Gitlin emulates Trump: Almost surely, Donald J. Trump is our least articulate modern president—and you can start the "modern" era pretty much wherever you please.
Briefly, let's be fair. In part, the problem stems from the fact that Donald J. Trump rarely knows what he's talking about. During the campaign, he promised "something terrific" in health care, full stop.
Almost surely, Donald J. Trump was holding back no details. Donald J. Trump rarely seems to know what he's talking about.
For whatever reason, Donald J. Trump is highly inarticulate. At Bill Moyers and Company, and then again at Salon, Professor Gitlin has now pretended to discuss this state of affairs.
We say "pretended" for a reason. Professor Gitlin's critique of Trump is almost as weirdly incompetent as a typical Trump remark. When it comes to incompetence and disingenuinity, Professor Gitlin seems to be emulating President Trump.
We've often said that the liberal world has been failed by our professors. Professor Gitlin, a major professor, has now established us as a major seer.
Professor Gitlin starts his critique is a sensible way. The bulk of what's said here is accurate:
GITLIN (3/27/17): Once upon a time, there were presidents for whom English seemed their native language. Barack Obama most recently. He deliberated. At a press conference or in an interview—just about whenever he wasn’t speaking from a text—his pauses were as common as other people’s “uh’s.” He was not pausing because his vocabulary was impoverished. He was pausing to put words into sequence. He was putting phrases together with care, word by word, trying out words before uttering them, checking to feel out what they would sound like once uttered. It was important to him because he did not want to be misunderstood. President Obama valued precision, in no small part because he knew he lived in a world where every last presidential word was a speech act, a declaration with consequence, so that the very statement that the sky was blue, say, would be scoured for evidence that the president was declaring a policy on the nature of nature.The fawning about Obama's speech acts is overdone, but it's followed by an accurate assessment of the verbal lurches of Donald J. Trump. That said:
That was then. Now we have a president who, when he speaks, spatters the air with unfinished chunks, many of which do not qualify as sentences, and which do not follow from previous chunks. He does not release words into a stream of consciousness but into a heap. He heaps words on top of words, to overwhelm meaning with vague gestures. He does not think, he lurches.
From this point on, Gitlin offers one of the most incompetent essays we've ever seen from a major professor. This guild has failed us persistently, but never in a more embarrassing manner than this.
From this point on, the professor undertakes to offer examples from Donald J. Trump's recent interview with Time magazine's Michael Scherer. These examples are meant to show how incoherent our president is.
Here's how Gitlin limns it:
GITLIN (continuing directly): Here are some examples from Time’s transcript of their cover story made out of their phone interview with the president of the United States. I have italicized the non sequiturs, incomplete propositions, indefinite pronouns and other obscurities that amount to verbal mud.The professor says he has italicized the various parts of Trump's remarks which amount to verbal mud. Unfortunately, Gitlin's analytical effort is more incompetent than the bulk of what Trump is said to have said during his interview.
Why do we say "said to have said?" Let's mention some facts our ranking professor doesn't seem to know:
You can't automatically trust a news org's transcript! The contemporary journalistic transcript is frequently riddled with errors. Anyone who has ever tried to be fair about public figures' spoken remarks will, of course, already understand this.
In what ways can a transcript fail? Let us count the ways, reaching the number two:
First, news org transcripts frequently misstate the actual words which were said. The only way to guard against this possibility is to check the transcript against a videotape of the spoken remarks.
We routinely engage in that basic type of fact-checking at this site. It's time-consuming and annoying, but it's also important. News orgs frequently misrecord the words which were actually said.
In this instance, Time has provided no videotape of the interview. There is no way to know that the words which appear in Time's transcript are the words Trump actually said.
It may well be that Time transcribed Trump's words with special care, but there's no way to be sure about that. Such conduct isn't the norm.
In this instance, a second problem is transparently clear. Quite plainly, Time has made little attempt to punctuate the various things Trump said.
In this omission, Time flirts with journalistic malpractice. Especially with a herky-jerky speaker like Trump, you have to try to be fair in punctuating the stops and starts which are common in extemporaneous speech.
Plainly, Time made virtually no attempt to do that. For that reason, the muddiness of Time's transcript falls on Time itself, as well as on Donald J. Trump. And again:
There is no way to feel sure that you're reading the words Donald J. Trump really said.
Professor Gitlin shows no sign of knowing any of this. He proceeds to author his own remarkable howlers—howlers he generates by pulling bits of Trump's (reported) remarks completely out of context.
