ways.

Handed this opportunity, skilled supporters will quickly put the accuser on the defensive. The fact of the candidate's endless misstatements will often be wiped away.

Whatever! Dionne and O'Donnell were discussing Candidate Trump's endless misstatements and apparent misstatements. At one point, they suggested that the national press should start using that forbidden term, "lie," in its discussions of Trump.

[If MSNBC ever posts the transcript, you'll be able to access it here.]

Do these guys read the Washington Post? Just last week, the editors repeatedly dropped the L-bomb on Trump's head in a featured editorial. Neither pundit showed any sign of knowing that this had occurred.

(This morning, the New York Times drops an L-bomb on Trump too. Needless to say, the Times decided to upstage the Post, attacking Trump's "racist lies." For better or worse, the R-bomb gives readers another way to disregard what's being said.)

Personally, we think pitfalls still surround the accusation of "lying." That said, this campaign has featured a level of crazy misstatement and crazy apparent misstatement which has never been seen in recent White House campaigns.

Candidate Trump has been the leading player in this parade of crazy statements. The problem has been especially egregious in the last week or two. That's why we were especially struck by Sunday's Washington Post.

In our view, Sunday's Washington Post pretty much went for the hat trick. On the front page of Outlook, the Post featured an impassioned first-person account concerning police procedures and race—an impassioned first-person account which was journalistically egregious.

On the front page of the entire newspaper, the Post featured a screaming headline about the total amount of money Bill and Hillary Clinton have raised throughout the course of their political careers. In the Post's extremely lengthy report, money raised for charitable purposes was folded in with money raised for political campaigns. Has the fund-raising of any other candidate ever been handled this way?

(We were especially struck by this treatment because of the jihad the Post conducted in 2014 concerning Candidate Clinton's speaking fees. The relentless treatment was unlike anything the paper had ever done. The reporting was also, in various ways, perhaps a bit less than obsessively honest. Courteous as always, the nation's compliant career liberal journalists let this jihad pass.)

On a journalistic basis, we thought those featured front-page pieces were a pair of rather fat turkeys. But good God!

On page A4, its accustomed spot, the Post ran its weekly "Fact Checker" piece. As Trump's cascade of appalling statements continued, the Washington Post was concerned with this troubling factual question, as expressed in its hard-copy headline:

"Did Hillary Clinton try to join the Marines?"

Did Clinton try to join the Marines? Somewhere inside that pitiful org, some editor thought this was the number-one factual concern of the week!

"Did Clinton try to join the Marines!" In this all-important fact-check, Glenn Kessler reviews a somewhat murky story which Candidate Clinton seems to have told exactly twice in the twenty-two years since she arrived in Washington.

(To review the story, read Kessler's piece. We won't waste your time here.)

Clinton first told the story in 1994, her second year as first lady. Needless to say, this set off a cheeky, nosy "news report" in which the New York Times' pitiful Maureen Dowd examined the story's possible connection to the Clintons' pre-marital status in 1975.

(Dowd in 1994: “So, if she was talking to a Marine recruiter in 1975 before the marriage, was she briefly considering joining the few, the proud and the brave of the corps as an alternative to life with Mr. Clinton, who was already being widely touted as a sure thing for Arkansas Attorney General?” At the time, this pitiful obsessive was still a Times "reporter!")

Candidate Clinton told the story for the second time on November 10 of this year. Two days later, Kessler examined its accuracy in an on-line Fact Checker post.

When he did, he pitifully quoted the pitiful Dowd at inordinate length. (Also, Tony Kornheiser!) He then awarded Candidate Clinton two Pinocchios for the trivial ancient tale.

Should the watchdog have done that? According to Kessler's silly-bill rating regime, this is what a pair of Pinocchios means:
Two Pinocchios

Significant omissions and/or exaggerations.
Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people. (Similar to “half true.”)
Are there "significant omissions or exaggerations" in the story Clinton told? If so, we have no idea what they are. Neither does the inerrant Kessler, to judge from the text of his post.

To judge from the text of his post, Kessler has no earthly idea if Candidate Clinton's murky story is true, "half true" or false. She obviously left a lot of things out when she briefly told the story this month. But Kessler doesn't seem to know what the omissions are, or if they're significant in any way.

We'll also cite the lofty statement of purpose of the Fact Checker site. This is one of the site's "basic principles:"
Basic principles

We will focus our attention and resources on the issues that are most important
to voters. We cannot nitpick every detail of every speech.
The misstatements and apparent misstatements have been astonishing this year. Under the circumstances, should Kessler have focused his "attention and resources" on this minor, one-off story?

We'd be inclined to say no. But given his very fuzzy analysis, we have no idea where his pair of Pinocchios came from.

Whatever! Kessler posted his "fact-check" on November 12. There it sat, drawing little attention, perhaps suggesting that this apparently trivial matter was of little "importance to voters."

Ten days later, we got the bad news. The fuzzy fact-check did seem important to some editor at the Post!


As Kessler's fact-check sat on line, Trump continued his blizzard of bizarre and appalling apparent misstatements. But so what?

Based on Sunday's edition, some editor decided that Candidate Clinton's twice-told tale was the most important factual matter to which voters should be directed. And please remember: when we say "twice-told," we mean this story has been told exactly two times in the past twenty-two years!

We thought we saw a lot of turkeys in last Sunday's Washington Post. One of them was the weekly hard-copy Fact Checker piece, which advanced a treasured narrative about the endless lying of the Clintons and Gore.

It's a narrative Lawrence has done a lot to advance and E.J. has always run from. Last Sunday, it got its new boost in the Post.

Lawrence and E.J. will eat fine turkeys this week. The rewards for service to their guild can be wickedly great.

That said, do they even read the Washington Post? If they do, you can bet your life they won't criticize what it says.

The Post has loved this turkey for two decades. On Sunday, the paper embraced it again.

Tomorrow: Last Friday, our greatest historical turkey took off and flew again

THREE DAYS OF THE TURKEY: The Outlook section does it again!


Part 1—A fascinating read:
Two Sundays ago, on November 8, we thought the Washington Post's Outlook section had finally hit rock bottom.

On that Sunday morning, the weekly section presented a special "baby boomer" edition. We thought Outlook's dumbness that day was about as dumb as journalistic dumbness can get.

How dumb do journalists have to be in order to write—and then decide to publish!—the pair of silly screeds Outlook featured that morning? They have to be surpassingly dumb, or we thought that day.

(What kind of journalism are we talking about? This pitiful piece by Heather Havrilesky was one of Outlook's front-page features that day. Do we have to explain how dumb that piece was? If so, the problem may extend beyond the dumbness which now seems to rule at the Post.)

Maybe it's our imagination. But it seems to us that Outlook has been getting dumber and dumber since Adam Kushner, age 33, was put in charge of the high-profile weekly section last December.

