As I often tell people, there seems a totally unpredictable, even random aspect to major American media coverage. Whether a scandal explodes into the public eye or escapes without notice seems difficult to foretell.
Consider the recent example of Dr. Jason Richwine, late of the Heritage Foundation, whose ideological travails became one of Washington’s major scandals-of-the-month over the past week. Googling his exact name now yields half a million web results, and I’d guess that 99% of these are of extremely recent vintage.
As some media commentators have suggested, Richwine himself may be wondering Why Me and Why Now? After all, the racial writings and opinions that provoked so much media fury had never been secretive or disguised; they were always hiding in plain sight.
His Harvard doctoral dissertation asserting the strong connection between race and IQ and suggesting that American immigration policy should be changed to reflect this relationship has been freely available on the Internet for years, as have been video clips of his public pronouncements on the same subject. His articles and columns arguing that Hispanics have unusually high crime rates—mostly written in rebuttal to my own contrary findings—have always been a mouse-click away, and anyone checking would have noticed that these writings had appeared in Alternative Right, a racial nationalist webzine whose ideological orientation has now suddenly been classified as poisonous by the Washington commentariat. Read More…
The Buchanan-Hitchens interview that Dan posted brings back such a welter of memories and nostalgia. To see the then youngish Hitchens make a cutting “lying us into war” barb about John F. Kennedy! The very Hitchens who, a short decade later, would take pride of place among ”liberal hawks” arguing for the invasion of Iraq, a project spurred far more by lies than Vietnam, which was based on crude application of the quite reasonable and successful doctrine of containment. Yet I don’t want to be hard on Hitchens—for generally in the interview he is lucid and pleasant.
And boy, those were good times. We had just won the Cold War, the economy was gearing up into its first early internet boom, the crime rate topped out and was beginning to decline. Global warming was no more than a theory, and we still seemed to have plenty of time prevent it. You were unlikely to hear (as one does hear nowadays) young adults talking about looming environmental collapse as a reason not to have children.
Of course 1993 was more or less the last historical moment before the internet. Salon has just posted an provocative interview with author and tech guru Jaron Lanier, who sets down some guideposts for sociological analysis of what changes the internet has wrought. This is a critical subject, because in most ways the internet has changed life for the worse. (Of course you are reading and I am writing on a website, but readers and writers could find one another a generation ago, and the experience was no less rewarding—for the writer, probably far more so.) Lanier argues that the digital revolution is a principal cause of the collapse of the middle class, the drying up of jobs which provided the backbone for most American family life. He points out that while we once had Kodak (and its 140,000 jobs), now we have Instagram, which employs something like a dozen. Gone with Kodak are 140,000 corporate health plans, and no doubt countless Little League teams and brownie troops. This argument feels correct to me, and it deserves to be thoroughly explored in the months ahead.
I occasionally bore my grown children by pointing out that the level of technology we had even a generation further back, in the 1960s, was completely fine. You could travel by jet. Antibiotics existed (and were probably more effective than now), no one died tragically of scarlet fever or something. (On second reading, I would note that AIDS, apparently non-existent in the 1960s, was still a death sentence in 1993 and would be for another couple of years.) People could make make a living writing books or working for newspapers, or working in a factory. Email didn’t exist of course, much less twitter, but somehow people were able to communicate. And I don’t want to go overboard and overpraise the quality of political leadership then, but I think the Congress run by Jim Wright and Bob Michel was probably a great improvement over the current one. Is it just me, or is the general tone of the Buchanan-Hitchens exchange far more elevated than political talk you see on TV today?
Interesting, isn’t it? The IRS, EPA, and DOJ scandals all happened before the election. We’re only hearing about them now.
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) May 14, 2013
Yup. Sure is.
– EPA chief Lisa Jackson, alias “Richard Windsor,” resigned in late December amidst a transparency scandal involving the use of fake email accounts to avoid scrutiny. Today, the same organization that sued for access to those emails reveals that the EPA gave green groups fee waivers for FOIA requests 93 percent of the time, whereas the Competitive Enterprise Institute was required to pay 14 out of 15 times.
