THE WAY WE LOOK: Some say we misread Petri's piece!


Interlude—Harvard kid reconsidered:
We may owe Alexandra Petri an apology and a restatement.

Or maybe not. We aren't exactly sure.

At issue is yesterday's fiery report about Petri's most recent weekly column in the Washington Post. When we read her column last Saturday morning, we took her to be mocking Trump supporters.

We've been told that other people have spied a different point of view in the satirical "ComPost" piece.

Who was Petri satirizing, parodying, commenting upon or mocking? Was she mocking Trump supporters? Or was she actually satirizing some of her colleagues, the ones who mock Trump supporters?

Even today, we aren't really sure. That said, we would have noted that second possibility if its existence had entered our heads.

Who was Petri satirizing in last Saturday's column? Before the body of the piece, she offered this italicized overview:
Since President Trump's approval rating now looks like something that got stuck to the bottom of my shoe, I joined the flood of journalists who went to Real America to gloat-see how the Trump supporters are getting along.
(Groan! We're transcribing that passage as it appeared in the hard-copy Post, and as it appears at Nexis. On line at the Post, the term "gloat-see" is rendered differently.)

Does that overview mean that Petri was satirizing, perhaps criticizing, her fellow journalists? That may be what that means. Except perhaps for this:

Is that premise accurate? Has a "flood of journalists" ventured to Real America to "gloat-see," or gloat about, Trump supporters? We're not aware of that.

It's true that many journalists have gone to Appalachia and/or the Rust Belt to interview Trump supporters. This has occurred at the Washington Post and pretty much everywhere else.

Generally, though, these reporters have been respectful toward Trump supporters. This has occasioned repeated push-back from us liberals, who have complained about their lack of disrespect.

Most recent example:

On Sunday, April 2, the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof described some interviews he did with Trump voters in Oklahoma. Kristof adopted a reportorial tone; we didn't see any gloating. At one point, he noted these Oklahomans' "resentment at Democrats for mocking Trump voters as dumb bigots."

On April 6, Kristof published a second column, noting "the torrent of venom" directed at these Trump voters by liberal readers. He complained that "Democratic anger" is causing people like us to "stereotype a vast and contradictory group of 63 million people."

On April 7, Paul Krugman wrote a column in which he seemed to snipe at Kristof's soft-hearted type. On April 8, Petri's column appeared.

By now, that reaction to Kristof's column constitutes part of a pattern. Back in December, Vox's Sarah Kliff went to Kentucky to interview Trump voters who, despite their votes for Trump, held insurance policies through Obamacare.

Kliff described the serious problems these people faced despite their Obamacare policies. Many liberals reacted by mocking the dumbness of the Trump voters, saying they should have known not to vote for Trump.

We can't think of any reporters or broadcasters who have gone to Real America to gloat about the situations faced by Trump voters. To the contrary! There has actually been a lot of complaining about the courtesy extended to Trump voters.

More examples:

Last month, Chris Hayes took Bernie Sanders to McDowell County, West Virginia for a town hall meeting. Hayes and Sanders were highly respectful of the situations faced by that county's Trump voters.

A few weeks later, Frank Rich published an angry screed in New York Magazine. "No Sympathy for the Hillbilly!" So read the headline on the essay by one of our tribe's biggest stars.

What "flood of journalists" has gone to "Real America" to "gloat-see" Trump supporters? We have no idea. For that reason, we're willing to admit it:

When we read Petri's column, it didn't even occur to us that she was satirizing a "flood of journalists" who were going to Real America and disrespecting Trump voters. We don't even know who those journalists are.

It seems to us that journalists have been unfailingly respectful toward Trump voters in these reporting trips. By way of contrast, repeated push-back has come from us liberals. In the rank and file and in the leadership, we have complained that these journalists haven't gloated enough.

Did Petri mean to satirize, indeed criticize, her fellow journalists for gloating? It's hard to satirize a phenomenon which isn't occurring. But if that's what Petri intended by her column, we greatly regret the alternate interpretation we placed upon it.

Who or what was Petri satirizing or burlesquing? We can't say we're real sure.

Having said that, we'll also say this. As a general matter, it tends to be a bad idea to play with racial and ethnic stereotypes in satirical attempts to support some stereotyped group.

We'll guess that many people read Petri's column in roughly the way we did—as the latest mocking discussion of those stupid Trump voters, with all their tobacco juice and their stupid ridiculous comments.

One day before, Krugman had basically said that Those People are stupid. So had Rich, not long before, in his "hillbilly" monologue.

This stereotype has been widely voiced within the liberal world. As a general matter, it's unwise to fight a stereotype by repeating its various totems. People will hear the familiar old sneers and that's pretty much all they will hear.

White working-class Trump supporters have been subjected to mountains of ridicule. This has often come from high-fallutin' "coastal elites" who seem unable to respect the people who have, to cite one example, gone down into the mines.

We don't seem able to care about people who, despite their expensive insurance policies, can't afford to see a doctor. It's just Those People, after all. Why should we blue-staters care?

What was the point of Petri's piece? We can't say we know. We think the Post should likely have put something else into print, where the point of view was more clear and the familiar old stereotypes weren't being tossed around.

