Dumbing the liberal world way down!


This really can’t yield good outcomes:
If you want a taste of the heinous, we’ll suggest that you read this whole post.

In our years at this site, we’ve done a lot of work on the way the press corps has covered presidential campaigns. Dating to 1972, the track record is heinous, especially for Democrats, a point we expect to explore in the next few weeks.

(For forty-two years, the liberal world has just sat there and tolerated this nonsense.)

We’ve also covered the coverage, or the non-coverage, of certain policy issues. For example:

Why do you never hear the most basic facts about American kids’ rising test scores? Why do you hear so little about the mammoth costs of American health care, as opposed to the cost of health care in other developed nations?

Why do you never hear about that corporate looting on MSNBC? That innocent question leads to our third point of emphasis:

At some point, we began to focus on a third area—the development of allegedly liberal/progressive news sites like MSNBC and the new Salon. In our view, this is still the most fascinating topic in current American media.

Understandably, we liberals want to believe in those sites. We want to believe in the people we see at those sites.

We want to believe in their savvy, their smarts. We want to believe in their honesty, their sincerity.

More broadly, we want to believe that Our Tribe, the liberal tribe, is good and smart. We want to believe that Their Tribe, the conservative tribe, is stupid, bad and vile.

Throughout human history, we the people have wanted to believe the best about our own particular tribes. At present, we suspect that this impulse will yield bad results for progressive interests.

Yesterday, we really saw the liberal world getting itself dumbed down. For starters, we read a piece by Amanda Marcotte which sat beneath these headlines at Salon:
Why conservatives prefer propaganda to reality
A new Pew study on America's media consumption offers a window into the right's collective mindset
To a distressing extent, the piece was pure propaganda—low-IQ propaganda designed to be pleasing to us.

Not much later, we clicked three links in a piece by Joan Walsh, who was once such a mainstream squish. It ran beneath these banners:
America’s modern political nightmare: Two electorates, separate and unequal
The glee with which the GOP relies on Obama-hate to turn out its base shows the disturbing racial reality of 2014
Silly us! We clicked all three links in the fourth paragraph. In all three cases, the source materials didn’t support the pleasing claims Walsh was making.

We were impressed by the low quality of those pieces at Salon. Then we watched last night’s Maddow program.

Most horrible was the closing segment, in which Maddow, for the second straight Friday, basically told us the viewers that she thinks we’re dumb. That said, we thought the whole program involved the type of feckless overstatement Maddow was loudly condemning on the part of The Other Tribe.

Many liberals want to believe in the people we meet at our new liberal sites. We think that isn’t a great idea. We’ll explore that topic next week.

Understandably, some readers don’t like it when we state such concerns. In this matter, we think their instincts are wrong.

In our view, the liberal world is being dumbed down in ways which are likely to do it harm. With that inappropriate thought in mind:

If you want to support the work of this site, you can just click here.

To watch that segment: For the second straight Friday, Maddow ended her program with a kitschy game show segment, The Friday Night News Dump.

To watch her hype the segment, click this. Warning! You’ll find yourselves being talked down to, in a fairly obvious way.

To watch the full game show segment, click here. Warning! Brain cells dying!

Presumably, this is a ratings move. It reads like defeat to us.

You can count on Hurricane and Jordan!


And on your Daily Howler:
Confidence in the federal government has been on a bit of downturn.

Here’s how bad it seems to be getting:

This morning, for the second day in a row, we opened a major newspaper to glamour shots of Hurricane and Jordan, the highly competent Secret Service K-9 unit attack dogs.

Yesterday morning, their head shots peeped out at us from inside the Washington Post. Today, Jordan’s glossy appears in the Times, next to a glowing news report by a grateful Michael Schmidt, who speaks for a grateful nation.

Here’s the way he started out, hard-copy headline included:
SCHMIDT (10/24/14): K-9 ‘Agents’ Lift Spirits of the Secret Service With Heroics at the White House

Jordan took a kick to his snout. Hurricane was slammed to the ground and repeatedly punched. Both were rushed to a veterinarian for treatment.

