The American Scene

An ongoing review of politics and culture

Articles filed under The Media

Average Janes

TAS-friend Helen Rittelmeyer’s Doublethink takedown of the world of ladyblogs is sharp and thoroughly entertaining. I don’t quite agree with all of her individual judgments, but on the whole, her assessment of the problems with ladyblogs is dead on.

Douthatblog is back

like a heart attack.

"Frum Forum"

It sounds like an Orthodox Jewish bulletin board, but it’s actually David Frum’s rebranded blog. Too bad Frum Youth and Frum Teens are already taken; there’s nowhere for the next generation of “Frum conservatives” to go. But maybe giving up on New Majority means he’s not quite sure there will be a next generation.

Postie Bob Barkered for Bad Journalism

This bit of Washington Post gossip is my favorite media story of the year (emphasis added):

Details are sketchy, but numerous witnesses report that veteran feature editor Henry Allen punched out feature writer Manuel Roig-Franzia on Friday. The fracas took place in sight of Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli’s office. Brauchli rushed to separate the two.
It should be noted that Allen is nearly seventy, but he served in the Marines in Vietnam. He also won a Pulitzer prize in 2000 for criticism. Both apparently came into play when Allen jumped Roig-Franzia.
According to many sources, the incident began when Style editor Ned Martel assigned a semi-political story to Monica Hesse and Roig-Franzia. Playing off of an inadvertent disclosure last week that many congressmen are being investigated for ethics violations, Martel asked the two Style writers to compile a list of similar disclosures in the past. They came up with a “charticle” with a dozen examples, starting with Robert E. Lee’s Civil War battle plans for Antietam showing up wrapped around cigars.
Allen took a look and didn’t like. He started ranting about the number of mistakes he had found.
Hesse at one point asked him to send the copy back to her. She got a bit teary at the verbal beatdown.
Allen, according to sources, said: “This is total crap. It’s the second worst story I have seen in Style in 43 years.”
Roig-Franzia then wandered into the newsroom. A veteran foreign correspondent, he has been turning out political features for Style. He heard Allen’s rant and stopped by his desk.
“Oh, Henry,” he supposedly said, “don’t be such a cocks——-.”
Allen lunged at Roig-Franzia, threw him to the newsroom floor, and started throwing punches. Roig-Franzia tried to fend him off. Brauchli and others pulled the two apart.
Veteran Style writers said they knew Allen wasn’t happy. He had come up in Style’s heady days, when writers could wax for a hundred inches on the wonder of plastic lawn furniture or the true meaning of the Vietnam War Memorial. No more. Working part time on contract, Allen seethed over the lost art of long-form journalism.

Desperate to determine the first worst story in Washington Post Style Section history, I’ve e-mailed Mr. Allen. Should he report back I’ll alert readers. Meanwhile feel free to make your nomination in comments.

Bemused and Weirdly Uncomfortable

Is there any other reaction appropriate to this Ron Artest song about the plight of Afghan women? And his love for them? Hal Incandenza himself never produced anything so… unclassifiable. Even Bill Walton, for whom everything is either a profound disappointment or the greatest feat of its kind in the history of the NBA, would be rendered speechless. Is this what MTV2 will play at 3am after the singularity? Slow jams that so quickly evolved radically from their predecessors that I am unable even to grasp their meaning?

Mitch Kupchak, what have you done?

Defending One of the Worst Rap Songs in History

Oh, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism students, you’re so adept at opening yourselves up to mockery!

What I think, when I see that rap, is how the graduate program somehow takes on the strange social atmosphere of a high school summer camp. I speak with authority, having spent a good deal of time hanging out with my friend Bill and his classmates when he attended Columbia, penned a well researched story about the school, and mischievously persuaded a surprising number of its students to join a faux secret society I created on a lark to see if I could convince my in-the-dark buddy to join. (I could!) This wasn’t, I hasten to add, the kind of work we did at NYU (nor did we have a weekly happy hour, a costume party at Halloween, a school dance or a pre-graduation boat cruise).

Cringe-worthy as I find the aesthetics of that display, however, I’ve got to disagree with Nick Gillespie and Greg Gutfeld about its substance.

