MONDAY, MAY 6, 2019

Starting tomorrow, Basic Skill Levels Down:
It was the featured, front-page essay in yesterday's New York Times Sunday Review. It ran beneath a conspiratorial headline:
Men Invented ‘Likability.’ Guess Who Benefits.
A hint of conspiracy was already in the air. It continued in the essay's first paragraph:
POTTER (5/5/19): If the supposedly unlikable Hillary Clinton didn’t break the highest, hardest glass ceiling in 2016, she made enough cracks in it to encourage others to try again: Six women are competing for the Democratic nomination today. But guess what? We don’t seem to like them either.
You can possibly begin to hear what was apparently being said.

For what's it's worth, Candidate Clinton's "supposedly unlikable" problem didn't keep her from winning the popular vote in 2016 by almost 3 million votes. The other candidate—he was a man—was seen as perhaps less likable.

That said, Professor Potter seemed to hinting at something different in that opening paragraph. Six women are running for president this year, she said—and "we don’t seem to like them either."

Basic skill levels were way, way down as the professor continued. It ought to be an embarrassment to see that her third paragraph could get published at all, let alone in the New York Times, our nation's most famous newspaper:
POTTER (continuing directly): As Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and others jumped into the race, each seemed to affirm the new power of women in 2019, a power that was born when President Trump was sworn into office, exploded during #MeToo and came into its own during the 2018 midterms.

But no female candidate has yet led the polls. The men keep joining—Michael Bennet this week, Joe Biden the last—and keep garnering glowing press coverage. Although Mr. Biden fumbled two previous presidential bids, we are told he has “crossover appeal”; Bernie Sanders has been admired by this newspaper as “immune to intimidation”; and Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay man nominated for president, is “very authentic.” By contrast Ms. Harris is “hard to define”; Ms. Klobuchar is “mean”; and Ms. Warren is a “wonky professor” who—you guessed it—is “not likable enough.” Seeing comments like this, Mrs. Clinton said wryly in January, “really takes me back.”
Has Candidate Biden really received "glowing press coverage," full stop? Or is that perhaps a bit of a fantasy, delivered live and direct from the kingdom of critical theory?

Has the New York Times fawned over Candidate Sanders? Does anyone really believe that?

In a similar vein, have Candidates Harris, Klobuchar and Warren really received some sort of unremitting negative coverage? Did anybody take a look at Harris' coverage last week?

Claire Bond Potter is a professor of history at the New School. As she tried to establish her apparent claim, she cherry-picked her quotations about those candidates in much the way an indolent high school sophomore might.

It's stunning to think that nonsense like that could emerge from the pen of a full professor. It's stunning to see such obvious nonsense get published by the New York Times on one of its highest platforms.

It's stunning to see the Times do that. And yet it's not stunning at all!

That absurdly cherry-picked passel of quotes is a good example of what we might call Basic Skill Levels Down. In this instance, basic skill levels were way, way down among the professoriate, and at our most famous newspaper.

Alas! We live in a time when any bullroar is A-OK as long as it seems to advance some pre-approved tribal narrative. Journalistic work doesn't have to make traditional sense in this era of Skill Levels Down.

Starting tomorrow, we'll examine this remarkable problem throughout the course of the week. It's all about tribal story-line now. Despite claims that man [sic] is "the rational animal," we live in an age which is characterized by Basic Skill Levels Down!

Last week, we began a month of reports with an introductory series entitled Leadership Down. Within our floundering public discourse, destructive deficits of leadership have been apparent for decades.

This lack of leadership has led to our current failed situation. Last week's introductory reports went exactly like this:
Tuesday, April 30: A disordered president reached a milestone. But so did Morning Joe!

Thursday, May 2: One corporate cable star's recent adventures track decades of self-defeat!

Friday, May 3: Outstanding youngsters who starred at Yale seem clueless about recent past!

Saturday, May 4: The mainstream press corps still [HEART] "gaffes!" It's one part of Leadership Down.
The liberal world has been failed by its leadership cadres for at least three decades now. All this week, we'll be exploring the basic problem of Basic Skill Levels Down!

