Conclusion—A very good column, he says: Incomparably, we have a suggestion.
We want to suggest that you should feel sympathy for a wide range of decent young people.
For purposes of specificity, we want you to picture a single well-intentioned young person. It could be a young man or a young woman.
This decent young person is 23, or maybe 26. Politically, he or she identifies as a progressive or as a liberal.
Most likely, he or she is a Democrat, or a Democrat-leaner. Also, and this is key, he or she reads TPM.
He or she thinks of TPM's founder, 47-year-old Josh Marshall, as one of the more reliable figures from the generation which went before. Why does he or she think that? He or she may have read the account shown below. It comes from the leading authority on Marshall's brilliant career:
Hendrik Hertzberg, a senior editor at The New Yorker, compares Marshall to the influential founders of Time magazine. "Marshall is in the line of the great light-bulb-over-the-head editors. He’s like Briton Hadden or Henry Luce. He’s created something new."The "something new" which Marshall created is, of course, TPM.
(In passing, we recall what Edison is said to have said when asked to explain the way he conceived of his greatest invention. "It was just like a light bulb went off in my head," the great inventor replied.)
Why should you feel sympathy for youngish TPM readers? Consider the TPM founder's response to Charles Blow's column last week.
Full disclosure: we're so old that we can remember when Marshall did very good work. In 1999 and 2000, we would have given his published work for The American Prospect a straight A, assuming we were grading on a curve.
If we were grading on the actual merits, he still might have gotten a C. That set his work light-years above the era's typical journalism.
Those days are long behind us. In the early part of the last decade, Marshall became a businessman, starting a robust web site.
Today, that site tends to pander to our tribe's less sagacious instincts. It tends to hire reporters who are very young. Presumably, this lets the founder pay low wages. Presumably, the youth and inexperience of TPM's writers contributes to the low-IQ nature of much of the site's current work.
As for Marshall himself, his posts now often seem like hurried afterthoughts. For an example of his recent work, just click here, then proceed to cringe, even though we all understand that everyone makes mistakes.
The mistake in that post was rather basic. When he responded to Blow's column last week, the founder failed his many young readers in ways which are massively worse.
Last Monday, Marshall responded to Blow's new column, a column which dealt, in a very loose fashion, with the 1994 crime bill.
In his column, Blow failed to provide the most basic context about that bill. He failed to note that two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the bill. He failed to describe the horrendous crime rates out of which it emerged.
Blow let readers emerge with the idea that the 1994 bill was heavily responsible for our (very high) incarceration rates, which it basically wasn't. Most disgracefully, he refused to say the names of the many "families and whole communities" who were "devastated" by the homicide rates which were raking our cities at the time that bill was passed by the House and the Senate and signed into law by Bill Clinton.
Blow refused to say the names of those "vanishing black people," the people who were "swept away" by the wave of murders which defined the context in which that bill was passed. Those families, communities and individuals don't seem to exist to players like Blow. For whatever reason, when Blow pretends to discuss that era, he disappears their names.
Blow said exactly one name from that era; he said the name "Hillary Clinton." He omitted the names of the many black congressmen, and of the black senator (the only one we had at the time), who voted for that bill.
Blow refused to say the names of the many people who were killed during the era in question. He refused to say the names of the people who voted for the bill.
Blow refused to tell his readers that the 1994 bill had little effect on our (very high) incarceration rates, which had begun their steady climb long before that bill was passed. He failed to list the many provisions found in that big giant bill.
Instead, Blow used his column to pander and fawn to a "young graduate student" who may or may not understand the various factors Blow chose to disappear. People who read Blow's column were handed a dramatic, pander-heavy tale—a melodramatic tale from which all context had been disappeared.
At TPM, a businessman who used to be sharp quickly called it a "very good piece." He too didn't bother to say the names of the many good, decent people who had been killed during the era from which that bill emerged.
We feel sorry for young liberals who are exposed to this kind of work. Once again, let's picture the youngish liberals and progressives who believe they can trust Josh Marshall.
Let's suppose you're a youngish liberal. Let's suppose you start your news day at TPM.
Last Monday, you read Marshall's post. You then clicked over to read Charles Blow's "very good [column]."
By the time you were done, you had read two separate pieces about that 1994 crime bill. In neither piece were you informed about those homicide rates, or about those votes by the CBC, or about the actual arc of our (very high) incarceration rates.
In neither column did anyone say the names of the many people who were killed in the early 1990s. Instead, in a rather typical example of his current work, here's the start of the objection the founder raised to Blow's "very good column:"
MARSHALL (2/29/16): With that introduction I wanted to focus your attention on this column by Charles Blow in the Times. It's based on an interview with Ashley Williams, the 23-year-old graduate student who confronted Hillary Clinton last week at a private fundraiser in Charlotte over her use of the word "superpredator" in 1996 and her broader complicity in the rise of mass incarceration. It's a very good piece. But there's one small part that stunned me when I read it. I quote it here at length at the point where Blow is amazed and incredulous that this really could have been the first time anyone had ever called Clinton on her use of this term:In that passage, Marshall flogs Clinton for her "complicity in the rise of mass incarceration." He also praises Blow for his "very good piece."
