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MEDIEVAL MULLINGS! Why did Sullivan speak for McGowan? Simple. They’re from the same tribe:


THE SUSPECTS MAY BE RIGHT: Let’s review. William McGowan’s Coloring the News won an award from the National Press Club. Two critics called the book hokum (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/29/02). And Andrew Sullivan, in deepest Blogistan, came to an instant decision. Showing no sign of having read the book, he came down hard on McGowan’s side—and he called a few names as he did. “I thought awarding Bill McGowan a National Press Award for tackling the tough issue of ‘diversity’ in the newsroom would prompt a protest from the usual suspects,” he wrote. “Lo and behold, it has.”

Welcome to wild, tribal Blogistan! Sullivan supported McGowan’s book because the book supports his tribe; McGowan argues the “conservative” view that diversity has screwed up our newsrooms. The “suspects,” meanwhile, are from the wrong tribe; they hail from minority journalist groups, of the type which are always complaining. Therefore, they’re not only wrong, they must be called names, as per medieval tribal customs.

Except, a partial review of McGowan’s book suggests that the “suspects” may be right. As we saw yesterday, McGowan’s first case study involves the Washington Post’s coverage of the Garvey School assault incident (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/30/02). And McGowan’s treatment of that event is quite hard to square with the facts. In one of McGowan’s oddball moments, he even makes the puzzling claim that the Washington Post should stop saying “alleged” when someone says she’s been assaulted. Like Sullivan, the Post should simply decide who’s right. They should just get rid of all the fair play—and with it, our western procedures.

For the record, McGowan’s treatment declines as it goes. Who performed worst in the Post’s Garvey coverage? Hmmm. Maybe you can guess who did worst:

MCGOWAN (page 39): The most disturbing aspect of the Post’s coverage, though, was the response of the paper’s prominent black columnists. Colbert King, a member of the editorial board who writes a regular column under his own byline, dismissed the outrage of public officials who had condemned the incident and remained silent on the incendiary remarks of activists who had come to Anigbo’s defense.
He did? King wrote about the incident on December 14, 1996. “As the night must follow the day and rhythm tracks the blues,” he wrote, “what’s a racial confrontation in this town without a strong dose of racial rhetoric? And not to disappoint, by Day Four of the altercation, a posse had rallied and, with cameras rolling, they commenced to lay it on thick.” That passage was, for all who read, King’s description of Anigbo’s supporters. Nor did King bow down to Anigbo. “Meanwhile, we keep learning, through various news accounts, just enough about principal Anigbo, her staff and our precious school board’s role in approving the Marcus Garvey charter, to reinforce all of the negative stereotypes about this city,” King wrote. And did King dismiss what officials had said? He wrote, “the mayor spoke for me when he said of Anigbo et al., ‘adults have a responsibility to serve as role models…We cannot tolerate this kind of violent behavior.’” For the record, the mayor, in speaking of “Anigbo et al.,” had not been speaking about Ferrechio, the reporter who had been assaulted (as a jury later found). Indeed, almost everyone knew, from the start of the case, that Ferrechio’s account made more sense than Anigbo’s. At the Post, in fact, a “prominent black columnist,” Donna Britt, said just that, in great detail. But McGowan knew how to handle Britt; he pretended she doesn’t exist. Britt isn’t mentioned in Coloring the News, despite McGowan’s blanket take on the “disturbing” response of the paper’s black columnists. (Three such columnists wrote on the case.) He focused instead on Courtland Milloy, who wrote an angry, controversial piece saying the event was over-hyped in the press.

Sullivan’s slur on “the suspects” ignores a key fact—they just may be right on the merits. And we’ll bet you a buck that those “usual suspects” know this book better than Sullivan. But isn’t this just how our Blogistan works? Don’t key figures in our unruly land frequently act like medieval mullahs? Don’t they judge in the old tribal ways, reflexively scorning tribes which oppose them?

HOW MULLAHS DECIDE: The pre-Enlightenment never stops when the winds blow you through Sullivan’s wild, tribal land. On Monday, the sultan patted himself on the back as he found something good in the Times:

SULLIVAN (7/29/02):
TWO SUPERB REALITY-CHECKS: Who says I can’t praise the Times? Their invaluable reporter Adam Nagourney reminds me today of why it still publishes superb, measured journalism. Here’s one smart piece of analysis. And one little scoop.
In fact, that “smart piece of analysis” is a classic example of a shaky reporting procedure. In preparing his piece, Nagourney conducted “a series of interviews over two days” with voters in Ontario, California. What did the scribe report from these sessions? According to Nagourney, “voter after voter said that when it came to curbing abuses in corporate boardrooms, it made no difference which party was in power. The resignation and exasperation they voiced suggested how difficult a task the Democrats face as they seek to turn the fall elections into a referendum on one dominant issue.” Nagourney noted two other reactions among these voters. “[A]lmost without exception, they applauded [President Bush’s] handling of the war on terrorism, conveying admiration for the president during this difficult time.” And the voters were down on Gore. “[T]he views offered about Al Gore, who handily defeated Mr. Bush in this state four years ago and must do so again in 2004 if he hopes to win the White House, were hardly favorable,” Nagourney wrote, “even among Democrats. Several people expressed annoyance that Mr. Gore had kept such a low profile for so long after the Sept. 11 attacks, and some said he had relinquished any claim to be the head of the opposition or his party’s leading candidate for 2004.”

Why did Sullivan like this piece? Can we suggest the obvious possibility? He may have liked it because Nagourney drew conclusions which Sullivan favors. But those conclusions, however pleasing, don’t make this into a piece of “superb, measured journalism.” Indeed, there are obvious problems with Nagourney’s approach. For example, what difference does it make if “several people” or “some people” express certain views about Gore, pro or con? Nagourney’s sample is small and scientifically worthless, and he doesn’t explain how he chose the two people who were actually quoted about Gore. (Both made highly negative statements.) As Andrew Sullivan knows quite well, this type of journalism is routinely used by scribes who want to reach preconceived “conclusions;” journalists routinely gimmick up stories using precisely the methods employed here. And by the way, there are actual polls about the issues at question—polls which Nagourney’s piece ignores. In a Zogby poll conducted last week, for example, 38 percent of Democrats favored Gore for the Dem nomination. Tom Daschle came next: 9 percent.

We have no view on Nagourney’s motives. We don’t assert that he had any motives. But this “smart piece of analysis” is just what a scribe would do if he wanted to spin against Gore. But then, that’s how it works in the wild, tribal lands—hacks like Sullivan pick answers they like, and pretend they came from “superb, measured journalism.” It’s sad to see our troubled new land in the thrall of such medieval mullings.

STEPHEN HAWKING’S NEXT BEST-SELLER: According to this morning’s Times, “the universe may contain a shadowy form of matter that has never been directly seen and is unexplained by standard physics theories.” Want to be on the cutting edge? You know what to do. Just click here.

Dionne does Gore.