Attempts to explain what Weisman said!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15, 2019

When paraphrase doesn't make sense:
Rightly or wrong, Jonathan Weisman has been demoted from his position at the New York Times. Basically, he's been demoted on a morals charge—on a charge of repeated racist tweeting.

In yesterday's Washington Post, Paul Farhi tried to explain what happened. In our view, Farhi is routinely sensible and competent. That makes his attempt to explain Weisman's misconduct intriguing.

What exactly did Weisman say that got him in such hot water? This is the way Farhi began—and this doesn't exactly make sense:
FARHI (8/14/19): The New York Times demoted one of its Washington editors on Tuesday as punishment for sparking controversy last week with tweets about Democratic members of Congress and for a related run-in with an author.

The editor, Jonathan Weisman, came under fire for tweets questioning whether Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) actually represented the Midwest and whether Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) represented the Deep South, given that their districts are primarily urban and heavily minority.
Just for the record, Rep. Tlaib doesn't "actually represent the Midwest." Neither does Rep. Omar.

Tlaib represents Michigan's 13th congressional district. In a similar sense. Rep. Lewis doesn't "represent the Deep South." According to the Constitution, he doesn't represent a region; he represents one particular congressional district.

It may sound like we're splitting hairs; in a way, that's exactly the point. You see, Farhi is an experienced, competent professional writer. As a general matter, he knows how to compose clear, concise, accurate statements—statements which are neither slightly puzzling nor slightly off-key and off-kilter.

In yesterday's report, the account of this matter with which he began didn't exactly make clear, concise sense. As he continued, we began to hear Weisman's words of defense, and we learned of the overall charge:
FARHI (continuing directly): Weisman said he was questioning whether the districts truly reflected the broader politics of their regions, which are predominantly white and more rural. He deleted the tweets after they were roundly criticized as racist.
Hmm. According to Weisman, he had been tryin to make what sounds like a fairly obvious point—the districts those four people represent aren't typical of the wider regions in which the districts are located.

All in all, that would be a fairly obvious point. For the record, Doggett represents a district in Austin, which is often said to be unlike the rest of Texas. Again for the record, Weinstein referred to Doggett's district within the broader context of the state of Texas. He didn't make any comment about Doggett's connection to "the deep South."

At any rate, the larger charge against Weisman turns out to have been "racism." The problem for Weisman began with those tweets about Tlaib, Omar, Lewis and Doggett.

That said, it's amusing to see the difficulty various journalists have had explaining just what Weisman said which was so offensive. Here's Rebecca Fishbein's paraphrase in Jezebel:

"Weisman’s (rather small) fall began late last month, when he tweeted out a wild thread suggesting that people of color from cities don’t represent the areas they’re from."

According to Fishbein's snarky account, Weisman suggested that Tlaib, Omar and Lewis "don't represent the areas they're from." Once again, we're not entirely sure what that's supposed to mean, and we might as well note that Rep. Doggett, who rounded out The Weisman Four, isn't a "person of color." The fellow is old and he's "white."

What in the world did Weisman say which started all the trouble? In what way did his original tweet call up a "racism" charge?

We have no view on Weisman's overall work, but it seems to us that his initial offense was no real offense at all. In that sense, this intriguing hubbub may shine some light on the way our progressive politics (and journalism) often work at this time.

We'll return to this topic in the coming days. But did Jonathan Weisman really question whether Tlaib and Omar "actually represent the Midwest?"

Did he really suggest that "people of color from cities" (plus one white guy) "don’t represent the areas they’re from," whatever that might mean? And if he did make some such suggestion, what would be wrong with that? Is Tlaib supposed to represents the views of militia groups on the Upper Peninsula?

A final question: Since these people don't represent entire regions—since they don't even exactly represent the (vaguer) "areas they're from"—is it possible that a person could say some such thing without requiring a bristling response in the form of an R-bomb?

Farhi is a cool, clear, competent writer; Fishbein writes for a publication which stresses snark and excitement. But what exactly did Weisman tweet, and was it really racist?

These writers' attempts at paraphrase don't exactly seem to make sense. Were they struggling to stay in line with a murky charge—a charge we all agree to affirm on a tribal basis?

This episode is intriguing. We'll stumble forward from here.

