AND THE BEAT GOES ON! Milbank threw Krugman under the bus as he just kept obsessing on Palin: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JANUARY 24, 2011
Just in from the kingdom of narrative: In todays column, Paul Krugman looks ahead to Obamas State of the Union address. As he does so, he challenges a certain framework Obama has recently presentedand he says this about the sad shape of our national discourse:
Indeed. As we have endlessly noted, the American discourse is largely defined by an array of bogus claim and bad metaphors. In almost every major policy area, bogus claims drive the discussionbogus claims which have been repeated for decades, bogus claims which every citizen will have endlessly heard.
The money isnt thereweve already spent it! In the discussion of Social Security, everyone has heard this bogus claim, which is built around a bad metaphor. In the past four decades, the liberal world has done a miserable job confronting this system of disinformation.
Bogus, heavily-scripted claims routinely drive our national discourse. Yesterday, we saw something resembling such a claim in the New York Times. Michelle Rhee did the honors, at the start of a short opinion piece:
Is that true? In the past year, did we learn that the United States is falling farther behind in international student rankings? We certainly heard many people say that. On Saturday, Richard Whitmire said something similar in the Washington Post, in an opinion piece praising Rhees efforts in Washington:
Whitmire is a former president of the National Education Writers Association; were inclined to agree with some of the views he expressed in his column. But he too cited the declining U.S. ranking on international education comparisons; he says this decline has taken the U.S. down to the middle of the pack. But then, everyone has heard such claims in recent years. These claims have been made by everyone from President Obama on down.
These claims are everywherebut are they accurate? Did we really learn, in the past year, that the United States is falling farther behind in international student rankings? For ourselves, we dont know what Rhee means by that statement. The highest-profile such rankings were released in November, when results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (the PISA) were published. PISAs testing is done every three years, in reading, math and science. But have we been falling farther behind in student rankings on the PISA? Again, this is what the Department of Education said in its official report on these latest results:
In fairness, none of this means that the U.S. couldnt be falling further behind; even in science, where our average score was higher, other countries could have been gaining more ground. But it isnt clear to us why youd say were falling further behind, based on the high-profile PISA results. If its the PISA were talking about, Rhee and Whitmire may be more committed to gloom-and-doom more than to elementary facts.
(Instantly, Whitmire also said this: When Rhee took over in 2007, D.C. schools were tied with Los Angeles for worst-in-the-nation status. That too has become a standard claim. But at best it seems to be grossly misleading, and its most likely just wrong. We wanted to ask Whitmire about these claims, but couldnt find an e-mail address.)
In the kingdom of narrative, Standard Statements are everywhere. Presumably, our elites respect this current claim because it leads us to make good judgments about then need for education reform. But then, that was the type of reason they would have given for the endless misstatements they bruited, not long ago, about the twin demons Clinton and Gore.
On the PISA, the US has been in the middle of the pack pretty much since the programs inception. Are we really falling further behind? As these claims start defining our discourse, wed like to see the Post or the Times commission competent writers to examine them.
But dont hold your breath! Facts play a modest role in our discourse. Bad metaphors are more important, as Krugman sadly notes.
AND THE BEAT GOES ON (permalink): We were intemperate in our personal framing of Emily Bazelon last Friday. (We blame it on the word daily.)
Having said that, we stand by our basic judgments: Its an astounding, culture-defining problem when someone of Bazelons cultural and educational standing issues the kinds of ridiculous work we discussed in that piece. But then, fatuous work from our highest elites almost defines the current gilded age of mainstream American journalism.
Consider the silly column by Dana Milbank in the Outlook section of yesterdays Washington Post.
Like Bazelon, Milbank hails from Yalewas Skull and Bones, in fact! That said, his Sunday piece made no real sense. But so what? It received a sprawling presentation by Outlook, using up more than half of the sections front page.
The previous Sunday, Outlook led its front page with Amy Silvermans bizarre dispatch from Demon Arizona (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/19/11). Incredibly, Silverman said the state was ripe for a copycat killing because, among other failings, Arizonans dont sit on their porch or honk their car horns, and because they drive their cars with the A/C on. (Also, her mother was lonely, decades ago, in a large Tucson high school.)
