Supplemental: No leaders, no justice!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2014

Where has the leadership been: We were surprised by a conversation on last evening’s Maddow program.

Maddow interviewed Lizz Brown, a St. Louis talk show host. Before introducing her guest, Maddow indirectly raised a pair of questions we have been puzzling about.

According to Maddow, some local people had suggested that the all-night protests should be all-night no more. Wondering if those people could really be local leaders, Maddow decided to ask Brown:
MADDOW (8/18/14): Tonight in Missouri, police are not imposing the midnight to 5 a.m. curfew that they imposed the last two nights. But there was an effort today by groups who want to be seen as leaders on the ground, whether or not they are—

There was an effort today, at this press conference, to ask people, ask protesters to please not protest after dark, not just tonight but for the next five nights.

Who has the credibility, locally, to make that kind of “ask” in this community right now? Who had that kind of credibility coming into this crisis, and who is earning that kind of credibility by being a leader, by being a trustworthy leader now as we are on Day 9 of this crisis and presumably heading into Day 10?

Joining us now is Lizz Brown. She’s an attorney and columnist for the St. Louis American.
For what it’s worth, Brown seems to have written exactly one column for the St. Louis American, a venerable black weekly. Whatever! It was close enough for cable!

Back to the issues at hand:

For days, we’d been wondering why local black leaders didn’t suggest that the all-night protests stop running all night.

In several ways, the all-night protests seemed maddeningly self-defeating. For days, we’d wondered why local leaders weren’t trying to promote a better approach, an approach more likely to win.

And that wasn’t all! As we noted this morning, we wondered where local leaders have been when we read those anecdotal reports about widespread racial speed traps in the Ferguson area. If those anecdotal claims were accurate, why hadn’t local leaders addressed this appalling state of affairs?

Where has local leadership been? Lizz Brown balled her fists and stated these views:
BROWN: I think that we have to start the conversation with the observation that, prior to what has happened in Ferguson, there’s been a leadership void.

There has been a leadership void politically. We have one African-American elected official in the Ferguson area.

There’s been a political void with respect to organizations reaching out and connecting with young people. There’s been a political void in the sense that citizens have pulled themselves out of the political process.

So there’s a void for leadership in this community. And I think that some of the things that we’re seeing on the ground right now is a reflection of the fact that there is a void.
According to Brown, leadership has been lacking. When Maddow asked if any leadership has been emerging, Brown extended her scathing assessment:
MADDOW: And over the course of these nine days, have you seen anything productive toward building trusted leadership? I mean, rather than people just leaping into the void and declaring themselves in charge or declaring themselves an inspiration? Have you seen anything constructive and ground-up and real in terms of people essentially earning their way into positions of trust?

BROWN: One of the things that I’ve seen—

There’s a person that I have worked with in the past who has stepped quietly in to begin to organize young people. He’s brought together about 60 or 70 young people who came to him with questions of, “What do we do?”

And this person’s expertise is political. He’s a community organizer. And what he has done is, he’s managed to begin to train these young people and as of today—

All 60 of those young people, before this event, they were not registered to vote. But as of today, they are registered to vote. And they’re coming together to try to figure out a plan moving forward. Because they’re being taught that it matters that you, whether or not you engage yourself politically. You have to have control of your political world.

I submit to you, Rachel, that had there been active and engaged political activity within this community, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.
All sixty of those young people weren’t registered to vote? If that’s even close to true, we’re being told a terrible secret about the modern world.

Those are Brown’s assessments, not ours. For ourselves, we have no knowledge of the St. Louis community.

Actually, check that:

On Sunday, we watched the televised meeting at Ferguson’s Greater Grace Church. We couldn’t help noting that local clergy seem to be showing plenty of leadership when it comes to six-course meals.

Perhaps we’re being unfair. That said, Brown’s portrait was scathing.

Above, we’ve showed you Brown’s assessment of the scene in Ferguson. That said, we’ve been struck, for many years, by the lack of leadership from the nation’s leading civil rights organizations.

Sixty years ago, these groups provided some of the most brilliant political and moral leadership in modern world history. What ideas have you heard from them lately? Where has that leadership gone?

Try this:

All across the American spectrum, life is very good today for those who sit at the top. That may affect moral and political leadership in Ferguson churches. It may affect the quality of leadership in our national civil rights orgs.

