Weirdly incompetent work: In this morning's New York Times, Susan Chira writes a puzzling "News Analysis" piece about the recent electoral unpleasantness.
Susan Chira isn't one of These Kids Today. According to the leading authority, she prepped at Phillips Andover, then graduated from Harvard. In 1980!
She graduated summa cum laude from Harvard; she's been at the Times ever since. She was the paper's foreign news editor from 2004 to 2011, after which she served as assistant managing editor for news.
She left that post this past September "to write about gender issues for The Times." That's what we found her doing today.
Judging from her credentials, Chira should be highly skilled. That said, we were struck by several parts of her piece. The highlighted passage was the second which brought us up short:
CHIRA (11/10/16): Donald J. Trump’s hyper-masculinity—the sexual swagger, the belittling of his opponents, his need to dominate—appealed to some men who believed he could restore them to their rightful place.We still don't know just what to think about that highlighted passage. Is it simply an accurate statement? Or is it the latest example of mandatory false equivalence?
Yet men at Trump rallies also spoke of their faith that Mr. Trump, whose business acumen they revered, would bring an outsider’s willingness to take on the elites who put them down.
The campaign became a battle of two caricatures: male chauvinist pig against scheming, dishonest woman. It exposed parallel universes. In one, women flooded social media with their memories of sexual assault after Mr. Trump was caught on tape boasting about forcing himself on women. In another, men dismissed the tape as locker room talk or were surprised at how many women told them such harassment was commonplace.
This is why we're puzzled and bothered by Chira's presentation:
After Trump's videotape emerged, it surely wasn't hard to see how he acquired the caricature Chira cites. That said, was the "caricature" of Clinton as a "scheming, dishonest woman" really a "caricature" in a similar way?
We're still not sure what to think about that piece of apparent equivalence. But as we continued in Chira's piece, we were struck by a string of passages which didn't seem to make clear sense.
Consider this presentation. Does this presentation make sense?
CHIRA: At work, women have made substantial inroads and dominate the fastest-growing (and lower paid) segments of the economy, the “pink collar” industries such as health and education. More than a fifth of American men between 20 and 65 had no paid work last year.According to Chira, "men consistently underestimate the barriers that women confront" in the workplace.
But men consistently underestimate the barriers that women confront. In a study of more than 34,000 employees at 132 companies, 54 percent of men thought that the best opportunities would go to the most deserving employees regardless of gender; just 44 percent of women believed that. The survey, conducted by Lean In and McKinsey and Company and released in late September, found that a third of women thought their gender was a disadvantage in getting a raise or promotion.
That certainly may be true. But her examples are puzzling.
How do we know that men consistently underestimate those barriers? We're told that, in one study, 54 percent of men said opportunities were granted regardless of gender, presumably at the places where they worked.
Presumably, we're supposed to think that this judgment was wrong. But Chira presents no evidence to support this idea, and if 44 percent of women in those workplaces said the same thing, mightn't we say that women "consistently underestimate the barriers they confront" too? If the men were wrong in what they thought, so were an almost equal number of women!
Are we supposed to focus on the relatively small difference between the response rates of the two groups? As in the piece we reviewed this morning, there was much more agreement between the men and the women in this study than there was disagreement. But so it goes when the New York Times attempts to establish a claim.
Chira's 54 percent example doesn't exactly seem to establish her claim. She goes on to note that "a third of women [in the study] thought their gender was a disadvantage in getting a raise or promotion."
But she provides no basis for assessing whether those views were right or wrong. And apparently, a larger number of women at those firms expressed a different view.
This kind of under-skilled analysis seems to pervade the Times. Two paragraphs later, we're confronted with this:
CHIRA (continuing directly): On campus, young men and women are facing off over what is assault and what is a sexual pass gone awry. Young men frequently protest that they are denied due process in campus hearings of sexual assault; young women charge that their attackers too often go unpunished.What can a person say about such consummate foolishness? That highlighted claim—highly irrelevant and imprecise—rather plainly comes from the flyweight files.
Even reading habits diverge: Women read mysteries and true crime; men read science fiction and history, according to Peter Hildick-Smith, the president of Codex Group, which surveys reading patterns.
Near the end of the piece, we're offered what's shown below. Truly, this makes zero sense. At least as presented, it makes no sense at all:
CHIRA: Some research has found a backlash when men feel they are losing their status.Do men sometimes create a backlash when they feel they're losing their status? Presumably, yes they do. (Presumably, so do women.)
Iris Bohnet, the director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School, is a behavioral economist who believes in the principle of “nudging” people toward social norms. That typically means telling people, for example, that their friends have voted in order to prompt them to vote, too.
To test if she could induce diversity in hiring, Ms. Bohnet told research volunteers that the group before them had hired a predominantly female team. Men balked and chose to hire more men than women, she found.
That said, are we supposed to regard that presentation as an example of backlash? Why? Because men didn't allow themselves to be "nudged" by one remark, we're supposed to conclude that they were engaged in a backlash?
Why are we supposed to think that? Does that presentation make sense?
Once again, Chira's writing is almost preternaturally vague in that passage. How long has it been since she had to make a clear point in her work at the Times?
We sometimes wonder what's in the water at the New York Times. The lack of basic intellectual skill seems to be the defining trait of the newspaper's floundering work force.
We often notice this problem when we read the paper's education reporting. Motoko Rich graduated summa cum laude from Yale, and she has never encountered a point so basic that she couldn't get it wrong.
(Tomorrow, we're going to look at David Leonhardt's piece about charter schools in last weekend's Sunday review. He's supposed to be best in show. The analysts tore their hair.)
Chira's piece is terrible work. It comes to us live and direct from the highest levels of American schooling. Also from the highest levels of the American "press."
There was lead in the water at Flint. Has anyone ever checked the bubblers at the Times? As the United States is proving, a major nation can't proceed with low-skill work like this.