THE ROAD TO TRIVIA! Journalists never trash the press corps. But last Friday, David Brooks did: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 28, 2010
Krugman must be read: In this mornings column, Paul Krugman makes a gloomy semi-prediction about where we may be heading. (We may be heading toward The Third Depression. Just click here.) He describes the global failure of policy which is leading us there.
Why the wrong turn in policy? he asks. At least in the American sphere, well suggest two major answers:
The Infection of Dumb
The Infection of Dumb has long been obvious in certain major sectors. Question: Are you sure that this infection hasnt affected the burgeoning new liberal world? More to come on this question.
Krugmans column deserves a thorough review. Today, though, it has to be read.
Al Sharpton takes yes for an answer: In the past dozen years, we have come to admire Al Sharptons wisdom, savvy and good sense concerning matters of race.
One example: Al Sharpton knows how to take yes for an answer! If you doubted that, just check Dana Milbanks column in Sundays Washington Post.
Milbank discusses the recent South Carolina primary, in which Republican voters nominated Tim Scott, a very conservative African-American, to run for the House of Representatives from the states 1st congressional district. And the story gets better, Milbank writes. You see, one of the candidates Scott defeated was Paul Thurmond, son of the late Strom Thurmond. For well over half a century, the elder Thurmond was an icon in South Carolina politics, dating back to the days when he ran for president as a hard-core segregationist.
Say what? South Carolinas Republican voters chose a black guy over the son of Strom Thurmond? (Scott also defeated the son of former governor Carroll Campbell.) When Milbank asked Sharpton what he thought about that, Sharpton took yes for an answer:
Milbank calls Scotts nomination an irony. Wed call it an advance.
Are Scott and Thurmond reactionaries? Thats a matter of judgment. That said, we think Sharptons reaction to this recent vote is quite wise. In the past year or so, an entire world of white liberals has happily played a string of race cards; weve insisted on advancing familiar slanders in every conceivable circumstance. We think Sharpton is very smart to observe a distinction hereand to observe an advance. Voters in South Carolinas 1st district are still extremely conservative, he notes. But hes willing to say that something has changed when they elect an extremely conservative black candidate over other such folk who are white.
Are there still white racists in South Carolina? Presumably, yesthere are. (So too with the other 49 states, though white liberals especially love to race-bait the southern states. This requires very few IQ points.) Indeed, its fairly clear that Candidate Obama lost a lot of votes in some deep south states for reasons of race; this seems fairly clear from the 2008 exit polls, which show Obama drawing a much smaller share of the white vote in these states than Candidate Kerry had drawn. For whatever reason, these striking data have rarely been discussed, even as we pseudo-liberals treat ourselves to endless attacks on the redneck racists (Janeane Garofalo) who allegedly make up the tea party movementthe entire movement, of course.
Milbank draws the hopeful lesson about that South Carolina vote. As usual, as if by obedience to guild by-laws, he goes on to miss other basic points, including a key point about Nikki Haley, South Carolinas Republican nominee for goverrnor:
Milbanks list includes a lot of the usual unexplained fluff. (Are all South Carolinians supposed to be embarrassed about Sanfords fling? Why?) His list also includes some conduct which goes well beyond embarrassing, including the sad, stupid, fallen remarks about ragheads and escaped gorillas. But you know Milbank! Even as he offers a column about changing attitudes in South Carolina, he cruises right past a basic point concerning the insult aimed at Haley. To wit:
When a good ol boy called Haley a raghead, the states Republican voters werent buying! Just as they nominated Clark, a black guy, they went ahead and nominated Haley, an Indian-American.
To which we say: Good for them!
Al Sharpton, taking yes for an answer, notes the advance in the racial horizon of this very conservative state. For genuine progressives, the next step in South Carolina is clear: Progressives need to find ways to convince Palmetto voters that Scotts politics are no good.
Sharptons hopeful observation lets us look to that next step, a step which will be very hard. Those of us who enjoy yelling race pretty much wont take the message.
Same word, same idea: In this mornings New York Times, Noah Feldman makes a similar observation about the larger societys advance. No one cares that Elena Kagan is Jewish! Weve come a long way, Feldman says:
It is cause for celebration, Feldman says, describing the advance of the larger society. Thats pretty much what Sharpton said about South Carolinaeven as he looked ahead to the next difficult step.
PART ONETHE ROAD TO TRIVIA (permalink): What really happened when Stanley McChrystal (and his staff) made their now-famous remarks? Over the weekend, David Brooks and Frank Rich offered two different ideas.
To Brooks, the remarks were probably standard pifflepretty much not worth reporting. To Rich, the remarks represent an assault on all we hold dear by a general who was out of control. Rolling Stone has saved the republic by building its profile around them.
Whose account is more on the mark? In the particular instance, we have no idea. But in the course of his column, Brooks offered a history of American journalism over the past (perhaps) sixty years. Heres the shocker: His portrait of modern press culture is quite unflatteringand its quite accurate.
Granted, Brooks portrait is briefand we think he takes it easy on some of his most famous colleagues. But its very rare to see major journalists talking smack about the press corps culture. Darlings, this sort of thing just isnt done! For that reason, we think this column deserves examination.
Today, a quick overview.
In Brooks history, the mainstream press has undergone a culture change in the past sixty years. At one timethink Jack Kennedy in the White House poolthe establishment press corps operated from a culture of reticence:
When Dear Jack carried on in the pool, we rubes didnt have to know it. After all, Kennedy was capably performing his duties in the public sphere. Brooks suggests that this culture of reticence may have been overdone in such cases. But as he continues, he describes the way this prevailing culture changed. In three basic steps, the culture of reticence was tossed away. A hunt for exposure prevailed:
In Brooks capsule history, three important things happened:
First, Teddy White wrote a famous series of books, starting in 1961. These books began to pull some traditional curtains away, showing us politicians as they actually are.
Then, Vietnam led journalists (and others) to think that politicians hearts of darkness had to be explored and exposed.
Finally, the rise of cable and the Net produced a warren of noise machines. News entities had to kill time all day, or churn many pixelsand they had to attract an audience. Since it was now OK to discuss private lives and inside baseball, thats what these new orgs did, pretty much all the time.
As he continues, Brooks describes where this cultural change has ledand he scalds the prevailing culture of the modern press corps:
The inner soap opera is now central, Brooks says, correctly describing American discourse. Later, he offers his overview of this cultural change:
We have gone from a reticence ethos to an exposure ethos, Brooks says. This new culture has elevated the trivial over the important.
In the next few days, we plan to find a bit of fault with some of the things Brooks has saidwhile noting that he only had 800 words to fashion this history. But Brooks brief history of journalistic culture is a rare bird indeed.
Perhaps as a courtesy, Brooks never quite says hes discussing the press corps, but this is clearly a history of modern journalism. And omigod! His basic portrait is quite unflatteringand its right square on the mark.
The modern press corps is built around the pursuit of trivia, Brooks says. Its culture is devoted to exploring the inner soap operamatters which were once regarded as the least important part of government. Lets speak a bit more plainly hereBrooks is describing the Triumph of Dumb, its powerful hold on American discourse.
Your country is dying from this cultural triumph. But very few journalists, and very few liberals, ever come out and describe it.
Tomorrowpart 2: Blaming cable, deep-sixing Dowd
Wednesdaypart 3: At least two additional ethoses
Thursday: On to Rosen!