Read the full article

Suderman Elsewhere

I’ve got a web piece up at Newsweek looking at conflicts between Republicans and business interests.

Earlier this month, I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal examining problems with health-care reforms at the state level.

And of course, I’m still writing just about every day at Reason.

Journalism, Viral Loops, Etc.

Though I understand a graduate degree in journalism seems like an insane proposition to many right now, applications are up at all the programs where I’ve spoken to faculty, and if you’re going to pursue that course of study, I am more convinced everyday that NYU is the place to do it. Among readers of The American Scene, Jay Rosen is probably the most well known professor. His analysis of the changing media landscape is certainly more sophisticated than anything being done at Columbia University. And beyond Professor Rosen, the program as a whole is making an effort — how successful it’ll be is beyond knowing — to train students for the actual world they’ll be facing, rather than running a program as if they’re all going to get jobs as cub reporters at daily newspapers.

An example just posted on the course listings: “Entrepreneurial Journalism, taught by Adam Penenberg.”

Journalists who can successfully navigate these turbulent media times must be equal parts journalist and entrepreneur. In this seminar students will learn how to build successful freelance careers, manage their own journalism brands that they will extend through social media platforms like Twitter, pitch ideas for media start ups, write their own business plans or book proposals, and explore ways to attract venture capital. There will be a lot of learning by doing. Students will work as media entrepreneurs and run their own online publications, which they will operate as a business. At its center will be a blog, where students will post several times a week.

They’ll retain an ad server, market their work to the blogosphere (and beyond) and track traffic. The semester will culminate with students either drafting their own business plan for a media start-up that they will pitch in class to a venture capitalist, or penning a formal book proposal, which a literary agent will also critique in class. Guests will include well-known journalists, successful media entrepreneurs, literary agents and venture capitalists.

Professor Penenberg, the guy who caught Stephen Glass, taught my press ethics class. He also just published the book Viral Loop — and his fascinating approach to marketing it demonstrates that he practices what he preaches.

Interesting how the generation of journalists coming up now is being forced to engage in marketing their work in a way that is, insofar as I know, unprecedented in the field. It’s certainly affected my career. At Culture11, it was once suggested that the three editors who commissioned or wrote basically all the publication’s articles should spend fully half of their time on viral marketing. Editors have asked me to Tweet links to freelance pieces I write for their sites. I doubt that Gay Talese ever considered himself a brand — but I am pretty certain that Malcolm Gladwell has for some time. I wonder what implications brand management, Twitter followers, and all the rest has for the kind of work that is produced by the profession.

Any thoughts?

Free Ross!

Free Douthat!

Scene regular Freddie has an excellent post up, which you should very much read, which asks to “Free Douthat!”, i.e. let him have his blog at the New York Times, written in response to our own Conor’s post at True Slant.

Freddie makes an excellent argument, which is that weekly columns carry much more weight than daily blog posts, especially for a conservatice New York Times columnist, and therefore shackle the author into carefully staking out each position lest he be misperceived or misinterpreted, whereas a frequently updated blog can allow for a much clearer picture.

This is quite true.

But here’s my argument: Ross is such a fantastic blogger it’s a shame to have him not blog. Free Douthat!

WASP Guilt

In this silly review of George Gilder’s The Israel Test, Scott McConnell takes Gilder’s explicit arguments to be symptomatic of deeper psychological scars. He suggests that an embarrassing moment during Gilder’s adolescence explains why Gilder would be politically supportive of Israel. Indeed, for McConnell it explains why any WASP would be pro-Israel:

While trying to impress an older girl, his summer tutor in Greek, he blurted out something mildly anti-Semitic. The young woman dryly replied that she was in fact “a New York Jew.” Gilder was mortified. He relates that he has never quite gotten over the episode. It is the kind of thing a sensitive person might long remember. Variations on this pattern are not uncommon in affluent WASP circles to this day: guilt or embarrassment at some stupid but essentially trivial episode of social anti-Semitism serve as a spur for fervent embrace of Likud-style Zionism. Atonement. It would not be surprising if a similar process helped to shape George W. Bush’s mentality.

