TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2022
Woodruff, working from script: As we've noted in the past, it's a fairly obvious form of punishment. It's directed at New York Times readers on a weekly basis.
This morning, the punishment was dished again. Right there in our print edition, the weekly submission known as The Conversation started off like this:
Bret Stephens: Gail, don’t know if you’ve heard, but Marjorie Taylor Greene has accused Nancy Pelosi of running the “gazpacho police.” Do you think she might also accuse Joe Biden of overseeing a vichyssoise regime?
Gail Collins: Bret, when I heard that gaffe I knew it’d be on your memory wall. Normally, making fun of Marjorie Taylor Greene is too obvious for your talents. But this was truly a classic.
Bret: There’s the old expression “from soup to nuts.” When it comes to Representative Greene, it’s better to say, “from nut to soups.”
"Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow," our youthful analysts cried.
Collins chose to continue. "On the opposite end of things, today is Valentine’s Day," she said, perhaps one day roo late. (The column appeared online yesterday.) "Any politicians you’d like to give your heart to?"
Stephens continued to punish subscribers. "None I can easily confess, other than Queen Elizabeth II," he cheekily said.
Before the apir were done, things got worse, but you may get the point. We liberals are trained to regard the New York Times as our number-one brainiac newspaper. But its product, like much of our own tribe's mandated discourse, is often stupendously dumb.
How dumb can it get in our tribe's smartest paper? Yesterday, we subjected you to some of the peculiar matter found in a lengthy guest essay in this past weekend's Sunday Review. The piece was penned by best-selling author Lisa Taddeo. Headline included, her essay starts as shown:
TADDEO (2/13/22): My Husband and I Don’t Speak the Same Love Language
I hadn’t heard about the love languages until it was too late, until I was married to someone who didn’t speak mine.
There are five of them—the five languages of love. I say that as though they exist somewhere out there in the ether, as though they have always been. But in fact it has been only 30 years. In 1992, Gary Chapman, a pastor and radio host in North Carolina, published “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate” with a small religious press. Over 20 million copies were sold, and the book was translated into 50 languages and made its way into the hearts and minds of laypeople and clinicians and Oprah. It has been on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a decade.
Taddeo seems to believe that there may be five "love languages"—not four, not six and not eight. For the record, Pastor Chapman's book may have "been on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a decade," but it doesn't seem to be on any such list at the present time.
Without any question, the pastor's book was a best-seller in the "Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous" category over a substantial period of time. Many people may have gained insight of some kind from this book—and if so, that would of course be a good thing.
Taddeo may have been speaking puckishly at the start of her essay. As we noted yesterday, the apparent dumbness began picking up steam when she seemed to reveal that her own principle "love language" is the language known as "lying to your spouse," mixed with "mak[ing] up evidence" and "add[ing] caveats so that it doesn’t look as if I’m lying."
That last two quotes come right from the Taddeo essay. But that isn't where the dumbness began. That's where it began gaining steam.
Taddeo's peculiar essay struck us as remarkably dumb. We wondered why any half-way intelligent newspaper would have dreamed of putting it in print.
Quite a few commenters seemed to have similar reactions. Those who defended the essay generally claimed that Taddeo had just been joking around as she made her weird statements and claims.
It didn't read that way to us. It read like an example of a familiar journalistic form—Contemporary New York Times Dumb.
In fairness, the Times published a latter on Sunday which struck us as very sharp. It was surrounded by seven letters on the same topic which adopted quite different points of view, but we don't want to skip the fact that this one letter struck us as informative and analytically sharp.
We'll start with the text of that letter tomorrow. Today, we want to move to what Judy Woodruff said, last Friday night. She said it on The PBS NewsHour, our tribe's most presentable news show.
We'll admit that we were surprised by what we saw Woodruff say. We were also disappointed, although, for reasons dating back 22 years, we'll admit that we shouldn't have been.
It seems to us that Woodruff's statement is still quite hard to credit or sustain. On the other hand, everyone within our tribe has been saying the exact same thing—has been engaged in the very same "Adventure in Paraphrase."
Her statement, made to Capehart and Brooks, came to us Straight Outta Script. Eventually, Capehart said it too. Brooks chose to talk around it:
WOODRUFF (2/11/22): Well, speaking of politics, another question I want to raise with both of you, and that is the move by the Republican National Committee last weekend, David, to censure two of its own, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, because of their role on the January 6 investigative committee, and then their statement that what happened, the assault on the Capitol January 6, was just normal political discourse.
We saw serious pushback from people like Mitch McConnell, other prominent Republicans. What's going on in the Republican Party?
According to Woodruff (and everyone else), the RNC had made a very peculiar statement about the events of January 6. According to Woodruff (and everyone else), they'd said that the people committing those violent assaults on police officers had simply been engaged in "normal political discourse."
That would be an amazingly strange thing to say. Had the RNC actually said it?
Here within our liberal tribe, the answer is now clearly yes.
Within the Matrix-like novelization vastly preferred by our own flailing tribe, yes they certainly said it! Everyone has said that they said it. On our brightest TV news show, Woodruff was joining the gang.
For the record, Woodruff's brief quotation was in fact slightly skewed. In the resolution under review, the RNC had actually used the phrase "legitimate political discourse."
That said, the claim that's being bruited all over our tribe involves an unmistakable "Adventure in Paraphrase." One tribal sachem after another has stated it as an established fact:
The RNC has said that the vicious attacks at the Capitol Building were legitimate political discourse!
Woodruff joined the adventure last Friday night. We'll admit that we were surprised.
We discussed this matter last week. We've decided to hold this feature film over this week because, with more and more icons signing on, it strikes us as a truly remarkable manifestation of our failing discourse.
It's an adventure in paraphrase. Just for the record, this is the way such paraphrase works:
Inventive paraphrase lets a tribe script both parts of an ongoing discourse. The tribe gets to say whatever it likes—and then, the tribe also gets to say what the other tribe said!
It's extremely hard to lose that debate! It's also very, very dumb when leading lights like Woodruff engage in such tribalized dreck.
Absent some attempt at justification, Woodruff's statement strikes us as deeply dumb. But here's the dirty little secret:
Endless parts of our tribal discourse really are stupendously dumb.
Long ago and far away, Gardner McKay spent three years starring in the TV show, Adventures in Paradise (1959-62).
McKay was unusually handsome, but he was also a serious sculptor and playwright. At some point, he came to his senses. He left Tinseltown behind.
In terms of political discourse, it's a form of paradise when you get to define the other guy's position—when you get to state the other tribe's view after you've stated your own. In the current instance, it seems to us that our tribe is playing that very dumb game.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we liberals are nowhere near as sharp as we constantly claim.
At present, the other tribe often seems insane, but much of our discourse is hopelessly dumb. We'll explore this sad topic all week as the analysts scream in pain.
Tomorrow: Very, very, very dumb—dumb a great deal of the time