Later On

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Archive for the ‘NY Times’ Category

The Lords of Chaos

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Chris Hedges has a piece worth reading. It begins:

Two decades ago, I sabotaged my career at The New York Times. It was a conscious choice. I had spent seven years in the Middle East, four of them as the Middle East Bureau Chief. I was an Arabic speaker. I believed, like nearly all Arabists, including most of those in the State Department and the CIA, that a “preemptive” war against Iraq would be the most costly strategic blunder in American history. It would also constitute what the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg called the “supreme international crime.” While Arabists in official circles were muzzled, I was not. I was invited by them to speak at The State Department, The United States Military Academy at West Point and to senior Marine Corps officers scheduled to be deployed to Kuwait to prepare for the invasion.

Mine was not a popular view nor one a reporter, rather than an opinion columnist, was permitted to express publicly according to the rules laid down by the newspaper. But I had experience that gave me credibility and a platform. I had reported extensively from Iraq. I had covered numerous armed conflicts, including the first Gulf War and the Shi’ite uprising in southern Iraq where I was taken prisoner by The Iraqi Republican Guard. I easily dismantled the lunacy and lies used to promote the war, especially as I had reported on the destruction of Iraq’s chemical weapons stockpiles and facilities by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspection teams. I had detailed knowledge of how degraded the Iraqi military had become under U.S. sanctions. Besides, even if Iraq did possess “weapons of mass destruction” that would not have been a legal justification for war.

The death threats towards me exploded when my stance became public in numerous interviews and talks I gave across the country. They were either mailed in by anonymous writers or expressed by irate callers who would daily fill up the message bank on my phone with rage-filled tirades. Right-wing talk shows, including Fox News, pilloried me, especially after I was heckled and booed off a commencement stage at Rockford College for denouncing the war. The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial attacking me. Bomb threats were called into venues where I was scheduled to speak. I became a pariah in the newsroom. Reporters and editors I had known for years would lower their heads as I passed, fearful of any career-killing contagion. I was issued a written reprimand by The New York Times to cease speaking publicly against the war. I refused. My tenure was over.

What is disturbing is not the cost to me personally. I was aware of the potential consequences. What is disturbing is that the architects of these debacles have never been held accountable and remain ensconced in power. They continue to promote permanent war, including the ongoing proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, as well as a future war against China.

The politicians who lied to us — George W. BushDick CheneyCondoleezza RiceHillary Clinton and Joe Biden to name but a few — extinguished millions of lives, including thousands of American lives, and left Iraq along with Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya and Yemen in chaos. They exaggerated or fabricated conclusions from intelligence reports to mislead the public. The big lie is taken from the playbook of totalitarian regimes.

The cheerleaders in the media for war — Thomas FriedmanDavid RemnickRichard CohenGeorge PackerWilliam KristolPeter BeinartBill KellerRobert KaplanAnne ApplebaumNicholas KristofJonathan ChaitFareed ZakariaDavid FrumJeffrey GoldbergDavid Brooks and Michael Ignatieff — were used to amplify the lies and discredit the handful of us, including Michael MooreRobert Scheer and Phil Donahue, who opposed the war. [James Fallows also wrote strongly against the invasion of Iraq. – LG] These courtiers were often motivated more by careerism than idealism. They did not lose their megaphones or lucrative speaking fees and book contracts once the lies were exposed, as if their crazed diatribes did not matter. They served the centers of power and were rewarded for it.

Many of these same pundits are pushing further escalation of the war in Ukraine, although most know as little about Ukraine or NATO’s provocative and unnecessary expansion to the borders of Russia as they did about Iraq.

“I told myself and others that Ukraine is the most important story of our time, that everything we should care about is on the line there,” George Packer writes in The Atlantic magazine. “I believed it then, and I believe it now, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 March 2023 at 2:05 pm

Bari Weiss Is Full of Shit

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Katherine Krueger writes in Discourse Blog:

Recently, Bari Weiss’ blog published an account from a “whistleblower” who used to work at a transgender healthcare clinic associated with Washington University’s children’s hospital. Unsurprisingly, the story depicted the clinic as a house of horrors.

Equally unsurprisingly, when some actual reporters examined the deeply alarmist, one-sided story Weiss was pushing, they found it to be total nonsense. It’s just the latest in a long pattern that proves one incontrovertible fact: Bari Weiss is completely full of shit, and you shouldn’t trust a thing she publishes.

The original first-person story, written by Jamie Reed, a former case manager whom Weiss pointed out is a “progressive” and “a queer woman married to a transman,” was published earlier this month by the Free Press, a site founded by the disgraced ex-New York Times opinion writer.

Reed portrayed the trans clinic as unrelentingly barbaric: “mentally ill” children misguidedly looking to transition rather than treat the root causes of their issues, a trans kid’s gender transition weaponized as part of a custody dispute between parents, children being prescribed hormone blockers and other medications willy-nilly and with little regard for side effects, both long and short term, and much more.

Reed wrote: “I left the clinic in November of last year because I could no longer participate in what was happening there. By the time I departed, I was certain that the way the American medical system is treating these patients is the opposite of the promise we make to ‘do no harm.’ Instead, we are permanently harming the vulnerable patients in our care.”

But a deeply reported story published on Monday by the St. Louis Post-Dispatchwhich involved interviews with some two dozen parents whose children sought treatment at the center—painted a starkly different picture, one that runs completely counter to Reed’s account.

Here are just a few highlights from the reporting (emphasis mine throughout):

Explosive allegations made public last month about a St. Louis clinic that treats transgender children have flung parents into a vortex of emotions: shock, confusion, anger, fear.

Kim Hutton, among those confused by the reports, views the treatment her son, now 19, received from Washington University’s Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital as vital to making him the outgoing college freshman he is today.

“The idea that nobody got information, that everybody was pushed toward treatment, is just not true. It’s devastating,” Hutton said. “I’m baffled by it.”

Patients recounted that the staff explained procedures using both medical and everyday vocabulary.

“The doctor reached out to me after hours to answer my questions and make sure I understood what my treatment plan was,” said a 16-year-old from the St. Louis area.

Rather than the “rapid medicalization” and “poor assessment of mental health concerns” that Reed cited in a complaint sent to Bailey in January, parents reported a well-defined, step-by-step approach that could be halted at any time.

Slow, methodical adjustments began . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2023 at 5:24 pm

“Expert” opinions from uninformed generalists

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Alec Karakatsanis has a really excellent thread that is very much worth reading. It begins with this post; click the date to see the rest:

I see this as another example of the Dunning-Kruger effect: NY Times columnists who don’t know how little they know about some field, weighing in with assumed authority. Combine that with the fact that the NY Times is not a learning organization* and thus is incapable of course correction, and you have a big ship headed toward the rocks.

* When Margaret Sullivan was Public Editor of the NY Times, responsible for speaking to editors and journalists with the voice of readers who complained about errors and bad framing in the Times, the editors and journalists (and opinion columnists) would listen to the complaints and investigate. But their investigation began with, and was based on, the premise that they themselves could not possibly be in error. Thus their ingenuity was exercised in finding the source of the problem somewhere else — anywhere else, really. What they inevitably came up with was that the readers had read it wrong, or that the reader simply did not understand the issues, or — though never explicitly stated but sometimes implied — the readers were complaining in bad faith. The editors, journalists, and columnists, however, never even considered that they might be at fault.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2023 at 12:12 pm

Excellent thread about reporters who have a block against trans kids

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This thread by Isaac Bailey is very much worth reading in full. Click the date to see the whole thread.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2023 at 11:24 am

Why Bret Stephens is a poor source of information — in this case, medical information

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Thomas Pueyo writes in Uncharted Territories:

Recently, I stumbled upon some chatter against masks, and I thought it would be useful to dive into it for a couple of reasons:

  1. Should we update our beliefs?

  2. What can we learn about knowledge 1 from this debate?

This article encapsulates the debate:

But twitter threads are not a great way to be nuanced. This article is an in-depth and nuanced look at the studies, along with some criticism of my take, and my takeaways.

