The Post tells (half of) the sexism story!

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2021

Jessica Goldstein gets it (half) right: We'll guess that Jessica Goldstein's report is headed for the magazine in this coming Sunday's Washington Post.

Repeat—that's just a guess. At any rate, Goldstein's essay appeared online yesterday morning. As best we can tell, Goldstein does an excellent job telling one half of a story.

Goldstein's essay tells the sleazy story of sleazy media misogyny around the turn of the century. Rather, it tells the story of sleazy media misogyny as directed at young entertainment stars like Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson.

We weren't reading the sleazy magazines, Rolling Stone not excluded, on which Goldstein focuses. But here's a taste of the media culture she's talking about:

GOLDSTEIN (3/2/21): What exactly was going on in the early 2000s? From one vantage point, it was an encouraging period for young women, a real you-go-girl time in entertainment. All-female acts like TLC and Destiny’s Child climbed the charts with anthems about kicking scrubs and cheating exes to the curb. Smart, plucky heroines led box office hits like “Erin Brockovich,” “Bend it Like Beckham” and “Legally Blonde,” while “Buffy,” “Dark Angel” and “Alias” duked it out on TV. It seemed like a pretty good time to be a girl, considering the alternative (all of human history up to that point). 

But it was also the era of “Girls Gone Wild” and MTV Spring Break live-streaming wet T-shirt contests from Daytona Beach. Terms like “slut-shaming” and “victim-blaming” had yet to enter the lexicon and “revenge porn” was neither a concept nor a criminal offense, though sex tapes released without the consent of their participants (like Paris Hilton’s) were treated as major news and entertainment events.

“There was a lot of talk about the word ‘raunch,’ ” said Vanessa Grigoriadis, who, as a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, spent the 2000s profiling celebrities, including Simpson and Spears. “What is raunch culture and why is it taking over America? Why are people interested in Jenny McCarthy and Jessica Simpson and Jenna Jameson and Anna Nicole Smith? . . . I think everybody thought this was a real moment in American pop culture history where we had reached the bottom.”

"What exactly was going on in the early 2000s?" Goldstein focuses on the raunch culture of magazines which adopted an exploitative stance toward young female celebrities.

What kind of exploitive stance is being discussed? Exploitive raunch like this:

GOLDSTEIN: Dan Peres, who became editor in chief of Details in 2000, noted this shift in his 2019 memoir: “Edginess and cool had given way to T&A and bosomy midriff-baring cover models,” he wrote. “Fighting to compete, most traditional men’s magazines, including Details, followed suit, and their covers became virtually indistinguishable from the Playboys I used to try to peek at as a kid.”

Even the more literary-minded men’s magazines got in on it. In 2003, Britney was pantsless on Esquire; three years later, Aguilera was topless on GQ. The articles pretty much matched the pictures. “The male writer would go and basically flirt with a female celebrity to see if the female celebrity would take the bait,” said Grigoriadis, her eye roll nearly audible through the phone. “That was a trope that was used constantly.”

Goldstein discusses the extent to which these young female stars can be said to have played a willing role in this culture. But there's one thing Goldstein doesn't discuss:

She doesn't discuss what was happening in the early 2000s (and in the 1990s) with respect to our sleazy and deeply stupid high-end political culture.

As far as we know, Goldstein has done an excellent job with this aspect of entertainment culture. If she has the stomach for it, we'd like to see her roll up her sleeves, extend her range, and tackle the political side of the coin:

The misogyny aimed at Hillary Clinton from the 1990s on. The misogyny aimed at Naomi Wolf during Campaign 2000.

The ridiculous conduct of Chris Matthews, followed by the ridiculous conduct of Keith Olbermann, all of it aided by the ridiculous conduct of their various manchild sidekicks and by the silence of a wide range of enablers. All of this was permitted by the lazy indifference of the liberal and feminist worlds, who let this garbage-can culture continue until Donald J. Trump reached the White House.

Our resistance began the very next day! Literally, that's when we "rose from our warm beds" and began to pretend to resist.

