FRIDAY, JULY 9, 2021
Has integration failed?: At the start, it should be said that Paul Butler—he of Georgetown University Law School, MSNBC and the Washington Post, with his undergraduate degree from Yale and his law degree from Harvard Law School, not to mention a stint at Williams & Connolly—is in fact a good, decent person.
(In Chicago, he prepped at St. Ignatius College Preparatory School.)
Butler's reactions, views and feelings are the reactions, views and feelings of a good, decent person. That said, there's also this:
Because his reactions and views and feelings are the reactions and views of a person, his reactions and views may not be infallible. And not only that!
According to credentialed experts we aren't at liberty to name, there's no ultimate way to assess the extent to which Butler's reactions and views with respect to any given matter are, in fact, correct.
Beyond that, no one's reactions, views and feelings can be assumed to be perfectly correct! Or at least, so these highly qualified experts have constantly claimed, during our lengthy consultations over the past several years.
We offer this as background to Butler's column in this morning's Washington Post. In that column, Butler gives voice to what may seem like surprising feelings about his work at Georgetown Law:
BUTLER (7/9/21): [F]or now, I am okay with working at a university that in its early years was financed by the sale of enslaved people. I love my students and respect my colleagues, and have been part of the community’s efforts, still incomplete, to make reparations for that travesty. Sometimes, helping majority-White spaces be less racist and more inclusive feels transformative. Other times, it feels like an intellectual version of my great-grandfather’s job; he cleaned outhouses—i.e., shoveling White people’s excrement.
We can't tell you how much Butler gets paid by Georgetown or at his other posts. "For now," though, he's okay with working at Georgetown, as he has been for many years, possibly without ever having said a whole lot about the enslaved people he mentions today.
We can't tell you how much he gets paid—by Georgetown Law, by MSNBC, or even by the Washington Post. Sometimes, though, it feels to Butler that he holds an upgraded version of the job held by one of his great-grandfathers.
He sometimes feels that he's cleaning outhouses! He feels that he's shoveling the excrement of people who, in the current construction, don't look like him.
Butler went to St. Ignatius Prep, then to Yale and Harvard Law. After that, he went to Williams and Connolly, "where he specialized in white collar [and, we'll guess, in white defendant] criminal defense."
Then he went to Georgetown Law and the Washington Post, and even to MSNBC.
Does it make sense to feel the way he says he sometimes does about his work at Georgetown Law? Let's return to our basic postulates, which we'll affirm once again:
Paul Butler is a good, decent person. His feelings are the feelings of a good, decent person. In no way can it be assumed that his feelings are somehow "wrong." It's also true that his feelings may not necessarily make perfect ultimate sense.
No one's feelings make ultimate perfect sense, credentialed top experts all say.
Butler's column today concerns Nikole Hannah-Jones. It's obvious, right from the jump, that Butler is inclined to accept the judgments of the credentialed upper-end experts who have given him his various positions, honors, holdings and jobs.
He believes in the judgments of the Pulitzer committee. He believes in the judgments of the people who award those Rockefeller "genius" grants. (For now, it's still OK to accept grants which are tied to the name "Rockefeller.")
Hannah-Jones believes in the judgments of these high-end entities too. (Check the self-approving statements Butler quotes.)
In short, this new generation has bought in almost completely, in a way their great-grandparents may not have been able to do. But in the year since the late George Floyd was killed in the street, many feelings are being expressed—feelings which may have been withheld from view in years past.
These feelings aren't necessarily wrong, but they aren't necessarily right. This brings us to the worldwide dispute now known as Disparagementgate.
That worldwide dispute is being frisked today in the Washington Post. As we type, that frisking is listed as the most-read article at the Post. Butler's column is listed at #2.
For the record, Disparagementgate involves questions of which of two overpaid, pampered TV stars—one of whom is seeking a new contract of $5 million per year, perhaps more—would be assigned to host the pregame TV shows for a nigh-profile basketball event.
For the record, there's nothing "wrong" with being paid millions of dollars per year to do something of no social value. As we first noted two decades ago, people will do and say a lot of things to acquire and retain such jobs.
Perhaps surprisingly, it's possible for people to be paid millions of dollars for doing basically nothing of value and yet still feel a bit like Butler does about the stable-swabbing job he's currently forced to do.
We thought of the 1945 film, Mildred Pierce, when we read Butler's column. We thought of the 1937 film, Stella Dallas.