What Gilder had said to the girl was a reply to her question about how he liked studying at Exeter. “Echoing sentiments I had heard both at home and at school,” Gilder recalls, “I responded, ‘Exeter’s fine, except that there are too many New York Jews.’” Gilder briefly describes how his embarrassment taught him something about resentment and social grace:

Rather than recognizing my shortcomings and inferiority and resolving to overcome them in the future, I had blamed the people who had outperformed me. I had let envy rush in and usurp understanding and admiration. I had succumbed to the lamest of all the world’s excuses for failure — blame the victor. I would pay by losing the respect of this woman I then cared about more than any other.

Instead of leaving it at this commonplace but worthwhile moral lesson, McConnell thinks the “New York Jew” episode overshadows and “animates” the entire argument of Gilder’s book. According to Gilder, it spurred him to be more open-minded. But McConnell thinks the “incident” filled Gilder with such overwhelming guilt that he became a self-hating shill for the Israel lobby. And that some similar social faux pas probably explains the Bush Doctrine and the invasion of Iraq. Who is it, again, who regards these events as “essentially trivial”?

This seems deeply weird, but it’s not hard to play armchair psychologist with McConnell, too. It is obvious to him why Jews would like Israel, but WASPs? What on earth could possibly lead a self-respecting white Anglo-Saxon Protestant to admire a Jewish state when, in McConnell’s view, ethnonationalism would command otherwise? So McConnell invents a sort of false consciousness, a “WASP guilt,” to explain it. It’s a mean-spirited slur, of course. Critics of Israel have long alleged that Israel’s supporters seek to silence debate by leveling overblown accusations of anti-Semitism at them, but McConnell now insists that non-Jewish supporters of Israel must be self-hating Uncle Toms. “This sequence might be amusing if the real-life consequences were less sinister,” as McConnell puts it. But apart from that, one wonders what seething resentments lurk behind McConnell’s strange worldview. What traumatic event in the boyhood days of Scott McConnell can explain it?

Who Is It That's Selling Out the Base?

Human Events continues to send advertising e-mails like the following to their largely elderly, almost entirely conservative Web subscribers.

I’m here to tell you that you CAN make big money in today’s markets.
In fact, I’m going to show you how you could make $442,000 over the next 7 months while keeping your risk tightly controlled.
That may sound like a bold promise. But I’ve made even bolder… and kept them.
After being in the business for over 30 years I know the worlds of finance and investing and I have the knowledge and expertise to help put you on the bullet train to financial freedom.
How, you ask? With a little-known trading strategy I call “short-term stacking”.
Here’s how it works.
Let’s say you had put $10,000 into the Yanzhou Coal Mining calls that I recommended last year. A month later I recommended taking profits of 262.8%.
That means your $10,000 would now be worth $36,280. You could have stopped there — or you could have taken that money and invested it in the CNOOC Ltd. calls I recommended the very next day.
That yielded a profit of 420% in less than 4 weeks. Your $36,280 would now be worth $188,656. Again, you could have stopped there.
Or you could have kept “stacking” your short-term profits by taking those proceeds and putting them into the Harmony Gold calls I recommended a few weeks later.
When we took profits of 141% 3 weeks later, your $188,656 would have turned into $452,811. That’s a profit of over $440,000. And, the whole process would have taken approximately five months.
This little-known strategy has been tested by myself and my readers and it has delivered amazing double- and triple-digit profit potential year after year, month after month.
And now I’d like to share this new technique with you and show you how you could add nearly a half million dollars to your net worth in the coming months.

Though that message arrives in your Inbox with “Human Events” as the sender, it is signed by Mark Skousen. Go on over to the Human Events home page, click on the tab marked “Money” that seems as if it is taking you to editorial content, and guess whose contact information you’re given.

Will anyone join me in calling on Human Events to stop disseminating this nonsense? Or is it okay for conservative publications to exploit the subset of their readers who lack financial savvy?

Unlearning Jargon

I see that my grad school alma mater is offering a course for folks outside the journalism department:

How to translate the specialized languages of particular disciplines in order to reach a larger public is at the heart of this course. Too often, specialists find themselves hostage to the arcane tongues of particular disciplines. Yet they possess knowledge that often cries out to be understood by a broader public. The course will concentrate on the structure of good storytelling, the marshaling of evidence, the unfolding of convincing narrative, and the rhetorical style necessary for turning useful work into memorable writing.