In June 2008, Clark Hoyt devoted a column to the misogyny Maureen Dowd had aimed at Candidate Hillary Clinton during the previous year of campaigning. At the time, Hoyt was the New York Times' public editor.

On the upper ends of the mainstream and liberal worlds, Hoyt's column generated exactly zero discussion. Even after such a jump start, the behavior of such a major New York Times star simply could not be discussed.

This is one of the basic ways we got Donald J. Trump. This is also one of the basic ways we got George W. Bush.

On the brighter side, a bunch of people scored outstanding careers in mainstream and liberal journalism. They were rewarded for their silence. Everyone else got Trump.

(Have you ever seen Rachel talk about this? No, and you never will. Last night, she made an utter fool of herself beating on Joe Manchin. We aren't especially sharp in Our Town, although we do know what we like.)

We think Goldstein did an excellent job. Half of the story remains.


TIMES AND TOWN: We loved what Professor Kendi said...

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, 2021

...until we possibly didn't: On Sunday, in its Book Review section, the New York Times interviewed Ibram X. Kendi about his reading habits.

It's the latest in a weekly Book Review feature—a feature called "By The Book." On Sunday, we became at least a partial Kendi fan based upon this statement:

NEW YORK TIMES (2/28/21): Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

PROFESSOR KENDI: Without question, “All About Love: New Visions,” by bell hooks, brought me closer to my partner, Sadiqa, years before we met. “All About Love” taught me how to love; that love is a verb.

Sadiqa Kendi is a pediatric emergency medicine doctor—and she identifies as a woman. Dating all the way back to Buddy Holly's unembarrassed "girly-man" persona, we like a straight man who speaks (and think) in such ways about his girl friend or his wife. 

(Unashamedly, Holly would burble and coo as he sang his songs. Routinely, his songs established a basic point—it was easy to fall in love because of what his girl friend was like.)

That brief statement to the Times helps make us a Kendi fan. We wish that boys and young men were vaccinated with larger doses of such speaking and thinking by men.

That said, we sometimes chuckle at the general form of the weekly "By The Book" feature. We've been told that we're sometimes joined by the gods on Olympus.

In a brief search this morning, we couldn't find the (perhaps imagined) Platonic ideal of the By The Book interview, the version of this weekly feature which lives inside our brains. Sometimes, though, we chuckle at By The Book's presentations, which may go exactly like this:

NEW YORK TIMES (11/22/20): What books are on your night stand?

AUTHOR: At night, I mostly read either poetry or gumshoe noir. Right now it’s (for poetry) Jericho Brown’s “The Tradition,” Jorie Graham’s “Runaway” and “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through,” an anthology of Native Nations poetry edited by Joy Harjo; plus (for gumshoe): Arnaldur Indridason’s “Strange Shores” and Ace Atkins’s “The Revelators.” I’m a bit of a “library cormorant,” to borrow Coleridge’s memorable phrase—always on the swim through books, gulping down this and that, here and there.

NEW YORK TIMES: What’s the last great book you read?

AUTHOR: Bao Ninh’s “The Sorrow of War,” part of a recent deep dive into the Vietnam War in fiction and historical writing. A haunting, brutal account of the conflict from the perspective of a young North Vietnamese soldier.

NEW YORK TIMES: Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

AUTHOR: Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate.”

NEW YORK TIMES: Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

AUTHOR: In a tent, by torchlight, at the end of a long day in the mountains, with another to follow tomorrow. Tired in the legs, content in the mind. The first stars beginning to show in a clear night sky, a silhouette-sense of the ridgelines around. Breath misting in the cold, and a few pages of a good novel before deep sleep.

NEW YORK TIMES: Which writers—novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets—working today do you admire most?

