Category Archives: Media

Perhaps Kathryn can translate this for me

salon

When I saw the above sub-headline, I said, “say what?”

Then I said it again when I started reading it, then a few more times as I made my way through it, then once more when I was done.

So, since Kathryn’s always getting on me about my “privilege blindness,” and this writer does the same, maybe she can ‘splain this to me.

Because it made NO kind of sense. An excerpt:

White people, even well-meaning and thoughtful ones, have the privilege of looking at deadly acts of mass violence of this sort as isolated local incidents, particular to one community. They do not look at such incidents as indicative of anything having to do with race or racism. But everything from the difference in law enforcement response to media response tells us what we need to know about how white privilege allows acts of violence by white people to be judged by entirely different standards than those of any other group. If a Black motorcycle gang had engaged in a shootout in a parking lot, any honest white person will admit that the conversation would have sounded incredibly different.

Frequently in conversations that I have observed or participated in with white people about race, the claim is levied that it is Black people “who make everything about race.” But this incident in Waco gives lie to that claim. It turns out that when white privilege is in clear operation, white people are invested in making sure that we don’t see race in operation. Charles Mills, a philosopher of race, has a term which I think applies here: epistemology of white ignorance. By this means, he means that white people have created a whole way of knowing the world that both demands and allows that they remain oblivious to the operations of white supremacy, that white people remain “intent on denying what is before them.” Thus even though three gangs have now attacked each other in broad daylight and killed or injured 27 people, there is no nagging, gnawing sense of fear, no social anxiety about what the world is coming to, no anger at the thugs who made it unsafe for American families to go about their regular daily activities without fear of being clipped by a stray bullet, no posturing from law enforcement about the necessity of using military weapons to put down the lawless band of criminals that turned a parking lot into a war zone in broad daylight. More than that, there is no sense of white shame, no hanging of the head over the members of their race that have been out in the world representing everything that is wrong with America.

That kind of intra-racial shame is reserved primarily for Black people.

Most white citizens will insist that this was just an isolated incident, even though the gangs were already under surveillance for consistent participation in criminal activity. And this studied ignorance, this sense in which people could look at this set of incidents and simply refuse to see all the ways in which white privilege is at play — namely that no worse than arrest befell any the men who showed up hours later with weapons, looking for a fight — returns me to the words of Malcolm X. For many Americans, this is just good ole American fun, sort of like playing Cowboys-and-Indians in real life. As Malcolm reminded us, “whites idolize fighters.” So while I’m sure many Americans are appalled at the senseless loss of life, there is also the sense that this is just “those wild Texans” doing the kind of thing they do.

White Americans might also deny the attempt to “lump them in” with this unsavory element. But the point is that being seen as an individual is a privilege. Not having to interrogate the ways in which white violence is always viewed as exceptional rather than regular and quotidian is white privilege. White people can distance themselves from their violent racial counterparts because there is no sense that what these “bikers” did down in Texas is related to anything racial. White Americans routinely ask Black Americans to chastise the “lower” elements of our race, while refusing to do the same in instances like this. Yes, white people will denounce these crimes, but they won’t shake a finger at these bikers for making the race look bad. It won’t even occur to them why Black people would view such incidents as racialized.

Such analyses are patently unacceptable. And they are possible because white bodies, even those engaged in horrendously violent and reckless acts, are not viewed as “criminal.” Yes, some police officers referred to the acts of these killers in Waco as criminal acts and them as criminals, but in popular discourse, these men have not beencriminalized. Criminalization is a process that exists separate and apart from the acts one has committed. It’s why street protestors in Baltimore are referred to as violent thugs for burning buildings, but murderers in Waco get called “bikers.” And if thug is the new n-word (and I’m not sure that’s precise), then “biker” is the new “honky” or “cracker,” which is to say that while the term is used derisively and can communicate distaste, it does not have the devastating social effects or demand the same level of state engagement to suppress such “biker-ish” activity as we demand to suppress the activities of alleged “thugs” and “criminals.”

OK, let’s review.

  • She’s right that I see this as a local incident, just as I see the violence in Baltimore as a local incident, the product of local conditions. Yep, there are loads of people out there who nationalize such incidents, rightly or wrongly, but in my experience black observers are at least as likely to do that — seeing a national racial morality tale in, for instance, events in Ferguson — as white ones are.
  • She’s right again that I don’t see anything racial in a bunch of white thugs killing each other. I SORT OF see her point that cops didn’t think they needed riot gear, but was this actually a riot, spreading across a city? Wasn’t it a gang battle, contained to one place and with a specific, limited set of victims, as nasty and bloody as it was? Was it not focused inward, rather than outward? To what extent did it need to be contained?
  • I guess I’m not an “honest white person,” because I don’t see how “If a Black motorcycle gang had engaged in a shootout in a parking lot… the conversation would have sounded incredibly different.” A bunch of thugs killing each other is a bunch of thugs killing each other. Where’s the difference?
  • And who, pray tell, does not consider these thugs to be thugs?

Near the end, she writes, “there is something fundamentally dishonest about a society that revels in the violence of one group while demanding non-violent compliance from another.”

Say WHAT? Who is reveling in what violence?

A weird piece. But this is, after all, Salon, which also today offers us this elevating gem:

,,, a Tweet that, let’s face it, doesn’t even make grammatical sense…

My piece for the Brookings Institution

When I returned from Thailand, I had an email from Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution:

1477344_10152268988702708_889340808_nI’m reaching out to invite you to contribute a short essay for our FixGov blog at the Brookings Institution. FixGov focuses on new ideas to make government work and identifies and aims to solve the nation’s most pressing political and governance challenges with sensible and realistic solutions.