I approve.

Today's Top Story: A Pundit Is Reflective!

In the United States, we’re now accustom to professional talking heads beamed into our living rooms due to their on camera polish rather than the substance of their views or the experience they bring to bear. Intelligent young magazine editors are sent to pundit school. Barack Obama, an enjoyable man to hear speak, is regarded as a historically great orator, though his speeches are intellectually thinner than recent masterpieces, and so obviously inferior to history’s greatest orations that one is tempted to despair at the modern era. A sizable number of Americans regard this as the best speech of 2008.

This facade sometimes slips, like a mistake in the Matrix that hints at the underlying reality. Thus Hillary Clinton reacts in a perfectly human, understandable way to a mistranslated question before a foreign audience, displaying frustration far less dramatic than what you’ll see at rush hour on any freeway, and the anchors freak out, dedicating the lead story at 11 0’clock to her “angry outburst.”

All this is brought to mind by a couple of items I’ve seen an appearance by Ross and Reihan on an N+1 panel. One impressive thing about both of them is their uncanny ability to come across as quite polished public speakers even as they’re articulating very complicated thoughts. I’ve seen them speak in person, watched them on television, heard them on the radio, conversed with them across a table, and seen them on Bloggingheads. They’re invariably so impressive on style and substance — whether complementing one another or speaking on their own — that I’d gladly trade their oratorical ability at this moment for my ability at whatever point in my life I’m best at it.

Okay, cue the New York Observer story that prompted this blog post:

Ross Douthat, conservative op-ed columnist for The New York Times, was made visibly uncomfortable for a moment while onstage last night at the New School’s Tishman auditorium.

I mean, really? That’s your lead? A guy on a panel was “uncomfortable” for “a moment”? Call Drudge and cue the siren! What kind of weird place have we reached when it’s news that a guy, being peppered with the most difficult questions a roomful of smart people can muster, once during a session displays a moment of discomfort? I’ll tell you what kind. We’ve reached a place where a stunning number of folks you see commenting on television or other public venues care so little about the substance of what they’re saying that even when they and everyone else knows their words are utter idiocy, they still refrain from displaying actual discomfort, because to them it’s all a game, unconnected to any sense that words have consequences, or that integrity is partly a matter of challenging one’s own own ideas out of a lingering sense that commenting on public affairs confers some responsibility, and that it is shameful to frivolously and lightly proffer arguments that one isn’t able to defend.

Only a society that long ago reached that place has gossip sheets writing excited leads about a polished speaker feeling a moment of discomfort when challenged with a difficult question, one that is causing him intellectual ferment. Why look, honey, that man is grappling with his thoughts! Let’s all laugh at his quaint display of intellectual honesty! This is particularly noteworthy because, as The Observer makes clear, after that shocking moment of discomfort, Mr. Douthat gathered his thoughts and cogently addressed the subject at hand.

Elsewhere in New York this week, hundreds of makeup slathered pundits spewed forth transparently idiotic talking points on all manner of subjects, without betraying any sign of thought or shame. As yet, the New York Observer hasn’t found that worth remarking upon.

From the American Scene Projectionist's Booth

If you happen to be reading the front page of the site in a web browser rather than an RSS reader, you can bounce from post to post using the j and k keys. As popularized here.

"To Referee Public Debates"

According to Time, the Obama administration decided the press was “falling down on the job” after three perfectly sensible stories appeared in the media: The New York Times reported that parents objected to the idea of a presidential address to the nation’s schoolchildren, several outlets covered public outrage over health-care reform, and The Washington Post ran two op-eds by members of Congress who objected to the president’s reliance on advisors who were not subject to Senate confirmation or congressional oversight. It seems that the White House staff didn’t object to the stories themselves, but to the fact that the press — in the words of White House communications director Anita Dunn — “didn’t even question” the criticisms public officials, parents, and the public had made of the administration. “Obama aides,” Time reports, are disappointed “they can’t rely on reporters to referee public debates.”