Jefferson et al. Main Results

This is the study that the articles reference (long version here).

This is a Cochrane systematic review. This is a strong point, as systematic reviews take in much more data, and the fact that it’s Cochrane reduces many of its potential biases. And it keeps results from 78 studies. Impressive!

Now let’s look at the studies themselves. The first thing I note is this: . . .

Continue reading.

It’s a very interesting article. For starters, of the 78 studies, only 6 seemed relevant (7 if you include one study that was not reported). And then further inspection reveals that in fact, only two studies were relevant.

Read the article for other ways Bret Stephens seeks to deceive. 

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2023 at 2:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Media, Medical, NY Times, Politics, Science

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The Useful Idiots Fueling the Right-Wing Transphobia Panic

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Ryan Cooper reports in The American Prospect:

Former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss recently founded a publication called The Free Press, and several weeks ago it published an account from a woman named Jamie Reed. Reed, who worked as a case manager at a Washington University gender clinic in St. Louis, made inflammatory accusations (with more in a sworn affidavit) that numerous children at the clinic were being carelessly shoved into irreversible gender treatment en masse.

Reed’s article went viral on social media, and was cited by numerous conservatives and transphobes as conclusive proof that too many kids are getting transition care. A couple of prominent liberals joined in as well. Matthew Yglesias cited it as credible on Twitter and Substack. “The picture she paints of the clinic’s treatment of children is ghastly. The affidavit she signed is even worse,” wrote Jonathan Chait at New York magazine. (It’s of a piece with an ongoing trend in liberal and centrist publications of writing anxious articles raising questions about youth transition care.)

There is just one problem. Reed’s account is a pile of garbage.

Even when it was first published, any sensible person should have seen some obvious red flags. Reed was not involved either in treatment or management, and her lawyer founded an openly transphobic organization. As Evan Urquhart pointed out at Assigned Media, she made several wildly mistaken claims about the side effects of some gender treatments. In her affidavit, Reed claimed that children came into the clinic identifying as “mushroom,” “rock,” or “helicopter,” only to be quickly given puberty blockers or hormones. This is not only facially preposterous, but in the last case suspiciously lines up with a common right-wing transphobic “joke.”

Sure enough, subsequent reporting has demolished Reed’s story. A woman named Danielle Meert whose child worked with Reed told a local NBC affiliate: “Saying that kids walk in and get hormones right away has not been our experience. It was about nine months until we had a puberty blocker implanted.” Another trans boy treated at the clinic contradicted her assertion that hormones were prescribed after just a couple of meetings with a therapist: “That’s not possible at all because a therapist has to see a patient for six months consistently, before they can even start writing the letter [of recommendation].” The Missouri Independent also interviewed numerous patients, who reported “any treatments were only undertaken after long consultations with doctors and mental health professionals.” Finally, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently interviewed numerous parents whose children had gone to the clinic, who “reported a well-defined, step-by-step approach that could be halted at any time.”

Reed’s intention, which she admitted on the record, was to shut down the gender clinic entirely. Indeed, the outrage prompted the Missouri attorney general to demand that the university shut down the clinic pending several state investigations, though it refused and is doing one itself.

As our recent Left Anchor podcast with Michael Hobbes and Urquhart goes into in detail, the United States is currently in the grip of a full-blown transphobic moral panic. Dubious, unrepresentative, or entirely made-up anecdotes are trumpeted across right-wing media, prompting conservative legislatures to place strict limits on transition care for minors, or ban it entirely—or in the case of a bill that recently passed the Oklahoma House, ban transition care entirely even for adults. They are attempting to shove trans people back into the closet, if not prevent them from existing.

Many centrist and liberal journalists are doing the same thing, only in a passive-aggressive fashion. The repeated front-page investigations in The New York Times over the past year are, just like Reed’s article, based almost entirely on anecdotes—some of them from openly transphobic organizations that are not identified as such—rather than actual studies, which have overwhelmingly found that transition is quite raredetransition relatively unlikely, the regret rate of gender affirmation surgery low, and treatment difficult and expensive to access.

There are always risks and trade-offs with any health treatment, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2023 at 1:24 am

The New York Times Has Badly Lost Its Bearings

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Full disclosure: Earlier this month, I canceled my subscription to the NY Times.

Dan Froomkin writes in The Nation:

Joe Kahn, the next executive editor of The New York Times, will inherit a great news organization that has lost its bearings when it comes to national and political coverage.

When the current editor, Dean Baquet, took over the top job in 2014, American politics still worked more or less by the same rules that had applied for decades: The two rival parties largely agreed on the facts; they just interpreted them very differently.

Enter Donald Trump, on a wave of ignorance, disinformation, and white grievance, taking the Republican Party to what had been considered an extremist fringe of alternate facts and conspiracy theories. The differences between the parties were no longer about policy; they were about truth and lies.

Then Trump and his loyalists tried to steal an election. The danger to democracy was no longer abstract. The Republican Party aligned itself against the concept of universal suffrage and the principle of majority rule.

Baquet did not rise to this challenge. He treated the divisions about basic facts and democratic rule as just so much partisan squabbling. During the 2016 campaign, in the name of balance, his staff savaged Hillary Clinton and went easy on Donald Trump.

He stuck to the old political-journalism algorithms even as they stopped producing anything approximating the truth and instead privileged lies and normalized the abnormal.

He ignored and belittled his critics. He failed to see that his news organization, which sets the standard for the American journalism community, had lost the plot.

And this is where Joe Kahn comes in.

Kahn was Baquet’s deputy for six years, and so far there have been zero gleams of daylight between the two men. Since his appointment was announced, Kahn’s defense of the status quo has been aggressive to the point of belligerence.

But once he takes charge, Kahn will have a reputation to build, not to protect.

Baquet had already set his course before this massive political transformation became fully realized. Kahn has no such excuse.

Kahn’s legacy will be defined by whether he listens to the critics, acknowledges the failures of the recent past, learns from them, and puts the most influential journalistic institution in America back on its proper bearings.


And there’s no time to lose. The midterm elections, which could be a pivotal step toward authoritarian rule and a failed state, are fast approaching.

Under Baquet, the Times has treated the upcoming midterms like any other. Reporters have glibly asserted that Republicans are in great shape to sweep, and win back a majority in one or both houses of Congress. They have unquestioningly adopted the conventional political wisdom that midterms are a referendum on the president, and since Biden is underwater, it doesn’t matter what the Republicans stand for.

But that’s not what these midterms will actually be about. They won’t be . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s spot-on.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2023 at 11:24 am

At the New York Times, it’s the comfortable versus the afflicted

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Dan Froomkin writes at Press Watch:

The purpose of great journalism, it is often said, is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

But at the New York Times, the newsroom is increasingly riven between the comfortable and the afflicted within its own ranks. And guess who’s in charge?

That rift is what lies at the heart of a blistering back-and-forth that began with a letter from some Times contributors strongly condemning negative bias in reporting about transgender, non⁠-⁠binary, and gender nonconforming people.

The letter raised serious and specific concerns about disparaging coverage of gender-affirming care — concerns that every journalist at the New York Times should heed, at the risk of going down the same infamous path the Times did covering gay rights and AIDS. Jack Mirkinson did an absolutely brilliant job of reminding us of that legacy in The Nation.

But senior Times reporters and editors do not like being lectured on journalistic ethics.

They do the lecturing, thank you very much.

The response from management was to breezily dismiss those concerns as coming from “activists” — and to forcefully forbid any further “attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums.”

The News Guild of New York weighed in with a reminder that “employees are protected in collectively raising concerns that conditions of their employment constitute a hostile working environment.”

