While waiting for Ben and/or Jerry!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2014

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!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2014

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!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2014

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


The happiest time of the year continues!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2014

Keep history alive:
There’s nothing we dislike quite like this time of the year.

On the other hand, fund-raising is necessary. For many years, we never asked. We’re kicking ourselves for that now.

That said:

As our fund-raising drive enters Day Two, we’ll link you to Gene Lyons’ new column at The National Memo. The column concerns Hillary Clinton, who you may not be supporting for president.

She isn’t our ideal candidate either. That isn’t the point of the column.

Lyons writes about the history of the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, which is being fancifully revived by Harper’s, of all publications.

Quite literally, Lyons wrote the book on the topic, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater. In the part of his column shown below, he refers to Doug Henwood, the writer who revives the Whitewater foofaw in the current edition of Harper’s.

He also cites an important newspaper, the New York Times:
LYONS (10/22/14): For that matter, why am I bothering with Henwood?

Two reasons. First, personal disappointment that such slipshod work could appear in Harper’s. Twenty years ago, the magazine stuck its journalistic neck out to publish my article and book, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.

Second, because Henwood’s piece signals the inevitable return of what I call the “Clinton Rules.” Particularly when it comes to the couple’s background in darkest Arkansas, no allegation of wrongdoing, regardless of how conclusively disproved, has ever disappeared from the national news media.

That such shoddy standards have become well-nigh universal in American political journalism is no excuse. Because everybody involved back in 1996 understood that calling out The New York Times—which originated and sustained the Whitewater hoax—was a serious business, Harper’s actually dispatched a fact checker to Little Rock, where we spent several days bulletproofing the manuscript.

Clearly, no such effort went into Henwood’s essay.
As Lyons notes, the New York Times “originated and sustained the Whitewater hoax.” The Times then played a leading role in what came next, the twenty-month war against Candidate Gore which sent George Bush to the White House.

Despite these facts and many more, it pains Lawrence O’Donnell to criticize the Times, a fact he restated this very week. Therein lies a remarkable tale.

It would be hard to overstate the code of silence which surrounds the workings of our political journalism over the past three or four decades. Lyons and his writing partner, Joe Conason, wrote two books on the Clinton-era part of this tale, Fools for Scandal (1996) and The Hunting of the President (2000).

At this site and at our companion site, we’ve chronicled where the virus went after that. As you may have noticed, we’ve done so to almost complete, total silence.

It isn’t just Lawrence! Everybody understands that these topics must not be discussed. In order to keep that discussion going, we’re asking for your support.

Tomorrow, we plan to bring Ben and Jerry, or possibly even Ben or Jerry, into this vital discussion. For today, we recommend the Lyons piece, however you feel about Hillary Clinton.

We’ll also ask for your support:

If you want to keep history alive, you can just click here.

Supplemental: The legacy of Ben Bradlee!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2014

Style section, then Richard Nixon:
We never met Ben Bradlee. Manifestly, he seemed like a very impressive man.

Until today, we hadn’t realized that Bradlee was such a major swell. Before we praise his mother, let us record these unusual facts, from the world’s leading authority:

“Josephine de Gersdorff, Bradlee's mother, was a direct descendant of Heinrich XXIX, Count of Reuss-Ebersdorf, who was a lineal descendant of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, King John of Denmark and King John II of France and Bonne of Bohemia and John V, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst. Bradlee's maternal great grandfather was Dr. Ernst Bruno von Gersdorff, who was a third cousin of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom through Heinrich XXIX.”

Our own mother wasn’t descended from the Holy Roman Emperor. She just thought she was.

Now, for that impressive claim. We don’t know if this is accurate:

“His mother, Josephine de Gersdorff (1896–1975), was awarded the French Legion of Honor for helping keep children safe from Nazi Germany during World War II.”

To state the obvious, that's a tremendous claim to be able to make.

We spent some time this morning thinking about Bradlee’s legacy. It seems that people who knew him admired him. Plus, he invented the Washington Post’s Style section, and he led the Watergate chase.

Style, and Nixon’s forced resignation! These are very important elements in modern newspaper culture, not necessarily in good ways.

That takes nothing away from their invention. We’re talking about where they led.

We were already planning to spend next week discussing the press corps’ coverage of White House campaigns post-Nixon.