But by stopping a fence jumper from getting into the White House on Wednesday night, the two members of the Secret Service’s K-9 unit accomplished something that humans in the agency have been hard-pressed to do recently: They performed their duties flawlessly and, at least for a day, lifted the morale of a Secret Service that had been rocked by a series of embarrassing incidents.

What the dogs, both Belgian Malinois, did was stop a man who had managed to get over the fence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday. The dogs, which can run 25 miles per hour and have a bite that applies hundreds of pounds of pressure per square inch, knocked the man to the ground, and bit him. As the man tried to fend the dogs off, officers moved in and arrested him.
Careful, Schmidt! If you build them up too much, they may decide to make their move to the private sector!

(Warning! This Sunday, Maureen Dowd will almost surely lament the fact that the president doesn’t apply that many pounds of pressure!)

You can count on Hurricane and Jordan—and on your Daily Howler. We pursue the press corps like fleet Malinois every day of the week.

Next week, we’ll start to hound you again about the merits of our work. For today, let’s tip our caps to these federal employees, while jauntily saying this:

If you want to contribute to this site, you can just click here.

Supplemental: Carol Costello has ruined the world!


But first, Paul Krugman’s column:
Liberals should be very angry, furious, with CNN’s Carol Costello.

But first, a note about Paul Krugman’s new column.

In his column, Krugman discusses the ways plutocrats just keep winning with political programs which hurt the bulk of voters. This was his first explanation:
KRUGMAN (10/24/14): One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): There’s a lavishly funded industry of think tanks and media organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving that faith.
We wish, wish, wish that we saw liberals and progressives trying to explain this state of affairs to misled voters in “middle America.”

We rarely see that effort being made. That brings us to Krugman’s second explanation, where we think his political sensors go significantly wrong:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions—government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.
Earth to Krugman: Many highly visible putative liberals really are “snooty elitists!” In that passage, Krugman seems to deny this obvious fact—and he mixes this apparent denial with a somewhat snarky claim about race, a topic which should never be discussed in a casual manner.

We think the messaging there is bad. This brings us to Carol Costello.

In that second passage, Krugman seems to roll his eyes at persistent political claims about liberals being “snooty elitists.” Unfortunately, snooty elitism is on wide display in various parts of the putative liberal world.

Everyone can see this fact except us snooty liberals! Costello’s recent display on CNN is one of the worst such displays in years.

Why do tons of people in middle America believe that liberals are “snooty elitists?” In part, because ridiculous people like Costello keep going a million miles out of their way to reinforce the storyline.

At issue is Costello’s recent, deeply ridiculous report about Sarah Palin’s family. For Politico’s report on Costello’s absurd performance, you can just click here.

We’ll have to link you to the MRC’s NewsBusters to let you see the full two minutes. Therein lies a tale.

Without question, you totally ought to click this link and watch the tape of Costello’s performance. Ridiculous people like Costello, behaving in these ridiculous ways, are the leading edge of a (frequently accurate) stereotype—a stereotype which keeps getting liberals defeated.

Click this link and watch that tape! You will be looking into the face of 1) astounding journalistic misconduct and 2) persistent liberal dysfunction and defeat.

It would be hard to get any dumber than Costello is on that tape. That said, can you think of other examples of this type of behavior?

Sad to say, we can!

In Krugman’s column, he seems to suggest that the image of liberals as snooty elitists is a silly stereotype. When he links that patently bogus suggestion to snarky claims of his own about race, he ensures that large numbers of voters will disregard his claims.

In fact, a mountain of snooty attitude lies behind that image of liberals. Meanwhile, everyone knows about snooty elitist liberals—everyone except us snooty liberals!

Everyone knows it. All too often, snooty elitists R us!

The unbelievably clueless Costello just did you a world of harm. Liberals should be very angry about her ridiculous conduct.

With respect to NewsBusters: Way back when, in September 2000, we did an hour on C-Span’s Washington Journal with our host, Brian Lamb, and the MRC’s Brent Bozell.

