THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF OKRENT! Is the Times a liberal rag? Okrents answer is lighter than air:
MONDAY, JULY 26, 2004
HUMES DECLINE: Brit Humes decline was on full display in yesterdays Fox News Sunday roundtable. Asked to discuss the 9/11 report, he quickly began to spin Sandy Berger:
HUME: There is interesting detail in there, Chris, about the events leading up to 9/11, things we didn't know before. There's some interesting information that may bear on something we will talk about later, which was former national security advisor under President Clinton Sandy Berger's leaving the National Archives with various documents stuffed into his socks and pants and other places, and that sort of thing.Obviously, Hume doesnt know if Berger left the Archives with documents stuffed into his socks and pants. But he couldnt wait to recite this prime propaganda. And when Chris Wallace finally asked about Berger himself, Hume tossed off a weak speculation, then recited the propaganda again:
HUME: The other thing that we ought to note about this is—the explanation that this was, quote, "sloppiness" really makes no sense. Sloppiness is if you accidentally brush something into your briefcase or take it out with other files that you didn't mean. You don't accidentally or sloppily stuff stuff into your pants and socks.Good boy! Hume doesnt know if this occurred. But he does know the current hot RNC spin—and he knows what hes paid for at Fox.
Humes performance was appalling. He played Fox viewers for rubes, suckers, fools. But equally appalling was the performance of pseudo-moderator Chris Wallace and the rest of the Potemkin panel. Wallace never made any attempt to challenge or clarify what Hume said, and neither did the rest of the all-stars. For the record, Mara Liasson offered a special Profile in Cowardice. She spoke right after Humes second comment—and needless to say, she knew that Hume was pimping a piece of unfounded propaganda. But she also knew that she mustnt say Boo. Liasson never challenged what Hume had said.. Juan Williams and Bill Kristol also played silent roles in letting Humes pimpery stand.
So gaze on a deeply corrupted press, a press corps paid to pimp propaganda! Hume was throwing swill to the herd. And Wallace and Liasson knew their role well. Their role was to stay very quiet.
So how does the Times cover social issues—the issues on which Okrent focuses? [I]f you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, youve been reading the paper with your eyes closed, Okrent says. Liberal bias, of course, is a major topic, especially in our endless propaganda wars; for that reason, Okrents piece is surely destined to be quoted and spun forever. But Okrent shows no sign of being able to limn the question he has brought forward. In a word, the scribe is lighter-than-air. Hes simply not up to this challenge.
How silly is Okrents attempt at analysis? In his attempt to describe the Times unbalanced reporting, he even complains about the models he sees in the papers fashion coverage. (They look like theyre prepared to murder or be murdered, he says.). Soon after, he quotes a reader—the only Times reader he ever quotes—who offers a deathless complaint:
OKRENT: If you're like Jim Chapman, one of my correspondents who has given up on The Times, youre lost in space. Wrote Chapman, Whatever happened to poetry that required rhyme and meter, to songs that required lyrics and tunes, to clothing ads that stressed the costume rather than the barely clothed females and slovenly dressed, slack-jawed, unshaven men?To state the obvious, Chapmans questions are largely inane, and Okrent doesnt try to say how they relate to the question at hand. But then, Okrent seems prepared to credit almost any red-state-sounding complaint. [A] creationist will find no comfort in the Science Times, he even complains at one point. But should a creationist find comfort in science reporting? Okrent doesnt address this obvious question. Hes too busy rushing off to his Greatest Example—the Times troubling coverage of same-sex marriage, which he calls a perfect example of the papers unbalanced, leftward slant.
Has the Times offered balanced coverage of same-sex marriage? We dont have the slightest idea. Nor do we know after reading Okrent, because his treatment of this topic is as absurd as the rest of this lightweight column. According to Okrent, Times reporters have engaged in implicit advocacy of same-sex marriage; indeed, potentially nettlesome effects of gay marriage have been virtually absent from The Times since the issue exploded last winter. But heres his attempt to list the issues the Times has rudely ignored:
OKRENT: The San Francisco Chronicle runs an uninflected article about Congressional testimony from a Stanford scholar making the case that gay marriage in the Netherlands has had a deleterious effect on heterosexual marriage. The Boston Globe explores the potential impact of same-sex marriage on tax revenues, and the paucity of reliable research on child-rearing in gay families. But in The Times, I have learned next to nothing about these issues, nor about partner abuse in the gay community, about any social difficulties that might be encountered by children of gay couples or about divorce rates (or causes, or consequences) among the 7,000 couples legally joined in Vermont since civil union was established there four years ago.Well try to ignore Okrents weirdest complaint—that the Times hasnt helped him learn about partner abuse in the gay community. Consider some of the other topics he says the Times has ignored.
