THEY LOVE THE SMELL OF DEATH IN THE SUMMER! Jumping the shark and smelling the glove, Gail Collins melts into self-parody: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JULY 9, 2009
Washington Post in decline/Sotomayor edition: Wow. In this mornings Washington Post, Jerry Markon presents a front-page review of Sandra Sotomayors Second Circuit decisions. The work is extremely weak.
Lets start with this astounding account of a standard Markon used in categorizing Sotomayors decisions. The system was devised by Donald Songer, a political scientist:
Could Songers common definitions really be that simple-minded? We have no idea. But according to Markon, he himself has counted Sotomayors decisions as liberal any time she voted in favor of a defendant.
Its hard to believe that the basic brain-power of the Post has slid to this pitiful level.
Second, lets note a relative trifle. Were always amazed when big newspapers present writing of the type which follows. Again, the point is relatively minor. But this paragraph is defiantly bad, almost designed to confuse:
Lets pretend that those common definitions actually make sense. This passage says that Sotomayor votes liberal 59 percent of the timeand that other Democratic-appointed judges vote liberal 52 percent of the time. Question: How often do Republican-appointed judges vote liberal? Markon makes the reader cipher that out for himself! (The answer would seem to be 39 percent, although we cant be completely sure.) If you want readers to absorb your basic facts, this is a remarkably unhelpful way to present them. (Rewriting that final sentence: Republican appointees voted liberal 39 percent of the time, according to the database analysis. Stylistically, thats a bit repetitive. But youre no longer obscuring the facts.)
That said, lets review a basic claim in Markons report. This is his opening paragraph:
According to Markons opening paragraph, Sotomayors record shows sympathy for plaintiffs alleging discrimination. This claim is somewhat odd, because other studies have suggested that her record in discrimination cases is hard to distinguish from the records of her fellow judges. And in theory, this is important. Some complaints about Sotomayor have turned on the claim that shes a racist who tends to vote her race/ethnicity.
Do Sotomayors decisions show some sort of unusual sympathy for plaintiffs alleging discrimination? In fact, Markon never explains, supports or discusses that first-paragraph claim at any point in his report. He never revisits the topic. In the following passage, he may be explaining the logic behind that claim, although theres no way to be sure:
Markon has reviewed only 46 of Sotomayors casesout of about 3000! And who knows? In that handful of cases (1.5 percent of the total), Sotomayor may have favored a few more plaintiffs claiming discrimination than her fellow judges. But lets state the obvious: In the vast bulk of those 3000 cases, she judged just like the other judges, since the cases were unanimous. Other analyses have reviewed all her discrimination casesand have found that her voting record differs little from the records of her fellow judges. She has shown sympathy for plaintiffs alleging discrimination to almost exactly the same extent as everyone else.
That said, lets revisit Markons basic claim, which may need some clarification:
Sotomayor voted liberal 59 percent of the time, Markon says. But uh-oh! He seems to say that Sotomayors percentage only involves her 46 non-unanimous cases. Similarly, he seems to suggest that those other percentages (Republicans vote liberal 39 percent of the time) only involve split cases. This would mean that Sotomayors percentage of liberal votes has been derived from just those 46 casesfrom less than two percent of her total record! Similarly, that 39 percent record by Republican judges would only derive from their non-unanimous cases.
Is that how Songers system works? Weve read and reread what Markon wrote. Sorrywe just cant tell.
Markon also stirs a semi-debate, asking if Sotomayor engages in too much basic fact-finding. But this is a woeful piece of work. The Washington Post is in deep troubleas is the nation it serves.
THEY LOVE THE SMELL OF DEATH IN THE SUMMER: In the summer of 1999, Maureen Dowd disappeared from her post. When the lady returned, refreshed and relaxed, she penned a string of thoughtful columns on the following topics:
As a history-changing White House campaign took shape, Dowd had three big things on her mindcelebrity, gossip and sex.
Today, Dowd remains a simpering ninny, spreading around DSM diagnoses about Big Major Pols. And she has Gail Collins right there by her side! In case you havent been keeping score, her is the breakdown of Lady Collins recent columnsincluding the massive piece of self-parody she unloosed on the world today:
As your nation struggles with monetary heists, unemployment and national health care, Collins has three major things on her mindcelebrity, sex and gossip. This morning, though, she stoops to explain the thinking of her high class:
Collins couldnt quite decide if the media was it or we. But helpfully, she tried to explain the reason for her own current focus. Darlings! When they write about Michael Jackson, they feel they have everybody's attention! Then too, this gives them a topic so simple-minded that their own weak attention wont stray.
Health care is boringto people who have it. Writing about it? Thats hard!
Might we state the merely obvious? Especially on our cable news channels, they love the smell of death in the summer! It 1997, it was Lady Di. In 1999, it was JFK Junior (oddly, Dowd took a pass); in 2004, it was President Reagan. And then, there were the non-celebrity deaths and disappearances. Most notably, this includes Chandra Levys disappearance in 2001, which they milkedand improved with two bogus factsright through September 11.
There are serious topics one might explore surrounding the life of Jackson. (One example: The way he helped teach a generation of young people to dream past strictures of race.) Collins didnt much visit such places; she preferred to smell the gentlemans glove and seek out ways to kill time. Principally, she simpers about Rep. Sheila Jackson Lees proposed resolution in praise of Jackson. On balance, we tend to see Lee as a bit of a showboat. But we let our analysts enjoy a good belly-laugh when they reached the end of the Ladys column. As she closed, she scolded the lower House for wasting its time in this fashion:
For decades, Collins tribe has been astounding. But the Lady jumped the shark today with this bit of self-parody.
America is in a sea of woe? We want to believe our elected representatives are trying to help? Funny! Thats what weve always wanted to believe about our Big Famous Journalists!
You wont hear much about health care from Collins; the Lady already has it. Nor will you hear about the topic from Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow. On our progressive cable news channel, the tedious topic has been dispatched to the ghetto of the 6 PM hour. In later hours, when we rubes are watching, we keep getting handed sex on the hoof. Our side is badly in need of help in sorting out the health care debate. But like the Ladies Collins and Dowd, the Jesters Olbermann/Maddow dont do the topic. At all.
Last night, the Ensign sex scandal seemed to be Maddows first planned topic. (It got bumped back by breaking news, which Maddow bungled, like KO before her.) Why are we given Our Own Rhodes Scholar? To read love letters! Like the letter she read last night, from Ensign to his admitted mistress:
Finally, Hampton has started filling in some outrageously scandalous blanks!
For the record, we watched a bunch of cable news programs last night. As far as we can tell from Nexis, only Maddow favored viewers with a reading of Ensigns letter. In fairness, one break-through did occur: For the first time, Maddow didnt pretend to be embarrassed as she treated us rubes.
Repeat: Maddow is marketed as a Rhodes Scholar. And yet, she doesnt do health care! Later on in last nights show, she burned another whole segment trying to figure out how it feels to be the Unabombers brother.
As marketing mavens will do, the corporate world offers an array of faces to its news consumers. It can be hard to see that those who purport to be in our tribe are much like those in another.
Were not saying that these hot sex scandals shouldnt be covered at all. But on Countdown and Maddow, health reform simply isnt covered. The topic doesnt exist. Nor will Naomi Klein be back. Are we really undergoing the biggest heist in monetary history? Klein said that to Maddow on May 6and turned into burnt cable toast.
(Spitzer wont be back either.)
Does the answer to this topic selection possibly lie in the world of Bill Wolff? In that world, they love the smell of death in the summerand the taste of hot sexy-time sex.