In fairness to Brent, he played well with others that day. But in those days of liberal somnolence, we couldn’t have imagined a time when his outfit, the MRC, would actually get something right.

Today, we liberals have emerged from the woods. All too often, our conduct is Costello-level absurd.

Today, the MRC is sometimes right. People like the snooty Costello just keep sending them gifts!

GATEKEEPERS GONE: The way it works with our gatekeepers gone!


Part 5—Instant disinformation:
Do we the people really need the services of gatekeepers?

Do we need philosopher kings to sift the claims we’re permitted to hear? You can bet your sweet bullroar we do!

That said, our gatekeepers are long gone. There are no figures like Cronkite and Brinkley to keep us from hearing The Dumb, The Inane and The Wrong.

In fact, we’re constantly hearing The Dumb and The Wrong! To see where this horrible process leads, consider one of the comments to Jamelle Bouie’s latest piece at Slate.

Bouie is a youngish writer (University of Virginia, 2009) who has tended to argue that Officer Wilson should be charged with a crime for shooting Michael Brown.

That might be right or that might be wrong. We aren’t trying to settle that question here.

In his brand-new piece at Slate, Bouie argues that “a new analysis of the official autopsy report—released by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch” fails to settle the basic questions which lie at the heart of this case.

As far as we know, that’s an accurate assessment. That said, we were struck by the many comments to Bouie’s piece which were, let us say, racially florid.

We were also struck by the way we the people have perhaps been misled by recent reporting about that autopsy report.

We were especially struck by a comment which appeared under the name Ernst Blofeld. Presumably, that’s a pseudonym, drawn from the old James Bond character.

Bouie’s commenter was anonymous, like the “sources” who have been spreading claims about the shooting of Brown. Working under his James Bond name, the commenter described some of the evidence which, he says, has emerged this week:
COMMENTER (10/23/14): ...Wilson shot Brown in the police car during a struggle over the gun, and the force was justified. Whether Wilson's eye socket was fractured is yet to be determined, but there was a fight in the car and Wilson was punched in the face. And "seven or eight" black witnesses, and who knows how many white witnesses, say Brown was charging Wilson.
According to this commenter, “seven or eight” black witnesses have said that Brown was charging at Officer Wilson when he was fatally shot.

If true, that would be highly significant.

For the record, that statement doesn’t track back to the report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It tracks to a profoundly incompetent front-page report in yesterday’s Washington Post.

(Bouie didn’t discuss the report in the Post, with which Slate has long been closely connected. We’re tempted to say that it just isn’t done, not even by fiery, supposedly idealistic young progressive careerists.)

Whatever! Fairly clearly, the commenter’s claim derives from the lengthy report in yesterday’s Washington Post (see text below). Here’s the problem:

The Post report doesn’t say that seven or eight black witnesses have said that Brown was charging at Wilson. In fact, the commenter greatly embellished a statement from yesterday’s Post.

That said, the actual statement in the Post was almost defiantly murky. Anyone with an ounce of sense would have known that the murky statement would quickly be embellished.

Below, you see the passage in question. Incomparably, we posted it yesterday:
KINDY AND HORWITZ (10/23/14): Wilson's attorney, James P. Towey Jr., did not return a call seeking comment.

Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson's account, but none have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety, The Post's sources said.

The St. Louis County Police Department and the FBI are investigating the shooting, and evidence gathered by both agencies is being presented to the grand jury, which started meeting in mid-August and is expected to conclude its work early next month.
The Washington Post did not report that seven or eight black witnesses say Brown was charging at Wilson. The Post reported something quite different—something so absurdly vague as to be virtually meaningless:

According to “The Post’s sources” (whoever they are), “Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson's account.”

For what it’s worth, we have no doubt that the statement is technically accurate. In large part, that’s because the statement is so vague that it’s virtually meaningless.

For precisely that reason, that statement begged to be embellished. Anybody could have foreseen where that piddle would lead.

Almost surely, other versions of that embellishment have proceeded through wide parts of our national discourse. By now, many people have heard that seven or eight black witnesses have said that Brown was charging at Wilson.

