INVENTING THE OTHER: Serena's all wrong!


Part 3—Our Own Salem Village: At one time, we Americans really knew how to invent The Other.

Back in Salem Village, we’d simply dunk those presumed to be witches. We’d let nature take over from there.

Today, we no longer do that. As a bit of a replacement procedure, we have the pronouncements of Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.

Williams was busy last week, inventing The Other in two major cases. On Friday, she gave celebrity chef Paula Deen a good sound dunking for her racial errors.

First, Williams misstated the contents of Deen’s deposition, as has become the norm. As she continued, she helped us see exactly how Deen should have apologized.

(To cite one example, a statement from Deen’s office should not have said this: “To be clear, Ms. Deen does not find acceptable the use of this term under any circumstance by anyone nor condone any form of racism or discrimination.” In best Salem Village style, Williams condemned this utterance as “half-assed” and “mealy-mouthed.” It was “pure useless gibberish.”)

Williams might have been a good fit for Salem Village. In those days, they checked the witches for bodily marks. Today, like-minded folk go into a rage as they deconstruct the sentence parts which they find unacceptable.

Let’s put that another way: As they deconstruct the sentences they themselves would not have uttered in exactly that form. As they punish those who are less pure and less sublime than they are.

Different people will have different views about the efforts of people like Williams. For ourselves, we think last week’s dunkings help us see the moral and intellectual poverty of the modern pseudo-liberal world.

Your results may differ! But let’s consider what Williams said last Wednesday concerning tennis star Serena Williams, who was quoted by Rolling Stone about the Steubenville, Ohio rape case.

Serena Williams was quoted saying some things we ourselves wouldn’t have said. Then too, she was quoted saying some things we ourselves already have said, in part because the statements in question are just blindingly obvious.

That said, to Mary Elizabeth Williams, everything Serena Williams said was unspeakably vile. The headline atop her piece successfully captured her drift:

“Serena’s rape victim-blaming got everything wrong.”

But did Serena Williams really get everything wrong? Before we review this particular dunking, let’s get a sense of how clueless people like Mary Elizabeth Williams will sometimes be, even about the way their own profession works.

After condemning Serena Williams for her “incendiary, idiotic statements,” Mary Elizabeth Williams zeroed in on her “nauseating, half-assed apologies.” Concerning the latter, Salon’s witch-watcher said this:
WILLIAMS (6/21/13): In her quasi-mea culpa, Williams goes on to say she is reaching out to the girl’s family, and that “I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written–what I supposedly said–is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.” Side note No. 3: Speaking of blame, Williams implies that her remarks, for which she says she is sorry, are only what she “supposedly” said. That’s a cheap and cowardly move. Rolling Stone’s Stephen Rodrick, speaking to Poynter Wednesday, said, “The interview is on tape. Other than that, I’ll let the story speak for itself.”
In this first of several apologies, Serena Williams implied that she may not have said what she was quoted saying. (Or something!) She said she “by no means would say or insinuate that [the victim] was at all to blame.” And she referred, without explanation, to “what was written–what I supposedly said.”

Predictably, this sent Mary Elizabeth Williams into a fury. She failed to note that Rodrick, the Rolling Stone journalist, had offered a bit of non-rebuttal rebuttal in the statement she quoted. It didn’t seem to enter her head that Serena Williams might have been quoted accurately but misleadingly.

Accurately but misleadingly? People get quoted that way all the time, although we have no way of knowing what happened in this instance. Here’s what that means:

When a public figure is quoted accurately but misleadingly, part of what she said is quoted, and her actual words are used. But other parts of her statement get dropped, perhaps changing her overall meaning.

People get quoted that way all the time, as any journalist ought to know. Did something like that happen here? We have no idea, nor do we make such a claim.

Our point here is different: It’s amazing that this possibility didn’t even seem to occur to Mary Elizabeth Williams, who works in journalism as a profession and must know that this can occur, unless she knows nothing at all.

