Category: media

The theme today is: You’re under arrest

I’ve written previously here about my frequent viewing of police and detective TV shows.

This is about half of my formula (I’ve already written about the other half) for TV-watching in my young days — cool theme music and cool wheels.

The ’70s TV Detectives Facebook page asked for members’ five favorite TV detective themes of the ’70s.

I replied that I couldn’t limit myself to five. Maybe five per network, starting with NBC …

… then CBS …

… then ABC:

I didn’t watch all of these. (I wonder how many people even remember Lorne Greene from anything after “Bonanza,” including the original “Battlestar Galactica,” the aforementioned “Griff” — whose theme music was undoubtedly better than the series — or “Code Red.”)

Responses to the original post also ran afield of both the decade and the specific genre, which I tried not to do here. So my list doesn’t include non-’70s (“Dragnet” ended in 1970 and “Mannix” and “Ironside” in 1975) nor non-detective shows, such as …

(Technically “Hawk” could have fit on the list given that, while it originally ran on ABC in 1966, NBC ran it in the summer of 1976 to capitalize on the popularity of Burt Reynolds, who by the way drove a Pontiac in “Hawk” 10 years before “Smokey and the Bandit” and its Trans Am.)

Why this group? you may ask. (Yes, you may ask.) Other than possibly an affinity for the key of B flat (“Adam-12,” both versions of “Johnny Staccato,” the start of “McCloud,” “Chase”), you might notice that most of these have horns of some kind. That was the usual arrangement before synthesizers started being used.

Anything written by Lalo Schifrin is of the highest quality, including non-police or non-TV stuff:

Now if someone would develop a detective movie or TV series where the hero drives a Corvette and Schifrin writes the theme music (he is still with us at 88) … that would be nirvana.

The continuing devolution of my line of work

Michael Tracey:

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when America’s leading paragon of journalistic virtue was widely regarded to be the ancient Washington Post columnist David Broder. What aroused such admiration for Broder was his reputation as a steadfast defender of an idealized doctrine of “objectivity” — that is, the doctrine of disinterested detachment which had long been the professional code of mainstream (or “establishment”) US journalism.

It was as though Broder floated angelically above the riff-raff, enabling him to impart sagely judgment from on high while his lessers fought amongst themselves over such trivial matters as their mutually-contradictory moral and political commitments. Broder never revealed his opinions on anything of real consequence — particularly opinions that could be connected to an ugly partisan affiliation. That would’ve been sacrilegious. So to discern his views, one had to pick up on the subtle clues he’d intermittently drop.

For example, shortly after the Iraq War was launched, Broder wrote in his syndicated column: “There is little the Democrats can do to shatter the reputation for strong leadership Bush has built.” Declining to straightforwardly disclose whether he supported or opposed the invasion, Broder’s paramount goal was always to maintain the perception of being perpetually “objective” — and supporting or opposing a preemptive invasion would’ve been a grave violation of this creed. So instead, he’d just offer up these little nuggets of analytical wisdom, like the public image of George W. Bush supposedly being a “reliable wartime commander in chief,” usually with no thought given to his role in creating that image.

Chuck Todd adeptly summed up Broder’s basic function upon his death in 2011, gushing: “He was a protector, I felt like, of the institutions of Washington. In a good way.” Of course, this inadvertently revealed Broder’s true ideological disposition. Not “objectivity” per se, given that humans can’t be perfectly objective in the first place, but rather a determination to serve as the guardian of the US governing institutions he so revered, together with the people who inhabited those institutions. Then-Senator Joe Lieberman also weighed in to mark the occasion, eulogizing Broder as a “journalistic giant” whose “work embodied fair-mindedness and objectivity.”

Needless to say, Joe Lieberman’s standard for what constitutes “fair-mindedness” and “objectivity” is probably not the standard that every journalist should aspire to.

There is no doubt that what might be called the “Broder worldview” was once very influential in US journalism and media culture. But… Broder has now been dead for over a decade. And even before his death, the emergence of the blogosphere in the early 2000s had dislodged the primacy of that worldview with an onslaught of ruthless skewering. Now, in 2021, the genre of journalism Broder represented could only be seen as comically antiquated.

And yet when one listens to the up-and-coming crop of media content-producers air their grievances about the industry — or explain what they see as the injustices holding them back in the journalism field — they often seem to be railing against a Broder-style status quo that has largely ceased to exist. Like there’s an army of Broder acolytes impeding them from expressing their true selves. It’s almost as if they need to resurrect the ghost of Broder in order to have some adversary to posture as opponents of, even as their preferred ideology has consumed the entire media ecosystem.

To test this thesis, some crafty young troublemaker should try applying for a “newsroom fellowship” at, say, the New York Times and write in the application material that their only ambition for the job is to neutrally and dispassionately report on the problems facing America in a kind of indifferent Broder-esque vernacular. Let’s see how far you get with that. Extra credit for neglecting to mention whatever structural inequities you believe yourself to have overcome by dint of your identity status. For even more fun, try praising the legacy and accomplishments of Donald Trump in anything like the language Broder had once used to extol the wartime prowess of George W. Bush. The most the New York Times might offer you is an opportunity to provide a hostage-like comment before they publish an article apocalyptically tying you to some horrifying new white nationalist/QAnon splinter group. …

NOTE: I promise this Substack is not going to be 100% dedicated to meta-analysis of the journalism industry. But it’s simply true that the journalism industry has just emerged from a massive five-year convulsion brought on by the rise of Trump (and other interrelated factors), and is in the process of constructing a new set of “norms” and expectations for itself. How the people who run the industry conceive of their role has downstream effects on the whole body politic. And once you’ve gotten anything like an inside view of how narratives get constructed, what kind of people ascend the career ladder, and what kind of pathologies dominate media institutions, it’s hard to look away.

Some of this is a tad ironic for me personally, because I was once as staunch a critic of the “objectivity” doctrine as anybody. I believed it genuinely was corrosive, outmoded, and stultifying. In an article for The Nation, just a few months after Broder’s death, I wrote:

Formalized journalism training also lends academic credibility to mainstream normative standards, the most notorious being the objectivity decree, which is still seriously entertained as a plausible ideal in journalism departments. To get a job in the “traditional” industry, one former journalism major told me, students are urged to maintain an image of unsullied impartiality, both personally and professionally. This means never taking part in public political events, never affiliating with any partisan organizations, never posting Facebook status updates that might indicate your opinions on matters of substance. Studiously avoid any demonstration of being invested in how the world works, lest you fail to meet the requirements for journalistic seriousness.

But today, anyone with a modicum of self-awareness would have to acknowledge that the media industry dynamics I’d described circa 2011 have been all but obliterated. Case in point: during the first wave of protests and riots last summer after the death of George Floyd, I was informed that journalists at major publications were being expressly authorized by their management to engage in the protests as participants.

These weren’t eccentric left-wing outfits, mind you, but major name-brand publications. Some of the directives were made public, others were not. However you feel about the propriety of those directives, there was no question that the “norms” which had once been thought to govern professional journalistic conduct had radically shifted. Couple this with it being taken for granted within media circles that Trump was not just bad, not just unseemly, but the modern incarnation of genocidal fascist tyranny. If that was your true belief (and there’s a reasonable debate to be had over the extent to which the proponents of this belief actually believed it), of course this would necessitate a drastic upheaval in the kind of journalistic philosophy you subscribe to. Anything less would be a dire failure in the face of an unprecedented, existential emergency. The call to #resist was the final nail in the coffin for anything resembling Broder-style objectivity.

And yet, the ascendant class of journalists today do not seem to have updated their critique. They still imagine themselves pitted against a Broder-like status quo which, in reality, has been almost entirely overthrown. A prime example is Wesley Lowery, the highly-touted journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize in his mid-20s for reporting on race and policing issues. In a New York Times op-ed last summer, Lowery denounced the media for clinging to “a model of professed objectivity,” which he viewed as particularly indefensible in light of the protest activity going on at the time. Covering the protests accurately demanded not “objectivity,” he inveighed, but a new ethic of what Lowery called “moral clarity.”

The overwhelming praise Lowery’s op-ed received at the time from fellow journalists was itself very instructive. Apparently, it was widely believed that a long-overdue “reckoning” with journalistic objectivity was needed in June 2020 — as though the first thing that comes to mind when you look back on the last 4-5 years is the media’s unflinching commitment to “objectively” covering the tenure of President Donald J. Trump.

Per the Lowery formulation, most journalists had “professed objectivity” with respect to Trump, and also “professed objectivity” with respect to “the views and inclinations of whiteness.” Perhaps only a journalist could actually believe this.

Media figures like Lowery were and are campaigning against a mentality that is simply not meaningfully operative anymore within the industry. So what are they trying to achieve, exactly? What they so obviously want is for their values — which generally align with the already-dominant left/liberal monoculture — to be the new governing standard, replete with speech codes and various shortcuts engineered to effectuate their own professional and social advancement. What they want is power. It’s not particularly complicated. Nor is it a coincidence that these same people tend to be most fluent in “therapeutic trauma jargon,” which provides a turbo-charged boost in their maneuvers to bludgeon editors and managers into submission.

Lowery helped pioneer this new trauma jargon at a critical moment when he proclaimed that a different NYT op-ed last June would “imperil the lives” of his “loved ones,” and that he was therefore melodramatically canceling his NYT subscription. As usual, the emotional terrorism-style gambit worked. The NYT swiftly dumped opinion editor James Bennet, and the “moral clarity” framework entered further into mainstream consensus. The more the tactic is used, the more obvious it is that invoking “trauma” or related concepts puts all the leverage into the hands of the people claiming psychological aggrievement. And it also allows for the circumvention of the ordinary evidence-building exercises that, one would have thought, are a central component of trustworthy journalism.

Lowery himself is now employed by some kind of web-based division of 60 Minutes. It would be no surprise if he were eventually elevated to Steve Kroft status as a prime-time anchor. At which point he’ll be preaching about the need for “moral clarity,” with the full institutional weight of CBS behind him, for a mass audience, with no contradiction ever detected.