Having said that, he admits that he was "stunned" by one thing Blow said in his column. Below, you see the three-paragraph chunk of Blow's column which Marshall proceeded to quote.
We'll highlight the three-word chunk of Blow's column which Marshall set in bold. Then, we'll highlight the founder's objection, in which he misstates what Blow said:
MARSHALL (continuing directly, quoting Blow): "Could this be true? How was this possible? How is it that of all the black audiences she has been before in the interceding two decades, and all the black relationships she has cultivated, no one person ever asked her what this young graduate student was asking?From there, Marshall proceeds to flay himself for his own sins in this area. "I was a big Clinton supporter," he writes. "So I am implicated in this at some personal level," he dramatically says.
"In that movement, I knew that the people of my generation had failed the people of Williams’s. Her whole life has borne the bruises of what was done, largely by Democrats, when I was the age she is now.
"She said she has grown up knowing families and whole communities devastated by vanishing black people, swept away into a criminal justice system that pathologized their very personage. That night, Williams forced a reckoning."
Yes, I'm zeroing in on this bolded line which claims that the demonizing of black youth, the rise of mass incarceration and all the collateral damage brought in their wake was mainly the work of Democrats...
He hadn't bothered to say the names of the many people who were being killed at the time of that crime bill. He didn't note that Blow had omitted this very basic context.
He didn't note that Blow omitted the names of the many black legislators who voted for the bill in question. He didn't note that the bill in question seems to have had very little effect on our (very high) rates of incarceration.
Marshall didn't seem to care that Blow had refused to say the names of the dead. Instead, in the incompetent way which now typifies his work, he was "stunned" because he thought Blow had claimed that the rise in mass incarceraton was "mainly the work of Democrats."
We're sorry, but Blow didn't say that. Earth to harried businessman Marshall—"largely" does not mean "mainly."
Sorry, Charlie! For all the many faults in his column, Blow didn't say that our (very high) incarceration rates are mainly the work of Democrats. He said those rates are largely the work of Democrats, a claim which is so wonderfully imprecise that it's almost certainly true.
As usual, Marshall was in such a rush that he didn't quite comprehend what Blow's column had said. If you think this isn't typical of his current work, go ahead and visit that other groaner from the next day, the one we cited above.
Marshall went on to argue, at length, that our incarceration rates aren't mainly the work of Democrats. As he did, he bleated and wailed about Hillary Clinton's "complicity," and about the ways he himself was "implicated" in our incarceration rates.
He flogged himself in all the ways which would keep him current with the latest ideological cant being churned by people like Blow. He served young liberals very poorly as he peddled this highly selective crap.
That said, might we note a very basic fact at this point? In fact, Democrats were "mainly" responsible for the passage of the 1994 crime bill.
When the crime bill passed the House, it passed with votes from 188 Democrats and only 46 Republicans. (Among other objections, Republicans had opposed the bill because it spent too much money on projects designed to help the nation's black communities.)
At any rate, Blow didn't say the names of any "Democrats" other than Hillary Clinton. The reason for that seems fairly obvious:
Included in those 188 Democrats were two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus. As he pandered to "a young graduate student," Blow forgot to say their names. Trembling in his businessman's clothes, Marshall didn't dare add that very basic context, which might have suggested that you didn't have to be a race-baiting demon to have supported that bill.
If it's journalism this Edison does, Marshall's post was the latest sad disgrace. We feel sorry for the many young liberals who believe they can trust this man, who was once extremely sharp, but is now a businessman.
Might we state the obvious? Young liberals should be given the full range of information about that 1994 bill. But alas! Young liberals who read Marshall's post, then clicked over to read Blow's column, were deprived of the most basic context by each of these pitiful hacks.
Marshall used to be extremely sharp. Today, he seems to be minding the store. We're curious—how much does he pay himself and his wife from the proceeds from his low-IQ, presumably low-wage site? Having said that, we're much more curious about this basic point:
Why did Our Own Thomas Edison refuse to say their names? What kept this man from saying the names of the many good and decent people who were killed in the streets during the era in question?
Beyond that, what kept him from saying the names of the two-thirds of the CBC who voted for the bill? Why was he willing to say Clinton's name even as he refused to say theirs?
Marshall flayed Clinton, then flayed himself. He refused to say the names of the people who were killed in the streets during the era in question.
We feel sorry for young liberals and progressives who are being dumbed down by the likes of Marshall and Blow. Meanwhile, does Marshall feel sorry for those who were killed?
When he refuses to say their names, he speaks loud and clear, in the businessman's way:
Actually, no, he seems to say. Actually, no. I don't!
Concerning the rise in those (very high) rates: To what extent did the bill in question create or drive our (very high) incarceration rates? To what extent did the bill in question create "mass incarceration?"
That's a very basic question! For those who don't want to be blown in the wind, Kevin Drum's graphic is here.