IN THESE (THERAPUETIC) TIMES: Rachel’s Nazi bombers!


Part 2—Rachel makes use of the dead: Could some people “possibly benefit” from Alabama’s new immigration law?

The law is being challenged in court. If the law is allowed to stand, it will make life much harder for illegal immigrants in the state.

But could some people “possibly benefit?” Here at THE HOWLER, we aren’t real sure—in part because of the New York Times’ therapeutic culture.

When the editors wrote about the law, they asked if some people “could possibly benefit,” but they didn’t make any attempt to answer their own question (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/17/11). In the Times’ front-page news report, Campbell Robertson had quoted a state official saying that some people would benefit from this new law. But much like the editors, Robertson made little attempt to assess the merits of this claim. For the most part, his news report was highly novelized—and it was therapeutic.

What do we mean when we say that the Times took a therapeutic approach? Let’s consider Rachel Maddow’s approach to this same issue, an approach with which she gifted viewers of last evening’s eponymous program.

Last night, Maddow aired her first report on Alabama’s new law. Could someone in the state “possibly benefit” from the law? Maddow made no attempt to address that question; the question simply never arose. But as she described the new state law, she was quickly serving a therapeutic function:
MADDOW (10/16/11): The guy behind Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law is also the guy who wrote Arizona’s "Papers, please!" law. He’s also behind the new Kansas law that says essentially that you cannot register to vote in Kansas anymore without showing a birth certificate or a passport.

His name is Kris Kobach. He’s Kansas’ secretary of state. Kobach describes the impact of Alabama law so far as, quote, "A win." He says, quote, "It’s self-deportation.”
Maddow loves the “Papers, please!” reference when she discusses these laws. Throughout last night’s segment, she sat among chyrons which said PAPERS, PLEASE in large print. In the world of modern pseudo-journalism, everyone agrees that Nazi references are off-base—until we liberals decide we want to ID the other tribe.

(To watch last night’s segment, click this.)

That said, last night’s requisite Nazi reference was the much smaller part of the therapy. As she continued, Dr. Maddow moved toward the heart of her treatment:
MADDOW (continuing directly): If that’s a win from the perspective of Kris Kobach, what happens next in four percent Latino Alabama? In part, that depends on the legality of what Alabama is trying to do. After all, Alabama is still having its pants sued off over this.

But it goes beyond the legal issue. In part, what happens next to the four percent Latinos in Alabama and to the rest of Alabama’s immigrants depends on whether or not this starts being treated in Alabama as not just a demographics issue but a civil rights issue, as a broad issue about who Alabama is in the 21st century. Especially after who Alabama was in the 20th century.
Should the Alabama law be viewed as a civil rights issue? Who should view the law that way? Why? Maddow made no real attempt to explain her apparent suggestion. But as she continued, she played tape from a video report.

This tape offered what we would call a therapeutic function.

First, an unidentified narrator discussed the deadly 1963 bombing incident known as “Birmingham Sunday.” Then, a former district judge spoke about a recent court ruling concerning the new state law:
MADDOW (continuing directly):

(Videotape begins)

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER OR SPEAKERS: The 16th Street Baptist Church is the first colored church in Birmingham. Everybody’s church. Through its history, it’s always been a focal point for black people as a gathering place for the community. So many of the movements, marches and demonstrations emanated out of the basement of this church. The bombing of the church happened right beyond the exit sign, that`s where four little girls were killed, murdered in this church.

It’s very serious. This is sacred ground for us.

U. W. CLEMON, FORMER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE: As you might imagine, I know this judge, we sat on the same court together. She succeeded me as chief judge of the court. And I’m sure that she ruled in accordance with what she viewed to be the law. Unfortunately, in some very serious ways, she was mistaken.

Ours is a country really that is based on immigration. We are a nation of immigrants. Only two categories of Americans don’t fall into the category of immigrants, and that is the Native Americans—the Indians—and the black Americans. We’re the only ones who didn’t seek to come here.

All of us black and whites have to keep working towards making all Americans realize that we are all in this boat together.

(Videotape ends)

MADDOW: That video report produced by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jose Antonio Vargas, who, in a jaw-dropping New York Times magazine piece earlier this year, revealed how he himself had come to this country as a child, as an undocumented immigrant, and he still does not have legal status.
The unidentified speaker described the 1963 murder of four children in a Birmingham Sunday school. After that, Judge Clemon spoke, offering his view of Judge Sharon Blackburn’s recent ruling about the new state law. (Blackburn ruled against some provisions of the law, let other provisions stand. Since then, a higher court has also ruled.)

Go ahead—watch the full tape. Judge Clemon thinks Judge Blackburn was mistaken in some or all of her ruling. In that view, he may well be right—although Maddow made no attempt to explain the nature of Clemon’s legal views. But before we got to see one judge dispute the ruling of another, we were reminded of the fact that four children were murdered in a Birmingham church 48 years ago.