In our view, it plainly affects intellectual leadership on our “cable news channels.”

In our view, Maddow was providing some very weak “journalistic” leadership last night. We’ll continue exploring that topic this week. We suspect that Brown may have spoken some terrible truths about the rest of our world.

Still coming: The Post on those racial speed traps


NO JOURNALISM, NO JUSTICE: In search of journalistic values!

TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, 2014

Part 2—A tale of three news reports: As a matter of theory, journalistic values are very important at a time like this.

As a matter of theory, journalists should help citizens know when certain facts have been established. They should also caution citizens about the facts which aren’t known.

We humans are strongly inclined to leap ahead of known facts. As a matter of theory, journalists are supposed to drag us back into line.

Needless to say, this is all theory. In practice, journalistic and scholarly norms are routinely honored in the breech. (Just check our Nixonland posts.)

Last night, for instance, we’d have to say that Rachel Maddow continued to nail down a basic fact—she simply isn’t a journalist. The mindset seems to be missing inside her true-believing head.

More on that problem at some point, perhaps even later today! For now, let’s discuss—or try to discuss—three different news reports.

Concerning the shooting of Michael Brown: Lawrence O’Donnell performed an act of journalism last night.

Or at least, we think he did. MSNBC hasn’t yet posted the transcript of his 10 PM program. Given the way the news org works, you can’t be entirely sure that they ever will.

(CNN’s 10 PM hour has already been posted.)

Here’s what we think we saw Lawrence do—and it was journalistic. We think we saw him establish the fact that, even though Michael Brown plainly wasn’t “shot in the back,” he might have been shot at, even hit, from behind.

That’s what we thought we saw Lawrence establish in a long, careful interview with Shawn Parcells, one of the pathologists who conducted that second autopsy for the Brown family.

Conceivably, one of the wounds on Brown’s arms could have come from behind. That’s what we thought we saw Lawrence establish last night.

That said, the transcript hasn’t been posted yet. The videotape of the segments in question are available on-line, and you can find them here. For ourselves, we’ve exhausted our patience with MSNBC’s endless Purex ads through a fruitless search for something we saw on Rachel Maddow’s second hour last night.

A person can only sit through so many of those Purex ads. In fairness, someone has to pick up the tab for Maddow’s $7 million salary.

For notes on that oddly fruitless search, see our third topic, below.

Concerning those traffic stops: Yesterday, we discussed the rather peculiar front page of Sunday’s Washington Post. Midway through Manuel Roig-Franzia’s lengthy human interest report, we were struck by some anecdotal accounts by some Ferguson residents.

Why are people in Ferguson angry with local police? We came away from this passage with an obvious question:
ROIG-FRANZIA (8/17/14): The fraught relationship between African Americans, a majority in Ferguson, and the nearly all-white police force long preceded the eruption of protests.

In interview after interview, black men and women talked about their fears of random stops while driving in the city, as well as in neighboring municipalities.

Marcus White, an acquaintance of Brown who works for a moving company, said he frequently has to spend the night in his employer's office because he can't find anyone to drive him home to Ferguson.

"They'll tell me, 'I don't go past Goodfellow,' " he said, referencing one of the streets near the line that separates the county of St. Louis from the city of the same name.

Many here have their own catalogue of towns that they dare not drive through. They sketch long, circuitous routes to avoid the small areas where they feel most targeted, a concern buttressed by statistics that show far higher numbers of traffic stops involving African Americans than whites in the St. Louis suburbs.

"More than four people in the car, they're going to pull you over," said Earl Lee Jr., a 41-year-old warehouse worker who lives in a nearby suburb. "Tint on your windows, they're going to pull you over. Too early in the morning, they think you're up to something. Too late, they think you're up to something. When are you supposed to drive?”
Needless to say, people have been aware of “speed traps” for a very long time. In this case, people were describing absurd situations caused by extensive racial speed traps.

An obvious question popped into our heads: Assuming those reports are accurate, why would such a situation have been tolerated over the course of time? Why hasn’t local leadership addressed this absurd situation?

This question didn’t arise in Roig-Franzia’s report; there’s no reason why it had to. In today’s supplemental post, we’ll show you what happened earlier last week when a twenty-something at the Post tried to address the statistics Roig-Franzia cited—the “statistics that show far higher numbers of traffic stops involving African Americans than whites in the St. Louis suburbs.”

