The end of competent journalism: We've read and seen some horrible journalism in the past 24 hours.
For one example, consider this lengthy front-page report in today's Washington Post. More specifically, consider two of the various things you never learn about the fatal police shooting incident with which the report begins:
Did the late Wayne Reyes have a shotgun with him when he was shot and killed? Also, had he in fact "stabbed his girlfriend and another friend" in the minutes, or perhaps in the hour, before he was shot and killed?
Despite the length of this front-page report, you're never told such things. We'd give this report a failing grade, except as an example of unfortunate story-shaping.
We're going to make a confession today. Like you, we've never been a police officer.
Unlike Jeronimo Yanez (see Post report); unlike Mohamed Noor (see Post report); we've never been dispatched, in the dead of the night, to police an incident in which a gun eventually appeared, or in which a sexual assault was said to have occurred right out in the street.
We've never had to do that! For that reason, we're slow to judge people who are required to do such things. We ourselves have never made the brave, dead-of-night decision, as everyone else has done.
It's hard to imagine any excuse for Derek Chauvin's recent conduct. He's been charged with murder and with manslaughter, and the conduct in which he engaged does in fact seem to have been deranged and depraved.
(How do people end up that way? We've wondered about that all week. So far, there's been little background reporting.)
In other cases involving police officers, we're inclined to be slower to judge. Luckily, everyone else is willing to leap, and reporters like Bailey and Berman are prepared to sift the information we're given about various events.
That front-page report is terrible work, but it's also a sign of the times. As a matter of anthropology, it may be the best our species can be expected to do. It may be that, at times ;like these, we human beings are hard-wired to novelize such reports.
A second report, from the Post's page A2, is shorter and more straightforward. Now that transcripts have been released, it reports what Michael Flynn said to Russkie ambassador Kislyak in December 2016.
This second, shorter report was written by Barrett and Miller, a pair of experienced, top-level reporters. Barrett and Miller do not report that Flynn was "undermining" the Obama administration's policy on sanctions. (In the report which appears in our hard-copy Post, the word does not appear.)
Jonathan Chait does make that claim. As he does, we weep for the species.
In the end, of course, it all depends on what the meaning of "undermine" is. Chait is certain that "undermining" occurred. He says so in this paragraph:
CHAIT (5/29/20): The transcripts today quote Flynn telling Kislyak, “Do not, do not uh, allow this (Obama) administration to box us in, right now, okay?” If that does not constitute “undermin[ing] the outgoing administration’s policy,” what does?What would have constituted undermining the policy? Frankly, we're not sure.
The outgoing Obama administration had three more weeks to serve. The incoming Trump administration was going to have every right to adopt a different sanctions policy.
The existing policy stayed in effect right through inaugural day. On that day, President Trump addressed the largest, most admiring crowd in solar system history.
Nothing Flynn said to the Russkie affected, or could have affected, the continuing operation of the Obama policy until such time as Obama was no longer president. We have no idea what it means to say that Flynn "undermined" that policy, nor does Chait, full of certainty, bother to explain why he says it did.
By way of contrast:
In the fall of 1968, President Johnson may have been on the verge of a peace deal with the North Vietnamese.
By common understanding, Candidate Richard M. Nixon tried to keep a peace deal from happening. So it says in this factually accurate New York Times news report:
BAKER (1/2/17): Richard M. Nixon told an aide that they should find a way to secretly “monkey wrench” peace talks in Vietnam in the waning days of the 1968 campaign for fear that progress toward ending the war would hurt his chances for the presidency, according to newly discovered notes.It's easy to see why someone would say that Nixon and/or the Nixon campaign sought to undermine Johnson's possible peace deal. For all we know, they may have kept it from happening!
In a telephone conversation with H. R. Haldeman, who would go on to become White House chief of staff, Nixon gave instructions that a friendly intermediary should keep “working on” South Vietnamese leaders to persuade them not to agree to a deal before the election, according to the notes, taken by Mr. Haldeman.
The Nixon campaign’s clandestine effort to thwart President Lyndon B. Johnson’s peace initiative that fall has long been a source of controversy and scholarship. Ample evidence has emerged documenting the involvement of Nixon’s campaign. But Mr. Haldeman’s notes appear to confirm longstanding suspicions that Nixon himself was directly involved, despite his later denials.
But in what way did Flynn's remarks to the Russkie undermine the Obama policy? To this day, we have no idea—nor does Chait attempt to explain. To Chait, it's just blindingly obvious!
So it tends to go at highly tribal times such as these. We were similarly stunned, but also dismayed, by the peculiar way this early report from Minneapolis ended, a report about the use of tear gas.
Unlike everyone else, we've never been a police officer. But we think we can answer the following questions, at least on a provisional basis:
Why might a police department use tear gas in a situation where arson and looting were occurring? Also, why might a police department decline to use tear gas in a situation where as far as we know, for better or worse, no crimes were being committed?
Despite our lack of experience, we think we can answer those questions! At New York magazine, but also in this remarkable piece at Slate, these behaviors indicate the existence of preferential racist behavior on the part of police.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep—but our species isn't, and never was, "the rational animal."
According to reams of decorated top major anthropologists, man (sic) was always the tribal animal. Our war-inclined species was always wired to generate stories which favor the clan or the tribe.
This is now happening all over "the news." It's even happening Over Here, among the admittedly good smart brilliant thoughtful unbiased humans.
How did we ever make it this far? For all their brilliance and erudition, despondent major anthropologists are completely unable to say.
Postponed today: The decline of the once seminal book, The Family of Man (sic).
Also, postponed again: What did Rachel Maddow say? On that same night, Adam Schiff!
The Post, in print and online: The online version of the Post's report about Flynn includes material in which an "analyst" seems to say that Flynn's phone calls did undermine the Obama policy. The professor in question doesn't explain why he uses that term.
In the report which appears in our print edition, the word (and the analyst) never appear. The report appears on page A2 of our hard-copy Post.
The online report is longer. On the other hand, it isn't included on the list of reports you access by clicking the link, "Today's print stories."
Online, the report is longer—but you have to hunt it down!