Previously, Kushner had been in charge of the newspaper's aptly named "PostEverything" site. It could be our imagination, but it has seemed to us that he may have brought the point of view which lurks in that unintentionally comical name to the journalism of Outlook.

Yesterday morning, we thought Outlook's work got even worse from a journalistic standpoint. That said, we were appalled by work we found all through yesterday's Post, and in parts of yesterday's New York Times.

Is it our imagination, or are basic journalistic norms dying before our eyes? We're thinking of yesterday's weekly Fact Checker piece, which awarded two Pinocchios to Candidate Clinton even as the streets run red with Donald Trump's astounding serial misstatements.

We're also thinking of the journalistic values on display in the piece which headlined yesterday's Outlook section. For today, let's focus on the journalism of that remarkable piece.

Please note--we're talking about the journalism of the piece in question. In the end, we aren't attempting to assess the practice of the Santa Monica police department, which played a central role in the piece in question.

We aren't attempting to assess the values, views or beliefs of Fay Wells, the Santa Monica business executive who wrote the piece in question.

We aren't attempting to assess the values and motives of one of Wells' neighbors, about whom she makes some striking assertions. In the end, we're attempting to assess the journalism of Adam Kushner, the journalist who decided to publish Wells' piece in the form in which it appeared.

In our view, yesterday's Outlook piece is an astonishing read. That's especially true if you peruse the background material the Post ignored in presenting Wells' piece, which headlined yesterday's Outlook.

In our view, yesterday's piece helps us consider the basic conception of journalism which increasingly seems to obtain at newspapers like the Post. Such papers are taking us to a post-journalistic age—an age in which the work you read is narrative all the way down.

Question: did the Santa Monica police behave badly on the evening of September 6 in an incident involving Wells? In large part because of the Washington Post, we don't have the slightest idea how to answer that question.

Around 11 o'clock that evening, Wells called a locksmith to help her get into her apartment. (She had locked her keys inside.) A neighbor apparently thought a break-in was occurring, and he called police.

By all accounts, a total of 19 officers reported to the scene. It seems that at least two of the officers had their guns drawn when Wells came to her door to respond to their presence.

Was that an over-reaction? Was it bad policing? Outlook made no attempt to subject such questions to normal journalistic review. They simply published a long, agonized account by Wells—an impassioned account which, time and again, seem to misstate basic facts about what occurred that night.

Wells seems to remain extremely upset about what happened that night. There's no obvious reason why she shouldn't be. That said, it also isn't entirely clear that her various judgments are sensible or sound.

Wells remains extremely upset. That doesn't speak to our concern, the journalism practiced by the Washington Post.

In this case, what's wrong with the Post's journalism? Let's start with the paper's most heinous misconduct. In a lengthy, anguished piece to which it gave a very high platform, the Post let Wells make an endless array of statements and claims which seem extremely hard to reconcile with the facts.

As usual, these apparently fact-challenged statements help make the story more exciting. They make the story fit a familiar story line about a very important topic. Is there any other kind of "journalism" these days?

What sorts of claims in Wells' report seem hard to reconcile with the facts? Consider the claim that the police who responded to the neighbor's call refused to answer her questions or respond to her concerns that night.

This claim is made and implied, again and again, in the exciting and tribally pleasing report the Post chose to publish. We offer these examples:
WELLS (11/23/15): After the officers and dog exited my “cleared” apartment, I was allowed back inside to speak with some of them...

I had so many questions. Why hadn’t they announced themselves? Why had they pointed guns at me? Why had they refused to answer when I asked repeatedly what was going on? Was it protocol to send more than a dozen cops to a suspected burglary?
Why hadn’t anyone asked for my ID or accepted it, especially after I’d offered it? If I hadn’t heard the dog, would I have opened the door to a gun in my face? “Maybe,” they answered.


I spoke with two of the officers a little while longer, trying to wrap my mind around the magnitude and nature of their response. They wondered: Wouldn’t I want the same response if I’d been the one who called the cops? “Absolutely not,” I told them. I recounted my terror and told them how I imagined it all ending, particularly in light of the recent interactions between police and people of color. One officer admitted that it was complicated but added that people sometimes kill cops for no reason. I was momentarily speechless at this strange justification.

I got no clear answers from the police that night and am still struggling to get them...
We'll return to the "strange justification" which still seems to puzzle Wells. For now, let's consider the claim that Wells "got no clear answers from the police that night," even though she "spoke with two of the officers a little while longer."

In fact, Wells spoke with those officers for a full 47 minutes after the search of her apartment had been completed. They answered her questions again and again, and then again and again and again, over and over and over and over, for that length of time.

They answered endless questions, over and over, about the reasons for their procedures. And how helpful! On November 20, the Los Angeles Times posted a transcript of this endless discussion, along with the audiotape.

It's very hard to square that transcript and tape with a good many things the Post let Wells claim and state in her first-person account. Unless he's in thrall to the "PostEverything" ethos, it's hard to know why a young journalist like Kushner would publish such a misleading account about such a significant topic.

You can only see that by reading the transcript of that endless discussion. Meanwhile, let's return to that other statement by Wells:

"I spoke with two of the officers a little while longer, trying to wrap my mind around the magnitude and nature of their response...One officer admitted that it was complicated but added that people sometimes kill cops for no reason. I was momentarily speechless at this strange justification."

Three months later, Wells is still puzzled by that "strange justification," which the Post let her describe quite opaquely. She seems to be referring to the officers' statement that they approach such incidents in substantial numbers, and perhaps with some weapons drawn, because officers sometimes get shot and killed in such situations.

"Well, understand, my brother-in-law got killed in the line of duty entering a house," one of the sergeants told Wells at one point. We don't know if that's true. But three months later, Wells still seems to think that's a "strange justification" for the police procedures she found upsetting. Meanwhile, for unknown reasons, the Post let her present an absurdly murky account of what she was told about that.

It seems that Wells is still very upset by her experience that night. There's no obvious reasons why she shouldn't be.

But we aren't judging the conduct, views or reactions of Wells. We're judging the journalism of the Washington Post, an increasingly horrible "newspaper."

Did the Santa Monica police engage in bad procedures that night? We have no idea. But the Washington Post engaged in horrific journalism when it published that remarkable front-page Outlook piece in the way it did.

An amazing array of statement ands claims in that piece are hard to square with the documentary record. Beyond that, from its own headlines on down, the Post chose to present this event as a racial incident. It let Wells make racial claims about her neighbor and the police, accusing them of racist conduct in the absence of any obvious proof or indication.

Was Wells mistreated by the police that night? If so, was she mistreated because she's black?

The Post let her make that claim throughout her report. The claim made her report much more thrilling. It also fits a preferred narrative many Post readers may love.

That said, the paper never cited the statement by Jacqueline Seabrooks, the black woman who heads the Santa Monica police department. And all through the exciting report, Wells was allowed to make statements and claims which are very hard to reconcile with the facts.