We’re not saying this did occur. It’s just that, because we’re alive in the world, the possibility entered our mind as we read Serena Williams’ insinuation and Rodrick’s fuzzy response.

(He’ll let the story speak for itself! A journalist who has been challenged will always offer that deal!)

Williams went on to improve her apology, responding to pleas from the tennis suits. Quickly, though, let’s consider Salon’s treatment of her original statement, the statement which appeared in Rolling Stone:

As quoted in Rolling Stone, Serena Williams said several things we ourselves wouldn’t have said. As quoted, her statements were imperfect in several ways.

But should the pseudo-liberal world adopt perfection as our standard of judgment? Should we go crazy if someone makes a statement which may be imperfect?

We think that’s a very unwise standard. That said, you yourself will have to decide if Salon’s dunking was justified by the imperfections involved in the tennis star’s quoted remarks.

In our view, Mary Elizabeth Williams went several arcing lobs over the top in her reaction to her namesake. Indeed, she even seems to trash Serena Williams for saying the events of that evening in Steubenville “could have been much worse.”

Please. The events of that evening could have been disastrously worse. In some ways, that observation turns on the basic facts of this case, basic facts which many commenters at Salon didn’t seem aware of.

To cite the most awful possibility, the victim could have been killed that night, as anyone can understand. Beyond that, the two young men who were later convicted of rape could have had intercourse with the victim—they didn’t do so—and young women can get pregnant that way. We’ll guess that outcome could have been worse for the victim.

In Ohio, what those young men did is prosecuted as rape, although they didn’t have intercourse with the victim. Many commenters seemed unaware of this latter fact. But then, our most pleasing narratives routinely involve bogus or misunderstood facts.

Serena Williams was quoted saying several things we wouldn’t have said. She also dared to wonder if the young men who committed the crime may have received too harsh a sentence.

Unless we’re deep inside Salem Village, people get to think things like that. But the tennis star got her ascot handed to her for daring to wonder about that.

Whatever! We will suggest that you read the piece in Salon to see if you understand the form of this increasingly familiar type of narrative, in which we turn people into The Other by dint of our attacks on their imperfect statements.

Two days later, Mary Elizabeth Williams went off again. In this instance, she misstated what Paula Deen said in her deposition. She then massacred every word out of Deen’s mouth, including those Deen hadn’t said.

In this instance, Williams staged a diatribe about race. So we’ll offer this reaction:

In matters involving race, we don’t think a great deal of people like Mary Elizabeth Williams, although we’ll assume her intentions are good. Our liberal world now seems to be deeply involved in the pleasure of dropping our R-bombs. But we rarely see pundits like Williams display even the tiniest interest in pursuing the major issues and major topics that affect the lives and the interests of, let's say, black kids.

On occasion, people like Williams make us think of life in Salem Village. They live to drop bombs on those who speak in imperfect ways, even as they themselves misstate what such people have said.

To us, this seems like very bad politics. First we invent The Other, often through use of bogus facts. After that, we get upset when these very bad people won’t vote in the ways we direct them!

That is the politics. This is the substance:

In the area of race, we do love to toss our R-bombs around. (At Salon, Paula Deen got handed her ass for saying she “doesn’t condone any form of racism or discrimination.”) But you couldn’t get us to discuss actual issues involving race if you held a gun to our heads.

R-bombs yes, black kids no! Often, we modern pseudo-liberals may seem extremely false.

As we have watched our liberal world emerge from its very long nap, we have been amazed by the joy with which we deploy our race bombs. Even given her lack of perfection, how different was the Salem-style fury which got dropped on that tennis star’s head?

Tomorrow: One nation or many?


  1. When a public figure is quoted accurately but misleadingly, part of what she said is quoted, and her actual words are used. But other parts of her statement get dropped, perhaps changing her overall meaning.

    Maureen Dowd notoriously omitted parts of quotes in order to change their meaning. Thus the practice has been named for her. Like Thomas Crapper, Dowd is now a part of the language.