AUTHOR: Alexis Wright: I’m awed by the range, experiment and political intelligence of her work, from fiction such as “Carpentaria” and “The Swan Book,” to her “collective memoir” of an Aboriginal elder in “Tracker.” As essayist, activist, novelist and oral historian she is vital on the subject of land and people. Barry Lopez has always been an immense inspiration: I value the grace and luminosity of his sentences, the moral charge of his writing, and the symphonic patterning he embeds over the length of books like “Arctic Dreams” or “Horizon.” Among others, then, I’ve huge admiration for the ways Robin Wall Kimmerer, Jedediah Purdy, Rebecca Solnit and the theater-maker Simon McBurney go about their work.

NEW YORK TIMES: Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

AUTHOR: Heroine: Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials.”

And so on from there.

We'll admit to a guilty pleasure. When we peruse such portraits and/or self-descriptions, we're frequently overtaken by an anthropological musing:

We're struck by the fact that none of these giants of vast erudition ever noticed what was happening in the lowbrow public discourse over the past many years.

They didn't notice the con involved in the repetitive claim that the Social Security trust fund was "just a bunch of worthless IOUs."

They didn't notice the con involved in the claim that Candidate Gore had said that he invented the Internet (or in the claim that Gore had said a thousand other such things.) 

They didn't speak up when Rush Limbaugh told millions of people that Hillary Clinton was involved in the murder of Vince Foster, a murder which didn't occur. They didn't say boo when Reverend Falwell peddled his Clinton Chronicles tape, a tape which chronicled the Clintons' many murders.

When the newspaper which publishes By The Book spent a month sliming Naomi Wolf in overtly misogynist fashion, they didn't seem to notice. (In lengthy Nexis searches, we managed to find two people who rose to speak on behalf of Wolf—William Safire and Bill Kristol. As for Gore, he was repeatedly trashed for "hiring a woman to teach him to be a man." It was an MSM script.) 

They didn't speak when Diane Sawyer asked Marla Maples if sex with The Donald was the best sex she ever had. When Diane Sawyer ambushed Candidate Gore with that silly "farm chores" pop quiz. When Diane Sawyer, live and direct from her many fine homes, ambushed Candidate Hillary Clinton with the claim that the two houses she and her husband owned were too fine and too large.

When the Times ran that astonishing Uranium One takedown? Dearest darlings, use your heads! Do you have to ask?

In spite of all the vast erudition, does anyone ever notice anything that's happening in the world? We'll admit that we sometimes think such thoughts when we peruse these By The Book features and other such presentations.

In the exchanges posted above, the author in question was willing to make some concessions.  He was prepared to admit that he's a bit of a “library cormorant”— that he's "always on the swim through books, gulping down this and that." 

He admitted that he values the symphonic patterning embedded over the length of certain books. 

Has he ever read a book anyone else has heard of?  We can't be entirely sure when hit with a question like that.

We sometimes think we see performance and branding in such presentations—performance and branding on the part of the New York Times if not on the part of the author. We wonder how so many high-quality books can be read with so little public value emerging.

More often, we just chuckle at the performative erudition. In this way, the New York Times is telling us subscribers that we are extremely bright too, which we just basically aren't out here in the streets of Our Town.

We'll admit it! We thought we saw a hint of this flaw in Professor Kendi's By The Book outing. We loved what he said about his partner, but where did things go after that?

Our view? The man is an antimisogynist god. That leaves us with an important question:

How's his antiracism?

Tomorrow: Antiracism and Town

Also this: Our own favorite fictional heroine is the "fair maiden, her name I don't know" in the traditional western ballad, The Ranger's Command. 

She rose from her bed in the dead hour of night, then taught a bunch of wavering cowboys that they had to fight for their land. Might we see a hint of Promising Young Woman in this traditional heroine?

For the Joan Baez version, just click here. We think it's her best recording ever.

Before that, you had Woody Guthrie.


What kind of person is Donald McNeil?

TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2021

We can think of several answers: Yesterday afternoon, we read Donald McNeil's lengthy account of the events which led to his recent forced departure from the New York Times.

What kind of person is Donald McNeil? Obviously, we can't tell you.

After reading his account of these widely-discussed events, he strikes us as a person who may be inclined to say a bit more than is necessarily required in some particular circumstance.  Some people are so inclined, and it may get them in trouble.