In fairness, Seabrooks grew up in South Central; Wells went to Dartmouth and Duke, a point she shares in her piece. This may help us understand the way young Kushner, who went to Yale, interacts with the world from which he's extracting his lode.

Two weeks ago, we thought those pieces about the baby boomers were about as dumb as journalism could get. This latest work is utterly horrible in a different way.

Truly, it's a fascinating read—but only if you read the lengthy transcript which lets you evaluate the accuracy of the many exciting claims which are being advanced. Only then do you start to see the way the Wells piece is remarkable.

Remember—we aren't attempting to judge Wells' views about what happened that night. Despite her lofty background and high social standing, Fay Wells isn't a journalist.

We're trying to judge the journalism of the Washington Post, an increasingly horrible newspaper. Yesterday, from its front page forward, we thought the Post presented a variety of routes to a post-journalistic world.

Two weeks ago, we thought those ludicrous boomer pieces really took the cake. Yesterday, in line with the season, an even bigger journalistic turkey was given free range in the Post.

Tomorrow: Two Pinocchios, Kessler said

Wednesday: Even after all these years, he's still our biggest gobbler

Supplemental: Still preoccupied after all these years!


The importance of statues and plaques:
Each Saturday morning, the Washington Post publishes a special extra page composed of nothing but letters from readers. Those readers are often irate.

The special page is called Free For All. From the comedy stage, we've incomparably suggested that its letters may perhaps be chosen to illustrate a pressing problem--the nonsense our journalists feel they have to endure from These Readers Today.

However the letters are chosen, one of today's selections seems instructive to us. It was written from Alexandria, Virginia, a city of 150,000 population which borders D.C. to the south.

The writer was troubled by a word the Post used in this preview of an upcoming PBS series. In our view, his sense of certainty, and his preoccupation, might be instructive as we continue discussing Missouri and Yale at the start of next week.

We include the hard-copy headline the Post affixed to the letter:

Alexandria in the Civil War

I was surprised to see The Post, rarely a bastion of conservative thought, use the phrase “occupied Southern town of Alexandria”
in the Nov. 7 Metro article “Alexandria preps for invasion after PBS series.”

Defenders of secession and states’ rights use “occupied” to describe places recaptured by U.S. forces. The accurate term is “liberated.”

Modern Alexandria’s relation to the Civil War is murky, shaped by the views of Southern sympathizers who once made up the city’s population.

A statue of a Confederate soldier with his back turned toward Washington can be found on Old Town’s Washington Street.

A hotel on King Street bears a plaque marking the spot where a Confederate sympathizer shot and killed a U.S. Army officer for removing a Confederate flag.

The plaque fails to mention that the officer was shot in the back.

The building that housed Alexandria’s slave pen (closed by U.S. troops) still stands on Duke Street but is unmarked.

If you cannot tell that the side that opposed slavery was right in the Civil War, you cannot tell the difference between good and evil.

JAL, Alexandria
The letter writer seems to say that he's discussing "modern Alexandria’s relation to the Civil War."

At this point in time, does Alexandria actually have a "relation" to the Civil War? We aren't sure how to answer that question, though our inclination would tilt us toward no.

That said: one hundred and fifty years later, the letter writer was willing to share the accurate term the Post should have used in discussing the matter at hand. Beyond that, he seems disturbed by the direction in which a certain statue is facing. Plus, he knows who was shot in the back. A plaque disappears that fact.

We found ourselves asking these questions:

Should the statue be turned so its back is facing Richmond? Should it be torn down? After he cancels next year's election, will Obama order that the statue be turned so it faces Mecca?

That rumor is starting to make the rounds. Let's return to the topic at hand:

One hundred and fifty years later, the writer seems preoccupied with the use of that one troubling term. Knowing what we know of such things, we suspected the Post may have copied that term from a PBS press release.

We don't know if that's what happened. But PBS uses that very same term at the program's web site.

We also don't know if that officer really was shot in the back. On line, the Post provides a link to this report, at, about the incident in question.

At least according to that report, it doesn't sound like the officer was shot in the back (although he certainly may have been). And uh-oh! The Smithsonian also uses the inaccurate term in question!

At this point, we'll admit it. When we read that slightly overwrought letter, we thought of our current series of posts about the reporting of recent events at Missouri and Yale.

Yesterday, we launched a few suggestions. As we read about a bright young student at Yale who says she's considerably disturbed about what a certain building is called, we suggested that professors and journalists may be encouraging her and her classmates to ignore the larger questions which surround them in New Haven and even perhaps in the world.

We suggested that our new class of fiery youngish black professors may, in some cases, be privileged bags of hot air. We suggested that younger people are perhaps being badly treated by the bad advice, and lack of substance, of those blustering academics.

We suggested that deans may be kissing young people's ascots, hoping they won't be the next ones fired. We suggested that young people are being dumbed down, exploited and driven to depression and tears by the self-serving ministrations of this unimpressive class.

We also suggested that major news orgs will work to keep you from imagining such possibilities. Our elites exist to bolster other elites, and our elites are mostly vapid.

At any rate, the Post has published another letter from one of These Readers Today. Should that statue be turned, or perhaps taken down? Did the Post use an "inaccurate" term? Is that plaque still hiding the truth from us the people? Does modern Alexandria have some sort of "relation" to the Civil War, even today?

Across the pond, the Taliban and ISIS are tearing down historical remnants. Revolutionary cadres with time on their hands often exhibit such zeal.

For ourselves, we'd be perfectly happy to see that residence hall renamed at Yale. But is there anything else our ranking professors have for that school's important young people? Is there any larger way those professors can fire those students' hearts and minds?

Our country is crawling with slacker professors. Warning! Many of these slackers are "white," but some of these slackers are "black."

What Coates said: Just this morning, we read this passage from Ta-Nehisi Coates' award-winning book:
COATES (page 50): The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing.
In this negative new review, Professor Kennedy complains that Coates never quite explains what he means by "the Dream." Whatever! We're with Coates on that general portrait.

The process we've long called the "novelization of news" thrives on "limiting the number of possible questions" and thereby "privileging [certain preferred] answers." In the reporting and discussion of Yale and Missouri, we'll suggest you ask yourself this:

Is the journalism designed to keep you from asking this possible question: Is it possible that our college students are exhibiting imperfect judgment?

In our view, the reporting hasn't tried to answer that question. It has tried to keep you from asking that question. It has tried to "limit the number of possible questions," the process Coates names in that passage.

Partly out of concern for those students, we think that question should be asked. If it's professors we actually serve, we will simply continue along in our novelized dream state.

Supplemental: Post drops L-bombs on Candidate Trump!


His crazy misstatements continue:
The Washington Post editorial board has done something quite unusual.