(This resembles the slippery practice, familiar to cable viewers, known as "the Maddow edit.")
In a rational world, Gitlin's work would earn any college undergraduate a failing grade. (Just for the record: He doesn't just italicize chunks of Trump's remarks. He publishes two separate words in bold type without ever explaining why.)
In puzzling fashion, Gitlin offers slivers of the transcript, including two slivers by Scherer. He doesn't show where he has made omissions in the transcript, a transcript for whose accuracy he can't vouch in the first place.
Having engaged in these schoolboy errors, our laziest, least competent major professor then proceeds to tell the world that he has let us see the incoherence of Trump!
Trump is often barely coherent. In this embarrassing essay, Professor Gitlin is worse.
We'll limit ourselves to one example. Below, you see Gitlin's first example of Trump's alleged incoherence. Italicization by Gitlin:
SCHERER: So you don’t feel like Comey’s testimony in any way takes away from the credibility of the tweets you put out, even with the quotes?There you see the professor's full example. And sure enough! From that sliver of text, it's hard to tell what Donald J. Trump was talking about in the italicized passage.
TRUMP: No, I have, look. I have articles saying it happened. But you have to take a look at what they, they just went out at a news conference.
Below, you see the fuller chunk from Time magazine's transcript (bold emphases by us; bracketed insertion by Time). Just like that, Trump's allegedly murky meaning becomes remarkably clear:
TRUMP: And today, [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Devin Nunes just had a news conference. Now probably got obliterated by what’s happened in London. But just had a news conference, and here it is one of those things. The other one, election, I said we are going to win, we won. And many other things. And I think this is going to be very interesting.We've asked our analysts, and several agree. It's possible that even Maddow herself wouldn't doctor a statement that badly!
SCHERER: So you don’t feel like Comey’s testimony in any way takes away from the credibility of the tweets you put out, even with the quotes?
TRUMP: No, I have, look. I have articles saying it happened. But you have to take a look at what they, they just went out at a news conference. Devin Nunes had a news conference. I mean I don’t know, I was unable to see it, because I am at meetings, but they just had a news conference talking about surveillance.
(For the record, Time's printed text would probably be more clear with a stronger attempt at punctuation.)
Amazing, isn't it? The meaning of Trump's reference was made perfectly clear, right before and immediately after the sliver of text Gitlin offered. To help us gape at Trump's incoherence, Gitlin simply omitted the words which made his reference clear.
As presented, Trump's remarks are still choppy and grammatically imperfect. But that's routinely true of the extemporaneous speech of politicians and journalists—and there's no way to know how that transcript would look if it could be edited against the actual videotape.
The liberal world tends to run on fuel presented by major professors. For years, we've tried to tell you that you've been failed by these major professors.
Few professors have misbehaved as badly as Gitlin now has. That first example was an outright con. Similar nonsense followed.
Our culture suffers under the regime of these overpraised, overpaid professors. Our culture is being destroyed by the Trumps, but by the Gitlins as well.
The professor's typos: Many of Gitlin's examples gain by this type of editing. If an undergraduate performed such work, it would merit a failing grade.
Then too, we have the professor's typos. After his doctored examples are done, he launches into the passage shown below. We have inserted two [sic]s:
GITLIN: So it goes.Everyone makes typos, of course. That said, Professor Gitlin's typos remain in print, at the Bill Moyers site and at the new Salon.
Now, TIME’s cover headline for this mishmash is pointed as well as clever: “Is Truth Dead?”—clever, at any rate, in the eyes of readers old enough to remember the 1966 prototype: “Is God Dead?” A still more pointed treatment is that of Ellie Shechet at Jezebel—a redaction, or what be [sic] called reporting by subtraction. In the words of headline [sic], “We Redacted Everything That’s Not a Verifiably True Statement From Trump’s Time Interview About Truth.” Unsurprisingly, Jezebel ended up having to edit the transcript so that the passages blacked out were lengthier than the words left in.
Given his doctored claims about Trump's vast incoherence, the professor's uncorrected bungles may carry a special weight.
Long ago and far away: In November 1999, Cal Thomas "quoted" Naomi Wolf in a similar way. In his nationally syndicated column, he removed all punctuation from one of her spoken remarks, inviting readers in hundreds of newspapers to marvel at her incoherence.
Wolf was being viciously, misogynistically slimed at the time, all across the American "press corps." We can't name a single professor who ever returned from the south of France to issue a word of complaint.
The sliming of Wolf sent Bush you-know-where. The sliming itself was an oozing disgrace. Did any professor complain?