It might be better if McNeil weren't so inclined, if he actually is. That said, according to the leading authority on his career, McNeil, who is 67 years old, is also this kind of person:

From 1995 to 2002, he was a foreign correspondent [for the New York Times] based in South Africa and France. It was during this time that McNeil began covering HIV/AIDS and took an interest in vaccine-preventable diseases.

In 2002, McNeil joined the science staff of The New York Times and was assigned to cover global health. At the time, McNeil had to convince his editor, Cornelia Dean, to allow him to cover "diseases that poor people die of." McNeil's later work on a series of stories about diseases on the brink of eradication was awarded the top prize by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Prize in Journalism in 2006.

In 2013, he was featured in an acclaimed documentary about AIDS drugs, Fire in the Blood.

McNeil began covering the outbreak of the Zika virus for The New York Times in late 2015. He gained attention for his coverage of viral outbreaks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he became known for his early and persistent warnings about the severity of the situation. McNeil appeared on The Daily to talk about COVID-19 on February 27, 2020, marking him as one of the first to bring widespread attention to the COVID-19 virus in the United States. He also interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci about Fauci's working relationship with President Donald Trump. His early coverage and acclaimed writing made him one of the prominent journalists covering COVID-19.

We aren't qualified to assess McNeil's reporting on global health. Nor can we vouch for every claim in that account. 

That said, the claims are derived from such sources as this interview / profile in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. It's also true that McNeil is the kind of person who won the John Chancellor Prize  for Excellence in Journalism, just last year, for the quality of his reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic. Here's part of what the announcement alleged:

Columbia Journalism School announced today that Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter at The New York Times, is the recipient of the 2020 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. For over a quarter-century, McNeil has dedicated his career to writing about infectious diseases that afflict people in developing countries and pandemics that have swept the globe. Since working as a correspondent based in Africa in the mid-1990’s, he has mastered reporting on viral outbreaks covering HIV-AIDS, Ebola, swine flu, malaria, Zika, and now coronavirus, among others. This year, his authoritative coverage helped inform and prepare millions of readers for the gravest health crisis the world has faced in a century.

"Sometimes the perfect reporter meets the perfect story. That happened this year. Donald knows science and medicine, and he is a determined and ambitious reporter who doesn't stop till he finds the truth," said Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times.

[...]

“Donald McNeil’s deeply reported work reflects an expertise rare in daily journalism,” said Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Journalism School and a member of the Chancellor jury. “His dedication to the well-being of all people and his passion for justice reflect the integrity of the late John Chancellor.”

We can't vouch for any of that. At any rate, that was then, and this is post-Peru.

For ourselves, we're willing to guess that McNeil knows a lot more than we do about a range of significant topics. We'll even guess that he knows more than many teen-agers at our most elite prep schools.

For whatever reason, the summers of 2018 and 2019 found McNeil on Times-sponsored educational junkets to Peru. He was cast in the role of public health expert for a bunch of middle-school and prep school kids who were paying $5500 to study public health issues.

According to Ben Smith's account of these events, those junkets began as a source of revenue for the Times. 

"In 2012, when The New York Times was panicked about its financial future, this newspaper went into the travel business," Smith wrote. A few years later, this side venture had McNeil traipsing through Peru.

After reading McNeil's account of that trip, it sounds like he may have frequently said a bit more than was required. It sounds like he may have said such things to a bunch of prep school kids who may conceivably know a bit less than they believe they do.

(Teen-agers tend to be like that.)

We were struck by the early, gruesome "journalism" surrounding these events. The Daily Beast broke the non-story about the way a few of these kids had been offended by McNeil's alleged remarks. It was clear that the Beast had no idea what McNeil had actually said to these prep school students.

It was also clear that the Daily Beast wasn't concerned about that. The Beast had heard (correctly, as it turned out) that McNeil, on one occasion, had spoken the N-word to a few of those kids in a discussion of racist language, and that was enough for The Beast. 

The Beast produced inflammatory accounts of McNeil's overall conduct, ignoring the fact that The Beast had no real idea what had ever been said.

