Edmund Hillary travels to Flint: Just this once, let's say it:
Absent the guiding hand of gatekeepers, we the humans simply aren't up to the challenge of playing this game.
(On the other hand, when we do have gatekeepers, gatekeepers can be corrupt. That's the powerful portrait we recall from the Robert Graves novel, I, Claudius.)
We the humans simply aren't up to this task! For today's example, we give you Kathleen Parker's astonishing column in today's Washington Post.
Within the modern establishment press corps, Parker is typically found on the "saner" end of the spectrum. This morning, though, she seems determined to prove that we the humans simply aren't up to the task.
She finds herself drifting back twenty years to William Safire's woeful 1996 column, in which he said that first lady Hillary Clinton was a "congenital liar."
Twenty years later, Parker finds herself supporting that claim. She finds herself offering two examples.
We will focus on one:
PARKER (1/27/16): Safire’s concerns at the time—Whitewater, Travelgate, “lost” records—may seem remote and trivial to some, but the drip-drip he identified didn’t stop with the White House years. Subsequent to the various “-gates” were, for example, the story of coming under fire on a tarmac in Bosnia or about her having been named for the explorer Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, despite her having been born about six years before his history-making climb."These are such trivial stories to invent that one wonders why she bothered," Parker says as she continues.
Let's consider one of those trivial stories and ask what form of moral or intellectual illness led Parker to revive in support of Safire's ill-advised, reckless claim. As we do, let's turn Parker's question around:
Let's wonder why Kathleen Parker bothered with this trivial story! That said, the answer is largely clear.
Good God! Hillary Clinton invented a story "about her having been named for the explorer Edmund Hillary?"
We'd say that Parker's use of this "example" comes close to raising the possibility that she, the columnist Parker herself, is flirting with something resembling mental illness. In fairness, that often seems true of us the humans at a fraught juncture like this.
Good God! Parker reaches all the way back to 1995 for this troubling example, which supposedly helps us see that Clinton may be "a congenital liar." In that year, the first lady met Sir Edmund Hillary during a goodwill trip to Nepal, at which time she related an old family story.
Apparently, it was the only time Clinton ever told the pointless old story in public. Todd Purdum did the reporting in the New York Times:
PURDUM (4/3/95): "To be honest with you, in America, before if anybody recognized the name Hillary, it's always been me," Sir Edmund, 75, told reporters just before greeting Mrs. Clinton. "And now they say, 'Oh, you must be a lady!' "Reporter Purdum's pointless report appeared beneath this headline: "Hillary Clinton Meets Man Who Gave Her 2 L's." Now let's get down to brass tacks:
For her part, Mrs. Clinton confessed that her mother, Dorothy Rodham, had read an article about the intrepid Edmund Hillary, a one-time beekeeper who had taken to mountain climbing, when she was pregnant with her daughter in 1947 and liked the name.
"It had two l's, which is how she thought she was supposed to spell Hillary," Mrs. Clinton told reporters after the brief meeting on the tarmac, minutes before her Air Force jet flew past the peak of Everest itself. "So when I was born, she called me Hillary, and she always told me it's because of Sir Edmund Hillary."
Did Dorothy Rodham always tell Clinton that story when she was a girl? Down here on this troubled planet, Kathleen Parker has no earthly freaking idea!
If told, was the story actually true? Once again, Parker has no idea! She lacks the first hint of a nub of a clue about these pointless matters.
Hillary Clinton's pointless story was utterly pointless that day. It was never worth discussing at all, after maybe the first ten minutes.
But alas! Even by 1995, a large, ugly effort was underway to brand the Clintons as liars. Starting in March 1999, this assault was extended to Candidate Gore. In the end, this effort succeeded. It sent Bush to the White House.
Even by 1995, the establishment "press corps" crawled with gatekeepers who wanted to sell us this story. People like Safire pimped it out. People like Parker drank their waters and contracted their illness.
People like Dionne and Alter sat around and looked away as these destructive wars went on. Simply put, pseudo-liberal careerist "journalists" don't challenge the guild when a powerful script takes hold. They let it go in the case of the Clintons, then in the case of Gore.
(People are dead all over the world because of Safire and Parker. People are dead all over the world because of those others as well.)
This morning, almost twenty-one years later, Parker recalls the troubling story Hillary Clinton once told. Tell us why we shouldn't think that Kathleen Parker is spiritually ill in some manner or form. Tell us why this doesn't establish the claim that we the humans, absent benevolent gatekeepers, simply aren't up to this task.
Do we see a connection here? Do we see a connection between Parker's column and the journalism which is unfolding concerning events in Flint?
Well actually, yes we do. To understand that, you must understand an extremely basic point.
Let's start with this. The current situation in Flint was plainly caused by a serious failure of government.
(For what it's worth, failures of government do occur. In this morning's New York Times, we're already starting to read about similar breakdowns elsewhere.)
The current situation in Flint was caused by a failure of government. Having established that obvious fact, let's establish another:
Lousy journalism can be performed in the wake of a government failure.
Are we able to grasp that point? Trust us, many of us the humans cannot! For that reason, let's state it again:
A journalist can do lousy reporting about a failure of government. This is especially likely to happen when, as in the case of Parker's column, some larger tribal narrative, claim or belief is involved.
In our view, the reporting on Flint has often been quite weak to this point. In a great deal of the reporting, we'd say we're getting an excess of narrative, a shortfall of information.
Within the modern celebrity press corps, Kathleen Parker actually sits on the saner end of the spectrum! In our view, some of the people reporting Flint are perhaps less stable and less reliable even than she.
Parker's column today is just this side of insane. On the brighter side, it shows you where our human-ness frequently leads.
We think the reporting on Flint has been rather poor to this point, almost in an embarrassing way. Again recommending Kevin Drum's graphic, we'll explain in this afternoon's post.
Are we the humans up to this task? Again and again, the answer is no. In parting, here's an important warning:
This is true on the corporate careerist undercompetent left, as it is on the crackpot right.
This afternoon: Excitement, narrative, information in the reporting on Flint