Current plans for future reports: As currently planned, our month of reports will proceed as shown:
This week: Basic Skill Levels Down

Next week: The Rise of Leadership Down

The week of May 20: Professoriate Down
Incomparably, this will set the stage for Professor Horwich's work. Having said that, let's try to remember—it's all anthropology now!


  1. "We don’t seem to like them either."

    Indeed. Like Noam Chomsky (I believe) said, in a 'liberal democracy' the liberal elite market their narratives and their politicians, just like they market soap or perfume.

    One important function of the goebbelsian establishment media is to make some of them 'likable' and others 'deplorable'. Jeez...

    1. I have nothing to add to Kaitlyn Houston's devastating takedown of Mao's idiocy.
      Nice work Kaitlyn.

  2. "For what's it's worth, Candidate Clinton's "supposedly unlikable" problem didn't keep her from winning the popular vote in 2016 by almost 3 million votes. The other candidate—he was a man—was seen as perhaps less likable."

    Clinton's supposed likeability problem was raised during Obama's campaign. Remember him telling her that she was likeable enough? You cannot argue that Obama was less likeable than Clinton given that one of his strengths was charisma. Come on, Somerby.

  3. Someone who goes to work everyday and ignores their critics and focuses on the job at hand, day after day is certainly likeable in my book. That's Hillary.

  4. From two months ago:

    “Gene Lyons' column from last week!

    SATURDAY, MARCH 2, 2019”

    (Quoting Lyons):

    “[T]he kinds of insulting trivialities the nation's self-infatuated pundit class have long used to ridicule previous Democratic candidates are already in evidence”

    Somerby has taken great pains to show precisely this, that the press creates simplistic narratives about candidates.

    Now here today, when Potter talks about the special role misogyny plays in the narratives about female candidates or those candidates’ acceptance by the voters, Somerby doubts whether the narratives really exist.

    Of course male politicians are subjected to these narratives as well. That doesn’t change the fact that misogyny plays a unique role where women candidates are concerned.

    And for what it’s worth, Hillary’s narrow loss in the electoral college was clearly driven by misogyny in important ways, both in driving swing voters or former Obama voters away, as well as causing some Democratic voters to stay home. And it should be noted that Potter is talking about *Democrats* and primary voters, not the general public. Yes, even Democrats display misogyny.

  5. Somerby rebuts Potter's claims with nothing but name-calling. He has a Nexus subscription. He could easily have done a name-mention search just to see whether the same amount of coverage is occurring. Kevin Drum would have done something like that. Instead, he leaves it up to vague recollection of what he thinks he read last week (does he really read every paper back to front, every day)?

    Then he claims failure by the liberal leadership. Is he referring to Potter or to the NY Times with this? Are either of them part of the liberal leadership? I don't think so.

    Biden has been receiving coverage for weeks ahead of any announcement, most of it positive. Who else got that? Bernie seems to have become a political icon. The rest of the male candidates have been receiving far more coverage and more favorable coverage. This is abetted by Bernie bros (former members of Bernie's campaign staff) who have been attacking the female candidates as soon as they have announced. That is the source of the Klobuchar staff-abuse story, for example.

    I view Potter's complaint as a preemptive attempt to place the media and campaigns on notice that women will not tolerate more of the treatment Hillary Clinton received. That women are watching what happens and will be vocal in their complaints this time around. Hillary didn't complain because she didn't want to run as a woman, and because she didn't want to be seen as not tough enough or needing special treatment. That was a mistake, in my opinion, because the media imbalance aided Trump and there was no one speaking out against the unfairness of her treatment except her surrogates, who were perhaps told to tone it down on the feminist stuff.

    Somerby now wishes to dismiss any complaints as feminism gone wild. Given the behavior of the media last time around, his labeling and especially his attack on Potter is not the way any liberal would respond to this issue. Once again, his comments could have originated on a Men's Right subreddit and it is clear he doesn't want the "girls" to be able to stick up for themselves when the guys receive the bulk of the positive coverage and women are mentioned only when someone complains about them, as happened to Hillary.

