A TALE OF TWO FACTS! The New York Times took dictation from Perry. Chris Hayes didn’t complain: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17, 2011
Buying the help: We’ll postpone our report on the Paul Waldman piece till tomorrow. Yesterday, we lost some time—but gained a fascinating experience—by going to see The Help.
We thought about the film all night long and into the morning. A bit of background:
We knew nothing much about the book; we only knew there had been a debate about its use of non-standard English. Regarding the movie, we knew that Oprah liked it a lot—and that Melissa Harris-Perry did not. We watched the Last Word last week on opening day, as she expressed her misery.
To watch the whole segment, just click here. But Lawrence O’Donnell’s introduction conveys the basic idea:
Going in, we assumed we’d agree with Harris-Perry more than with dumb old Oprah. To our surprise, it totally didn’t happen. But then, we had caught a lucky break.
The film didn’t have us from hello, but it came very close. Thirty seconds in, we were moved and thrilled, just due to the narrator’s voice.
Later, we were moved and thrilled to see real-time footage of Medgar Evers on a TV screen in the film, as a group of characters watched him speak.
Have we ever seen Evers in a movie before? We’re fairly sure we haven’t.
The film is extended melodrama. Its central conceit is pretty silly—it collapses the Deep South civil rights era into a daring decision to write a book about the lives of black household workers. But that’s where our lucky break comes in, involving the people of Baltimore.
We went to the 3:50 show at the Rotunda, where tickets cost $5 all day on Tuesdays. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones chasing the five-dollar ducat in these imperfect times. When we arrived, the theater was packed. We grabbed a seat in the third row, between a black couple who may have been sixty and a pair of white women in their seventies.
We’d say the crowd was seventy percent black. (Emerging, we even saw some blackandwhitetogther!) And uh-oh! Despite the professor’s scruples, the crowd adored the film. They laughed and laughed at the film’s central joke, every time it reappeared (which was often). At the end of the film, the crowd applauded; we don’t see that happen a lot. We couldn’t help thinking of Brother Twain, describing the joyful noise of that circus crowd in wildest Arkansas. At one point, “everybody clapped their hands and went just about wild,” the narrator of Twain’s famous tale reports. He describes “the whole crowd of people standing up shouting and laughing till tears rolled down…and everybody just a-howling with pleasure and astonishment.”
Our professors may not admire the pleasure of hicks. But Twain found much to like there.
As it turned out, we were glad we went on a day when the showroom was packed. On our own, we wouldn’t have realized how good the film’s comedic sense is; without hearing Baltimoreans react as they did, we would never have understood the film’s perfect pitch. For ourselves, we found a lot to admire, and think about later, in the film’s endless episodes, all of which seemed to instruct us in a basic fact of life: In a society built on oppression, the wisdom and the decency will all run in one direction. Observing the decency of the film’s help, we thought of Dr. King’s description of the Montgomery town fathers after his home was bombed, with his wife and young daughter inside. This is from Stride Toward Freedom:
“Even their churches and ministers taught them that,” Dr. King wrote, in astonishment. Dr. King didn’t traffic in snark. But in this passage, unintentionally, he was saying, of his oppressors, that they lacked the good home training that had been dispensed in the homes and the churches of the black community.
For ourselves, we saw that same sad irony being expressed all through yesterday’s film.
We’ll disagree with the professor this time. She did say one thing to O’Donnell which made us wonder a bit, in real time:
Wow! On Broadway, Davis has won two Tony awards; she has also been Oscar-nominated. No one made her play the role she plays in this film. Perhaps she didn’t think playing a maid was beneath her human dignity. (It’s hard to imagine that she and Octavia Spencer won’t both receive Oscar nods for playing the help in this movie.)
These are tough topics, and Harris-Perry’s perspective and knowledge are important. That said, the professors need to be careful! They’ve been defiantly useless down through the years, even as their salaries have risen and their workloads have decreased. Careful, professors! Yesterday, mingling with the proles, we heard an ugly rumor.
We heard that the sequel to this film may be called, “The Adjuncts.” Everyone would know that’s unfair. But that’s the world we all live in.
PART 2—A TALE OF TWO FACTS (permalink): You have to pity the poor subscriber to the New York Times.
Consider the complete confusion they must be feeling this week.
