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Print view: The Post ran with an inane attack on more than six million demons
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DEMON ARIZONA! The Post ran with an inane attack on more than six million demons: // link // print // previous // next //

For thee, but not for me: Last night, Chris Matthews continued his channel’s lofty, high-minded attack on Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel.” Two pundits joined in the scripted inanity. Earlier, in the Washington Post, Gene Robinson had written this:

ROBINSON (1/18/11): In the spirit of civil discourse, I'd like to humbly suggest that Sarah Palin please consider being quiet for a while. Perhaps a great while.

At the risk of being bold, I might observe that her faux-presidential address about the Tucson massacre seemed to fall somewhat flat, drawing comparisons to the least attractive public moments of such figures as Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. I could go so far as to observe that Palin almost seemed to portray herself as a collateral victim. Surely a former governor of Alaska - who served the better part of an entire term - would never seek to give the impression that she views any conceivable event, no matter how distant or tragic, as being All About Sarah.

Yet this is the unfortunate impression that Palin's videotaped peroration seems to have left. I am at a loss to recommend any course of corrective action other than an extended period of abstinence from Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

Palin doubtless understands by now that characterizing her alleged persecution by journalists and commentators with the term "blood libel" was a semantic faux pas. One must question, however, not only the tone of her complaint but the content as well. Did she, indeed, have a legitimate grievance? I must be frank: The evidence suggests not.

When it comes to Sarah Palin, there’s a great deal which can be criticized. That said, we were surprised to see Robinson play the “blood libel” card, because he himself had used the term in a “metaphoric” way on MSNBC, just two years ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/13/11).

Yesterday afternoon, Robinson had an on-line Q-and-A about this column. We wondered if someone would ask him about this rather puzzling matter. It may well be that someone did—but if so, it wasn’t one of the questions Robinson chose to publish and answer.

No one mentioned Robinson’s use of the term as the pundits battered Palin last night. You see, MSNBC works from antique tribal logic: For thee, but not for me.

DEMON ARIZONA (permalink): We humans tend to dream up demons. In the American context, that sometimes means that entire states are cast in the demon role.

This has tended to happen with Arizona over the past several years. In this morning’s New York Times, a former Arizonan offers a sweeping view of the state, from two thousand miles away, in Pittsburgh. His sweeping view begins with these observations:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/19/11): I was raised in Arizona. I went to grade school, high school and college in Arizona. I was a National Park Service ranger in Arizona, and my family is still in Arizona. I know its cities and towns, and I know its people.

Or I thought I did. Over the years since I left Arizona, the people there seem to have changed, as the state has changed.

Arizona initially resisted adopting the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Armed vigilantes patrol the state’s border with Mexico.

When did the writer leave the state? The controversy about King Day largely occurred in the 1980s; in November 1992, Arizonans voted to observe the King holiday. And are “vigilantes” patrolling the border? New York Times editors have long used that word in this context, reflecting their crabbed High Manhattan culture. But have actual acts of “vigilantism” occurred? Do you have to commit such an act before you become such a person?

As he continues, the Pittsburgh writer makes sweeping claims about the fallen folk of his former state. By the way: Have the people of Arizona “changed” since the writer left? Actually, yes—they quite plainly have. In 1990, the state’s population was 3.6 million. In 2008, it stood at 6.5 million.

There’s a great deal to criticize in Arizona—and in Pennsylvania too. But “Demon Arizona” played the lead role in Sunday’s Washington Post’s Outlook section. On its front page, Outlook gave massive play to this ludicrous piece by Amy Silverman, long-time managing editor of the Phoenix New Times.

For the record, Silverman has long been an Arizona-trasher. To read an endless piece from 2005 about how massively the city of Phoenix sucks, one must simply click here, then settle in to endure a long, foolish, self-involved slog.

Of course, there’s a Silverman in pretty much every state—a person who lets the locals know how hopelessly clueless and worthless they are. Sadly, these people will often be nominal liberals; in their relentless condescension, they tend to give liberalism a very bad name among the unwashed rubes. On Sunday, Silverman’s portrait of her state wasn’t really a political portrait—but it was grossly moronic, and stunningly ugly. For us, this raised a basic question: Why would the Washington Post print such palpable, unrelieved rubbish? Related question: Are America’s journalistic elites smart enough to help run a national state?