There are already signs that his ideology is infiltrating the fabled old institution. If you genuinely believe that Ron DeSantis is the next iteration of Trump, and you genuinely believed that Trump ushered in a fascist movement in the US, then you likely believe a 60 Minutes segment grossly distorting DeSantis’s statements regarding COVID vaccine distribution in Florida was justified. “Moral clarity” demanded it, or something.

The paradox of this mercenary mentality is that there was always more than enough about Trump’s governing record, persona, and so forth to legitimately criticize. Which made the amount of energy the media dedicated to incessantly exaggerating or, in some cases, outright fabricating anti-Trump criticisms all the more bizarre. But “moral clarity” required interminably launching into five-alarm-fire mode over the most maximalist version of the threat Trump supposedly posed, with basic expectations of accuracy and proportionality tossed out the window.

How might we arrive at a journalistic ethic that rightly leaves hoary David Broderism in the dust, without giving itself completely over to “activism” imperatives, which can be just as distorting? “Activism versus advocacy” might be a helpful heuristic. The two categories could be distinguished in the following sense: a journalist can “advocate” a certain moral value or policy prescription, or even “advocate” supporting a certain political candidate, without prioritizing those “advocacy” goals to such an extent that consciously obscuring the truth and/or ignoring countervailing evidence becomes justified. Everybody’s got preferences, so you might as well just be open about them. The difference between “advocacy” and “activism” is that the latter gladly subordinates the prerogatives of journalism to the prerogatives of activism.

Negative externalities of an excessively “activist” mindset could include, for example, fostering a political and media environment wherein journalists systematically fail to document the most widespread and destructive riots in the US in at least 50 years. Which, as my own reporting demonstrated, is exactly what happened last summer. If you doubt this, I’ll pose a question that I’ve posed again and again for the past nine months, with no satisfactory response ever received: have you seen any comprehensive accounts in a ‘prestigious’ national media outlet rigorously detailing the full nationwide impact of the Summer 2020 riots, pondering their long-term political and cultural significance, and otherwise ensuring that they are properly memorialized in the historical record?

You have not — because this new breed of “activist” journalism and its attendant ideology has an entirely novel epistemology associated with it, whereby the overriding principle is always and everywhere the attainment of certain activist goals. (Summer 2020 activist goals: dismantle white supremacy and defeat Trump.) The goals which you’re striving toward can never be falsifiable upon the discovery of contradictory evidence, either.

No one’s saying that journalists can’t “advocate” for certain societal reforms like any other citizen, but what’s destructive is when their “activist” commitments — such as “intersectional oppressions” are a defining intractable feature of American life, or “white supremacy” infects every facet of interpersonal relations — are taken to be so sacrosanct that they’re put beyond the reach of ordinary critical inquiry. (And if the journalists do encounter critical inquiry, a dramatic sputtering meltdown ensues.)

There’s also the question of what commitments, exactly, are animating the current crop of activist journalists who purport to be so disillusioned with the industry consensus — i.e., whether the adoption of those commitments is a byproduct of their own autonomous intellectual endeavors, or if they’ve just been habituated by status-conferring institutions into this new, quasi-activist mindset. A very interesting essay published last week in Tablet by Blake Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, captures some of this ambiguity. Smith offers a theory for why his students — drawn from the same types of elite cultural classes that dominate the journalism industry — are in his estimation such conspicuously poor writers.

They “write poorly because they have been stripped of agency,” he posits. “What they have instead of an internal locus of control, the ability to form their own personal standards and adhere to them, are stories, usually written by other people on their behalf, about how by dint of hard work and personal talent they have surmounted powerful and malevolent social structures.” The same could easily be said about admittance into the media field. It’s not as though these activist commitments always stem from a deep independent study of the philosophical or political issues at hand — in fact they’re often mindlessly imbued by an environment which makes affirming them almost obligatory to obtain entry into elite institutions. Including media institutions.

With this in mind, it’s worth parsing out a distinction between objectivity — which was always an unattainable standard — and impartiality, understood as a facility which enables you to dispassionately evaluate evidence and facts, separately from your own personal preferences, with an eye toward conveying maximal truth. I am often gratified by readers/viewers/followers who say they appreciate my ‘content,’ even if they find they don’t agree with me politically. Balancing these competing incentives requires a high degree of transparency in order to ensure trust. For example, I’ve always been happy to tell people who I voted for, rather than concealing that information like a state secret. (I’m curious if Wesley Lowery would do the same.) And I’m also not asserting that there’s some impermeable bright line between the “activism” and “advocacy” categories; the distinction is always going to be a tad fuzzy. But there has to be a happy medium somewhere between obsolete David Broderism and the new all-activism-all-the-time mindset, otherwise much of the country is going to completely tune out, and for good reason.

Because when the alternative to that stodgy old form of unattainable objectivity is to simply repeat the opinions and demands of foundation-funded activists (whose life experiences are virtually indistinguishable from most journalists’), there may be a bit of a problem. To take just one recent example, only after a minor uproar did CBS News change a headline from “3 ways companies can help fight Georgia’s restrictive new voting law” to “Activists are calling on big companies to challenge new voting laws. Here’s what they’re asking for.” This kind of gave away the game: the CBS digital editor in charge of writing that headline evidently saw their job as fulfilling more-or-less the same purpose as a foundation-funded activist’s job.

On top of that, who even cares what “activists” are “calling on” corporations to do? And why is it the job of CBS News to merely repeat what those activists are saying without qualification, thus giving them the kind of amplification that they crave? Any activist group can get its message out by self-publishing on the internet. This sort of journalism’s only function is to signal institutional agreement with activist demands and, furthermore, an outlet’s editorial desire to assist in promulgating those demands.

Looking out on the present media landscape, one can only conclude that this is Wesley Lowery’s world, not David Broder’s. But pretending that Broder still reigns supreme is important. Because in 2021, more power accrues when you falsely present yourself as the plucky underdog.

The zenith of wrong, and the opposite of journalism

Mike Rowe posted this before the premiere of his new Discovery Channel show, which is on Sundays at 9 Central time:

P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” which is almost as good as Oscar Wilde’s version, who put it like this: “There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Both men could turn a phrase, and both men had a point. With Discovery premiering Six Degrees this Sunday at 10 PM, you’d think that any surrounding press would be a good thing. But neither Barnum or Wilde lived in these extraordinary times, where anyone can post anything from anywhere, and reach millions of people anytime. Many of you have called the attached article to my attention, along with a very misleading headline I would have ignored, once upon a time, but cannot, in this day and age. Here’s a link to the original article, if you’re interested. https://bit.ly/3wNrkGc Or, if you prefer, you can scroll down and enjoy the same copy, along with my gentle attempts to set the record straight. Either way, better strap in. This one’s a doozy…

MIKE ROWE’S NEW DISCOVERY SHOW IS BIG OIL-FUNDED PROPAGANDA

Reality show host Mike Rowe’s new series Six Degrees, which is currently streaming on Discovery+ and will soon air on television, begins how I expected it would: with him on screen in a t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap, and smiling wryly. It’s classic Rowe, posturing as an avatar for the “average” American.

Mike Rowe: Hi there, Dharna. First of all, thanks the shout-out. TV audiences are hard to find these days, so I appreciate the mention. Secondly, I don’t “posture” for anyone. For better or worse, the guy you see on TV is me, and my opinions are my own. Thirdly, Six Degrees is not “propaganda funded by Big Oil.” Your headline is demonstrably false, and since Discovery informed you in writing that the sponsors had no creative or editorial control over the show, I’m curious to see how you will justify such an inflammatory claim.

DN: The conceit of the show is to tie seemingly unrelated events together. In the first episode, Rowe traces the history of the dating app Tinder back to the invention of the horseshoe. He explains that in the 1700s, a young blacksmith melted horseshoes to create the first iron plow, and that decades later, Australian outlaw Ned Kelly used an iron plow to create the first suit of armor. Kelly then became the subject of the world’s first feature-length film, which contributed to the rise of the movie industry. Hollywood made actress and inventor Hedy Lemarr famous. One of her inventions was a precursor to wifi, which we use to surf dating apps. Rowe describes this all circuitously, stopping along the way for jokes and whiskey shots.

MR: I hate to nitpick, Dharna, but Ned Kelly was not the first guy to make a suit of armor. He was just the first guy to make one from an iron plow, in order to survive a shootout. Beyond that, you’ve done a fair job describing what Six Degrees is – a history show for people who don’t watch history shows. I’m flattered to learn that you were engaged enough in the premise to watch the whole thing. Thanks.

DN: It’s dumb but seemingly innocuous—until you get to the end.

MR: All righty then. I retract the “flattered” part

DN: “Six Degrees is sponsored by the oil and natural gas industry. Why? Because oil and natural gas connects everything,” Rowe says at the episode’s conclusion. He goes on to explain that Lemarr’s inventing process was funded by the fortune her boyfriend made in the oil fields, Howard Hughes. I knew that Big Oil funded Six Degrees—the blog Reality Blurred caught wind of the sponsorship in January.

MR: “Caught wind?” To your point, Dharna, I am literally on camera, thanking the sponsors in most transparent way possible. How much digging do you suppose the journalists at Reality Blurred had to do in order to “catch wind” of this bombshell? Like you, all they had to do was watch the show. Which you can do again, this Sunday on Discovery at 10pm Eastern.

DN: In fact, I started watching Six Degrees because I’d read it was funded by the American Petroleum Institute and Distribution Contractors Association. Still, watching this unfold on screen, I nearly fell out of my chair. It turns out Rowe shouts out the oil and gas industry in some capacity in every episode. I couldn’t believe he was so up front about it.

MR: It’s easy to be upfront about relationships when you’re not ashamed of them. It’s also polite to thank your sponsors, especially in cases like this. Six Degrees wasn’t produced by Discovery – it was produced by me. I needed help to kickstart production and started looking for companies that wanted to support a history show about the surprising ways we’re are all connected. I found several interested parties, including API and DCA. Obviously, one of the things that connects us all is our shared reliance on affordable energy, so they were an easy fit. But again – neither API nor DCA had any creative or editorial control over the show. All they got was a mention from me, and some prime space in the show to run their ads.

DN: But as jarring as it was to hear him praise the industry that is largely responsible for frying the planet, this sponsorship makes sense. It fits right in with the industry’s current favorite media strategy: Reminding us that their products are used in everything.