    They are even portraying Elizabeth Warren's policy proposals as "wonkishness" and a liability -- just as they did with Hillary. Aren't candidates supposed to propose ways to address problems?

    That's why, if Somerby and the media keep this up, I will vote for Trump before I vote for any of the male candidates. If that works for angry white men who are mad about losing jobs, perhaps it can work for angry white women who are sick of having their complaints dismissed, being gaslighted by guys like Somerby, having their candidates run out of the presidency by Comey and Russian interference, and then being told it was their fault.

  6. “In the end, Candidate Clinton didn't overcome the various obstacles which lay between her and the White House. In part, she didn't overcome because she was a very poor candidate this time around”


    Has Somerby ever said such a thing about Al Gore?

  7. Kornaki will be going to the board soon enough. To point out the discrepancies and tell us what is what.

    I do not feel well. I always kiss those I like in the darkness.

  8. The NY Times has web pages devoted to each candidate, where they list recent articles, opinion pieces, letters published. If you look at those pages, you can see how frequently candidates have articles by the dates listed. You can see pretty readily whether the coverage is negative or positive.

    Comparing Bernie with Warren:

    1. You have to scroll down much further on Bernie's page than on Warren's before you get to dates in March. That means Bernie is getting more coverage -- being discussed in articles more frequently.

    2. More of the recent articles about Warren are critical than those listed for Bernie. For Warren, there are several critical articles about her student debt plan, one with a headline suggesting hers is the wrong plan, and a critical letter to the editor. There is a 3/31 article about her losing her finance director as her campaign struggles (a bit early to use such language about anyone's campaign). On 5/4 there is a negative opinion article on her student debt plan.

    3. Bernie and Biden are repeatedly compared and contrasted and discussed as the front runners. There are three articles about Bernie's millionaire status, each saying only that his wealth is embarrassing but none criticizing him for hypocrisy. One article is about Bernie releasing 10 years of returns, like Clinton did, now that he may run against Trump. There is coverage of his accusations against the Center for American Progress who the article says he accuses of smears. So, while these might be considered negatives, the tone is neutral and the situation is framed the way Bernie presents it, not the way his critics might. There were many more op-eds about Sanders and Biden together and separately (Paul Krugman discusses him frequently).

    4. Warren has proposed far more policy plans than Sanders (just based on this time period of April & May). Sanders talked about Medicare for all. The rest of the coverage was about his tax returns and Millionaire status and his being a front-runner like Biden and his electability, and his accusation against CAP. Warren presented a student debt plan and a plan to protect public lands and talked about fixing Capitalism. Horse-race articles talked about her fundraising $6 million, visits to Iowa and 15 paid staff. The remaining coverage was negative about her policy proposals and her supposed campaign struggles. She is already being portrayed as a failing candidate despite raising exactly the same amount as most of the other candidates, male and female.

    These differences are not particularly subtle but you have to be looking for them to notice them. Otherwise it just seems appropriate to compare Bernie and Biden and not Biden and anyone else, which makes it less likely female candidates will be taken seriously by voters.

    I compared Warren and Bernie because they are the most similar of those running. Comparing Klobuchar against Biden will give you a starker difference.

    Watching the Barr hearing, I was most impressed by Harris and by Klobuchar. Klobuchar talked about the bipartisan legislation to protect the next election and the opposition from Trump and the Republicans and the DOJ. Harris demonstrated her prosecutorial skills. Both women were impressive. The public deserves to know that and shouldn't have to watch CSPAN to find it out.

  9. When you Google New York Times Biden, then visit the NY Times page that summarizes Biden's press coverage, you have to scroll all the way down to the bottom just to get to May 2. So there is a great deal more coverage of Biden than of Bernie or any of the rest of the field. Between today and May 2, much of the coverage is negative. It is all horse race coverage -- is Biden electable, Dowd's can he play foul garbage, is he too Clinton-ish or too old-fashioned or too civil, etc. Nothing yet criticizing his record or plans (he hasn't stated any yet). But I was surprised by how negative it is. That suggests to me that the Times doesn't want to see Biden run and they are working hard to knock him down.