Silverman’s thesis was sadly familiar: Everyone sucks except me (and my husband). That said, her critique took on a particular focus before too much nonsense had passed:

SILVERMAN (1/16/11): I am a native of this place. A restless native, to be sure, but whether I like it or not, Arizona is home. And this past week, I haven't liked that much at all.

What Jared Loughner allegedly did has nothing to do with Arizona—that's become the mantra. It was an isolated incident, people are saying. But it's exactly isolation that defines him, that defines this tragedy—that defines this state.

Just like Jared Loughner himself, the state of Arizona is “defined” by “isolation;” Silverman’s long and silly piece revolved around this sweeping claim. “Arizona state of mind,” the large headline screamed. “In a place known for sunshine and fresh starts, a tragedy reveals a culture of isolation.”

Is it true? Is the state of Arizona really defined by a culture of isolation? And what exactly could such a claim mean? “[T]he truth is that few places are as exclusionary as Arizona,” Silverman soon said. After describing a scene where she hand her husband lay in bed predicting a copy-cat killing, she began to explain what she meant her central claim—and she caught the eye of our analysts:

SILVERMAN: Arizona's ripe for it [for “a copycat killing”]. In a Gallup poll commissioned by a Phoenix think tank called the Center for the Future of Arizona, about half of the state residents surveyed gave their home high marks for beauty and physical surroundings. But just 12 percent gave the same rating when asked "how much people in your community care about each other.”

Arizona is “ripe for a copycat killing!” After making this repellent charge, Silverman backed her claim with a single statistic—a single statistic she slightly misstated, and failed to put into larger context. We’ll return to that troubling 12 percent—to the troubling statistic which fueled that repellent charge. But first, bathe in the nonsense as Silverman continues, listing the various ways she can see her fellow Arizonans’ “culture of isolation:”

SILVERMAN (continuing directly): I'm not surprised. People move here all the time and rave about how friendly it is—for a while. And it's true that clerks in stores say hello, the Starbucks drive-through guy wants to know how your day is going, and a colleague at work might want to take you to lunch to welcome you to the company. After a few post-college years on the East Coast, when I moved home to Phoenix I was amazed (and frankly, annoyed) by how friendly people are.

On the surface. Live here awhile, and you might realize that you haven't met your neighbors. I've lived in the same house for 13 years, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've been invited into a neighbor's house. And I don't even live in an area with particularly high walls or in a gated community.

You don't see people sit out on the porch much. Kids certainly don't play in the street anymore. And when we do venture outside, we climb in our cars, crank the A/C and the radio, pick up the cell and don't even bother to honk our horns. That's how isolated we are.

It would be hard to be more fatuous. Question: What does it mean when one of our most influential newspapers selects such nonsense to headline its week-ending, Sunday ruminations about a deeply serious national event?

How “isolated” are Arizonans? Silverman is troubled by the fact that these people put on the A/C (and the radio!) when they drive around in their cars! “We don’t even bother to honk our horns,” she weirdly says, struggling to call attention to her own terminal foolishness. Just for the record: In our experience, people “don’t sit out on the porch much” in many states, including states where the daily temperatures aren’t as brutal as those in AZ. But in this ridiculous passage, Silverman explains that her home state “is ripe for” another killing because people don’t sit and bake in the sun—and because they use the A/C when they drive around in their cars. By the way: Why should people honk their horns, if children, locked in their own isolation, no longer play in the street?

Can we talk? Silverman has “lived in the same house for 13 years,” but she “can count on one hand the number of times I've been invited into a neighbor's house.” Living far away in Maryland, we don’t find this especially shocking as a general matter. But let’s get specific: Would you invite Silverman into your home? Who would invite such a morbid soul over for dinner? The same people who would have liked Loughner himself?

The piece continues on from here in various low-IQ ways. Silverman is soon saying that “living here can be incredibly depressing;” she even tells us how “miserable” her mother was when she attended Tucson High—a very large public high school—at least several decades ago. This ridiculous passage is instructive for several different reasons:

SILVERMAN: Even if you don't arrive here down and out, you never know what might happen when you rip yourself away from your support system to follow some dream of new adventure.