MR: With respect, Dharna, your view of the energy industry seems awfully one-sided. Obviously, no one who lives on this planet wants to see it “fried,” including me. But no objective person can look at the history of fossil fuels, and not conclude that the petroleum-based products and natural gas have lifted more people out of poverty than any other product in the history of the world. I realize that’s a hard thing to admit, but the fundamental challenge of feeding a hungry planet could not be met without fossil fuels. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be moving toward cleaner alternatives with all due speed – we absolutely should, and from what I’ve seen, we absolutely are. But we shouldn’t deny the role that fossil fuels play in our daily life or try to divorce ourselves from oil and gas today. Doing so would destroy life as we know it. Agriculture, transportation, healthcare, clothing, textiles, space exploration…everything would be impacted. Even the millions of people currently reading this exchange, could not do so without the screens and keypads made possible with petroleum-based products, not to mention an electrical grid, powered in most cases by natural gas. Pointing that out is not “propaganda.” It’s just the truth. An inconvenient one, perhaps, but the truth, nevertheless.

DN: “They want to impress upon us that they’re responsible for making a lot of the cool shit we use, starting with when you wake up in the morning and you take a hot shower, and then when you fry an egg, and then when you turn on your iPhone,” said Kert Davies, director of Climate Investigations Center. It’s true that across the U.S., water heaters, stoves, and electricity that keeps your phone charged largely run on fossil fuels. Yet none of it has to. We have the technology to power each of those things with clean energy. Delaying that transition would lock in catastrophic climate damage. That’s what makes Rowe’s show and other fossil fuel PR campaigns like it so insidious.”

MR: How can the energy industry’s support of Six Degrees be insidious, when, to your point, I’ve been completely transparent about the nature of the relationship? And how can anyone compare a show like Six Degrees with an actual PR Campaign for the fossil fuel industry? As you were told by Discovery before you published your piece, API and DCA had zero control over the content of my Six Degrees. Zilch. Obviously, they have total control over their own marketing and PR, but that’s a very different situation. Texaco sponsored The Metropolitan Opera for 63 years, but never once did they tell the conductor what to conduct, or the singers what to sing. Also, no one is arguing that the transition to renewables should be delayed, and no one is suggesting that fossil fuels won’t be eventually replaced or seriously diminished. But if Kert Davies really believes that we can “transition” to clean energy with the flick of a switch, then you should ask him for some proof. From everything I’ve seen, we’re decades away from any scenario that will allow us to feed the world as we do, move about the country as we do, and live our daily lives in the way we’ve become accustomed…without fossil fuels.

DN: “If all you know about this industry, if all you see, is that that they sponsor a cool show you like, you’ll probably subconsciously think, ‘how bad could they be?’” said Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard researcher who has studied the fossil fuel industry’s misinformation campaigns.

MR: Geoffery Supran seems to have a firm grasp of how advertising works. API and DCA would probably prefer not to sponsor programs that people hate. But tell me, Dharna, how is reminding people about the role of petroleum products in their daily life a “misinformation campaign?” Geoff may not like the ads, but does he dispute their veracity? It doesn’t sound like he does. It doesn’t sound like you do, either. In fact, it doesn’t sound like anyone does.

DN: Davies was a little more, uh, direct: “The point of the ads is, back off, don’t fuck with us, you need us. It’s all to do with social license.”

MR: Obviously, Kert Davies is a no-nonsense fellow, unafraid to tell it like it is. But, like Geoff from Harvard, Kert doesn’t dispute the inherent truth of the ads. My question to you is, why would anyone on your side of the argument complain about the ads at all? Fact is, we are ALL addicted to life with fossil fuels. If you and Geoff and Kert want people to break that addiction, I would think the first thing you would want to do is illustrate the extent of our collective dependency. These ads do that. Maybe not in the tenor and tone that you would prefer, but the basic message is clear – we all rely on petroleum-based products. Maybe Kert doesn’t like to be reminded that he couldn’t fire off his super edgy hot-takes without the natural gas that powers the electrical grid that powers the Internet he relies upon, along with his trusty computer, made possible by the petroleum-based products he despises? Maybe that’s why Kert curses so much?

DN: Though the blatant shilling for Big Oil on the show is shocking, it’s not surprising.

MR: Again, Dharna, not to nitpick, but I’m afraid that “shill” doesn’t mean what you think it means. A shill is a somebody who publicly gives credibility to a person or organization without disclosing that they have a relationship with the person or organization in question. As you’ve already “uncovered,” I’ve done nothing to hide my relationship with the sponsors of Six Degrees, airing this Sunday on Discovery at 10pm Eastern. You, on the other hand, have gone out of your way to deliberately mischaracterize that relationship. Why? Did you write a similar article when PBS accepted funding from Exxon/Mobile to help pay for Masterpiece Theater? Did you accuse PBS of airing “big oil propaganda” when Koch Industries began sponsoring NOVA? If not, how come? API and DCA sponsored Six Degrees – a show over which they had zero creative and editorial control – before it even had a home. Again, you knew this before you posted your article. But you proceeded nevertheless.

DN: Rowe has a history of pro-fossil fuel messaging, and according to tax forms obtained by Earther, his nonprofit has raked in six-figure donations from the likes of Koch Industries. (He declined to comment for this story through Discovery+, and Earther did not receive a response from his nonprofit.)

MR: Again, Dharna, Earther didn’t “uncover” anything. mikeroweWORKS is a 501-c3. Our tax forms are on our website, along with a list of major contributors. There, in black and white, you can find me thanking all of our major supporters, in much the same way PBS does. As for the old, “he declined to comment” cudgel, who are you kidding? The night before you published this, my office received three questions from you, and a heads-up that your “deadline” was the next morning. One of your questions, was “Why would I accept money from a company like Koch?” Had you given me time to reply, I would have done so with another question. “Why should a public charity not accept support from anyone who wants to support that charity’s purpose?” It seems to me, Dharna, that you have compiled a list of companies that you have deemed “the enemy.” Koch and API and DCA appear to be on that list. It further seems clear that your real purpose is to attack any public figure who dares to consort with those companies.

DN: Before Six Degrees, Rowe made a name for himself as the host of Dirty Jobs‚ a show with an obvious—if shallow—appeal as an ode to the American working class, particularly if you think of the working class as exclusively white dudes in hard hats. On each episode, he worked in different thankless and sometimes gross professions, including a roadkill collector, sewer inspector, and “avian vomitologist,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

MR: Sort of. Dirty Jobs also highlighted dozens of entrepreneurs who prospered as the result of learning a skill. Yes, many of the jobs we featured are underappreciated and kind of gross, but none of the people we profiled saw themselves as victims. (Even the white guys in hardhats.) They were all proud to share their work with a wide audience. Which is why you’ll be delighted to know that Dirty Jobs is back in production. (That’s why I was unable to drop everything last week and answer your questions in a timely manner. I was building a tugboat in Alabama, which is a story unto itself.)

DN: This was an unlikely career path for Rowe, who before the show began was an opera singer—far from the stereotypical conception of a good ol’ rugged American dude he portrays on TV. But Dirty Jobs gave him a certain credibility as an advocate for forgotten workers.

MR: Actually, it was a very likely career path. I started hosting shows for Discovery back in the early nineties. Dirty Jobs just happened to be the most consequential, thanks perhaps to the shows “shallow” appeal. Now it is true that back in the early eighties I sang with the Baltimore Opera Company, but if you think that vocation is inconsistent with Dirty Jobs, you don’t know anything about opera…

DN: In 2008, Rowe launched mikeroweWORKS, a nonprofit promoting vocational training for blue-collar jobs. The organization provides scholarships for job training programs in fields including automotive technology, HVAC, manufacturing, and diesel technology, which in itself isn’t a bad thing. But the foundation is premised on the idea that the reason people are struggling to find good-paying work in these sectors is because of a skills gap for those in blue-collar fields—a thoroughly debunked myth pushed by industry leaders to make workers feel underqualified for positions, which research suggests helped companies to put more conditions on their job listings and offer lower rates of pay. mikeroweWORKS also fails to grapple with the reality that amid the worsening climate crisis, many of these fields will have to undergo major changes.

MR: Well, at least you spelled mikeroweWORKS properly. You’d be surprised at how many do not. Unfortunately, the actual goal of my foundation is not as you suggest. We exist primarily to debunk the stigmas and stereotypes that discourage millions of people from even considering a career in the skilled trades. At mikeroweWORKS, we value ALL forms of education, but we emphasize those opportunities that don’t require a four-year degree and offer scholarships to those who wish to pursue a skill that’s in demand. This month, we’re accepting applications for another round of work ethic scholarships and offering a million dollars to qualified applicants. (Apply at mikeroweworks.org.) As for the skills gap, I believe it to be very real, as do countless employers, government officials, and economists. It has been disputed by a number of activists, but certainly has not been “debunked,” much less, “thoroughly debunked.” Saying otherwise is a bit like saying, “because the science is settled!” when someone dares to question the increasingly popular claim that the planet will come to an end in the next decade. It’s just not persuasive.

DN: In the years since starting his nonprofit, Rowe started a parallel media career as a pundit, frequently appearing on Fox News to openly speak out against regulating oil and gas extraction.

MR: As a rule, Dharna, whenever I speak on television, I speak “openly.” But a “parallel media career?” That’s funny. Yes, I’ve appeared on FOX to discuss a number of topics related to my foundation, but never for compensation. I’ve also discussed those same issues on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, NPR, PBS, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, The Daily Show, Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning. Couple years ago, I appeared on Bill Maher’s show and Glenn Beck’s show in the same week and watched people on both sides of the aisle tell me how I’d “lost their respect” – not because they disagreed with me, but simply because I had the nerve to sit next to someone they didn’t approve of. That’s what you’re doing, Dharna. You’re expressing your “shock,” and clutching your metaphorical pearls because I expressed my gratitude to an industry you don’t like. But you’re also making things up. I have never spoken out against regulating oil and gas extraction. Like your headline, that’s a complete fabrication.

DN: Despite his posturing as a friend of the working class, Rowe doesn’t have much to say how the industry mercilessly lays off employees while paying shareholders or that working in the fossil fuel industry comes with notoriously dangerous conditions for workers and long-term health risks. Instead, he suggests safety concerns are overblown.