We thought of President Obama's remarks about the Joshua generation—remarks we didn't go back and review.
We thought about Mrs. Parks, risking her life for zero dollars, traveling through the Deep South of her day. We thought of Dr. King, who could have chosen the easier life up north, going back to the Deep South of his day and before long surrendering his.
Even as we thought of these people, we understood that Butler's feelings about his job can't be dismissed as "wrong." We'd also offer this:
The feelings being expressed by Butler and others are part of "the world the slaveholders made." You can't establish a world in the way the slaveholders did without sending cascades of such feelings and interpretations down through the annals of time.
It can't, and it won't, be done.
That said, people who broadcast on ESPN are doing nothing of any great value. Sometimes they get paid as much as $5 million per year for being willing to offer this basically useless service.
They may still think they're being picked on, even at $5 million per year; those feelings aren't necessarily wrong. But this morning, in the Washington Post, Jemele Hill—a good, decent person and a former ESPN employee—opines on the lessons of Disparagementgate in this possibly cockeyed manner:
STRAUSS (7/9/21): “I think it’s an unfortunate part of the business when you do have people of color, there’s a lot of industry jealousy they face,” Jemele Hill, a former ESPN commentator, said in an interview. “Some of it is being in a high-intensity field. But there’s an undercurrent of race. Black people get scrutinized in ways our White counterparts do not.”
Hill is a former ESPN employee. Even as one of her "white" former colleagues is being raked over the coals for comments made in a pirated phone call, she says that black people in the socially useless cable sports business "get scrutinized in ways our White counterparts do not!"
(Yes, you're allowed to chuckle. The headline on the Post report says this: "Rachel Nichols is back on the air, but the fallout at ESPN is just beginning.")
Experts say we can almost start to regard that comment by Hill as perhaps mistaken. Our reply to them would be this:
We could do it, but it would be wrong! Hill's comment is slightly strange in the immediate context. In other contexts, it may be thoroughly accurate.
Yesterday, we offered the background to Disparagementgate. That background went something like this:
In July 2020, Rachel Nichols was engaged in a phone call she believed to be private. Speaking to a friend and associate, she said her contract at ESPN guaranteed her a certain high-profile assignment, but ESPN was trying to give that assignment to her colleague, Maria Taylor.
She said she was trying to retain the assignment. At that point, the disparaging comments began!
You can read back through Monday's report in the New York Times for the gist of what was said. We would offer this summary:
The white-boy bosses at ESPN were in fact roundly disparaged. We can't necessarily say that anyone else was disparaged at all.
Rightly or wrongly, Nichols said that ESPN had a "crappy longtime record on diversity." Here's the exact thing she said:
NICHOLS: I have declined [the proposed change in assignment]. I don’t know what their next move is, but they are feeling pressure because of all of that, and I’m trying to figure out, like how to just—
You know, my thing is, I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world—she covers football, she covers basketball. If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity—which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it—like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.
Rightly or wrongly, Nichols said that ESPN had a crappy longtime record on diversity. Rightly or wrongly, she said that she had personally experienced that crappy behavior over the years with respect to gender diversity.
She speculated that the proposed move was based on a racial diversity issue. People who aren't completely out of their minds will know that this was of course a possibility. (There also seems to be no way to know if that speculation was accurate.)
Nichols went on to say that the assignment at issue was guaranteed in her contract. No one has established whether that statement was accurate. Given the way this "scandal" is being played, this claim has largely been disappeared as the week has moved along.
That said, Nichols went on to discuss the way the bosses function at ESPN. Here's another set of disparaging comments:
NICHOLS: Those same people—who are, like, generally white conservative male Trump voters—is part of the reason I’ve had a hard time at ESPN. I basically finally just outworked everyone for so long that they had to recognize it. I don’t want to then be a victim of them trying to play catch-up for the same damage that affected me in the first place, you know what I mean. So I’m trying to just be nice.
Nichols has known rivers too! Rightly or wrongly, she said she had to outwork everyone for years, due to ESPN's crappy record on gender diversity.
Remember, these disparaging comments were made in what was believed to be a private phone call. At some point, one or more ESPN employees got hold of a videotape of the call and spread the tape all around.
In that passage, rightly or wrongly, Nichols had furthered her disparaging comments—her disparaging comments about the conservative, white-boy Trump voters who make the decisions at ESPN. These were highly disparaging comments, but they were aimed at ESPN's Trump-voting, white-boy men.