Plainly, that’s an embellishment of what the Post reported. But it was inevitable, given the roaring incompetence, of the Post’s report.

Go ahead—scan that statement again:

“Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson's account.”

Can you see what’s missing there?

That doesn’t tell us which part of Wilson’s account has been supported by those black eyewitnesses.

In fact, it doesn’t even say that their testimony supported Wilson’s account. It merely says that their testimony is consistent with Wilson’s account. That could mean that the witnesses said the shooting occurred near noon!

That statement was so vague that it said nothing at all. It didn’t belong in that front-page report. A gatekeeper should have killed it.

Years ago, that might have happened! We can imagine an editor—let’s call him Ben Bradlee—striking that pointless statement (and a great deal more) from that front-page report.

That didn’t happen this week. Indeed, most of yesterday’s front-page report was so absurdly vague that it told us nothing at all.

That said, its vague pronouncements conveyed the unmistakable sense that Wilson’s account of the shooting has been strongly supported. That front-page report reads like propaganda. It doesn’t read like journalism at all.

As we noted yesterday, that front-page was written by Sari Horwitz, who has won three Pulitzer prizes. Amazing but true:

Within our floundering public discourse, this is the way our elite “press corps” currently does its job.

Can we talk? Horwitz prepared an absurdly incompetent report. An incompetent editor put it in print. One of its absurdly vague claims is now being embellished by us the people.

A gatekeeper should have killed that statement. That pointless claim should have been kept far away from that commenter’s eyes.

That said, our gatekeepers are long gone. We the people are now in charge—and our judgments are often bad wrong.

While waiting for Ben and/or Jerry!


You can play this game too:
When we started this site in 1998, there were virtually no liberal organs.

Salon was a serious site at that time. It often presented good liberal journalism. But there were very few liberal organs, and this was the major problem:

Within the world of career journalists, careers went through the major news orgs like the Washington Post and the New York Times.

That’s why Gene Lyons’ book about Whitewater got disappeared. The book was published and promoted by Harper’s, but it bore this title:

“Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.”

You’re not allowed to say that! By “the media,” Lyons mainly meant the Times and the Post—and careerists weren’t willing to go there.

(For Lyons' new column on this topic, click here.)

We started this site in March 1998. We had no idea what we’d be tracking one year later.

Sure enough, though, there it was! In March 1999, the press corps’ war against Candidate Gore broke out. We discussed it in detail from Week One.

The lambs have never followed.

It’s very hard for people to grasp the size of the press corps’ code of silence. For liberals, it’s sometimes hard to grasp a related fact—some of our biggest liberal heroes were star players in the war which sent George Bush to the White House.

Some of them sat around and watched. The rest were active players. But right to this day, no one has been willing to discuss the way this war actually worked.

At our companion site, How He Got There, you can read the remarkable history of that war against Candidate Gore, up through the Love Canal disaster of December 1999.

The work is detailed and accurate. And, in a word, it’s astounding.

At that site, you can read the real history of the way Candidate Bush reached the White House. It would take a fool to deny the way it worked—or a professional journalist.

Isn’t it time that Ben and Jerry decided to sponsor that lapsed project? Most of the research for the remaining chapters has been done. But at some point, it simply became too painful to continue with all the work in the face of all the silence.

(Absolutely no one shuts up the way our “journalists” do.)

Isn’t it time for Ben and Jerry to put us back to work on that historical project? We’d even settle for Ben or Jerry! Or for some other sponsor!

Waiting for Ben and/or Jerry may turn out to be like waiting for Godot. In the meantime, if you want to kick in, we can’t stop you from that.

We’re going to pitch you for several weeks, explaining the state of the world in the process. In the meantime:

If you want to donate to this site, you can just click here.

Supplemental: Intellectual norms of the Washington Post!


We’ve got your elite right here:
Our gatekeepers are long gone. And alas:

Intellectually and morally, the watchdogs of our press elite have bad eyes and rotting teeth.

How bad is the work at the Washington Post? Consider what happened when Sari Horwitz—three Pulitzer Prizes!—tried to discuss Michael Brown.

