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November 12, 2007


From the woodshed school of writing, Slate's jack Shafer spanks NYT op-ed writer, Roger Cohen.

Roger Cohen Is Entitled to His Opinion

But there's no excuse for his lazy writing.

Whom the gods would destroy they first give a newspaper column.

It would seem to be a simple task to buff one's reflections, observations, and opinions to an 800-word sparkle twice a week, yet the job cores the skulls of all but the stoutest, most resourceful writers. The perceptive reporter turns into a bar-emptying bore, the meticulous stylist into a pompous hack, and the shrewd thinker into a merchant of flapdoodle.

This ruination threatens to claim Roger Cohen, who joined the New York Times op-ed page's rotation last summer when Nicholas D. Kristof took book leave.

For evidence, Shafer puts the critical spotlight on some pretty sappy stuff:

As Cohen jettisons his internal editor, the information content of his columns approaches zero. His Nov. 1 column, "Afghanistan at the Brink," datelined Kabul, dares the reader to wade through a mush of platitudes without so much as a prize for reading the whole thing. He writes:
With Afghanistan at a tipping point, the next U.S. president will face an enduring challenge here of immense proportions. He or she must level with the American people, in a way President Bush never has, about the real burden of an attempt to build two countries from scratch at once. That burden can no longer be borne by military families alone, however much Iraqi extrication is achieved.

Tipping point … the next U.S. president … enduring challenge … immense proportions … must level … the American people … the real burden. Does Cohen pay the Scotty Reston estate royalties for his copy?

Posted by stevemack at 05:25 AM | Comments (63) | TrackBack

September 17, 2007

Sign of The Times

The NYT wises up--rejoins the Twenty-First Century.

Posted by stevemack at 07:42 PM | Comments (1085) | TrackBack

September 05, 2007

Gored by the Press

In the October 2007 edition of Vanity Fair, Evgenia Peretz revisits the old story of Al Gore’s trashing by the MSM in 2000, caricaturing him as a pompous, pathological exaggerator. The story’s been done before. Those who care know that he never claimed to have invented the internet, never bragged that he and Tipper were the models for the novel Love Story, and never claimed he discovered Love Canal. What Peretz brings to the story is, one, a tiny bit of commentary from the heretofore silent victim—Gore himself; and, two, a (rather tepid) bit of apologetic soul searching on the part of some shitty but influential journalists.

The Love Canal story is neatly representative of the whole thing:

On December 1, 1999, Connolly—and Seelye—misquoted Gore in a damning way. Their error was picked up elsewhere and repeated, and snowballed into a political nightmare. Gore was speaking to a group of students at Concord High School, in New Hampshire, about how young people could effect change. He described a letter he had received as a congressman in 1978 from a girl in Toone, Tennessee, about how her father and grandfather had gotten mysteriously ill. He had looked into the matter and found that the town was a toxic-waste site. He went on:
"I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I had the first hearing on that issue and Toone, Tennessee. That was the one you didn't hear of, but that was the one that started it all.… We passed a major national law to clean up hazardous dumpsites, and we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around the country.… It all happened because one high-school student got involved."

Jill Hoffman, a high-school senior in the audience who was helping to film the event, says, "I remember thinking, I really, really like what he has to say." But what Seelye and Connolly zeroed in on was Gore yet again claiming credit for something he didn't do—"discovering" Love Canal (which was, in fact, discovered by the people who lived there). In addition to mischaracterizing his somewhat ambiguous statement, they misquoted him, claiming he said, "I was the one that started it all," instead of "that was the one that started it all." The next day, Seelye offered a friendlier account of Gore's visit to the school. Connolly repeated the misquote. In an article titled "First 'Love Story,' Now Love Canal," she wrote:

The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie "Love Story" and to have invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site when he said at a high school forum Tuesday in New Hampshire: "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal." Gore went on to brag about holding the "first hearing on that issue" and said "I was the one that started it all."

The story picked up steam. "I was the one that started it all" became a quote featured in U.S. News & World Report and was repeated on the chat shows. On ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos said, "Gore, again, revealed his Pinocchio problem. Says he was the model for Love Story, created the Internet. And this time he sort of discovered Love Canal." On two consecutive nights of Hardball, Chris Matthews brought up this same trio as examples of Gore's "delusionary" thinking. "What is it, the Zelig guy who keeps saying, 'I was the main character in Love Story. I invented the Internet. I invented Love Canal.…' It reminds me of Snoopy thinking he's the Red Baron." "It became part of the vocabulary," Matthews says today. "I don't think it had a thunderous impact on the voters." He concedes, however, that such stories were repeated too many times in the media.

Seelye would later write a story with John Broder under the headline questions of veracity have long dogged gore and provided "familiar and fairly trivial examples," including his "taking credit for inventing the Internet or being the model for … Love Story." Asked today why those discredited allegations of misstatements were included, Seelye says, "Probably because they were ones that everyone had heard of. We did write that they were 'trivial,' but if that was the case, we should have left them out or debunked them."

What’s particularly galling, however, is the mea culpa that comes a few paragraphs later:

Katharine Seelye, who still writes about national politics for The New York Times, has had time to reflect on her work: "I'm sure there were times my phrasing could have been better—you're doing this on the fly. Sometimes you're just looking for a different way to describe something that you have to write about over and over again," she says. "But I think overall my coverage was tough-minded. A presidential campaign is for the most important, hardest job in the world. Shouldn't the coverage be tough?" Connolly, still a staff writer at the Post but on a leave of absence, maintains that "the Washington Post political team, myself and a dozen other journalists, approached the Gore campaign no differently than any other—with aggressive, thorough, objective reporting."
What truly surprises me about this self-serving bullshit is not that a journalist for a highly respected top-tier paper would attempt to cover her ass in such a pathetic way, but that the entire industry seems so utterly unaware of the problematics of their craft. This isn’t a question of objectivity vs bias. Rather, as anybody with an ounce of understanding knows, for the past twenty years or so, the focus of serious concern among thoughtful journalists is not the prospect that one’s biases may get in the way (which still, of course, happens), but the role meta narratives play in shaping a journalist’s work even when they feel themselves to be completely neutral. It has become an academic commonplace. The prospect that Seelye and company are not bright enough, even after seven years of reflection, to see that they were participating in the creation of a cartoon the effect of which would be to undermine the democratic process is very unerving.

Posted by stevemack at 07:14 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

"A Whitman for our Time."
- Jerome Loving,
"Stephen John Mack's The Pragmatic Whitman: Reimagining American Democracy, [is] The most thoroughly informed philosophical reading of Whitman to appear in decades. Mack develops the premise . . . That Whitman shares with John Dewey a vision of democracy as a 'civic religion' in America, a profoundly secularist and progressive perspective.

- M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Texas A & M University
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