And that precipitated a ferocious, unctuous response from many of the most senior, established, and comfortable reporters in the Times newsroom.

They wrote, haughtily, that “Factual, accurate journalism that is written, edited, and published in accordance with Times standards does not create a hostile workplace.” They accused the union of trying to “undermine the ethical and professional protections that we depend on.”

What Constitutes a Hostile Workplace?

On one level, the letter (I’ll call it the smug-caucus letter, to distinguish it from the concerned-contributors letter) was a response to one very narrow issue: Whether editorial policy about trans identity amounts to a workplace matter of the sort where union involvement is merited

I think that’s a legitimate question. At what point does printing offensive or diminishing content create actual harm to newsroom employees? What raises to the level of creating a hostile work environment? In a newsroom, with its traditions of free speech, irreverence, and questioning, that’s a very high bar.

Then again, endangering some subset of the people who work there by questioning their very right to exist might well qualify.

As you may recall, that was the tenor of the argument that Black Times staffers made when they objected publicly to the publishing of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton that called for U.S. troops to forcibly subdue what he called “rioters” engaged in Black Lives Matter protests. Back then, dozens of Times staffers risked the ire of Times management by tweeting the singular message: “Running this puts black @nytimes staff in danger.” And, in a long overdue move, James Bennet soon found himself out of a job as editorial page editor.

That issue – about how editorial positions affect the work environment – is ripe for further discussion.

What the Letter Really Means

The view that this was not a “workplace” issue, and that therefore the union shouldn’t get involved in editorial policy, is, I suspect, a big part of why the smug-caucus letter garnered so many signatures.

But the letter was not just about that narrow issue. It was a full-fledged rebuttal of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 February 2023 at 12:18 pm

The New York Times Is Repeating One of Its Most Notorious Mistakes

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Jack Mirkinson’s article in The Nation is excellent:

On March 11, 1998, New York Times copy editor Donna Cartwright posted a letter on bulletin boards on every floor of the paper’s newsroom. The letter began:

To my colleagues at the New York Times: in the 21 years we’ve worked together, we have shared much hard work and many rewarding experiences. I’m writing this now to inform you of a significant change in my life that will affect our relationship and to ask for your understanding and support. After much reflection and inner struggle, I have decided to resolve a long-standing conflict in my life by beginning to live full-time as a woman starting in about two months’ time.

With that, Cartwright became the first person at the Times to come out as transgender. Nobody transitioning in 2023 is guaranteed an easy ride, let alone in 1998. But despite some challenges—management was understanding but not particularly helpful, and she kept having to remind people not to misgender her—Cartwright found a mostly welcoming response. (She also briefly found herself in the limelight, even scoring an appearance on The View.)

“I would say the great majority of my coworkers were highly supportive,” she told me. “And even some relatively conservative people in union leadership were also helpful and supportive.”

These days, though, Cartwright—who left the Times in 2006 after nearly 30 years on the job—is troubled by where the paper finds itself on LGBTQ rights, especially when it comes to its coverage of trans people.

“The feeling that I get most often is annoyance,” she said. “If this was about a high school teacher who was being persecuted for believing in dinosaurs, the Times would think that that was ridiculous. But…LGBT people and trans people—it seems like we haven’t quite made the grade yet. We have to keep swimming upstream.”

Cartwright is not alone. There has been deep dismay about the Times’ persistently skeptical coverage of trans identity, which has come at a time when trans people’s right to exist in public is under attack across the country. Last week, the opposition to the paper’s seeming institutional animus toward trans rights burst into widespread public view, when thousands of Times contributors and over 30,000 supporters signed an open letter urging the paper to rethink its coverage. (Full disclosure: I added my name to the letter.)

In response, the Times dismissed the letter—and a separate one sent by the LGBTQ rights group GLAAD—as coming from people with an “advocacy mission,” as opposed to its own “journalistic mission.” The paper’s executive editor, Joseph Kahn, then sent a furious note to his staffers, some of whom had signed the letter from journalists, warning them, “We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums.”

Cooler heads might have warned Kahn that, in his rush to defend the paper’s antagonism toward an LGBTQ civil rights movement, he risked the kind of infamy that now haunts one of his most prominent predecessors, Abe Rosenthal.

Rosenthal, who led the Times from 1969 to 1986, is perhaps most frequently remembered now for something he adamantly refused to do: cover the LGBTQ rights movement, particularly the AIDS crisis, with the scope or respect it deserved. (The epitaph on his tombstoneHE KEPT THE PAPER STRAIGHT, now seems like a sick joke.)

Instead, the Times under Rosenthal kept queer people at arm’s length. It even refused to use the word “gay” in its pages until June 1987, doggedly sticking to the more clinical “homosexual.” And it underplayed the spread of AIDS, waiting nearly two years after its first, now-legendary item broaching the subject to run a story about AIDS on its front page.

At the time, plenty of people warned the paper that it was on the wrong side of history. But the Times ignored them.

Now, decades later, Rosenthal’s homophobia, and the Times’ failure to properly chronicle the lives—and the deaths—of LGBTQ people at such a pivotal moment, is regarded as a low point in the paper’s history. The Times itself has issued mea culpas about its mishandling of the era. And the idea that gay people and lesbians deserve equal rights is uncontroversial. The Times even sells coffee table books commemorating Pride.

It is somewhat astonishing, then, that in its coverage of trans people—and its patronizing wrath toward its critics—the Times is repeating the same mistakes it made under Rosenthal. The parallels between its current anti-trans coverage and its past coverage of gay rights are obvious. But the Times appears blind to them—and blind to the fact that, in its obstinance and its arrogance, it is once again placing itself in a situation that it will later regret.

The oldest mention I could find of the word “homosexual” in the Times’ archives was in 1914. It appeared in an article about World War I by the playwright George Bernard Shaw. “[W]e must trust to the march of Democracy to de-Russianize Berlin and de-Prussianize Petrograd, and to put the nagaikas of the Cossacks and the riding-whips with which Junker officers slash German privates, and the forty tolerated homosexual brothels of Berlin, and all the other psychopathic symptoms of overfeeding and inculcated insolence and sham virility in their proper place, which I take to be the dustbin,” Shaw wrote.

Ironically, Shaw was a supporter of gay rights, so his seemingly irate tone was most likely satirical. Rather than follow his more enlightened path, though, the Times charged hard in the other direction for decades. The paper’s archives are filled with casually bigoted items about queer people—“126 PERVERTS DISCHARGED,” read a 1952 headline about an anti-gay purge at the State Department—and the sort of pseudoscientific babblings about the psychological sickness of homosexuality that pervaded mid-20th-century discourse. (The Times was by no means alone in this approach; The Nation, for instance, ran a 1957 cover story titled “The Homosexual: Challenge to Science.”) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2023 at 10:47 am

The Onion is angry

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I recently blogged Isaac Bailey’s critique of the NY Times’s defensive response to criticism of its trans coverage. (The NY Times editors had responded with their usual calm assurance that they were absolutely right in what they did and that readers who did not agree were either reading the reports incorrectly or simply did not understand the issues. NY Times editors and journalists, particularly on matters of social culture, never believe that they are wrong in any way.)

NowThe Onion has parodied with stinging accuracy the Time’s response. The Onion writes:

The task of reporting is not a simple one. Each and every day, reporters and editors at publications like The Onion make difficult decisions about which issues should receive attention, knowing that our coverage will influence not only how people think, but also how they act. This responsibility is at the core of an ongoing debate over whether news coverage of transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people is unduly biased. As the world’s leading news publication with a daily readership of 4.3 trillion, The Onion is compelled to weigh in.

We firmly believe that it is journalism’s sacred duty to endanger the lives of as many trans people as possible.

“Quentin” is a 14-year-old assigned female at birth who now identifies as male against the wishes of his parents. His transition was supported by one of his unmarried teachers, who is not a virgin. He stole his parents’ car and drove to the hospital, where a doctor immediately began performing top surgery on him. Afterward, driving home drunk from the hospital, Quentin became suicidally depressed, and he wonders now, homeless and ridden with gonorrhea, if transitioning was a mistake.