We’ll also post the striking remarks by a St. Louis columnist about the lack of local leadership in the black community.

Last week, we averted our gaze when Maddow discussed those statistics concerning traffic stops. Simply put, Maddow almost totally lacks the journalistic mindset.

Later today, we’ll show you what happened when a kid at the Washington Post tried to tackle this topic. Youth is being served at the Post. In the process, all too often, readers are not being served.

Concerning improved police work: Granted, it happened after midnight. But we’re almost certain we saw it.

We refer to a conversation between Rachel Maddow and James Cavanaugh, MSNBC’s law enforcement analyst.

In this conversation, Cavanaugh briefly flipped the channel’s relentless, pounding script. He recalled the large numbers of deaths which occurred in Newark and Detroit, and in other cities, during racial disturbances of the 1960s and 1970s.

Noting the lack of deaths during the Ferguson protests of the past week, Cavanaugh said we ought to give credit where it is due. Law enforcement is now functioning better in such situations, or so Cavanaugh said.

We know we saw Cavanaugh make these remarks to someone last night. We’re fairly sure he spoke with Maddow, who (we’d say) received his comments less than enthusiastically.

We don’t even know if Cavanaugh is right in his assessment. We thought his comments were journalistically interesting because they flew in the face of the party line which is constantly churned by anti-journalists like Maddow on The One True Channel.

This morning, we fought through MSNBC’s Purex ads in search of the segment with Cavanaugh. The segment doesn’t seem to have been posted at Maddow’s site.

All the other segments have been posted from Maddow’s midnight hour last night. In total broadcast time, they add up to roughly 37 minutes, suggesting that one additional segment is somehow missing in action.

Journalistically, we thought Cavanaugh’s presentation was interesting. However you rate its general point of view, MSNBC is rapidly becoming the most one-sided of the news channels. At this point, we’d have to say that Fox provides a much wider spectrum of views that The One True Channel does.

Journalistically, we thought Cavanaugh’s presentation was interesting, for several reasons. Journalistically, we went to find it—and it wasn’t there.

Tomorrow: “Murder,” she said

Later today: The Post limns those traffic stops

All this week: Reporting Michael Brown!

MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2014

In search of journalistic values: Michael Brown’s death is a major event. All this week, we’ll be discussing the way our major news orgs have reported, or have failed to report, the unfolding chain of events.

According to our civics texts, we need good journalism at times like this.
In our view, the journalism hasn’t been especially good to date.

Final note: We're postponing our award-winning series, The Houses of Journalist County.

We still plan to present that award-winning work, with its links to inspiring photo spreads. But these events come first.

Supplemental: Nixon’s godforsaken burgs!

MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2014

When journalists fashion cartoons: Was Richard Nixon already crazy when he was just 11?

That’s the sense of Rick Perlstein’s writing in his 2008 best-seller, Nixonland.

We started discussing this topic last weekend. This is the highly peculiar passage in question:
PERLSTEIN (page 21): Richard Nixon was a serial collector of resentments. He raged for what he could not have or control. At the age of seven, he so wanted a jar of pollywogs a younger boy had collected from the forbidden canal that he beaned the kid in the head with a toy hatchet (his victim bore the scar for life). He ever felt unfairly put upon: at age ten he wrote a letter to the mother he revered, rendered distant by the raising of four other often-sickly boys, for a school assignment in the voice of a pet. Addressed “My Dear Master,” it spun out fantastic images of unearned persecutions. “The two dogs that you left with me are very bad to me…While going through the woods one of the boys triped [sic] and fell on me...He kiked [sic] me in the side...I wish you could come home right now.” A few months later, he betrayed another foreshadowing trait: groveling to elevate his status in life. “Please consider me for the position of office boy mentioned in the Times paper,” he wrote to the big-city daily his family took and which he devoured, the reactionary Los Angeles Times. “I am eleven years of age...I am willing to come to your office at any time and I will accept any pay offered.”

He contained his raging ambition in the discipline of debate...
When Richard Nixon, just turned 11, tried to get that job at the Times, was he already “groveling to elevate his status in life?” When he wrote that composition at age 10, was he, “a serial collector of resentments,” showing that “he ever felt unfairly put upon?”

Wow! We’d have to say those claims are inane. Inane, and tending toward cruel.