MR: Now you’re concerned with jobs? You mean, like the thousands of jobs that evaporated when Keystone was cancelled? Who’s “posturing” now, Dharna? Seems to me, if you really wanted to shut down all fossil fuel production, you’d be more supportive of my attempts to help those workers get trained in other areas. At mikeroweWORKS, that’s exactly what we do. We assist people who wish to learn a skill that’s in demand. We do not hold their hands for the rest of their lives or insert ourselves into disputes between labor and management. Regarding safety concerns, I’ve never said they were “overblown.” I’ve only suggested that companies who boast that “safety is first,” put themselves in an awkward rhetorical position with respect to common sense. (If safety is truly first, then why ask your people to assume any risk at all?) I believe that any effective occupational safety program must emphasize the role of personal responsibility. I think too many safety programs emphasize compliance instead. Compliance is important, obviously, but it’s not a substitute for personal responsibility. My position on this, informally called “Safety Third,” has been embraced by lots of companies and organizations.

DN: He’s also failed to show much support for labor organizing in the energy sector, even though they could desperately use his support. Federal data shows rates of unionization in the coal, oil, and gas sector is dwindling.

MR: I’m confused. Are you upset because I don’t share your contempt for fossil fuels? Or are you upset because I haven’t adequately supported the workers in the industry you want to eliminate? Either way, you seem to be shifting away from criticizing me for things that I do, to criticizing me for things that I don’t do. It’s not enough to produce a decent history show that the whole family can watch, it needs to be a history show with a list of sponsors that meet your approval. It’s not enough to start a foundation that’s assisted over 1,000 people, it needs to be a foundation that helps EVERYONE, and concerns itself with ALL aspects of labor. As my Pop used to say, “there’s no pleasing some people.”

DN: “He’s to the oil and gas industry what Ronald Reagan was for General Electric, a charming pitch man,” Adam Johnson, the co-host of the podcast Citations Needed, wrote in an email.

MR: Adam Johnson has provided you with a very poor metaphor. Ronald Reagan was indeed GE’s pitchman. Thus, they told him what to say, and he said it, in exchange for money. But this is different. I don’t work for the energy industry. API doesn’t pay me to defend them, like Earther pays you to attack them. They don’t control anything I say or write, including this. They’re just a sponsor and an advertiser of a show that I produce. You’ll notice this on Sunday at 10pm, when Six Degrees premieres on Discovery at 10pm Eastern Time.

DN: That’s likely no accident. As Johnson’s podcast uncovered on a 2019 episode, Rowe’s foundation is funded by anti-regulation groups including the Distribution Contractors Association, auto parts manufacturer Ford-Mogul Motor Parts, a subsidiary of the British multinational energy firm Centrica, and perhaps most damning of all, the massive fossil fuel and petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries. A document the Climate Investigations Center found on Guidestar shows that Koch Industries and the Koch Foundation have together donated more than $1 million dollars to Rowe’s foundation since it was founded.

MR: Again, sorry to nitpick, Dharna, but there’s no such company as “Ford-Mogul Motor Parts.” There is a company called Federal Mogul Motor Parts, and yes, they have supported my foundation in the past. But again, that’s hardly a secret. All the companies who support my foundation are publicly listed in numerous places, including my website and my Facebook page. And yet, as you did with Reality Blurred, you go out of your way to credit Adam Johnson with “uncovering” some kind of smoking gun. With respect, a child with an iPhone and I WiFi connection could have “uncovered” all of this, then cut and pasted a more accurate version of the facts than what you’ve provided.

DN: Johnson described Rowe as the “greatest anti-worker avatar money can buy,” because he’s “someone who a lot of working people genuinely love … but who is 100% against their interests.”

MR: I’m not sure I understand how awarding millions of dollars to help train the next generation of skilled workers is “anti-worker,” and I’m unclear as to how my efforts over the last twenty years to call attention to the critical role of skilled labor is “against the interests” of skilled workers, but okay. Adam Johnson is entitled to his opinion. But people should know that Adam Johnson has a very specific agenda. Like you, he does not solicit opinions that challenge his own. Like you, he conflates the support of a non-profit foundation with the upside of a business deal. Like you, he doesn’t know the difference between a sponsorship and an endorsement, a shill and a spokesman, a TV show and a piece of propaganda. It’s no wonder you asked him for a quote.

DN: Rowe’s an especially useful ally to the fossil fuel sector because he continually perpetuates the age-old conservative myth that environmental regulation must come at the expense of jobs, despite mountains of evidence that the opposite is true and that a just transition for fossil fuel employees is possible (and needed).

MR: Nonsense. If the fossil fuel sector sees me as an ally, it’s probably because I’m a public figure who has not declared them to be an enemy of the people. Or maybe, it’s because I’m not afraid to acknowledge that fossil fuels have saved millions of lives, and dramatically improved my own? Or possibly, it’s because I try to look at both sides of the climate debate before declaring the matter to be “settled?” These days, you don’t have to be paid by the fossil fuel sector to be their ally. You just have to be someone who doesn’t condemn them while continuing to use the products they make possible.

DN: “The dirty truth about fossil fuels and the petrochemical industry is that it is really dangerous dirty work all the way from the frack fields and wellheads to the refineries and chemical plants,” said Davies. Workers get sick and die. Fenceline communities get sick and die. There are cancer clusters, increased asthma and other health problems associated with petrochemicals, plastics and pesticides.”

MR: That might be the “dirty” truth, but it’s certainly not the whole truth. Like anything else, there are risks and challenges related to the incredibly complicated process of extracting energy from the ground. But that doesn’t change the simple fact that nothing in the long history of human achievement has done more to pull more people out of poverty than easy access to an abundance of affordable energy. Obviously, that comes with a price, and I agree that the price is steep. But no one is arguing against lessening that price. No one is arguing against the pursuit of cleaner alternatives. And no one is “standing in the way” of renewables. Progress is happening as we speak.

DN: In Six Degrees, Rowe doesn’t take an explicitly anti-renewable stance.

MR: That’s because I’m not “anti-renewable,” Dharna. Far from it. I’m just aware of the way technology evolves. We didn’t go from the horse and buggy to the Tesla overnight. Neither will we transition from fossil fuels to some equally affordable and efficient alternative overnight. The fact is, there is no hope for wind or solar or hydro without a massive investment from the very companies represented by API and DCA. You can’t build a windmill without petroleum products. Nor can you manufacture solar panels. Nor can you ship them. We’ll never transition to renewables by vilifying the very forms of energy we currently rely upon.

DN: In an episode connecting sheep to how we do our taxes, he speaks with a solar installer and asks him when the energy source will “become not just an alternative but one of the go-to choices.” But even then, he doesn’t say anything about why solar might be preferable because oil and gas have created an existential threat.

MR: Again, you’re criticizing me not for what I said, but for what I didn’t say. It’s not enough to showcase a successful solar farm – you want me to condemn fossil fuels while doing so. You’re criticizing me for failing to do what YOU would say, if YOU were hosting Six Degrees with Mike Rowe, premiering on Discovery this Sunday at 10pm. Is that…reasonable? Also – that guy in the episode you claimed to watch was not a “solar installer.” He owned the whole operation. He might have looked like a common worker to you, but he’s actually a very successful entrepreneur, leading the charge in the direction you want to go.

DN: “API is hitching its wagon to a show that appears to promote discourses of fossil fuel essentialism and fossil fuel solutionism,” Supran said.

MR: Let me get this straight. Geoff believes that API – the largest trade group in the energy industry – has “hitched its wagon” to the success of a show they have no control over? A show that premieres on Discovery, this Sunday at 10pm? With respect, I think Geoff might be overestimating the power and reach Six Degrees. But I guess we’ll see.

DN: In another episode of the show, for instance, Rowe says electricity is “made possible by spinning turbines—turbines powered by wind and solar, but mostly by oil and gas.”

MR: Translation: “In another episode, Mike Rowe says some more things that are absolutely true that we really wish he wouldn’t say.”

DN: “In this way, the audience is not-so-subtly indoctrinated with the idea that fossil fuels will inevitably be essential for the foreseeable future, which is a political judgement, not a scientific necessity, and a recipe for climate disaster,” said Supran.

MR: I didn’t go to Harvard, Dharna, but I’m pretty sure that stating a fact is not a form of “indoctrination.” Most electric cars run on electricity that’s generated from turbines powered by natural gas. That’s a fact, and people should know it – especially people who think their electric vehicles elevate them to some new level of social responsibility. When I read quotes from guys like Geoff and Kert, I’m reminded that the biggest impediment to persuading more people to get behind cleaner forms of energy, is the arrogance of those who label ideas they don’t like as “propaganda” or “indoctrination.” These are oftentimes the same people who fly in private jets to exotic destinations to condemn the dangers of carbon footprints with other enlightened stewards of the land. Those people, in my opinion, are profoundly unpersuasive. And their hypocrisy only bolsters the resolve of those who oppose them.

DN: In an email, a spokesperson for Discovery+ said that Six Degrees is the only program on the network that is funded by advocacy or trade groups. Though he said he could not disclose exactly how much money the American Petroleum Institute or Distribution Contractors Association contributed to the production of Six Degrees, he said that the groups didn’t influence the show’s content. “This sponsorship was simply to get production started,” he said. “There was no creative input or influence on the series.”

MR: So then…why the hatchet job? If Discovery actually told you that API and DCA had no creative input whatsoever and only helped get production started, why then, would you claim that the entire series is “propaganda funded by Big Oil?” You knew that your headline was false before you wrote it, but you wrote it anyway. That’s reckless.

DN: But it’s clear why the industry itself would want to sponsor this kind of endeavor now. Public concern about the climate crisis is growing. The Biden administration has imposed new regulations limiting extraction, and organizers who correctly state these moves are insufficient are pressuring officials to do far more. There’s also the reality that climate change poses an existential threat if left unchecked. And the fastest way to reduce carbon emissions is to wind down the fossil fuel industry while simultaneously protecting the workers Rowe says he stands in support of. From Six Degrees, though, you’d never know that phasing out fossil fuels is a necessary step to securing working people a livable future.

