THIS IS YOUR PROFESSOR ON YOUTUBE! The saddest part of Pattersons piece is the part which explains who he is: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MARCH 11, 2008
THE HAPPY BIRTHDAY EXPRESS: I honestly dont know what to say about this. Those were Brother Greenwalds words when he posted the videotape of the press corps recent fete at John McCains crib in Sedona. For ourselves, we recalled a grander affair, conducted during the 2004 Republican convention in New York. A certain saint threw himself a birthday bash—and darlings, forget about Holly Bailey! When the sanctified solon turned 68, the firmaments biggest stars were there! To his credit (explanation below), Richard Leiby did the play-by-play for the Washington Post. This is your press corps on creme brulee—French tarts, loin of lamb, lobster salad:
Somehow, it was the singing of Happy Birthday which always struck us as most wrong: At any rate, free food! And plenty of pandering! And after they sang Happy Birthday to Mac, the gang cabbed it up to Elaines.
If you dont understand the press corps coverage of McCain, perhaps you can find a hint or two in Leibys dispatch.
Last Friday, Jamison Foser did a superlative post about the way this gang of hopeless galoots insists on calling McCain a war hero—even when the designation bears no resemblance to the issue at hand. Beyond that, reporters love to work McCains straight talk slogan into reporting. Stephanopoulos sang Happy Birthday that night—and soon was asking the saintly solon for straight talk answers on ABCs air. To judge from Leibys guest list, E. J. Dionne wasnt big enough to make the affair at La Goulue (French for glutton), but today he describes his ongoing love for the Great McCain—and he shamelessly equates Obama and Farrakhan to McCain and Hagee. Its hard to be more disingenuous that that, as many others have already noted. But so what? This has gone on for the past dozen years, and may well decide this years race.
But readers, back to the birthday brawl! We first posted Leibys text in October 2004, after Ted Koppel attended a fete for Colin Powell instead of prepping for a critical Nightline (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/19/04).On that date, we offered links to past HOWLER posts which showed the big stars of the mainstream press corps at play with the people they cover. We saw Russert at Rumsfelds Christmas party, bragging that he had foreseen Saddams capture. (He had seen it in a dream!) We saw Koppel attending that Powell bash, then failing on that nights critical program. We saw Gwen Ifill dining with Darling Condi, then rolling over for her gal pal in a major interview.
Yes. This is the way your press corps works—though Kevin and Josh and Matt wont tell you. Sedona was just a suggestion, a cook-out, a small affair thrown for the proles.
By the way—why the praise for Leibys report? (It appeared in Reliable Source.) Heres why: The press corps didnt just sing Happy Birthday to McCain in 2004—they gave him a subsequent birthday gift. You see, despite the star power at that bash, almost no one reported it! Lloyd Grove did a brief piece in the Daily News, saying McCain had thrown a smallish dinner (text below). But almost no one else in the press corps mentioned this event at all. You see, they luvv to do celebrity stories—unless the celebrities involved are themselves. In that case, they know they must hide their behavior—the behavior of their groups biggest players. The comical story of Jack Welchs Lost Boys of the Sconset? That comical—and revealing—story has almost never appeared in print. Within the clan, housebroken pool boys know they must hide the truth about how the press lives and functions.
They sing Happy Birthday to those they adore—and then, they pimp to get them elected. Dionne is pimping again today, just as hes done in the past. The comparison to Obama is disgracefully fake. But so what? Saint John gets a toast.
That was Groves entire item. According to Nexis, this was the second longest account of this heady, newsworthy affair.
THIS IS YOUR PROFESSOR ON YOUTUBE: Harvard professor Orlando Patterson had suffered a troubling experience. In the opening sentence of his Times op-ed piece—one of the dumbest such pieces ever written—the deeply-troubled social linguist begins to describe his ennui:
Poor Patterson! The good professor had been left with an uneasy feeling—a feeling that something was not quite right. Unfortunately, the professor continued to ponder these matters—and he soon found himself thinking thoughts he says he couldnt help but think. Result? Despite his disappointment with Clinton for having gone negative, the professor decided to go remarkably negative himself—in this, perhaps the dumbest op-ed piece ever committed to paper.
And perhaps, the most pre-rational.
How does the modern professor proceed when he gets an uneasy feeling? Repeated watching of the ad on YouTube increased my unease, he confesses. And then, he describes his scholarly method. Its a prescription for the center failing to hold—for a return to pre-Enlightenment ways:
No, you cant get dumber than that. And you cant get more prehistoric.
First, the bad news; the uneasy professor ha[s] spent [his] life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery. Another person might have put that sort of work to good use, but Patterson is left with scenes from the past that come to his mind—with things he couldnt help but think. Of course, fools that we are, we all have things were inclined to think—reactions were inclined to have, thoughts that instantly pop into consciousness. But to the extent that we have trained our minds, we then subject such reactions to analysis. Sorry, but Patterson doesnt go there much. Later on, he again reports the things he could not help but think. Soon, hes throwing the r-word around quite a bit, based on things he could not help but think.
