Unheated public school, temperatures near zero!

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 22, 2017

Oddly disparaging remarks about Jimmy Breslin:
Has this fellow Bob Somerby "been oddly disparaging about people who say that Donald Trump is a liar?"

Frankly, we're not sure. Yesterday, our favorite blogger, Kevin Drum, leveled that harsh accusation, but he offered no examples of this ongoing odd disparagement.

He quoted a recent post which may have oddly disparaged three high-profile press figures, including Mika Brzezinski. For today, we'll move on to oddly disparaging comments about the late Jimmy Breslin, with the hope that this may start to convey the apparently mystifying idea we've offered for nineteen years.

Jimmy Breslin died this past weekend at 88 years of age. We have no overall view of his long, high-profile career.

We have been struck by some of the ways in which modern journalists have lionized his work. In a lengthy, page A1 news report of Breslin's death, the New York Times' Dan Barry employed at least one fighting word:
BARRY (3/20/17): Mr. Breslin found early escape in newspapers. As a boy, he would spread the broadsheet pages across the floor and imagine himself on a Pullman car, filing stories from baseball ports of call...

After getting a job as a sportswriter for The New York Journal-American, Mr. Breslin wrote a freshly funny book about the first season of the hapless Mets, ''Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?'' It persuaded John Hay Whitney, the publisher of The New York Herald Tribune, to hire him as a news columnist in 1963.

Soon Mr. Breslin was counted among the writers credited with inventing ''New Journalism,'' in which novelistic techniques are used to inject immediacy and narrative tension into the news. (Mr. Breslin, an admirer of sportswriters like Jimmy Cannon and Frank Graham, scoffed at this supposed contribution, saying that he and others had merely introduced Dickens-like storytelling to a new generation.)

Unleashed, Mr. Breslin issued regular dispatches that changed the craft of column writing, said the journalist and author Pete Hamill, a former colleague. ''It seemed so new and original,'' Mr. Hamill said. ''It was a very, very important moment in New York journalism, and in national journalism.''
Uh-oh! Breslin introduced "novelistic techniques" (and "storytelling") into American journalism.

And not only that! Before long, Breslin has been "unleashed." Freed from the chains of the past, he "changed the craft of column writing."

Just for today, let's be oddly disparaging about these alleged facts. Let's review Jim Dwyer's column in this morning's Times, the latest column about Jimmy Breslin.

In our general view, Dwyer tends to write good columns. As a general matter, he doesn't seem to engage in novelization to the extent that many others do.

That said, we thought we might be reading a novel at several points in Dwyer's new column. To read that column, click here.

Dwyer's headline praises Breslin for delivering "Fresh Truths, Bluntly Told." But uh-oh! When we read the passage shown below, we suspected we might be reading a novelized truth, inaccurately told:
DWYER (3/22/17): Mr. Breslin died Sunday at 88, and had been mostly out of the public eye for more than a decade...From the long arc of his public work and life, what remains are deep truths that he told bluntly, and that he saw because he stepped away from the crowd.

Before Mark Davidson and Ruben Blancovich were born, Mr. Breslin had written about the funeral of John F. Kennedy as seen by the man who dug the grave. Along the route of a voting rights march in 1965 led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Breslin found an unheated schoolhouse for black children in “a wooden building that was a church when people in Lowndes County wore Confederate uniforms,” he wrote, noting a teacher’s remark that while it did get cold sometimes, “we hardly ever get near zero.”
Uh-oh! Let's note that, in his actual copy, Dwyer praises Breslin for telling deep truths. We'd be inclined to regard that choice of words as another warning sign, novelized storytelling v. journalism-wise.

What "deep truth" did Dwyer recall in his very next paragrapg? He said that Breslin, back in the day, had visited an unheated school for black kids in Lowndes County, state unknown.

He said Breslin had quoted a teacher making a deep remark. While it did get cold in that school, Dwyer quotes the teacher saying, "We hardly ever get near zero."

In an oddly disparaging way, warning lights flashed around here.

Why would a teacher have said that, we skillfully wondered. In how many southern states does the temperature ever get near zero?

We journeyed home from the coffee joint, determined to check this moving deep tale. Our verdict?

In this case, it seems to be Dwyer who handed us a novel in place of the actual facts.

As it turns out, the Lowndes County in question is Lowndes County, Alabama. It's not too far from Montgomery, where the average low in the coldest month is 35.7 degrees.

Set that to the side! For the essay by Breslin to which Dwyer seems to refer, you can just click here.