Nichols' overpaid work at ESPN serves no public purpose. That said, she's being attacked for her disparaging comments—for allegedly making disparaging comments about Maria Taylor.
Her disparaging comments about the ESPN's crappy record on diversity have gone undiscussed. So have her disparaging comment about the crappy Trump-voter white men.
That said, did Nichols also disparage Taylor? Did she disparage Taylor at all? We'd be inclined to say that she didn't, but as Disparagementgate has unfolded, a different view has prevailed.
Nichols did offer a certain speculation about why her contract was (allegedly) being broken. She speculated that ESPN was doing that because they were "feeling pressure about [their] crappy longtime record on diversity."
Staring the obvious, it's entirely possible that that was true. Many big orgs were suddenly finding religion about such matters and concerns in the wake of George Floyd's death.
Who knows? Nichols may have had background knowledge in support of that surmise. But, of course, her speculation also may have been false.
Assuming ESPN was going so far as to break a contract in giving the assignment to Taylor, they may have been doing so for other reasons—for reasons such as these:
1) They may have felt that Taylor was just a better performer than Nichols.
2) They may have thought that Taylor was younger and "hotter."
It's obvious that such considerations are part of the way these corporate cable orgs roll. That said, speaking in a private phone call, Nichols seemed to assume that her bosses were reacting to issues of racial diversity, and it may well be that they were!
At any rate, Nichols is being scalded for assuming that the alleged switch in assignment was based on a desire to address issues of (racial) diversity.
It's obvious that her speculation could have been true. But she's being scalded for advancing such a forbidden thought, even in a private phone call which was spread all over the world by the various good, decent people who work at ESPN.
Butler addresses related issues in his new column today. We thought today of Mildred Pierce. We thought of Stella Dallas.
We also thought of Rosa Parks—of people who have actually served.
We also thought of the pampered darlings who do nothing of value for $5 million per year, yet may still feel that they're just shoveling sh*t and being badly mistreated. Our societal discussions tend to focus on those people, not on the homeless of Chattooga County, not on the food deserts of Chicago, not on children being shot in the streets (unless they're shot by police officers.)
According to anthropologists, these are among the ways we humans are inclined to feel, react and believe. That said, the feelings being expressed by Butler—the feelings being expressed by Taylor—comes to us live and direct from "the world the slaveholders made."
Those reactions and feelings aren't wrong. It's also possible that they aren't entirely helpful in the super-long run, though there's no way to know that for sure.
Butler sys it's OK "for now" that he has to work at a place like Georgetown Law. As with Hannah-Jones, it sounds like he may be on his way to an historically black destination. Or not!
Most significantly, Butler suggests, in today's column, that integration may have failed. Given his lofty pedigree and his mountains of social respect, we think his remarks are perhaps slightly odd.
But Butler is a good decent person, and no one except the rare person like Mrs. Parks has ever done anything like enough. A lot of shapeshifters have never done a single thing, except perhaps feather their nests!
In closing, at whom were the disparaging comments aimed in the affair now known as Disparagementgate?
Late in the maddening conversation to which we linked you yesterday, two of three former ESPN employees marvel at the way Nichols' extensive comments about the network's Trump-voting white-boy bosses have been disappeared, or perhaps just ignored.
Nichols completely disparaged the Trump-voting bosses. We'd have to say it isn't clear that she disparaged Taylor at all—in this private phone call which was pirated at ESPN, then shipped all around.
Do the Post and the Times simply love a good "catfight?" (Not necessarily, no.) Is that what we're secretly all really like here in the streets of Our (floundering) Town, in which the social ideal of integration is increasingly judged to be failing?
If integration fails, can the culture survive? That strikes us as a very good question. We can't say the answer is clear.
The Washington Post plays it safe: The children at our big news orgs will always play it safe.
Comically, here's one passage from the Washington Post's assessment of Disparagementgate:
STRAUSS: As for Taylor, several industry insiders predicted this week that she would leave ESPN. NBC was named as one possible landing spot. But some believed there remains the possibility that ESPN and parent company Disney come back to the negotiating table, wary of the headlines that would follow losing Taylor.
Nichols, meanwhile, faces a murkier future. She has a contract that runs through 2023. But after dismissive comments about diversity, can she cover a league, at ESPN or anywhere else, that is predominantly Black? Or can she credibly interview or cover James again after seeking advice from one of his advisers?
There's nothing our news orgs won't say and do. We humans tend to be wired that way, anthropologists have all widely said.