JOURNALISM OF THE SAINTS: Wesley Lowery's plea in the Times!

MONDAY, JUNE 29, 2020

Plus, unarmed man shot and killed:
We'll run through the history quickly:

Long ago and far away, Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, once again gave the best advice.

Homer was there to record the whole thing. In Book 9 of his famous best-seller, The Iliad, he records the way it went down:

The tide of battle had very much turned against the Argives (the Achaeans) in their attempt to sack Troy. "Godsent Panic seized them," Homer reports, "comrade of bloodcurdling Rout."

That evening, Lord Marshal Agamemnon rose in counsel. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he said the Achaeans should cut and run.

"We'll never take the broad streets of Troy," Agamemnon said. He said the Argives should "cut and run—sail home."

(We're working from Professor Fagles' 1990 translation.)

So Agamemnon strangely advised. Other members of the counsel were "struck dumb by his orders," Homer reports. Finally, the headstrong young Diomedes rose to speak.

"Desperate man!" Diomedes said, boldly addressing the lord marshal. "If your spirit drives you to sail home, then sail away, my King!...But the rest of the long-haired Achaeans will hold out, right here, until we've plundered Troy."

So spoke the headstrong young lord of the war cry. "And all the Achaeans shouted their assent," Homer recalls, "stirred by the stallion-breaking Diomedes' challenge."

Based on very limited reading, we regard what follows as one of the great moments in world literature. Nestor scrambles to his feet, eager to restore order.

He praises Diomedes' power in battle, even his general judgment.

"In council you excel all men your age," Nestor says, meaning this as a compliment. But he then points to Diomedes' youth and concomitant lack of wisdom.

"How young you are—why, you could be my son, my youngest-born at that," Nestor coolly remarks.

"It's my turn now, Diomedes," the seasoned adviser coolly said. "I think I can claim to have some years on you. So I must speak up and drive the matter home. And no one will heap contempt on what I say, not even mighty Agamemnon."

Before the evening is done, Nestor has restored unity within Argive ranks. Before a more limited council of "senior chiefs," he has directly chastised Agamemnon, causing him to retract his earlier rash remarks.

The basic advice he gives Diomedes is of no particular relevance here. But we thought of that famous scene from world literature when we sampled the Sunday Review section of yesterday's New York Times.

More specifically, we thought of that famous scene when we read Wesley Lowery's attempt to devise new rules for American journalism, such as it is.

Lowery's essay was the featured piece in yesterday's Sunday Review.
We'd say the piece displayed revolutionary ardor. On the other hand, we'd have to grade the fiery essay as something like D-minus work.

Needless to say, D-minus work is nothing new in New York Times guest opinion writing. Decades of branding make the following point hard to credit, but it's true nonetheless:

If it weren't for all the D-minus work, there would frequently be no New York Times opinion work at all. We offer this unfortunate assessment as an anthropological statement.

In our view, Lowery's essay needed a lot of work. For ourselves, we wouldn't have published the piece as it is.(Childishly, our journalists tend to refer to such essays as "stories.")

Before the week is done, we'll show you what we see the major shortcomings of Lowery's piece—its shortcomings of evidence and of logic.

We'll get there before the week is through. For today, we're going to start with Lowery's recent essay in The Atlantic—an essay about police shootings, a very serious topic.

For ourselves, we wouldn't have published that essay either. As editor, our questions for Lowery would have started with his second paragraph.

For unknown reasons, Lowery and the editors at The Atlantic explicitly refer to his essay, at two different junctures, as a "story." You may think we're picking nits when we mention that fact.

You may think we're picking nits. We would say that we're starting at the beginning. At any rate, the essay deals with a very significant topic—and the essay starts like this:
MINNEAPOLIS—Miski Noor watched just the first minute of the video of George Floyd’s killing before closing the tab and walking the two blocks to join the protests already forming at the scene. The days since have been filled with a maddening sense of déjà vu.

Noor had joined the Movement for Black Lives in 2014, after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The 34-year-old activist’s first protest was that December, a demonstration that shut down the Mall of America during the peak of the holiday shopping season.

Noor soon became intimately familiar with the gruesome cycle: The police killed someone. Activists protested. Small reforms were won. The police killed someone else.

In Minnesota, St. Paul police killed Philip Quinn, a Native American man in the midst of a mental-health crisis, in September 2015. One week later, a Kanabec County Sheriff’s deputy killed Robert Christen, a white former fullback for the Wisconsin Badgers who was enduring a mental-health crisis of his own. Two months after that, in November 2015, Minneapolis police killed Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old unarmed black man. Hundreds poured into the streets.
In the fourth paragraph of his essay, Lowery mentions three Minnesota events. These events are said to be part of a "gruesome cycle."

