Our culture works like this: Frankly, we were surprised.
More specifically, we were surprised when we scanned page A3 in today's New York Times.
How strange! According to the daily feature, The Conversation, "Wednesday's most-read article" was this appraisal of Tuesday night's debate. The most-read article was written by Shane Goldmacher and Reid Epstein, a pair of Times reporters.
Why were we surprised to see that this piece was yesterday's most-read article from across the entire sweep of NYTimes.com? We were surprised because the appraisal of Tuesday night's debate hadn't appeared in our hard-copy Washington Edition of the Times—not in yesterday morning's edition, but also not in today's.
It never appeared in our hard-copy Times! And not only that:
Skillfully taking our business on-line, we scanned the listings for the past two days at the Times' "Today's Paper" site. Wednesday's most-read article isn't listed for yesterday, and it isn't listed today!
How strange! If a Times subscriber works from the on-line Today's Paper site, he or she won't be aware of yesterday's most-read article! In fairness, he or she might be better off, given the highly subjective nature of the highly subjective appraisals offered in that most-read, most-discussed piece.
In fairness, yesterday's most-read article actually does exist. You can peruse it here.
The article features six absurdly subjective "takeaways" offered by the pair of Times reporters. The first four takeaways appear beneath these sub-headlines:
Warren draws fire, for a changeDid Candidate Sanders really "calm concerns" among Democratic voters about his age and his health? Was it really Candidate Buttagieg's "biggest night yet?"
Sanders calms concerns post-heart attack
Buttigieg’s biggest night yet
The reporters offered no evidence in support of these claims beyond their own subjective assessments. With respect to Buttagieg, the reporters did offer this:
GOLDMACHER AND EPSTEIN (10/16/19): It was Mr. Buttigieg’s exchange with Ms. Warren over “Medicare for all” that was most memorable, pressing her as she declined to say, yet again, whether her plan would require a middle-class tax increase. (She says her plan would curb middle-class “costs.”)The reporters made no attempt to elucidate the basic facts involved in this major policy question. To the clownishly limited extent that the Times was prepared to tackle this matter, it was left to a typically hapless, sometimes incoherent "Fact-Checking" piece, which made the feeblest possible attempt to discuss the funding question connected to Warren's proposal.
“A yes-or-no question that did not get a yes-or-no answer,” Mr. Buttigieg said, adding, “Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this.” He rattled off how her plan would “obliterate” the private health insurance of 150 million Americans while pitching his “Medicare for all who want it” alternative.
In this case, the Fact-Checking piece was included in Wednesday's "Today's Paper" listings. That said, it didn't appear in our hard-copy Times, not yesterday and not today. So it goes as the top-ranking paper within mainstream culture attempts to give subscribers the impression that they're being well served.
In fairness, let's say it again—subscribers may be better off if they aren't allowed to see these parodies of journalism. On the other hand, consider what did appear in yesterday's hard-copy "Washington Edition."
Alas! Washingtonians were subjected to this absurdly hackneyed report about the preparation of memorable "zingers" for presidential debates.
Inevitably, it featured President Reagan's 1984 joke about Candidate Mondale's youth and inexperience. Also, Candidate Bentsen's observation that Candidate Quayle was no Jack Kennedy.
Matched with an utterly vacuous quiz about this gruesome campaign to date ("Test Yourself On the Race/How closely have you been paying attention to the campaign so far?"), this utterly vacuous evergreen piece, fluffed out by a trio of cartoon-bubble enhanced photographs, consumed the whole of yesterday's page A14.
In today's Times, a letter writer complains about the vacuous content of this "zinger" feature. Most likely, he doesn't know how lucky he is to have been spared exposure to the paper's Fact-Checking piece.
The IQ of our mainstream political journalism is extremely low. As an example of what we mean, consider the way Monica Hesse opens her column about Tuesday's debate in this morning's Washington Post.
In fairness to Hesse, she's been saddled with the task of being the Post's "first gender columnist." Routinely, this leaves her with nothing to say and a contractual obligation to say it.