Horwitz appears on this morning’s front page, sharing a byline with Kimberly Kindy. Her report is 1884 words long. It includes 44 paragraphs.

In our view, the work is amazingly bad. Whatever may have happened on the day Brown was killed, it seems to us that Sari Horwitz is pretty much getting conned.

Hard-copy headline included, this is the way she and Kindy started. The drift of the piece is quite clear:
KINDY AND HORWITZ (10/23/14): Evidence supports officer’s account of Ferguson shooting

Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought for control of the officer's gun, and Wilson fatally shot the unarmed teenager after he moved toward the officer as they faced off in the street, according to interviews, news accounts and the full report of the St. Louis County autopsy of Brown's body.

Because Wilson is white and Brown was black, the case has ignited intense debate over how police interact with African American men. But more than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson's account of events of Aug. 9, according to several people familiar with the investigation who spoke with The Washington Post.

Some of the physical evidence—including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests—also supports Wilson's account of the shooting, The Post's sources said, which casts Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer's life. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited from publicly discussing the case.
Right off the bat, right in the headline, important claims are made.

According to the headline, “evidence” support’s Officer Wilson’s account of the fatal shooting. Instantly, Horwitz and Kindy make similar claims.

“More than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson's account of events of Aug. 9,” they report. Also this:

“Some of the physical evidence...also supports Wilson's account of the shooting.”

All that may be perfectly true. Beyond that, Wilson’s account may be perfectly accurate. For ourselves, we have no way of knowing what occurred that day.

That said, how does Horwitz know the things she’s reporting in that passage? In part, she has spoken to “several people” who are “familiar with the investigation!”

In our view, “several people” aren’t very many—and Horwitz never makes any attempt to tell us who these people are, even as a general matter.

Do these “several” anonymous people have an interest in the outcome of the case? Horwitz never makes any attempt to answer that blindingly obvious question.

It seems to us that we’re already on shaky ground. But, before we go any further, a key distinction should be made:

Presumably, there were several parts to “Wilson's account of events of Aug. 9.”

You would have Wilson’s account of the initial struggle at the car. You would also have his account of the fatal shooting itself, which came later, after Wilson had gotten out of his car.

Presumably, that second event—the actual fatal shooting—is more significant than the first—the struggle at the car. We’ll only say this:

As Horwitz proceeds through her lengthy piece, she seems to spend a lot more time on the struggle at the car. She never really seems to get clear on the relative importance of these two parts of the tale.

In our view, Horwitz brings almost no focus to her lengthy piece. As she continues, she offers several odd formulations, then quickly returns to the car:
HORWITZ (continuing directly): The grand jury is expected to complete its deliberations next month over whether Wilson broke the law in confronting Brown, and the pending decision appears to be prompting the unofficial release of information about the case and what the jurors have been told.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch late Tuesday night published Brown's official county autopsy report, an analysis of which also suggests that the 18-year-old may not have had his hands raised when he was fatally shot, as has been the contention of protesters who have demanded Wilson's arrest.

Experts told the newspaper that Brown was first shot at close range and may have been reaching for Wilson's weapon while the officer was still in his vehicle and Brown was standing at the driver's side window. The autopsy found material "consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm" in a wound on Brown's thumb, the autopsy says.
Let’s start with a quibble. Wilson isn’t being investigated for “confronting” Brown. Presumably, he’s being investigated for shooting and killing Brown.

We don’t know if Wilson did anything wrong that day, but that was an odd formulation. So, in truth, is the next formulation, in which an analysis of the autopsy report “suggests” that Brown “may not” have had his hands raised when he was fatally shot.

Does that mean the analysis also suggests that he may have had his hands raised? Does that simply mean that the autopsy can’t settle that question?

Rather than work through that question, Horwitz runs back to the car, where we’re told that Brown “may” have been reaching for the gun.

Does that mean he may not have been reaching for the gun? Again, the question doesn’t get clarified.