After the third of these events, "hundreds poured into the streets." But how are we supposed to judge or assess these events? At no point in Lowery's "story" are we given help with that.

By now, of course, everybody reading that essay knew what they were supposed to think about those three events. They understood why those events constituted a "gruesome cycle"—or at at least, they knew what they were supposed to assume about that.

A powerful narrative preceded Lowery as he composed his story. The Atlantic published his story. For ourselves, we would have judged that Lowery's essay needed much more work.

Tomorrow, we plan to describe the events of one of the police shootings cited by Lowery in paragraph 4 of his essay. We'll ask you what you think of those events once you've seen them more fully described—and in this case, there seems to be no disagreement concerning what actually happened.

Tomorrow, we'll show you what happened in that one event. We'll ask you what you think about its placement in Lowery's overall "story."

According to the Washington Post's invaluable Fatal Force site, American police officers have shot and killed roughly one thousand people in every year from 2015 through 2019. (When he was still at the Washington Post, Lowery was involved in creating this invaluable site.)

On a per capita basis, many more people are shot and killed by police officers in this country than in other comparable nations. It's also true, of course, that our nation is commonly said to be "awash in guns."

Sometimes, police officers shoot and kill people who are, in fact, unarmed. According to the Fatal Force site, police officers in Minnesota have shot and killed six unarmed people since the start of 2015.

For the record, five of those people are listed as "white." One is listed as "black."

How gruesome is the gruesome cycle to which Lowery referred? There is, of course, no ultimate answer to that question. But that may be a harder judgment to make if we start reimposing traditional rules on the way we write our "stories."

As for Lowery's recent work, it reminds us of the famous phrase, "Revolution of the saints." If memory serves, we first heard the phrase in connection with Professor Walzer's 1965 book of that title.

At present, it seems to us that Lowery is largely performing the journalism of the saints. This is hardly his sole doing, of course. For better or worse—it's a matter of judgment—the journalism of the saints is now being widely performed.

All this week, we'll be examining Lowery's two recent essays. In closing today, we want to assure you of one important point:

We'll be offering our remarks as examples of anthropology. As we've acknowledged before, we're being advised in our work by top experts in the field.

We offer this work for those who want to consider the way the human brain compels the human mind to work. That said, absolutely nothing is going to change because of anything we write. We'll still be allowed to tell and repeat our stories.

At this site, it's all anthropology now. Elsewhere, revolution and its rules, or its lack of same, now quite widely prevail.

Tomorrow: Unarmed man is shot and killed "by Minnesota police"

Nestor's advice: Nestor's advice to Diomedes isn't especially relevant here. For what it's worth, here it is:
"Lost to the clan,
lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for the horror of war with his own people.”
Or at least, so Homer recalled.

In the current situation, our journalism could conceivably be much improved if practitioners waged war on its current ways from within.

But they'd have to be offering good sound advice—advice which made good solid sense.


  1. "In Book 9 of his famous best-seller, The Iliad, he records the way it went down:"

    You can't really take this as veridical history, except perhaps in the broad outlines. This narrative came from an oral tradition (eventually written down). That means that its contents will be revised and honed to suit audience interest and response, just as occurs with the lyrics of folk songs. Somerby should know better than to present this to us as a truthful, factual account.

  2. "For the record, five of those people are listed as "white." One is listed as "black." "

    The quoted sentence, dear Bob, is a form of WHITE SUPREMACY.

    So, shut up, and repeat after me: how many more must die, murdered by WHITE SUPREMACY?

    You're a lib, dear Bob, and therefore you should know the script, and parrot your zombie cult's talking points. If you refuse to do it, you become an infidel, a 'deplorable'. Like the rest of us.

    Make up your mind, dear Bob.

  3. Who is Wesley Lowery? From his Atlantic article:

    "WESLEY LOWERY is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and the author of They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement. He is currently a correspondent for 60 in 6, a spin-off of 60 Minutes on the mobile app Quibi."

    He is also African American, which may be why Somerby writes:

    "If it weren't for all the D-minus work, there would frequently be no New York Times opinion work at all. We offer this unfortunate assessment as an anthropological statement."