Has our journalism ever been dumber? We're not sure it has. 

After reading McNeil's account, it sounds to us that he frequently may have said a bit more than the occasion required—especially given the fact that he had been thrown in with a bunch of kids who may have been extremely sure of the things they thought they knew.

Based on what McNeil himself wrote, it sounds to us like he showed poor judgment on two occasions. That said, whose bad judgment had sent him off on this dumb money-making adventure in the first place?

The technical dumbness of our upper-end journalism is on constant wide display. Back in 2018, the New York Times' initial reporting on the incident at Smith College is a museum-level example of very bad, very dumb reporting.

Offhand, we can't think of a reason ever to say the N-word aloud. There are quite a few other words of that type which we'd never say aloud—insulting words in the realms of gender and race, words which have caused mountains of pain down through the long ugly years.

In our view, McNeil showed imperfect judgment in saying the N-word aloud, even in the context described. (One of the students raised the general topic.)

That said, we also can't think of a reason to produce the kind of journalism The Daily Beast did; to produce that initial report on the incident at Smith College; or to force the resignation of a reporter who actually knows a great deal about important subject matter, at least not over the events which seem to have occurred in Peru.

The vast range of people will think we're weirdly dumb in Our Town when we behave in these ways. People will think we're weirdly dumb, and lacking in basic judgment.

Who's to say that those people are wrong? These incidents, piled one on top of the next, send such people over to Trump. They feel that they will be massacred next by us know-it-all Dimmesdales, and who's to say that they're wrong?

We aren't inclined to blame teen-agers for lacking ultimate wisdom. It's the adult behavior at Smith College, and at the Times, which may cost us votes in Our Town.

The teens in Peru had spent the big bucks. Their accounts of what had occurred were quickly assumed to be sensible, accurate, reliable, beyond dispute. 

"Verdict first," The Beast seemed to say. Commenters raced into line to agree.

We think of something the janitor at Smith College said—the janitor who was completely falsely accused by the college freshman:

“We used to joke, don’t let a rich student report you, because if you do, you’re gone.”

We aren't inclined to blame teenagers for having imperfect judgment. But after that, the adults step in. Their performances of virtue will quickly clear the room.

Is McNeil an expert on subject matter? Citizen, please! At times of cultural revolution, who needs distractions like that?


TIMES AND TOWN: Lucky Luke (French) as the day's top report!

TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2021

Is this performative virtue?: Last Monday morning, the analysts woke us to say that the Times was possibly at it again.

Scrolling through Monday's "Today's Paper" listings, the youngsters had reached the International section—and there, they'd been brought up cold. Perhaps somewhat oddly, the featured report in that section carried this capsule account:

Lucky Luke, the Comic Book Cowboy, Discovers Race, Belatedly

A few of the youngsters were wondering how a comic book cowboy discovering race could possibly be the biggest topic in international events on that day—or on any other. 

Others wondered how a comic book cowboy named Lucky Luke could qualify as international news, whatever it was he had done. We agreed to sort it all out.

As it turns out, Lucky Luke is the principal character in a "Franco-Belgian comic book classic." That's how his belated discovery of race qualified as an international event. 

Some of the youngsters still wondered how Luke's discovery of race could be the day's top international event:

"That just the Times being the Times," one other young analyst said.

The full set of headlines which appear online help explain the newspaper's editorial judgment this day. How could this be a top international event? Online, here's what the headlines said:

Lucky Luke, the Comic Book Cowboy, Discovers Race, Belatedly
For the first time in the Franco-Belgian comic book classic, Black characters have full-fledged roles and are drawn without the racist depictions that marred the genre.

Was anything "wrong" with the Times' editorial judgment this day? Not necessarily, no.

According to this news report, black characters will now be appearing in a comic book series to which many French children are exposed. (According to the Times report, Lucky Luke was "last year's best selling comic book" in France.) 

