Two Ships Passing in the New Media Night: Tonight I present to you the tale of two why-do-they-hate-us columns. One was written by Tennessee Law Professor and popular online pundit Glenn Reynolds. The other by the L.A. Times’ most prominent opinion-page columnist, John Balzar. The first deals with post-Sept. 11 criticism of academia, the second with post-Sept. 11 criticism of the media.
Let’s go straight to the nut-grafs, which are instructive. Reynolds:
Not surprisingly, people who would rather be clever than right, who confuse oppositionalism with originality, who hold ordinary Americans and their beliefs in faux-aristocratic contempt, and who do all of this with an unshakable degree of self-righteousness, are not likely to be especially popular. (Note the similarity here to the also-unpopular news and entertainment media). Balzar:
My first reaction was to take it personally. I was going to tell half of you that you're off your rockers. […] What’s changed since Sept. 11? For Reynolds, it’s the scrutiny applied by an engaged public:
Yes, we can discount for the fact that Americans simply delight in their inherent suspicion of all institutions, including the news media. And yes, it is fashionable, if not mandatory, in partisan circles to bash the press. Besides, those who complain the most are those who pay the least attention, and thus their opinions carry less weight.
Suddenly the outside world was paying attention to what university people were saying — and that world didn’t like what it was hearing. Professors who applauded the attack on the Pentagon, or claimed that U.S. wrongdoing somehow justified the Sept. 11 attacks, found themselves being denounced. For Balzar, journalists themselves (and by extension, the rest of us) were suddenly under threat:
Sept. 11 brought everyone up short. There is serious news on journalists' minds now, yours too. The larger globe, from which too much of our media had retreated, confronts us. Journalists are dying on the battlefield. At home, fundamentals of liberty are being debated. Journalists have been attacked by anthrax in their offices. It is worth noting that executives in many, although not all, of our print and broadcast outlets have sustained significant financial losses to meet expanded obligations. Somber times in the nation have restored an urgency and weight to journalism. What does Balzar have to say about the newly motivated reading audience?
There is fond hope [in newsrooms] that public tastes, political imperatives and press focus will stay on higher ground for longer than the headline stories of the moment. How do the gentleman view their chosen professions? Balzar calls journalism “my craft,” and waxes about “the reason why I got into this business and why most people I know in newsrooms did.” Reynolds calls academic work
a noble calling, at least when it is done well. But engaging in a noble calling doesn’t necessarily make you noble. Too many professors seem to think otherwise, believing that because their work is good, they must be too, giving them a pass on examining their own actions and positions as critically as they examine those of others. Non-academics, however, aren’t buying this, nor should they. Noticing a pattern yet? Reynolds: Public, invigorating; profession, badly needs public scrutiny. Balzar: Public, barely qualified; profession, noble and misunderstood. Another difference you’ll note is that Reynolds, who is a professor and a lawyer, writes better than the lifelong journalist.
I don’t necessarily mean to pick on John Balzar; I’m sure he’s a nice guy, he’s both served in and covered wars, and he probably does the best he can considering he’s forced to act like L.A.’s featured columnist even though he lives in friggin’ Lakewood. What I mean to say is that there’s a new wind blowing, friends, and people who have been domesticated in mono-daily newsrooms these past 30 years will not be the ones to detect it first. Look at the writers you now read every day. Sure, many of them get paid to write columns and articles for a living, but I’d guess right now that just as many (if not more) do not. Now compare those people to the characters that show up in your daily newspaper. Do you think that any regular San Diego Union-Tribune columnist is as educational and provocative as Steven Den Beste? In your local alt-weekly, is there any non-sex-ad content you’d rather read than, say, a regular feature by Charles Johnson called “This Week in the Arab Press”? Do you think John Balzar writes better, and about more relevant topics, than covering yesterday’s murder. It is about trends, not humans; issues, not news. Here’s more:
My friend Tom Rosenstiel at the Pew-funded Project for Excellence in Journalism cautions that press cycles turn slowly. The screaming tabloid era of 1920s journalism died out when the country retreated from frivolity with the Depression and World War II. Again, read that slowly. If the media is bad, it’s America’s fault. Anything called the “Project for Excellence in Journalism” must be an infallible source of expertise (especially since Tom is an equally powerful “friend”). Tabloid = bad (as opposed to, tabloid = a particular size of newspaper, characterized by dramatic magazine-style photography and large, humorous headlines). “Sensationalism” = something people might want to read, and therefore must be avoided, if at all possible (those damnable low-rent public tastes and high-yield corporate demands, etc.). Note, too, Balzar’s description of post-war newspapering, a period unparalleled in the history of American journalism for paper shut-downs, mergers, lockouts, and the beginning of the anti-competitive “Joint Operating Agreement”: “Level-headed journalism became the standard for a generation that followed.”