My grandfather up and moved his family from Queens to Tucson when my mother was 14, and then he almost immediately dropped dead of a heart attack. My mom and her family stayed. She was miserable. At the time, Tucson High was the largest high school west of the Mississippi. Her name is Susan, and she tells stories of walking down the long halls, lost and lonely, and hearing kids call, "Hey Suze! Hey Suze!" She'd turn, hoping to see a friend, and nobody looked back. It took awhile to figure out that in these parts, Jesus (which sounds like "Hay-suse" in Spanish) was a popular name. That story is funny only now, years later.

Now that school is a fancy college prep called University High. Gabby Giffords went there. And later, she didn't intend to come home to Arizona. She talked about this in a 2009 commencement address she gave at Scripps College in California. She explained that she'd just finished graduate studies at Cornell University and had a job offer in New York City.

At least she didn’t tell the old groaner about the kid who thought everyone wanted to know if Jose could see at the baseball game. (This old joke turns on a misunderstanding of the national anthem’s opening lyrics: “Jose, can you see by the dawn’s early light?”) But even if we set aside Silverman’s groaning joke about her mother’s teen-age misery, this bungled, propagandistic passage is interesting for several reasons.

We don’t know why Silverman says that Tucson High is now “a fancy college prep called University High.” In fact, Tucson High remains a very large school (now officially called Tucson Magnet High School); University High is a separate school, at a separate location, and has been since 1985 (click here). This factual blunder may have been made in good faith, but it does let Silverman reinforce her overall theme of “isolation” and “exclusion.” In her factually bungled portrait, a large public high school has become a fancy school for a bunkered elite. (For the record, elite public schools like University High have been created in cities all over the nation; this isn’t special to Demon Zona.) Silverman is even so bold as to suggest that Giffords, who can’t defend herself, shared Silverman’s distaste for the state—though that plainly isn’t the spirit of the commencement address from which Silverman goes on to cherry-pick one small helpful quote. But what could possibly make an editor want to print this consummate nonsense, in which the teen-age misery of the author’s mother is offered as a sign that an entire state is ready for a copy-cat killing?

What explains the fact that the Washington Post chose to print this ugly mess?

There’s more to Silverman’s dumb, ugly portrait, including a sneering aside about the way people move to Arizona after they get out of prison. But let’s return to that one statistic, the one which was used to condemn this vile state. Once again, here is the remarkable passage in which Silverman slimes a whole state:

SILVERMAN: Arizona's ripe for it [for “a copycat killing”]. In a Gallup poll commissioned by a Phoenix think tank called the Center for the Future of Arizona, about half of the state residents surveyed gave their home high marks for beauty and physical surroundings. But just 12 percent gave the same rating when asked "how much people in your community care about each other.”

Silverman uses a statistic here. Not being as dumb as the Washington Post, we wondered what it meant.

Long story short: Silverman has slightly misstated this statistic. In fact, just 12 percent of Arizonans gave the state the highest possible mark on this measure; asked to grade the state from 1 to 5, 12 percent gave the state a grade of 5 for “caring about each other.” Of course, Silverman has no earthly idea how citizens of other states would have responded to that question—and the sponsors of that survey actually said that Arizonans “are surprisingly attached to their communities,” based on the set of questions about “attachment” from which Silverman cherry-picked the question with the lowest response. (To read their report, click here.) “The Gallup Arizona Poll measures the emotional attachment people feel for ‘place’ and found that 36 percent of all Arizona citizens feel passionate about and loyal to their communities,” the sponsors said. “The criteria [are] rigorous and Arizona’s percentage is among the highest of all geographic areas studied to date using this index.”

No pure comparisons can be offered; previously, these questions about “attachment” have been used in surveys of 23 urban areas around the country. The sponsors are thus comparing a survey of a whole state to previous surveys of 23 cities—but they note that Arizonans expressed the highest degree of attachment to community that the survey had ever recorded.

Out of that, Silverman cherry-picked one response; slightly misstated it; and failed to make any attempt to compare it to responses from other states. On this basis, she declared that her state is ripe for a copy-cat killing.