The teacher is question was named Josephine Jackson. In Breslin's piece, she said the school dis get cold in the winter.

That said, she tells Breslin that the schoolroom is heated, sometimes by coal and sometimes by wood. In her fuller quote, she says that the local temperature rarely goes below 25.

We're reading about a school for black kids in Alabama in 1965. If we can believe what Breslin wrote, it sounds like conditions in that school were extremely bad.

That said, something is extremely bad today in Dwyer's actual column! Perhaps in the drive to tell a "deep truth," he seems to misstate one basic fact and he selectively edits a quote.

Based on appearances, Dwyer was writing a bit of a novel. To make the truth of his novel deeper, he threw journalism away.

This made his novel more pleasing for his target audience. That said, people are dead all over the world because our journalists have long since been "unleashed" and permitted to con us this way.

It's oddly disparaging to note this fact, unless you think there's a problem with the fact that people are dead all over the world because people like Dwyer do deep things like this. That said, most of the dead aren't people like Us. So why should anyone care?

Does it "matter" that Dwyer slipped his leash and penned a short novel today? Not exactly, no. That said:

Truth to tell, we thought we might have spied a second novel floating around in his column. Tell the truth. Do you believe the following passage, with which today's column ends?
DWYER: The New York of the 1970s and 1980s was slumping into decay; Mr. Breslin, his friend Pete Hamill, and the Times columnist Francis X. Clines were among the leading voices to insist that the people of the city should not be mistaken for its wreckage.

“He went under a desk in his bedroom and brought out some of the books he has been reading,” Mr. Breslin wrote of Ruben Blancovich, then a sixth grader in Public School 206 who started in the third grade able to read some words only in Spanish and a few in English. “A paperback collection of major American poets, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens, the novel ‘April Morning’ by Howard Fast, and a coffee-table book, ‘Colonial Craftsmen,’ with drawings and text by Edwin Tunis.”

Mr. Blancovich, who now lives in Albany, went on to Yale and a career in banking and entrepreneurship. He was grateful for the attention Mr. Breslin gave to a school that worked well. He “was looking at things that the rest of the news wasn’t focusing on,” Mr. Blancovich said.

He still has his copy of “The Red Badge of Courage,” he said, and the clipping of Mr. Breslin’s column.
Do you believe that story? Do you believe that Ruben Blancovich, then a sixth grader in Public School 206 who started in the third grade able to read some words only in Spanish and a few in English," had actually been reading those books when Breslin came along?

Everything is possible! That said, the use of such selective examples, real or imagined, has played a deeply destructive role in our discourse about low-income schools at least since the 1960s. On the brighter side, the constant resort to stories like that has made us liberals feel good.

We liberals have always loved to be told that low-income and minority kids are secretly a bunch of geniuses who are being kept from splitting the atom only by the heinous conduct of their public schools.

Because our own IQs are low, this novel makes us feel good.

We're too dumb to understand that this famous old novel is a fantasy novel. We're too uncaring to see the way this fantasy stands in the way of serious discussion of the practices of our urban schools.

We're too lazy to see the way this construct enables the slanderous claim that low-income kids do relatively poorly at school because of their ratty teachers with their fiendish unions.

We're too dumb, too lazy, too uncaring. We like our "stories," our daily soaps. In the wake of their unleashing, people like Breslin began to supply them, replacing complexity and accuracy with a series of deep alleged truths.

"Unleashed" in the manner Barry described, our journalists began writing those "novels." More accurately, they began constructing low-IQ penny novels, novels which were built around pleasing sets of characters.

Where did this unleashing lead? In March 2000, the Washington Post's E. R. Shipp wrote a short but brilliant column about the novelization of the 2000 presidential campaign. By then, one of the candidates was being novelized by one and all as human history's weirdest, most puzzling liar.

His name was Candidate Gore. Predecessors to Drum kept sucking their thumbs as this standard mainstream novel sent Candidate Bush to the White House. To this day, the career liberal world has agreed that this can't be discussed.

People are dead all over the world. Put another way, it's oddly disparaging to note the way the life forms who pretend to be journalists continue to play this amazingly childish game.

(Most of the dead are the dead of Iraq. Can we tell the truth just once? Despite the stories we tell about ourselves, we liberals don't care about people like them. No fact could be more plain.)

Final note:

In the fall of 1999, Breslin wrote one of the stupidest columns about the vile Candidate Gore. Breslin was no longer influential at this time, but he gave amazingly sharp voice to the various loathings floating around in the columns of those who were.