French and other francophone kids will now be getting a different experience. In this passage, Norman Onisji explains the way the comic book will be changing:

ONISHI (2/22/21): The story of a cowboy in the American Old West, Lucky Luke was only one of a handful of comic book series that, for generations, had been an integral part of growing up in France and other francophone countries. Children read Lucky Luke, along with Tintin and Astérix, at their most impressionable age when, as Mr. Berjeaut said, the story “enters the mind like a hammer blow and never comes out.”

But as he sought new story lines, Mr. Berjeaut grew troubled as he reflected on the presence of Black characters in Lucky Luke. In the nearly 80 albums published over seven decades, Black characters had appeared in only one story, “Going up the Mississippi”—drawn in typically racist imagery.

“I’d never thought about that, and then I started questioning myself,” he said, including why he had never created Black characters himself, concluding that he was subconsciously avoiding an uncomfortable subject. “For the first time, I felt a kind of astonishment.”

The result of Mr. Berjeaut’s introspection was “A Cowboy in High Cotton,” which was published late last year in French and is now being released in English. His aim, he said, was to tell the story of Lucky Luke and recently freed Black slaves on a plantation in Louisiana, with the book’s narrative and graphic details reimagining the role of the cowboy hero and the representation of Black characters in non-racist terms. For the first time there is a Black hero.

With one exception in seven decades, there had never been any black characters in Lucky Luke at all. Having received one image of the Old West, French kids will now be getting a different portrait, courtesy of the kind of historical expert who writes and draws comic books in France.

Does any of this actually matter? At least in theory, it does.

Reading Onishi's report, we recalled our own early TV experience. We returned to the 1950s, at a time when Lucy Ricardo was being portrayed a hopeless infant and the vintage radio/TV program, Amos and Andy, was still in syndication. 

The NAACP fought to get Amos and Andy off the air; eventually, the NAACP succeeded. But it matters what (impressionable) children are told and shown in their earliest years—even if, in the Lucky Luke case, French children were said to be suffering from a lack of black cowboy characters, not from gruesome stereotypical renderings.

To some extent, it really was "the Times just being the Times" when Lucky Luke led the International section that day. In our measured assessment, we would say this:

To some extent, this was a genuine topic. Also though, to some extent, the Times may perhaps and possibly have been posturing a bit. These things are hard to measure.

Rather plainly, the Times has chosen to err on the side of being progressive, perhaps even Woke, when it comes to matters of race. The widely-discussed 1619 Project would be the most obvious example of this editorial decision. 

In our view, there's nothing wrong with such a decision, until such time as there is. 

On occasion, the Times does seem to stretch things a bit in its pursuit of a new, better approach to matters of race. Imaginably, such decision-making could sometimes be counterproductive—could work against our desire to create a more perfect union, to build a better and fairer world. 

Yesterday could imaginably have been such a day. We thought we may have been seeing thumbs on the scale in topic selection and topic placement all over the famous newspaper. Also, there's the fallout which could ensue from Donald McNeil's account of his recent dismissal from the Times—a dismissal based upon the charge of imperfect conduct when discussing matters of race.

(More on that this afternoon.)

On occasion, the Times tends to go out of its way to feature reports about race. Then too, there's the constant betrayal of upper-class values when the Times tries to pursue a better racial world. 

In our view, this problem appears early and often when the Times discusses race and the public schools and the food decent kids who attend them. This is an area in which the Times' reporting constantly strikes us as a gruesome, disgraceful, unwell.

To some extent, last week's report on Lucky Luke really was the Times being the Times. In our view, the modern Times is inclined to be highly performative on matters of race, but such motivations are hard to assess and such performance won't always be bad.

That major report about Lucky Luke was a fairly standard expression of prevailing New York Times culture. So was Sunday's interview with Professor Ibram X. Kendi, a very good, very decent person whose ideas may not always be best.

Tomorrow, we'll start with that interview. It was a standard Book Review feature, of a type which tends to make us chuckle. 

We'll move from there to one of Professor Kendi's ideas about the proper way to discuss and report on the public schools. We share the reservations he describes, but we find it hard to share his overall assessment.

