November 23, 2002

Great American Prospect Cri...

Great American Prospect Criticism of Bowling for Columbine: By the delightfully named Garance Franke-Ruta, who has some passionate things to say about the awful crime situation in her home of Washington, D.C. Sample:

My beef with Moore is this: He has managed to make a movie about gun violence in America -- where 53 percent of the gun murder victims are black -- without interviewing a single black victim of gun violence, or even asking black community leaders, who have spent decades successfully trying to combat the problem, for their insights. [...]

Though liberals have doubtless cheered this movie in part for focusing on crazy white people with guns instead of the usual stereotypes about violent minorities, there is no way that a movie that so completely elides the devastating impact of gun violence on blacks and cities can arrive at anything like a reasonable portrait of America, let alone a valid conclusion about the causes of gun violence. There is a point at which an effort not to perpetuate offensive stereotypes turns into an impoverishing erasure of the facts.

The only time I've ever been to D.C. I was mugged; hopefully my visit in early December will be less eventful. And, as I mentioned before, I enjoyed Bowling for Columbine, despite its many flaws.

Posted by at November 23, 2002 08:24 PM

About that Working for Change piece---

Is it usual for reporters to be supporters of the parties they cover?

Do you still think that Bush can't think in complete sentences except when executing people? Did you think that then, or was that just the sort of thing you were expected to say when writing for Working for Change? Is that still your opinion?

Considering how the election turned out, and the can't-let-it-go bile from some of those on the Left, do you think the dullards celebrating a Gore victory would be any less mean or privileged, or for that matter dull?

Can you please tell me whether I'm supposed to be more appalled that:
1) Layne called Nader a "filthy Jew"
2) Layne called Bush a "Nazi"
3) Layne thinks Nader made Gore lose

Sometimes I need help knowing where the outrage is.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at November 25, 2002 07:28 AM

Angie -- I wasn't a "supporter," of the Green Party, though I voted for Ralph. Most Naderites who don't know me assume that I'm a pissed-off Democrat, because I probably wrote more critical articles about Nader during and after the election than any other journalist (though I could be wrong on that score). Is it normal for journalists to vote for the guy they cover? I don't know. My take has always been to let readers know as much about my biases and intentions as is both possible and relevant, and have my work continue to be guided by reportorial, not political, concerns. If you'd like, track down every reporter who wrote multiple articles about the Nader campaign (it's a short list), and compare, and then get back to me.

The article in question was written as an accurate (and hopefully humorous) snapshot of that crazy evening, the high emotions surrounding the election, and the hyperbole that sprang forth, including in me. There is a sort of Godwin's Law theme at work, where everyone's loose and free with calling each other Nazis, fascists, commies and the like, depending on what side they were on during a banal presidential election.

Do I still think Bush can't think in complete sentences, except when executing people? It was a bit of an exaggeration at the time, one intended to reflect the emotions of 3:30 a.m. on election night in Washington D.C., and also to resonate with my readers, most of whom were very split between Gore, Nader, and none of the above. I was never "expected" to say anything in WorkingForChange, aside from hopefully helping people to laugh (I was hired as a humor columnist, and quickly morphed into a contrarian challenging "progressive" nostrums, a campaign reporter, and a columnist about California matters). Though the company has -- honest to God -- a "political department," they never leaned on me, no matter how I pissed them off.

And yes, I am much more impressed with Bush's intelligence than I was before, and less obsessed with the way he carried out the Death Penalty, to which I'm extremely opposed. For the record, I am not, and have never been, impressed with *Gore's* intelligence, and I was a long-standing critic of Clinton/Gore's record on civil liberties and expansion of the Death Penalty.

As for Layne, keep in mind that he knew full well that Nader was anything but a Jew, and in fact is Lebanese. Though it is probably not the thing that most family publications appreciate conveying (and certainly not all readers want to hear), conservations between us might carry any number of quadruple-entendres and double-meanings, especially if it's 6:30 a.m. on the West Coast and he's deep into the booze on election night. In this case he was actually playing off recent criticism of Nader by the The New Republic's Marty Peretz (a close friend of Gore's), which went over the top in portraying Nader as an Arab with dangerous Arab-appeasing ideas. He was also standing next to a dear German friend of ours, who then spent several minutes berating me about being "Hitler" and whatnot. This is how we talk on occasion, and it's not for everyone.

Why quote it? Besides trying to get Ken in trouble, the point was, as I said above, to capture the essence of a bizarre night, the divided emotions of the non-Bush camp, and the attendant hyperbole/Godwin's Law apparent all over the place. That Layne thought Nader cost Gore the election is a conclusion reasonable people can make, I think.

As for imagining the Gore dullards, that's just fine, but that wasn't what happened to me that night. I described nine of the weirdest hours of my life, faithfully, and hoped that it would resonate with, entertain, and even challenge some people. I also knew that it might offend, and I decided the risk was worth it.