– The IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups (and small-government ones and ones whose stated mission is to “make America a better place to live”) went back to 2010, when they first started receiving egregiously detailed questionnaires. The White House has known since April, and pinned it on the Cincinnati field office originally, per the IRS commissioner’s apology. Not only is that claim not true—senior IRS officials have known since 2011, as the Washington Post reported last night, and they lied to Congress about it—but the Cincinnati office isn’t just a random peripheral subdivision, it’s the main office for processing exempt organizations claims. Not to mention CNN is now reporting that several other field offices were involved. Both the President and House Speaker John Boehner have promised to look into the matter. On the Senate side, Max Baucus will be heading up the investigation, and he actually encouraged investigating Tea Party groups.
– In the most shocking scandal yet in the president’s war on leaks—alternatively, war on whistleblowers—the Associated Press revealed yesterday that the Justice Department obtained two months’ worth of phone records from more than 20 different phone lines in an apparent attempt to trace the sources of a story about a foiled bomb plot by Yemen-based terrorists. The AP’s CEO has called it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.”
Not every one of these could have been uncovered by the mainstream press, though all of them have to do with concerns raised by conservatives months or in some cases years ago that weren’t taken seriously. ProPublica’s decision yesterday evening to out the Cincinnati office as their source for confidential tax documents seems especially self-serving in light of the developing scandal. The Washington Post‘s story on Lisa Jackson’s resignation didn’t even mention her pseudonymous emails. You’d think a major newspaper would be concerned enough about transparency to do so. With a mainstream press this solicitous of the administration, is it any wonder they thought they could get away with snooping on reporters’ phone records? American Pravda, indeed.
Update: I guess I should have put that headline in quotes. Also, RNC chairman Reince Priebus has just called for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation.
The early reaction to my “American Pravda” article has been quite encouraging, with the piece attracting more traffic during its first week than nearly any of my others and with several websites discussing, excerpting, or even republishing it. Furthermore, the average time spent on the page by readers steadily rose to nearly a full hour as the days went by, seeming to indicate that visitors were carefully absorbing and digesting my material rather than merely flitting away after a casual glance or two. Tens of thousands of individuals have now apparently read part or all of my arguments, though whether they will have any lasting impact is difficult to say.
After all, we live in the Age of Television, when the images we see on the small screen—or its cinematic big brother—define our known world with far greater force than does the printed word or sometimes even the direct evidence of our own senses. Television may not be reality, but for all too many Americans, Reality is often Television.
Consider one of the most copiously sourced of the unreported scandals that I described, namely the long Vietnam POW cover-up so exhaustively documented by Pulitzer Prize-winner Sydney Schanberg. The evidence is overwhelming, the supporters include individuals of the highest credibility, and the governmental denials have largely been perfunctory. But since the story has not been widely featured on popular cable news chat shows, the events remain almost entirely “unreal” to the vast majority of today’s American journalists and the public they purport to inform. Read More…
Perhaps for comic relief amid a news cycle otherwise full of escalation in Syria, the festering abuses of Guantanamo, and the wake of the Boston bombings, over the weekend pundits swarmed over Niall Ferguson for gay-baiting the long dead John Maynard Keynes. Tom Kostigen, who broke the story, summarized thus: “Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of ‘poetry’ rather than procreated.” Ferguson has since apologized, and as several sources pointed out, Keynes and his wife, Lydia Lopokova, did indeed try to have children, and she may have suffered a miscarriage. But Ferguson got a dose of the attention he craves, and pundits pleased themselves with their own moral fury, so everybody’s happy.
Unfortunately, the good name of Joseph Schumpeter has been dragged through the mud by this episode as well. Both Ferguson’s critics and defenders have said, in effect, “Schumpeter did it first.” Schumpeter’s 1946 American Economic Review obituary for Keynes is cited as proof: therein, Schumpeter writes of his subject, “He was childless and his philosophy of life was essentially a short-run philosophy.”