Simple story! People like Maddow will use the memory of four murdered children to offer us our pleasing therapy—to give us the pleasure that helps them maintain their cable ratings, thus “earning” their $2 million per year. And sure enough! As Vargas spoke, he too referenced those 1963 murders. This highlighted passage represents the segment’s only attempt to explain of why we saw that footage concerning the four murdered girls:
VARGAS: You cannot overstate the impact of this law in this state. And I think more than just the organizing and the boycotting that’s been happening, that’s being organized by undocumented immigrants and their allies here in Alabama— I’m actually in Birmingham, right in the cradle of the civil rights movement. What’s been interesting is, you know, at Define American we’re all about trying to kind of tell the stories of what’s really happening here.

Are the stories of, like, the farmer, or the elementary schoolteacher, right, or actually U. W. Clemon, you know, civil rights icon, who are connecting the dots and saying that this is a human rights, civil rights issue.

I really appreciate you taking the time to play the video because, you know, to be sitting at 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of the bombing in 1963, I can’t believe that what, nearly 50 years later—I mean, yesterday was a dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial—here we are talking about an issue that`s impacting, of course, you know, a specific demographic.

And I think the question here that I’ve been asking people is, is this the real Alabama? Does this reflect what you want Alabama to be?
Why did we see the footage about those murdered children? The new law “impacts a specific demographic.” But then, so did that murderous bombing, 48 years ago!

Maddow’s segment had very little journalistic content. She didn’t attempt to explain the nature of the relevant legal issues. She certainly didn’t waste your time considering the people who “could possibly benefit,” according to state officials.

Instead, she provided tribal therapy. She let us feel good about who We are. She let us see how very bad The Other Tribe must be.

Maddow knows who “those people” are. Those people are Nazis—and murderous bombers. More simply expressed, Maddow will toy with the memory of murdered children to give you the pleasure you crave.

Maddow’s work last night was not journalistic. Later, Vargas described the results of a survey he had conducted. He had spoken to six Alabamans, he said, five of whom supported the law without knowing what was in it!

Vargas had spoken to six people! How much more do you need to know about the real shape of this work?

Maddow’s work wasn't journalistic. It was designed to provide tribal therapy—to make us, her tribal mates, feel better about our own withered lives. But this type of garbage suffuses the work of the “press corps” in these therapeutic times.

Could that new state law “possibly benefit” some Alabamans? How about those prison inmates, the ones to whom Campbell Robertson murkily referred in his front-page news report?

No such thing was in question here. Our darling child doesn’t care about them. Her function is really quite different.

Tomorrow: Why do we call such work “therapeutic?” Two other front-page reports


  1. It's my understanding that a national identity document system was pioneered in the French Revolution, and exists today in France and some other European democracies.

  2. MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH, Republican candidate Herman Cain paid a visit to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the sheriff notorious for "immigrant sweeps" in Hispanic neighborhoods. Object of visit: Border security.
    Republican Candidate Michelle Bachmann visited Arizona Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce, the man that hired Kris Kobach to help him write Arizona's immigrant enforcement law SB 1070, and then rammed it through the legislature. Object of visit: Border security.

    Both Cain and Bachmann used the opportunity attack Candidate Rick Perry for not being a "true conservative," said Larry Sabato of he University of Virginia's Center for Politics. Perry is losing support from Republicans because of his position allowing illegal immigrants in-state tuition, Sabato said.

    TOMORROW: Newt comes to town.
    What have Arizonans done to deserve all this?

  3. David Tomlin

    The French did indeed require all residents to carry an ID card. Visitors that left the country and returned twice a year did not need a French ID card.
    This has little meaning now, since the borders of EU nations are open.

    All one has to do is say they went to another country for a day. There is no passport or visa stamp required that would prove leaving and returning.
    EU citizens can stay as long as they want. (This is the main reason Turkey is kept out of the EU.)

    All residents in France, even illegal ones, are required to get healthcare insurance, however. That policy is enforced.

  4. The most pathetic thing about Maddow's lazy journalism is that there is no need to make such vague connections between the anti-immigration bill and Alabama's tragic civil rights history of half a century ago. Simply Googling the sponsor of the bill shows that he apologized just last month for referring to blacks as "aborigines."

  5. I don't get the supposed Nazi reference. I google "papers please" and nazis are only mentioned twice in the first several pages, both time by the same person who didn't seem to understand who the Nazis were and wasn't talking about a specific policy.

    I'd say that referencing a similar, recent immigration bill in another state that was passed in the past couple of years makes sense. Not that I'm a Maddow fan, but I think accusing her of violating Godwin's Law for referencing the common name for Arizona's bill is a bit much.

  6. gravymeister,

    You asked "What have Arizonans done to deserve all this?"

    Iowans have been asking themselves this for months. I don't understand why we get so riled up whenever some other state tries to move their primary ahead of the Iowa Caucuses. I would almost rather go last, at this point.

  7. I used to like Maddow and Olbermann. I don't know if their journalism was any better in those days, but both had a satirical take on the issues that was entertaining even when I disagreed with their positions. Over time both of them intensified their pandering, probably in response to audience feedback. Now they are obnoxious and boring, even when I agree with their positions.

  8. I'm still puzzled over what is murky about Robertson's reporting on the work release matter.