Category Archives: journalism (examined as writing)

Where have you gone, George Orwell?

 

re

“Defending Samantha Bee isn’t principled. It’s tribalism.”

Op-Ed

By Megan McArdle

The Washington Post

June 2, 2018

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2018/06/02/defending-samantha-bee-isnt-principled-its-tribalism/?utm_term=.f6297e9de421

 

This op-ed piece is hard to read. It’s God awful. Terribly written.

And idiotic. The writer is splitting hairs about nothing.

It is very similar to a Washington Post op-ed piece of three weeks ago by a guest columnist, Sandra Beasley, that I complained about in my post

“My freshman comp instructor would be turning in his grave.”

My freshman comp instructor would be turning in his grave.

That op-ed piece — by a freshman comp instructor, no less — may have been even more poorly written, but at least one could figure out what the writer was trying to say.

 

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Regarding the former piece, i.e., the one by Megan McArdle which is the focus of this blog — Ms. McArdle is a Washington Post columnist — I dare anyone to figure out what she is saying. It’s as if she were asking her readers to consider, through convoluted reasoning which it is tortuous to try to follow, and to answer the question: how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?

Perhaps it’s okay to use the c______ word for Ivanka Trump. After all, can you imagine, she had the nerve to post a photo of herself proudly holding her baby??? But, no, it’s NOT okay, because that would be anti-women, but then again, her father is Donald Trump, so maybe it IS okay.

… In-groups using words to each other isn’t the same as out-groups using those same words. Trump is the president of the United States, which carries a higher responsibility to the nation, and common decency, than hosting a third-rate comedy show.

And if you want to take this opportunity to point out the jaw-slackening hypocrisy of conservatives becoming outraged about this after defending Barr, or Trump … well, just hold on while I find you a comfy chair and some Gatorade.

But after you’ve said all that, what you’re left with is a burning question: So what? Is the behavior of a senile vulgarian with a terminal case of verbal dysentery now the standard to which feminism aspires? That seems rather inadequate. Or have feminists now lost the ability to distinguish between slurs that were reclaimed by the oppressed as terms of affection and one that is hurled as a vile insult into millions of American homes?

Counterfactuals are usually tricky, of course. But I have utter confidence in this one: The answer that feminists would give in that case would be “never.” And if a network had aired such a remark, those same people would be rightfully raising holy hell about it. They would not be looking around to see whether someone, somewhere, had sometime in the recent past made a remark that was even worse.

This is gobbledygook.

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I have a problem with splitting hairs while trying to justify the use of vile insults against one individual or group and, perhaps, excuse it when the target is a different group, depending upon which group is more in “favor” and which group tends to be reviled by the guardians of public virtue. (I guess Ms. McArdle does too, but it is difficult to ascertain what she does think, since she makes the issues the opposite of clear.) And, I cannot understand why anyone is entitled to call Ivanka Trump a cunt (I am not afraid to use the word, since that was the word political commentator Samantha Bee used) for holding a baby in her arms as, presumably, a proud mother.

Don’t get me wrong. I am horrified by actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that separate children from their parents, and I am absolutely against President Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Not sort of. Completely. I regard them as an outrage, an affront to humanity and common decency, and a stain on our nation that will be remembered as such in years to come just as slavery is now.

But President Trump’s daughter holding her baby? C’mon.

 

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There’s another problem that I see with such op-eds, a fundamental one when it comes to journalism and writing per se. The sophistry comes from the writer not laying out the facts clearly and presenting a coherent view, but instead speaking (writing, that is) sort of in code to a particular audience, which she assumes will be able to decode the piece and, from it, extract key talking points supporting whatever position has been ordained. Reason is a tool in the writer’s armamentarium. One that can be used effectively or not effectively. That when it is not used well can have the effect of too much of a good thing. That can produce a jerry-built piece of prose that would be tottering on its foundations, if it had a foundation.

This is a think piece. A nutty one. It is incumbent upon a writer to first establish a substratum of fact, to orient the reader, to acquaint the reader with the issues, and to help the reader get his or her bearings, so to speak, before engaging in Jesuitical reasoning.