Of course, were the press to take it upon itself to denounce parents, the public, and members of Congress for criticizing the administration — or, as it seems the White House staff would prefer, to exclude these “misleading” criticisms from news coverage — it would be “opinion journalism masquerading as news.” Yet those are precisely the words Dunn employed to denounce the Fox News Network for being too opinionated. It’s not clear, exactly, what the White House wants from the press. When Dunn appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources to explain her comment, it became even more confusing.

“It’s not ideological,” said Dunn. Obviously, there are many commentators who have conservative, liberal, centrist [views], and everybody understands that.” But the problem is that Fox “operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.” But then she suggested it was ideological, explaining that President Obama will go on Fox News “because he engages with ideological opponents.” The real problem is that the ideology doesn’t affect “just their opinion shows,” but “there is a very different story selection.” Then it turned out the real problem was not the reporting, but the opinion shows. “I’ve differentiated between Major Garrett, who we view as a very good correspondent, and his network,” Dunn explained. Howard Kurtz asked her to clarify her position: “You are making a distinction, just before I move on, between the opinion guys, O’Reilly, Hannity, Glenn Beck, and people like Major Garrett.” Dunn replied: “I’m not talking about people like Major Garrett. I’m talking about the overall programming.”

Dunn’s particular charges — that during the campaign Fox focused more than other networks on Bill Ayers and ACORN and that Fox failed to cover Senator Ensign’s affair and scandal — turn out, according to Noel Sheppard to be false. Dunn also complained that Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday — in Dunn’s words — “fact-checked an administration guest on his show.” This, of course, seems not only appropriate but common. And if Fox were indeed the only network to check the facts that public officials offer to the news media, that would seem to make Fox the most responsible news gathering organization we have.

Anyway, Dunn’s comments seem to amount to the charge that Fox News has some good news coverage and some “opinion journalism” she doesn’t like. It’s no secret that the opinion journalism on Fox News is largely conservative, but so what? “Opinion journalism” is still journalism, and the idea that the White House believes some opinions are somehow illegitimate for the news media to hold is more outrageous than anything aired on Fox News. It seems that Dunn is throwing out charges in order to discredit negative coverage of the administration, and when pressed on what, exactly, she means, she backtracks and qualifies and seems not to have anything serious to say.

The White House “can’t rely on reporters to referee public debates” — which is great. Here’s hoping the White House itself doesn’t succeed in refereeing public debates, either.

Yo Reihan Salam, you ever make a sandwich and call it the Reihan Salami?

If you’d like to know the answer to that question, click here.

Responding to Andrew Breitbart

In a letter published on Andrew Sullivan’s site (and posted at Big Hollywood), Andrew Breitbart complains about recent pieces I’ve written that include criticism of his approach to political discourse. I want to direct readers who’ve read my work to his objections, and to respond. Before I begin, I want to note that I’ve repeatedly complimented Mr. Breitbart for publishing the ACORN pieces on Big Government, and dubbed him a savvy media critic who lands some punches against his targets.

Of course, I’ve also got major objections to his punditry, hence the criticism that I’ve offered.

It is my understanding that The Daily Beast, where we’ve both written, is up for hosting a debate where we can air our disagreements, and engage in what I think would be a productive conversation about journalism on the right, the left, and otherwise.

I’d certainly be up for that, or a Bloggingheads episode (assuming that they’re willing to host) or both.

Meanwhile I’ll address Mr. Breitbart’s letter.

He writes:

In the piece you link to and affirm in the Daily Beast, “The Right’s Lesser Press,” Conor Friedersdorf refuses to interview me as he continues to be my unofficial biographer. (I’m VERY reachable, Conor.) He writes opinion pieces on me purporting to be journalism. He doesn’t quote or cite me, he simply assumes and pushes the point of view he thinks I have and makes an argument based on these alleged positions. It’s sloppy and you, of all people, should know better.

This gets a couple of things wrong.

Prior to the first piece I wrote about Mr. Breitbart, “At the Gates of the Fourth Estate,” I wrote him a lengthy e-mail requesting an interview. It is dated May 1, 2009, if he’d care to check his records (subject line: “We Met at the GenNext Panel”). He did not respond to my request.