We’ve become more and more intrigued by what happened to the coverage starting with Candidate Muskie. The invention of “Style section journalism” is fairly clearly part of that tale. So too for the pursuit of Nixon, in which, as far as we know, the work was respectable, good.

That said, even Maximilian I couldn’t have saved us from the culture which followed. Increasingly, we’re intrigued by how badly the trends have worked against presidential-level Democrats, even as we in the liberal world keep cheering those trends along.

As far as we know, Ben Bradlee was sharp. After Bradlee, the whirlwind?

GATEKEEPERS GONE: Three recent reports from the Times front page!

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2014

Part 3—Incompetence of the watchdogs:
How does our discourse get infected by The Crazy and The Dumb?

For starters, our gatekeepers are gone. It never exactly made sense to think that a couple of high-profile men—Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley—were supposed to sift and edit the things we were permitted to hear.

As a matter of theory, that never made sense—but the system did work that way to a large extent. Thanks to those men, and others like them, The Crazy rarely got on the air.

Today, The Crazy is all around us. Selling The Crazy is big business now, and the gatekeepers are long gone.

In theory, though, we still have the watchdogs. In theory, we still have people who can debunk The Crazy and The Dumb.

That’s the theory, but our watchdogs tend to be quite unimpressive. Today, we’ll consider some recent work by the New York Times.

In a wide array of ways, the New York Times produces work which just isn’t real impressive. Simply put, the famous newspaper isn’t especially sharp.

The mediocrity of its work is a key part of The Way We Are. Consider three recent front-page reports in the Times, the regent of the American press corps elite:

Arrests for assault in Sayreville: This Monday, a 2333-word report appeared at the top of the Times front page. Inside the paper, the continuation of the report consumed the full expanse of page A20. The layout included four color photos and a map of New Jersey.

Nine reporters were named in the hard-copy byline for the report. And uh-oh! The lengthy report reads like it was written by nine different people.

The report concerns the recent arrest of seven football players at Sayreville (N.J.) War Memorial High School “on hazing and sexual abuse allegations.” In what follows, you are charged with making a distinction between the alleged criminal conduct, which isn’t under discussion here, and the quality of the journalism performed by the New York Times.

As we’ve read and reread the Times’ lengthy report, we’d have to say the journalism isn’t especially good. Chronologies are sometimes hard to follow; character profiles are puzzling. (The head coach of the high school team “had a prominent mustache and used phrases like ‘put a whupping on teams’ and ‘take your lumps.’”)

At times, the reporters write like natives of Mars: “The order of the attacks that week is not clear. The victim in one of them, who could not be reached for comment, did not smile or laugh.”

Also this:
SCHWEBER, BARKER, GRANT ET AL (10/20/14): One freshman said his classmates showed their discomfort with the attacks in their body language. ''They would look around like, 'What are they doing?' '' he said. ''It's weird.''
Most strangely, the report turns on a description of a type of sexual assault which, as described, doesn’t exactly seem physically possible. The nine reporters just cruise along, failing to see the oddness of their description.

This front-page report was very long. It was also very murky. Plainly, the nine reporters don’t know what actually happened. Given the length of the report, it takes a lot of effort just to tease out what is being alleged.

On the bright side, the long report is highly entertaining. If you don’t mind our saying so, the report lets subscribers read at length about very exciting charges.

Remember when this sort of conduct produced the New Jersey preschool child abuse scandal, with its later overturned verdict? We don’t know what happened in Sayreville. But we thought about that unfortunate episode as we fought our way through this nine-person front-page report.

Hysteria concerning Ebola: Next to the giant Sayreville effort, another front-page report concerned Ebola hysteria. Of the three reports we cite today, we think this was the worst.

How bad is the judgment at the Times? In our view, Jennifer Steinhauer (and her editors) showed amazingly bad judgment as she opened her report in the way shown below.

We say that for two or three reasons. This front-page report appeared right next to the Sayreville effort:
STEINHAUER (10/20/14): In the month since a Liberian man infected with Ebola traveled to Dallas, where he later died, the nation has marinated in a murky soup of understandable concern, wild misinformation, political opportunism and garden-variety panic.

Within the escalating debate over how to manage potential threats to public health—muddled by what is widely viewed as a bungled effort by government officials and the Dallas hospital that managed the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States—the line between vigilance and hysteria can be as blurry as the edges of a watercolor painting.