On Wednesday, in an editorial, they dropped a series of L-bombs on the head of a major White House contender. The hopeful in question is Candidate Trump. Hard-copy headline included, the editorial started like this:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (11/18/15): Lying about refugees

"Our president wants to take in 250,000 from Syria," says Donald Trump, falsely.
"Think of it, 250,000 people. And we all have heart, and we all want people taken care of and all of that, but with the problems our country has, to take in 250,000 people—some of whom are going to have problems, big problems— is just insane."

It is not insane. It is a lie. It is a lie that Mr. Trump repeats, even as fact checkers and reporters point out that it is wrong. Not just repeats, but embellishes. Last month, the number was lower: "Now I hear we want to take in 200,000," he said on ABC News. "We don't know where they're coming from. We don't know who they are. They could be ISIS. It could be the great Trojan horse."

We have grown accustomed to politicians exaggerating, sometimes stretching the truth, sometimes fogging it up for effect. But it is disturbing on a different scale to see a U.S. politician repeating a big lie again and again, in a way that is calculated to inflame bigotry and fan fears.
The editors didn't just call it a lie. They referred to Trump's repeated misstatement as a "big lie," with all that the term suggests.

It's quite unusual to see a big newspaper drop L-bombs in this manner. That said, the national press is barely trying to monitor Trump's endless bizarre misstatements.

Let's take this opportunity to revisit Trump's stirring speech, at the second GOP debate, about his insightful opposition to the war in Iraq. As part of his self-glorying speech, Trump said he could "give you twenty-five different stories" about his prescient opposition.

Presumably, he meant there were dozens of news reports about his prescient opposition. He also claimed that the Bush Administration tried to dissuade him from his opposition.

This wasn't a throw-away, offhand remark; this was a lengthy presentation at a major event. But were Trump's statements accurate? At the time, several sites searched for news reports of the type he described without success. Basically, everyone abandoned the matter after that.

To their credit, the Washington Post's Fact-Checker site didn't abandon the matter. On October 21, Michelle Ye Hee Lee reported that "Trump has not responded to repeated requests by us or other media outlets for proof of his early opposition to the invasion."

She also refuted Trump's "baseless claim that the Bush Administration tried to 'silence' his Iraq War opposition." In our view, it's kind of amazing that misstatements of this depth and breadth, delivered from such a major platform, received so little overall attention from the mainstream press.

This campaign has seen dissembling and misstatement carried to new heights or depths. Carly Fiorina's refusals to correct her misstatements about that Planned Parenthood tape were epic and bizarre. That said, have we ever seen as weird a misstatement by a candidate as this misstatement by Candidate Trump at the fourth GOP debate?
TRUMP (11/10/15): As far as Syria, I like—

If Putin wants to go in—and I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates, and we did very well that night. But you know that.

But if Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100%, and I can't understand how anybody would be against it.
As it turned out, Trump has never met Putin, including on that night, when 60 Minutes featured an interview with the Russian strongman which had been taped in Moscow.

It seems odd to us that such weird misstatements have received so little attention from the mainstream press. It was only four cycles ago when the mainstream press corps spent twenty months inventing lies by Candidate Gore, then feigning outrage about them. Now, when a major party front-runner keeps emitting the types of crazy lies which were falsely attributed to Gore, the mainstream press corps pays them little attention.

The Post did something very unusual when it dropped those L-bombs on Trump's head. That said, candidates like Trump are massively changing the rules of the road concerning truthful statement during the current bizarre campaign.

In a slightly rational world, major organs of the press would be looking for ways to say that. That said, they didn't care about truth during Campaign 2000, and they don't seem to care a lot now.



Part 5—Yale dean swings five-pound hammer:
When we read Wednesday's New York Times, we thought of our nation's Yale students.

We were reading Eduardo Porter's weekly "Economic Scene" column. As we've noted in the past, Porter's weekly columns are longish and information-based. Presumably for those reasons, his columns are never discussed.

This Wednesday, Porter wrote about the nation's treatment of "deep poverty." Early on, a bit histrionically, he explained what deep poverty is:
PORTER (11/18/15): Even after accounting for every government assistance program—housing subsidies, food stamps, help with the electricity bill—nearly 16 million Americans still fall below 50 percent of the poverty line, measured by the Census Bureau’s revamped poverty measure that includes the effect of government support. That translates to roughly $8.60 per person per day for a family of four. That group is six million people larger than half a century ago.

No other advanced nation tolerates this depth of deprivation. It amounts to one in 20 Americans—a share that has refused to shrink despite five decades of economic growth.

“This should become a major issue,” the eminent Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson told me. “Unfortunately nobody has organized for these poor people. There is not a mobilization of political resources among the poor.”
For better or worse, Porter used a statistic designed to shed a bit more heat and a bit less light.

How much is $8.60 per person per day for a family of four? In more accessible terms, that's $12,600 per year for a family of four. According to Porter, roughly five percent of Americans live on this kind of income.

Porter quoted a well-known professor saying this should be a political issue. Because so few of our ranking professors are anything like Professor Wilson, that statement will figure in today's unfolding tale.

Why did Porter's column make us think of Yale students? In part, because we'd recently checked the demographic status of New Haven, Connecticut, the East Coast city within which this group attends its Halloween parties.

Sure enough! Of 179 "incorporated county subdivisions" in the Nutmeg State, New Haven ranks 175th in per capita income, according to the leading authority.

We'll guess that New Haven's numbers are skewed and confused by the presence of Yale personnel in the city. But as of the 2010 census, 24.4% of the population were living below the federal poverty line, which hits especially hard in a high cost-of-living state like Connecticut.

Among residents under age 18, 32.2% lived below the poverty line. We have no numbers concerning deep poverty, though there may be some of that too.

We aren't in the habit of criticizing youngish people. That said, this is the city within which Yale students lay out the costumes they'll wear to their drunken fraternity parties, and debate the emails of faculty members concerning such seasonal garb.

We aren't in the habit of criticizing people who are youngish. We will discuss the journalists, professors and even the deans who may help turn their brains to mush as they wail and flail and serve us the stories we very much like about the world those students live in.

Very few of those professors seem to have Professor Wilson's values or priorities. Consider the recent discussion between Professor Cobb, who's also a journalist, and Professor Holloway, the current dean of Yale College.

The discussion was published by the New Yorker, a ranking member of our foppish journalistic elite. In our view, the discussion is rather weak from a journalistic perspective. At one point, the Dean of Yale College even comes close to spotting the Klan, without the journalist to whom he's speaking voicing a peep of protest.

We won't get to that discussion today, fascinating as it seems. For today, let's consider a recent profile of Dean Holloway as we think about the types of people who are conveying their values to students at Yale.

For starters, let's make an obvious point. We're sure that Dean Holloway is a perfectly decent person. He doesn't rob banks in his spare time. He's kind to friends, family and neighbors.