We just made Quentin up, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean stories like his aren’t potentially happening everywhere, constantly. Good journalism is about finding those stories, even when they don’t exist. It’s about asking the tough questions and ignoring the answers you don’t like, then offering misleading evidence in service of preordained editorial conclusions. In our case, endangering trans people is the lodestar that shapes our coverage. Frankly, if our work isn’t putting trans people further at risk of trauma and violence, we consider it a failure.

We stand behind our recent obsessed-seeming torrent of articles and essays on trans people, which we believe faithfully depicts their lived experiences as weird and gross. We remain dedicated to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 February 2023 at 11:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Humor, Media, Medical, NY Times

Tagged with

Correcting The New York Times on Trans Issues

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Isaac Bailey writes in NiemanReports:

The New York Times had a chance to earnestly grapple with a serious critique of its trans coverage by a serious group of professionals, including journalists The Times believed were credible enough to have a byline in the paper or contribute in other ways. Instead, it decided to demean them as activists who aren’t truly interested in the goal of quality journalism. It’s a tired tactic, one that is often trotted out to brush back groups who have long been left out of such discussions but are demanding a rightful place at the table.

The Times did not have to take that route. It could have pointed to some of its recent decisions to show that they were trying to produce equitable coverage even if they don’t always hit the mark. They made a tin-eared decision to push forward with a column defending billionaire author J.K. Rowling’s comments on gender the day after being presented with a letter from more than 1,000 contributors to the paper accusing the paper of anti-trans bias. The column was neither brave nor illuminating and wasted some of the most valuable real estate in opinion journalism to stick up for a woman with one of the biggest platforms on Earth while comparing her predicament to Salman Rushdie’s. It was a perfect illustration of one of the letter writers’ primary concerns, that the work of “plenty of journalists” at The Times who cover the issue well is often eclipsed by work that isn’t.

In their letter, the contributors were specifically referring to front-page coverage, but their critique also applies to the opinion section. A week before the Rowling column, The Times did something extraordinary. It elevated the voices of trans people from various walks of life. In its “America in Focus” section, the paper published a several-thousand-word transcript, complete with graphics, from a focus group titled “These 12 Transgender Americans Would Like You To Mind Your Own Business.”

“In the course of our conversation, it became clear that while our participants had some common experiences — 11 of them said they’d experienced discrimination or harassment as a consequence of their trans identity, several said they’d had fraught experiences choosing which restroom to use, and some knew they were trans at a very young age — no two trans experiences are exactly the same,” The Times wrote. “Some participants had families supportive of who they are; others did not. There was no uniform perspective on when or whether children should be allowed to transition or on whether there was too much or not enough media coverage of trans issues (and whether that coverage was getting it right). But fundamentally, all participants wanted basic respect — to be seen as people, not stereotypes or caricatures or a minority to be lectured to.”

In response to the letter, The Times could have pointed to that as well as other deeply-reported and contextualized work on trans, non-binary, and gender nonconforming issues in the news sections. It could have invited in some of its harshest critics, to listen, learn, and have a substantive back-and-forth about an issue that is vexing many Americans. It could have acted like the grown-ups in the room knowing it has an outsized voice as the paper of record. Instead, it took the route too many high-profile highly-influential journalists and outlets take when challenged.

The paper reduced its critics to just a bunch of radical activists. It did so by conflating them with actual activists, like those at GLAAD. It’s the kind of demeaning dodge Black journalists also know well. When we’ve demanded a higher-quality journalism, we’ve been demeaned as just being social justice warriors who don’t care about the craft we’ve dedicated our adult lives to perfecting.

The Rowling defense, written by Times columnist Pamela Paul, appeared a day after the letter. Whether coincidental or intentional, that timing had the effect of strongly hinting that The Times has no plans to seriously consider the complaints raised. That became even more apparent when word spread that Times editor Joe Kahn had admonished Times journalists who dared weigh in on the controversy.

“We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums,” Kahn wrote in a memo obtained by the The Hill.

He could have saved a few words and just officially slurred them as “woke”, because that’s the way it comes across. Some defenders of The Times have done something similar, referring to the paper’s critics as “progressive journalists” who are supposedly demanding “silence” on these issues.

Those “progressive” journalists called for better journalism. They referred to an analysis that found that The Times used more than 15,000 words of “front-page Times coverage debating the propriety of medical care for trans children published in the last eight months alone.”

That’s where the letter is its strongest. Why have so many words been dedicated to an issue about a “tiny percentage of the population … and an even smaller percentage of those people face the type of conflict the Times is so intent on magnifying.” Has the paper dedicated that much prominent space to any other issue? Why or why not? Have those in charge even asked?

The Times must know trans people, and in particular trans youth, have been used by bad actors to conjure up fear for political and other purposes. It must know that whatever it focuses on will heavily shape the overall narrative. In an environment such as this, the volume of journalism can swamp quality. Why is this issue worthy of so much front-page coverage? And repeated columns on the opinion page? And 11,000 words in New York Times Magazine? Or 3,000 words about trans athletes in women’s sports? Or a 1,200-word story asking whether the word “woman” is being banned in some circles?

Times editors and reporters can’t be so naïve as to believe their work hasn’t contributed to what feels like a moral panic about trans people. I’ve felt a similar frustration with crime coverage. Politicians increase the number of times they mention violent crime the closer voters get to the ballot box, and journalists dutifully follow suit and increase the number of times they write about it. While that unfolds, journalists deny critics who say they are helping politicians conjure boogeymen for nakedly political purposes and by declaring each article they produced was evenhanded. Only after the election does it become clear to them that the specter of violent crime was used to gin up votes, and that they helped politicians do just that. It’s a frustratingly obvious cycle.

This is in no way a suggestion to avoid  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 February 2023 at 5:00 pm

The decline of the NY Times

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As I mentioned, I have canceled my NY Times subscription, just as I earlier this month canceled my Washington Post subscription, and for the same reason: a move to the Right, politically, especially in national politics and in the culture wars.

This morning I saw an open letter to the NY Times. Note that if you scroll to the bottom, you also can sign the letter.

For the attention of Philip B. Corbett, associate managing editor for standards at The New York Times.

Dear Philip,

We write to you as a collective of New York Times contributors with serious concerns about editorial bias in the newspaper’s reporting on transgender, non⁠-⁠binary, and gender nonconforming people.

Plenty of reporters at the Times cover trans issues fairly. Their work is eclipsed, however, by what one journalist has calculated as over 15,000 words of front⁠-⁠page Times coverage debating the propriety of medical care for trans children published in the last eight months alone.

The newspaper’s editorial guidelines demand that reporters “preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias” when cultivating their sources, remaining “sensitive that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance.” Yet the Times has in recent years treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language, while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources.

For example, Emily Bazelon’s article “The Battle Over Gender Therapy” uncritically used the term “patient zero” to refer to a trans child seeking gender⁠-⁠affirming care, a phrase that vilifies transness as a disease to be feared. Bazelon quoted multiple expert sources who have since expressed regret over their work’s misrepresentation. Another source, Grace Lidinksy⁠-⁠Smith, was identified as an individual person speaking about a personal choice to detransition, rather than the President of GCCAN, an activist organization that pushes junk science and partners with explicitly anti⁠-⁠trans hate groups.

In a similar case, Katie Baker’s recent feature “When Students Change Gender Identity and Parents Don’t Know” misframed the battle over children’s right to safely transition. The piece fails to make clear that court cases brought by parents who want schools to out their trans children are part of a legal strategy pursued by anti-trans hate groups. These groups have identified trans people as an “existential threat to society” and seek to replace the American public education system with Christian homeschooling, key context Baker did not provide to Times readers.

