Upon first reading Blow's column: Last Friday morning, we made two classic mistakes. The disaster went down as follows:
That morning, reading the hard-copy Times, we learned about Charles Blow's latest column. We learned about it on that day's page A3, part of which read like this:
The ConversationSay what? Blow had written a column headlined "The Horrible History of Thanksgiving?" And this column had been the "most read article" across the vast sweep of nytimes.com?"
FOUR OF THE MOST READ, SHARED AND DISCUSSED POSTS FROM ACROSS NYTIMES.COM
1. The Horrible History of Thanksgiving:
Thursday's most read article was this Op-Ed from Charles Blow, a columnist for The Times. Mr. Blow writes that he grew up believing the "gauzy" version on [sic] Thanksgiving: "I was blind, willfully ignorant, I suppose."
The previous day, we had read Professor Silverman's scolding column, "The Vicious Reality Behind the Thanksgiving Myth," which appeared in New York Times print editions. But we didn't know that Blow, on-line, had penned a companion piece which many turkeys had read!
According to Friday's page A3, "Horrible" had outranked "Vicious" across the vast sweep of the Times! And it's then that we made our two mistakes—admittedly, mistakes we've made many times in the past.
Our mistakes went like this:
First mistake: We went home and read Blow's column. You can peruse it here.Readers, never do that! Never fact-check Rachel Maddow's claims about this or that! Never track a lengthy quotation which plainly doesn't make sense.
Second mistake: Puzzled by some of Blow's sourcing and struck by a lengthy quotation which plainly didn't seem to make sense, we decided to check Blow's facts.
(Also, when the Post and the Times report the latest PISA scores, never examine the data yourselves. Politely believe the things you're told. Never devote one second of thought to our public schools ever again.)
Your happiness will be enhanced if you don't engage in such risky behaviors. You'll retain your sense of confidence in your tribe's journalistic sachems. You'll continue to feel sure about your tribe's various sacred fictions.
With a familiar lack of wisdom, we made those mistakes last Friday. This led us on a merry pre-Christmas chase which ended up at Bustle. But before we show you what we found there, let's quote the passages from Blow's piece which sent us on our chase.
In the course of his mournful column, Blow was shedding bitter tears about some of the horrible things he "blindly" believed when he was six or seven, but also throughout his whole life. Older and wiser, more savvy today, he knows he was wrong, oh so wrong, when he "spent most of [his] life believing a gauzy, kindergarten version of Thanksgiving."
Below, Blow began his self-flagellation—and we wondered about that source:
BLOW (12/28/19): I thought it was such a beautiful story: People reaching across race and culture to share with one another, to commune with one another. But that is not the full story of Thanksgiving. Like so much of American history, the story has had its least attractive features winnow away—white people have been centered in the narrative and all atrocity has been politely papered over.Readers, tell the truth! Are you familiar with the myth which holds that "the first Thanksgiving was dominated by the Pilgrim and not the Native American?"
So, let us correct that.
What is widely viewed as the first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast to which the Pilgrims had invited the local Wampanoag people as a celebration of the harvest.
About 90 came, almost twice the number of Pilgrims. This is the first myth: that the first Thanksgiving was dominated by the Pilgrim and not the Native American. The Native Americans even provided the bulk of the food, according to the Manataka American Indian Council.
We're not even entirely sure what that even means. Nor do we necessarily understand why this alleged myth would be debunked simply by counting the number of people present, or by finally getting clear on the question of who provided "the bulk of the food."
Why would anyone care about that? Blow forgot to explain.
Beyond that, an obvious question. If 90 Wampanoags joined 45 Pilgrims and engaged in a three-day feast, why wouldn't that be a story in which people actually were "reaching across race and culture to share with one another?" Why wouldn't that, in and of itself, have been an upbeat event?
None of this was especially clear, but then again, this was Blow. That said, we were struck by the sourcing for that invidious claim about who managed to bring all the food:
The claim was sourced to the Manataka American Indian Council. Foolishly, we decided to check to see who the heck that was and why the heck they would care.
First, though, the rest of the column! As Blow continued, he would soon make fleeting reference to one of the most significant events in the history of the Americas—a sweeping, hemispheric set of events following contact with Europeans.
After blowing past that seminal part of human history, Blow quoted a writer from Fortune at substantial length.
Two years ago, she'd been assigned to write one of these thumb-sucker pieces about Thanksgiving "legends and lies." Inevitably, Blow had chosen to share a part of her piece which, on its face, seemed to make zero sense:
BLOW: Th[e] weakening of the native population by disease from the new arrivals’ ships created an opening for the Pilgrims.Disease played a giant role in the history of the Americas following European arrival, modern-day New England included.
King James’s patent called this spread of disease “a wonderfull Plague” that might help to devastate and depopulate the region. Some friends.
But many of those native people not killed by disease would be killed by direct deed.
As Grace Donnelly wrote in a 2017 piece for Fortune:
The celebration in 1621 did not mark a friendly turning point and did not become an annual event. Relations between the Wampanoag and the settlers deteriorated, leading to the Pequot War. In 1637, in retaliation for the murder of a man the settlers believed the Wampanoags killed, they burned a nearby village, killing as many as 500 men, women, and children. Following the massacre, William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth, wrote that for “the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”
Just 16 years after the Wampanoag shared that meal, they were massacred.
The history is astounding, paradigm-shattering. We'll link you to sources concerning this widespread set of events before the week is done.
That said, inquiring minds wanted to know:
Why would that war have been called "the Pequot War" if Wampanoags were massacred? Beyond that, how could Governor Bradford, who died in 1657, possibly have authored the quoted statement describing what occurred over "the next 100 years?"
On its face, the lengthy passage from Fortune didn't seem to make sense. Admittedly, since this was the New York Times, the confusion was hardly surprising.
If we'd just been a little bit wiser, we would have simply "moved on." But as we've done so many times in the past, we decided to check it out!
Tomorrow, we'll show you what we found when we checked Blow's sources. We'll even show you what we found when we eventually got ourselves linked to this astonishing "9 Myths About Thanksgiving" piece at the human-run web site, Bustle.
On Friday, we'll move to Professor Silverman's column in which, to our ear, he scolds the electorate well. For today, we'll close with a few confessions and disclaimers:
Over the past twenty-one years, we've made these mistakes many times. Instead of leaving well enough alone, we've decided to fact-check the blither and blather—yes, the relentless "daily howlers"—one finds in the New York Times and everywhere else "news" is sold.
You'll be happier as a person if you eschew such behaviors. In fairness, our unwise conduct has produced the greatest anthropological breakthrough since Margaret Mead set sail for Samoa. In fairness, at least there's that!
The woods are lovely, dark and deep—but our tiny human brains are very badly flawed. You'll see this if you watch Fox News—or if you read the Times.
That said, every adult, except Charles Blow, moved beyond his or her kindergarten understandings a long, long time ago.
Everyone has heard about the warlike horrors which help define our national history. Everyone knows that many wars between Europeans and Native Americans/Indians/indigenous people followed, and had preceded, that so-called first Thanksgiving.
Very few people have "spent most of [their lives] believing a gauzy, kindergarten version of Thanksgiving." One wonders how the New York Times seems to be so masterful at finding the handful of people who have somehow managed to cling to such childish levels of understanding.
In our view, it was Professor Silverman who scolded the electorate well with his Thanksgiving column. We'll review the professor's supercilious, ahistorical work in Friday's report.
That said, Blow's column was written at first-grade level, and Others are able to see this. Work like this is mocked on Fox, and viewers stampede to the polls.
Tomorrow: Journalistic standards