TRIBAL DECLINE: Liar, racist, murder, slur?


What's in a handful of words?:
On page A2 of this morning's hard-copy New York Times, senior news assistant Hannah Wulkan describes a meeting which was held this past spring.

A few years back, the New York Times' pages A2 and A3 were officially "reimagined." Page A2 became the page on which the Times attempts to persuade Times readers to be impressed with the Times.

Despite her title as senior assistant, Wulkan's a bit of a youngster. She prepped at Deerfield, then graduated from Brandeis in 2016.

On line, Wulkan's page A2 report appears at the Times Insider site. The report begins like this:
WULKAN (8/22/19): This spring, a group of editors sat in a white-walled conference room at The New York Times, throwing out ideas.
A group of Times editors threw out ideas? History tells us that nothing good can come from such an event.

In yesterday morning's report, we reviewed the three pages of blather which resulted when politics editor Patrick Healy got an idea last spring. According to Wulkan, some Times insiders gathered at roughly the same time and began throwing out ideas!

What emerged from the editors' meeting? After all the ideas had been discarded, they ended up with this:
WULKAN (continuing directly): The 60th anniversary of the day that Hawaii became a state was coming up. The editors, part of a team that tells stories through The Times’s vast photo archive in a project called Past Tense, wanted to highlight images from across America.

They also wanted to find an interesting way to tell the story.

If they ran a slide show, readers might lose interest
after clicking through a few photographs. A long article with a running list of photos could lose readers well before they made it to Wyoming. They wanted it to be engaging.
For reasons which go unexplained, the editors "wanted to find an interesting way" to tell a basically pointless anniversary story.

Hawaii had been a state for almost sixty years? Stating the obvious, there was no reason to think that any reader would take much interest in this basically pointless fact.

Apparently understanding this point, the editors reportedly scrambled for ways keep readers from "losing interest."

Wulkan never explains why these Times insiders wanted to bother with this project at all. Eventually, though, they forged a plan, and the field hands fell to their labors:
WULKAN (continuing directly): The final idea, published this week, is a quiz that presents photos pulled from The Times’s archives from all 50 states and invites readers to identify each location. The project would take several months to complete and involve more than 20 people from around the newsroom.

Each page of the quiz shows the photo alongside a question with clues, such as “A fleet of blimps rises over the Goodyear Airdock in this Midwestern state.” If readers spend a long time on the page, another hint, like “The state is also the birthplace of seven U.S. presidents and home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” flies into frame. Once the quiz-taker makes a guess, a paragraph with information about the photo and state appears.

“I wanted this to be a moment where readers in every single state can have a look back at their own history,” said Lauren Reddy, the audience director for special projects, who first suggested the quiz.
Finally, a New York Times "audience director" came up with a plan!

More than twenty hands from around the newsroom fell to work on the project; it took several months to complete. Here on our own spartan campus, idealistic young analysts roared as Reddy's plan was described.

Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Times subscribers would get to enjoy the massive great fun of a quiz! And so cool! If a reader spent too long on any one question, a hint would appear to help him or her out, supplementing some initial clues!

Audience, let's review:

According to Wulkan, more than twenty Times staffers worked on this photo quiz project. The project took months to complete.

As a result of those months of effort, the audience can now enjoy a quiz which features a photo from each of the fifty states. Having noted this fact, might we take a moment to discuss a project the New York Times hasn't yet undertaken?

Below, you see the remarkable OECD data we showed you yesterday afternoon. To date, editors haven't sat in a white-walled conference room, discussing ways to present and explore the remarkable state of affairs defined by these puzzling statistics:
Per capita spending, health care, 2018
United States: $10,586
Germany: $5986
Canada: $4974
France: $4965
Japan: $4766
United Kingdom: $4070
(South) Korea: $3192
One of those numbers is not like the others. Where the heck is all that missing money going?

That missing money lies at the heart of our stagnant wages, our federal deficits and our failure to provide universal coverage. So where the heck is that money going? Is money being looted?

At the endlessly fatuous New York Times, editors and "audience directors" don't seem to care about that.

Editors sit in mahoganied rooms trying to devise amusing Hawaii-based photo quiz games. They assign their droogs to spend several months laboring on the project.