We'll assume the same about Professor Cobb, although we'd have to say that, as a journalist, he's rapidly establishing himself as one of our least helpful windbags.

Who is Jonathan Holloway? This Monday, in the New York Times, Rachel Swarns profiled the dean. As we ponder the discussions swirling around Missouri and Yale, we might want to think about the people who are helping the nation's college students form their values, perspectives and priorities—their overall view of the world.

Who the heck is Jonathan Holloway? We assume he's a good, decent person. Is he also a bit of a pander bear? Several of our analysts cringed when they encountered this passage:
SWARNS (11/16/15): The unexpected intensity of the emotional demonstrations on far-flung campuses, from Claremont McKenna College in California to the University of Missouri to Ithaca College in upstate New York, has left college administrators scrambling to respond at a time when concerns about the nation’s racial fault lines have gripped many cities across the country.

Few would seem to be better prepared to handle such a moment than Dr. Holloway. Yet even he has found himself confounded at times by the unpredictability of the swelling movement.

At a recent impromptu protest, nearly 200 black students encircled the 48-year-old dean, with some accusing him of being disengaged and unresponsive. For more than two hours, he listened. At times, he got choked up.

“Students who are dear to me said: ‘You know, I always knew that when times were tough here that you would always have our back. That helped me get through. And now I don’t know if you do,’” Dr. Holloway said in an interview on Friday. “It broke my heart.”

The bespectacled dean has lost five pounds since the campus erupted in a series of rallies and demonstrations
this month, and the student activism shows few signs of waning.
"Few would seem to be better prepared" to handle the current moment? Why does Swarns offer that view? Presumably, because Holloway is the first black dean of Yale College.

Despite that fact, Holloway has found himself accused by some of Yale's black students! In a later passage, Swarns reports the kinds of accusations which may emerge at times as fraught as these. With giant social issues at stake, even a dean like this may not be entirely safe:
SWARNS: [S]ome students complained that there was only silence at first from Dr. Holloway and from Peter Salovey, the university president, about the Halloween-related incidents and the broader issues.

By contrast, some students noted, the dean had moved swiftly last year to condemn the appearance of swastikas on campus, sending an email to the student body that said, “There is no room for hate in this house."
Did Holloway show more concern about swastikas on campus than about a faculty email concerning Halloween costumes? We have no idea! But even Holloway was being accused—and elsewhere around the nation, college officials have been losing jobs. Does that explain why Holloway spilled to Swarns about the way he got choked up as he listened to the students he loves so dearly? Does that explain why he even told the scribe that he had lost five pounds, reflecting the way their loss of faith in him has "broken his heart?"

Is it possible that the dean is pandering to the people who are getting deans fired? What kind of leader would do such a thing? Perhaps a Yale lifer like this?
SWARNS: Dr. Holloway, who earned his doctorate in history from Yale in 1995, has spent 16 years on the faculty and wears a navy blue Yale tie to the office most days. (He keeps six Yale ties in his closet on regular rotation.) He is, in many respects, a quintessential Ivy League insider. “A team player,” he said, describing himself.

But as an African-American and a scholar of black protest movements, he is also intimately familiar with the sense of marginalization experienced by some students, who have described being subjected to racial slurs, casual insults and tone-deaf comments from classmates and faculty members.

“Their pain was pain I recognize; I didn’t need to have a translator to understand that,” Dr. Holloway said. “Not only do I live life on this planet as a black man, I teach the civil rights era. It’s what I do.”

Even so, some students complained that the dean had become disconnected from their problems.
The man who swings that five-pound hammer also rotates six Yale ties! He recognizes the students' pain concerning that email about Halloween. Does he recognize the pain in greater New Haven? Or is that Wilson's thing?

We'll tell you what a cynic might say about that profile by Swarns. A cynic may say that the dean is worried about his soft, cushy job. A cynic might think that the dean is pandering to the students who could get his ascot fired.

A cynic might think he swung his five-pound hammer as part of a panderama. A cynic might even cringe again as the profile continues:
SWARNS: Even so, some students complained that the dean had become disconnected from their problems.

When black students initially invited Dr. Holloway to meetings about their concerns, he sent representatives from his staff. (He said he had longstanding commitments, including giving a talk at the New Haven Public Library on a new edition of W.E.B. DuBois’s classic, “The Souls of Black Folk.”)
Message to the students he loves: He only skipped their meeting because he was speaking about DuBois! Nothing else could have kept him away!

Only one thing is of interest here—the wisdom, values and perspective being offered to college students by their professors and deans and by the nation's journalists. We were very much struck by Holloway's statements in his discussion with Journalist Cobb. He even managed to drag in the Klan. Is he trying to save his own job?

We don't know the answer to that, but we can tell you this:

In a famous piece of tape from Yale, an undergraduate woman is shown behaving in an extremely emotional way about a rather silly email sent by a faculty member. The rest of New Haven has disappeared. She's virtually melting down.

At Missouri, an undergraduate was quoted last week saying she is so "exhausted" she can barely go to class.

In this earlier New York Times profile from Yale, a very impressive young woman is quoted saying that she is oppressed by the specter of John C. Calhoun. “I’m constantly thinking about Calhoun the slave owner staring me down,” this sophomore student is quoted saying. “It’s supposed to be my home, but I feel like I can’t be my full self here."

That young woman was valedictorian of a very large, high-achieving high school just two years ago. Is she being well served by her deans and professors? Is her nation being well served by those rather comfortable people?

Our view? Our nation is crawling with grabbers and climbers. It can sometimes seem that some such people are possibly serving black students poorly as they swing their various hammers, bringing themselves the large rewards available in this society.

We'll discuss that possibility more next week. In our view, the journalism has been quite poor, and thoroughly scripted, concerning Missouri and Yale. As readers, we're handed the novels we greatly enjoy. Are students well served in the process?

Meanwhile, Porter's piece has gone neglected, along with the bulk of New Haven. There are few Professor Wilsons, it sometimes can seem, and a lot of frat parties at Yale.

Supplemental: Round 2 from the provocateur Drum!


The way we humans function:
Have the Paris attacks changed the shape of the White House campaign?

We have no way of knowing. Last Saturday, it was painful to watch Candidate Clinton walking the line this way:
DICKERSON (11/14/15): Secretary Clinton, you mentioned radical jihadists. Marco Rubio, also running for president, said...the attack in Paris showed that we are at war with radical Islam. Do you agree with that characterization, "radical Islam?"

CLINTON: I don't think we're at war with Islam. I don't think we're at war with all Muslims. I think we're at war with jihadists who have—

DICKERSON: Just to interrupt. He didn't say all Muslims. He just said radical Islam.
Oof! However you judge the political wisdom of those competing phrases, 99 percent of all American voters are going to notice when Candidate Clinton dodges a question that way.

Oof! In Saturday's Democratic debate, moderator John Dickerson asked Clinton if she's opposed to use of the phrase "radical Islam." Candidate Clinton started answering as if she'd been asked something else.