On Saturday, we asked what it means about our culture when an historian is honored for making the types of presentations and claims you see in that cockeyed passage. We think it means something bad.

For what it’s worth, Perlstein’s sourcing of this trio of claims is virtually non-existent. In his 1987 biography of Nixon, Stephen Ambrose presented the full text of the “My Dear Master” composition and of the letter to the Times. According to Ambrose, Nixon’s mother provided both documents to Bela Kornitzer in connection with Kornitzer’s 1960 biography, The Real Nixon.

(Ambrose offers no wild interpretations of the documents. He does say that the “My Dear Master” document was a favorite of Nixon’s “numerous psychobiographers,” who “go to great lengths to analyze its hidden meanings.”)

As best we can tell, Kornitzer’s name isn’t mentioned anywhere in Perlstein’s sourcing. (We’re not saying it should be.) At the start of his Chapter Two, he provides an all-encompassing note citing biographies by Leonard Lurie and Fawn Brodie as the sources readers should see “for Richard Nixon’s early life.”

Through the bulk of his adult life, Lurie was a public school administrator; he also wrote a biography of Nixon in 1972. Brodie wrote a widely-criticized psychobiography of Nixon in 1981. Presumably, Perlstein is adopting the unflattering interpretations presented in those earlier books as he helps us see that Nixon was already nutty at 7. Because of the pollywogs!

What does it mean when our era’s major writers are praised for this kind of work? We’d suggest it means that modern journalistic culture is adopting the norms of the novel—or more accurately, of the cartoon.

In one final post on this topic, we’ll review the crazily unflattering portraits Perlstein drew of each of Nixon’s parents; we’ll struggle to discern the basis on which he felt free to sketch these cartoons. For today, let’s look at the remarkable portrait he draws of the town where Nixon was born—and of the many “godforsaken burgs” where Nixon campaigned for the Senate decades later.

How do we liberals practice to lose? As he starts Chapter Two, Perlstein shows how to create the class resentments Nixon drew upon with great success all through his adult career:
PERLSTEIN (page 20): Chapter Two/The Orthogonian

By 1966 Richard Nixon had been clawing all his life. Whenever a dirty job had to get done, he had been there to do it.

From the time he was a boy in the Southern California citrus groves, staying up half the night to man the creepy little potbellied orchard heaters that kept the frost from the trees but not the black smudge from the boy tending them, to stain his clothes for school the next day; from the time his father built a combination grocery and gas station and made it his second son’s dirty job to begin each day in the dark, at 4 a.m., driving to the Los Angeles market to select the day’s produce; from the time he was denied a chance to go to Harvard because he could only afford to live at home; from the time he was blacklisted from his little local college’s single social club because he was too unpolished; from the time he was reduced to sharing a one-room shack without heat or indoor plumbing while he was working his way through Duke Law School; from the time, finishing third in his class, he trudged frantically from white-shoe Wall Street law firm to white-shoe Wall Street law form and was shown the door at each one (he ended up practicing law back home, where, forced to handle divorce cases, he would stare at his shoes, crimson-red with embarrassment, as women related to him the problems they suffered at the marital bed). To the time, back from the war, he begged Southern California’s penny-ante plutocrats, navy cap in hand, for their sufferance of his first congressional bid; to the time he trundled across California in his wood-paneled station wagon, bringing his Senate campaign into every godforsaken little burg in that state with so many scores of godforsaken little burgs.

The town he was born in, Yorba Linda, was just that sort of godforsaken little burg. Frank Nixon has built a little plaster-frame house there in 1910 across from a cruddy, oversize ditch that must have shaped one of the boy’s earliest indelible impressions of the world.
Was California full of “godforsaken little burgs” when Nixon ran for the Senate in 1950? Had Nixon been born in one of those “godforsaken burgs,” across from a “cruddy” ditch?

As a boy and then as a youth, was Nixon involved in a series of “dirty jobs” as he worked to help his family, even as they lost two of his brothers to childhood diseases? And by the way, in a different vein:

Do you really believe that, as a young lawyer, Nixon “would stare at his shoes, crimson-red with embarrassment,” as women explained the basis for their legal actions? In notes, we looked for a source for that entertaining claim. There is none. But then, these passages are cartoons.

Our view? When “historians” write about dirty jobs in godforsaken burgs, they are teaching us liberals how to lose. Somewhat ironically, they are encouraging liberals to recreate the sense of resentment on which Nixon often drew for his electoral success.