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 25, 2002 10:38 AM

Thanks for the reply, Matt. I knew you'd voted for Nader. That was my only non-smartass question. I really don't know whether it's usual for reporters to be supporters/opponents of the campaigns they cover, or whether anything is usual.

I truly didn't know whether you expected your audience to be less shocked at the various slurs than at the idea that Nader had handed the election to Bush. I agree that this is a logical conclusion (about the spoiler), but some people were still in deep denial after the election.

I'm glad you don't think Bush is a complete nitwit anymore. Neither do I. I didn't think much of him when he was elected, either. I'm happy I was wrong.

This sounds a lot like "you just don't get gonzo journalism", which is true, I don't. What I do get is that it sounds a lot like a mild version of some of the crap that many on the left are still spewing. Hey, maybe they're still drunk! Maybe they're all just gonzo (or whatever you want to call it), and we've been taking them literally! It was all for entertainment!

I shall endeavor to be more gonzo in the future. I'll write a lot of wild shit, and then when called on it, I'll say, "You just don't understand the times, man! It was the '00s/New Year's Eve/my birthday/Wednesday! It was crazy! Everybody was like that!"

I really don't mean to get all clench-jawed humorless PC on yo ass, Matt. I just think that you can't count on your readers to appreciate the intricacies of your relationship with whoever you were talking to. 'Course, mebbe yer Werkin fer Change readership is some o' them so-fisty-kates I been readin' about, whut instinctively smile indulgently at a little bigotry (and I don't just mean Layne's apparent bigotry), unlike those bozos who read "family" publications.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at November 25, 2002 11:43 AM

The first-person praises I've heard for BFC all included a mention of the fact that Moore nailed Charlton Heston by eliciting a mention of race from him, apparently revealing some deep dark racist streak in the old man. I suspect any temptation to treat race as a serious issue in the movie died after that film was shot.

Posted by: Brian Jones at November 25, 2002 12:01 PM

Angie -- no troubles, we just talkin. And Layne is about the furthest thing from a bigot I've met. I didn't mean to imply that WorkingForChange is fancy-pants or something -- it's not, it's a lefty "progressive" publication, with all that goes with it. I just meant to say that it is not normal *anywhere*, with the possible exception of weblogs, to report on such conversation. Many WFC readers were upset, being highly attuned as they are to possible evidences of bigotry.

And, you know, this wasn't any self-conscious attempt at "gonzo," nor is my response intended to make you or anyone feel like a hick (though, it should be pointed out, the "gonzo" tradition is grounded squarely in hicksville). It was written in the way and for the reasons that I described, and people generally loved it or hated it. It certainly *is* a departure from my usual anal literalism, but I felt I would be doing readers a disservice if I didn't capture what a truly bizarre evening that was, warts and all. I am sincere when I say I don't expect everyone to cheer or understand my choices, but at the same time I would do the same again in a hearbeat.

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 25, 2002 12:09 PM

Whatever a "hearbeat" is....

Posted by: Matt Welch at November 25, 2002 12:10 PM

And Layne is about the furthest thing from a bigot I've met.

This, I figured. So I was just real confused.

I didn't mean to come on too strong with the hick thing. I just feel like a hick a lot. Cause I is one.

Whatever a "hearbeat" is....

It's a lov beat, it's a goo vibration, right?

Posted by: Angie Schultz at November 25, 2002 01:07 PM

"The first-person praises I've heard for BFC all included a mention of the fact that Moore nailed Charlton Heston by eliciting a mention of race from him, apparently revealing some deep dark
racist streak in the old man."

Call me nutty but I have trouble believing that the guy who is in some of the pictures here and here has any sort of a "racist streak" against Blacks.

Posted by: Henry Hanks at November 25, 2002 05:45 PM


Another point of the violence, at least here in Los Angeles, is the racial component. According to data as of July 31, 47% of the victims wee Hispanic and 45% were black. Of the suspects ID'd by the cops, 44% were Hispanic and 40% black. 5% were white and 11% others. reflecting a pattern that has remained steady for the last few years. Detectives had identified 158 suspects in these crimes, of whom 69 (44 percent) were Hispanic and 64 (40 percent) were black. There were eight whites (5 percent) identified, as well as 17 (11 percent) of what LAPD record keepers label as "others".

In other words the violence stats have been completely covered up by ALL local media. When I was a young man in New York and the Mafia was running wild the charge was made that "who cares if a bunch of shitty dagos kill each other?" as a reason the gang violence kept going. From the stats now it seems that white Los Angeles has pulled away, most probably because we are sick of being called racist scum every time we speak out, and are just letting the blacks and Hispanics kill each other.

This crime wave would never be tolerated on the West Side or in the Hills surrounding the San Fernando Valley, but in places like Sylmar, Pacoima, Watts, and East LA the adults won't act.

Posted by: Howard Veit at November 26, 2002 05:03 PM

Would you believe that Garance Franke-Ruta was my cousin? I'm just kvelling.

Posted by: Ted Frank at November 26, 2002 07:39 PM
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