    1. Creeping Dowdism is not as DinC describes it - he is merely describing journalistic hackery.

      Courtesy of Mark Judge:

      The best piece about Dowd’s effect on the media is still “Creeping Dowdism,” a 1992 piece written by Katherine Boo in the Washington Monthly. Boo notes that by the early 1990s Maureen Dowd’s aloof, smirking, superficial and too-cute style in the New York Times had infected the rest of the press corps. A little of this fizz was fine, Boo wrote, but it had gotten to the point where it was corroding any kind of earnestness: “Coursing through stories of [Dowd’s] sort is a fundamental doubt about the beneficial possibilities of the democratic process. It’s so phony, says the subtext, that I’m not going to try to wring out any meaning. Instead, I’m going to amuse you.” Boo then observed how the Times’ Elizabeth Kolbert concluded from watching a debate between Bill Clinton and Paul Tsongas that “one cannot help feeling somehow implicated in their dispute. Perhaps, one wonders, it is time to find them professional counseling.” Boo: “Kolbert’s metaphor is as revealing as it is patronizing. Locking in on the posturing, she actually seems to believe that what they’re arguing about — which happened to be the taxation of entitlements for the affluent as a means of cutting the deficit — is as private a matter as a marriage dispute. In this conception, and it’s not just Kolbert’s, politics is not about affixing an imprint on a country or the world. It’s a wholly self-serving, inner-directed enterprise.”
      The endgame, Boo writes, is a press corps that resembles a high school locker room: To these bored and overexposed insiders, everybody eventually begins to seem absurd, predictable, incapable of sincerity, inspiration, or meaning — undeserving of being “taken seriously.” A game it is, then. Whoever pens the most metaphors wins.
      What’s so dreadful about that? Well, there’s the tiresome matter of the people — what Dowd calls “the Joe Sixpack constituency.” Sure, it’s useful to them to know that politicians’ proposals for tax relief or health care or education always involve a healthy dose of calculation, absurdity, and melodrama. But — should we even have to say it? — when one of those politicians (however ridiculous) is elected, his proposals (however cynical) may have a real effect on their lives. Joe Sixpack knows this, and duller stories in the dailies outline it clearly: Polls and focus groups show that voters are very worried about the economy, the quality of public schools, and the cost of health care — and they’re frustrated by the apparent inability of politicians to get serious about those issues. Yet even when explaining the national disgust with glib politicking, the popular yearning for discussion of real issues, Dowd can’t resist sing-songing: “They say they want leaders with candor, not leaders who pander.”

      Finally, the TDH archive is replete with many, many, many, many more examples of Creeping Dowdism. Just type "creeping dowdism" or "maureen dowd" into the search box and press "enter [or its equivalent]."

    2. Good post, Cliff. Although "Creeping Dowdism" and "Dowdification" are both named for Maureen Dowd, they're entirely different journalistic practices. It says something about Dowd's writing that two distinct bad ways of doing journalism bear her name.

    3. Maybe eventually you'll have something named for you too, son. Some kind of synonym for "useless troll."

      "Dicism" perhaps -- and yes that would be a "hard c."

  2. "punish those who are less pure and less sublime than they are"

    Great self-desciption, Bob. Don't you get lonely being the only honest and pure person in the world?

    1. Only if he's the master of his domain.

  3. "Should the pseudo-liberal world adopt perfection as our standard of judgment?"

    Why not, Somerby? You do.

  4. MEW is a feminist. Feminists are notorious for abusing the rape issue, distorting quotes or just making up shit about critics. MEW is no exception. She also censors critics.

    The idea that a woman could admit to using the word nigger in a private conversation 30 years ago, agree that it was wrong and still lose her job is an absurdity. Meanwhile a woman like Nancy Grace can ignore vast swaths of exculpatory evidence to wrongly insist that a group of men are guilty of gang rape and no one says boo about her getting to keep her job. That's utterly twisted.

    Al Sharpton falsely accuses people of rape and 25 years later gets his own cable show.

    God, I hate being a liberal.