They fill three pages of the paper with analyses of the songs the top ten candidates play at their campaign events. They even create an astounding site where they help readers figure out how to select a book if the readers have decided that they want to read one.

This has been the culture of the New York Times forever. Years ago, on the Sunday before a White House election, editors even let their highest-profile columnist start a column like this, headline included:
DOWD (11/5/00): I Feel Pretty

I feel stunning
And entrancing,
Feel like running and dancing for joy . . .

O.K., enough gloating. Behave, Albert. Just look in the mirror now and put on your serious I only-care-about-the-issues face.

If I rub in a tad more of this mahogany-colored industrial mousse, the Spot will disappear under my Reagan pompadour.
It was the seventh column Dowd had built around Candidate Gore's imagined obsession with his troubling bald spot. This is the type of work which has come from the fatuous world of the Times.

The fact that these events can take place in plain sight is an anthropological matter. It's a fact about the moral and intellectual horizons of our floundering, self-impressed species and our own self-impressed tribe.

On Monday, August 11, executive editor Dean Baquet held a New York Times staff meeting. As far as we know, Baquet is a thoroughly decent person. We'll quickly say that, in our view, he expressed some sound ideas at this meeting.

A transcript of this meeting leaked; you can review it here. During that meeting with his staff, Baquet discussed the appropriate journalistic use of certain familiar key words.

Setting aside the weighty yet amusing topic we'd originally planned to pursue, we'll review that discussion tomorrow.

Liar, racist, murder, slur? What's in a handful of words?

Tomorrow: What's in a handful of words?



    Meh. Decline started back in 1968, and greatly exacerbated in the 1990s, led by your demigods Bubba and Algore, the inventor of the Internet.

    What we are witnessing now, dear Bob, is not decline. It's collapse and agony...

    1. Eight years of peace and prosperity ending with a budget surplus under Clinton/Gore. Those were the good old days!

  2. I finally get it! Somerby is demonstrating how an elitist thinks and behaves by showing us how such a person reacts to a paper like the NY Times. With disdain for the interests of the common man.

    According to an elitist, we should care about how gravity works but instead the NY Times wants us to look at pictures of the USA and be interested in how the rest of the country looks (so we can all feel part of this great national enterprise?). Elitists don't care about stuff like that! They want to rehash what Boston society maven Maureen Dowd thought about our everyman's Harvard roommate Al Gore.

  3. Here is some of the coverage of health care costs from the NY Times in recent months:

    and so on...

    You'd think from Somerby's rants that the NY Times never wrote about health care disparities at all. They may not use his preferred statistics, but they definitely cover health care spending on a regular basis.

    Why is Somerby so bent on seeing those particular numbers in print? They aren't even the most relevant numbers to consider. For one thing, they make a straight across comparison between countries that have very different health care systems, population sizes, and cultural practices. Without considering those differences, the numbers mean much less.

    Somerby has too little actual interest in health care costs to wade into the weeds and consider what actually happens in different countries, but he wants to wave his arms (Bernie style) and tear his hear and get us all upset. Just like he has a single issue with NAEP and shows no actual interest in discussing any education issues, preferring to just post the same NAEP figures over and over while he berates his readers.

    No thank you. The NY Times seems to be doing a good job and there is no reason Somerby cannot skip the articles he has little interest in reading. I know I play to skip Somerby's musings (by a non-physicist) about the nature of gravity. An article about the subjectivities of our experience of the physical world comes under the heading of psychophysics, not physics, and Somerby knows absolutely nothing about that subject, having never taken a psychology class.

  4. If Somerby cared about health care or education, he'd spend every day here calling for Trump's immediate impeachment.

  5. "It was the seventh column Dowd had built around Candidate Gore's imagined obsession with his troubling bald spot. This is the type of work which has come from the fatuous world of the Times."

    I think Somerby is suggesting that the NY Times Editors should have written Dowd's columns for her.

    1. No, the Times should not be paying ANYONE to write such drivel.

    2. Really? Isn't it more likely that TDH is suggesting that the NYT editors should have fired her?

  6. Meanwhile, Kevin Drum uses his column to write about an actual health care issue:

  7. Here is an interesting critique of recent political art:

  8. It is perhaps a little known fact, but the New York Times actually has an entire section of its paper devoted to things like people hitting or kicking little balls, among other types of diversions. It’s called the “sports section.” Now, I don’t have much interest in sports myself, but I don’t begrudge others that passion. Nor do I mock the Times for its massive sports coverage. I simply read other stories.