On Monday, the newspaper’s Nobel Prize-winning columnist penned a pithy piece headlined, “The Texas Unmiracle.” He denounced the current, scripted claims about the miraculous Texas economy. Those claims are a myth, feller said:
Wow! Unemployment stands at 8.2 percent in Texas! “If this picture doesn't look very much like the glowing portrait Texas boosters like to paint, there's a reason,” Krugman wrote—“the glowing portrait is false.”
At this point, a Times subscriber might have thought he understood the state of play in Texas. But uh-oh! The very next day, on his paper’s front page, he encountered a headline affirming a “Texas jobs boom.” And uh-oh! If he started to read the report, that 8.2 percent unemployment rate was nowhere to be found:
In paragraph 4, the reader seemed to be told that there really is a “Texas miracle.” This lengthy, front-page report simply asked if Governor Perry deserves full credit.
Of course, different writers will often assess situations in different ways. But in this case, Times subscribers may feel like they’re suffering from whiplash. In reading Krugman and then his colleague Krauss, they found themselves confronting very different facts, which led to very different conclusions.
If those subscribers aren’t confused, they simply aren’t reading their newspapers.
What explains the contradictory frameworks driving the Krugman and Krauss reports? Why are subscribers forced to sift through such confusion?
We would answer that question two ways:
First: In the case of the Krauss report, a Times reporter allowed Rick Perry to “dictate an economic narrative on his own terms,” a phrase which comes right out of Krauss’ third paragraph. “Even before he formally entered the race over the weekend, Mr. First: Perry and his allies set out to dictate an economic narrative on his terms,” Krauss notes at that point. As we look at the way Krauss structured his piece, we see that he let Perry do that.
Second: From that unfortunate starting point, the confusion only spreads as the liberal world just sits there and takes it, refusing to challenge this very high-profile, dictated news report.
In what way did Krauss let Perry “dictate an economic narrative on his own terms?” Consider the following pair of facts. The second fact is a direct quote from Krauss’ opening paragraph:
That second fact is a direct quote from Krauss’ opening paragraph. It’s also a standard Perry talking-point—a scripted claim which is robotically stated by all Perry supporters. As far as we know, that claim is factually accurate—but accurate claims can be grossly misleading. In this case, that accurate claim is used to support a pleasing headline, in which the reader is told that a “jobs boom” exists in Texas.
Question: Can a state really be in a “jobs boom” if its unemployment rate is 8.2 percent? The notion strikes us as absurdly far-fetched. For what it’s worth, that seems to be the way it struck the Nobel prize-winning Krugman too; he led with this fact as he argued that the “miracle” claim is a myth. Because Krauss is writing a front-page news report, you’d think he’d want to present all the basic relevant facts—but you have to read all the way to his twenty-fourth paragraph (out of 28 total) to encounter this unlovely fact about the Texas economy. And when you finally see that fact, Krauss lards it with Perry-friendly bullshit. The paragraph which appeared in the Times is perfect, Grade A horseshit:
Good God, this man (or his editor) is a hack! Accepting dictation from Perry again, Krauss repeats the claim that Texas is a “boom state” even as he (finally) tells you how high its unemployment rate is. He forgets to include other facts: That unemployment in North Dakota stands at three percent, not eight. That twenty-five states have lower unemployment rates than Texas does (there are only fifty states in all). That every state which borders Texas has lower unemployment.
Go ahead—reread that paragraph! That’s exactly how it looks when a candidate is allowed “to dictate an economic narrative on his own terms.”
Why did Krauss bury that unemployment rate so deep in his lengthy report? We can’t tell you, but the result represents a prime example of a dictated narrative. If you’re going to evaluate the claim that Texas is sporting a “jobs boom,” you pretty much have to account for that unattractive unemployment rate.
But Krauss buried that basic fact deep in his piece. Instead, he led with a rather tortured fact—a fact which has been a basic talking-point for supporters of Perry.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at that second fact—the fact with which Krauss led his piece. (“Texas is home to at least one-third of the jobs created nationwide since the recession ended.”) For today, let’s take a minute to pity the poor New York Times subscriber. If he sued the Times for whiplash, mightn’t a court think he had a good case? And by the way:
The liberal world just sat there and took it as this garbage sat above the fold of the Times. Millions of people saw that headline, whether they read Krauss’ piece or not.
In that headline, they read a Perry-dictated claim. Chris Hayes and his liberal colleagues all kept their pretty traps shut.
Tomorrow: Even more crap from the Times!