A major thematic focus area of the blog and our work here at Brookings is improving media capacity.  Given your expertise, I welcome you to author a blog post for an upcoming series that will explain the current state of media in America and propose solutions for reinvigorating the industry, improving local and national news coverage and bolstering media oversight. The series will begin in mid- to late-Spring…

I sort of wondered how they got my name. I learned that, as I had suspected, E.J. Dionne had mentioned me. Which I appreciate.

Anyway, I proposed a topic to them and sat down and wrote it a couple of weekends back, and today it was published.

My topic was the decline of mid-sized newspapers, and why it matters — in terms of not being able to perform (as well) their watchdog role on the state and local level. After mentioning the ironic juxtaposition of the Charleston paper getting a Pulitzer on the same day more staff reductions were announced at The State (which happened after I chose my topic, but gave me a timely peg), I elaborated:

That matters because midsized papers have been the watchdog on the levels of government that most affect our lives. We drown in political news, commentary, gossip and minutiae out of Washington, but there’s no such informational vitality at the state and local level. When there are less than a third as many of you as there used to be, and you’ve added the 24/7 churn of web publishing, it gets hard to do anything more than feed the beast. Enterprise suffers….

And then I got to this point:

So, with newspapers shrinking and blogs unlikely to replace them, who is going to watch our state legislatures and city halls across the country? Increasingly, no one. Or worse, the wrong people…

That’s when I got into the fact that it was great that the S.C. Policy Council stayed on the Bobby Harrell story until action was taken. But I found it disturbing that an ideological group that doesn’t want to tell us where its money comes from was playing a role once played by broad-interest newspapers supported transparently by the ads you saw every day.

But you know what? Just go read the whole thing. Then, if you like, come back and we can discuss it further.

Atlanta preparing to cover our primaries

Aaron Sheinin and Daniel Malloy at M Vista today.

Aaron Sheinin and Daniel Malloy at M Vista today.

Had lunch today with my friend Aaron Sheinin of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You may remember him from when he worked at The State.

Aaron wanted me to meet Daniel Malloy of the AJC’s Washington Bureau. Daniel’s going to be in SC a good bit over the next few months covering our presidential primaries.

Back in 1987, right after I arrived at The State as governmental affairs editor, we brought Jeff Miller in from our Newberry bureau to cover the 1988 presidential primaries full-time. Or rather, the Republican primary and the Democratic caucuses. We had other people writing about the campaign off and on, but Jeff’s job was to stay out on the hustings and cover as much of it as possible in person.

Of course, that was back when The State had five times the staff it does now. I’m sure it will be working hard to cover the 2016 contests, but it’s good to know that we can also rely on the small army of out-of-state people who will also be on the job in SC. Once, that would have done us little good, but with the Web, we can follow it all with relative ease.

I didn’t have a whole lot to share with Aaron and Daniel today. I did tell them that I think the current, early GOP field offers more palatable choices than we saw in 2012, when the selection was just awful.

And on the Democratic side… well, at this point eight years ago Hillary Clinton seemed to have SC almost sewn up. This time, I’m fairly confident she DOES have it cinched — although Dick Harpootlian, a Biden man, has been telling Aaron and Daniel otherwise.

The difference is that there’s nobody even remotely like Barack Obama on the horizon this time.

But we’ll see, won’t we? Secretary Clinton does have a talent for undermining herself…

Corey Hutchins writes about buyouts at The State

Yesterday afternoon, Corey Hutchins called me to find out what I knew about the latest round of staff reductions at The State. I pointed him to my report two weeks ago, and chatted a bit about what I had learned since then. Beyond a few names, I had little else to say to enlighten him.

Corey’s report was just published by Columbia Journalism Review. And for me, the most pertinent part is the names of the longtime colleagues:

A number of entries disappeared from the paper’s online listing of newsroom staff between Thursday and Friday, though it was not immediately clear whether all the changes were related to the buyouts. Some of the names not on the current list include features reporter Joey Holleman, education and religion reporter Carolyn Click, associate editor and editorial board member Warren Bolton, photojournalist Kim Kim Foster-Tobin, sports columnist Ron Morris, and sports writer Neil White, who had been with the paper nearly 30 years.

Investigative reporter John Monk, who has deep sources in the legal and law enforcement worlds, is still listed, as are veteran environmental reporter Sammy Fretwell, business and military reporter Jeff Wilkinson, and longtime newsman Clif LeBlanc….

I had already told y’all about Warren and Neil, the only two I had confirmed of the dozen I had tentatively identified. Nothing in Corey’s report contradicted anything I had heard. I will say that some of the people I’ve heard are leaving are still listed on the newsroom’s online roster. Maybe I heard wrong; I don’t know.

Today is Warren’s last day. Here’s the only notice I’ve seen of that in print, at the end of his column today:

Editor’s Note: After 29 years with The State, the past 18 as a member of the editorial board, Mr. Bolton is leaving the newspaper. His insight and his journalism have enriched our community.

Kind of makes my farewell tour from the paper — three columns on the subject, a whole day’s letters to the editor, and multiple blog posts — look like an extended display of narcissism, doesn’t it?

My thoughts and prayers are with those leaving, and with those staying behind, from the top of management to the lowest folks on the totem pole. They’ve all been fighting a tough battle for years, and it just got harder for most of those left behind.

I’d love to be able to help, if I could.

The quality of the content should be the only consideration

Bryan and I have been continuing this debate in other venues, such as Twitter.

He has emailed me the above short (58-second) video, with the comment:

I am in agreement with Chris Hayes for perhaps the first time ever. This is news in and of itself.