Level-headed journalism became the standard for a generation that followed. More recently, the press had taken another evolutionary turn toward O.J.-Jon-Benet-style sensationalism.
"Have the news media been scared straight by Sept. 11?" Rosenstiel asks. "The answer depends on whether America has really changed.”
Anyways, it would be a great book, but I don’t have the time or money to write it right now. The basic point is this: Glenn Reynolds and John Balzar are two ships passing in the New Media Night. What a spectacular and embarrassing bungle, that an 1,100-journalist organization like the L.A. Times has utterly failed to capture the imagination of a public ravenous for information and stimulus. Some clever sonofabitch out there is going to tap into the vibrancy that Reynolds (and his readers & imitators) represent, and create one hell of a newspaper, magazine, website, and/or broadcast company for the New Era. I would scrub bathrooms for such an organization (figuratively, of course), and so would a whole lot of people more talented than me. I’m still almost young, but I’ve rarely felt such a profound sense of Critical Mass…
12/13/2001 12:15:47 AM
Jewish Defense League Chair Arrested on Plot to Blow up SoCal Mosque, Arab-American Congressman: Whoa! The feds caught Jewish Defense League Chairman Irv Rubin, and JDL member Earl Krugel, both L.A. residents, last night
after the last component of the bomb – explosive powder – was delivered to Krugel's home, U.S. Attorney John S. Gordon said. If the accusations are true, score one for the FBI, and WHAT THE HELL, NUTBAGS? You want to blow up our Muslim friends and murder a guy who neatly symbolizes the American dream? If you’re guilty, you’re a blight on my fair city, and I hope you die in prison.
Other bomb components and weapons were seized at Krugel's home. Authorities said the plot targeted a mosque in Culver City and the office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Issa is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants.
12/12/2001 03:37:59 PM
Postrel to Libertarian Party: ‘Just Go Away’: Wow, does Virginia torch the capital-L Libertarians today.
As satisfying as it may be to cast a protest vote, they're bad for the cause. And it only gets uglier from there, ending with a regal: “All you pissed-off LPers, do not call Reason and try to get me fired. It wouldn't work, and I've already quit.”
Their 30th-anniversary press release eliminates any ambivalence I might feel. It's not enough that the party's rules have defined "libertarian" to exclude every major libertarian thinker except Murray Rothbard (who was really an anarchist) and that they have a foreign policy that amounts to defending America on the beaches of Santa Monica. They also have to spin their way through their celebratory press release, desperately claiming credit for trends they played little or no part in. That spin operation pretty much proves that they are, indeed, just what they claim: an honest-to-God political party.
12/12/2001 10:58:46 AM
Tim Blair on a Roll: Our favorite Aussie Oppressor is never better (and that’s saying something) than when he takes on his bete noire, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Margo Kingston. Today Blair gives Kingston a dozen or so of hyperblogger’s Dropped Ball Awards, but must importantly he makes me snort coffee out of my nose, with a series of ridiculous jokes. Example:
Hey, Margo – oysters are stateless! Duct tape is stateless! Coleslaw is stateless! Run for your life! Tim also scores crucial nomenclature points by christening Australia’s new traitor as the “Wombat of Islam” and “Taliban Dundee,” and brings up the relevance of the “phenomenon known in science as Alex Keaton Syndrome.” Blair's daily morning warblog round-up is a terrific idea. Some smart person could do a version of that across 50 sites, and send out a 6 a.m. e-mail newsletter that would soon give OpinionJournal a run for its money....