First, Okrent praises the San Francisco Chronicle for reporting a bit of congressional testimony about child-bearing patterns in the Netherlands. (As it turns out, this was testimony by the Hoover Institutes Stanley Kurtz, on April 22.) Okrent complains that the New York Times didnt cover this appearance. But the New York Times was hardly alone in failing to report this testimony. Indeed, the openly conservative Washington Times didnt report the testimony either. According to a Nexis search, neither did the conservative New York Post, or the conservative Boston Herald, or any other paper in the country—conservative, liberal or moderate. (The Associated Press took a pass on this too.) How strained, how tortured is Okrents analysis? The Chronicle was the only newspaper in the country reporting on this marginal testimony. But Okrent puts this topic at the top of his list, telling readers that its absence from the New York Times shows how unbalanced the newspaper is. As an attempt at real analysis, this is foofaw, pure and simple.
But Okrent is just getting started. Second, he praises the Boston Globe for explor[ing] the potential impact of same-sex marriage on tax revenues. Question: Can this possibly be a serious element of the same-sex marriage debate? In fact, a Nexis search makes it hard to tell what reporting Okrent refers to. On April 4, the Globe did present this single sentence: The impact that gay marriage will have on the states tax revenues is also uncertain: The Department of Revenue could not provide an estimate of what it might cost to grant to gay couples certain tax benefits available to married couples. But that, again, was a single sentence, closing out a long report on a different subject. On June 23, the Globe went further, devoting three sentences to this crucial topic. Here was the papers blockbuster passage, at the end of another long piece on another unrelated topic:
RAPHAEL LEWIS: The Congressional Budget Office yesterday released an analysis of the potential budgetary effects in the event that gay marriage is legalized in all 50 states. Both Bush and Kerry oppose same-sex marriage, and it appears unlikely that gay marriages will be allowed in all states in the near future.Simply put, this is total trivia. Nor is it clear how this trivia tilts; why is the Times a shill for gay marriage when it fails to tell its readers that same-sex marriage might increase tax revenues? And again, the failure to report this matter hardly singles out the Times. Again, a Nexis search indicates that the Globe was the only paper in the country reporting this highly uncertain finding. Nor can we find any sign that the AP reported this CBO finding.
How does the Times cover social issues? How has the Times covered same-sex marriage? Wed love to see a serious attempt to answer those questions. But questions like those are hard to answer, and Okrent isnt up to the task. He makes a sweeping assessment of the Times, followed by a utterly lightweight analysis. His report will make for great agitprop. Its worthless as anything else.
But there is a bit of good news here. As he finishes, Okrent tells us that hes leaving for a well-earned, month-long vacance. Im going to spend August in a deck chair, he types, at the end of this hopeless column. Alas! To judge from this utterly lightweight piece—a piece that will drive propaganda forever—we get the sense that the great public ed spent July in that deep deck chair too.
WHATS IN A WORD: But then, how silly is Okrents analysis? Heres another of his complaints. Yes, he actually wrote this:
OKRENT: The Times has chosen to be an unashamed product of the city whose name it bears, a condition magnified by the been-there-done-that irony afflicting too many journalists. Articles containing the word postmodern have appeared in The Times an average of four times a week this year—true fact!—and if that doesnt reflect a Manhattan sensibility, Im Noam Chomsky.Gasp! Four times a week! Suitably troubled, we ran the word in the Nexis archives, and wed have to say we were underwhelmed by our results. In the past month, the word postmodern has appeared in the Times fifteen times, in line with the troubling tale Okrent tells. But four of the fifteen usages occurred in a weekly, repeat capsule review of The Stepford Wives, that loud and shiny postmodern farce. Heres another typical example of the way the Times used that bad word:
KISSELGOFF (7/16/04): Trained in Chinese opera and modern dance before he came to New York in 1995, Mr. Shen works out of a sensibility that owes nothing to systems of thought that have lingered in American postmodern dance since the 1960's.Why did Anna Kisselgoff make this troubling statement in her review of a Lincoln Center performance? We dont know, but well take a wild guess; she may have said this because Chinese-born choreographer Shen Wei works out of a sensibility that owes nothing to systems of thought that have lingered in American postmodern dance since the 1960's. Is Kisselgoff supposed to avoid such statements because the word postmodern troubles Okrent and his rhyme-loving readers? Here at THE HOWLER, we dont know what postmodern dance is either. But we dont write troubled letters to Okrent, or complain that the Times is a liberal newspaper which shows liberal bias by its use of that word. We just dont read the reports about dance! Essentially, Okrent is saying that the New York Times should exit the Lincoln Center.
For the record, other papers use this troubling word too. The P-word appeared six times last month in the Washington Post—which provides much less cultural coverage than the Times—and it made seven appearances in the Los Angeles Times. Of course, none of this has a thing to do with whether the Times is a liberal newspaper which shows liberal bias and misreports the social issues. Almost anyone would understand this—except for the great lightweight Times.
Okrent asks important questions. Its too bad this lighter-than-air public ed is too light to tackle such questions.