SEND IN THE CRABS! We were struck by the sorry, crabbed way the Post profiled Sotomayor: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MAY 27, 2009
SEND IN THE CRABS: In large part, journalism is a culture. Major news orgs select certain types of people to fill their prominent jobs. The outlookthe cultureof these people then shapes your nations discourse.
In the past week, the Washington Post has seemed determined to display the emptiness of its culture. Today, we were struck by the way the Post went about the task of profiling Sonia Sotomayor.
We started with the predictable blather of the Posts empty lad, Dana Milbank. As the sea rushes toward the shore, Milbank turnedas swallows turn toward Capistranoto tales of the nominees lack of brains and unfortunate bossy demeanor. Some have said these things in portraits, Milbank predictably said:
In many portraits, Sotomayor has been described differently, of course. But Milbank ran in the wind of Jeffrey Rosen. Translating just a bit creatively: Our kinds of people have big brains. Their kind is bossyand Spanish.
Is the Post a bit kerflubbled by Sotomayors puzzling ethnicity? Consider the papers formal profile of the nominee. The profile appears on this mornings front page, written by Amy Goldstein.
Presumably, Goldstein cant be blamed for the profiles focus. Presumably, the focus was assigned by an editor. But on the front page of the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes a profile of Sotomayor which treats the nominee as a full person (click here). By way of contrast, the Posts sole formal profile, written by Goldstein, bears this headline: ETHNIC IDENTITY.
At the Post, Sotomayors ethnic identity isnt part of her being; at the Post, its all she wrote. The Times presents a much wider focus; Goldstein offers a crabbed, unflattering portrait which considers Sotomayor in one headlined way. For starters, consider the way these dueling profiles start:
Theres nothing wrong with exploring Sotomayors ethnic identity, of course. Stolbergs profile explores that theme too. But in the Times, Sotomayor is a person who is also Hispanic. In the Posts formal profile, Sotomayors ethnicity is the headlined focus. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Goldsteins focus on ethnicity features a peculiarly trivial, unflattering selection of anecdotes and recollections.
To Milbank, Sotomayor is bossy and lacking in brains. Goldstein doesnt do a lot better. Before long, were being told that Sotomayor serves queso blanco, a Spanish white-cheese dish, at lunches with her law clerks in her chambers. Soon, Goldstein is oddly picking and choosing events from the early years:
Goldstein tells us that Sotomayor was elected to the student Senate at Spellman, but forgets to say she was valedictorian of that first coed class. (Were assuming this long-time claim is accurate. Stolberg repeats it in the Times.) In the Times, Stolberg actually tells us what Latino student affairs were like at Princeton when Sotomayor was a student. Goldstein is content to assure the world that the lady wasnt a bomb-throwera sadly tone-deaf formulation. But then, Goldstein has a strikingly narrow range of interest in the ladys behavior:
According to the Post, Sotomayor did two things in her three years at Yale; she published a note about Puerto Rican statehood, and she filed a complaint that alleged discrimination. Before long, Goldstein marvels rather dumbly again about the ways of those people:
A close reader could say that Goldsteins but is the most intriguing word in that passage. But Goldstein quickly moves to more serious stuff: Sotomayor once corrected someone who mispronounced her name! And darlings! Oh Our God! When she isnt focused on tedious spelling corrections, she has numerous Latino friends!
Stolbergs profile in the Times is much longer than Goldsteins. (4887 words versus 1429.) In fairness, this gives Stolberg a chance to flesh out a much fuller portrait of Sotomayor. On the other hand: Given the brevity of her piece, Goldstein wastes a striking amount of time on the sorts of silly trivia to which her papers assassins have often turned, in the past twenty years, when defining targeted pols. Members of many ethnic groups have come to New York with pride in their heritagewith love for their parents, with respect for their values, with respect for their parents names. Members of many ethnic groups have gently corrected mispronunciation of these namesand continue to do so today.
Goldstein had only 1400 wordsand she decided to include this incident. Well remind you of one feature the journalistic/political disasters of the past twenty years: When Post writers have included such trivia in their profiles, theyve often done so to define targets. In our view, readers should always check their wallets when such trivial matters appear.
Goldstein ends with a recollection from one of Sotomayors high school classmates. In this recollection, we leave the world of silly trivia and approach a larger human dimension. What kind of person is Sotomayor? Her at THE HOWLER, we have no idea. But Goldstein burned a lot of time with a lot of silly, crabbed ethnic trivia. What kind of person is Sotomayor? As the game ends, we hear this:
Soon, this role model would be correcting spelling errors and mispronunciations and maintaining numerous Latino friends.
Faulkner suggests a larger story, a story Stolberg explores. By the way: Why do people of certain ethnicities feel theyre constantly bumping on limits? Why do their lives never become fully post-ethnic? Perhaps for this reason: No matter how these people may soar, they keep encountering silly piffle of the type littered through Goldsteins profile.
This is the Posts formal front-page profile. It limits itself to one primary focus, and takes a crabbed view when it does.
Direct from the hiss-spit files: Would the following paragraph be different at all if the highlighted sentence werent there? Is it just there for its hiss-spit factor? We dont know. Were just asking:
What did Morgenthau mean by that statement? What would an extraordinary case look like? In this profile, we get no ideabut the statement is oddly deflating. That said, it seems that times have changed in New York. Apparently, a murderer who swung onto balconies to rob and shoot people was run-of-the-mill in those days.
Avatar of Post culture: To Milbank, Sotomayor is lacking in brains. Of course, the same silly scribe landed on Gore two years ago for using too many big words in a speech. Yep! Milbank bellowed when Gore used such smartest-kid-in-the-class formulations as the marketplace of ideas and the exchange of goods and services (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/07). But the script on Gore was: Thinks hes sooo smart! The script on Sotomayor is different: Just isnt brainy enough!
Its hard to be too dumb for the Post. But Milbank is selling this notion.
To all appearances, this paper plans to sink beneath the waves with this gruesome culture in place. Silly tales get told about targeted polsby a race of world-class Antoinettes.