26 comments:

  1. “What in the world did Weisman say which started all the trouble? In what way did his original tweet call up a "racism" charge?”

    Why not start with what Weisman actually said, the context in which he said it, and the reasons for his demotion that might have been given by his employer? Was there more to it than just this single incident? Then you can decide what to think about the paraphrases.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Uh-huh, trouble in zombie paradise. Clash of liberal 'identities'.

    Viva Tlaib, viva Omar - you go girls, destroy the zombie cult.

    Pass the popcorn.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Note how important the missing quantifier is. Consider 3 sentences:

    1. Weisman suggested that in general people of color from cities don’t represent the areas they’re from.

    2. Weisman suggested that two specific people of color from cities don’t represent the areas they’re from.

    3. Weisman suggested that people of color from cities don’t represent the areas they’re from.

    #1 sounds like racism. #2 is is a specific statement about specific people, a statement that appears to be true, or, at least, reasonable. #3 is ambiguous. It could mean either #1 or #2.

    When #3 is stated, it is correct, according to meaning #2, but it's racist according to meaning #1. This sort of confusion leads to the idea that any criticism of any person color is racist -- a common belief among liberals.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is what Weisman said: "“Saying @RashidaTlaib (D-Detroit) and @IlhanMN (D-Minneapolis) are from the Midwest is like saying @RepLloydDoggett (D-Austin) is from Texas or @repjohnlewis (D-Atlanta) is from the Deep South,” Mr. Weisman wrote. “C’mon.”

    The first three legislators clearly are from the regions/places Weisman says, in effect, that they are not from -- the Midwest and Texas. (Lewis arguably is not from the "Deep South," though the precise geographical boundaries of that region are what?)

    The fairly clear implication of Weisman's post (and its "C'mon" in particular) is that the population of the Midwest and Texas consists by and large of people who are fundamentally unlike those three legislators and thus that any attempt to refer to the first two as Midwesterners and the third as a Texan is an act of deceptive/nonsensical propaganda or some such.

    And how are these three legislators fundamentally unlike the representative midwesterner or Texan? Their party affiliation? Not necessarily. Their policy views? Not necessarily. Their race? For sure that's what Weisman had in mind, and that's what his "C'mon" was based on. It was his way of saying that these legislators, in relation to the true nature of the regions in which they actually reside and have been elected to office, are, by virtue of their race, necessarily and obviously unrepresentative, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is being stupid or silly and deserves to be told "Cmon."

    Is Weisman's "Cmon" the most racist remark imaginable? No. Is it racist in ways and to a degree that ill befits a person in Weisman's position. IMO, you bet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Weisman made an ass of himself, clearly. John Lewis, US Representative from Georgia's 5th congressional district (Atlanta and surrounding suburbs) is not "from the deep south". That's what this elite sneering NY Times editor claimed. John Lewis, born to sharecroppers in Alabama, a true civil rights warrior including leading the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964, is not from the deep south, sneered this elite NY Times deputy editor.

      Excuse us, Bob, for being a little sensitive. We already know we are not "real 'Muricans" from the great "heartland". We apologize for being so bold as to believe that the unnatural enclaves in the pure white MW and deep south actually represent people who live in those regions. We will try to behave ourselves in the future.

      Just give me a clue, how would you describe the district in 5th Congressional district of Georgia. Maybe we should ask General Sherman.

      Delete
    2. Larry Kart -- liberals say blacks are different are from whites when they want to. Liberals promote affirmative action. Many of them promote the ideas of White Privilege and Slavery Reparations.

      OTOH, when someone says that a black man is different from his white neighbors, liberals say that statement is racist.

      Delete
    3. "OTOH, when someone says that a black man is different from his white neighbors, liberals say that statement is racist."

      That's not what Weisman said. He said/implied (with "Cmon") that there's no way that those three racially different from many Midwesterners and Texans legislators could/should be thought of as real Midwesterners or Texans.

      Delete
    4. He said/implied (with "Cmon") that there's no way that those three racially different from many Midwesterners and Texans legislators could/should be thought of as real Midwesterners or Texans.

      No, he said that four Representatives (two from the midwest, one from Texas, and one from the Deep South) cannot be cited as representative of the general political tenor of their regions.

