Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Damage Control! Damage Control!

So Ben Adler over at Newsweek is now trying to establish some critical distance between himself and the rather damning conversation over whether or not "terrorists live in caves", as his colleague Dan Stone asserted last week.

According to Adler, it's not as if Stark or Michael Isikoff or Kathy Jones or whoever believe this sort of thing. Oh no. They're just talking about how the media looks at it.

To which I can only respond: "pull the other one. It's got bells on it."

I'll give you credit for having made some of the more sensible comments. But they ARE the media, Ben. In a situation like that, being in that position, your colleagues (especially Daniel!) should have taken great pains to point out that these are not their beliefs, but the ones that they see floating in the aether. (Or however that works.)

If your group HAD done so, then it wouldn't look utterly self-serving for you to claim as much now. Your colleague Jan Interlandi might also not look quite so bad for saying that "we reserve the label 'terrorist' for foreign attackers". And Isikoff wouldn't have looked like an idiot for thinking that a terrorist must be "equipped and dispatched by a foreign power": an assumption which is not only ahistorical but shows how deeply the media has internalized Republican post-9/11 talking points.

Come on. It's pretty transparent that you're leading the defense here because you were one of the very few to come out of this looking like anything but a schmuck. You are taking one for the team. Good on 'ya. It still doesn't change a damned thing; even if Stone was being facetious, there's no way that Isikoff was.

It wouldn't do them any favors to claim that they were being facetious, either. This is a deadly serious issue. Why the hell WOULD Stone be joking around about it? Why would he be busting out the sarcasm, knowing that it doesn't come across well in text and that the discussion was going to be published? Why the hell would anybody have thought it was appropriate? Sure, maybe if the discussion was happening on Fark or 4chan or something, but you people are professionals working at NEWSWEEK. Get it together.

Here's Glenn's Greenwald's reaction:
Time constraints prevent me from addressing this, except to say that it's hard for me to believe that Adler actually read what I wrote, since the points he claims I overlooked were ones I expressly addressed, and the aspects of their discussion which he claims I omitted were ones I explicitly included. Moreover, Adler's denial that Newsweek was reluctant to use the term Terrorism for Joseph Stack is strange, given that the whole point of their deliberations, as the magazine's editor defined it, was to have "a discussion over here about the aversion so far to calling the Austin Tax Wacko a terrorist," and the very first response, from Managing Editor Kathy Jones, was to explain what she called her "rule of thumb" "handy guide" that the word is only for foreigners protesting "the American government," but not used for Americans. Adler's response is one of those which negates itself, and I'm content to allow readers here and elsewhere to compare what Newsweek actually said to what Adler now claims they said and decide for yourself (see also: this insightful objection to Newsweek's discussion from The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates).
That Jones bit is really the crux of it. Newsweek had already decided that it was going to equate the word "terrorist" with "foreigner". That wasn't humor or hyperbole; it was a simple statement of policy. Hirsh stating that "Al Qaeda co-opted terrorism after 9/11" wasn't humor either. It was denial of Newsweek's own culpability for equating "terrorist" with "foreigner".

What I find truly amusing, though, is that it feels like Adler was more responding to my outrage than Glenn's. Glenn is right. This doesn't really respond to his points at all. Perhaps I'm not the only one who thought that Stone et al deserved to have scorn poured on to them, but Glenn really did have a broader critique of agency in media that went ignored.

Ah well. It's Newsweek. Perhaps I shouldn't have expected any better. The last decent thing I read there was N'Gai Croal's old gaming blog. It's just too bad that Adler was trotted out to try to cover for 'em.

Edit: Kathy Jones also whines "it's not my opinion, it's just how people in the media describe things!" Well, guess what? YOU ARE THE MEDIA. You're a managing editor at one of the biggest newsweeklies in the country. You know damned well how important an issue this is, and you know how likely it is that such a comment will get misconstrued. You know that the ugly mood in America makes it quite likely that this sort of violence may become more commonplace if it is not roundly condemned, and you did not write word one to condemn it.

Indeed, the best Kathy could do is say that it was "a loaded term". That's true. It is. Your magazine uses it anyway. Your choices about whether and when to do so are therefore fair game, and you don't get to assert critical distance to try to save yourself.

Re-Edit: Case in point for how terrible Newsweek is: one of their articles blaming the public for all of America's ills. It's the sort of lovely, contrarian "I can't get in trouble for blaming everybody because I'm blaming everybody" articles that journalists adore because it won't get them in trouble or threaten their access to the Big Cheeses that ARE largely responsible for America's current plight. The kind that always includes paeans to bipartisanship that never actually existed, and which only encourages the Dems to hand the store over to the Republicans that much faster.

It includes the sentence (quoted verbatim) " Grade inflation is so out of control in the nation's high schools that 43 percent of college-bound seniors taking the SATs have A averages—even though SAT scores have remained flat or drifted slowly downward for years."

That SAT scores may have been renormalized did not even occur to them. That the biggest issue is actually that too many kids are getting perfect scores would probably blow their fool heads off.


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