GREETINGS FROM BABEL: Blow abandons traditional roles!


Part 2—Instantly joined by Gramps:
Did Hillary Clinton, a White House candidate, aim an ugly insult at Ashley Williams, a "young graduate student?"

(Despite being so young, Williams is 23 years old.)

More specifically, did Clinton call Williams a "super-predator?" Did she do so in an "infamous speech?" Why would a person like Hillary Clinton stoop to conduct like that? Is there any insult which won't be directed by people like Clinton at deserving young people who are both "proudly queer" and black?

By normal standards of construction, questions like these emerge from Charles Blow's most recent New York Times column, whose headline quoted a plaintive cry:

"I'm Not A Super Predator"

That's the headline the columnist Blow chose to put on his piece.

Midway through Blow's Babel-fueled piece, we learn who said that, and why. In this passage, Williams is interrupting Candidate Clinton at a campaign event:
BLOW (2/29/16): The night of the event, she nervously made her way through security with her secret banner hidden away, and took up position near where she assumed Clinton was to speak. As soon as Clinton descended the stairs of the mansion, took the microphone and began her remarks, Williams turned to the crowd and unfurled her banner. Then she turned to Clinton, who was confronted with her own worst words:

''We have to bring them to heel.''

On the video of the encounter, recorded by a friend of Williams who accompanied her to the event (After all, in this age, an action without a video is like a tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear it), an exchange follows:

Williams: ''We want you to apologize for mass incarceration.''

Clinton: ''O.K., we'll talk about—

Williams: ''I'm not a super predator, Hillary Clinton.''
''I'm not a super predator, Hillary Clinton," Blow's young student said.

In the course of Blow's Babel-fueled babble, we learn that Williams is referring to a single comment Clinton made in a single "infamous speech."

The speech was delivered in 1996, some twenty years ago. Williams actually was quite young at that time. As Blow notes, she was three years old.

Did Clinton call Williams a super predator in 1996? By normal construction, that's what the young student seemed to imply when she interrupted that campaign event by whipping her banner out.

That's what William's statement implied; Blow took that somewhat puzzling statement and used it as his headline. Again, though, we ask our obvious questions:

Did Clinton actually call Williams that? What exactly did Williams mean by her dramatic assertion?

''I'm not a super predator!'' What the heck did Williams mean when she told Clinton that? By normal standards, you'd almost think a person like Blow would want to address that obvious question in the course of a column which used Williams' cry as its eye-catching headline.

What did William mean by her statement? By traditional standards, a journalist would want to address this blindingly obvious question.

Blow took a different approach. He interviewed the young graduate student in the course of composing his column. By the traditional norms of his profession, he would have asked the proud young student what she meant by her impassioned statement to Clinton. He would have asked her why she felt so strongly about the matter that she was willing to interrupt a presidential campaign event.

That's what a journalist would have done, in line with traditional rules of the game. We don't prejudge Williams' possible answers to these questions. We simply note that these obvious questions don't seem to have been asked.

In that sense, Blow has ceased to be much of a journalist, at least in columns like this. He operates more like a priest in the expanding caliphate in which we're all currently living.

The name of that caliphate is Babel. As we'll note in tomorrow's award-winning report, Josh Marshall seems to be a priest in that sprawling caliphate too.

Why did Williams interrupt Clinton, then offer that plaintive cry? In the course of his dramatic 900-word column, Blow never quite asked or explained.

He went on to criticize Bill Maher for his reaction to this incident, and he criticized Clinton herself. Late in his column, Blow struggled onto a platform in Babel and let us admire his greatness:
BLOW: Perhaps most stinging was Bill Maher, who used an expletive to call protesters like Williams ''idiots,'' and said: ''People need to learn the difference between an imperfect friend and a deadly enemy. You want to tear Hillary Clinton down? Great. Then enjoy President Trump.''

But this is a false choice, one too often posed to young activists who insist on holding power accountable. It's the same argument they hear from the police: Allow us to operate in your communities with impunity and abandon or the criminals will do so to even more devastating effect. Following this line of reasoning, silent absorption of pain and suffering is the only option. I wholly reject that.

After the encounter, Clinton said in a statement published by The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart: ''Looking back, I shouldn't have used those words, and I wouldn't use them today.''

The statement isn't really an apology for championing the bill itself, and as such, I find it wanting.
But at least Williams's action provoked a response that many of us who came before her failed to demand.
For the record, we wouldn't call Williams an "idiot" either. Nor would we do so with respect to Blow, who 1) "wholly rejects" the "silent absorption of pain and suffering" he says is demanded of people like Williams and 2) heroically finds Candidate Clinton's recent statement to be "wanting."