But Schumpeter is not indulging in any sly gay-baiting here—the issue for him isn’t homosexuality, it’s childlessness for whatever reason. The wider context of Schumpeter’s remark is that the “sober wisdom and conservativism” of Keynes’s economic advice was intended for a specific time and place—England after World War I—and was characteristic of the kind of person Keynes was: not homosexual but rather part of “the high intelligentsia of England, unattached to class or party … who rightly claimed, for good and ill, spiritual kinship with the Locke-Mill connection.” Schumpeter continues on this theme:
Least of all was he the man to preach regenerative creeds. He was the English intellectual, a little déraciné and beholding a most uncomfortable [postwar] situation. He was childless and his philosophy of life was essentially a short-run philosophy. So he turned resolutely to the only ‘parameter of action’ that seemed left to him, both as an Englishman and as the kind of Englishman he was—monetary management. Perhaps he thought it might heal. He knew for certain that it would sooth[e]—and that return to a gold system at pre-war parity was more than his England could stand.
If only people could be made to understand this, they would also understand that practical Keynesianism is a seedling which cannot be transplanted into foreign soil: it dies there and become poisonous before it dies. But in addition they would understand that, left in English soil, this seedling is a healthy thing and promises both fruit and shade.
So much for the context. But isn’t the reference to childlessness at least indirectly an attack on Keynes’s sexuality? Probably not. Consider what Schumpeter writes about children and economics, in a clearly heterosexual context, in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy:
There’s been a lot of chatter about The Death of Blogs the last few days, among media both mainstream and conservative, prompted in part by the New York Times‘ decision to shutter a few of its own. Marc Tracy, writing at the New Republic, bemoans the replacement of thoughtful blogging by an “endless stream of isolated dollops of news”:
Smaller brands within brands, be they rubrics like “Media Decoder” or personalities like “Ben Smith,” make increasingly little sense in a landscape where writers can cultivate their own, highly discriminating followings via social media like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, while readers can curate their own, highly discriminating feeds. In this world, there is no place for the blog, because to do anything other than put “All Media News In One Place” is incredibly inefficient.
Andrew Sullivan and Ann Althouse are skeptical. The cover story in the Columbia Journalism Review touches on similar themes, but with conclusions that it seems to me bloggers should be somewhat heartened by, especially the idea that “many young consumers prefer to have their news filtered by an individual or a publication with a personality rather than by a traffic-seeking robot or algorithm.”
Truth be told, I don’t have much time for the conservative blogosphere for the simple reason that there isn’t much personality. So much of it is just repetitive outrage about Obama appointees or Brett Kimberlin’s criminal record that it’s not really a useful way to keep yourself informed. I usually stick to Ace of Spades, Outside the Beltway, RedState, and the Gateway Pundit for up to date right-of-center news. The conservative blogosphere’s alleged decline strikes me as a mixed blessing at worst, if it’s even true, since the best blogs, the above included, will keep their readers and even gain more as the lower-quality ones drop off. Regardless, there are underappreciated gems and they deserve to be encouraged, so in the interest of doing so, here are a few that have kept me coming back. They range widely in ideological orientation, posting frequency, popularity, and in pretty much every other way, but I’ve tried to stick to ones you might not have heard of:
Against Crony Capitalism — What it sounds like
Booker Rising — A blogospheric home for black moderates and conservatives
A Chequer-Board of Nights and Days (Pejman Yousefzadeh) — Foreign policy and politics
Garvey’s Ghost — A Garveyite’s perspective on politics
Gucci Little Piggy — Social science commentary
The Hipster Conservative — Religion, politics, and philosophy for conservative hipsters
Iowahawk (David Burge) — Some of the best political humor on the web
Jesus Radicals — Theology from the radical left
L’Hote (Freddie DeBoer) — Left-wing contrarianism
Naked DC — Insider-y political commentary
Notes on Liberty — A solid libertarian group blog
Pinstripe Pulpit (Alan Cornett) — Religious and sartorial matters from a former assistant of the late Russell Kirk
Prez16 (Christian Heinze) — Clever, digestible political commentary
The Rancid Honeytrap — Commentary from the left
Ribbon Farm (Venkatesh Rao) — Economics and social commentary
Rorate Caeli — Traditional Catholicism
Slouching Towards Columbia (Dan Trombly) — Liberal realist foreign policy
The Trad — Culture and style for trads
Turnabout — Jim Kalb’s commentary
United Liberty — Another solid libertarian group blog, frequently updated, and great for breaking news
In the future, I’ll try to do a better job engaging with some of these folks. And if you have more to recommend, leave ‘em in the comments.