Quite correctly, Dickerson interrupted and asked his question again. In our view, 99 percent of all voters will notice that kind of dodge, especially at a time like this. To many voters, it will seem to signal that they're getting conned or duped in some way.

Perhaps the fear caused by the Paris attacks will blow over. If not, the politics may be bad for Dems, in part because of the depressing ground Kevin Drum has trod once again.

On Tuesday, Drum suggested that liberals should tone down the mockery and the insults when voters express fear concerning Syrian refugees. Incomparably, we linked to his post and agreed.

On Wednesday, Drum returned to the topic. He provided a sampling of the reactions his good sound advice had provoked:
Reactions to Kevin Drum's good sound advice
Mockery is a reasonable response to the ridiculous.

"Low information voters" = bad citizens.

It's the equivalent of the Japanese internment hysteria, it deserves ridicule.

"Syrian terrorists" may be an existential threat, but gun waving rednecks are more likely to shoot me. Mock them? Gimme a break.

This @kdrum article is exactly why people don't like mealy-mouthed Liberals. This is a moral issue, not a compromised tactic.

Same objections against Vietnamese, Jews, Irish... same ol' catering to nativism, again & again. No more, thank you.

If voters are too racist stupid or sheeple to support progressives Dems Sanders that's their fault not ours

Oh, their fears are understandable all right. Xenophobia is widely understood. So is naked racism and Islamophobia.

@kdrum wants us to treat these concerns as if they are good faith security concerns, not racism.

Many "ordinary" voters are racists & know-nothings who do not want to be educated *or* calmed. Listen to callers on talk radio.

Let's remember that it's politicians we are mocking.
Drum said he wasn't cherry-picking. You'd have to be clueless to doubt him.

These are typical types of reaction from modern pseudo-liberals. If you've ever read comment threads at sites like Salon, you already know that.

Such comments raise a basic question about the way we humans function. Simply put, many humans don't believe that disagreements can occur in good faith.

Our liberal tribe is crawling with people who see the world that way. To these self-impressed folk, an issue like this is a moral issue. And we liberals are on the right side!

That means that people who disagree are on the wrong side of a moral issue. That means that they are simply bad people. It means they're morally Other.

At this point, we typically get out our bombs. Plainly, such people are racists! (As you can see from Drum's list, we deploy our N-bombs and X-bombs too.)

You might have thought that thinking like this disappeared as part of the Enlightenment. If you thought that, you were wrong. Our liberal tribe is full of people who love to loathe The Others while in the process of killing the pig. They live in a province of prehistory, and they're proud to announce it.

Those comments come from God's little acre, the place our tribe has always liked to ridicule. Truthfully, it makes little sense to try to reason with the people who make them.

They're right on the merits and morally good. Everyone else is not.

At times of fear and dislocation, these attitudes can be very destructive to liberal/progressive political interests. Our own Dimmesdales will push ahead with their attitude anyhoo.

This attitude has been widely observed since we humans first crawled from the mud. In fairness, it really has to be said:

"If voters are too racist or stupid, it's their fault, not ours!"

REPORTING MISSOURI AND YALE: And creating a novel!


Part 4—The question which won't be asked:
Is John Eligon sharp enough to be a constructive journalist? Are his editors sharp enough to create an instructive discussion?

Concerning Eligon, we can't answer your question. Since his editors work for the New York Times, we'll assume the answer to your second question may turn out to be no.

Last Thursday, Eligon wrote a 1500-word, front page report about student life at the University of Missouri. For the fourth consecutive day, the Times had Missouri on its front page.

Eligon's report dealt with an important topic, as could be seen from its front-page headline:

"Black Students See a University Riven by Race"

Inside the paper, the continuation of Eligon's report was accompanied by three large photographs. The internal headline made the subject of his report even clearer:

"Black Students at Missouri Describe University Campus Riven by Race"

Plainly, that's an important claim. Eligon's report concerned a second charge, which he described in this manner: "The university has been criticized for being slow or ineffective in addressing racial tensions."

Today, we ask you to ponder this question: Are Eligon, and his editors, sharp enough to rise to the challenge of reporting such important issues? Based on Eligon's performance that day, we wouldn't rush to say yes.

We'd mention some of the flotsam with which he wasted space in his piece, along with some basic facts he didn't include. Along the way, we'd suggest you might ask a second question:

Was Eligon shaping a bit of a novel, upon which a basic question wasn't allowed to intrude We'll flesh that out at the end of our piece, after we consider the heart of Eligon's report.

Eligon's report concerned the important claim, by Missouri's black students, that the Missouri campus is "riven by race." In one way, that claim might seem a bit odd.

For more than a year, Missouri's student body president has been Payton Head, a highly impressive black gay man who was elected in an election which reportedly set records for voter turnout.

Last year, Head was also elected Missouri's homecoming king. Meanwhile, Missouri's football team made news in 2014 for its enlightened support of defensive star Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL.

When a major collegiate football team is on the cutting edge of social change, a person might think its campus must be a model of enlightened outlook. In last Thursday's front-page piece, Eligon was reporting important claims to the contrary.

Because young people are very important, this is a very important topic. How well did Eligon do in reporting this important concern?

We don't think he did super well. It isn't that he didn't find and report complaints by black students. He started with this example from 2012:
ELIGON (11/12/15): At first, Briana Gray just chalked up the comments and questions from her new roommate at the University of Missouri to innocent ignorance: How do you style your hair? What do you put in it?

But then her white roommate from rural Missouri started playing a rap song with a racial slur and singing the slur loudly, recalled Ms. Gray, a black senior from suburban Chicago. Another time, the roommate wondered whether black people had greasy skin because slaves were forced to sweat a lot.

Then one day, Ms. Gray said, she found a picture tacked to her door of what appeared to be a black woman being lynched. When her roommate said a friend had done it as a joke, Ms. Gray said she attacked the girl and her friends. The police broke up the fight and no one was arrested. But Ms. Gray said her view on race relations had been indelibly changed.
Assuming the event occurred as described, it sounds like Briana Gray may have gotten stuck with a lousy roommate. At the very least, it sounds like the roommate's friend showed extremely poor judgment in the incident that is described.

Eligon's account is sufficiently fuzzy that it's hard to take matters from there. (Which "girl" did Gray attack? Where did the plural "friends" come from?) That said, Eligon has written a story straight outta Hell about an (at least) insensitive freshman roommate.

Eligon tells a familiar story; in some ways, that's the problem. Especially in a lengthy report about alleged administrative indifference, basic questions go unasked and therefore go unanswered.

Was this incident reported to the administration? Should it have been? If it was, what was the response? And by the way, how common are incidents of this (somewhat fuzzy) type on the Missouri campus? If incidents like this are common, why are we hearing about an event which happened three years ago?