Many of those columnists came from Breslin's East Coast Irish Catholic tribe. By now, Breslin was no longer in the loop. Mary McGrory, Maureen Dowd, Michael Kelly very much were.

We were raised within that same tribe, at least until 1960, when our family lit out for the territories on the west coast. Within the journalistic realm, this tribe's behavior was especially heinous during Campaign 2000, which started in March 1999 and ran a full twenty months.

Breslin had freed Chris Matthews and the rest to write their favorite "novels." Brian Williams trembled nightly about Gore's troubling clothes, which us about his flawed character.

Angry at Clinton, they novelized Gore. People are dead all over the world because of the astonishing way these silly, money-grubbing children played their destructive games.

Today, Mika plays a second grader every day of the week; others are in the same ballpark. To defenders of the faith, to the people who favored the war in Iraq, it is considered oddly disparaging to continue to notice such facts.

A tremendously stupid (regional) novel: Breslin's novel about Candidate Gore was tremendously stupid. It turned on the idea that Gore, being Southern and white, was a slobbering racist, what with "his quaint Tobacco Road customs" and all.

To read Breslin's column, click here. It appeared in October 1999.

Breslin used the old Gore-invented-Willie Horton con as his basic text. Earlier in 1999, only people like Rush Limbaugh had been playing this stupid old card, which came from the RNC.

By November of that year, mainstream journalists were standing in line to recite this novel. We're not sure if anyone else linked the tale to Tobacco Road, but everyone could see the deep truth was bigger than mere facts.

(Some of these novelists tortured the language, thus keeping their statements "technically accurate." Others couldn't even be bothered with that.)

All the silly second graders typed the pleasing novel. Thanks to the greatness of Breslin, they'd long since been unleashed.

People are dead all over the world. How odd to recall such a fact!

18 comments:

  1. Click the links people. Kevin's post is critical, but it is in no way, disparaging. Bob, your overdetermined interpretation of Kevin's post is shameless.

    Talk about thin skinned.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I thought it was odd that Somerby hadn't said this about Breslin yet.

    I do agree that Somerby has been harshly disparaging of those who want to call Trump a liar, including Kevin Drum who has been unapologetic about it.

    Somerby says he won't call Trump a liar because that is too mild a term and Trump may be something worse, such as mentally ill (believing his own untruths). The most plausible suggestion I've seen is that Trump has dementia and that his children are protecting him from public disclosure of that condition. In that case he may believe the things he says and also be mentally incapable of remembering what he has said before about anything. That would make him a puppet not only of Putin but of those close to him and able to control him to present a public front for their own interests. In Trump's kids case, I believe those interests are financial not political.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Want to call Trump a liar?" The case has been that no credible adult can avoid that basic truth. The case is overwhelming strong. Today the WAJ admits even they can't clown around about it.

      Delete
    2. I want to agree on the dementia thing, but so far not enough outsiders have met with him and come away shaking their heads about scary anecdotes. Watch for him to slip and call either his wife or Ivanka "mommy"

      Delete
    3. Someone made a duplicate key to Trump Tower planted the wiretap and ate the strawberries.

      Delete
  3. No more Gong Show. Chuck Barris has died.

    http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/chuck-barris-dead-dies-gong-show-host-1202013790/

    ReplyDelete
  4. NPR had a few comments by old colleagues praising Breslin. One of them (I missed the name), lamented how Breslin, who would close down the local saloon after the paper was put to bed, was that old time hard drinking, two fisted reporter of yesteryear. It reminded me of the hype of the “Red River Derby” dog sled race, the source of the movie “Iron Will”, with reporters writing their copy in saloons along the way, and phoning in their stories.
    That was hardly “new” journalism. It was SOP from the 1890’s through the early 1920’s.

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  5. Breslin was never considered a "new journalist" like Mailer or Vidal. He was a NY columnist, hard-boiled. He could be crude as he was with Gore.

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  6. Took a little while to get to the punchline, to the destination where all Tobacco Roads lead: the War on Gore.

    Breslin was rough on Koch and Hugh Carey too, among many others. So what?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerMarch 23, 2017 at 12:22 PM

      When your source of information makes up stuff, you can always say, "they are just a pundit/columnist/commentator" or "everybody does it", but it does not excuse the basic premise that fake news is bad for everybody. You might think it is funny, but I don't think so.

      Delete
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