Part 3—But first, the AP's transcript: Who the heck is Masha Gessen?
You're asking a very good question! Last weekend, C-Span aired the videotape of Gessen's May 7 appearance at the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival.
The annual festival is produced by PEN America, a venerable organization which "works to advance literature, defend free expression, and foster international literary fellowship."
The festival was founded in 2005 under the leadership of Salman Rushdie, a leading figure in world literature, who was then PEN's president.
We seem to be dealing from the very top of the deck. As it posts its tape of the May 7 session, C-Span describes Gessen's appearance as follows:
C-SPAN: 2017 Arthur Miller Lecture Author Masha Gessen delivered the Arthur Miller Lecture followed by an interview with Samantha Bee as part of the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival. Ms. Gessen books include The Future is History and The Man Without a Face.That's right. After Gessen delivered her lecture, she was interviewed by comedian Samantha Bee.
The lecture and the interview were both aired by C-Span. The entire session can be viewed at the C-Span site linked above, or at this PEN America site
Concerning the interview, we'll only say this:
Bee is a very capable comedian. But she had as much business interviewing Gessen as we would have dancing a lead in the Bolshoi Ballet's next mounting of Swan Lake.
It's fairly clear, during that interview, that Bee understood this fact about herself and about her own performance. Here again, you see the preference within modern liberal culture for the joys of skill-free living:
In scheduling that interview session, PEN went with publicity value and imagined entertainment and fun at the expense of basic competence. Again and again and again and again, this is the way our liberal and progressive elites contribute to the dumbnification of the American discourse.
This dumbnification hasn't served liberal interests especially well.
That said, who is Masha Gessen? We'll offer a brief subjective capsule: she's smarter than the average journalistic bear, and she's much more sincere. Her sincerity would seem to flow from her personal history, which the leading authority has summarized in this way:
Maria Alexandrovna "Masha" Gessen (born 13 January 1967), is a Russian and American journalist, author, translator and activist who has been an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump.Gessen hasn't simply talked the talk; she has also walked the walk. She's sharper than the average bear. We'd be inclined to assume complete sincerity in every word she utters.
Gessen helped found the Pink Triangle Campaign and has written extensively on LGBT rights. Described as "Russia's leading LGBT rights activist," she has said that for many years she was "probably the only publicly out gay person in the whole country."
Gessen writes primarily in English but also in her native Russian, and in addition to being the author of several non-fiction books, she has been a prolific contributor to such publications as The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, New Statesman, Granta, Slate, Vanity Fair, Harper's Magazine, and U.S. News & World Report.
Gessen was born into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Moscow to Alexander and Yelena Gessen. In 1981, when Gessen was a teenager, she and her family moved to the United States. As an adult in 1991, she moved to Moscow, where she worked as a journalist. Gessen holds both Russian and US citizenship.
For those reasons, we were struck by the lecture she gave, to an appreciate liberal audience, at the May 7 PEN event.
Gessen's lecture was repeatedly interrupted by laughter and applause. Repeatedly, these interruptions occurred at points where Gessen was offering absurd analyses or working from an AP transcript whose basic structure she rather plainly didn't seem to understand.
We were struck by Gessen's overstatements—and by her lack of preparation.
Bee's attempt at conducting an interview was horrible, but predictably so. Simply put, she was playing out of position as she interviewed Gessen.
That said, Gessen's actual lecture was striking and disappointing. The reactions by that liberal audience only made matters worse.
Then too, we must confront that AP transcript, from which Gessen attempted to work at one point to the delight of her audience.
The Associated Press is one of this country's oldest and most influential news organizations. The interview to which we refer was conducted by Julie Pace, the AP's newly-named Washington bureau chief.
In the past year or two, Pace has become a familiar face on "cable news" programs. In our view, she is routinely competent, sane and well-informed, and professional in her demeanor.
She doesn't get way out over her skies. These traits tend to make a person stand out in the realm of "cable news."
On Friday, April 21, Pace conducted a lengthy interview with President Donald J. Trump. The interview was intended to mark the end of Trump's first hundred days in office.
The AP released no videotape or audiotape of the interview. The AP's official transcript of the session is here.
Some of Trump's statements in that interview provoked a lot of discussion. In our view, Pace's performance was completely appropriate throughout.
Pace performed as a journalist should. In a puzzling array of ways, the AP's transcript is a bit of a mess.
Our view? In a slightly different world, it would be hard to imagine a major news org publishing such a transcript. Beyond that, a second problem lurks:
It's completely clear, from Gessen's lecture, that she hadn't fully perused the transcript from which she chose to work. In her lecture, she used certain parts of the transcript to generate laughter and applause. But it seems depressingly clear that she hadn't performed basic due diligence before composing her text.
In our first few reports in this series, we've posed an implicit question. We've discussed the way our philosophy professors—in theory, an important set of guardians—have basically walked off their posts.
We then discussed the puzzling fact that a major journalist at the New York Times seems to display the intellectual skill of someone who's nine years old.
The implicit question we're raising is this:
As a general matter, how should we regard ourselves and our fellow humans? As a general matter, which heuristic best holds?
Are we humans "the rational animal," as Aristotle is said to have said? Or are we humans more reliably viewed as a set of misfiring machines?
Our logicians refuse to offer us help. Our nation's brainiest newspaper is written on third-grade level.
Tomorrow, we'll look at a puzzling transcript composed by our leading wire service. Next week, we'll review the lecture given by Gessen—and we'll consider the reactions of that liberal crowd.
Gessen's smarter than the average bear. Transparently, we'd say she's completely sincere.
For those reasons, we were struck by the lecture she gave. And also, good God—
By that audience!
Tomorrow: Our nation's most important wire service attempts to compose a transcript