How addled are Harvard professors these days? Lets put aside the racial thoughts the good professor cant help but think. Lets put aside his ability to determine who seems vaguely Latino. To get a measure of his consummate dumbness, lets look at the way he analyzes something that doesnt involve racial images. In the following passage, the professor helps us understand how effective Clintons message was:
How big a dumb-ass is Patterson? Relying on a pair of (inherently imperfect) polls, he announces a 12-point swing in Clintons favor after the ad aired. Was there an actual 12-point swing? Its possible—but two polls (one an exit poll) cant establish that as a fact. But lets assume that there was such a swing; can we attribute it all to this ad? Obviously, no, we cant do that; other things occurred during the period in question. But lets assume that this particular ad did produce a twelve-point swing. That doesnt establish the professors key claim, the claim that drives his piece—the claim that the ad bore a racist sub-message. It doesnt mean that his (rather tortured) readings are accurate, reasonable, insightful, or fair. Indeed, in his final paragraph—as he closes his column—he finally makes himself say so:
Really! Its possible that the ad wasnt meant to be racist? Patterson, heartbroken by Clintons negativity, offers this thought rather late in the game. And he fails to offer another key thought: Voters affected by the ad may not have been reacting racially. They may simply have thought about Clinton and Obama—and decided that Clinton was better tested.
To borrow from an old saying: Sometimes, a cigar is not a racial affront. Patterson never quite seems to grasp this thought, so concerned is this social linguist by the fact that Clinton went negative.
In his column, Patterson offers interpretations of this ad that are, simply speaking, inane. For that reason, its sad to see him boo-hoo-hooing about the way some people may or could be trading on the darkened memories of a twisted past Obama has struggled to transcend. Part of our history with which Obama has struggled (quite brilliantly, in our view) is the requirement—lodged in the brains of many professors—that every incident in the world must be given a racial reading. Obama has struggle against that quite brilliantly. (Its a shame that hes had to do it. Just think of the other social problems this brilliant man might have solved.) But race men like Patterson have played this dumb card ever step of the way in the past four months. Theyve played this card inanely before—but never as inanely as this.
Patterson saw a child asleep in an ad—and he could not help but think of the Ku Klux Klan. He saw a mother in the middle of the night—and he couldnt help but think of Birth of a Nation. But when he fails to assess the things he cant help but think, he produces deeply unintelligent work. When youre making our societys most serious charge, you really cant wait till the final paragraph to say that you might have it wrong.
How big a hack is this foolish man—this man who is Harvard professor? Heres how big: Just last month, the uneasy fellow reviewed Richard Thompson Fords new book for the Times—and he boo-hoo-hooed, in high-minded ways, about people who rush to play the race card! He started with Oprah:
It was an exaggerated claim of bias, Patterson told us, to say that race was involved in Katrina. But one month later, he watches an ad—and he cant help but think certain things about Clinton! He rushes off to say such things—before saying that he may just be wrong.
So it goes when people like Patterson make a joke of our culture and politics.
But then, this deeply stupid piece of work captures the problem we have examined at this site for the past ten years. In the past few months, nitwits like Patterson have yelled race every time—and theyve tortured their minds, finding distinctions with similar events which plainly werent racial. (Mondales ad wasnt racist—but Clintons ad is. Unless it isnt, of course.) But our political discourse has been in the hands of hacks like this for a good long while. Increasingly, our discourse is driven by addled elites—elites which tells you the stories they like, as weve described for ten years.
For another example, consider Michiko Kakutani. In todays Times, she reviews a deeply troubling new book about the death of fact and logic. Heres how Kakutani, herself a vast offender, begins her high-minded report:
Poor Kakutani! As she laments the anti-rationalism found all around her, she offers a comical point: policy positions tend to get less attention than personality and tactics in the current presidential campaign. In the current presidential campaign? Our analysts laughed out loud—till they cried. During Campaign 2000, after all, Kakutani wrote a front-page piece that was perhaps the most dishonest piece of writing from that astounding campaign; she broke the rules of logic in half, trying to peddle her cohorts view of Candidate Gores personality and tactics. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/07, with links to real-time report.) Now, typing from inside the walls of Versailles, she pretends that this is something new—something from the current campaign. Like Patterson rolling her eyes at Winfrey, she pretends that the problem is happening elsewhere, that her hands are clean in such affairs.
But then, weve discussed this phenomenon for the past decade. At some point, readers, you either see it or you dont—and most of your career liberal leaders are paid to keep you from seeing it. (Patterson and Kakutani are part of the protected band—as is inane Linda Hirshman.) Todays op-ed piece is well past embarrassing; its deeply, stunningly stupid. When we surrender to what we could not help but think, we return to the world of the tribe, of the clan—to the world that existed before the Enlightenment taught us how to assess our impulses. In his last paragraph, Patterson finally says it—he finally says that the novel hes typing may just be wrong. But before he offers this disclaimer, he goes deeply negative—and plays the race card very hard. He was upset when Clinton went negative—and so he yelled race in reply.
Oprah Winfrey was deeply wrong to do this bad thing, of course.
But then, this loud, deeply stupid novelization has driven our politics for the past sixteen years. Increasingly, these practices come from the top, from addled elites posing as journalists and professors. This is one of the dumbest—and most negative—columns ever placed on an op-ed page. But almost surely, its most troubling words appear in its saddening tag-line:
Orlando Patterson is a professor...at Harvard.
Those words should fill your soul with dread—with concern about the future of our anti-rational political culture.
CAN YOU FOLLOW PATTERSONS LOGIC: Can you understand the highlighted claim from this column? Frankly, we cannot:
The ad could easily have removed its racist sub-message...by stating that the danger was external terrorism? Dont make us run through it, but that makes no apparent sense, given what the previous paragraph says. But then, Patterson is very like Hirshman in this regard: Screaming mimis rarely make sense when they play their various cards. Why do editors put such work into print? Thats another question.
By the way, weve looked at the kids in the ad. To us, they dont seem vaguely Latino—and it isnt obvious that they arent black. Our suggestion? People who report how things vaguely seem should avoid tying vague impressions to the most serious charge in our culture. That, of course, would require professors to stop behaving as if they are nuts.