12/12/2001 10:46:24 AM
Technical Difficulties: Today, I couldn't connect to the Internet for the first two hours of the morning. Then, when I could, the neighborhood's power went out for an hour. Later, I couldn't connect again. Some time during the afternoon, my server's hard drive was being replaced, and I was unable to deal with e-mail or visit half my favorite sites for several more hours. Also, the dog ate my homework, and the Lakers lost again. So I've been finishing up a column, trying to imagine what kind of frenzy these last 72 hours on U.S. soil will be, and noting with Central European humor the daily Drudge reports about how everything's going to blow up right around the time I hop on a Boeing full of 12 hours' worth of jet fuel, and head to one of the prime stated targets (Paris). I also see now that Ev is literally begging for bandwidth (George Soros, where are you, fiu?)
12/11/2001 10:19:58 PM
Three Months Ago Today…: … Jeff Jarvis “survived the black cloud” in Lower Manhattan. Read his excellent mini-essay today, about how he has been changed, “fully and forever.”
12/11/2001 11:36:31 AM
More Genius From San Francisco: Did you know that “the Bush administration” is “the most conservative presidency in history”? Ah, well, you must not live in the capital of Critical Thinking….
12/10/2001 10:37:55 PM
Getting Beaten By Locals While Covering Historic Events: In all this talk of Robert Fisk’s beating, I was reminded how, just hours after we watched Slovakia separate from the Czech Republic in downtown Bratislava, Ken Layne and I were both violenced by a group of seven stupid-ass skinheads. It was a pointless little tussle – I tried to stop them from gang-punching a frail drunken hippie, a bunch of them jumped me, the long-haired photographer started swinging his camera around like a billy club, and after a few minutes it was over, with no serious injuries. Anyways, what I was wondering was how we covered this event for my post-commie newspaper. After all, the symbolic value was rich: these little thugs were chanting Slovak-nationalist slogans (they attacked me only after mocking my American/Czech accent, and asking me what the hell I was doing there), Bratislava was suffering from a serious skinhead (and international prestige) problem, and they’d just raised the Confederate Flag over Namestie SNP. So I pulled out the Jan. 8, 1993 issue of Prognosis to see how much play, and international significance, we gave the fight.
My story, which was supposed to be the hard news account (and was filled with little but anecdotes), didn’t mention a thing. Ken’s, which was supposed to be the color story, put this note in the last paragraph:
Elsewhere on the sqblockquote> I always loved it back then when big-name reporters like Lesley Stahl would parachute into Prague to do the Young Americans in Prague story, and give us lectures about how, though they just “love” our paper, we needed to “loosen up,” be “more like the Village Voice,” and have “more first-person writing.” (Prognosis was about the most unique newspaper you'd ever see, mind you). Then, as if already relegating us to the cookie-cutter “alternative” ghetto they so wanted us to be in (but would never work for themselves), they’d refer to our bland little competition as the “professional” entry of the two papers in town. Whatever; they were probably right, at least by the standards of modern newspaper professionalism.
Anyways, Ken’s story includes similar reticence that strikes me now as pretty funny:
Observation towers at the far end of the square were filled with drunken, dancing flag-wavers. A yell to the crowd below was all it took to get another bottle passed up. Of course, those “drunken flag-wavers” would include Mr. Layne. Specifically, he was waving around an enormous Slovak flag, wearing a Malcolm X baseball cap over his terrible dyed-black long hair, and yelling “Slovensko!!!!” at the top of his whiskey-soaked lungs.
12/10/2001 08:16:48 PM
Terrific Reynolds on ‘Dissing International Law’ : Interesting sub-theme, that I am weaving into a column I’m working on today – the way critics do damage to their own pet causes, by lying about them.
12/10/2001 12:41:20 PM
Blah Blah Blah Clinton Blah Blah Blah: Wall Street Journal Editor Robert Bartley writes a stupid column today about how “Clinton defenders,” “the left,” and others who lack sufficient respect for the Rule of Law “don’t have the credibility to criticize Ashcroft.” (Does this mean the WSJ is recanting its embarrassingly worshipful column from Friday that gushed: “We can't recall so complete a political rout since Ollie North ran circles around the Iran-Contra committee”?) Hey Bob: Some of us on the Left who opposed impeachment actually criticized Clinton/Gore for their civil liberties record, and even criticized civil liberties groups for rolling over on Clinton’s watch. Time to move on, buddy.