That said, we hugely regret the interpretation we put on Petri's piece. Had we realized that another interpretation was possible, we would have noted that fact, or skipped the piece altogether.

We assume that Petri's a good, decent person. In our experience, most people are. Presumably, that includes the bulk of the people who go down into the mines.

(Bernie Sanders called them "heroes." We prefer that to calling them dopes.)

Presumably, that also includes the bulk of the women in rural Kentucky who can't afford to see a doctor despite their Obamacare.

In our experience, most people are good decent people. We're willing to say that a few of our tribe's most famous leaders could possibly use some more work.

Tomorrow: Do we liberals look condescending? Do we seem to privilegesplain?


  1. If she is mocking fellow journalists, the piece works as satire and fairly effective humor. If she wasn't, it doesn't, and is only funny to the type of intellect that would find blackface funny.

  2. "The idea that moral hypocrisy hurts you among evangelical voters is not true, if you're sound on all of the fundamentals," said Wayne Flynt, an ordained Baptist minister and one of Alabama's pre-eminent historians. "Being sound on the fundamentals depends on what the evangelical community has decided the fundamentals have become. At this time what is fundamental is hating liberals, hating Obama, hating abortion and hating same-sex marriage."

    1. I just read this on in the comments.

      I think this says it all.

      "In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported the U.S. launching missile strikes against Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against civilians.

      A new Post-ABC poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support Donald Trump's decision to launch strikes on Syria for the same reason. Only 11 percent are opposed."

      Those same two polls showed that 38% of Democrats supported Obama's proposed missile strikes in 2013, while 37% support Trump's strike last week."

  3. Bob,
    Please stop pretending that you're a liberal. No one is buying your lie anymore.

    1. Back in the Clinton hunting days he would say "I'm not that liberal." Let's just say if you went to college with him you are apt to get a fairer shake.

    2. Dave the Guitar PlayerApril 12, 2017 at 12:53 PM

      Bob has a blog on how the media covers events focused on criticism of the "liberal" media. You don't have to agree with the opinions he expresses. I think he believes that it is important for liberals to be critical of their data sources. If criticism of the liberal media (and excluding the conservative media) disqualifies someone from self-identifying as a "liberal", that is your opinion.

    3. Everything anyone writes is their opinion.

    4. "We aren't exactly sure."

      So Somerby assumes the worst for going on 3 posts. Like Deadbeat Donald, he doubles down and never admits the possibility that he was mistaken.

    5. "never admits the possibility that he was mistaken" - twitter sucks

      "But if that's what Petri intended by her column, we greatly regret the alternate interpretation we placed upon it." - Bob in the post that twitter sucks comments upon

    6. "But if that's what Petri intended by her column, we greatly regret the alternate interpretation we placed upon it."

      If that ambiguous statement by Somerby is meant to be an apology, then we greatly regret the alternate interpretation we placed upon it.

  4. Weak Tea satire that can be read both ways has been around for some time now, I think of Howard Stern's unfunny bit about soldiers in Vietnam, awful work, except that it can be read both ways.
    That Bob is easily confused should not surprise, but if the piece was worth writing or thinking about it's point would not be in question in the first place.

  5. Also, when Bob writes "Basically said" in italics you know, basically, it wasn't said.

    1. Indeed. Somerby has badly mischaracterized what Frank Rich said in his "No Sympathy for the Hillbilly" piece because he hates Frank Rich for saying unkind things about Clinton and Gore. In fact, in his first attack on Rich's piece he didn't even bother to discuss what Rich had written but instead devoted himself to a regurgitation of his previous 18 years of attacks on Rich.

      B. Somerby bears grudes in a manner which reminds one of D. Trump.

  6. She didn't mean the word gloat to be taken seriously, any more than the rest of the peice. What has happened to Somerby's sense of humor?

    What has happened to the insistence that comedians require more latitude because their job involves occasionally offending people?

  7. "Has a "flood of journalists" ventured to Real America to "gloat-see," or gloat about, Trump supporters?"

    Not at all. Instead, they started with their favorite fiction, that the United States does not have a white supremacy problem. From there, no need to go to "Real America", just throw a bunch of nonsense around (rigged economy*, hurt fee fees, etc) to excuse the white supremacy.

    *the rigged economy isn't nonsense. The thought that Trump voters give a shit about the rigged economy is the nonsense (see Trump handing the economy to Wall Street and not getting any pushback on it from "Real America".

    1. Totally boring. What's next 1:03, your report that water is wet?

  8. However Ms. Petri intended her piece, I agree with Bob's point that "it's unwise to fight a stereotype by repeating its various totems."
    Once something is published it spreads, only to be advanced by Fox, et alia, showing our disdain for Those, the Hillbillies.

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  10. I think that hyphen in "gloat-see" should have been am em-dash, indicating a break in the text. In other words what I read was that she went to gloat by seeing how Trump supporters are getting along, which she expected to be badly, which would please her. Anyway, I think you're overthinking it and paying it more attention than it deserves. Aren't there any kittens stuck atop telephone poles we can read about?

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