    There is, as usual, nothing anthropological about any of this. Somerby simply disagrees with Lowery. He doesn't want to say it is on account of race, so he alludes to age (Diomedes vs old man Nestor), but he never explicitly states the basis for patronizes Lowery, as he does by presuming to assign him a grade (of D-). Why so low a grade? Presumably because Lowery didn't delve into the details of three events he was using to suggest a pattern in police behavior. Lowery used broad strokes but Somerby wanted him to wade into the weeds (or perhaps not talk about such patterns at all).

    Then Somerby finally quotes Nestor (via Homer):

    ""Lost to the clan,
    lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
    who lusts for the horror of war with his own people.”

    Which could be updated as advice to black Americans to sit down and shut up, or be lost to the advantages of white mainstream society. No A grades for uppity black journalists who break with white tradition and are waging a war against their "own people" as they are invited to consider us all one race, included now that it is inconvenient for them to be demanding change.

    What an asshole Somerby is today.

    1. So, since Lowry is Black, and TDH criticizes him, it must follow that he is criticizing Lowry based on his race??? Along the lines of what your logic seems to be, I was wathching TV yesterday afternoon (the golf tournament, I'll admit), and as a public service NBC was inserting comments from prominent figures about the current race crisis. Tracy Wolfson comes (a sports, a sideline reporter for football games comes on and gives her advice on how parents should talk to their children about race. They should tell them what happened 400 years ago (when black Africans were being shipped to the Americas to serve as slaves); about the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's; and about today, when "Nothing has changed." Anon 10:40 - this is a small example of the crazy that has taken over.

    2. "They should tell them what happened 400 years ago (when black Africans were being shipped to the Americas to serve as slaves); about the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's; and about today, when "Nothing has changed.""

      Hmm. Perhaps what he meant is that nothing much has changed in those places in Western Africa where people used to capture their fellow denizens and sell them to slavery?

      I dunno. Ghana appears to be okay, but for example in the Republic of Congo similar socioeconomic practices are still relatively common, from what I heard.

    3. If you were wearing clown shoes and I criticized you for your clowning technique, wouldn't it follow that I was criticizing you for being a clown?

    4. anon, 3:01, you are way off. The analogy makes no sense.

    5. I suspect that lots of things make little sense to you.

    6. anon 4:39, well a lot of things don't "make sense", particularly what you have to say. Nothing in TDH's post provides any evidence that Lowry's race has anything to do with the criticism. It's what Lowry says that TDH addresses. I suppose if someone were wearing clown shoes, and you criticized his clowning technique, it would follow that you were criticizing his clowning technique, not for his being a clown. The analogy is so stupid, I don't know why I'm bothering to respond. You couldn't be that dumb, could you? is it possible?

    7. "You couldn't be that dumb, could you? is it possible?"

      Anything is possible. There are people who think we don't have cradle to grave Universal Healthcare because the country can't afford it. Dumbness has no bottom.

    8. If you believe that others are dumb whenever they say things you don't understand, you aren't going to learn much. I have no doubt that Trump believes exactly that same thing -- that all others are dumb because he is the one with the very good brain.

  4. "that one who lusts for the horror of war with his own people."

    This applies as much to the police as it does to protesters or Lowery.

    If anyone is lusting for war with its own people, it is the alt-right Boogaloo bois.

    If anyone is lusting for war with its own people, it is Trump who promises law and order while ignoring the Russian bounty on our troops in Afghanistan. No stomach for standing up to those who wage war on us, but willing to send our country's troops against the citizenry who complains.

    Somerby, of course, never tells us who Homer's words are being directed against, but gives only a hint: today's essay is about Lowery, a black journalist describing the protests against police killings, young enough to play Diomedes in Somerby's Greek drama.

  5. I give TDH an F- for today's effort.

  6. This is the same brilliant formula that won Trump the white house and the violent mob is quadrupling down. He's going to win again by an even larger margin and you have no idea how many people have "evolved" to understand the danger of the left.

    1. This is the same dull troll doing a drive-by dump.

    2. I'll take my elbow to your lip.

  7. Translation of today's essay: "You kids, get off my lawn!"

  8. “After the third of these events, "hundreds poured into the streets." But how are we supposed to judge or assess these events? At no point in Lowery's "story" are we given help with that.”

    Lowery’s purpose is to describe and understand the reactions of BLM activists and others in response to the killings he describes.

    The events were important in the history of BLM activism, leading up to the nationwide protests after George Floyd’s death.

    He isn’t trying to tell the reader how to judge these events; he is showing the reader how BLM and others judged and reacted to these events.

  9. Matt Taibbi wrote a blistering article about D'Angelo and here book. He is writing a longer article for the paying customers


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