The natural destination of poor editorial judgment is the court of law. Last year, Arkansas’ attorney general filed an amicus brief in defense of Alabama’s Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, which would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, for any medical provider to administer certain gender⁠-⁠affirming medical care to a minor (including puberty blockers) that diverges from their sex assigned at birth. The brief cited three different New York Times articles to justify its support of the law: Bazelon’s “The Battle Over Gender Therapy,” Azeen Ghorayshi’s “Doctors Debate Whether Trans Teens Need Therapy Before Hormones,” and Ross Douthat’s “How to Make Sense of the New L.G.B.T.Q. Culture War.” As recently as February 8th, 2023, attorney David Begley’s invited testimony to the Nebraska state legislature in support of a similar bill approvingly cited the Times’ reporting and relied on its reputation as the “paper of record” to justify criminalizing gender⁠-⁠affirming care.

Douthat’s piece was published in the Opinion section, which lost one of the paper’s most consistently published trans writers, Jennifer Finney Boylan, following the Times’ recent decision not to renew her contract.

As thinkers, we are disappointed to see the New York Times follow the lead of far-right hate groups in presenting gender diversity as a new controversy warranting new, punitive legislation. Puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and gender⁠-⁠affirming surgeries have been standard forms of care for cis and trans people alike for decades. Legal challenges to gender⁠-⁠nonconformity date back even further, with 34 cities in 21 states passing laws against cross⁠-⁠dressing between 1848 and 1900, usually enforced alongside so-called prohibitions against public indecency that disproportionately targeted immigrants, people of color, sex workers, and other marginalized groups. Such punishments are documented as far back as 1394, when police in England detained Eleanor Rykener on suspicion of the crime of sodomy, exposing her after an interrogation as “John.” This is not a cultural emergency.

You no doubt recall a time in more recent history when it was ordinary to speak of homosexuality as a disease at the American family dinner table—a norm fostered in part by the New York Times’ track record of demonizing queers through the ostensible reporting of science.

In 1963, the New York Times published a front⁠-⁠page story with the title . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2023 at 10:06 am

NY Times invents a Biden scandal — and the public’s reaction

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Jamison Foser writes at Finding Gravity:

When New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker tweeted yesterday that the discovery of classified documents at Joe Biden’s personal office and home, though “markedly different” from Donald Trump’s mishandling of classified documents, would nevertheless inoculate Trump from criticism, it wasn’t hard to spot the flaw in Baker’s reasoning. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen responded to Baker:

Rosen’s critique of the “savvy style,” is spot on — as far as it goes. But here it’s missing an essential element. Baker isn’t just telling us perception matters more than truth — he is actively shaping perception, not merely observing or predicting it.

Look back at Baker’s tweet: “Democrats will now have a hard time using Trump’s mishandling of classified papers against him, even though the particulars of the two cases are markedly different.” Stop and think about that for a second. Why would this be true? If the two cases are “markedly different,” why would Democrats “have a hard time using Trump’s mishandling of classified papers against him”? The only way that makes sense is if the public wrongly perceives the two cases to be similar, rather than markedly different. And how does the public learn about the two cases? Well, in large part from journalists like Peter Baker. So if journalists like Peter Baker treat the cases as markedly different (as Peter Baker knows they are), the public will perceive them as markedly different, and Democrats won’t have any trouble using Trump’s mishandling of classified papers against him. But of course Baker isn’t treating them like they’re markedly different. He’s treating the Biden discovery as a huge problem for Biden, and a reprieve for Trump. And by doing that, he might indeed help cause the public to wrongly perceive the two cases to be similar. Baker is, in effect, both predicting the consequences of Baker’s own bad journalism (though he of course omits his role and treats the consequences as things that will just inevitably happen all on their own) and helping bring them about.

It isn’t just Peter Baker, of course. Baker’s tweet reflects the core thesis that has driven the New York Times’ coverage of the Biden documents from the very beginning. From January 9 to January 24, the Times’ news side has generated 19 articles plus four videos, a podcast, and a slideshow

about the discovery of classified documents at Biden’s home and foundation office. More than an article per day for two weeks — a volume of coverage that itself misleads the public about how important this is. I reviewed each one of those articles this morning, and two things immediately jumped out:

  1. From the very beginning — literally from the first article to the most recent, and nearly every piece in between — the Times has grudgingly acknowledged that the Trump and Biden document situations are very different. Because they are.
  2. From the very beginning — literally from the first article to the most recent, and nearly every piece in between — the Times has asserted that the Biden document discovery, although entirely different from the Trump document scandal, will be politically damaging to Biden and inoculate Trump from criticism.

Rather than . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 12:36 pm

Who hates inclusivity? The question answers itself.

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Dan Froomkin’s column from last July is worth reading. It begins:

There is no rational, acceptable reason to run an opinion column, nine days after the  Supreme Court’s devastating repeal of reproductive rights, arguing that the “far left” is denying women their humanity as much as the “far right” – based on the fact that a handful of people are trying to use more inclusive language to acknowledge that trans men can get pregnant, too.

But that, of course, is exactly what the editors of the New York Times opinion section chose to do on Saturday, running a piece headlined “The Far Right and Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don’t Count,” by their newly-minted columnist Pamela Paul, the former Book Review editor who apparently was brought over to opinion primarily to troll the libs.

Both-sidesing would have been a step up for this column, which devoted only 52 words out of 1,300 to the right’s decades-long campaign to strip women of their rights. The rest was about how “the fringe left” is “jumping in with its own perhaps unintentionally but effectively misogynist agenda.”

The central thesis of Paul’s argument was an exaggerated summary of a scaremongering news article from last month by Michael Powell, one of the two star reporters the Times has assigned to the woke-panic/cancel-culture beat –the other being Anemona Hartocollis, who just a few days ago gave us this already infamous piece of soft-focus cancel porn.

Powell, Paul wrote, had concluded that “the word ‘women’ has become verboten.”

In reality, some groups, sometimes, use gender-neutral language because, as NARAL explained (in a tweet over a year ago) “it’s not just cis-gender women that can get pregnant and give birth… We’re being inclusive. It’s that simple.”

But nobody is eliminating the word woman. That is incontrovertibly bullshit.

So why write such a thing? Why publish it?

As it happens, I ask myself those questions a lot these days. Our most elite media outlets – the Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, among others – seem to be constantly running articles that cast wokeism and cancel culture as threats to society equal or greater than an extremist political party that is quickly and effectively eroding American human rights, free speech, and democracy.

Well, I’ve seen enough. I have answers.

What all these articles reflect is an intense, disproportionate hostility toward . . .

Continue reading.

See also Jos Truitt’s piece in Columbia Journalism Review from 9 years ago.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2023 at 4:45 pm

Learning from Disasters: Political Media Edition

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James Fallows has an excellent column exploring why journalists (and their editors) do so poorly at learning from their mistakes and offers some lessons they might have learned. (In the case of the NY Times, it became clear from the responses journalists and editors made to the Public Editor, particularly Margaret Sullivan, that the problem of not learning from mistakes was due to a deep-seated and unshakeable belief that they were incapable of making mistakes, and any errors of any sort were always someone else’s fault — often the readers, who “read it wrong.”)

Fallows writes:

We all make mistakes. People, organizations, countries. The best we can do is admit and face them. And hope that by learning from where we erred, we’ll avoid greater damage in the future.

Relentless and systematic self-critical learning is why commercial air travel has become so safe. (As described here, and recent posts about the JFK close call here and here.) Good military organizations conduct “lessons learned” exercises after victories or defeats. Good businesses and public agencies do the same after they succeed or fail.

We in the press are notably bad at formally examining our own errors. That is why “public editor” positions have been so important, and why it was such a step backward for the New York Times to abolish that role nearly six years ago. Similarly this is why I think the generally excellent ProPublica is making a mistake in flatly refusing to address questions about its notorious “lab leak” story from last fall.