What do I have to do to get a review in The New York Times? More than a few frustrated authors have asked this question, posing it in some cases to their agents and and in others to a tumbler of whisky. There may be no a single answer. But it certainly helps to have famous name and the connections that often go along with it.
Even so, the extent of the coverage recently devoted to Nathaniel Rich has drawn attention. According to The Times‘s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan:
It’s beginning to feel like Nathaniel Rich Month at The Times. The author’s new novel was reviewed in the Arts section on April 10, then again in the Sunday Book Review on April 14. Mr. Rich also wrote an essay for the Sunday Book Review, with many references to that novel, “Odds Against Tomorrow.” In addition, the Editors’ Choice section of the Sunday Book Review listed Mr. Rich’s novel second on its list.
Back in January, Mr. Rich and his brother were also the subjects of a feature story about literary families. (His father is Frank Rich, the former Times columnist; his mother is Gail Winston, an executive editor at HarperCollins; his brother is a comedy writer, a novelist and a regular contributor to The New Yorker.)
This looks like a obvious case of nepotism. Tom Scocca explains, however, that there’s something more subtle and interesting going on. Rich’s book may be good (I haven’t read it). And, as the profile makes clear, he has evidently worked hard at his craft. But that’s not enough to explain Rich’s unusual success:
Relationships and knowledge are what the writing-and-culture business runs on. Some of it is cultural capital—knowing what to do and how to do it. Frank Rich’s children were exposed, at an early age, to the actual specific process of professional writing: deadlines, pitches, writing to length. Jewelers raise jewelers; plumbers raise plumbers. Cal Ripken Sr. and Bobby Bonds brought up their children around professional baseball. Johann Sebastian Bach produced musicians.
But some of it is social capital—who you know, and what they can do for you. People look out for the interests of people they know, even without anyone picking up a phone and telling them to. Disclosure: I was going to write about the profile of the Rich brothers when it first came out, for somewhere other than Gawker, but that place revoked the assignment because it didn’t want to be potentially unkind to Nathaniel Rich.
This isn’t the explicit favoritism of the old-fashioned Establishment, which often reward pedigree rather than competence. Instead, it’s a very contemporary form of advantage that coexists with the meritocratic principles of the new elite. Under this regime, rewards are available for “achievers” of any background. But it just so happens that the children of people who are already successful know how to achieve the most–and whom to inform of their accomplishments.
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville coined the term “mild despotism” to describe the tutelary state that might replace monarchical tyranny. By the same token, we might describe as “mild nepotism” the informal networks of privilege that have replaced formal aristocracy.
Mild nepotism would not be a big deal if it were confined to publishing. But it’s also a fact of life in finance, academia, and the upper reaches of the legal world. These fields are open, in principle, to all. In practice, however, they are dominated by those who have been outfitted since childhood with the skills and contacts they’ll need to do well in the right schools, find the right jobs, and, when the time comes, to welcome others very much like themselves inside the magic circle.
It must be understood that all this will happen without any intention to play favorites. It’s only that there are so many impressive applications to consider, so many qualified candidates to interview, so many fine books to review. And unfortunately there’s space for just one…
We can acknowledge the reality of mild nepotism without endorsing coercive measures to end it. As Hayek argued, it would require a despotism of truly terrifying proportions to eliminate the cognitive, cultural, and social inequalities that emerge in any free society. But the attention lavished on Nathaniel Rich by The New York Times is an amusing and therefore useful reminder of the way that meritocracy functions as the legitimating myth of the modern ruling class. Do you think The New Yorker would run a piece on that? Can you give me the number of your friend who works there?