In territory like the Times, Kendi's word is currently perhaps being viewed as something approaching law. Guilt and performance to the side, this approach by those in Our Town won't necessarily be in the interests of the millions of good, decent kids who attend our low-income schools.

They want and deserve to be full participants in our wider failing world. We're forced to say that there are times when the occasionally performative Times doesn't much seem to care.

Tomorrow: Today we have naming of books


Donald J. Trump and Madison Cawthorn!

MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2021

We live in extremely strange times: As you've probably noticed by now, we live in extremely strange times. 

If our only goals are anthropological, we live in interesting times. A Chinese proverb is said to have warned us against that.

We live in a time when people seem to be crazier—perhaps more deluded—than people have ever been in the past. Or it may just be that the widespread rewards are too darn high, and that people are hugely dishonest.

It's hard to say just how it works, but we'll offer two current examples:

Donald J. Trump's lunatic comments at yesterday's CPAC session. For a summary of those remarks, just click here.

Also, Rep. Madison Cawthorn's ongoing gruesome behavior, as described in a front-page report in today's Washington Post. The gentleman is "a new pro-Trump star of the far right," the Post headline points out.

Due to new technologies, there has never been a time when it was so easy to spread so many bogus claims on such a mass scale. As an example of what we mean, consider the start of this morning's front-page report in the New York Times :

GRYNBAUM ET AL (3/1/21): At 1:51 p.m. on Jan. 6, a right-wing radio host named Michael D. Brown wrote on Twitter that rioters had breached the United States Capitol—and immediately speculated about who was really to blame. “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters,” Mr. Brown wrote, using shorthand for Black Lives Matter. “Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”

Only 13,000 people follow Mr. Brown on Twitter, but his tweet caught the attention of another conservative pundit: Todd Herman, who was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. Minutes later, he repeated Mr. Brown’s baseless claim to Mr. Limbaugh’s throngs of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”

What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of a right-wing disinformation machine primed to seize on a lie that served its political interests and quickly spread it as truth to a receptive audience. The weekslong fiction about a stolen election that President Donald J. Trump pushed to his millions of supporters had set the stage for a new and equally false iteration: that left-wing agitators were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.

It entered the head of a right-wing host that the invaders were Antifa. Or maybe BLM!

In the words of Grynbaum et al., "What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of" the  ability to spread bogus ideas and ridiculous claims, given the power of certain modern  technologies and media.

It increasingly seems that our human discernment is extremely poor. This surprising fact is being put on display in a remarkable way, due to the ease with which we the humans can now be confronted with ridiculous claims straight outta La-La Land.

Does Trump believe the various claims he bruited at CPAC? We don't have the slightest idea. But ten minutes after he made the claims, millions of others did!

Lack of discernment and sociopathy seem to make excellent partners. For what it's worth, Donald J. Trump is 74, Cawthorn just 25.

In many locales, their bogus claims are accepted on face. As a basic matter of basic persuasion, how do we undermine this process?

Inquiring minds need to figure that out. Also, whose possibly imperfect claims do we possibly buy Over Here? According to major credentialed experts, the lack of discernment isn't restricted to one set of human towns. 

They have at heart our not getting lost! They come to us in the dead of night and dance their disconsolate waltz.


Starting tomorrow: TIMES AND TOWN!

MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2021

Performative, insincere, phony, dumb—counterproductive, unhelpful?: At the end of last week, we were thrilled by a couple of things we saw in the New York Times.

On Thursday morning, we encountered Michael Powell's front-page report about an unfortunate incident at Smith College and its sad, stupid, silly, dumb aftermath. 

In our view, Powell's lengthy front-page report adopted a (highly instructive) approach to issues of race and class—a high instructive approach which would normally be avoided in the Times.

After that, the comments! We saw the comments to Michelle Goldberg's fuzzy opinion column about "critical race theory," a school of thought which largely went undefined in her piece.

In print editions, the fuzzy column was published in yesterday's Sunday Review, the newspaper's highest platform. In its explicit and implied praise for the tenets of CRT, the column represented a return to form for the Times concerning matters of "race."