George Orwell comes to mind. He went about his writing, as any true writer does, like a workman in overalls, so to speak, at his typewriter. Trying to make his points as clearly and cogently as he could. Backing them up, mostly, with reasoned argument, not statistics or data, or quotations from someone else. At all times, he strove to be clear, and even when he was at his most opinionated, arguing a point strenuously, there was absolutely no equivocation (or duplicity). And, no sophistry. You could not accuse him of that. One can and should accuse Ms. McCardle of the latter, of errors of commission when it comes to writing an opinion piece that is likely to confuse rather than enlighten most readers.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2018

 

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Addendum:

To be fair — or at least to try to be — it appears that Ms. McCardle is saying the left shouldn’t use slurs against the right. But, it’s awfully hard to extract her key points from the fog of her obfuscatory prose. Her concluding paragraph reads:

So feminists, and the left more broadly, now have a chance to prove that they really have learned a lesson from the Bill Clinton debacle. They have a chance to stand as forthrightly and rightly against an offense committed by one of their own as they do against attacks on them. Or they can slink away, muttering about Trump and the patriarchy, and wait for the next generation of feminists to get old enough, and mad enough, to repair the damage they’ve done.

It shouldn’t be so hard for the reader of an op-ed piece to figure out what is being said, which is the case here.

My freshman comp instructor would be turning in his grave.

 

Re:

”Maybe abusive authors don’t belong on my bookshelf. But what about in my classroom?”

by Sandra Beasley

The Washington Post

May 14, 2018

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/05/14/maybe-abusive-authors-dont-belong-on-my-bookshelf-but-what-about-my-classroom/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d649e40e0746

Read this op-ed, if you can bear to — it’s painful to read — and tell me what you think.

 

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I posted a comment on the Washington Post’s comments page in which I stated:

Has anyone noticed that writing instructor Beasley herself can’t write?

“American University, where I often adjunct.” [Adjunct has been ordained as a verb?]

“Most of our craft learning is subsequently channeled through eight to 10 books.”

“I have always emphasized the writer as a fully dimensioned being. What do I do when those dimensional flaws are revealed?”

“That does not make this is a bucolic dawn of justice.”

“These behaviors are not exclusive along heterosexual lines, nor do only cis men commit them, nor have we given proper attention to compounding violence based on class and disability.”

“To put someone on a syllabus is to privilege them with our attention.”

“Are we inviting students into a tall tower from which the world is viewed at a distance? Or are we giving them a compass to navigate toward the horizon?”

“Or choose other authors. To not allow dynamics of our era to inflect how we teach is to gird the argument that literature is a self-contained and impractical pursuit. If your principal hesitation is that you’ll struggle to come up with replacement authors while remaining inclusive, consider that the diversity you’ve congratulated yourself on is merely tokenism in disguise.”

“When you are a writer who learns a beloved author has a dark side, you experience waves of disillusionment. When you teach that author’s work, you feel an additional stab of concern. …”

ENOUGH.

Writing such as this would have horrified my freshman comp instructor. It makes the opaque jargon of sociologists by comparison sound Churchillian.

 

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Regarding the content/message of this op-ed, I thoroughly disagree. Several comments (see below) posted on the Washington Post’s site by readers of Ms. Beasley’s op-ed say essentially the same things I would be inclined to. The comments which follow are theirs and not mine, but their views are in agreement with views of my own:

If you follow the highly flawed logic of this, then by all means throw out all of Lincoln’s speeches or maybe mention of Lincoln in schools–I am totally sure that, by today’s standards, Lincoln would be sexist, homophobic, transgender-phobic and racist too. Oh yes, and implode the Lincoln Memorial too. Suppose Kubrick said something sexist or racist 55 years ago–so “2001” and “A Clockwork Orange” should be jettisoned from film and cultural history? This all sounds a little, no a lot, Orwellian here.

Historical revisionism is not a way to teach. Should we stop talking about the Crusades because some people were abused? What about the Roman Empire? We have to look at people according to the mores of their times. Lots of people were anti-Semitic back then, and approved of black slavery, and treated women like servants.

So we should get rid of the classics then? Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, etc. make some very racially insensitive statements in their books. Who knows, maybe Mark Twain slapped his wife around a bit, it is rumored that Emily Bronte had an incestuous relationship with her brother. Every single writer from the 19th century would fail #me too scrutiny … heck, even the bible would fall short!

Am I the only one beginning to worry that when the right has finished burning all the books they find morally objectionable, and the left has finished burning all the books they find morally objectionable, we’ll be left with nothing at all?

Censorship has always been the one thing both sides have been able to agree on, although for completely different reasons.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

     May 2018