My response…

That’s a VERY good analogy, and here’s my reply: If you really didn’t like the segment, you shouldn’t run it. If you were on the fence about it, you should decide whether to run it based on its merits.

What the advertiser had to say should have NO bearing on your decision, period. To fail to run the segment BECAUSE of the advertiser’s threat would of course be wrong, and a betrayal of your audience. But to RUN it because of the threat, even if you thought it shouldn’t run, is a stupid, childish and irresponsible gesture that ALSO lets your audience down.

Your judgment about the quality of the segment and whether it properly, professionally serves your audience should be the only consideration.

To elaborate beyond what I told Bryan…

If the advertiser’s threat was public, you will pay a price in terms of your reputation if you decide honestly that the piece was not worth running. All the other kids in the playground will taunt you and say you were chicken, or worse.

And of course, that is more painful to the journalist’s pride than any other scenario.

But a mature and responsible professional will decide on the merits of the content, not on the basis of what may make him seem braver and tougher. You do the right thing, to the best of your ability to ascertain the right thing, and you take the consequences. If the content is worth running, you take the consequences of the advertiser’s ire. If the content doesn’t measure up, you accept the taunts from the crowd.

Yo, Pinocchio — GRAHAM has done what Hillary says no GOP candidate has done

pinocchiospinocchiospinocchiospinocchios

You may or may not be familiar with The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker feature, which daily examines the veracity, or lack thereof, of statements by public figures.

One of this week’s editions examines whether Hillary Clinton spoke sooth when she said:

We can’t wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship. Now, this is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side. Make no mistake: Today not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one.

Then, the piece goes on and on about Marco Rubio, and what he said, and when he said it, which struck me as odd. He was a late bloomer, and an inconsistent one if I recall, on immigration reform. Why keep going on about him? It didn’t follow.

I kept looking for the examination of Lindsey Graham’s record, and the story went on, and didn’t get to him.

Later, the Fact Checker had to come back and add this to his report:

(Update: Our friends at PolitiFact correctly note that Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who also backed the Senate bill, is also considering a presidential run and has not wavered from advocating a path to citizenship. They gave Clinton a “mostly false,” equivalent to Three Pinocchios. Given that Clinton mentioned “potential” candidates, that may be a fair assessment.)

Well, duh. We knew that.

Yeah, I know that Graham isn’t someone you think of right away when it comes to viable GOP candidates. But if someone says “Republicans” and “immigration,” he would be the first, or one of the first, you think of. Lord knows, he’s taken enough grief for it.

As you may know, the Fact Checker awards a certain number of “Pinocchios” based on the extent to which a statement is judged to be false.

I wonder what should be awarded to the Fact Checker for spending all that time sniffing down the wrong trail?

Yes, indeed. Everyone needs an editor…

This is old — posted in 2014. But I just saw it, and I can’t help chortling:

Copy editors are a necessity in any newsroom, but sadly, the positions are slowly disappearing.

Recently, Gannett sacked a hefty amount of editors from its various titles across the nation, and the decision appears to have affected the top dogs. Gannett U.S. Community Publishing President Bob Dickey’s second quarter newsletter, released Wednesday, contained a major typo: Gannett was misspelled….

Did you see it? That’s right. Gannett did not sack a hefty amount of editors. That’s impossible. They sacked a healthy number of editors.

Of course, my enjoyment of this is tempered by the fact that I am a one-time copy editor, since laid off…

A big weekend for SC Policy Council in the WSJ

I just received an email that reminded me of something…

This past weekend, there were not one, but two opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal written by folks affiliated with the S.C. Policy Council.

The first wasn’t at all surprising, as it was written by Communications Director Barton Swaim, who is a regular contributor to the Journal, as well as to the Weekly Standard and other such publications. Barton is an erudite young man and a fine writer. His piece over the weekend put forth a modest proposal for a partial acceptance of the excessive use of the random “like” in common speech. All who love the language should read it, assuming they can get past the pay wall: “Managing the Decline of, Like, a Great Language.”

The second piece was by Policy Council President Ashley Landess, and it had this attention-grabbing headline: “The South Carolina Way of Incumbency Protection.”

You’d pretty much have to think exactly like Ashley to figure out what the piece was about based on that hed. For most people, that would be a leap. Basically, she argued against legislation making its way through our Legislature that would require groups that spend money to affect elections to disclose their donors, claiming ominously that this was some sort of plot by incumbents to silence political criticism.

Which, as I say, is something of a stretch. But a stretch you are motivated to attempt if you are the head of the Policy Council. And a message that would appeal to the editors of the Journal.

Anyway, I was reminded of both these pieces by an email from Barton this morning saying:

Did you happen to see Ashley’s op-ed in the WSJ on Saturday? If not, here it is: http://on.wsj.com/1DDDHDS

I’m hoping you vehemently disagree with it, because we’re holding a public debate on the topic of whether 501c3 groups like ours should have to disclose their donors and I’m looking for something to take the YES ABSOLUTELY position. You’re the first person I’ve asked, because you take contrary positions on just about everything!

It’s moderated by Charles Bierbauer, and it’s happening on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Think about it?

Barton

  1. Thanks for tweeting my eccentric little op-ed. I appreciated you calling me “our own.”

So I had to stop and actually read Ashley’s piece, and decide what I think of it…

Well, “vehemently” is a bit strong. But no, I don’t agree with her.

First, campaign finance has never been a thing I’m that passionate about (it’s about, shudder, money, which bores me, which is probably why I don’t have any). But when forced to think about it, I have tended to say “no” to spending limits, “yes” to disclosure.