Blow spent much of his time in this column apologizing to Williams. He's failed her in the past, he says, and blah blah blah blah blah.

Later that day, Marshall popped up, engaged in the same acts of silly self-flagellation. Here's what our high-ranking Babelonians didn't do:

They didn't perform normal acts of journalism. More specifically, Blow didn't do this:

He didn't ask Williams to explain her rather peculiar disavowal—"I'm not a super predator." He didn't ask why Williams seems to think that Clinton called her that.

He didn't ask Williams if she thinks it makes sense to build approaches to White House candidates around single remarks made in single speeches twenty years in the past. He didn't ask Williams to explain what is wrong with the term in question if it's used, let's just say, to refer to serial killers who have thoroughly lost their way in the world at the cost of great damage to others.

Perhaps most strikingly, he didn't ask Williams what she knows and believes about the bill at the heart of all this babble, the 1994 crime bill.

In the first passage we posted above, Williams is quoted saying this to Clinton: ''We want you to apologize for mass incarceration.''

Blow didn't ask Williams why she thinks Clinton is responsible for current rates of incarceration. He didn't ask Williams to explain the extent to which the 1994 crime bill created those rates of incarceration.

He didn't ask Williams what she thinks about Clinton's previous comments on this subject. Indeed, there's no sign that Blow even knows that such statements have occurred.

There are other obvious questions and facts which play no role in Blow's column. Blow never asks Williams to explain why so many members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the bill in question.

He doesn't ask Williams to evaluate the conditions which helped create that bill and that congressional vote. He doesn't ask the young graduate student if she even has any freaking idea what was in the bill in question, a bill which moved through the House and the Senate when she was one year old.

Does Ashley Williams, a young graduate student, have any idea what she's talking about? By tradition, a journalist, or even an elder, would want to examine that question.

By tradition, an obvious possibility would occur to the journalist. It would occur to a journalist that a young student, however sincere, might not know what she's talking about, might not understand her own brief.

By tradition, a journalist would examine these obvious questions. By global tradition, so would an elder.

But in our time, people like Marshall and Blow have abandoned those traditional roles. They no longer serve as journalists. They refuse to play the traditional role of the elder.

Imaginably for profit and glory, they're turning those traditional roles on their head. In the process, they're handing us the pitiful Babel in which we all currently live.

Tomorrow: In the absence of questions and information, apologies from "Gramps"

Still coming in auxiliary posts: Babel concerning the public schools; Babel concerning Hollywood.

Babel concerning the treatment of candidates; Babel in "cable news" guest selection. Babel concerning the "evil" behavior of corporate boss MSNBC.

Starting next week: Nova makes Einstein easy!


  1. Bill Maher ought to take his own advice. He said, "People need to learn the difference between an imperfect friend and a deadly enemy. You want to tear Hillary Clinton down? Great. Then enjoy President Trump."

    Thus, he implied that Donald Trump is Ashley Williams's real enemy. But, as an American candidate from the other party, he's merely a rival. Williams's real enemies are Islamic terrorists, criminals, etc.

    1. "... blah blah blah blah blah ...."

      - Bob Somerby 3/3/16

    2. "But as an American candidate from the other party, he's merely a rival. Williams's real enemies are ...."

      Nuance escapes you, doesn't it?

  2. Bernie Sanders, who was actually in Congress (Hillary Clinton was not) voted for the bill. Maybe the choice is between Hillary and Bernie, not only Hillary and Trump.

    Blow knows better than to embarrass the frequently incoherent protestors who speak in slogans without ever thinking about the issues they are protesting.

    1. Your first paragraph sadly falls into the chasm of ignorance you decry in your second: Mightn't we want to actually understand "the bill," its context and outcomes, before jumping to the supposed stark clarity of "the choice" it supposedly presents us?

      "Blow knows better than to..."

      Here, however, I think we are on to something.

      Unfortunately of course, it's related directly to the thing Somerby is on to, so we mustn't dwell on it too much lest we become the Bobfans who lap up everything our guru says without thinking.

      No, far better to pass over journalistic malfeasance in silence -- or at most to claim, authoritatively, "It's never been any better!" -- and instead direct our scorn at Awful Bob Somerby.

    2. The butthurt NN has returned,

    3. I agree with NN.

    4. @ 5:47 PM - good to know, Bob.

    5. " ... without ever thinking about the the issues they are protesting."

      As opposed to commenters who type in bafflegab without ever thinking about the issues they are commenting on?

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