In our mind, it’s a losing game when liberals trade the norms of journalism and scholarship for the culture of cartoonized novels. Later this week, we’ll explain why.

That said, was Nixon crazy at age 7? If he was, Perlstein has no apparent way to know it. But as Nixon knew by the late 1960s, regular voters will always hate the swells who express their contempt for regular people in this ridiculous, sneering manner.

For the record, these same techniques were used against Candidate Gore during Campaign 2000. According to one major journalist, he was a creepy little guy by the age of 6!

This signaled other scribes that it was OK for them to pile on. But then, progressives always stand to lose the most when basic rules and procedures are abandoned in favor of clowning and license.

Did Nixon grow up in a cruddy burg? Let's sneer when we say those things, liberals!


NO JOURNALISM, NO JUSTICE: The Washington Post’s (rather bad) front page!

MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 2014

Part 1—Today, we get one basic fact: In a case where we don’t have a whole lot of facts, we finally got one basic fact in this morning’s New York Times.

Here it is:

According to the New York Times, 18-year-old Michael Brown wasn’t shot in the back.

If Brown had been shot in the back, it would have been hard to imagine a scenario in which the shooting was legal. As it turns out, Brown was shot at least six times—but he wasn’t shot in the back.

This brings us to the front page of yesterday’s hard-copy Washington Post. On a journalistic basis, we thought that front page was strikingly bad.

Even before we learned today’s fact, that front page seemed pretty awful to us. This is the way the featured news report started in our hard-copy Post:
BROWN, LOWERY AND MARKON (8/17/14): Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Saturday declared a state of emergency in this roiling St. Louis suburb and imposed an overnight curfew, telling a group of shouting residents that order must be restored after days of protests over the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.

The governor's extraordinary action came as the attorney for a key witness described the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown as an execution-style slaying. Lawyer Freeman Bosley Jr. said Dorian Johnson, a friend of Brown's, has told the FBI that Officer Darren Wilson confronted the two because they were walking in the middle of the street.

Wilson cursed at the pair and ordered them onto the sidewalk, Bosley told The Washington Post. When they refused to comply, he said, the officer grabbed Brown's throat through the window of his cruiser, pulled out a pistol and shot him. Wilson then chased Brown, shot him in the back and shot him five to six more times as Brown's hands were raised, Bosley said.

The account, combined with Nixon's declaration, made for another day of chaos and confusion in this small community...
On a journalistic basis, we have no idea why the Post would have published that report at all, let alone in the featured spot on its Sunday front page.

In the Post’s report, Bosley inaccurately said, for the ten millionth time, that Brown had been shot in the back. This made it “an execution-style slaying,” the Post rather colorfully added.

Had Michael Brown been shot in the back? There was nothing new about this claim, which had already been repeated about ten million times by that point.

But so what? For unknown reasons, the Post seemed to treat its interview with Bosley as a piece of breaking news. On a journalistic basis, we have no idea what the Post would have decided to do that.

On the brighter side, we strongly doubt that Bosley’s account “made for another day of chaos and confusion” in Ferguson. Surely, everyone in Ferguson had heard the claim that Brown was shot in the back ten million times before Bosley spoke with the Post.

(Although it too may be somewhat inaccurate, Bosley’s account of the number of times Brown was shot was perhaps somewhat new. The Post didn’t seem to know that.)

On a journalistic basis, it was strange to treat the Bosley interview as front-page, breaking news. In the process, the Post advanced an inflammatory though apparently inaccurate claim for the ten millionth time.

To us, that seemed like strange journalistic behavior, even before we learned that the claim in question was inaccurate. And uh-oh! Right next to that news report, Manuel Roig-Franzia’s 2300-word “human interest” profile seemed almost as odd.

As a journalist, Roig-Franzia sometimes strikes us a very good novelist. In yesterday’s profile, it seemed to us that his picking-and-choosing of facts came early and often.

Here’s the way Roig-Franzia started. Warning! Be prepared for classic human interest, of the “two lives intersected” type:
ROIG-FRANZIA, BROWN AND LOWERY (8/17/14): It took just three minutes.

A speck of time on a snoozy side street, a stretch of asphalt winding through a modest working-class neighborhood of three-story garden apartment buildings that's easier to find a way into than out of.