A crowd of parents last week pulled their children out of a Mississippi middle school after learning that its principal had traveled to Zambia, an African nation untouched by the disease.

On the eve of midterm elections with control of the United States Senate at stake, politicians from both parties are calling for the end of commercial air traffic between the United States and some African countries, even though most public health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a shutdown would compound rather than alleviate the risks.

Carolyn Smith of Louisville, Ky., last week took a rare break from sequestering herself at home to take her fiancé to a doctor's appointment. She said she was reluctant to leave her house after hearing that a nurse from the Dallas hospital had flown to Cleveland, over 300 miles from her home. ''We're not really going anywhere if we can help it,'' Ms. Smith, 50, said.
In our view, that passage displays extremely bad judgment, of a very familiar kind. Three quick reasons:

Editorialize much? Steinhauer lists three examples of the ways people have reacted to Ebola. In two of the examples, people in southern locales behave in ways which are completely crazy. In the third example, politicians support a policy Steinhauer doesn’t favor.

That’s just basically clownish. Also unfortunate is the statement that pols are adopting the position in question “even though most public health experts...said a shutdown would compound rather than alleviate the risks.”

That presentation is short, unreasoned, unexplained, cavalier. It helps explain the tribal divide which is badly harming the nation.

Here’s one more horrible problem:

Disapprovingly, Steinhauer says that “politicians from both parties are calling for the end of commercial air traffic between the United States and some African countries.” We looked to see if she cited examples. Horrifically, here’s all she wrote:
STEINHAUER: With fear riding high, Democrats, particularly those running for office, have supported a travel ban.

''Although stopping the spread of this virus overseas will require a large, coordinated effort with the international community,'' said Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, a Democrat in a tight race, ''a temporary travel ban is a prudent step the president can take to protect the American people.”
From that, a person might think that Hagan is “calling for the end of commercial air traffic between the United States and some African countries,” the formulation with which Steinhauer started.

In fact, that isn’t what Hagan has supported. But so what? Steinhauer and other Times reporters have spread that idea around. On-line, Mark Rappeport even claimed that Hagan had flipped last week from an earlier stand, a claim which was plainly inaccurate. Later, he posted a “clarification” and changed an antagonistic headline.

Times writers tend to be careless. In these ways, they keep getting “Democrats in tight races” defeated. They’ve been bumbling along in such ways for a good many years.

What Officer Wilson has said: It’s a basic part of The Way We Are. Journalists at the New York Times just aren’t especially sharp.

To a certain extent, we’d extend that judgment to last Saturday’s front-page report about what Officer Darren Wilson has said to “authorities” about the shooting of Michel Brown.

For the most part, Lawrence O’Donnell bungled his criticism of this report Monday night. Still, O’Donnell was making a valid point by the end of his ten-minute presentation, in which he told us that it pains him to criticize the Times.

What was wrong with that front-page report? The problem was a matter of emphasis, but it was very important.

To their credit, three Times reporters explained the problem at the start of their report. That said, the distinction is extremely basic, and it was quickly forgotten:
SCHMIDT, APUZZO AND BOSMAN (10/18/14): The police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two months ago has told investigators that he was pinned in his vehicle and in fear for his life as he struggled over his gun with Mr. Brown, according to government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation into the matter.

The officer, Darren Wilson, has told the authorities that during the scuffle, Mr. Brown reached for the gun. It was fired twice in the car, according to forensics tests performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The first bullet struck Mr. Brown in the arm; the second bullet missed.

The forensics tests showed Mr. Brown's blood on the gun, as well as on the interior door panel and on Officer Wilson's uniform. Officer Wilson told the authorities that Mr. Brown had punched and scratched him repeatedly, leaving swelling on his face and cuts on his neck.

This is the first public account of Officer Wilson's testimony to investigators, but it does not explain why, after he emerged from his vehicle, he fired at Mr. Brown multiple times. It contradicts some witness accounts, and it will not calm those who have been demanding to know why an unarmed man was shot a total of six times. Mr. Brown's death continues to fuel anger and sometimes-violent protests.
That highlighted point is extremely basic. As O’Donnell eventually explained, the major question in this case concerns the reason why Wilson kept firing at Brown even after the struggle at the car was over.

Schmidt, Apuzzo and Bosman acknowledged that problem in the highlighted passage. But after that, they seemed to forget this basic point—and they only discussed what Wilson has said about the struggle at the car.