Below, you see the type of non-analysis analysis her editors were willing to publish today. It appeared beneath this hard-copy headline: Does Mayor Pete sound assertive or...shrill?
HESSE (10/17/19): Apparently Pete Buttigieg had a bang-up debate performance Tuesday, at least according to many political pundits. Meanwhile, as I was skimming a CNN recap that placed the South Bend, Ind., mayor atop a list of “winners,” I was also talking with an old friend who had this to say:Her sample size was tiny. But within that tiny, unscientific sample, the people who agreed with her were "mostly" women!
“Ugh. When did Mayor Pete become that dude who throws you under the bus once you learn only one of you gets the Rotary scholarship?”
Some of his debate performance was inspired, like his retort to Tulsi Gabbard: “You take away the honor of our soldiers, you might as well go after their body armor next.” That’s a heck of a line. But I’ve always admired Buttigieg’s generally thoughtful, calming manner—and Tuesday wasn’t that. “I don’t need lessons from you on courage,” he scornfully told Beto O’Rourke. His signature move was to sanctimoniously claim he was above all this scrapping, while actively participating in the scrapping.
My sample size is tiny and unscientific, but when I floated this irritation online, the people who agreed were mostly women. Men either hadn’t noticed Buttigieg’s tonal shift or they liked it: His newfound aggressiveness came across to them as smart debate strategy for a guy who needs to make a fast surge in the polls.
Stating the obvious, this tiny sample tells us nothing—nothing at all—about the way women in general reacted, or about the extent to which women's reactions compared to those of men.
Did the candidate's approach on Tuesday night "come across to" men "as smart debate strategy?" Did it come across that way to more than a handful of men? To any men at all?
Did it "come across" that way to a smaller percentage of women? Stating the obvious, Monica Hesse's tiny sample can't answer any of these questions. Indeed, as she and her editor hopefully know, her tiny, unscientific sample can't tell us anything at all.
Her sample isn't simply tiny; as described, her "sample" is utterly useless. It isn't really a "sample" at all in any clear sense of the term. But so it goes as our ranking newspapers pretend to talk about politics.
At any rate, so what? Saddled with her ongoing assignment, Hesse flounders forward from there, sampling the standard stereotypical claims which make up a great deal of modern political journalism.
Her analysis isn't any such critter. Like much that has appeared in the Times in the past two days, it's a parody of journalism.
Hesse's utterly useless piece appears on the front page of today's high-profile Style section. It shares the page with a column by Margaret Sullivan in which Warren is praised for failing to answer the obvious question about funding which she was asked, again and again, at Tuesday's debate.
The bulk of the page is consumed by this report about Candidate Booker's movie star apparent girl friend. The movie star in question has long been a bright and impressive person, but the sheer stupidity of all this journalism is its defining characteristic.
Within our tribe's mainstream culture, we've long claimed that we "educated" liberals are the very smart people, as opposed to all the bumpkins found in places like Clinton, Arkansas. Tomorrow, we'll turn to a letter in the New York Times which used that very word.
Concerning the question posed to Warren, we'll recommend Ronald Brownstein's sobering report in The Atlantic. For the record, Brownstein is reporting basic facts. He's only "doing President Trump’s work for him" (Sullivan) or "trafficking in Republican talking points" to the many people within our own tribe who have no apparent idea of the way reality tends to work.
(As a nominee, Warren will be pounded on this question whether it's raised now or not.)
As Micheal Tomasky has now acknowledged, our leading candidates are a scarily underwhelming bunch. Luckily, the nominee will likely be running against Donald J. Trump, who's increasingly visibly crazy.
This means that there remains a chance that our nominee will win. Of course, it also means that the other guy might yet blow up the whole world.
Sullivan praises Warren for refusing to answer the world's most obvious policy question. Yesterday, the New York Time offered an utterly useless "fact-check" of the matter at hand.
Our liberal tribe's culture is very dumb, destructively so, and it has been for a long time. It's a fact we prove, again and again, as we keep complaining about all the self-defeating bumpkins who can be found Over There.
Tomorrow: Four out of five annoyed subscribers simply can't be wrong