There, two lives intersected when a white police officer named Darren Wilson and a black teenager named Michael Brown—one in a patrol car, the other on foot—found themselves together on Canfield Drive in the middle of a summer Saturday.

When they met at 12:01 p.m. on Aug. 9, the two were coming from different places, different mind-sets—Brown filling free hours with a friend, Wilson coming off an emergency call about a 2-month-old baby struggling to breathe.

Brown, barely 18, stood 6-foot-4 and 292 pounds and wore a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. Wilson, a lanky 28-year-old with short-cropped blond hair who had six months earlier won a commendation for "extraordinary effort in the line of duty," steered a police cruiser behind him.

At 12:04, Brown was dead, shot multiple times by Wilson. "Big Mike," as his friends called him, did not have a gun.

The conflicting accounts of those three minutes—the tortured exercise of assigning blame—have provoked intense protests and turned this inner-ring St. Louis suburb into a parable of race, class and justice. There has been no resolution, no definitive account of what happened in that flash of a hot afternoon or of the two men at the center of it.

Police records, public documents and more than a dozen interviews on the streets here and in other St. Louis suburbs are beginning to reveal details of the killing and clarify points on a timeline that began with a theft of less than $50 worth of cigars from a convenience store and culminated with Brown's death.

A key witness—Brown's friend Dorian Johnson—has told the FBI that he thought the robbery was a "prank," said Johnson's attorney.
It’s true! As Roig-Frania writes, “There has been no definitive account of what happened” in the interaction which resulted in Brown’s death. On a journalistic basis, we’d have to say this:

As we read Roig-Franzia’s account of that day’s events, it struck us as rather selective. A few paragraphs later, he even offered this:
ROIG-FRANIZA: Both men are now forever entwined with Ferguson, but neither had particularly deep roots here.

Brown was only spending the summer with his grandmother while making plans to attend a vocational school. Wilson was in his fourth year on the police force after working for two years on a force nearby. He lives miles away in a house with a swimming pool in the suburb of Crestwood.
Is that swimming pool part of this case? Or is it part of a novel?

The shooting death of Michael Brown is a very important event. The speed with which events have unfolded—including events in the middle of the night—have made Brown’s death and its aftermath a very tough challenge for journalists.

All in all, we’d say the journalism has been rather poor, in a few ways which are quite familiar and in one or two ways which seem new. This helps create a major societal problem.

The shooting death of Michael Brown is a very important event. According to our civics textbooks, citizens need accurate facts about what is known when such events occur.

Citizens also need to be reminded about what isn’t yet known.

According to our civic textbooks, that helps define the journalist’s role in our most important events. As we watched some major news orgs last week, we thought we noticed a major lack of journalistic behavior.

No journalism, no justice! That’s pretty much what our civics texts have always pretty much said.

Tomorrow: Murder, she said

Supplemental: Announcing the death of the west!

SATURDAY, AUGUST 16, 2014

Rick Perlstein’s Nixon doll: Was Richard Nixon already crazy when he was seven years old?

Rick Perlstein pretty much gives that impression in the second chapter of Nixonland, his 2008 best-seller.

(For a fascinating reading experience, see “Chapter Two/The Orthogonian,” pages 20-43. Prepare to study hard.)

The chapter presents an overview of Nixon’s earlier years, from his birth on through the Checkers speech. It starts with a peculiar portrait of Yorba Linda, “the godforsaken little burg” where Nixon spent his childhood, doing a series of “dirty jobs.”

Perlstein starts with that highly peculiar, highly unflattering portrait of Yorba Linda. He follows with a somewhat peculiar, highly unflattering portrait of Nixon’s father.

A highly peculiar, highly unflattering portrait of Nixon’s mother appears a bit later on. But at that point, Perlstein offers this highly peculiar portrait of Nixon as a child:
PERLSTEIN (page 21): Richard Nixon was a serial collector of resentments. He raged for what he could not have or control. At the age of seven, he so wanted a jar of pollywogs a younger boy had collected from the forbidden canal that he beaned the kid in the head with a toy hatchet (his victim bore the scar for life). He ever felt unfairly put upon: at age ten he wrote a letter to the mother he revered, rendered distant by the raising of four other often-sickly boys, for a school assignment in the voice of a pet. Addressed “My Dear Master,” it spun out fantastic images of unearned persecutions. “The two dogs that you left with me are very bad to me…While going through the woods one of the boys triped [sic] and fell on me...He kiked [sic] me in the side...I wish you could come home right now.” A few months later, he betrayed another foreshadowing trait: groveling to elevate his status in life. “Please consider me for the position of office boy mentioned in the Times paper,” he wrote to the big-city daily his family took and which he devoured, the reactionary Los Angeles Times. “I am eleven years of age...I am willing to come to your office at any time and I will accept any pay offered.”