Even so, I didn’t write a piece that failed to quote him — I quoted him twice, and argued against a position that he articulated on national television! If there is some position in that piece that I’ve imputed to Mr. Breitbart, but that he doesn’t actually hold, I wish he would tell me what it is. I am happy to append a correction to the piece if that is the case, but I do not believe that anything in it is inaccurate.

If memory serves, the next piece I wrote that mentions Mr. Breitbart appeared in The Daily Beast. Titled “The Right’s Bob Woodward,” it lauds the ACORN expose published on Mr. Breitbart’s Web site Big Government, and offers a lengthy quote that he offered on the site. Around the same time, I wrote a blog post at The American Scene titled, “Credit Where It’s Due: Andrew Breitbart 1, ACORN 0.” On September 11, 2009, I e-mailed the full text of that post to Mr. Breitbart, with “Kudos on the Big Government Piece on ACORN” in the subject line.

As many of you know, the NEA conference call where artists were asked to support the Obama Administration is another topic Mr. Breitbart’s sites have covered at length. I also criticized the NEA for its behavior here, citing Mr. Breitbart’s site as inspiration, and here, where I argue that yes there is so something wrong with what the NEA did.

So what am I supposed to make of it when Andrew Breitbart writes this to Andrew Sullivan:

I believe that you and Conor would like to paint me into a corner, the one you are currently trying to paint Glenn Beck into. You are trying to marginalize me because of the net effect, pun intended, of the White House/NEA “propaganda” series on Big Hollywood, and the explosive ACORN expose´ on Big Government. Protecting President Obama and the left at all costs is your prerogative.

If my objections to Mr. Breitbart are his ACORN and NEA stories I’ve sure got a funny way of showing it! Seriously, how can he possibly attribute that motivation to me when I’ve written at length in defense of the ACORN stories, and against the NEA’s behavior?

Mr. Breitbart writes:

As you well know, I was the person who came up with the idea behind the Huffington Post, and even helped Arianna and Ken Lerer launch the sucker. At the time I did not abdicate my point of view as a right leaning voice. I stated what I believe today: Let’s put it all out there, and may the best ideas win.
Is it insignificant that I was behind the left’s most prominent blog/media site?

It isn’t insignificant — it’s telling. I submit that The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report, two projects with which Mr. Breitbart are associated, share many of the same flaws — that is to say, visit those sites on any given day and you’re likely to see a misleading/sensationalistic headline that spins the news to attract an audience that prefers to exist inside an ideological cocoon. That isn’t to say that those sites are all bad. They’re both impressive in their own ways, and Mr. Breitbart is without question an Internet genius who is uncannily able to create successful Web properties that offer benefits to their audience (and revenue for their creator).

What Mr. Brietbart misunderstands is what I’m up to. I am trying to paint him into a corner! It’s just that what I am after is for him to do better journalism, as he rails against the Obama Administration, or the Hollywood establishment, or when he creates the next Huffington Post. I’ll cheer-lead for any quality journalism done on his sites — as I’ve done already — no matter their political fallout.

He and I agree on a surprising number of things, among them that we should “put it all out there, and may the best ideas win.” But that model of public discourse requires a commitment to accuracy, arguing in good faith, exposing people to ideas with which they disagree rather than contributing to the cocooning of American media, challenging one’s audience as much as one panders to them, avoiding bombastic hyperbole, etc. I’d like to provoke Mr. Breitbart to do those things, whether by persuading him that it’s best for the country, or that it’s best for his purposes, or shaming him into living up to the standards to which the right holds other enterprises.

My position is that at present, his punditry and the Web properties that he is associated with fall short of one or another of those standards. I am happy to provide a long list of examples if this is a matter in dispute.

Mr. Breitbart writes:

The New York Times is a daily read. It always has been. I loved its recent profile of my college pal, hotelier Jeff Klein.
No daily publication can capture the essence of the cultural elite — good, bad and ugly — like the New York Times. The paper has its merits, no doubt. But when it comes to the political scene, its ascent into monolithic partisan hackery in its news pages — never mind the op-ed experience — is worthy of exploration granted its self-identified motto “all the news that’s fit to print” is disproved day after day when the news that hurts the political left is either ignored or distorted to sate its diminishing readership’s need for political conformity.