Three welcome words: ‘I Was Wrong.’

Here’s another example of facing a mistake, or trying to ignore it: the buildup to the “Red Wave” that never happened in the 2022 midterms.

Pundits and much of the mainstream press spent most of 2022 describing Joe Biden’s unpopularity and the Democrats’ impending midterm wipeout. As it happened, Biden and the party nationwide did remarkably well.

On the morning after the election, conservative pundit Henry Olsen had an opinion column in the Washington Post headlined “I Was Wrong About the Midterms. Here’s What I Missed.”

That’s to his credit. (For the record, I disagree with him about most things.) A number of other writers quickly owned up to misjudgment.

By comparison: In its news coverage, not the opinion page, the New York Times had been among the most certain-sounding in preordaining the Democrats’ loss. This was its front page just one day before the election: . . .

.Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2023 at 2:23 pm

Blockbuster NYTimes Story Accidentally Leaked Phone Numbers of Russian Soldiers Criticizing War

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I noticed when Margaret Sullivan was Public Editor — the equivalent of ombudsman — of the NY Times, that neither editors nor reporters would admit they erred. Rarely there would be a single grudging admission, but mostly any criticism was brushed aside, even when the criticism pointed out a flagrant error.

And the Times maintains that attitude. Joseph Cox reports in Motherboard:

A blockbuster investigation from the New York Times in September, 2022, inadvertently exposed the apparent phone numbers of Russian soldiers as well as the apparent civilian family members they were speaking to, Motherboard has learned. Some of these people were providing a frank assessment of the ongoing Ukraine war, and blunt criticisms of their superiors including President Putin himself. The exposure potentially put the people at risk of reprisal from their own government and other third parties.

The news highlights not only the risks phones pose in wartime, but also the security hazards that can be posed by journalists handling leaked information. Last week, for example, dozens of Russian soldiers were killed in an attack by Ukrainian forces; the Kremlin said they were targeted based on cell phone data. “For Russian troops, cellphone use is a persistent, lethal danger,” the Times wrote.

When contacted by Motherboard, the Times initially said that it took steps to delete the metadata but failed to scrub several audio files. It said that the metadata was up for only a “few hours.” 

“Before publication, we worked to remove identifying information from the story. We later learned that some buried metadata was live on the site for a few hours, and took prompt steps to remove it,” Charlie Stadtlander, director, external communications, newsroom, at the New York Times initially told Motherboard in a statement.

Motherboard then found that additional phone numbers and internal notes for fact checkers—which in some cases seemingly included not only the number of the apparent soldier but also the person they were speaking to, as well as their supposed relation—remained online in the article’s source code as of Wednesday afternoon, months after publication. When contacted again by Motherboard, the Times edited the piece to remove that metadata from the source code, and replace it with “null.”

In response to the second request for comment about the further exposure in the source code, Stadtlander provided a nearly identical statement that only removed the “few hours” section..

“Before publication, we worked to remove identifying information from the story. We later learned that some buried metadata was live on the site and took prompt steps to remove it,” Stadtlander wrote.

Motherboard found what appears to be multiple phone numbers in the source code.

Security experts told Motherboard the exposure is dangerous.

“This metadata error is a regrettable and entirely avoidable cockup on the part of the New York Times,” Thomas Rid, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University/SAIS, told Motherboard in an online chat. “The Times says it spent almost two months on translating the recordings—well, it should have spent another 20 minutes on scrubbing the metadata.”

In its investigation, the Times says it . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 4:56 pm

Privacy Is OK

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I saw a negative comment on Mastodon about Reid Blackman’s article in the NY Times (no paywall) on Signal and why unrestrained privacy is a bad thing. I read the article and I didn’t understand what the problem was, though I was perfectly willing the accept that there may indeed be a problem. I was just unable to see it, and the 500-character format was insufficient to describe the problem to those who, like me, were ignorant of what it was.

Now, thankfully, Tim Bray has written an explainer that provides the insight I wanted. He writes:

I hate to write a piece just saying Someone Is Wrong On The Internet. But Reid Blackman’s The Signal App and the Danger of Privacy at All Costs (in the NYTimes, forsooth) is not just wrong but dangerously misleading. I haven’t seen a compact explainer on why, so here goes.

Blackman’s description of what Signal does is accurate: Provides an extremely private communication path among individuals and groups; private to the extent that (a nonprofit) doesn’t even know who’s talking to whom, let alone what they’re saying.

Blackman argues that this is dangerous because bad people could use it to plan nefarious activities and the legal authorities wouldn’t be able to eavesdrop on them and stop them. Indeed, bad people can and (I’m sure) do use cryptography to evade surveillance.

So, let’s agree that Signal offers an upside and a downside. Up: Your privacy is protected from snoopers, be they maleficent governments or ordinary criminals. Down: It’s hard to wiretap the bad guys.

So, can we remove the downside without doing damage? Blackman says little about that, except the phrase “Whether law enforcement should tap our phones on the condition that a warrant is obtained…”

I’m sorry to be the bearer of of bad news, but it’s simply not possible to address the downside without completely shattering the upside. Here are three reasons why.

  1. When you say “law enforcement”, who exactly do you mean? Employees of the United States? Of Oregon? Of Crow Wing County, MN? Of Italy? Of China? How are you going to sort out the jurisdictional disputes, and how are you going to ensure that only “good” law-enforcement organizations get to snoop?
  2. A Signal eavesdropping capability would become the Holy Grail for every global organized-crime organization, national-security agency, and teenage hacker from Belarus. They’re pretty smart people at Signal, but there aren’t that many of them, and in a fight between them and a world-wide army of attackers, I know who I’m betting on.
  3. Obviously, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2022 at 4:35 pm

The New York Times Is in the Tank for Crypto

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I’ve noticed this, too. The NY Times rather too often has feet of clay — the effects of privilege and poor priorities (“access is everything” does not provide good guidance). Robert Kuttner writes in The American Prospect:

In a recent post, I noted in passing the oddly soft coverage of the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried in The New York Times. The Times managed to compare the woes of FTX to a bank run, to blame Bankman-Fried’s competitors for undermining his credibility, and to take his professed charitable intent at face value.

Since I wrote, the Times coverage has only gotten worse.

A piece on the interconnections between Bankman-Fried’s exchange (FTX) and the investment company he controlled (Alameda) soft-pedaled the outright illegality of his making trades with customer funds. To hear the Times tell it, “Alameda’s need for funds to run its trading business was a big reason Mr. Bankman-Fried created FTX in 2019. But the way the two entities were set up meant that trouble in one unit shook up the other as crypto prices began to drop in the spring.”

But that’s not what happened. When customers demanded their money, Fried didn’t have it, because he had been using it and losing it, illegally, for his own trades.

And this: “Alameda’s methods borrowed many aspects from traditional high finance. It was a quantitative trading firm, similar to Wall Street hedge funds that use mathematical models and data to inform decisions. It used ‘leverage’—or borrowed money—to fuel its trades and make bigger returns.”

Note the alibis, and the passive voice. The subhead tells the reader “things got out of control,” as in Nixon’s infamous “mistakes were made.” The comparable Wall Street Journal piece ran rings around the Times version, explaining the interlocks and the sheer illegality.

More from Robert Kuttner

But the most appalling recent Times piece was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2022 at 4:58 pm

What counts as a bestseller?

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The question here seems closely related to the previous post, another example of “What do we know? and how do we know it?”