      Rep. John Lewis is a real Georgian, but of the 16 members of Congress from Georgia, 11 are Republicans, and the state hasn't voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate in 28 years.

      Delete
    5. @deadrat
      “he said that four Representatives (two from the midwest, one from Texas, and one from the Deep South) cannot be cited as representative of the general political tenor of their regions.”

      No, he did not say that. That is your paraphrase, presumably. What he actually said was:

      “Saying @RashidaTlaib (D-Detroit) and @IlhanMN (D-Minneapolis) are from the Midwest is like saying @RepLloydDoggett (D-Austin) is from Texas or @repjohnlewis (D-Atlanta) is from the Deep South. C’mon.”

      Delete
    6. That is your paraphrase, presumably.

      Thank you, Captain Obvious. I didn’t put quotes around my statement. And “presumably”? What does that mean?

      You have to read for comprehension, which means you have to read in context. Otherwise you end up as dumb as a ball peen hammer.

      What other reasonable interpretation is there? An ex-Senator give a generalization about the politics of the midwest; a tweeter cites exceptions to rebut her; a NYT editor cites other exceptions to rebut the tweeter.

      If you don’t understand that much, then you have to conclude that the editor is claiming that two Reps from the midwest aren’t from the midwest or that they don’t represent their own districts. Or like another of the Ignorami Anonymi (or was that you?) that the editor mentioned a white Congressman to disguise the fact that he’s racist.

      Literal mindedness is the province of people like David in Cal. That should be a sobering thought for you to consider.

      Delete
  5. So I have an important question to ask of the other readers here.

    If you find yourself in a crowded elevator and you suddenly smell a sharply foul odor, do you:

    a) Say nothing and attempt to ignore the unpleasant situation

    b) Deny any and all involvement in the production of the odor

    c) Blame it on the person to your left

    d) Claim complete responsibility for its production, even if it wasn't yours!

    If you chose the last option, then you should definitely check out my favorite website, MrMethane.com!

    You will be most pleased.

    Robin

    ReplyDelete
  6. To take this a step further, calling these minority members of congress "unrepresentative" is a way of delegitimizing their elected role, much as the birthers delegitimized Obama by claiming he had no right to the office because he was born elsewhere. The basis for this was race.

    Throwing in a red herring, the white senator from Austin, is camouflage of the racial basis for the comment.

    I doubt there is any organization that would demote an employee without investigation. There is more to this story than the paraphrases that Somerby focuses on. The details are perhaps not being revealed in order to protect the person involved.

    Somerby doesn't like to believe that any cases of racism are genuine. Some are. An editor at a major paper needs to approach all stories without racial bias. Somerby wants to add this event to the list of grievances conservatives pile up to ridicule liberal PC culture. That is not what liberals do and once again, Somerby behaves just like David in Cal when he jumps on this cause and assumes the worst, that liberals are picking on a poor guy for a tweet that anyone would have made, seeing racism where none was intended. Conservative outrage is now a major theme here at TDH.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. calling these minority members of congress "unrepresentative" is a way of delegitimizing their elected role

      No, it isn’t. it just means that their political views are not the majority view in their region, and that you shouldn’t generalize from their districts to a wider area.

      Throwing in a red herring, the white senator from Austin, is camouflage of the racial basis for the comment.

      No, there isn’t a “white senator from Austin,” and no it’s not a red herring. The Rep from Austin is unusual for his state’s delegation. Don’t extrapolate from him to the rest of the state. That’s all it means.

      I doubt there is any organization that would demote an employee without investigation.

      That’s adorable.

      No, not adorable. What’s that other thing? Oh, yeah.

      Dumb as a ball peen hammer.

      Conservative outrage is now a major theme here at TDH.

      You think conservatives are outraged at personnel change at the NYT?

      Delete
    2. @deadrat
      “just means that their political views are not the majority view in their region, and that you shouldn’t generalize from their districts to a wider area.”