MR: What’s fascinating to me, Dharna, is the way you react when TV shows don’t reflect your view of the world. I hate to break it to you, but there are lots of programs out there that do not take a position on what needs to happen in order to secure a livable future for working people. Likewise, there are many networks, (all of them, in fact,) who accept funding from corporations they might not be philosophically or politically aligned with. And of course, there are many millions of Americans who don’t take any of your assumptions at face value. And yet, you write as if they do. You write as if your opinions are no different than the unvarnished, universally accepted truth. Your hubris, if I may be so bold, is extraordinary. Unfortunately, it is not unique.

DN: “As the stakes around climate change continue to get higher—and more people point toward fossil fuels as the main culprit to the warming of our planet—Big Oil’s sponsorship of Mike Rowe’s new show on Discovery+ is concerning,” said Allison Fisher, climate and energy program director at Media Matters for America. “Unlike the conservative audience that tunes in when Rowe talks about the oil and gas industry on Fox News and Fox Business News, Discovery+ is reaching a new and unwitting audience who may not have an opinion on Big Oil one way or another but could be persuaded by Rowe.”

MR: See what I mean? With regard to hubris, you’ve got plenty of company. Consider what Allison Fisher just said. “Unwitting,” is a synonym for ignorant. The program director for Media Matters just said that Discovery’s audience is ignorant, and susceptible to my powers of persuasion. That’s strikes me as a remarkably condescending thing to say. Discovery’s audience is perfectly capable of forming their own opinions. But Allison Fisher doesn’t want them too. Neither do you, or Kert Davies, or Geoff Supran, or Adam Johnson. In fact, I don’t think you guys are worried about my “powers of persuasion;” I think you’re worried about facts that conflict with your own agenda. Facts, for instance, that suggest that the skills gap is real, or, that the “science” surrounding the current doomsday predictions might not be entirely “settled.” As the narrator of How the Universe Works, I announced four years ago that the best minds in science had determined universe contained 200 million galaxies. A few months later, I announced that those same scientists had revised their estimate to two trillion galaxies. Three years after that, they revised it back down to a hundred million. Science, as a rule, is always evolving, and rarely as “settled” as we like to think. But I know this much is true: there’s not a single claim in Six Degrees or in API’s current marketing campaign that you or anyone else have disputed. Not a single one. And yet, you have written an article like this.

DN: Six Degrees is right—currently, fossil fuels do provide the foundation of society and are connected to nearly everything.

MR: Wait…What?? We agree?? Well then, I must ask you again, Dharna, in all sincerity – why the hatchet job? If you and I actually agree on the essential point of Six Degrees – that fossil fuels provide the foundation of society and are connected to nearly everything – than why would you write such a misleading headline? I get that you’re concerned about the future of the planet. Believe it or not, I am too. But Six Degrees is not about the future. It’s about the present, and the past. It’s a fun look backwards, that tries to explain how everything is connected. It’s not a PR campaign for API, or “propaganda for Big Oil,” and saying it is, doesn’t make it so.

DN: But that’s not an immutable truth, it’s a problem to be solved by creating a just, green economy. It’s precisely because of the interconnectivity of everything, the premise on which the show is built, that we need to forge that new world. Rowe’s new show is a roadblock to do just that, and that’s exactly the way the Six Degrees’ sponsors want it.

MR: And so, we end where we began – with one more completely false and totally unsupportable claim. Look, if API wanted to erect a “roadblock” to keep us from entering the future you describe, then why do their member companies invest more in alternatives than anyone else? I don’t know if API wants an economy that’s “just” and “green,” but I do know that the companies they represent are investing massively in renewables and alternatives, and you have declared them your enemy – even as you continue to rely upon the products they make.

In closing, Dharna, I mean you no harm, but I don’t believe you can say the same about me. That’s the reason I’ve responded as I have. You’ve written a deliberately false headline followed by an unsubstantiated article filled with quotes from people whose biases only confirm your own. You did so, knowing full-well that your premise was flawed, and that the facts did not support your headline. In short, I don’t think any of what you’ve written was meant to inform or enlighten. I think it was meant to shame and intimidate. I just wanted you to know that it didn’t work.

Mike

PS. If I didn’t mention it, Six Degrees with Mike Rowe premieres this Sunday at 10 pm Eastern, only on Discovery. Check it out. You might learn something!

Whoever Dharna Noor is, we do not work in the same line of work. I report facts. She spouts off her own opinion and seeks only to find people who will back up her point of view. I wouldn’t call that “lazy journalism.” That isn’t journalism at all. in a just world, she would be unemployed due to incompetence.

 

The greatest baseball movie you probably never watched

The first apartment I lived in after graduating from UW–Madison had cable TV with free HBO.

That allowed me to see this example of sports fiction, reviewed by David Krell:

Had Henry David Thoreau been a baseball fan, his signature quotation might read, “The mass of minor leaguers lead lives of quiet desperation.” Such is the wont of the Tampico Stogies in the 1987 HBO TV movie Long Gone. “Now the Tampico Nine always has been and always will be an aggregation that knows it’s about to suffer another ignominious defeat,” declares Cletis Ramey to Cecil “Stud” Cantrell, the Stogies’ player-manager.

Starring William Petersen, Virginia Madsen, and Dermot Mulroney, Long Gone takes place in the fictional town of Tampico, Florida—home of the La Madera Cigar Company. It is more than a story about baseball, though. It is a tale of corruption, hope, and love.

Stud—played by Petersen—leads the Stogies of the Class D Alabama-Florida League in 1957 through the stagnant labyrinth of the owners’ frugality, the team’s mediocrity, and the Deep South’s racism. Pushing 40, Stud tells rookie second baseman Jamie Don Weeks— played by Dermot Mulroney—that he rivaled Stan Musial for a spot on the St. Louis Cardinals. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Stud signed up with the Marines, fought on Guadalcanal, and suffered a mountain of shrapnel in one of his legs; he persuaded the doctors not to amputate. “I never made it, kid. But I would’ve. Goddammit, I would’ve.”

“I think he’s a flawed character,” explained Petersen in a telephone interview. “Stud has a tremendous amount of talent. Things came easy, then a bad break happened and he was bumped down the ladder. He’s trying to make the best of it. There are analogies in the acting world where the breaks don’t go your way. You find yourself making compromises, maybe for your talent and integrity. At a certain point, the light goes off and the world is what you make of it. He’s a regular guy who could be any man.”

While Stud has experience in the harsh realities of life, Jamie oozes naïveté. With an attitude of sexual indifference that would make Lothario blush, Stud coarsely instructs Jamie that all women have sex—even the religious ones. But Stud lands in an unintended romance that begins as a one-night stand whose name he can’t remember the morning after—Dixie Lee Boxx, Miss Strawberry Blossom of 1957, played by Virginia Madsen. A platinum blonde with the looks of Marilyn Monroe and the street savvy of Lauren Bacall, Dixie Lee is 20, almost half Stud’s age. “I’m old enough to like Jax for breakfast,” she explains to a bartender in the glow—or haze—of her dalliance with Stud. (Jax beer was a regional brew manufactured by Jax Brewing Company of Jacksonville from 1913 until it went out of business in 1956.)

Long Gone details Stud’s resumé of romance, or lack of it. An aura of cockiness buttressed by crudeness gives the impression that the Stogies’ manager is carefree about life and careless with women. In Paul Hemphill’s eponymous 1979 novel, Stud got a “Dear John” letter from his wife. While he was arguing with doctors to save his leg, she was cheating on him with a coworker at her plant. With visions of a major league career in the rear view mirror, Stud would play for a Class B team in Corpus Christi. “So began a wallowing odyssey that carried him all over America in that limbo called the ‘lower minor leagues’: Mountain States League, Cotton States, Evangeline, Itty, Big State, West Texas-New Mexico, Ardmore, Eastman, Hopkinsville, Amarillo, Pocatello, Hazard, Thibodaux,” the novel reads. “Bad lights, rutted infields, rickety grandstands, swampy dressing rooms, ancient buses, hand-me-down uniforms, drunken fans. Still smarting from what his wife had done to him, he began to drink and to gorge himself on women, as though repeated conquests might blot the memory that he had once been cuckolded by a 4-F. He hit an umpire at Big Stone Gap, contracted gonorrhea in Galveston, and was run out of Waterloo for knocking up the club owner’s teenage daughter.” There is no mention of a Mrs. Cantrell in the TV movie.

Southern-style racism confronts the Stogies, who mask their black slugger Joe Louis Brown as José Brown, a Venezuelan; Larry Riley plays Brown. On a road trip, Klansmen block the road, brandish whips, and burn a cross. Wise to the Stogies’ scheme of protecting Brown, they call for him. Stud orders him to stay on the bus and, in turn, guides his teammates, each one holding a bat, to chase the Klansmen off the road.

After the tumult, Brown gets off the bus to finish the job, metaphorically. When he gets a nod of approval from Monroe, the Stogies’ elderly black equipment manager, Brown takes a vicious swing at the cross— when it hits the ground, the flames are extinguished. A bond is forged, eliminating the awkwardness seen earlier when the white players look at Brown in the locker room without talking to him.

Full of optimism, Stud believes that the Stogies can win the championship, a far cry from the dismal 12–23 record the team had before Jamie and Brown showed up. A slow-motion montage of Stogies highlights against the backdrop of the gospel song “I Don’t Believe He Brought Me This Far (To Leave Me)” reflects the inspirational tone that seems to be a prerequisite for sports movies featuring an underdog taking on a superior opponent—in this case, it’s the Dothan Cardinals.

Here, Long Gone presents an obstacle for the fearless protagonist who sacrificed his baseball career for his country. A native Missourian, Stud never lost his desire to work in the Cardinals organization. When the owner of the Dothan Cardinals presents an opportunity to manage the team next season, Stud grabs it. But the job comes with a catch—he can’t play in the Stogies-Cardinals championship game.

Dixie Lee leaves him and then deconstructs Stud’s hero image for Jamie, who has lately embodied the swagger of the Stogies’ skipper. Jamie suffers a letdown with the impact of a Gulf Coast hurricane, consequently. It comes on the heels of a personal dilemma—his girlfriend Esther is pregnant. Following Stud’s love-them-and-leave-them philosophy, Jamie abandoned Esther emotionally as she went to Mobile, Alabama, to stay with an aunt.