Aside: Some things we know because (a) someone told us and (b) we decided to believe it — and language usage is very much like that. For example, I read long ago, probably in Fowler, that “?” and “!” are marks of intonation, and thus do not necessarily end a sentence (as does, for example, “.”). Thus, to show intonation, instead of “Do you want coffee or tea?”, one can write “Do you want coffee? or tea?” (In that example, “or” is not capitalized because it clearly does not begin a sentence.) I was told that “data” is the plural of “datum,” and I decided to believe it, so I write (and say) things like “The data show…” and not “The data shows…”)

As Jordan Pruet explains at, “bestsellers” are not, as one might think, the books most frequently purchased. He writes:

In 1983, William Blatty—author of The Exorcist—sued the New York Times.1 His lawsuit alleged that the Times had incorrectly excluded his latest novel, Legion (a sequel to The Exorcist), from its bestseller list—the coveted ranking that purports to show the books that have sold the most copies that week in the United States. According to Blatty’s lawyers, Legion had sold enough copies to warrant a spot on the list, so its absence was due to negligence or fraud, for which Blatty was entitled to compensation. The Times countered with what might sound like a surprising admission: the bestseller list is not mathematically objective; it is editorial content, which is protected by the First Amendment. The court ruled in favor of the New York Times.

The Blatty case draws attention to a fundamental truth about bestseller lists, one that often gets forgotten amid the drama of their weekly publication: they are not a neutral window into what the public is really reading. Rather, they reflect editorial decisions about how and what to count. Changes on the list might reflect changes in counting procedure, rather than changes in the market. Despite their lack of neutrality—or, perhaps, because of it—these editorial and counting decisions can have a big effect on which books and authors get the honor of appearing on the list; in turn, they shape the public’s perception of what it is reading and what it should consider reading next.

In this piece, I want to explore one way such decisions have affected the Times list over its almost 90-year publication history: the separation of sales by book format (hardcover, paperback). In the 1950s and 1960s, the fact that the Times exclusively publicized hardcover sales meant that some of the most popular novelists of the time rarely appeared on the list, because they made most of their sales in paperback. Today, the Times publishes distinct lists for different formats, and the content of these lists often reflects status hierarchies associated with different genres and communities of readers.

It turns out, then, that “bestseller” is a more complicated category than you might at first think. Though its name seems to refer to something very straightforward, there are all sorts of weird historical factors and counting choices that affect whether a book might make the cut. Given the influence of the Times list, it’s worth examining the effects of the choices made when assembling it, and what they can tell us about the kinds of information about books we consider valuable.

The occasion for this analysis is the recent publication of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2022 at 1:09 pm

Barbara Ehrenreich Is Not an Optimist, but She Has Hope for the Future

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I just came across a New Yorker interview in which Jia Tolentino interview Barbara Ehrenreich, and I thought it was quite good. It appeared two years ago — March 21, 2020 — and it begins:

Barbara Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, where her family had lived for generations, in 1941. Most of her male ancestors lost fingers working in nearby copper mines. But her father attended night school, then won a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon; the family moved to Pittsburgh and rose into the middle class. Ehrenreich studied physics in college, got a doctorate in cell biology, and, in the late sixties, alongside her husband at the time, John Ehrenreich, she became involved in health-care organizing and antiwar activism.

In the decades since, Ehrenreich has tried, as a writer and an activist, to forge a bridge between the working and middle classes. She published her first two books—one on chemistry and one, co-written with her husband, about student protest—in 1969, and started attracting a wide audience in the nineteen-seventies, when she began writing for the influential feminist magazine Ms. She’s now published more than twenty books, including the 2001 bestseller “Nickel and Dimed,” about the daily indignities of low-wage work, and “Natural Causes,” a 2018 polemic about the wellness industry and the illusion of control. Her latest, “Had I Known: Collected Essays,” which brings together work from the past four decades, examines health, the economy, feminism, “bourgeois blunders,” God, science, and joy.

I recently visited Ehrenreich at home, in her fifth-floor condo outside Washington, D.C. Like her, the place was no-nonsense but welcoming. There were magazines on side tables, and shelves piled with books. She had broken her arm the previous weekend—“attacked,” she said, “by a laundry basket,” which she’d tripped over in the dark—and had enlisted a publicist at Twelve Books to pick up sandwiches and drinks for us. She asked over e-mail if I had any dietary preferences or restrictions, and I said that I valued all sandwiches but preferred one without mayonnaise, a choice that later became the subject of discussion. After selecting a turkey sandwich with mustard—Ehrenreich had chicken salad—I sat down with her in a small sunroom overlooking the Potomac River, with a peaceful view of our nation’s stressful capital. Ehrenreich nestled into a wicker love seat, propping her feet up, her right arm balanced gingerly in a sling. Later, as the coronavirus began shutting down the country, we spoke again, over the phone. These two conversations have been combined and edited for length and clarity.

I saw that you tweeted, “Got up this morning and self-quarantined, just like I do every morning.” The writer’s life has prepared us both for this.

Yes, and they’re saying that old people shouldn’t be outdoors, so there we go.

Coronavirus has illuminated a lot about the limits of individualism, and our lack of a safety net. Is that where your mind has been?

My mind has been full of grim and rageful thoughts, many of which are about the lack of paid sick leave. We turn out to be so vulnerable in the United States. Not only because we have no safety net, or very little of one, but because we have no emergency preparedness, no social infrastructure. In other places—Barcelona, for example, where my son is now—there’s much more of a community feeling in how you face disaster. We have a little bit of it—Rebecca Solnit has written beautifully about the subject. But we don’t have enough. From the prehistoric perspective, people have gotten through a lot of stuff by coöperating and sticking together. We built cities, we irrigated fields. Whether we’ve lost that capacity, I don’t know.

There’s an underlying argument in your work, I think—in “Blood Rites,” for instance, your book about war, from 1997, and “Dancing in the Streets,” your book about collective joy, from 2006—that we are wired for solidarity but molded for competitive betrayal. You’ve also written about how solidarity can manifest both constructively and destructively—about how the rush of solidarity that accompanies war is not so different from the rush of solidarity that accompanied the birth of the socialist movement, say.

Solidarity can embody so many things—fascism, religious fervor. I don’t trust it inherently. I’m thinking a lot more about this dialectic right now because of a book I’m supposed to be working on—that’s what you saw me doing when you walked in—about narcissism. We want, we crave connectedness, and yet it can turn against us in awful ways.

What was the impetus for writing a book about narcissism?

Oh, you know—across the river. It is a rich topic, though I hate to say it that way, looking at the news right now and thinking that Trump, maybe the biggest narcissist that we have in the world, could be defeated by this speck of RNA and protein. And, as a species, humans are so narcissistic. We forgot that the animals with fangs and claws once dined on our predecessors. We forgot that the so-called defeat of the infectious diseases, in the early twentieth century, was never actually a defeat. We have to understand that our place in the scheme of things is not very high.

Coronavirus seems to be spotlighting the question that underlies everything right now: whether survival—of climate change, let’s say—will be something we negotiate individually or collectively.

The question is really: How many people do we expect are going to make it? The Silicon Valley view is that it’s about three hundred and fifty of us. The left point of view has to be, “We stand shoulder to shoulder and try to get through this.”

Do you think that’s—


Or naïve, or something? Mathematically, it is daunting.

I just became a grandmother for a third time. I can’t not think that some of us will survive.

When your third “grand-dot,” as you put it, was born, you tweeted, “The universe starts all over again.” And you’ve said that having your first child prompted a political and personal transformation. In “Witches, Midwives, and Nurses,” which you co-wrote with Deirdre English a few years after your daughter was born, you argued that women, for most of history, had been doctors without degrees—that learning and practicing medicine was women’s heritage, and that the gender imbalance in the medical field at the time, with ninety-three per cent of American doctors being male, was deeply unnatural.

Having my first child made me into a real feminist. It was the sexism of doctors, the whole system. With my first pregnancy, the doctor at this hospital clinic—I couldn’t afford private care—did a pelvic exam to see if I was good to go and have the baby. When it was over, I peeked up and said, “So, is the cervix beginning to be effaced?” And he looked at the nurse, and said to her, “Where did a nice girl like this learn to talk like that?”

I would say that that’s when I transitioned to raging feminism.