In our view, things are going badly at this point. As she continues, Horwitz repeats a slightly puzzling quote from an expert, along with a puzzling paraphrase:
HORWITZ (continuing directly): Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco who reviewed the report for the Post-Dispatch, said it “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound.”

Melinek, who is not involved in the investigation, said the autopsy did not support those who claim Brown was attempting to flee or surrender when Wilson shot him in the street.
Let’s start with the quote from Melinek, the forensic pathologist:

It may well be that Michael Brown was reaching for Wilson’s gun when they struggled at the car. That said, did Melinek mean to suggest that this possibility has been established as a “fact?”

Last night, on The Last Word, Melinek said no one at the Washington Post called her to discuss what she said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where Horwitz found that quote. Beyond that, she seemed to say that the Post-Dispatch did a poor job reporting what she told them, which it mainly did through paraphrase.

As she continued, Horwitz offered another such paraphrase. According to Horwitz, Melinek “said the autopsy did not support those who claim Brown was attempting to flee or surrender when Wilson shot him in the street.”

That claim is completely unclear. Does it mean that the autopsy somehow shows that Brown wasn’t trying to flee or surrender? Or does it mean that the autopsy simply can’t settle that question?

Horwitz doesn’t try to say. This is terrible journalism from an undiscerning mind.

Large chunks of the Post’s lengthy report are given over to statements by various teams of lawyers. When Horwitz returns to the question at hand, her work is persistently murky.

Consider this example:
HORWITZ: Wilson's attorney, James P. Towey Jr., did not return a call seeking comment.

Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson's account, but none have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety, The Post's sources said.

The St. Louis County Police Department and the FBI are investigating the shooting, and evidence gathered by both agencies is being presented to the grand jury, which started meeting in mid-August and is expected to conclude its work early next month.
That highlighted statement could very significant, depending on what it means. Did those witnesses “provide testimony consistent with Wilson's account” of the fatal shooting?

If so, how consistent was it? Or did they provide testimony consistent with Wilson's account of what occurred at the car?

Horwitz doesn’t try to sort those questions out. Later, after additional detours, she offers this murky stew:
HORWITZ: The officer said he reached for his gun to defend himself, but Brown grabbed it and let go only after it fired twice. Two casings from Wilson's gun were recovered from the police SUV, the sources said.

After he was shot in the altercation at the vehicle, Brown fled with Johnson, and Wilson testified that he ordered Brown to stop and lower himself to the ground. Instead, Brown turned and moved toward the officer, the sources said. Wilson said he feared that Brown, who was 6-foot-4 and weighed nearly 300 pounds, would overpower him, so he repeatedly fired his gun.

Brown was shot at least six times, according to all three autopsies that have been conducted.
With that highlighted statement—in paragraph 30!—we’ve finally reached the key question. Why did Officer Wilson fire the fatal shots?

In that highlighted statement, we will assume that Horwitz is presenting Wilson’s account of what happened. Our questions:

In Wilson’s account, how many steps did Brown take toward Wilson? How far away was Brown when Officer Wilson fired? These seem like obvious questions to us, but Horwitz doesn’t seem to have asked them. This is 1883 words of horrible terrible journalism.

On the Post web site today,
a former intern boasts that she served as an intern with Horwitz, who is now a Pulitzer winner. Does this lengthy, garbled report seem like the work of a Pulitzer winner?

Sadly, it seems that way to us. This is very much the way our modern “elite” press corps works.

They've worked this way for a very long time. In part for that reason, The Dumb and The Crazy pretty much rule our world.

Right above Horwitz: Right above Horwitz on page A2, this column by Dana Milbank appears.

The piece is 100 percent “storyline.” Read in any other way, it simply doesn’t make sense.

(The very familiar storyline: Grimes has finally started to fight! If only she’d done this all along!)

Horwitz owns three Pulitzer prizes. Milbank’s a star outta Yale.

This is the way our press elite works. The Dumb and The Crazy are ruling our world because of the sloth of these ’dogs.

GATEKEEPERS GONE: A watchdog named Professor Cooper!


Part 4—Atomization and Babel:
In theory, a democratic society shouldn’t have gatekeepers.