For solace, Stud heads to the bar, where he finds Brown. Immediately, Stud realizes that the Cardinals bought Brown’s absence as well. Without Tampico’s star duo, Dothan will be assured a victory.

“What’d they give you?” asks Stud

“What’d they give you?” responds Brown.

“I get the privilege of managing Dothan next year.”

“I guess they know what they gotta pay for white trash, huh?”

“Come on, what’d they give you?”

“I guess they know what they gotta pay for a nigger, too.”

“It’s just so damn sad. Baseball ain’t nothing but a little boy’s game played on some grass,” mourns Stud. “It shouldn’t matter who the pitcher’s daddy is or how much money he makes. It shouldn’t matter what color a fella’s skin is. You just go out there with a bat in your hands, you hit the ball, and you run like hell. That’s all. It’s just a shame.”

When Brown leaves the bar, he takes a bat to his Cadillac—his price for sitting out the game. It’s the latter part of a setup-payoff literary device, common in films—Brown eyed the car when he first came to Tampico.

Stud has more than a job in the Cardinals organization at stake. Through the Buchmans, Stud learns that failure to accede to their demands that he not play in the championship game will result in the Cardinals owner, J. Harrell Smythe, informing baseball’s power structure about every peccadillo, big and small, resulting in Stud’s permanent expulsion from the game.

But Tampico’s manager and slugger renege on their deal to sit out the game. In another setup-payoff, Stud faces Dothan hurler Dusty Houlihan with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. Bad blood exists between the two because of Stud’s relentless insults about Houlihan’s sister. Stud admitted, earlier, that he’s only 2-for-68 against Houlihan in his career.

And so, when Houlihan comes in from the bullpen to face Stud, the ante is raised. A taunt that is vicious at worst and inflammatory at best enrages Houlihan, who beans Stud. After being knocked unconscious, Stud stumbles to first base. The Stogies are Alabama- Florida League champions! Tampico exorcises the ghosts of failure underscored by Cletis earlier in the story, consequently.

“I think Stud had become a lost cause, but only to himself,” says Petersen. “Dixie Lee is the one who is straightening him out. When he looks across at Joe Brown and they ask themselves who they are and talk about what they should be, I think Stud saves himself.”

Stud marries Dixie Lee, Jamie marries Esther, and the Stogies, for once, have pride.

Notably, two performers known for comedy appear as the father and son owners of the Stogies—Henry Gibson and Teller play Hale Buchman and Hale Buchman, Jr., respectively. They’re greedy for money, giddy for victory, and garrulous for explanations about their nickel and dime management. In lesser hands, their characters could have been caricatures.

Long Gone resonates three decades after its premiere, largely because the joy in making the movie comes across in the performances. “I have fond memories of working with Virginia and Dermot,” recalls Petersen. “The 1986 World Series was going on while we shot the movie. We’d go back to the hotel after shooting and watch in the bar. I also had friends from Chicago who were in the movie. You have to be close. You can’t do a baseball movie and not have the guys be a team. We were just very fortunate. It was like falling off a log.

“Baseball reminds me of my childhood and a time and place when things were more fun and simpler. For many of us, baseball will always be that type of memory. It will always be reflective.”

The movie “Bull Durham” is also about the minor leagues. The difference is that Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner, isn’t really a likable character. (Except to Susan Sarandon.) Nuke LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, does do a good job playing the pitcher with the proverbial million-dollar arm and 10-cent head, but the viewer sometimes is left wondering how stupid he can be. (Of course, baseball players have never been known to be great intellects.) “Bull Durham” feels more like satire than “Long Gone.”

 

CBS vs. journalism

James Freeman:

It’s hard to find silver linings in this era of expanding government authority and contracting individual opportunity for free expression. But at least the media establishment can no longer pretend that its abandonment of journalistic standards was necessitated by the unique character of Donald Trump. “Resistance journalism” is now industry standard, judging by a story on Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis by the formerly prestigious television newsmagazine “60 Minutes.”

Resistance journalism is the term coined by media maven Ben Smith, who was also one of the genre’s most successful practitioners. The idea was to create compelling anti-Trump narratives unbound by the traditional obligations of fact-checking.

The Trump administration began with news organizations flogging false collusion claims from anonymous sources. It ended recently with news organizations flogging a false story from a single anonymous source who did not even witness the relevant event—and was then protected until she granted her permission to acknowledge she was the source of the bogus report.

Now we have a traditional pillar of U.S. broadcast journalism applying the model to the next Republican in line for national attention. But “60 Minutes” seems to have taken the spirit of resistance journalism one step beyond simply advancing the hidden agendas of people unwilling to go on the record. Sunday night’s attack on Gov. DeSantis didn’t even include key facts presented by witnesses who have been speaking on the record.

Aaron Blake writes at the Washington Post:

Over the past year, DeSantis has repeatedly found himself targeted for his coronavirus response, sometimes in overwrought ways. The culmination came Sunday in a “60 Minutes” piece that cast a spotlight on his decision to run Florida’s coronavirus vaccination program through the grocery store chain Publix, which had donated $100,000 to his campaign in the weeks prior.

The pushback on the report, which followed others raising similar questions and included asking DeSantis about an alleged “pay to play” arrangement, has been swift. Even Florida officials with ties to the Democratic Party have defended the decision to use Publix, which is the state’s most popular grocery chain and has also donated to Democrats and progressive causes.

Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner (D), whose city was a focal point of the “60 Minutes” report, said flatly that the reporting was “intentionally false” and that “60 Minutes” had declined his offer to provide a counterpoint. He said it should be “ashamed.”

David Rutz at Fox News notes the comments of another Florida Democrat:

Florida Division of Emergency Management head Jared Moskowitz tweeted at CBS’s newsmagazine that Publix, a popular southern grocery store chain, was recommended by his agency and the Florida Department of Health, not the governor’s office.

“I said this before and I’ll say it again,” he tweeted. “Publix was recommended by [Florida Division of Emergency Management] and [Florida Department of Health] as the other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full Stop! No one from the Governors office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey.”

Mr. Moskowitz has been saying it for a while, clearly and publicly. After the Miami Herald was on Twitter flogging the same line that was later adopted by CBS, Mr. Moskowitz tweeted more than a month ago:

This idea why @Publix was picked has been utter nonsense. We reached out to all pharmacies and they were the only one who at the time could execute on the mission. The federal government delayed the federal pharmacy program and we yet again stepped up first to serve more seniors

This week Mr. Moskowitz provided more detail to Ryan Mills at National Review:

Looking to expand COVID-19 vaccine distribution sites over the winter, Florida’s emergency management director says he first reached out to Walmart, not Publix, to execute the mission.

The reason: Walmart has more locations than Publix in socially vulnerable, rural areas in Florida. But Walmart wouldn’t be ready to distribute the vaccine for three weeks, Jared Moskowitz, the state’s emergency management director, told National Review. So, he reached out to Publix, a Florida-based grocery and pharmacy chain.

“Publix said they could be ready in 72 hours,” said Moskowitz, who is a Democrat. “I picked Publix. Walked into the governor’s office the next day, gave them the plan about why we needed to turn on more locations, especially in some rural, fiscally constrained areas.”

Tom Jones at the Poynter Institute quotes a statement from CBS News:

We spoke to State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz twice, but he declined to be interviewed on camera for our story until well after our deadline. The idea we ignored their perspective is untrue. Counter to his statement yesterday, we also spoke on the record with Palm Beach County Mayor David Kerner.

This is a defense? In the case of Mr. Moskowitz, CBS appears to be arguing that it is free to ignore facts as long as they are not spoken in an exclusive CBS television interview.

As for the network’s comment on Mr. Kerner, CBS lawyers may someday regret letting this one become public. Rather than contradicting the substance of his message, CBS simply confirms that they had access to the facts before running their story.

The term resistance journalism is starting to seem a little dated. Perhaps it’s better to just call it propaganda.

Doomsday rock

An online discussion about music of the 1980s included a few references to songs about that fun topic of the imminent nuclear holocaust.

It should be pointed out that popular music has on occasion used social unrest to the point of the Apocalypse as a theme or inspiration …

… even before the ’80s.

The oeuvre of Doom Rock really got going in the 1980s, though, during the presidential terms of Ronald Reagan, who was simultaneously viewed by the American left as both stupid and evil (which you’d think would be incompatible concepts, but logic has never been a strong suit of political discussions) and doubtlessly bound to blow up the planet.

So because musical artists are usually left of center and get, shall we say, inspired by (more polite than “ripping off”) others’ works, an entire subgenre of rock was created.

For those who don’t know German:

Social commentary has always been a part of popular music at least since the 1960s. This particular musical trend dovetailed with what movie studios and TV networks were producing.

(One thing “Special Bulletin” and “Countdown to Looking Glass” have in common is really bad writing for and acting by those who were supposed to be portraying reporters and TV news anchors. Anyone who has watched coverage of such disasters as the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, 9/11 or severe storm damage knows that professionals do not emote on camera. The only way to get effective journalist portrayals is to use actual journalists, such as Eric Sevareid in his brief appearance in “Countdown to Looking Glass” and Sander Vanocur and Bree Walker in 1994’s “Without Warning.”)

You may notice, by the way, that the nuclear holocaust predicted for the 1980s did not take place. For that matter, within three years of Reagan’s leaving office the Soviet Union was no more and the entire Warsaw Pact collapsed. But defeating your enemy and being on the right side of history apparently doesn’t make good pop music.

 

“Super” fiction

Apparently the Washington Post has run out of things on which to opine, because the (Com)Post printed this:

At a moment when the public sphere is a battlefield and our leaders seem unable to agree on even basic facts, consider an unexpected source of hope: superheroes.

When the latest superhero team-up, the long-awaited, four-hour version of director Zack Snyder’s “Justice League,” arrives on HBO Max on March 18, it will offer viewers a world in which epic heroes can come together to address major, seemingly insoluble problems — even when they hardly agree on anything.