Here is what I wrote in my piece:

As a hegemonic newspaper, the Gray Lady has accomplished journalistic goods unprecedented in history—a long-running global network of first-rate reporters, a record-setting 101 Pulitzer Prizes, and powerful advocacy for First Amendment causes, for starters. These feats don’t obviate the need for vigilant critics, especially given the newspaper’s history of significant screw-ups: false apologia published for Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, fictional dispatches filed by Jayson Blair, and insufficient due regularly paid to conservative insights are notable examples.
Its most recent journalistic sin concerns the ACORN story broken by activist reporters with hidden cameras. Thoughtful critics, including the Times’ own ombudsman, rightly castigated the newspaper for being slow to cover news that was obviously fit to print.

Again, it appears that Mr. Brietbart and I agree on some things, though you wouldn’t know it from reading his rebuttal. What we disagree on, apparently, is whether the right’s press outlets should adopt some of the core journalistic values that the mainstream media claims as their own, though they often fall short of them.

I regard that as a question that Mr. Breitbart and I could profitably debate, if he is game.

It Was The Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times...

In my latest at The Daily Beast, I argue that despite its shortcomings, The New York Times is far more committed to journalistic values than its critics acknowledge — and that the outlets the critics laud would do well to learn from The Gray Lady. The piece is here.

The Pro-Torture Right

Though I’ve got my disagreements with them, I’ve got a lot of respect for Roger Simon and Glenn Reynolds, so I’ve got to hope that they didn’t have anything to do with this disgusting, simple-minded defense of torture now playing at Pajamas TV.

And how disturbing that it assumes that only liberals would be anti-torture, and thus require persuading (a particularly weird assumption when, last I checked, Professor Reynolds himself is avowedly anti-torture).

Don't talk about loyalty

Conor’s suspicions towards Bill Bennett are sound. Bennett seems to think that he’s criticizing Matt Latimore for disloyalty, but I suspect Bennett’s real beef is with Latimore’s opportunism. I can see the appeal of the concept of loyalty to an Aristotelian like Bennett. It has the suggestion of real community and its entailed virtues and obligations, but the problem with invoking it as a general principle is that it doesn’t function very well as one. I don’t want to slight loyalty . Anybody who’s found himself in a real or metaphorical foxhole has felt what is good about loyalty. Loyalty’s great when it’s to you and yours. But things get dicey when you invoke loyalty from without the group that the person in question is supposed to be loyal to. Then, all of a sudden, the concept of loyalty looks pretty hobbled, incomplete. Then you’re suddenly arguing whether the group in question – its principles, its actions – is praiseworthy according to terms more abstract than loyalty, and then the loyalty of its members comes under scrutiny according to these more abstract terms. If the group is not just in what it does, then loyalty to it is taken to be a vice. And whether the Bush White House, as a group, was just and thus worthy of loyalty according to the judgment of people beyond it, is – in our intellectual and political environment – so freaking contested that the concept of loyalty is just a basket of begged questions. If somebody saw something really bad from within the Administration, of course we would be justified in subordinating loyalty to more abstract values, even if his coworkers – which who cares what they think, malfeasors – might feel the sting of betrayal.

Conor’s on sounder footing than Will Wilson, also, in his general preference for loyalty to an idea over loyalty to a person, but mainly because the idea, as an idea, travels more nimbly on the terrain on which it will be interrogated by people with a reasonable expectation of grounds more general than loyalty itself. A person loyal to an idea is likely to have tested that idea against other ideas. A person loyal to a person? Depends on the person, and that “depends” depends on a bunch of things more general than loyalty. Wilson objects to the abstractness of Conor’s type of loyalty. It strikes him as un-conservative. And in truth there is something wanting in the idea of loyalty to an idea, as against the thick and gritty loyalty among people doing stuff and making enemies together. But unless the ethical codes that germinate within every sort of lifeworld and which prescribe group loyalties are unsassailable as such, then loyalty – while it will inspire potent admiration within confined circles of assessment, among friends, you might say – is always going be a deeply subordinate virtue, the sort of thing that looks a lot lovelier, and is a lot easier to appreciate, when strangers aren’t talking about it in public, invoking it as a general principle, forcing it to do things it doesn’t want to do.

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