The author of The Conservative Mind once described the automobile as “a mechanical Jacobin,” and when he found his daughters had smuggled a television up to the attic to watch more TV than they were allowed, he threw the offending device off the roof.
Kirk was young before his time. “Surveys suggest that young people ‘prefer to live places where they can easily walk, bike, and take public transportation’,” Brad Plumer notes in a Washington Post piece titled “Why Aren’t Younger Americans Driving Anymore?” For all Americans, “vehicle miles driven have fallen 8.75 percent. The decline has persisted for 92 months and there’s no sign it’s abating.”
Then there’s this Marketing Charts report on Nielsen’s fourth-quarter 2012 television viewership numbers:
In Q4, 12-17-year-olds watched roughly 21 and a half hours of TV per week, the lowest amount of any age group. Interestingly, that not only was about 45 minutes less than Q4 2011, it was about 1 hour less than the previous quarter, which may serve as another indication that teens are getting their political news (however much they consume) through sources other than TV.
Looking at year-over-year patterns, teen consumption on TV decreased by 45 minutes in Q4, dropped by 98 minutes in Q3, by 47 minutes in Q2, and by 127 minutes in Q1. Other than the fact that viewership dropped each quarter, there aren’t many linear trends to take away from that. Perhaps more significant is when the major drops in viewership occurred. Q1 and Q3 were the heaviest TV viewing periods for teens (coinciding somewhat with TV seasons), but those showed the biggest consumption declines.
An incredible manhunt is underway. Police have surrounded a 20-block area in
Watertown, as the entire city of Boston remains shut down. One suspect is now dead, while the other is the subject of an unprecedented search effort. From the bombs going off on Monday to the current pursuit, new tools of public information conveyance merged with the old in a frenzied rush of identification, misidentification, and false certainty.
It’s still early w unconfirmed scanner reports but if Redit was right with the Sunil Tripathi theory, it’s changed the game 4ever
— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) April 19, 2013
For instance, in the middle of a wild Thursday night, before the Tsarnayev brothers were officially identified, several reports erroneously suggested that one of the suspects was in fact a missing Brown student previously fingered by users on Reddit. Ryan Chittum has more:
And then there were the keyboard crimefighters at Reddit. At one point a police dispatcher, apparently incorrectly, said that the suspects’ names were Sunil Tripathi, a Brown student who disappeared last month, and Mike Mulugeta. Reddit, still smarting from the backlash to their amateur sleuthing, took a very premature victory lap.
Earlier this week Alexis Madrigal warned against the giddy overzealous vigilantism on Reddit:
Comedian Patton Oswalt’s reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings has been paraded around all corners of the Internet in the last two days, covered by ABC News, Yahoo, the Daily Mail, and many, many others. He posted this on Facebook:
This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in a while, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness. But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evildoers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.
So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”
A variation on the same theme is this Deadspin post by someone staying in the hotel above the bombing that concludes “the people or person who did this to Boston are in the minority, and as long as that’s true, we will be OK.”
Look, I don’t intend to mock the way people grieve, but why does this qualify as an inspiring message? It’s vapid nonsense.
That we should be comforted by the fact that a majority hasn’t yet become terrorists is a weird non-sequitur. If the post-9/11 paradigm has enshrined anything, it’s the idea that a small number of people is capable of wreaking immense harm. Good people have consented to an awful lot of evil out of fear of just that.
“Evildoers” aren’t eliminated “like white blood cells attacking a virus,” as if we could have destroyed Al-Qaeda by sending a horde of Rotarians into Tora Bora with vaccines and pancakes.
Oswalt’s statement is an invitation to bundle all of one’s ideas of what’s good and bad into a judgement about “good” and “bad” people; an excuse to conflate bombers with bigots. It’s more about self-affirmation than grief, which, to be a bit cynical, probably explains its online virality.