The Constitution protects our right to stand up and speak out, not our right to secretly pay other people to speak for us. And a group that pushes transparency as the Policy Council does sets a bad example by wanting to be secretive. Ashley’s piece sort of rings hollow as I read it.

I’m slightly ambivalent about this. For instance, up to a point, I allow people to comment anonymously on my blog. But I restrict what they say more than I do people who are open about their identities. I don’t let them, for instance, criticize others anonymously.

So, given all that, I suppose I could be on a panel. But I’m not nearly as passionate or committed on this as Ashley.

I’ve asked for a few more details…

A Pulitzer for Charleston, more staff reductions at The State

From our media watch beat…

Doug Pardue just wrote the first line of his obituary, and I mean that in a good way. The Post and Courier just won the holy of holies among journalism prizes, the Pulitzer Public Service gold medal, for their “Till Death Do Us Part” series, which told “tales of domestic abuse survivors and of the 300 women in the Palmetto State who have been shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death by men during the past decade while legislators did little to quell the bloodshed.” Not only only did the paper address a critical, urgent issue that has long brought shame upon their state, but the series was followed by serious action in the Legislature.

The series was written by Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Natalie Caula Hauff. But I mention Doug in particular because I know him — he used to be in charge of investigative reporting at The State, a couple of decades back.

So way to go, Doug! And the rest of y’all, too.

As that news was spreading yesterday, my friends and colleagues at The State received another kind of news — more staff reductions are coming. The process will begin with voluntary buyouts. My sources say staffers will have the opportunity to volunteer to leave in exchange for a severance package. There’s no stated goal in terms of number of people who will lose their jobs, but there is apparently a monetary goal in mind.

What happens if the total salaries of those volunteering don’t add up to the goal? That apparently has not been stated. But we know what has happened in the past. I was laid off in one of several waves over the last few years.

I’m very sorry to hear this on a number of levels. I care not only because The State continues to be my newspaper, but because South Carolina desperately needs a vital, vibrant, dynamic capital city newspaper. Here’s hoping the reductions will be minimal.

(I learned of this when a respected colleague called me this morning. And no, that source probably isn’t one of the first ones you would guess, so there’s no point in guessing.)

It’s not THAT unusual in SC for white cops to be charged with shooting unarmed black men

post shoot

That’s kind of a two-edged headline, isn’t it? On the one hand, it suggests that it’s not that unusual for white cops to shoot unarmed black men in SC. And indeed, The State recently reported that police have shot at people more than 200 times in the past five years.

But my point was that the charges against North Charleston cop Michael Thomas Slager for shooting and killing motorist Walter Scott are not unique.

That was in my mind last night when I was sort of surprised to see the story leading the NYT. But I was in a rush, and my laptop was taking an absurd amount of time to perform the most basic operations, so I didn’t stop to look up the recent incidents that were at the back of my mind.

But this morning, when I saw the Washington Post story (which The State led with) that characterized the charge as “what seems to be an unprecedented move in South Carolina,” I thought I should take a moment to do some basic research. I was further spurred by this quote from my old friend Joe Darby, also in the Post:

“I am surprisingly and gratifyingly shocked because to the best of my memory, I cannot think of another occasion in which a law enforcement officer was actually prosecuted for something like this in South Carolina,” said the Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president of Charleston’s NAACP branch.

Warming to his subject, Joe further spread his rhetorical wings:

“My initial thought was, ‘Here we go again. This will be another time where there will be a cursory investigation. It will be the word of law enforcement versus those who are colored as vile perpetrators. People will get very mad, but at the end of the day nothing will change.’ This kind of changed the game,” Darby said of the video and Slager’s arrest.

When Joe says he cannot think of another case ” in which a law enforcement officer was actually prosecuted for something like this in South Carolina,” I believe him. But his memory is dead wrong.

Just in the last few months, there have been at least two such cases, which I found in just a few moments this morning:

  • State Trooper Sean Groubert was fired and charged with a felony, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, after his dashboard video showed him shooting Levar Edward Jones in the Columbia area. Groubert’s trial has not yet been held, but Jones  has received a nearly $300,000 settlement from the state.
  • Former Eutawville police chief Richard Combs was charged with murder in the May 2, 2011, shooting death of Bernard Bailey. A mistrial was declared in the case when the jury deadlocked in January.

Now, let’s be clear: As The State reported, no cop of any race has yet been convicted in any of those 209 shootings in the past five years.

And these three cases seem to be unusual in that there was video evidence in two  cases, and the other took place right in front of the courthouse in Eutawville. So this should certainly add fuel to the national movement to have cops wear body cameras at all times.

But it’s plain that these charges were not “unprecedented,” and that Joe Darby’s memory is lacking. And maybe the world’s press got excited over this “unprecedented” case for the wrong reasons. (Based on modern news standards, it’s still a good story, because of the video causing the authorities to reverse themselves. The horrific video itself — which you can see below — is enough for such a story to go viral. But it’s not man-bites-dog.)

Finally, I just noticed that the Post has corrected itself. Its current version of the story no longer contains the unwarranted speculation that the situation is “unprecedented.” But the story still leads the Post’s site. More to the point, thestate.com is still leading with the old, erroneous version.

Is anyone watching television anymore?

The New York Post reports that televisions ratings “see double digit declines for fifth straight month“.

Commercial ratings — the viewing “currency” that determines what advertisers pay for TV time — cratered across broadcast and cable networks, marking the fifth straight month of double-digit declines for the industry.

“It’s clear the downward spiral in TV ratings continues with no end in sight,” media analyst Michael Nathanson wrote in a research note on Friday.

Overall prime-time broadcast network ratings were off 12 percent last month compared to a year ago, while cable networks dropped 11 percent, according to his report.