In fairness, it isn't easy to create a report about the frequency of such incidents. That said, Eligon doesn't seem to have tried very hard to get past the anecdotal.

He hasn't interviewed student leaders (including the very impressive Head) about the frequency of such incidents. If relevant statistics exist, he hasn't presented any.

Might we be cynical, just for a minute, about the intellectual laziness of the New York Times? A cynic might cynically say that Eligon has lazed his way through this front-page report—that he has offered familiar anecdotes designed to appeal to the sympathies of New York Times readers, while making no substantial effort to engage in serious journalism about the important claims at issue in his piece.

Whatever the truth may be about Missouri, that cynic might say that Eligon's piece is really a bit of a novel. In fairness to Eligon, let's note his other attempts to describe the racial problems on that allegedly "riven" campus.

Eligon starts with Gray's account of her freshman year. He doesn't ask her if she has had similar experience in the three years since that time.

Instead, he offers the account shown below of life on campus for black students. In the process, he quotes an extremely important statement about campus life from the perspective of one senior.

The statements made here are extremely important. Statements like these should be addressed through the tools of real journalism:
ELIGON (continuing directly): A handful of racially charged episodes on the Missouri campus this fall, including someone smearing a swastika on a wall with feces, have touched off protests, a hunger strike, the threat of a boycott by the football team and, on Monday, the resignation of the university system's president and the chancellor of this campus. Similar protests erupted Wednesday at other colleges across the country.

But well before that cascade of events here, many black students say that racial tensions were already woven into the fabric of everyday life at this, the state system's flagship campus.

Some black students say they are greeted with piercing stares when they walk by white-dominated fraternity and sorority houses. Others mention feeling awkward when other students turn to them in class when discussion turns to black issues. And then there are the tenser moments when white students talk disparagingly about the neighborhoods where many black students come from, whether the South Side of Chicago or the North Side of St. Louis.

''It can be exhausting when people are making assumptions about you based on your skin color,'' said Symone Lenoir, a 23-year-old black senior in interdisciplinary studies. ''It can be exhausting feeling like you're speaking for your entire race.''

So exhausting, she said, that some mornings she asks herself, ''Do I even want to go to class and sit with people?''
Symone Lenoir is an important person. The exhaustion she describes sounds a bit like outright depression. Because Lenoir's an important person, that's an important state of affairs.

That state of affairs deserves serious journalism. We're not sure Eligon provides it.

At Missouri, are black students "greeted with piercing stares" when they walk past fraternity and sorority houses? According to Eligon, some black students say that's the case, but unless we're simply enjoying our novel, basic questions may arise.

Were other black students asked about that? What did those black students say?

Was Payton Head asked about this claim? What would his judgment have been?

Has anyone ever complained about this to the administration? To black student groups on campus? Why or why not?

Lenoir describes a state of exhaustion based on perceived racial experience. Because Lenoir is an important person, that's an important state of affairs.

That said, do other black students at Missouri feel exhausted or depressed? Does the number of such students exceed the expected norm? Did Eligon speak to the student counseling service? If he did, what did they say? If he didn't, why not?

A cynic might make some cynical claims about Eligon's piece. That cynic might be especially cynical if he was familiar with the intellectually lazy work routinely performed by the Times.

That cynic might say that Jayson Blair could have written Eligon's piece right from his Brooklyn apartment, so familiar are the complaints being offered to sympathetic Times readers.

In fairness, when Eligon completes the rule of three by interviewing a third black student, the complaint he records is unique. On the other hand, our cynic might say that this third complaint borders on the absurd.

Eligon speaks here of Chris Williams, a black student from Chicago:
ELIGON: Like several other black students, Mr. Williams said he decided to attend Missouri because he had received a university scholarship for minority students. He said he came to campus hoping to make friends of other races. But students, black and white, said that the campus was very segregated. In the student center, people refer to an area where mostly black students sit as ''the black hole.''

Racial divisions were sometimes unwittingly reinforced in conversations with white friends, Mr. Williams said. He recalled a conversation freshman year when three dormmates talked about the houseboats their families owned. Another time, he said his white friends dismissed some of the reasons he gave for the poor academic performance of his high school, including segregation and underfunding.
For better or worse, the kind of "segregation" Williams describes has been common on college campuses for a very long time. We recall being surprised and disappointed by this type of separation in the freshman dining hall during our own first year in college, in the fall of 1965.

As a matter of theory and novelized dreams, it would be better if that "segregation" didn't occur. It might also be better if journalists didn't choose the most exciting word with which to describe that separation for sympathetic tribal readers.

That said, Williams is the third and final student Eligon profiles for his piece. For whatever reason, we've now been reduced to the complaint that three dormmates once discussed the fact that their families own houseboats!

Is that the way the Missouri campus is currently "riven by race?" Editors at a serious newspaper would be embarrassed to see their report dissolve into such an absurd example. That said, the New York Times isn't an especially serious newspaper when it comes to topics like this. It's barely a paper at all.

Is the Missouri campus "riven by race?" For ourselves, we have no idea, in part because of the lazy, formulaic way Eligon composed this lazy piece.

A cynic would ask you to consider the possibility that this piece is largely a novel. It hands you very familiar complaints without making any real attempt to evaluate the frequency of such events at a campus whose students seem, in various ways, to be strongly interested in admirable themes of diversity and inclusion.

What is it like at Missouri? Like you, we have no idea. That said, let's consider a possibility Eligon's novel tends to avoid.

In his passage about Chris Williams, Eligon discusses an experience Williams had last year, before the recent unrest. This is Eligon's account of Williams' meeting with R. Bowen Loftin, the recently-deposed chancellor:
ELIGON: Chris Williams, a black student from Chicago, said he confronted Mr. Loftin at one of the forums last year after the chancellor made what he believed was a racially insensitive comment. The chancellor later invited him to a private meeting at his office, Mr. Williams said.

''In the meeting, he's telling me how his experiences as a white male in the South are essentially the same as my experiences in the inner city of the South Side of Chicago as a black male,'' Mr. Williams recalled. ''I remember leaving that meeting, thinking, like, there is no recourse with administration if the guy in charge doesn't get it and in his attempts to be well-meaning he's just propagating that we're the same.''

Mr. Loftin said Mr. Williams had mischaracterized the exchange. ''I did share my experiences growing up only as a means of reciprocating for his telling me his story,'' Mr. Loftin said in an email. ''I recall the conversation as one of my listening to him primarily and his offer to help me do things at Mizzou that would improve our climate.''
In that anecdote, Loftin displays his disinterest in racial matters by 1) holding a forum on race with some students, then 2) by inviting one of the students to his office for a further private discussion.

Loftin may be completely clueless about race. There's no way to tell from that anecdote. Obviously, though, it's one of the possibilities.

