Tina Brown Didn’t Kill Newsweek

With today’s news that Newsweek will officially quit printing at the end of the year, many many critics will pile on to editor Tina Brown, blaming her for the newsweekly’s demise.

And make no mistake, this is a demise. The Daily Beast, which predates and is different from Newsweek, is the Internet face of that enterprise. There is no good reason to split the brand. Even if Newsweek retains some Internet presence, it will shrink to nothing before long.

Brown didn’t save Newsweek, but she didn’t set it on its death march either. Her tenure as editor was more like very buzz-filled hospice care. She tried to reinvigorate it with Girl Power, and that didn’t work. She tried bringing in names like Andrew Sullivan and David Frum to get more subscribers. Again, a flop. [Read more...]

USA! Racists!

Harper’s should just give up on covering Republican conventions. It really has no idea how to do it without looking incredibly stupid.

Shooting Journalists in a Barrel

Yahoo! Sports seriously poses the following question:

“[W]hy is the U.S. so dominant in the sport over the last several years?”

[Read more...]

How to Kill Creationism

In this Splice Today essay, Noah Berlatsky concocts a multiple-choice test:

Adam was married to

(A) Eve
(B) Steve
(C) a dinosaur
(D) a platypus

He proposes — somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I think — that the best way to finish off creationism “as a viable public ideology” would be to “make it a nationwide curricular requirement.”

He professes confidence that “given just a little time and the usual level of resource allocation, our educational system can insure that less than 46 percent of students will pick A.”

Berlatsky writes as a former teacher and a firm believer in evolution. Yet the thrust of his essay is, creationism: really not the end of the world.

He points out that, according to polls and such, plenty of people “believe lots of things that have no particular scientific basis.” To wit: They believe in ghosts. They believe vaccines cause autism. They believe in JFK assassination conspiracy theories. They assign great weight to dicey economic forecasting.

“All of these beliefs,” he writes, “have more practical negative consequences than a belief in creationism.”

In fact, Berlatsky argues, many critics of creationism are really huge snobs. He singles out Katha Pollitt for an essay in The Nation, and calls the piece “basically dishonest.”

Pollitt, he writes, claims “she’s talking about creationism to alert us all to the harm it does. But really it seems like she’s saying creationism causes harm in order to give her an excuse to talk about it. The poll isn’t a wake-up call. It’s just another way to sneer at people she doesn’t like for the horrible sin of being different — more religious, less educated — than she is.”

Fact Checking the Fact Checker

The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker Glenn Kessler has responded to my last post in comments. That was rather sporting of him, but I’m still not certain he grasps what his critics are trying to say.

Kessler commented:

Fyi, you misunderstand my role. I fact check statements by politicians. There is more than enough for me to do there. If you have an issue with Washington Post reporting, then go to the Washington Post Ombudsman. That Post article was widely misinterpreted, especially by the Obama campaign. The facts as presented in the article were not in dispute; it was the interpretation.

As regards “racial pioneer,” in my annual note to readers I wrote that I regretted using that phrase, saying it had been a “poor choice of words.” Mollie Hemingway was certainly among the many readers who made that clear to me.

Couple of things:

1) Glad to hear him concede that referring to well known eugenicist and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger as a “racial pioneer” was a “poor choice of words.”

2) Pretty sure I understand his role. I wrote, “The stated reason Kessler won’t fact check his own paper ‘despite the many pleas of readers to do so’ is that it would be a distraction from the real purpose of his beat, which is ‘checking the rhetoric used by politicians and interest groups.’”

3) I made the case that he ought to have made an exception about the controversy in question. His own paper reported that Mitt Romney’s former financial firm, Bain Capital, had invested heavily in firms that outsourced jobs. The Obama campaign used this to cut attack ads.

4) Kessler writes, “The facts as presented in the article were not in dispute; it was the interpretation,” but the Romney campaign surely disputed the facts and demanded a retraction.

5) In my reading, the Romney camp had a point and I think Kessler quietly concedes that by trying to shift the debate into interpretation. Here is Team Romney’s Powerpoint presentation on the subject.

6) Kessler grants that the points put forward by the Romney campaign are correct, but he explains “The actual article, in fact, does not say that transfers of U.S. jobs took place while Romney ran the private equity firm of Bain Capital.”

7) To which one can only reply “Oh, come on!” The Post report‘s title is “Romney’s Bain Capital invested in companies that moved jobs overseas,” and here are the first two graphs:

Mitt Romney’s financial company, Bain Capital, invested in a series of firms that specialized in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India.

During the nearly 15 years that Romney was actively involved in running Bain, a private equity firm that he founded, it owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas call centers and factories making computer components, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Fact Checker Flashback

Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker blog and column for the Washington Post, has got himself into a bit of a jalapeno. Sean Higgins’s title pretty much sums it up here: “Washington Post Fact Checker: I Don’t Fact Check Our Own Writers.”

The stated reason Kessler won’t fact check his own paper “despite the many pleas of readers to do so” is that it would be a distraction from the real purpose of his beat, which is “checking the rhetoric used by politicians and interest groups.” [Surely it has nothing to do with job security- ed. What is this, Kausfiles circa 2005?]

There are good reasons why Kessler ought to have made an exception here, because the Obama campaign is using the disputed reporting of the Post to bash Romney. But my sense is, most people would let that slide if he actually did a good job with Fact Checker’s core function.

During the Republican primaries, Kessler tried to “fact check” the statements of Herman Cain on Planned Parenthood founder and unapologetic eugenicist Margaret Sanger. He ignored Sanger’s well known comment about pulling up “those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization” and several other prominent statements about racial cleansing through birth control.

Ignoring all of that, Kessler declared Sanger a “racial pioneer” who may, admittedly have had an ever-so-slightly “paternalistic attitude toward African Americans.”

Kessler’s comments spurred Mollie Hemingway to write the single best sentence of spleen-venting media criticism I have ever read: “Dear God, I hope that the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler isn’t asked to fact check something about American slave owners.”

UPDATE: Kessler responds here. So do I.

Rhymes With Spigotry

Well, rats. The plan was to cut and paste a definition of “bigotry” from a dictionary here and to urge readers to keep that in mind in this highly politicized year. I had thought Merriam-Webster would do. However, that dictionary has decided to take a pass.

“Bigotry,” according to Webster, is a) “the state of mind of a bigot” or b) “acts or beliefs characteristic of a bigot.” Great, so who’s a bigot?

The dictionary is slightly more helpful there. A bigot is defined as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”

As definitions go, that’s still too loosey-goosey, yet it gets us closer to the point of this post. And that is this: bigotry has more to do with the way we believe things than the content of those beliefs. We all have a lifetime of accumulated prejudices but those notions do not, usually, descend to the level of bigotry.

Partisans have started using the word bigotry to describe political opponents on pretty thin evidence, when they bother with evidence. They use the word because most of us will feel it necessary to deny the charge.

We will deny the charge because bigotry is an awful condition. It is a potent mix of ignorance and pride, a setting of one’s mind against all evidence and reason, a complete lack of respect for the experience of others.

Many anti-bigots seem to think that the remedy for bigotry is submission. Everybody should change their opinions to conform to those of the critic, who is — at least for the purposes of this expiational exercise — without sin.

That seems to me exactly the wrong way to approach the problem. It’s likely to produce a lot of people who are both smug and bigoted, just about different things.

Since bigotry is primarily about how we believe, its real remedy is humility. Best of luck promoting that one in an election year.