Other than live sports, I really don’t watch television anymore. I have a few shows that the wife and I watch together after the children are all settled, but we don’t watch them live. 99% of the time the program is usually something streaming from either Netflix or Amazon. For movies, it’s the same thing. In fact, if it wasn’t for sports, I’d probably wouldn’t have a subscription to regular television.

Also, ever since the new year, I’ve been trying to cut down on the television watching. For me, watching television is like eating junk food – it’s fun while you’re doing it, but you feel guilty afterwards. Most of the time, I feel like I’ve wasted my time just watching tv. I mean, honestly, almost anything you do is more worthy that sitting in front of the Idiot Tube and being hypnotized by the beams of light coming out of it. I kind of think the television has something to do with the shape of this country. Watching (most) television makes you dumb, disconnected, and lazy.

It also makes it easy to just waste your entire night, and by extension all your nights. Television makes it so easy to simply do nothing. And we shouldn’t do nothing. We only have a little time on this earth, and watching television isn’t the way to spend it.

Some of the best nights I have are reading books, playing with my children and actually talking to people. Unless we’re talking about having the television on in the background when you’re doing mindless work with no one around, watching television is always an inferior choice to doing anything.

Accordingly, I’m glad that cable television is going down the tubes. Unfortunately, it’s probably due to all the other ways that we now have to distract ourselves.

All y’all already know this, but I’m encouraging everyone to try and make better choices with how we spend our time. Television is never usually the right choice.

Did Obama undermine the dignity of the office on Buzzfeed?

Obama face

And, if so, is that a bad thing?

To see what I’m talking about, you’ll have to follow the link; I couldn’t find an embed code.

I thought about posting about this over the weekend, but didn’t. My mind was brought back to it by this piece in The Wall Street Journal this morning.

Bret Stephens harrumphed as follows:

George Washington did not shake hands as president and would grip the hilt of his sword to avoid having his flesh pressed. The founding father understood that leadership in a republic demanded a careful balance between low populism and aristocratic lordliness. Personal comportment, the choice of clothes and carriage, modes of address: these things mattered. And so we have “Mr. President” as opposed to “His Highness.” Or “George.”

With Barack Obama —you won’t mind, Señor Presidente, if we call you Barry?—it’s another story. Dignity of office? How quaint. In this most self-infatuated of presidencies, the D-word is at best an accessory and more often an impediment to everything Barry has ever wanted to be: Cool. Chill. Connected.

So it was that, hours after the U.S. confirmed the murder of Kayla Jean Mueller at the hands of Islamic State, Mr. Obama filmed a short video for BuzzFeed, striking poses in a mirror, donning aviator shades, filming himself with a selfie stick and otherwise inhabiting a role that a chaster version of Miley Cyrus might have played had Hannah Montana been stuck in the White House after a sleepover with the Obama girls.

Ostensibly, the point of the video was to alert BuzzFeed’s audience to the Feb. 15 deadline for ObamaCare enrollment. If communicating with 20-somethings as if they are 11-year-olds is a way to get them to behave like grown-ups, then maybe the White House has at last found a way to make good on its make-believe enrollment numbers….

Now, you know, I’m normally not one to be out-harrumphed. I can be as stuffy as the next guy; probably more so if he’s not quite the thing. Today at the board of governors meeting at my club we had a stimulating conversation about the dress code, and while I didn’t actually join in, it’s because I was too busy holding myself back from saying “Quite right!” and “Capital!” at all the more Tory comments from others.

But I don’t know about this. While I quite take Mr. Stephens’ point that it’s absurd to communicate “with 20-somethings as if they are 11-year-olds,” I also applaud pragmatism in a leader. And if this is the way you have to communicate with them — well, one does what one must.

Thoughts?

selfie stick

And here I am as a tyro journalist, at about the same time

baby journalist

I ran across this picture during the same search that produced the one of Dylan and The Band.

Evidently, I did not take this. I don’t remember who did.

Anyway, that’s me front and center looking at the camera, with the Groucho mustache, the circa 1965 Beatles hair, the octagonal wire-rims, the distinctly big-collared 1970s sport shirt, and the white Keds. This was in the newsroom of The Helmsman, the student paper at Memphis State University, probably around the same time as the Dylan/Band picture. So somewhere in the 1973-75 range.

This was during my stint as either editorial page editor or news editor of the paper. I say this because I’m turned away from the manual typewriter and evidently pencil-editing someone else’s copy instead of writing. I’m sitting in the slot position of the copy desk, the standard U-shaped desk that an editor I worked with after graduation called “the elephant’s commode.”

Dan Henderson, our fearless leader.

Dan Henderson, our fearless leader.

But we didn’t really have a formal copy desk and slot man. There were four or five kids, of whom I was one, who were the core of the paper and made everything happen, with other contributors coming and going. Another of the inner group is in the background at far right, his finger in his near ear as he tries to hear someone on the phone. His name was Oran; I forget his last name.

I don’t know what the long-haired guy standing in the doorway of the supply closet is looking at; he seems to be just grooving on a spot in the ceiling.

Note the detritus of a paper-based publishing system. Aside from the typewriters, there’s a pencil sharpener, a tape dispenser, a stapler, and several pots of rubber cement. The rubber cement was for gluing all the pages, or takes, of a story together into one long, continuous strip of paper. The piece was sent to a commercial print shop several miles away where the paper was put together, and which we had to visit to proof and let the pages go.

The newsroom was small. Whoever shot this is standing in the middle of it.

Dan pretends to point to something on a piece of copy I'm pretending to edit. This was for the yearbook. Notice we didn't make the slightest effort to groom for the occasion.