They didn’t offer Wilson’s account of why he kept firing at Brown after that, eventually killing him. As they continued, they injected Wilson-friendly interpretations into their work, while failing to note that their account has little to do with the key question at hand.

In recent days, we’ve struggled with each of these front-page reports. But on a very regular basis, the work performed by the New York Times just isn’t super-impressive.

Our gatekeepers are long gone. We’re left with newspapers like the Times to serve as back-ups—as watch-dogs.

Here’s a very basic fact about the troubling Way We Are. For some, this fact is highly counterintuitive:

Our elite newspapers just aren’t very sharp. O’Donnell may not be much better.

Tomorrow: The newer watchdogs at Salon

Supplemental: Our fund-raising drive has started at last!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2014

Our least favorite time of the year:
No one puts anything off to quite the extent that we put off our not-always-annual annual fund-raising drive.

It’s our least favorite time of the year! Despite the distaste, only a fool could ignore the need.

In the next week or so, we’d like to lay out our excuses for the past year’s work. We’d like to establish some goals for future work. And we’d like to seek out an actual sponsor for our companion site, How He Got There.

The half-told story at that site really ought to be finished. (Most of the research has been done.) At some point, it got depressing to beat on into the face of the wind—into the face of the code of silence which surrounds many of the topics we’ve explored since 1998.

(At that time, we weren’t really aware of the code of silence.)

Remember when the Irish saved civilization? Actually, we don’t either! Still, we think someone should record our recent political/journalistic history, just in case the time ever comes when people want to stop clowning around with their darling Rachel and learn how to fight to win.

(Last night, Rachel started her week with almost five minutes of funny dogs. In our view, a person could almost see an agenda in that remarkable choice.)

We’ll offer more of these mewlings in the days ahead. For now, though, consider the great season open, perhaps as an adjunct to the World Series:

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

In the days to come, we’ll try to speculate about where such support could take us.

Last night, Lawrence recalled his astonishing statement from eight weeks back:

“In 30 years of studying the New York Times coverage of these cases, I have never been critical of their work until yesterday.”

In that statement, you can see the undisguised heart of the problem we’ve described down through the years.

Lawrence gets paid for conduct like that.

To even the score, click here!


Supplemental: Lawrence O’Donnell challenged the Times!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2014

Then said it pained him to do so:
Did Lawrence O’Donnell even read that New York Times report?

In our view, he cast himself in the watchdog role, then quickly floundered and flailed. Even worse was something he said midway through his performance.

For background, see our previous post.

Good God! The analysts cried and ran from the room when they heard Lawrence make the highlighted statement:
O’DONNELL (10/20/14): Remember—if you’re on the scene on the street as an eyewitness and a gun is being fired, your ability to flawlessly report every distinct sound while trying to protect your own life might be imperfect.

And the courts understand that. Juries understand that. The law and juries do not demand perfect consistency between circumstantial evidence and eyewitness evidence,

But the New York Times does.

The New York Times has demonstrated that its reporters and editors have been woefully incompetent in evaluating the evidence in this case. It pained me to have to say as much on this program eight weeks ago. The next day, the New York Times public editor agreed with my criticism of the Times article that I ripped apart for you that night, right at this desk.
In that passage, O’Donnell was grossly misstating the type of consistency discussed in last Saturday's New York Times report. For unknown reasons, he was focusing on the number of gunshots which were fired when Michael Brown was killed, a point the Times report didn’t address or discuss.

There was plenty to clarify in the Times report. Near the end of his ten-minute segment, O’Donnell made a key point—the Times article focused on the struggle at the car, not on the later shots which actually killed Michael Brown.

By the nine-minute mark, Lawrence was making a very strong point. Along the way, he had floundered and erred, offering absurd criticisms of the Times report.

Can we talk? The New York Times routinely does horrible work. Much of the most consequential bad journalism of our era has come from the New York Times.

But so what? Despite this rather obvious fact, Lawrence felt he had to say that it pains him to criticize the Times! Eight weeks ago, he made truly hideous comments when he offered his original criticism of the Times’ reporting about Michael Brown:

“In 30 years of studying the New York Times coverage of these cases, I have never been critical of their work until yesterday.”

Believe it or not, Lawrence actually said that. Last night, he went there again.

According to the civics texts, it’s Lawrence’s job to criticize the New York Times when it gets things wrong. According to the civics texts, that would be part of his basic civic duty.