In recent decades, superhero stories have emphasized — and drawn a lot of their drama from — differences in their characters’ ideologies and worldviews. When Superman and Batman aren’t actively trying to murder each other, for example, they often disagree on fundamental ideas of justice. Starting in the mid-1980s, writers such as John Byrneand Frank Miller highlighted the fact that Batman inherited vast wealth, which he uses in a vigilante campaign to cleanse his city of criminal “scum,” while Superman is an immigrant boy scout, who tries to see the good in everyone.

“A lot of the most interesting internal conflicts within superhero teams are based on deeper ideological divides,” says comics critic Douglas Wolk, author of the forthcoming “All of the Marvels.”

In the Justice League, the left-wing Green Arrow and the right-wing Hawkman have frequently been at loggerheads. And Marvel Comics built a decade of storylines around the clash between what Wolk describes as “Captain America’s defense of individual liberties and Iron Man’s embrace of technocratic surveillance and control.” The key, says Wolk, is that these are characters “who basically agree on ends and disagree vehemently about means.”

I had some sympathy for the movie version of Iron Man because I like Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark was a businessman. I may have to rethink that if I waste another two hours of my life watching a superhero movie.

And that may be the greatest escapist fantasy of all: a world in which everyone can agree on the nature of the problems we face, even if they sometimes argue about the best solution. Today, it’s almost easier to believe in people who can shoot lasers out of their eyes than to imagine everyone across the political spectrum sharing the same reality.

Well, gee, maybe there’s a reason for that. Politics is a zero-sum game. One side wins, which means the other side loses. Right now, taxpayers are the losers, and that will be the case until whatever future point voters figure out that politicians whose names are followed by a D are not in this nation’s or this state’s best interest. Ever.

But when you see a godlike alien cooperating with heroes out of fables and Greek myths, you might not find it so hard to imagine more productive collaborations in the real world. These teams don’t just bring everybody together to work for the common good — they also make room for people from vastly different cultures and experiences, and they triumph when members learn to respect each other’s abilities and perspectives.

The best of these team-ups aren’t just one-offs: What are groups such as the Justice League or the Avengers but nongovernmental organizations, with more capes and fewer acronyms? Now more than ever, we need stories about larger-than-life people who are concerned with founding something altruistic that will outlast them.

It’s no accident that the most famous superhero teams were invented during a time of frenetic alliance-building among major powers, such as the United Nations, the Warsaw Pact, NATO and the Nuremberg tribunal, says Wolk. The writers of superhero comics were inspired by these real-life multinational efforts to create formal organizations, with charters and iconography and some kind of permanent headquarters, bringing together “radically different entities” under one flag. Eventually, the comics version of Justice League received a special charter from the United Nations, allowing its members to operate around the world.

The Warsaw Pact was a good thing?

When heroes form permanent teams, they provide a sense of “found family” and “a place to belong,” says Gail Simone, who has written team books such as Secret Six, Birds of Prey and The Movement. Like most families, these teams have their fair share of rifts, betrayals and awkward family dinners. But superhero stories don’t treat those divisions as fatal, just as opportunities to explore big ideas.

The goal of all this team-building? To establish something that can outlast changes of membership and the occasional apocalypse, an organization that is bigger than any one member. In an age when multinational cooperation is on the wane and trust in public institutions at a low ebb, watching superheroes invest in creating a shared symbol can be downright inspiring.

Because it’s fiction. The real world is messier.

Right before covid-19 hit, the CW brought together every superhero in its web of comic-book shows in a massive crossover, “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” In the story’s final scene, every surviving hero gathers in their new shared headquarters, complete with a table emblazoned with their separate emblems as well as an eternal flame, symbolizing a lasting commitment to one another.

They may not know what disasters await them, and neither do we. But they have one thing going for each other that we could badly use: the certainty that whatever comes, they’re dedicated to facing and fighting it together.

Because, again, it’s fiction.

The idiots who responded to this all claim, of course, that superheroes are all Democrats and the evil side are Republicans. Except for a few brave contrarians:

What silly tripe!  Anders’ message is that the answer to real world problems is to escape into a juvenile fantasy world.

America is officially dumbed down.

Are you kidding me? Superheroes are the “wokest of the woke.” And supervillains are the “MAGAest of the MAGAs.”

What could possibly be “unifying” about any of this, WAPO culture maven, except in your own “woke” mind?

I think the premise is incorrect. What these superhero stories emphasize is fantasyland, and this is a further validation of real people believing in whatever fantasies are thrown their way.

“Superheroes” are just Deus ex Machina in crayons.
What they teach is the whole Messiah thing, instead of standing on our own two feet.

Советская американская пресса

Matt Taibbi has an odd habit:

I collect Soviet newspapers. Years ago, I used to travel to Moscow’s Iszailovsky flea market every few weeks, hooking up with a dealer who crisscrossed the country digging up front pages from the Cold War era. I have Izvestia’s celebration of Gagarin’s flight, a Pravda account of a 1938 show trial, even an ancient copy of Ogonyek with Trotsky on the cover that someone must have taken a risk to keep.

These relics, with dramatic block fonts and red highlights, are cool pieces of history. Not so cool: the writing! Soviet newspapers were wrought with such anvil shamelessness that it’s difficult to imagine anyone ever read them without laughing. A good Soviet could write almost any Pravda headline in advance. What else but “A Mighty Demonstration of the Union of the Party and the People” fit the day after Supreme Soviet elections? What news could come from the Spanish civil war but “Success of the Republican Fleet?” Who could earn an obit headline but a “Faithful Son of the Party”?

Reality in Soviet news was 100% binary, with all people either heroes or villains, and the villains all in league with one another (an SR was no better than a fascist or a “Right-Trotskyite Bandit,” a kind of proto-horseshoe theory). Other ideas were not represented, except to be attacked and deconstructed. Also, since anything good was all good, politicians were not described as people at all but paragons of limitless virtue — 95% of most issues of Pravda or Izvestia were just names of party leaders surrounded by lists of applause-words, like “glittering,” “full-hearted,” “wise,” “mighty,” “courageous,” “in complete moral-political union with the people,” etc.

Some of the headlines in the U.S. press lately sound suspiciously like this kind of work:

— Biden stimulus showers money on Americans, sharply cutting poverty

— Champion of the middle class comes to the aid of the poor

— Biden’s historic victory for America

The most Soviet of the recent efforts didn’t have a classically Soviet headline. “Comedians are struggling to parody Biden. Let’s hope this doesn’t last,” read the Washington Post opinion piece by Richard Zoglin, arguing that Biden is the first president in generations who might be “impervious to impressionists.” Zoglin contended Biden is “impregnable” to parody, his voice being too “devoid of obvious quirks,” his manner too “muted and self-effacing” to offer comedians much to work with. He was talking about this person:

Forget that the “impregnable to parody” pol spent the last campaign year jamming fingers in the sternums of voters, challenging them to pushup contests, calling them “lying dog-faced pony soldiers,” and forgetting what state he was in. Biden, on the day Zoglin ran his piece, couldn’t remember the name of his Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and referred to the Department of Defense as “that outfit over there”:

It doesn’t take much looking to find comedians like James Adomian and Anthony Atamaniuk ab-libbing riffs on Biden with ease. He checks almost every box as a comic subject, saying inappropriate things, engaging in wacky Inspector Clouseau-style physical stunts (like biting his wife’s finger), and switching back and forth between outbursts of splenetic certainty and total cluelessness. The parody doesn’t even have to be mean — you could make it endearing cluelessness. But to say nothing’s there to work with is bananas.

The first 50 days of Biden’s administration have been a surprise on multiple fronts. The breadth of his stimulus suggests a real change from the Obama years, while hints that this administration wants to pick a unionization fight with Amazon go against every tendency of Clintonian politics. But it’s hard to know what much of it means, because coverage of Biden increasingly resembles official press releases, often featuring embarrassing, Soviet-style contortions.

When Biden decided not to punish Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi on the grounds that the “cost” of “breaching the relationship with one of America’s key Arab allies” was too high, the New York Times headline read: “Biden Won’t Penalize Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi’s Killing, Fearing Relations Breach.” When Donald Trump made the same calculation, saying he couldn’t cut ties because “the world is a very dangerous place” and “our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the paper joined most of the rest of the presscorps in howling in outrage.

In Extraordinary Statement, Trump Stands With Saudis Despite Khashoggi Killing.” was the Times headline, in a piece that said Trump’s decision was “a stark distillation of the Trump worldview: remorselessly transactional, heedless of the facts, determined to put America’s interests first, and founded on a theory of moral equivalence.” The paper noted, “Even Mr. Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill expressed revulsion.”

This week, in its “Crusader for the Poor” piece, the Times described Biden’s identical bin Salman decision as mere evidence that he remains “in the cautious middle” in his foreign policy. The paper previously had David Sanger dig up a quote from former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, who “applauded Mr. Biden for ‘trying to thread the needle here… This is the classic example of where you have to balance your values and your interests.’” It’s two opposite takes on exactly the same thing.

The old con of the Manufacturing Consent era of media was a phony show of bipartisanship. Legitimate opinion was depicted as a spectrum stretching all the way from “moderate” Democrats (often depicted as more correct on social issues) to “moderate” Republicans (whose views on the economy or war were often depicted as more realistic). That propaganda trick involved constantly narrowing the debate to a little slice of the Venn diagram between two established parties. Did we need to invade Iraq right away to stay safe, as Republicans contended, or should we wait until inspectors finished their work and then invade, as Democrats insisted?

The new, cleaved media landscape advances the same tiny intersection of elite opinion, except in the post-Trump era, that strip fits inside one party. Instead of appearing as props in a phony rendering of objectivity, Republicans in basically all non-Fox media have been moved off the legitimacy spectrum, and appear as foils only. Allowable opinion is now depicted stretching all the way from one brand of “moderate” Democrat to another.

An example is the Thursday New York Times story, “As Economy Is Poised to Soar, Some Fear a Surge in Inflation.” It’s essentially an interview with JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who’s worried about the inflationary impact of the latest Covid-19 rescue (“The question is: Does [it] overheat everything?”), followed by quotes from Fed chair Jerome Powell insisting that no, everything is cool. This is the same Larry Summers vs. Janet Yellendebate that’s been going on for weeks, and it represents the sum total of allowable economic opinions about the current rescue, stretching all the way from “it’s awesome” to “it’s admirable but risky.”