      Which political views of theirs aren’t the majority views? All of them? Some of them? This statement of yours precisely illustrates the “delegitimization” of the views of people like Omar or Tlaib, and indeed Bernie and Elizabeth because it assumes “their (unspecified) political views” are “of course” not the majority view. Data to support this pearl of wisdom are seldom provided to prove it. It is a time-tested technique of the media to characterize progressive politics as outside the mainstream in order to pull Democratic politicians back to the center and delegitimize the left. Anyone who thinks otherwise is dumb as a hacksaw blade.

      “there isn’t a “white senator from Austin,”

      And there isn’t an editor named Weinstein who was recently demoted by the NYT: “Again for the record, Weinstein referred to Doggett's district within the broader context of the state of Texas.”

      “Don’t extrapolate from him to the rest of the state.”

      Given that Pew research shows that 39% of Texans are Republican or lean Republican compared with 40% who are Democratic or lean Democratic, your statement doesn’t match the reality on the ground.

      “Dumb as a ball peen hammer.”

      We would phrase it as “dumb as a dead rat, but YMMV.”

      “You think conservatives are outraged at personnel change at the NYT?”

      Possibly. They are outraged at every little thing. But of course you ignore all of the preceding sentences in the paragraph containing this assertion (“Conservative outrage is now a major theme here at TDH.”). Somerby is ascribing Weisman’s demotion to liberals’ supposedly phony PC concerns about racism, and conservatives are indeed outraged by liberal accusations of racism. Trump, in his bumbling way, has already tweeted about Weisman’s demotion.

      Delete
    3. Which political views of theirs aren’t the majority views?

      For fuck’s sake, the political view that promises from politicians of federally-funded programs ("free stuff") are unpopular. Try to focus.

      This statement of yours precisely illustrates the “delegitimization” of the views of people like Omar or Tlaib,

      Oh, bullshit. And It’s not my statement. It’s Claire McCaskill’s. Take it up with her.

      And there isn’t an editor named Weinstein who was recently demoted by the NYT:

      No, Weinstein still exists. Still no white Senator from Austin.

      Pew Research? Fuck Pew Research and party designation. Texas went for Trump by 9 points, and the only reason it wasn’t larger was that the Libertarian got 3%. Texas hasn’t voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter. It’s been over 30 years since a Democrat was elected Senator from Texas. Of the 27 statewide electoral offices in Texas, 26 are held by Republicans, and one is vacant.

      So tell me again how Lloyd Doggett is a bellwether for Texas. But don’t tell me he’s a Senator.

      OK, I concede the point about conservatives. They’re the biggest snowflakes around.

      Delete
    4. Midwesterners don't like politicians offering federally-funded programs which benefit black people.

      Fixed it for you.

      Delete
  7. Somerby seems to be playing it dumb here. Now it is true that the Farhi article doesn't put the tweet in any context. Somerby takes advantage of that to write:

    "Hmm. According to Weisman, he had been trying to make what sounds like a fairly obvious point-the districts those four people represent aren't typical of the wider regions in which the districts are located. All in all, that would be a fairly obvious point."

    If it's "a fairly obvious point," why would Weisman be making it? Here's what I'm sure Somerby is well aware of but has left out. Weisman's tweet was in response to someone else's tweet.

    >>>>>>>>>>>
    Waleed Shahid @_waleedshahid

    "Free stuff from the government does not play well in the Midwest." -Claire McCaskill

    1)@Rashidia Talib + IlhanMN are also from the Midwest....

    >>>>>>>>>>>

    Weismann embedded that tweet and responded:

    >>>>>>>>>>>
    (((JonathanWeisman))) @JonathanWeis...
    "Saying @RashidaTlaib (D-Detroit) and @IlhanMN (D-Minneapolis) are from the Midwest is like saying @RepLloydDoggett (D-Austin) is from Texas or @repjohnlewis (D-Atlanta) is from the Deep South. C'mon."

    >>>>>>>>>>>

    As long as Somerby wants to play dumb, let me explain it to him. Former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri who lost her seat in 2018, made a categorical statement about the preferences of the Midwest as an MSNBC analyst following the second round Democratic debate which Sens. Sanders and Warren dominated. She did so despite the fact that not only is Missouri not the entire Midwest and but she, herself, has never at any time in her life been enlisted in one of the "militia groups on the Upper Peninsula."