That said, you almost never hear the powerful New York Times criticized on MSNBC. Lawrence and Rachel simply don’t go there. When Lawrence does, he’s careful to say how much it pains him to do so.

That was a horrible moment last night. But it tells you something very important about the way our discourse actually works—about The Way We Are, about our floundering culture.

“In 30 years of studying the New York Times coverage of these cases, I have never been critical of their work until yesterday.”

A major TV star actually said that! That pitiful comment is very much a part of The Way We Are.

GATEKEEPERS GONE: Lawrence O’Donnell in watchdog role!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2014

Part 2—Competence gone:
Was there ever a time when the theory was accurate?

On balance, we’d say there was. At one time, we had a pair of powerful gatekeepers—Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley.

Neither man was crazy or dumb. If you or your message was crazy or dumb, it wasn’t likely that you could get it on the air.

Today, that gatekeeper system is gone. What Dr. Keith Ablow did last week is, by now, completely the norm.

What did Ablow do last week? He aired twelve minutes of manifest lunacy on John Gibson’s mid-day show on Fox News Radio.

For yesterday's post, click this.

Ablow played the shrink all through the hideous segment. With manifest lunacy, he described the America-hating thoughts which have been running through Barack Obama’s America-hating head.

Anyone can gin up stories like that. But when such stories are ginned up by a fairly well-known commentator on a major radio network—by a man who once had his own syndicated TV show!—many citizens won’t understand that they are hearing The Crazy.

In the days of Cronkite and Brinkley, people like Ablow weren’t allowed on the air. Performances like his weren’t broadcast by the nation’s major news organs.

Today, heinous work of this kind is completely the norm. For better or worse, our gatekeepers are manifestly gone.

Work like this is completely the norm. Salon pushed back against Ablow and Gibson, but major news organs did not.

Our biggest news organs can no longer keep such craziness out of the discourse. Nor are they inclined to challenge such conduct—to cast themselves in the secondary role of the vigilant watchdog.

For years, we’ve argued that our biggest news organs should treat such events as news. It’s news when major figures like Ablow toy with the public in such ways. It ought to be reported as news—but organs like the New York Times shrink from providing that watchdog service.

In one way, it may be just as well. It isn’t just that the New York Times lacks the will to play that role.

On balance, the newspaper also lacks the smarts. But then, so do the liberal watchdogs who are now part of our sprawling, incompetent corporate media.

What happens when major liberal stars cast themselves as watchdogs? Consider Lawrence O’Donnell’s attempt to challenge the Times last night.

Lawrence challenged a front-page report in Saturday’s New York Times. In that report, Michael Schmidt described some of what Officer Darren Wilson has reportedly told “investigators” about the killing of Michael Brown.

Schmidt cited anonymous government sources. This is the way he started:
SCHMIDT (10/18/14): The police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two months ago has told investigators that he was pinned in his vehicle and in fear for his life as he struggled over his gun with Mr. Brown, according to government officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation into the matter.

The officer, Darren Wilson, has told the authorities that during the scuffle, Mr. Brown reached for the gun. It was fired twice in the car, according to forensics tests performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The first bullet struck Mr. Brown in the arm; the second bullet missed.

The forensics tests showed Mr. Brown's blood on the gun, as well as on the interior door panel and on Officer Wilson's uniform. Officer Wilson told the authorities that Mr. Brown had punched and scratched him repeatedly, leaving swelling on his face and cuts on his neck.

This is the first public account of Officer Wilson's testimony to investigators, but it does not explain why, after he emerged from his vehicle, he fired at Mr. Brown multiple times. It contradicts some witness accounts, and it will not calm those who have been demanding to know why an unarmed man was shot a total of six times. Mr. Brown's death continues to fuel anger and sometimes-violent protests.
Schmidt sourced his information to unnamed government officials. He later said that his account of Wilson's statements did not “come from the Ferguson Police Department or from officials whose activities are being investigated as part of the [federal] civil rights inquiry.”

If it’s accurate, Schmidt’s report seems to include some new forensic information. Meanwhile, the reporter stated an important point in his fourth paragraph:

Wilson’s account of the struggle at the car does not explain why he fired at Brown multiple times after he left his car. That remains the major question in a potential criminal case. Wilson’s account of the fight at the car doesn’t resolve that question.