    The Times also covers fashion and entertainment, both of them big businesses, and both of them appealing to various segments of their readership.

    This is just Somerby with his usual complaint about some story that he finds trivial, as if that is the only thing the Times is doing. It’s boneheaded, of course. And it’s even more boneheaded for him to waste his and his readers’ time going into so much detail about stories he finds trivial. This is a standard part of his shtick. (Why does he never mock the sports section? Inquiring minds want to know.)

    The Times is a large operation. They do have a section devoted to education and one to health care. Somerby just doesn’t like the stories that they do.

    They even have a crossword puzzle that their pseudoliberal readers can use to fritter away their time on, as opposed to constantly worrying over NAEP scores. Some might even enjoy a little tour of the fifty states. To each his own.

    Our blogger on the other hand apparently has the time and inclination to ignore stories about more important topics like healthcare and education to post hundreds of words about trivialities.

  9. “On Monday, August 11, executive editor Dean Baquet held a New York Times staff meeting. As far as we know, Baquet is a thoroughly decent person. We'll quickly say that, in our view, he expressed some sound ideas at this meeting.”

    This is more problematical for Somerby than he is admitting. Somerby has made a blogging career in large part by accusing “liberals/progressives/the mainstream media” of doing nothing but throwing out charges of racism, and along comes the executive editor of the New York Times, that premiere representative of the “mainstream media”, urging restraint in this area and being asked this question: “Staffers repeatedly asked Baquet about the paper’s reluctance to use the word racist”. This counteracts the narrative that the right wing cherishes and that Somerby has so vociferously championed in his blog.

    1. Not really.

      The staffer's repeated questions show they would like to use the word indiscriminately and often which enforces the narrative, not counteracts it.

      Here it is 2019 and these people need to be told why that's a bad idea.

    2. The point is, they are prevented from using it, by editorial decree. Somerby and the right want you to believe its use is rampant at the Times.

    3. @waylon
      It’s 2019, and you’d think racism would’ve stayed on the trash heap of vile, disgusting filth that this country has historically vomited forth, only to be resurrected by a vile, disgusting racist of a president and his Trumpanistas.

    4. Liberals/progressives/the mainstream media's indiscriminate charges of racism is well-documented and well-known and something for which they will continue to pay dearly.

      I get that you may not get that.

    5. The reporters for the glorious Gray Lady are still not allowed to say the president "lied" or to use any other form of the word LIE! Think of what miserable little cowards run that place, just think of it. Well trained elite ass kissers.

    6. I'm on the left. I have a problem with calling non racists racists. That's a big mistake. I get that you may not agree or understand that.

    7. waylon,
      Sounds terrible. Have you ever seen that happen? If so, can you provide some details?
      All I ever see is the corporate media waving away the racism of Trump supporters.
      One of them even pretended Tucker Carlson wasn't one. LOL.

    8. Yes, you just did it.

      I get it if you think that all or many or most of Trump supporters are racists.

      I live and work in the country with many people that voted for Trump and calling them racist is ... insane. Some of them are black!

      But you may feel the media is covering up the racism of Trump supporters. I don't see it in my experience though.

      I think there are other issues that are more important, interesting and rooted in reality that should be addressed about Trump.

    9. waylon,
      Not all. Most. There are at least a dozen of them like Mao, who don't care about Trump's bigotry, but love that he kisses Establishment ass.

      The biggest thing we can address about Trump is that he's a standard issue Reagan Republican.

    10. waylon,
      I've asked Trump voters why they support Trump. None of their answers make sense, other than as lies to cover their real reason.

  10. “They even create an astounding site where they help readers figure out how to select a book if the readers have decided that they want to read one.”

    The horror.

    The horror.

  11. Hello my friends,

    I have a message to deliver.

    If anyone wants to take a break from the political bickering, meet at the gas station across the street from the Target store in Rosslyn, VA on 8/24 at 1 am (Sat morning).

    Go inside to the counter and ask to speak with The Butt Cracker.

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