    Amy Klobuchar's articles are not listed in chronological order. They start with her announcement in Feb, then you have to go to the next page to find anything in April. Nothing in May. On the second page, they are listed in reverse order (oldest first) again, that page ending where the previous one left off. That makes it very difficult to search for info about her.

    On May 3, she announced a $100 billion plan to address mental illness and addiction (called a "focus" by the article). You have to go to page 3 to find this info. Why is her activity listed in such an odd way? Other than this, all of the articles are horse race stories, about visiting a lot of states in one month or sitting on a panel about women in politics. She is being portrayed as an inconsequential lightweight and I believe the mixing up of dates and stories on her NY Times web page contributes to such a picture by making her activities seem incoherent.

    Just a brief glance at these two candidates should make it pretty obvious that they are being treated dramatically different by the NY Times. Ask yourself what Klobuchar could possibly do to capture the same amount of attention for her campaign?

    When the media give way more attention to one candidate compared to another, and devote negative attention to one while giving positive attention to another, that coverage creates self-fulfilling impressions of the candidates that then become the memes that will be repeated to enhance or doom the efforts of the candidates themselves.

    It is already happening. Bernie and Biden are the BSDs of this election while Warren is struggling and Klobuchar is disorganized and inconsequential. How will female candidates break through this stereotyping once it becomes set in stone?

    This is Potter's point.

    1. Reasoning is illogical. Association fallacy. You bought a one-way ticket on the confirmation bias train. Smarten up. Stop being so stupid. Learn to reason. Very, very dumb reasoning here.

    2. Anyone can look at the articles themselves. Or try doing the same thing using the Washington Post. Or the CNN transcripts. Count how many were about Biden and Sanders compared to any of the female candidates. Then classify them as negative or positive (you'll find this easier than you think) and see what the proportions are for each of the candidates. Kevin Drum would make graphs. Data will speak for itself -- no reasoning needed.

    3. Do it yourself then cunt rag. In order for your claim to be logical, you would have to prove that the differences are based on gender alone. in other words, you could say the same thing about any number of variables like eye color or birth month or whatever. Stop messing around. Either say something that is smart and makes sense or get your dumb ass back in the kitchen and do the cooking and cleaning.

  10. The Week of May 20, Somerby is going to rant about something he titles "Professoriate Down".

    Here is a job description for College Professor.

    Notice that there is nothing in that description about leadership beyond the university or one's academic discipline (e.g., becoming a dean or dept chair).

    Somerby has gotten the notion that professors are supposed to save society from something, Neanderthals?. That isn't their job. Some professors are activists in their spare time, but it is not part of their role as professors. They do that as people. Expecting professors, as a group, to do anything except their jobs is pretty ridiculous, especially since they do not all agree about much.

    For example, Jordan Peterson is being an asshole. His comments and opinions about anything are not shared by psychologists and do not represent consensus in his field. He is a person sounding off, not a "leader" and not even anyone important in psychology. He gets a lot of attention because anyone can write a book these days and he is telling a certain group of men what they want to hear. That'll help you become a millionaire best-selling author any day -- ask Bernie.

    1. Hm. Maybe the Professors should be taking a more active role in the political rough-and-tumble. Certainly, Chomsky has. In fact, I think it used to be quite common.

      But Universities have become politicized, due to the generosity of fukhs like the Koches, and jeezus, who wants to lose tenure over some petty political bullshit?

      Best to lay low.


    2. There are 1.6 million professors in the US. The ones you see making public statements are a very small percentage of that total.

    3. Thanks for helping me make my point.


  11. “It's hard to deliver a message like that without seeming tribal, divisive. Among her other talents, Ocasio-Cortez has the type of demeanor which permits her to make such statements.”

    How quickly they fall:

    “If you were a female candidate, maybe you’d be called ‘unlikeable,’ ‘crazy,’ or ‘uninformed,'. But since you’re not, this inadequacy is accepted as normal.”
    —Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, May 6, 2019 in a Twitter discussion with Rick Scott

    Apparently, AOC’s skill level is down, way down, as she tries to advance some pre-approved tribal narrative. Is she part of a failed leadership cadre?

  12. Jews invented critical theory. Guess who benefits from it.

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