12/10/2001 12:10:06 PM
Gillespie Defends the ‘90s: My editor Nick Gillespie has a smart column today. I’ll spoil the ending, but you should read the whole thing:
Especially when conflict is necessary and justified, it’s worth remembering that war will always beat peace as a headline. And that, at our best, we fight wars for only one reason: to enjoy decades like the ’90s. I had a wonderful time in the 1990s, which took me from ages 21 to 31. Started a newspaper, helped manage three other start-up publications, discovered a part of the world that was a black hole until 1989, put out a couple crappy eight-track recordings, played live music in nearly a dozen countries, lived in terrific cities like Prague, Budapest, Los Angeles and (briefly) Havana; married a delightful French girl, dived into the Internet (late), enput out a couple crappy eight-track recordings, played live music in nearly a dozen countries, lived in terrific cities like Prague, Budapest, Los Angeles and (briefly) Havana; married a delightful French girl, dived into the Internet (late), enjoyed cheap travel and free borders, got into a few humorous scrapes, and learned a thing or two. That arc could describe most of my friends as well – discovery, creativity, productivity, fun. I’ve always laughed at the word “slacker,” and my two regrets about the alleged frivolity of the decade is that U.S. politics was stuck in the now-irrelevant Cold War-influenced Culture War mode, and that the West failed to make the political case for the New Thing the world was now free to pursue. We’ve seen the consequences of these deficiencies post-Sept. 11, but we’ve also seen a healthy movement to get it together.
12/10/2001 11:11:10 AM
Lileks Kicks Glenn in the Sack: There are scores of great writers I’ve been introduced to since Sept. 11. Some of them, like James Lileks, even work for newspapers. Earlier today, I took a feeble swing at a foolish SF Chronicle defense of Hippie Bin Johnny. Lileks, naturally, pinned the tail on the donkey:
As I’ve said before: replace “Taliban” with “Aryan Nation,” and much of the support would melt away. It’s OK to be a babbling fanatic for a religion as long as it’s not Christianity, because Christianity = the West. To a certain breed of Deep Thinker, the West is the font of all evil in the world; all other evils have arisen solely in reaction to the existence of the West. If John Walker had strapped TNT to his chest and blown up St. Peter’s, these people would dutifully note that the Pope refused to ordain women, and well, intolerance breeds intolerance, and the Crusades did anger a lot of people, so let’s call it a draw - and clap ol’ John on the back for standing up for something. […]
“Consumer society” means a society in which - brace yourself - there are lots of things to buy, and lots of people who want to buy things. And this is just so horrible. […]
“When judging him, think back to when you were 19 or 20 years old. Like me, you probably cringe at the memories of your own foolishness.” Yes. […] I wince when I think of the time I went with a friend to some guy’s house, and it turned out he was a drug dealer with Hefty 20-gallon garbage sacks of weed in the closet. But I never managed to make it to, say, El Salvador to shoot US advisors in the head.
12/9/2001 09:03:35 PM
‘I Haven’t Posted Much Today…’: … Says Glenn Reynolds today, in the middle of writing NINETEEN F***ING POSTS. My wife shook her head in genuine alarm at the output. “It’s Sunday,” she pointed out, looking worried. I would suggest that it’s time for an Intervention, but I know it’s no coincidence that the professor has come out so strongly in favor of Cloning….
12/9/2001 08:35:10 PM
URL for the L.A. Times Ex-Terrorist Principal Story: The post below about the L.A. Times’ bonehead story on an Armenian-American principal in my neighborhood is the one I’d really like you to read today. The Times has finally gotten around to posting it; the importance here is watching how a newspaper can bury a shocking & fantastic lede – that a local elementary school principal is actually an ex-con who spent two years in federal prison on a charge of conspiring to blow up the Turkish consul in Philadelphia – under 12 paragraphs of pandering swill about how lovely our Armenian community is. Besides everything written by David Shaw, this might be the most telling example yet of everything that is wrong with my hometown paper. If I was running that newsroom, the writer and at least one editor would have been fired before noon.