Dan pretends to point to something on a piece of copy I’m pretending to edit. This was for the yearbook. Notice we didn’t make the slightest effort to groom for the occasion…

The closed door behind me is the Inner Sanctum of whoever was our chief editor at the time — probably the late Dan Henderson, who was later an assistant managing editor at The Commercial Appeal. Oran was to work for them later, too, in a rural bureau in West Tennessee. Those bureau people weren’t in the Guild, and were treated like dirt by the people in Memphis. One night, Oran called in his story, and the editor took it, and asked all the questions he had while editing it, and then said, “By the way, we won’t be needing your services any more.” Yeah, he was fired. He had moved out of Memphis and set up residence in some dinky town for the sake of the paper, and that’s how they let him go. Sayonara, pal.

Some would say that’s a good argument for unionizing reporters, since it was the fact that Oran was not in the Guild that let him be treated this way. For my part, I think there’s something about Guild papers (The Commercial Appeal was the only one I ever worked at) that created an unnecessarily adversarial relationship between journalists and management, so the powers that be took out their hostility on the ones they could take it out on. But that’s just my theory…

Incoherently overheated headline of the day

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And the award goes to… The Guardian, for “Romney decision clears path for next stage of Bush presidential empire.”

I’m not even sure what it means, beyond communicating the vague idea that The Guardian really has a thing about the Bushes, doesn’t it?

The hed would almost make sense if you substituted “dynasty” for “empire.” But I think somewhere in the lower reaches of some copyeditor’s brain was the mostly-suppressed, unacknowledged thought that “empire” had a more sinister ring to it.

The story itself doesn’t have quite the ring that the hed does. It’s fairly matter-of-fact. I am a little puzzled that the paper is going with such a limited, second-day approach on the breaking story. Romney’s bowing-out has farther-reaching impact than elevating Bush, if it even does that.

Romney himself seemed to be urging Republicans to look beyond Bush to “the next generation.” Bush at 61 is more or less in the usual age range for a presidential contender, so the implication is that Romney is thinking of someone else, someone with a name less well-known.

I found the way Romney put that sort of interesting:

“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Romney wrote. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

I heard in that a hint of, You REALLY oughta be going with me, a guy who is well known and has taken his message across the country, someone who isn’t just getting started… but NOOOO, everybody said “Don’t run, Mitt,” so you’re on your own now, losers.

Hey, I’m holding out for a GOP nominee with a sufficient grasp of the English language that he knows “Democrat” is a noun, and the adjective is “Democratic.” That would be something (he said wistfully)…

What Haley proposed isn’t a ‘road plan.’ It’s a tax cut plan

In the sake of clarity, The State‘s editorial Sunday about Nikki Haley’s “Let’s Make A Deal” proposal on paying for roads maybe what should have been an obvious point, although I had not yet thought of it this way:

WHEN MARK Sanford ran for governor in 2002, he proposed to increase our tax on gasoline and eliminate the state income tax. He didn’t claim it was a plan to save our roads. It was a plan to cut our taxes, plain and simple.

And that’s what Gov. Nikki Haley offered us in her State of the State address on Wednesday: a plan to cut taxes. Oh, she called it a plan to address what most businesses and lawmakers and many citizens consider our most urgent problem: our crumbling roads and bridges.

But it would cover barely a fifth of the need, and in reality it was just a warmed-over version of the Sanford plan. It should meet the same fate as the Sanford plan, which the Republican Legislature rejected, because lawmakers knew we could not afford a massive reduction in the money available to pay for schools and prisons and industrial recruitment and mental health and other basic services.

Gov. Haley did propose to spend the new gas tax revenue on roads: $3.5 billion over the next decade. But she also proposed to steal $8.5 billion from those core functions of government over that same period.

The governor says she’s making roads a priority (although really she’s making tax cuts the priority), and it’s true that we can fix a big problem in government by making it a priority. But if we aren’t careful, we create other problems, as we saw most recently with the cuts to our child-protection program that Gov. Haley now wants to reverse…

Yup. Instead of focusing on the problem under discussion, something of importance to everyone who cares about the state’s actual needs — the lack of funding for roads — the governor is really using that as a smokescreen to achieve an ideological goal that doesn’t address any actual problem.

That wasn’t fully clear to me until I saw the numbers: $3.5 billion for roads, but $8.5 billion for tax cuts…

Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

As you know, Je ne suis pas Charlie. Well, as it turns out, if Google Translate is right, Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

And not only that, but watch what you say about his Mama.

I learned all this from this Tweet from Bryan:

My initial reaction was, “Whad’ya mean, ‘start’?” But then I went to find out what he meant, and found this:

Pope Francis said Thursday there are limits to freedom of expression, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.

Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good.

But, he said, there were limits.

By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane.

“If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said, throwing a pretend punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”…

Now, just watch people across the planet completely misconstrue what he said, claiming he’s “blaming the victim” or “excusing terrorists for murder,” when he is obviously doing no such thing. But he is saying what I’ve said before, which is this:

One’s right to free expression is a sacred thing, just like one’s right to freely practice one’s religion. The Pope said that clearly. And no sane person, least of all the Pope, believes anyone should be killed or threatened with death for expressing himself honestly.

But, there is a difference between what you have a sacred right to do and what you ought to do. And if you want to live in a civil society, in which other people have some basic modicum of respect for you, you have a moral obligation to show at least some minimal respect for others.

This is not a terribly hard thing for most experienced editors to understand, because they live in that space between what one has a right to publish and what one publishes if one has any respect at all for one’s readers.

And folks, you don’t have to be an editor or the Pope or somebody with an advanced degree in ethics to know where the lines are. That’s what the Pontiff was getting at with the mock punch. He was saying, we all know where the limits are: Insult my mother, I’ll smack you down. It’s not complicated.

