WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2015
Part 3—We're in our twenty-third year: In Monday's profile of Stacy Schiff, the New York Times listed some possible reasons for a famous outbreak.
Alexandra Alter was the reporter. In one brief passage, she listed possible explanations for the famous breakdown in the rational process:
"More than 320 years after the panic subsided, scholars and historians have continued to dig into the archives in hopes of discovering what caused the mass paranoia," Alter wrote. "Common theories include everything from political tensions, economic pressures, misogyny and the psychological strain of constant attacks from Native American tribes to physiological factors like 'conversion disorder' and poisoning from a fungus."
Alter was listing academic theories about the breakdown which produced to the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692. According to Alter, Schiff takes a more modern approach in her new book on the subject.
According to Alter, Schiff "delivers an almost novelistic, thrillerlike narrative of those manic nine months." And sure enough! As Maureen Dowd and others keep proving, we moderns love novels. And thrills!
In that brief passage, Alter listed possible reasons for the mass paranoia which started in 1692. What explains the similar episode which started exactly three hundred years later?
Similar reasons have sometimes been suggested by those who are willing to note that this mass outbreak occurred and continues. (Being journalists, Alter's family isn't inclined to do that.) This includes the apparent misogyny which seemed to lurk in much of the Clinton-hatred which persisted on MSNBC right through 2008—in the Clinton-hatred of Chris Matthews, and in that of Keith Olbermann.
Alas! Even if we're willing to acknowledge that this latest panic has occurred, it isn't easy to nail down its causes. That said, it's easy to note a basic fact about the way our novelistic, thrill-based journalism has tended to deal with the outbreak.
As Alter notes in her piece about Schiff, the panic in Salem largely subsided after just nine months. Our current political panic has extended for twenty-three years, with no clear sign of abatement.
This lengthy panic has extended through other mass paranoias-—the McMartin preschool panic, for instance. That unfortunate panic has come and gone. Our political panic continues.
The current panic plainly resembles that of 1692. In the current panic, ranking members of our political class have been repeatedly observed "taking shape as cats, wolves, boars and, frequently, yellow birds," to borrow Alter's words about the earlier Salem panic.
(According to several experts, people who are nicknamed "Tweety" may be especially likely to make this type of observation.)
Let's note an obvious point. Due to our stifling political correctness, people are no longer believed when they report such events! For that reason, our current accusers have shifted the shape of their own reporting a tad:
Repeatedly, they assert that they have observed our modern witches telling lies. They have sometimes even observed these deviants being "Clintonesque!"
According to our modern accusers, President Bill Clinton kept performing these actions. Starting in March 1999, Candidate Gore was repeatedly observed extending the frightening process.
(When Candidate Gore kept failing to lie, our journalists invented lies for him. This is always a part of the process.)
Today, the accusers report that it's Hillary Clinton who keeps turning herself into a cat or a boar, behavior which is euphemistically described as "telling a lie." Last Sunday morning, Marco Rubio made the direct accusation when he appeared on CNN. Many others, including Chuck Todd, were offering toned-down versions of the familiar claim.
In the past few days, the accusation has been widely voiced on the Fox News Channel, contributing to loathing and panic. What's interesting is the way we respond, or fail to respond, to these ongoing claims.
Reason prevailed in Salem Village after only nine months. But how strange! After 23 years of the current panic, we still refuse to evaluate these frightening claims in a modern, "rational" fashion.
In September 2012, did Hillary Clinton lie about the attack in Benghazi? Did the hideous, shape-shifting Susan Rice go on four Sunday shows and give voice to these shape-shifting lies?
(Rice wasn't asked about Benghazi on Fox's Special Report.)
Let's get more specific with our questions:
In that frightening month, did Clinton lie about the persons or groups who staged the Benghazi attack? Did she lie about the motives behind the attack?
Did she lie about the amount of "preplanning" involved in the attack? Did she lie about a videotape? Did she lie to the victims' families?
These accusations have persisted for more than three years. Three years ago, they were used to savage Rice. In the wake of last week's hapless congressional hearing, they were turned against Clinton again.
How have our journalists dealt with these accusations over the past three years? How have they dealt with these accusations in the past week?
Tomorrow, we'll help you see what our journalists haven't done. There's a reason why Salem's panic lasted nine months while ours persists year after year.
Tomorrow: We'll always have (Betty) Parris