Here's what that cynic might tell you:

That cynic might suggest that you consider another possibility—the possibility that Williams, who is a college student, may be offering an imperfect assessment of a meeting he had. That Williams, an important young person, may have imperfect judgment at this point in his life.

There's no way to know what that meeting was like, that cynic would helpfully tell you. But he'd ask you to consider the possibility that you're reading an extended novel by a pseudo-journalist in which the possibility of imperfect judgment on the part of students is rarely allowed to intrude on the pleasure you derive from your reading experience.

Consider this last point:

As noted above, Briana Gray is an important person. At age 21, she's also fairly young, we're all imperfect, and these are highly fraught times.

Eligon started his report with Gray's account of behavior by her freshman roommate in 2012. We've already shown you that passage. We haven't told you this:

In the middle of his report, Eligon quotes Gray again. She describes the way her thinking has changed because of that freshman experience.

Here's the question novelists like Eligon will typically avoid:

Is it possible that Gray has reacted unwisely to that freshman experience? Is it possible the campus might seem less "riven" to her if she was getting better guidance and advice from older authority figures, including major journalists?

In the case of Gray and Missouri, we can't answer those questions. We can tell you that Eligon's report isn't a real piece of journalism. You simply can't learn what Missouri is like by reading such novelized work.

Tomorrow, we'll show you work we think is worse, penned by Professor Cobb. In our view, our important black students will all be exhausted if left to the novels of Cobb.

Tomorrow: The dean and the journalist at Yale

Also tomorrow: We don't know what life at Missouri is like. We don't know what Chancellor Loftin and President Wolfe were like concerning matters of race. That said:

In our view, Eligon omitted some basic facts from his lengthy front-page report. These basic facts have been widely omitted from mainstream reports. Whatever is true about Missouri, this is where novels come from.

Tomorrow, we'll start with those facts. Those facts belong in news reports, though they'll tend to get dropped from novels.

Supplemental: Obama encounters the real JV team!


They're known as the national press corps:
We haven't yet watched the full videotape of Obama's press conference in Turkey.

That said, we've heard a lot about it. The caterwauling about Obama's tone has been general on Morning Joe, where the caterwaulin' tends to be good. Meanwhile, we'd heard remarks about the repetitive nature of the press corps' questions.

To watch the full presser, click here.

Today, we took a look at the transcript of the presser. We also watched the videotape of the journalists asking their questions. We thought it was worth recording the questions, which actually were quite repetitive.

Question 1 was basically reasonable, if a bit odd in context. It came from Jerome Cartillier, a reporter from Agence France Presse:
QUESTION ONE (11/16/15): Thank you, Mr. President. One hundred and twenty-nine people were killed in Paris on Friday night. ISIL claimed responsibility for the massacre, sending the message that they could now target civilians all over the world. The equation has clearly changed. Isn't it time for your strategy to change?
"Isn't it time for your strategy to change?" In his opening statement, Obama had already spent eight minutes speaking to that very question.

"We have the right strategy and we’re going to see it through." Those were Obama's very last words before he called on Cartillier!

Whatever! Obama went on for seven more minutes, repeating the things he'd already said. He then threw to Margaret Brennan, she of CBS News:
QUESTION TWO: Thank you, Mr. President. A more than year-long bombing campaign in Iraq and in Syria has failed to contain the ambition and the ability of ISIS to launch attacks in the West. Have you underestimated their abilities? And will you widen the rules of engagement for U.S. forces to take more aggressive action?
Brennan came dangerously close to asking if Obama was going to change the strategy. As for Questions 3 and 4, we think they went something like this:
QUESTION THREE: Thank you, Mr. President. In the days and weeks before the Paris attacks, did you receive warning in your daily intelligence briefing that an attack was imminent? If not, does that not call into question the current assessment that there is no immediate, specific, credible threat to the United States today? And secondly, if I could ask you to address your critics who say that your reluctance to enter another Middle East war, and your preference of diplomacy over using the military, makes the United States weaker and emboldens our enemies.


QUESTION FOUR: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I wanted to go back to something that you said to Margaret earlier when you said that you have not underestimated ISIS’s abilities. This is an organization that you once described as a JV team that evolved into a force that has now occupied territory in Iraq and Syria and is now able to use that safe haven to launch attacks in other parts of the world. How is that not underestimating their capabilities? And how is that contained, quite frankly? And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is—and if you’ll forgive the language—is, Why can't we take out these bastards?
"Why can't we take out these bastards?" Pitifully, that was tough-talking Jim Acosta, embarrassing CNN while asking why Obama doesn't change his strategy.

Question 3, from ABC's Jim Avila, at least contained a specific new element. Avila asked Obama to assess our intelligence capabilities regarding such attacks.

After that, Avila basically asked the same question again: Doesn't the attack in Paris mean you should change what you're doing?

Briefly, we'll offer a comment. Everyone has always known, and has always said, that there is no foolproof way to forestall attacks of the type which hit Paris. Everyone has always said that such attacks can, and almost certainly will, occur somewhere at some point.

Last week, one such attack did occur, and the reporters all wanted to know if that means that Obama needs to change his strategy. No matter how many times Obama answered the question, they all wanted to ask it again.

By the time the straight-shooting Acosta dropped his B-bomb, Obama was getting annoyed.

"Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question," Obama said to the highly authentic star, "so I don't know what more you want me to add. I think I've described very specifically what our strategy is, and I've described very specifically why we do not pursue some of the other strategies that have been suggested."

Briefly, Obama semi-answered the question again. Then, he threw to NBC's Ron Allen:
QUESTION FIVE: Thank you, Mr. President. I think a lot of people around the world and in America are concerned because given the strategy that you’re pursuing, and it’s been more than a year now, ISIS’s capabilities seem to be expanding. Were you aware that they had the capability of pulling off the kind of attack that they did in Paris? Are you concerned? And do you think they have that same capability to strike in the United States? And do you think that given all you’ve learned about ISIS over the past year or so, and given all the criticism about your underestimating them, do you think you really understand this enemy well enough to defeat them and to protect the homeland?
"All right, so this is another variation on the same question," Obama wearily said. "And I guess—let me try it one last time."

Strictly speaking, those ace reporters didn't all ask exactly the same question. That said, they came remarkably close. It was a bit like the old Mo Udall quip about useless, never-ending congressional hearings:

"Everything has already been said. But not everyone has said it."

It's amazing that Acosta hasn't come in for more criticism for his grandstanding tough-talk. It's bad enough when pols posture that way. As Dan Rather once asked Dick Nixon: Is Acosta now running for office?

Even for these scripted life-forms, it's also a bit amazing to see that much repetition. Are they all just creating videotape for their own network's programs? Is it as simple as that?

On Morning Joe, the hirelings have been very upset with Obama's tone at that conference. As they count their salaries from Trump, they've been refusing to describe the world as it actually is.

"Obama has met the real JV team," they should say. "And it turned out to be us."