I mentioned the other day that I’ve heard my good friend Samuel Tenenbaum state clearly, on many occasions, where the line is. Samuel takes a back seat to no one in defending civil liberties. But he makes no bones about the fact that you’ve crossed the line with him, and made an enemy, when you insult “my wife, my Mama or my faith.”

Does that mean Samuel would be justified in coming into your office and blowing you away for insulting Judaism? No, of course not. But he’s describing where the boundaries lie in civil society. He’s telling you what is beyond the pale, in case you missed that class in kindergarten.

Charlie Hebdo is wrong to publish childishly obscene (and not even funny, to an adult eye) cartoons that deliberately slap Muslims in the face, that insult them in the most obnoxious possible manner. Millions of those Muslims are people who mean Charlie no harm, and would never resort to violence against them. But they are deeply insulted, and now, with nonMuslims around them all saying “Je suis Charlie,” they feel more marginalized and looked-down-upon than ever. These people don’t deserve such treatment.

The fact that there are a few murderous jerks who will kill you for publishing such cartoons does not make you right for publishing them. If something is wrong, it is wrong whether people shoot you for it, or give you a big, wet kiss for it.

And that’s what the Pope was trying to say…

Oh, and by the way, he also said global climate change is real, and man-caused. That kind of got downplayed….

Je ne suis pas Charlie

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Did I get that right? If not, blame Google Translate. I know next to nothing about what Scott Evil would term “Paris talk.”

My point, in thus running against the current proper emotion, is that even though one might think I’d be the first to identify with the victims at Charlie Hebdo, I’d actually be among the last.

As Robert Ariail’s longtime editor — and one whom Robert used to flatter as being the rare sort of editor who could “think like a cartoonist” — it should really hit home for me when terrorists invade editorial offices and start shooting, with cartoonists and their editor being their specific, intended targets.

And on certain, basic, levels, it does. As someone who believes firmly in the importance of free expression in a free society, and especially on a human level. No one deserves such a fate. Those who carried out the attack must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, or killed if they cannot be captured. They and their actions are beyond the pale. But because I have been involved daily in the production of satirical cartoons, and because I’ve made the thousands of small judgments that such a task involves, I feel acutely the difference between me and those responsible for Charlie Hebdo. It’s a difference that may seem subtle to you, and many will misunderstand me. But for me, there’s a bright line.

I am not Charlie because I would not create or publish some of the things that Charlie has published.

Most specifically, I would not even once, much less regularly, intentionally mock someone else’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. If I, in a weak moment (and I most assuredly would regard it as weakness, not strength — the inability to resist a cruel joke at someone else’s expense) did so, I would feel shame. I would not pat myself on the back for being courageous. Just because there’s someone out there who will kill you for making a bad joke doesn’t excuse the joke or make it heroic. It’s still a bad joke.

A situation such as this generates a lot of emotion, with predictable reactions, so let me go ahead and address a couple of the predictable misunderstandings that will greet what I’m saying:

  1. I’m not “blaming the victim,” to use one of more irritating catchphrases of our age. The blame lies entirely with the terrorists, whose murderous actions are utterly unjustified. Nothing that Charlie Hebdo has ever published, however offensive, justifies violence. And the editors of Charlie had every right to publish what they have published. My comments deal with the many choices one makes between the boundaries of the many things we have the right to do.
  2. I’m not saying that editors should not publish certain things because of fear of attack. Far from it. What I’m saying is that editors should not publish things that they should not publish, period. The threat of violence is irrelevant, and merely clouds the issue, making it hard to see the point I’m making. I hold that however incisive and hard-hitting your commentary, one should always strive to respect those you criticize as fellow human beings. And a most fundamental way you respect other people is that you don’t mock their religion.

I realize I’m on one side of a cultural chasm here. While many Americans can identify with the aggressive secularism that is so common in Europe, I cannot. I’m more of a typical denizen of this country in that I defy the Western trend toward rejecting traditional religion. But in a sense, that’s irrelevant. I like to think that even if I were an atheist, I’d be the sort of atheist who found it unthinkable to mock others for their faith. Mocking other people’s deeply cherished beliefs, ones that are sacred to them, is just so tacky, so low, so déclassé, so nekulturny. I’d find it, as Mr. Darcy would say, insupportable.

Also, I sense that satire plays a somewhat different role in European politics than it does here. You say “satirical newspaper” — the standard description of Charlie Hebdo in news reports — and I think of The Onion. I love The Onion, even when it is at its most irreverent. But that is because I and others see it as all a big joke. It doesn’t occupy a place near the center of our political discourse. I may laugh my scrawny posterior off at a well-turned phrase in The Onion, but I don’t put the writer of that phrase in the same category as Thomas Paine, Horace Greeley, William Allen White, Walter Lippman, David Broder, Kathleen Parker or anyone else who has sincerely wrestled with the issues of the day.

A lot of younger people, we are told, get their news from “The Daily Show,” with everything filtered through a satirical strainer. And we, their elders, greatly valued the political gags of “SNL” in its heyday. Sure, there has always been a place for humor in political commentary, from Mark Twain through Robert Ariail. And I value that. Given much of the soul-crushing madness in our public life, humor is indispensable.

And when a cartoonist uses perfectly legitimate symbolism in making a satirical point, and oversensitive people — a category that includes many Muslims — object on irrelevant grounds, I defend him. I’ve been there many times. If you have a copy of Robert’s last book while at The State, take a look at the cover. It shows a varied mob chasing Robert with the proverbial torches and pitchforks, with such recognizable figures as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (two of his favorite caricatures) leading the pack. Look back a bit, and you’ll see some Muslim women in burqas among the irate mob. (Sorry, this is the biggest image of the cover I could find on short notice.)