Goldberg's column was poorly reasoned but completely familiar in its implied point of view. But then, dear God, the comments! 

We sampled the comments to Goldberg's column, in which one self-identified liberal after another savaged what might be described as the "Woke" point of view.

Could it be true? Is it possible that denizens of Our Town are prepared to engage in a bit of self-criticism concerning the way we tend to approach this very important topic? Could we possibly imagine that this might be true?

Based upon Thursday's front-page report, could we imagine another possibility? Could we imagine the possibility that the Times might be prepared to rethink the way it has approached this very important, very large topic in the past quite-a-few years?

According to experts, that would be a consummation devoutly to be wished! That said, on Saturday morning's front page, the Times returned to its standard, almost comical approach to the role of race in the public schools.

And this morning—good God, this morning! This morning, there the Times went again!

We're speaking here of what we saw when we scrolled through this morning's "Today's Paper" listings.  In our view, a person could almost say that the Times' offerings for this day border on a type of journalistic parody.

Tomorrow, we'll tell you what we saw when we performed that act of scrolling. From there, we'll proceed to the near-parodic, unhelpful way the New York Times covers race in the public schools. 

We'll link that topic to this interview with Ibram X. Kendi in yesterday's Book Review section. To be perfectly honest, that interview could almost be seen as a bit of a parody too.

We've long been appalled by the way the Times approaches the topic of race in the public schools. For all we know, that approach may even be well-intentioned, but in practice, we regard it as deeply ugly—destructive, performative, vile.

We regard it as the ultimate example of Our Town's modern performative culture. We regard it as the behavior of the Hamptons crowd as they pretend to care about all the kids they have no plans to know.

In fairness, who knows? They may even be sincere!

Ugly, stupid, phony, faux? Silly, stupid, pretentious, performative? Which words will the sages employ, if any sages exist in the future, when they review the way Our Town rampaged around and about, addressing issues of (so-called) race in these, the final days of our rapidly failing republic?

At Smith, a kid who had just finished her freshman year seemed to need some help. (In large part, we base this assessment on the videotape of the interview she did with Boston's CBS station.)

Many young people do need help; ideally, adults should try to provide it. In this case, Smith's president responded by fawning and pandering to this young person, while throwing an array of long-time staffers under a big yellow smoke-belching bus.

On the merits, behavior like this is deeply counterproductive. But this is the way we tend to behave in the more "elite" precincts of Our Town—and we'll even add this:

Almost surely, this is one of the ways Trump voters get born! Beyond that, we're often amazed that the modern white working class isn't more hostile than it seems to be on the general matter of race.

Here in Our Town, we've been looking down on such people ever since Mother and Father told us how special we were. We refuse to take yes for an answer from the denizens of Their Towns, and our biggest newspaper keeps pimping the pap about how much they care in the Hamptons.

Yesterday morning, the Washington Post published an essay by Matthews Yglesias on the front page of its high-profile Outlook section. In his essay, Yglesias offered a critique of Our Town's approach to matters of race! Online, the headlines say this:

Not all ‘anti-racist’ ideas are good ones. The left isn’t being honest about this. 
On some topics, progressives prefer pointing out right-wing hypocrisy to debating substance.

We'd try to stay away from ultimate assessments of "honesty." In theory, though, the publication of that essay should perhaps be encouraging too.

In theory, the publication of that essay is perhaps encouraging. In practice, it seems to us that Yglesias chose his words and his examples with extreme care. 

If we might borrow from Tiny Tim, he may have tiptoed through the tulip craze a bit. We will be a bit more direct in our presentations this week. 

It seems to us that the major tribunes of Our Town tend to be phony, silly, stupid / dumb / faux when it comes to matters of race. Also, extremely unhelpful.

We don't believe a word they say, though it may be that they're fully sincere. But then, we've mined (if only for a while) in their mines. We have (somewhat briefly) gathered in their corn.

Tomorrow: Scrolling through this morning's Times

Coming: Professor Kendi on the way to report on the public schools