On last night’s program, O’Donnell cast himself in the role of watchdog concerning the Times report. In the course of a ten-minute monologue, he even made some accurate statements about various questions surrounding this case.

To watch the whole segment, click here.


That said, it didn’t take long for Watchdog O’Donnell to go substantially wrong. Instantly, he battered the Times for “pretend[ing] it had a scoop” in its front-page report.

Now that our gatekeepers are gone, how competent are our watchdogs? Barely two minutes into his segment, this would-be watchdog said this:
O’DONNELL (10/20/14): The useful information in the New York Times article is the circumstantial evidence leaked by the government officials who told the Times that the FBI forensics tests show that the officer’s gun was fired twice inside the car, with the first bullet hitting Michael Brown in the arm and the second bullet himself him completely...

The Times then gets very confused about what those forensic findings mean. The article says it “contradicts” some witness accounts, but then fails to point out any contradictions, because the New York Times and its reporters do not seem to understand what an actual contradiction is in eyewitness testimony.
How competent are today’s high-profile corporate media stars? With our gatekeepers dead and gone, just how competent are our potential watchdogs?

Lawrence O’Donnell is very well-paid. He likes to say that he went to Harvard. He has been a major media figure for more than fifteen years.

But alas! Less than three minutes into his watchdog report, O’Donnell was flatly wrong:

In the passage quoted above, he mocked the Times for getting “very confused” about those forensic findings. More specifically, he said the Times “failed to point out any contradictions” in its report.

He said that the Times doesn’t seem to know what an actual contradiction looks like!

Gack! The Times report does specify at least one “direct contradiction” between Officer Wilson’s reported account and an eyewitness account. That contradiction is specified in the passage below. Did Lawrence read this report?
SCHMIDT: Few witnesses had perfect vantage points for the fight in the car, which occurred just after noon on Aug. 9. Mr. Brown was walking down the middle of the street with a friend, Dorian Johnson, when Officer Wilson stopped his S.U.V., a Chevy Tahoe, to order them to the sidewalk.

Within seconds, the encounter turned into a physical struggle, as the officer and Mr. Brown became entangled through the open driver's-side window.

[...]

Mr. Johnson's description of the scuffle is detailed and specific, and directly contradicts what Officer Wilson has told the authorities.

Mr. Johnson has said that Officer Wilson was the aggressor, backing up his vehicle and opening the door, which hit Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brown and then bounced back.

''He just reached his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around his neck, and he was trying to choke my friend,'' Mr. Johnson told reporters after the shooting. ''He was trying to get away, and the officer then reached out and grabbed his arm to pull him inside the car.''

Officer Wilson then drew his weapon, Mr. Johnson said, and threatened to shoot.

''In the same moment, the first shot went off,'' he said. ''We looked at him. He was shot. There was blood coming from him. And we took off running.''

Never, Mr. Johnson said, did Mr. Brown reach for the officer's weapon.
We don’t know what happened at the car, but that sounds like a fairly direct “contradiction” to us! But as he continued last night, O’Donnell acted as if the Times was only claiming contradictions concerning the number of shots which Officer Wilson fired.

On and on the watchdog went, explaining that witnesses are often wrong about the number of gunshots which get fired. He acted as if he hadn’t read the actual Times report.

O’Donnell has been a high-ranking media figure for fifteen years. Did we mention the fact that he went to Harvard?

Despite serial proclamations of greatness, Lawrence bungled quickly last night. In our world, the gatekeepers are gone—and the watchdogs are often incompetent or heavily biased.

Having said that, let us also say this: There was plenty to clarify about that Times report.

The Times report focused heavily on the struggle at the car. After the initial disclaimer shown above, it largely abandoned the central question which remains in this case—the question of why Wilson fired a large number of gunshots, killing Brown, after the struggle at the car was over.

There was a great deal to clarify in that report. But when he tried, our liberal watchdog was almost instantly wrong.

Cronkite and Brinkley are gone, long gone. For better or worse, no one can play the gatekeeper role at this time.

Our gatekeepers are gone, and even worse, our watchdogs just aren’t very sharp! That’s certainly true of the New York Times, a point we’ll examine tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Horrible front-page reporting

The Way We Are: We’re in Week 3 of our current award-winning series, The Way We Are. The series examines the way our discourse actually works, as opposed to the way we might hear it described by major media figures.

To us, The Way We Are seems grim. For all previous posts, click here.