    Yet neither Weisman nor Somerby thinks it's odd that the recently defeated at the polls McCaskill from Missouri would be explaining what the political preferences of the people of an entire region of the country are to MSNBC viewers. LINK What ends up having both Weisman and Somerby upset, instead, is the suggestion by Waleed Shahid that the incumbency of two other politicians, one from Michigan, one from Minnesota, are data points indicating what a majority of the Midwest voters want might be different from what McCaskill claims.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If it's "a fairly obvious point," why would Weisman be making it?

      You think people readily understand fairly obvious points? Reading TDH’s commentariat should have long ago disabused you of that notion.

      OK, so Claire McCaskill said, “"Free stuff from the government does not play well in the Midwest."

      This is an easily refuted statement, as the people in the midwest love free stuff from the government. McCaskill’s own state, Missouri, gets annually about half again as many federal tax dollars as it sends to the Treasury. So let’s assume that McCaskill meant, “Pretending to be independent of the federal government is a fondly-held fantasy of people in the midwest, who thereby won’t vote for politicians who promise ‘free stuff’ from the feds even as they depend on said free stuff.”

      Waleed Shahid then tweets “@RashidaTlaib + @IlhanMN are also from the Midwest.”

      I’m not exactly sure what that means. Do Tlaib and Omar love free stuff from the government? Are they promising free stuff from the government? Since the tweet also quoted McCaskill, one reasonable guess is that Shahid meant to say that McCaskill is wrong about the general disposition of midwesterners, and the two Representatives are proof of McCaskill’s mistake.

      Along comes Weisman who points out that Tlaib and Omar are as large outliers in the midwest as John Lewis is in the deep south. In other words, that McCaskill is right about the midwest in general and you can’t rebut her claim by citing exceptions.

      Finally comes the NYT, which is shocked to conclude that Weisman thinks that the two Representatives (from Michigan and Minnesota, respectively) aren’t actually from the midwest. And, of course, that such a view is racist.

      Delete
    2. @deadrat
      Sparky, did you watch McCaskill’s full post-debate remarks on MSNBC? They were in response to an idiotic question from Brian Williams, something about “green jobs” and taking peoples’ F-150’s away. You know, the usual clueless, elitist Williams bullshit. Centrist McCaskill, who apparently is so knowledgeable about what real midwesterners want that she lost her senate seat, is telling us why Bernie and Elizabeth’s politics won’t work in the “Midwest”, or at least in the Midwest in her mind, the fantasy version where she won re-election by steering clear of nasty progressive politics.

      This is how progressive politics get sidelined and tainted by the mainstream media, and this is the part of the story that Somerby has missed. He also missed the fact that the Times was responding to significant pushback from progressives.

      And you are mixing up the reason why the Times demoted Weisman with the paraphrases that Somerby quotes from. The Times stated that Weisman “had been demoted and would no longer oversee the paper’s congressional correspondents because he repeatedly posted messages on social media about race and politics that showed what the paper called “serious lapses in judgment.””

      Got it, Sparky?

      Delete
    3. Sparky, did you watch McCaskill’s full post-debate remarks on MSNBC? They were in response to an idiotic question from Brian Williams,

      Hey, Sparky! That’s my shtick. Get your own.

      And do you think I give a fuck about what McCaskill has to say in response to a question from an empty suit like Williams?

      Try to follow along:

      1. McCaskill made a generalization about reactionary midwest politics. She’s right, she’s wrong, she’s somewhere in between. Doesn’t matter.

      2. Someone tweets that she’s wrong because he can find a couple of liberal Reps from midwestern districts.

      3. A NYT editor refuses to credit those exceptions as rebuttal to McCaskill because they’re outliers. And he cites other examples to make his point.

      4. The clueless weigh in, and the NYT loses its shit and demotes the editor.

      Then this bastion of journalistic courage makes noise about the editor’s “serious lapses in judgment,” and, of course, you buy it. I’ll bet if the NYT offered you one of those bridges that connect to its borough, you’d jump at the chance to buy it.

      On the other hand, the NYT ought to be an expert by now in serious lapses in judgment. They’ve had enough practice.

      What’s your excuse?

      Delete
  8. Very good point CMike. I admit that I was not aware of the context for Weisman's snarky remark that you have pointed out.

    ReplyDelete

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