I imagine “Nickel and Dimed” was another turning point in your career.

That was a complete change for me. I thought of it as a kind of excursion into reporting. I’m not really a reporter, so I had no idea what to do. I just went out and got the jobs, and then after a few days I figured, well, I’ll just write down everything that happens during the day, during the shift, after.

What about in terms of the book’s success? It’s sold a million and a half copies.

Oh, yeah, because then I made money. I made money running around the speaking, lecture circuit for years, which combined well with activism for raising wages, to the dismay of the people and the administrators who invited me.

There was this one college that invited me to give a speech to all the incoming students. I was contacted before I came by some workers at the college asking if I could meet with them to discuss their organizing drive. I said, “Sure, let’s have dinner when I get there.” And I did. Maybe six of them. The word of this meeting got to the president of the college, who then did everything he could to sabotage me. Right before the talk, he told me I had twenty minutes, whereas before he’d said forty. And one other thing, can I be nasty?


He had a limousine pick me up at the airport and drive me back to the airport—a stretch limo, the kind where you can’t even talk to the driver, you’re so far back. Then he complained about my being a diva to the press, implying that I’d insisted on this limo.

When you were writing that book, who were you writing for? And who did your publisher think you were writing for? You’ve noted before that you received a pretty small advance—to the point that, when you were later diagnosed with breast cancer, you had to borrow money from family and friends.

I have a hard time, as a writer, picking an audience. I mostly just write whatever I’m comfortable with. I remember, writing “Nickel and Dimed,” thinking maybe I was using words that might not be familiar to some people—like “glossolalia,” speaking in tongues. And I thought, Hell, I feel like using it, you can look it up too, dammit.

I think the book struck such a nerve because the biggest media outlets rarely depict the actual textures of working-class life. About a decade later, you founded the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which funds and co-publishes stories about inequality in mainstream outlets—often written by people who are themselves receiving the sharp end of the stick. What inspired that? And do you see the project as having to do with the downward mobility of the journalistic profession?

Well, in 2009, I was appalled by the New York Times’ coverage of the recession, which was all about people on the Upper West Side who could not afford their personal Pilates trainer anymore. So I approached them and said I want to do some things about people who had already been struggling when the recession began. They agreed. I got space in what was then the Sunday Review section and got to work. In my mind, to do this I had to go to different places around the country, see different people. So it was costing me money, and, at a certain point, I realized that what they were paying me was so much less than what they’d paid me five years earlier, when I did a column for the same section of the paper. It was forty per cent of that.

And I thought, Geez, I’m losing money on this, but I guess I made money on “Nickel and Dimed,” I can afford it. And then I thought, What kind of bullshit is this? Only rich people can write about poverty? That’s when the idea of E.H.R.P. came to my mind.

Speaking of the Times, I was reading an old David Brooks column, from 2006, in which he wrote, “Liberals have adopted an overly negative view of reality. Barbara Ehrenreich’s books are well and good, but if you think they represent the broader society, you’ll get America wrong.” The underlying argument of the column was that things were going pretty well, actually—that the poverty rate, at about a quarter of the American population, was just fine.

Class insularity in the media élite is a huge obstacle—people who, when they see a working-class person, it’s probably the FedEx guy. I can’t tell anyone how bad that is if they haven’t already noticed. The other problem is that publications are afraid to offend advertisers, who tend not to want their ad for diamonds to be facing a page about indigent women with cancer.

The journalism professor Christopher R. Martin recently wrote a book called “No Longer Newsworthy” that’s about this problem. He writes about how, throughout the twentieth century, newspapers shifted their coverage of labor issues from the perspective of the worker to the perspective of the consumer—talking to and implicitly sympathizing with the woman who was inconvenienced by a bus strike, rather than the bus drivers who were striking. I wonder if you think this is a problem in coronavirus coverage so far.

Do you think it is?

Sure—there’s more about cruise-ship passengers who are quarantined than about the cruise-ship workers who have to sanitize spaces, and lots of talk about online ordering and few interviews with warehouse workers and delivery drivers who have to shoulder the risk.

I’ve been thinking about Typhoid Mary, who woke people up to the fact that they had a biological connection with people they barely looked at. Maybe this will be an opportunity to remind us of our dependence on everyone else. But I don’t see that happening yet.

I wanted to ask you about a term you coined, with your first husband, in 1977: the professional-managerial class, or the P.M.C. It’s become a popular term among the young left, and a big point of contention. The P.M.C. are people whose economic and social status is based largely on education rather than capital ownership: teachers, managers, lawyers, doctors, and culture workers of various kinds. These professionals make up about twenty per cent of the country’s population, but a person reading the news and watching TV might think they make up ninety per cent of it. Many of these professions began with missions of social improvement, but in practice the P.M.C. have largely reinforced an existing order rather than lifting up the people they represent or teach or care for. You originally asked whether the P.M.C. could actually align itself with working-class interests rather than continue to seek control. Then, in 2013, you wrote a follow-up, in which you observed that the P.M.C. lay “in ruins”—that its members were either placing themselves in increasingly direct service to capital, being disempowered by corporate control, or spiralling down the ladder into hourly wage work. You asked, “Should we mourn the fate of the P.M.C., or rejoice that there is one less smug, self-styled elite to stand in the way of a more egalitarian future?” Do you have an answer to that question, and has it changed?

I would say mourn. What’s happened to the P.M.C. has been a disaster that’s sort of localized. Like in journalism, in all the creative occupations, there’s no stability unless you’re a superstar of some sort. Law. A lot of software jobs have gone. I can’t rejoice. And what puzzles me about the young folks is their use of P.M.C. as a slur.

That puzzles you?


When people use it as a pejorative, they mean the massive non-radicalized faction of it, right? They’re echoing your analysis—which I found to be a pretty useful framework for parsing, let’s say, the divide between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters in 2016.

I should explain that the concept of the P.M.C. did not flow from long meditations about Marxist theory. It came from things that were happening in groups I belonged to, the way in which you could not keep together the blue-collar and P.M.C. people. The P.M.C. people were so goddam rude.

How so?

This may sound trivial, but it’s not to me. We had a meeting—this was the New American Movement, one of the predecessors of the Democratic Socialists of America—that was hosted by this blue-collar couple, Pat and Ed, who set out a really nice spread of cookies and little sandwiches at their house. And our two self-important P.M.C. members walked in and completely ignored the offering of food and just launched into a tirade against me, because I’d brought these blue-collar people into the group and they were “diluting the politics.” I was just like, “Fuck you. One of them is a practicing nurse and the other one is a locksmith. Because you guys are professors, you think you can do this?” Exposure to P.M.C. contempt for working-class people really is what did it. I began to think, “What’s going on here?”

That contempt still exists, don’t you think? And that same “fuck you” feeling—and the degree to which P.M.C. disregard for the working class has been the story of the Democratic Party’s failures—is why the term is used in a derogatory sense.

But I also like the definition of the working class that the professor of economics Michael Zweig has suggested: people who lack authority in their professional lives. That definition accounts for the ways that people who might have belonged to the P.M.C. people are aligning with the working class in part because of some shared experience of professional disempowerment. There are recent movements—the teacher’s strikes, the Google walkouts, organizers including Uber drivers as tech workers—that seem to reflect this.

In the seventies and eighties, when I was very involved with health workers, beautiful things would happen when the doctors aligned themselves with the struggles of aides and orderlies—saw them as people they would make change with. For example, if you want to understand what’s actually happening with patients, it’s the person who cleans the rooms who might know more than anyone else. That’s the terrible thing about capitalism: not just its exploitativeness but its refusal to let information flow uphill. That’s how we get things like Boeing, where the engineers know that things are really fucked but no one listens to them. And we make that mistake again and again.

How did you hold on to a working-class identity, when so many people who go to fancy universities and get advanced degrees do not? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2022 at 2:43 pm

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