This format isn’t all that different from the one we had before, except in one respect: without the superficial requirement to tend to a two-party balance, the hagiography in big media organizations flies out of control. These companies already tend to wash out people who are too contentious or anti-establishment in their leanings. Promoted instead, as even Noam Chomsky described a generation ago, are people with the digestive systems of jackals or monitor lizards, who can swallow even the most toxic piles of official nonsense without blinking. Still, those reporters once had to at least pretend to be something other than courtiers, as it was considered unseemly to openly gush about a party or a politician.

Now? Look at the Times feature story on Biden’s pandemic relief bill:

On Friday, “Scranton Joe” Biden, whose five-decade political identity has been largely shaped by his appeal to union workers and blue-collar tradesmen like those from his Pennsylvania hometown, will sign into law a $1.9 trillion spending plan that includes the biggest antipoverty effort in a generation…

The new role as a crusader for the poor represents an evolution for Mr. Biden, who spent much of his 36 years in Congress concentrating on foreign policy, judicial fights, gun control, and criminal justice issues… Aides say he has embraced his new role… [and] has also been moved by the inequities in pain and suffering that the pandemic has inflicted on the poorest Americans…

You’d never know from reading this that Biden’s actual rep on criminal justice issues involved boasting about authoring an infamous crime bill (that did “everything but hang people for jaywalking”), or that he’s long been a voracious devourer of corporate and especially financial services industry cash, that his “Scranton Joe” rep has been belied by a decidedly mixed historyon unions, and so on. Can he legitimately claim to be more pro-union than his predecessor? Sure, but a news story that paints the Biden experience as stretching from “hero to the middle class” to “hero to the poor,” is a Pravda-level stroke job.

We now know in advance that every Biden address will be reviewed as historic and exceptional. It was a mild shock to see Chris Wallace say Biden’s was the “the best inaugural address I have ever heard.” More predictable was Politico saying of Thursday night’s address that “it is hard to imagine any other contemporary politician making the speech Biden did… channeling our collective sorrow and reminding us that there is life after grief.” (Really? Hard to imagine any contemporary politician doing that?).

This stuff is relatively harmless. Where it gets weird is that the move to turn the bulk of the corporate press in the “moral clarity” era into a single party organ has come accompanied by purges of the politically unfit. In the seemingly endless parade of in-house investigations of journalists, paper after paper has borrowed from the Soviet style of printing judgments and self-denunciations, without explaining the actual crimes.

The New York Times coverage of the recent staff revolt at Teen Vogue against editor Alexi McCammond noted “Staff Members Condemn Editor’s Decade-Old, Racist Tweets,” but declined to actually publish the offending texts, so readers might judge for themselves. The Daily Beast expose on Times reporter Donald McNeil did much the same thing. Even the ongoing (and in my mind, ridiculous) moral panic over Substack ties in. Aimed at people already banished from mainstream media, the obvious message is that anyone with even mildly heterodox opinions shouldn’t be publishing anywhere.

Those still clinging to mainstream jobs in a business that continues to lay people off at an extraordinary rate read the gist of all of these stories clearly: if you want to keep picking up a check, you’d better talk the right talk.

Thus you see bizarre transformations like that of David Brooks, who spent his career penning paeans to “personal responsibility” and the “culture of thrift,” but is now writing stories about how “Joe Biden is a transformational president” for casting aside fiscal restraints in the massive Covid-19 bill. When explaining that “both parties are adjusting to the new paradigm,” he’s really explaining his own transformation, in a piece that reads like a political confession. “I’m worried about a world in which we spend borrowed money with abandon,” he says, but “income inequality, widespread child poverty, and economic precarity are the problems of our time.”

Maybe Brooks is experiencing the same “evolution” Biden is being credited with of late. Or, he’s like a lot of people in the press who are searching out the safest places on the op-ed page, the middle of the newsroom middle, in desperate efforts to stay on the masthead. It’s been made clear that there’s no such thing as overdoing it in one direction, e.g. if you write as the Times did that Biden “has become a steady hand who chooses words with extraordinary restraint” (which even those who like and admire Biden must grasp is not remotely true of the legendary loose cannon). Meanwhile, how many open critics of the Party on either the left, the right, or anywhere in between still have traditional media jobs?

All of this has created an atmosphere where even obvious observations that once would have interested blue-state voters, like that Biden’s pandemic relief bill “does not establish a single significant new social program,” can only be found in publications like the World Socialist Web Site. The bulk of the rest of the landscape has become homogenous and as predictably sycophantic as Fox in the “Mission Accomplished” years, maybe even worse. What is this all going to look like in four years?

Cancel wokeness

Glenn Harlan Reynolds:

Most Americans hate woke politics — and most minorities don’t share “woke” priorities. Indeed, according to pollster David Shor, woke excesses are causing black voters to flee the Democratic Party. Despite endless charges of “racism,” former President Donald Trump took the biggest share of minority voters of any Republican in my lifetime.

Woke tyrants ride high, even so; according to a Cato/YouGov poll, 62 percent of Americans self-censor their political expression. Only a tiny minority of consumers care about Mr. Potato Head’s toxic masculinity, about “Aunt Jemima” as a brand or about the #MeToo aggressions of Pepé Le Pew. Yet corporations, universities and governments rush to placate that minuscule slice of the population, trashing large chunks of our culture in the process.

It’s happening not because anybody voted for it, but because a small but determined and vicious minority is bullying people to go along, relying on cowardice and groupthink to achieve ends that could never happen via majority vote: How do you think Dr. Seuss would have done in a referendum?

How does this happen? To some degree, the woke abuse the good nature of Americans. For the most part, Americans want their fellow citizens to be happy. If they hear something makes others unhappy, they generously look to change things.

And there’s fear. Writing about the goings-on at New York’s Dalton School, Bari Weiss notes that even parents who think the political correctness has gone too far are afraid to speak out: They think their kids’ shot at the Ivy League could be at risk. And it’s not just Dalton.

Weiss quotes one mother: “I look at the public school, and I am equally mortified. I can’t believe what they are doing to everybody. I’m too afraid. I’m too afraid to speak too loudly. I feel cowardly. I just make little waves.” Another says: “It’s fear of retribution. Would it cause our daughter to be ostracized? Would it cause people to ostracize us? It already has.”

In his book “Skin in the Game,” Nicholas Nassim Taleb writes about the surprising ability of small but intransigent minorities — 3 percent to 4 percent is enough — to change the direction of entire societies. He writes: “The most intolerant wins. . . . Yes, an intolerant minority can control and destroy democracy. . . . [I]t will eventually destroy our world. So, we need to be more than intolerant with some intolerant minorities.”

Does this mean we should be less tolerant of our own minoritarian tyrants? In a word, yes.

I don’t mean that they should be forced into camps, or even driven from their jobs and from polite society, as the woke are all too willing to do to their opponents. But they need to be deprived of the thing that is most important to their self-image: moral credibility.

The woke think of themselves — and want everyone else to think of them — as deeply moral. If they have a flaw, it’s that they just care too much. They’re too idealistic, too empathetic, too eager to make the world a better place.

That’s bulls–t (pardon my French, Pepé!). If you look at what they do, rather than what they say about themselves, it quickly becomes obvious that the woke are horrible, awful people, and they should be treated as such and reminded of this whenever they raise their head.

Historically, it’s not the good guys who are out burning books and censoring speech. It isn’t the caring, empathetic people who try to destroy lives based on something someone said years ago, often while young, often taken out of context. It isn’t the good guys who take undisguised glee at the ruining of lives, families and careers.

You know who does these things? Horrible, awful people. Selfish people. People with serious mental and emotional problems who seek some sort of vindication for their deficient characters by taking power trips while imposing suffering on others.

Treat these tyrants as what they are: awful people who shouldn’t be listened to and who need to work hard on joining the better half of the human race. And remind them of it, over and over. Because it’s true. Deep down, they know it, too.

James Freeman adds:

The professor raises a good question, and now we have an answer. Hillel Italie of the Associated Press reports:

Oh, the books that sold last week by Dr. Seuss.

More than 1.2 million copies of stories by the late children’s author sold in the first week of March — more than quadruple from the week before — following the news that his estate was pulling six books because of racial and ethnic stereotyping. For days virtually every book in the top 20 on Amazon’s bestseller list was by Dr. Seuss.

According to NPD BookScan, which tracks around 85% of retail sales, the top sellers weren’t even the books being withdrawn. “The Cat in the Hat” sold more than 100,000 copies, compared to just 17,000 in the previous week. “Green Eggs and Ham” topped 90,000 copies, and “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” sold around 88,000.

Perhaps readers wanted to grab these titles before they get cancelled, too. Consumers are expressing with their wallets exactly how they feel about the latest trend in nonpublishing. And Mr. Reynolds is urging more clear and candid expression:

Historically, it’s not the good guys who are out burning books and censoring speech. It isn’t the caring, empathetic people who try to destroy lives based on something someone said years ago, often while young, often taken out of context. It isn’t the good guys who take undisguised glee at the ruining of lives, families and careers.

You know who does these things? Horrible, awful people.

Contributing to the Journal’s Future View column, Dartmouth College student Brian Drisdelle takes a more charitable view of the wokesters but also raises the question of results:

The urge to “cancel” is born of the desire to root out racism and insensitivity, unquestionably a noble intention. The issue is that it is far easier to tear down than it is to create.

It’s hard to imagine a good result based on the report from Therese Joffre of Hope College:

CEOs, bureaucrats, professors, journalists and even middle-class suburban moms all want to display their newfound wokeness by canceling other people. Those who don’t lead this movement, follow. People go along with whatever the woke mob chooses to care about and believes to be racist; it helps protect their jobs and reputations. It also preserves their self-image as good antiracists. On campus, students want to please their professors and peers as well as feel that they’re changing the world. Many of my classmates will furnish liberal rhetoric to get an A, so of course they do the same to win their audiences’ approval on Twitter or Instagram.

University of Iowa law student Luke Kennedy concludes:

Cancellations of figures like Dr. Seuss will continue to succeed so long as the only political group that feels free to share its opinions is the far left. This guarantees it will sound the loudest, even though it isn’t representative. Even worse, the group’s ideology holds both that words are violence and that silence is violence; only echoing its words is acceptable.