We shouldn’t have a narrow elite which limits the things we’re permitted to hear. In theory, we the people should be able to handle The Crazy and Dumb.

We should deal with all that on our own.

In theory, we don't need gatekeepers. In theory, talented watchdogs can help us see where The Dumb and The Crazy are. We don’t need people like Walter Cronkite to keep such work from our eyes and our ears.

By now, the gatekeepers are gone. Today, our discourse overflows with The Crazy and The Dumb.

It also swims with loud watchdogs who are totally lacking in skill.

In our next post, we’ll look again at the horrible watchdog work emerging from our press elite—in this case, from two major figures at the Washington Post.

For now, let’s consider an emerging watchdog at the new Salon—a watchdog who sinks her teeth into bare flesh as part of our emerging new progressive world.

The watchdog in question is Professor Cooper of Rutgers.

Cooper may be a superb professor. For one small glimpse of her life, read a deeply human interview with Cooper on NPR last year.

Yesterday, Cooper played a bit of a watchdog role by way of her column at Salon. Her piece, and the reactions to it, display the problems which are widely observed as our new “progressive” sites continue to emerge.

The professor’s piece appeared beneath the headlines shown below.
Warning! At the deeply irresponsible new Salon, eye-catching headlines often have little to do with the contents of the articles they advertise:
White menaces to society: Keene State and the danger of young drunk white men
As the Keene State protests showed, some people feel the freedom to piss on people. Guess who they are
Those were the headlines which caught readers’ eyes, baiting subsequent clicks. Beneath them sat the piece by the professor.

As we type, it has attracted more than 600 comments. In many of those comments, readers insult each others’ reading comprehension, insisting that the other commenters have failed to grasp Cooper’s point.

So what the heck was Cooper’s point? We can’t say we’re real sure. She starts with the recent disruptions at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire, where rioting students made a mockery and a mess of the community’s annual Pumpkin Festival.

What happened at the pumpkin event? Cooper linked to an AP report by Holly Ramer, who we last visited when she was bungling a history-changing claim: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!

On Monday, Ramer reported the pumpkin chaos. This is the way she started:
RAMER (10/20/14): Keene State College students quickly cleaned up from a chaotic weekend on Sunday after violent parties near the city's annual pumpkin festival led to destruction, dozens of arrests and multiple injuries.

The parties around the school coincided with the Keene Pumpkin Festival, at which the community tries to set a world record of the largest number of carved and lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place. The violence prompted police in riot gear to use tear gas as they tried to control the crowds.

Sophomore Mallory Pearce, vice president of the student body, said she saw a car flipped over in a parking lot, another car being destroyed and people being pepper-sprayed.

"It got way out of hand. Everyone I talked to said, 'I feel unsafe, I'm going home.' They didn't want to be part of the riot, and they couldn't do anything to solve it," she said. "I honestly did not feel safe."
Violent parties, whatever they are, led to dozens of arrests. The violence prompted police in riot gear to use tear gas.

Cooper linked to that AP report. As she proceeded, she compared or contrasted those events to events in Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.

What point was Cooper trying to make? Rashomon was clearer! In comments, antagonists struggled to locate her meaning. If we were looking for her nugget, this is where we’d start:
COOPER (10/22/14): But what the events in Keene suggest is that white folks often test the bounds and limits of public decency and order with little long-term reprisal. There were some arrests, and some tear gas. But no dead bodies. No stigma about white anger. No come to Jesus meetings about White America’s problem children. No public discourse about these “menaces to society.” As many commentators on Twitter pointed out, there’ll be no articles about the absence of white leadership, or about how white folks just need to learn respect for public property.

How does it feel to be white? Does it feel like freedom? Freedom to piss on people and property with impunity? Freedom to burn shit up and live to tell about it? Freedom to threaten old people and wake up the next morning and chalk it up to drunkenness? License to kill?