12/9/2001 06:57:19 PM
Yet More Unfathomable Garbage From the San Francisco Chronicle: Another ridiculous Johnny Walker column, this time from freelance writer Glenn Sacks, placed appropriately in the “Lifestyles” section. Starts off like this:
Those willing to sacrifice for their beliefs deserve respect -- even if what they believe in is foolish. As a teenager, American Taliban fighter John Phillip Walker gave up a comfortable life in Marin County and traveled halfway around the world to put his life on the line for his religious convictions. How many of us are that courageous? Who are the editors that sit there, read this utter tripe, and say “Heck! Let’s put that in the paper!”? Sacks goes on to compare Tali-boy to those Americans who signed up for the Spanish Civil War (uh, no), and implores us:
When judging him, think back to when you were 19 or 20 years old. Like me, you probably cringe at the memories of your own foolishness. Sure, more than you know. But none of the foolishness involved taking arms up against my (or anyone else’s) country in the name of religious fascism. Sacks, incidentally, describes himself on his website as “the only regularly published male columnist in the US who writes about gender issues from a perspective unapologetically sympathetic to men.” He is – who woulda thought? – an adjunct professor, who teaches reading and writing. (Via Andrew Sullivan)
12/9/2001 04:43:16 PM
New Traffic Record: For Dec. 6, my statkeeper reports 1,717 sites, 2,346 visits, 3,406 pages, 7,263 files and 10,865 hits; all records. It’s mostly due to very promiscuous linkage by fellow bloglodytes. Thank you, readers and linkers!
12/9/2001 02:06:57 PM
Letter From San Francisco: Today’s L.A. Times prints a letter about Sara Jane Olson, by San Francisco resident Ben Rosenfeld. Here’s the intro:
Sara Jane Olson is a beautiful, intelligent, generous, compassionate mother, wife, community activist and artist. She is a pillar of humanity. Of course she hid all these years from small-minded, vindictive troglodytes like your (former city attorney) Mayor James Hahn, Deputy Dist. Attys. Eleanor Hunter and Michael Latin and a lynch mob […] Chalk up another to that Bay Area “critical thinking.”
The real monsters are people who revel in the destruction of a good person's life and, like [columnist Steve] Lopez, crack sick jokes about it. They are the historical Pontius Pilates, Salem witch-burners and Nazi informants in World War II France.
12/9/2001 01:53:47 PM
Dear God…: The deranged cretins at Indymedia.ass want to nominate Johnny Walker for a Congressional Medal of Honor, Shiloh Bucher has discovered….
12/9/2001 01:45:39 PM
At Least One Person Liked the George Harrison Column: A reader calling himself Doctor Frank just mailed in with a more clever description of my own much-maligned column about George Harrison and dissent then I could muster myself. (The best criticism of the thing so far: “Razz to you, ya wanker”). He also has this interesting thing to say about San Francisco, which I’m just going to go ahead and quote without his permission:
The other thing is, alienation can be fun! I was born, raised, and still live in the SF Bay Area. Not only that: practically everyone I know is in some way related to punk rock, with its strong undercurrent of anarchist pretensions. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that most of these people have never actually met a person who disagreed with them on political and social matters. So, paradoxically, rejecting the retrograde paleo-lefty anti-American anti-war party line (like, they say, 90% of Americans) makes you a dangerous radical in this particular environment. It's frustrating, in a way, but you can't deny it's also a blast. I'd still support the war if I lived in Ohio or some damn place, but it sure wouldn't be so much fun. Dr. Frank, it turns out, has a brand new warblog of his own, and it’s excellent. Here’s a recent post after my own heart:
For me, the significant thing about the various "Sontag Awards" is that they document an amazing moment in our cultural history, where the manifest idiocies of our "cultural elite," generally ignored by most people with better things to do, have been suddenly and publicly exposed in the context of an issue that people actually care about; in a situation that demands moral clarity, some deliver (Hitchens) and some do not (Sontag.) Secondarily, it is interesting to observe the aftermath of this exposure, where people who have spent entire careers preaching foolishness to a self-satisfied choir have been put in the unfamiliar position of having to justify themselves. I’ve been meaning to link to another 30 or so readers-turned-warbloggers, but I’ve also been meaning to feed my family and write a half-dozen stories in the next half-dozen days, so some things must be sacrificed.