Those women, or their real-life counterparts, actually inspired that cover, and for that matter the book. One day in 2001, some Muslim women were complaining about an Ariail cartoon that they felt disrespected them and Islam. Here’s the cartoon in question:

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That cartoon made fun of a new dress code for pages in the Legislature by showing them covered by burqas. This was obviously making fun of the lawmakers, not Muslim women. We shrugged off the criticism. I said something to Robert like, “You’ve just got everybody on your case lately, don’t you — flag supporters, the governor, Democrats, Republicans, traditional Muslim women…” Which inspired the cover drawing, which we then quickly decided would be a great cover for a book, which we then started to compile.

Robert experienced similar criticism after we both got canned from the paper, over the cartoon below. Though I was no longer paid to do so, I defended him quite vehemently. It’s hard to imagine a better way of stating one of the main flaws with Nikki Haley, particularly at that time — that she talks a big game on transparency, but doesn’t deliver. It was funny, pointed and entirely relevant. And its target was the governor of the state — no wait; going by the date on the post, it was a lawmaker well on her way to becoming the governor of the state.

Note the distinction here. True journalistic courage and integrity lies in willingness to skewer the powerful — the people who hold sway over our lives. It does not lie in deliberately mocking the Prophet, and thereby dumping on the sincere beliefs of a largely powerless, marginalized minority in your society, which is how I would describe Muslims in Europe.

There is a world of difference between unintentionally offending someone’s sensibilities (there is someone out there offended by every cartoon, which is unfortunate but unavoidable) with a symbol or image used to make a sharp point about the powerful, and deliberately savaging a revered religious figure just for the point of doing just that.

The problem in publishing images of the Prophet isn’t that you might offend terrorists. It’s that you will certainly spit in the faces of millions of unoffending Muslims who mean you no harm.

The Wall Street Journal posted a video today telling about some of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. At the very end, you see the murdered editor saying:

We are in a weird situation in France. Islam is the second religion in the country in terms of practitioners. And in fact, nobody knows anything about Mohammed. Nobody knows anything about this religion. It’s a religion that scares people because every time we talk about it, it’s when we talk about bomb attacks done by an extreme minority.

So… how do you get from there to deciding that the proper way to respond to that “extreme minority” is to go out of your way to mock the inoffensive, overwhelming majority of people who make up the second-largest religious group in your country? People whose faith you acknowledge that people like you know little about? (And please note the majoritarian assumption underlying his words. “Nobody knows anything about this religion” — nobody except the members of the nation’s second-largest religious group. Such ethnocentrism is weird in someone being lionized as a martyr to liberalism. He displays here the narrowness that unfortunately characterizes so many people who see themselves as the most broad-minded. Sorry to speak ill of the dead, but this is worth pointing out.)

The Washington Post is absolutely right to say, as it does in an editorial today, “Charlie Hebdo stands solidly for free expression. The West must do no less.” I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Post‘s editors on that point. But I can’t honestly say “Je suis Charlie,” because I’ve thought too carefully about such issues over the years, and I know I am not. To paraphrase something allegedly said (the quote is apparently apocryphal) by a famous Frenchman, I defend to the death the right of Charlie to publish what Charlie sees fit to publish. And I will stand in solidarity with the millions of defenders of Charlie against the forces of darkness and intimidation. But I am not Charlie.

Watch this: Some idiot — the sort who should be the subject of a cartoon — will say I’m a coward; I’m “afraid” to deliberately mock Islam. No, I just believe it’s wrong. In fact, if there were a terrorist group threatening credibly to kill me if I didn’t publish images mocking the Prophet, I still wouldn’t do it. Because I DO believe in freedom of expression just as much as the publishers of Charlie Hebdo, and adamantly insist on being guided by my own conscience in deciding what to publish.

If I were still editor of the editorial page of The State, I would today be saying much what the Post is saying. Freedom of expression, particularly political expression (including especially expressions with which I disagree, the sort that appears regularly in Charlie Hebdo) is a core principal of liberal democracy that cannot and must not be compromised. A newspaper must take a stand on that. But note that the Post, in that same editorial, is also making the point that I am making in this completely personal (not institutional) blog post, which addresses a side issue:

We have objected in the past to expressions that appear intended to gratuitously provoke or offend Muslims, particularly in European nations such as France, where a large Muslim population suffers from chronic discrimination and is the target of demagoguery by populist political parties. But such criticism does not justify censorship, much less violence.

Absolutely.

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How the CIA torture report story was reported

The above image caught my eye on Twitter this morning, and I followed The Guardian‘s link to this story.

I found it interesting that even though the headline was, “CIA torture report: how the world’s media reacted,” the story led off with how American papers played it — the NYT, the WashPost, the LAT…

If you scroll down in the story, though, you see more international fronts. I found it interesting the extent to which the Arab News played the story down. It looks like it might even be below the fold.

Anyway, I thought I’d pass all this on…

The much-anticipated Ferguson decision

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I was thinking this morning that, while all Monday-morning papers tend to be light on news, today was a particularly slow one.

I thought that because both The New York Times and The Washington Post were leading their iPad apps with a story that hadn’t happened yet. Which, in the strict definition of What Constitutes A Lede that I was taught, is something you don’t do. News is, at the least, something that has happened. Advancer stories have their value, but they don’t lead the paper, in the normal course of things.

Anyway, I share that as a way of having a post already up and ready in case y’all would like to comment when the Ferguson grand jury does report, which I see it is expected to do at 8 p.m.

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