This isn’t just about civility. This is, as are most things in this country, about stark and disparate forms of racial treatment. This is about the ways that white threat is largely illegible as “threat.” This is about the fact that a band of wild, drunken black college kids could not have turned over cars, threatened old people, and shouted about killing the cops and lived.
According to the Rutgers professor, black students couldn’t have done what the Keene students did “and lived.” Presumably, this meant that the black students would have been shot.

The professor offered no examples supporting this assertion. Her frequent references to the demonstrations in Ferguson led many commenters to miss a fairly obvious point:

Whatever one thinks of the conduct of the various police agencies which dealt with the Ferguson protests, demonstrators who were mostly black staged those protests “and lived.”

In fairness to the Rutgers professor, she did include one “for instance.” Continuing directly from above, she cited a campus event from last year:
COOPER (continuing directly): For instance, this is also black college homecoming season, and my alma mater Howard University canceled the annual free concert at the legendary Yard Fest this year, because there were a few issues with crowd control last year. The Yard Fest is the stuff of hip-hop legend, and it is the annual event that most alumni look most forward to participating in. But as a federally funded entity, Howard is hyper-vigilant about making sure campus events are models of black respectability. It cannot afford the public scrutiny if the event were to devolve into a cabal like that which occurred at Keene. So it canceled a portion of the event beloved by all of us, because any appreciable amount of black unruliness could be met with an unfavorable and devastating federal response.

It is an institutional example of how powerful systems of white supremacy are, how much those systems hold everyone from the most venerable black institutions to the most vulnerable black youth in their death grips.
Presumably, the cancellation of the annual free concert at Howard’s Yard Fest is offered as an example of “stark and disparate forms of racial treatment,” including the use of those “death grips:”

At Howard, an annual event was cancelled. At Keene, the kids party on.

Or something! The Pumpkin Festival is a long-running community event in Keene, not a college function. Beyond that, it isn’t clear what percentage of the rioters were students from the college.

Meanwhile, since the rioting only happened last weekend, there has been no time for anyone to cancel anything in bucolic Keene, New Hampshire. And then, there’s the basic problem with the citation of Yardfest, which, on a smaller scale, featured some factual errors.

In fact, the annual free concert had already been terminated as of last year’s Yardfest. Under the new arrangement, 14,000 tickets to the concert had been sold; no one else was allowed to attend. This led to last year’s disturbance, in which people tried to force their way into the venue, producing injuries to citizens and police.

In no way was this disturbance comparable to the events in Keene. But guess what? A largely black crowd staged a bit of a public disturbance—and everybody “lived!”

Everybody lived at Keene State; everybody lived at Howard. Did the extensive Ferguson protests produce any deaths? Unless you’re counting Kajieme Powell, everyone lived there too!

What was Professor Cooper’s point in her piece at Salon? Commenters seemed to have no idea, in large part because the august professor hadn’t taken the trouble to articulate a clear central point.

Many commenters, speaking for Cooper, articulated perfectly sensible points on her behalf. But no clear point was found in her piece, which spilled with somewhat florid racial comments.

Several pumpkins were colorfully smashed as the professor vented.

At one time, the gatekeepers of the civil rights movement would have kept this unformed screed out of print. In those days, those people were deeply oppressed. In this case, the professor has a very good job at a major university—but she didn’t seem to take the trouble to articulate a clear point.

(To gain a fuller picture of Cooper, see that NPR interview.)

The professor chose to vent. In the comments to her piece, you’ll find a hint of where we go when our new progressive watch-dogs behave in such careless ways.

What happens when careless watchdogs vent? We break apart into name-calling groups. We live in an atomized Babel.

That atomized Babel serves the interests of the farthest of the far right. They want the society splitting apart (as is of course their right). Theoretically, we progressives want to build a functioning nation—a nation whose government can proceed to serve progressives ends.

The commenters screamed and yelled at each other. They insulted each other’s reading comprehension. They called each other names.

Some made perfectly sensible claims which the professor hadn’t bothered to make. Others cited unflattering crime statistics concerning our various “races.”

They engaged in standard Internet Babel. Do you know what they needed?

Good lord! They probably could have used a couple of very good gatekeepers!

Tomorrow: Two major watchdogs and us the people