Yesterday, Outlook led with another fatuous piece. In it, Milbank continued obsessing on Sarah Palin, while pledging to do so no more.
I pledge to stop obsessing over Sarah Palin, the headline read. Milbanks essay started like this:
Anyone with an ounce of sense would of course know how foolish this is. If Palin announces next week that shes running for president, should journalists refuse to mention this fact? What if she presents some new framework about some issue which carries the weight of her death panel construct? Should journalists boycott that too?
Perhaps were all supposed to see that Milbank is writing tongue-in-cheek. That said, his reason for writing this most recent column might be revealed in the following passage, where he explains why it might be hard to hold colleagues to his lofty pledge:
In that passage, Milbank seems to say that he has obsessed on Palin because it got him lots of web clicks, not because he thought his work was journalistically significant. In a serious journalistic world, this would be cause for professional sanction. But in the world of the Washington Post, Milbanks naughty-boy confession is cause for giving him half the front page of the Outlook sectionwhere he (and his paper) can benefit from all those Palin web clicks again! And then, another familiar move! As he continues, Milbank pretends to name the other miscreants who have obsessed along with him:
To his credit, Douthat wrote a serious, generally insightful column in which he criticized Palin and the mainstream press for their twisted, wretched, ruinous relationshipfor a mutual antipathy [which] looks increasingly like co-dependency. In classic fashion, Milbank borrowed Douthats co-dependency hook while misstating the date of his column. (It actually appeared in Mondays Times.) Completing the hat trick, he then employed a familiar bit of passive aggression, suggesting that Douthat was a bit of a hypocrite, given his own past mentions of Palin.
(And yesthat is why Douthats number of mentions was cited by Milbank.)
Milbank included Paul Krugman on his list of miscreants, citing the fourteen times Krugman has mentioned Palin since 2008. (For the record, Milbank is including mentions from 2008 in this ambiguous construct.) But this is passive aggression too, of the type Milbanks cohort tosses off with great ease. Is fourteen citations somehow too many? Does this number somehow suggest an obsession? Was it wrong to mention Palin in 2008, when she was nominated for vice president and actively campaigned for the post? Was it wrong to mention her in 2009, when she came up with the death panels meme which drove so much public debate? On face, fourteen mentions doesnt necessarily seem like too many to us. And remember, this is fourteen mentions of Palins name, not fourteen full columns about her.
Sigh! In classic silly-boy fashion, Milbank moves directly from confession of obsession to an equally foolish suggestion that no one should have mentioned Palin at all. But so it goes among a modern class of inane, silly children from Yale.
No one should have mentioned Palin at all! Fourteen mentions in 2.4 years is somehow too many! As Milbank makes these silly suggestions, he of course receives the clicks which come to a major piece about Palin. And by the wayisnt that possibly one of the reasons why he mentioned Krugman? On its face, fourteen mentions in 2.4 years doesnt seem like a giant number. But people! Mention of Krugman brings web clicks, somewhat like mention of Palin! Is this why Milbank cited Krugmans fourteen mentions, but skipped past the fatuous Lady Collins, who has mentioned Palin in sixty-two (62!) of her own New York Times columns? Good lord! This high lady has even mentioned Bristol Palin in eleven New York Times columns! (Levi Johnston has rated eight cites.) Why did Krugman get thrown into the stew, while this lady managed to slide?
The fatuity of modern press culture has long been a thing to behold. Its especially striking when the nonsense is churned by an upper-class crowd which journeyed through our most vaunted educational institutionswho bear the imprint of places like Yale. During the Clinton-Gore years, these darlings told their brain-dead, memorized tales about the twin demons, Clinton and Gore, thus sending George W. Bush to the White House. But so what? Today, we liberals largely let them slide. At present, theyre telling the types of silly tales we enjoyand we fail to see how quickly such darlings can shift their sights in the course of their upper-class lounging.
Outlook continues to amaze. So of course do the languorous, intellectually helpless children being churned out by places like Yale.