Why would the Washington Post print this garbage? What does such a judgment say about the IQ of our major elites? You can decide that for yourselves, but let’s note this in closing:

Silverman seems to talk throughout the piece about her own depression, and about the misery and depression of others around her. If Silverman herself really is depressed, that’s an unfortunate thing, of course. But she churns a vile hatred against her state, slandering all others within it. We thought it might be worth mentioning several people in Arizona who seem to defy her portrait.

Gabrielle Giffords seems to have been a giant of outreach—or caring concern for her fellow citizens. (We hope she will be again.) Just this morning, we learn that Judge John Roll died in that Safeway parking lot while saving a younger person’s life (click here). And then too, there was Christin Gilmer, speaking with Anderson Cooper last Tuesday. Just a guess: Gilmer probably knows the difference between Tucson and University High Schools—and she seems to have a vastly different idea of what Tucson is actually like.

When Gilmer heard that the crackpot Westboro Baptist Church might come to Arizona to slime the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, she helped organize a response. Watching her speak with Cooper, we were deeply impressed by her attitude, even before we read Silverman’s ugly, crabbed remarks in the Post.

Gilmer seems to know a different Arizona. But then, she herself isn’t filled with loathing, condescension or hate:

COOPER (1/11/11): Christin, what actually made you want to do this? You actually knew two of the victims.

GILMER: Yes, sir. I knew Gabe Zimmerman, who was 30 years old. He was an aide for Congressman Giffords, an amazing, beautiful human being, an empathetic guy. And I also knew Mr. Stoddard, who died while he was shielding his wife from bullets.

What made us start it is obviously on Saturday everyone was just really shocked and dismayed. We had a lot of funerals organized kind of renegade-style that night. And everyone—you heard, you heard emotions from shock to outrage to someone proclaiming how angry they were.

I mean, I was just crying and didn't really understand the whole thing myself. And Sunday morning, we woke up. And to our horror, we found that Westboro had issued their first press release, talked about how God was laughing from heaven and things like that.

So, my very first thought—of course, I was angry and I was upset. And then I thought, “OK, I'm going to protect our town and we're going to protect our community.” So we did everything possible in order to make that happen. And I think we're going to be able to successfully complete our mission in the next few days.

COOPER: You have something called an Angel Action. What is that?

GILMER: Well, it's based off of Matthew Shepherd's funeral, who was killed in 1998. His best friend, Romaine Patterson, had a group of people with eight to ten-foot angel wings. They kind of wore them on their bodies.

People were protesting his funeral, so they surrounded them in a nonviolent silent protest, and kind of just surrounded them because their strength is in their silence. So that's carried on to gay funerals that Westboro has boycotted. They've boycotted people who have HIV, gay men, other soldiers, Elizabeth Edwards's funeral.

So we're basically trying to keep the same tradition. We're not considering it a protest. We're considering it a counter-protest. Our goal isn't to make a political statement. It's not about political. It's not about dialogue. It's about protecting this family and letting them grieve and show the compassion that our entire community has for them.

We just want them to be a peaceful town again. We want to restore what unity we had. And it's been pretty overwhelming, our response so far.

“I believe that Tucson is one of the strongest communities in the world,” Gilmer told Cooper a bit later. “And I think that that love is kind of going to overcome any threats or any violence that will occur. I don't think Tucson will let something like that happen. And I truly hope not.”

Does Christin Gilmer sit on the porch? Does she own a car? Does she use the A/C? We’ll guess she has worthwhile things on her mind whether she does or doesn’t.

Gilmer knows a different Arizona than the one portrayed in the Post. If she were the face of progressive Tucson, progressive Tucson would be rather hard to dislike. One last note: Gilmer and her associates won. The profoundly fallen Westboro people decided not to come to the state.

“I believe that Tucson is one of the strongest communities in the world,” Gilmer said, last Tuesday night. Five days later, the Post published Silverman’s consummate nonsense—a piece that was driven by factual bungles, profound self-involvement and ludicrous “logic.” A piece which made a repulsive claim—because its citizens don’t sit on the porch, “Arizona” (whoever that is) is “ripe for a copycat killing.”

What does it means when journalistic elites publish such ugliness—such consummate nonsense? Question: If our press elites really “reason” this way, will this nation survive?