Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Slough of Despond

with 4 comments

Okay, start here:


The above is a link a friend of mine sent me yesterday, and that I put up on FB near the end of the afternoon, because really–

Well, go read it.  Ignorance in the media.  But not the way you think.  And not the way we usually talk about it.

And now that I have had a chance to read it a couple of times, let me give you some notes.

1) Because this was written by Mollie Hemingway for The Federalist, it’s not the usual thing about how incredibly dumb everybody is at Fox News. 

All of the howling boners it highlights–and there are a lot of them, and they are very much howlers–come from mainstream or liberal/left leaning publications, cable stations, and blogs.

These include The New York Times.

If there is one thing that is screamingly unattractive about liberals/progressives/the Left in America today, it’s the endless nattering about how THEY’RE smart and the other side is stupid, THEY’RE educated and the other side is ignorant, THEY’RE for science and the other side is against it–

Well, if that kind of thing drives you anywhere near as crazy as it does me, this is the place to go. 

It was a write named Kate Zernike writing in The New York Times who earnestly explained that “the rule of law” is ” Hayek’s term for the unwritten code that prohibits the government from interfering with the pursuit of “personal ends and desires.”’

It’s one of those things where you just sort of sit there and don’t know what to do next.

2) The above anecdote about Kate Zernike and her apparent complete innocence of the history of political science comes under the subhead “No Liberal Education,” and that is surely the LARGEST part of the problem.

The people who wrote these absolutely cringe-making pieces of nonsense were almost certainly several steep rungs of academic achievement above even the best of my kids, they lack all cultural context.

They google things–well, most of them do–but what they receive in answer connects to nothing else in their heads. 

They can’t understand their own research because in order to understand it they need a complicated web of referents that take in the history of ideas in the West.

A huge packload of these people, including Ben White at Politico, became unhinged over a statement by David Brat, the guy who beat out Eric Cantor in the primary, that ‘”‘The government holds a monopoly on violence.  Any law that we vote for is ultimately backed by the full force of government and the military.”‘”

Everybody got so worked up declaring that this was fascism personified that they failed to notice that it actually stated a position on government of which they all heartily approved.

Not only is it a commonplace about modern government that every high school freshman used to pick up in civics class, it’s the principle that would allow government to ban all the guns.

I believe that there are many cases in which autodidacts can and do replicate a liberal education for themselves. 

But the advantage of going to school is supposed to be that the institution will give you a framework, an overarching narrative within which these ideas developed and only within which they can be meaningfully understood.

Or at the very least give you a sort of rote-memory acquaintance with the various stock phrases and ideas, so you don’t embarrass yourself this way.

3) The real issue here is what this writer didn’t bring up and none of the comments on FB ever mentioned.

It’s not just that these writers wrote what they wrote, mind-numbingly ignorant as it might be.

It’s that their editors saw it and read it and passed on it, apparently without protest.

Since I don’t believe that the editors of The New York Times and Politico are really okay with appearing like ignorant idiots to millions of people, I must assume they didn’t know what was wrong with this stuff either.

Which means we have not just an upcoming generation of arrogance and ignorance, but arrogance and ignorance that at least goes a full generation back.

And out major media are being run by people with less extensive educations that I had in the 9th grade.

I get asked sometimes to defend the idea of a liberal education–it’s usually phrased as a “liberal arts education,” but I’ll rant about the misnomer another time.

Let me just note for the moment that one thing an actual liberal education will do for you is save you from making these kinds of mistakes. 

It might even lift you out of the fog of confusion that must be what the world looks like to people who think the rule of law is the secret unwritten code of proto-fascits and gun ownership rates are the same as gun violence statistics and, you know…

Make it possible for you to actually get a clue.

Written by janeh

July 11th, 2014 at 9:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Slough of Despond'

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  1. Brava. What more could possibly be said.


    11 Jul 14 at 10:06 am

  2. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I enrolled (again) in college, taking a Journalism 101 class in the summer session. Journalism ended up being my minor.

    Since it was summer, we had class 4 days a week, and every morning, the professor would give a 10 or 12 question quiz. It could be anything, ANYTHING, from the day’s newspapers. (There were two in Detroit at the time) Who is the president of WhatTheFuckistan? What did the US Secretary of State say to the trade envoy from Scotland? How were hog futures doing, and what baseball record was set yesterday?

    This http://j-school.jrn.msu.edu/halloffame/briggs-bunting/ was the professor, a working journalist at the Detroit Free Press. On the first day of class, she told 30 of us that to get a C in her class, we’d have to produce work that could appear in a small town local paper. B-grade work could appear in the Detroit Free Press or the News. To get an A, you had to write something that could be printed in the New York Times, Time Magazine or another national publication. The second day, 13 people showed up. By the end of the class, there were 8 of us still showing up for those quizzes.

    This may have been the class that taught me the most useful things I carried on with me. Like how to call anyone and get them to talk to me. Or how difficult it is to get a story right. (as a result, I have no faith in the accuracy of anything I read that purports to be news)

    Anyway, after the extremely high standards of Jane Briggs-Bunting, it’s sad that anyone with an actual journalism degree can be so bone-ignorant. This may be the downside of the blogosphere…any yammerer gets a global soapbox. Journalists used to be held to a higher standard, but with laying off all the fact-checkers, I guess there isn’t anyone who’s paid to care anymore.


    11 Jul 14 at 11:37 am

  3. I saw Jane’s post on Facebook and posted a comment that 50 years ago university students were rioting with demands for “relevant” courses and claims that history is the study of dead white men. Now we are seeing the effects of that.

    Jane wrote If there is one thing that is screamingly unattractive about liberals/progressives/the Left in America today, it’s the endless nattering about how THEY’RE smart and the other side is stupid, THEY’RE educated and the other side is ignorant, THEY’RE for science and the other side is against it

    Perhaps I have the wrong “friends” on FB, but I’ve noticed the same thing. Endless posts about some Republican saying something silly and never a post about Democrats. Given the large number of Democrats and Republicans, I refuse to believe that only Republicans say silly things. What I want to know is if this bias is because the people posting are liberals or because the media is only reporting Republican gaffs.


    11 Jul 14 at 5:34 pm

  4. jd, certainly some bias involved. I glanced through a book “debunking” Rush Limbaugh a few years ago. At one point they quoted him as calling some Federal project “a $30 billion boondoggle” and announced that they had proved him wrong twice, because (a) it was “only” $27 billion, and (b) the man receiving the money said it wasn’t a boondoggle. At that point the book went back on the rack, but there are plenty more like it, selling quite well, though not to me.

    If you want stupid liberal reporter stories, you’ll have to listen to stupid liberal reporters yourself, because they certainly won’t report their own blunders, and may not even notice them. A high price for dubious amusement, I’d say.

    But I think your point and Jane’s are well made. Junior people–the ones actually writing the columns–were raised to let emotion take precedence over facts, and however prestigious their schools may be, they seem to have given up on insisting their graduates be educated some time in the late Sixties or early Seventies–which means the senior people who ought to catch this sort of nonsense don’t have the education which would let them.

    It’s also possible the senior people simply don’t care about the accuracy, and don’t think their readers will either, so long as the article slams conservatives. One of the dangers of a hyper-partisan newspaper is that accuracy ceases to matter.

    If you don’t have a readership upset by this sort of blatant ignorance, insisting on an educated staff might not be enough. And where would you go for that educated staff? It’s going to be a long road back.


    11 Jul 14 at 9:07 pm

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