12/9/2001 01:36:40 PM
The Local Terrorist Principal: As I mention over at LA Examiner, the L.A. Times has an incredible story today that talks about how the Armenian-American principal of an elementary school within walking distance of where I sit is actually a convicted terrorist, who served two years in federal prison for his role in trying to blow up the Turkish consul in Philadelphia in 1982. What makes the story incredible is that this bit of information about Viken Yacoubian is buried casually in the 13th paragraph, in a story whose headline is (I’m not making this up): “School Expansion is One More Milestone in Proud Progress of Little Armenia.” Subhed: “A vibrant East Hollywood community embraces an institution where its ancient culture and language are taught.” There is only one quote dealing with the issue in the long story (“I’ve been transformed … violence is not the answer.”) No parents or community leaders or Turkish-Americans are asked how they feel about having an ex-terrorist principal.
The story isn’t online yet, but it’s worth looking at when it’s posted. Yacoubian’s role in conspiring to transport explosives is presented as the “aftermath” of the Armenian genocide (I guess that’s more “after” than “math”), the writer takes pains to emphasize “The attack never took place, and no one was hurt,” and writes stuff like “In Little Armenia, not surprisingly, he is considered a hero.” As you would guess from such an ethnic puff-piece (a particularly offensive specialty of the L.A. Times), there is no mention of the Armenian/Latino gang wars that have terrorized nearby Glendale, nor of the milder tensions between my neighborhood’s local Bohemians and some of snarlier young Armenian teens and elderly shopkeepers.
Yacoubian has lived in the area for nearly 20 years; yet according to the Dow Jones Interactive Library, this is the second time his terrorist past has been even mentioned by an L.A. Times staff writer. That’s what happens when you don’t cover crime, you treat “ethnic communities” with a puzzling mix of neglect and over-the-top pandering, and your writers have been conditioned to bury any and all ledes.
A final thought on Yacoubian and Sara Jane Olson: Unlike the former Kathleen Soliah, Yacoubian was made to take responsibility for his crime, and I have no doubt that this has made him a better man today than she. I think he should probably remain the principal of the school (unless he’s proven to be a terrorist-sympathizer or something), and most likely has a very interesting story to tell about growing up. The Times, if they could recognize what makes a “story,” would have seen that as a fantastic opportunity, instead of an embarrassing footnote. Olson, meanwhile, deserves to be punished in some way, because it is all too clear that she has yet to take responsibility for her crime. No, she’s not about to go blow anybody up, but she has yet to honestly face up to the consequences of her actions. A little jail time – even a soft Robert Downey-style sentence – is appropriate, in my view.
12/9/2001 01:06:11 PM
A Bay Area Mom With Different Ideas: Joanne Jacobs, on Hippie Johnny and the culture that spawned him:
My daughter grew up in the Bay Area; she's exactly the same age as the Tali-boy. Indeed, she's also planning a foreign study trip -- to Oxford, where she plans to study social behavior and history.
Yet her interest in religion and culture hasn't led her to join a murderous cult. Her critical thinking skills are the kind that enable her to resist propaganda. She could not have “found” herself -- easily or otherwise -- in a “similar mess” because she is not a crackpot. And there are a lot more Bay Area 20-year-olds like her than there are goofballs like Tali-boy. Most of them know they'll be held accountable for their actions; the rest learn that eventually, and usually painfully.
12/9/2001 11:38:50 AM
Layne Versus Fisk: Early on after Sept. 11, I was advised by several Lefty friends to read the work of Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky’s favorite war correspondent, in order to find hidden truths about the Middle East and Why They Hate Us. I’ve only dabbled in his work since then, to be honest, but I think it’s interesting to watch the phenomenon of what happens when people actually start paying close attention to the allegedly neglected voices of the Left. Scrutiny is a beautiful thing … for those who really want it.
Anyways, Ken Layne skewers Bob Fisk’s inaccurate media criticism, mocks his wildly off-base war predictions, and calls him a “sanctimonious asshole.” Tim Blair also piles on, as, I suspect, will others.
12/9/2001 11:33:46 AM
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