He contained his raging ambition in the discipline of debate...
We’re always surprised when writers attack a politician's behavior at ages like 7 or 10. In the case of Candidate Gore, the age of demonization was once lowered to age 6, as we’ll note in a later post. (We mention this to help you picture where these intellectual practices lead.)

Was Nixon already driven by rage at the age of 7? That’s what we seem to be told in that highly peculiar passage—a passage which also announces the death of the west. When major writers feel empowered to write in such ludicrous ways—when no one bats an eye if they do—our most basic intellectual norms are plainly being discarded.

Was Nixon already “raging for what he could not have or control” by the age of 7? Perlstein doesn’t provide a source for this implied claim, so we searched on “pollywogs” to see what we could find.

Success! As part of the Richard M. Nixon Oral History Project conducted in the early 1970s by Cal State Fullerton, we found an interview with Gerald Shaw. Shaw was the “victim” of Nixon’s 7-year-old rage, the fellow who “bore the scar for life.”

Struggling to control his emotions, Nixon’s victim told the story to researcher Jeff Jones. The designations of “laughter” appear in the official transcript:
JONES (6/3/70): Could you tell me something about the red bridge, please?...You know, the bridge that you used to cross to the Nixons’ house?

SHAW: Oh, yes. Oh, that was an old rickety rascal, man! (laughter) That was an old beat-up thing. If you made it across that thing, why, you were quite lucky! There used to be a bunch of pollywogs that were down there in the corner of it, and we used to play with those things. One day when we were playing down there—do you want me to tell you about that?

JONES: Yes, yes.

SHAW: One day when we were playing down there, I went down and got a jar full of pollywogs. He didn’t like that and he wanted them himself. He was a little bit on the temperamental side that day, apparently. So he had this hatcher in his hand, and it’s a good thing that it didn’t have a sharp head because he hit me on the head with the blunt end of it! I have a scar on my head to this day to show for it. (laughter) But other than that, why, it just shows that everyone has a temper. But he’s controllable.

JONES: Who was the person that hit you?

SHAW: Richard Nixon, himself!

JONES: Oh wow, that’s pretty good! (laughter)

SHAW: One day when we were going to grow up, he said that he was going to be Vice-President. Then I said, “Well then I am going to be President.” Well he made both and I didn’t make either one. (laughter)
All too plainly, the victim was still in pain from his encounter with young Nixon’s rage. Moments later, he offered his capsule account of Richard Nixon, age 7 and thereabouts:
JONES: What kind of person did Richard Nixon seem to be when he lived in Yorba Linda?

SHAW: Oh, he was a real nice boy, real good. I mean, everybody liked him and he was real likable child, as far as I can recall.
At the start of the interview, Shaw had defined his relationship with Nixon this way: “During our course of childhood, why, we were quite friendly with each other and used to play with each other quite a bit, and we had quite a good relationship as young kids.” The lengthy interview records the details of their friendship and their play over a number of years.

At any rate, that was Shaw’s view of Richard Nixon, age 7 and beyond. But what would he know? He was there!

In the paragraph we’ve posted, Perlstein goes on to characterize a letter Nixon wrote in the voice of a dog when he was age 10, and a letter he wrote to the Los Angeles Times seeking (needed) employment at age 11. Perlstein characterizes each of these documents in the most unflattering possible way, helping us see that, even in these early years, Nixon “ever felt unfairly put upon” and was willing to “grovel to elevate his station in life.”

It’s hard to know just what to say about such absurd and ugly interpretations, except perhaps to say this:

Such work can’t sensibly be viewed as journalism or as scholarship. Also this: When journalists and historians feel free to novelize in such cartoonish ways, we're looking right square at the death of the west! We all stand to be victims!

Next week, we’ll consider that highly peculiar passage a bit more. We’ll also look at Perlstein’s description of Yorba Linda, the “godforsaken little burg” in which the young demon pursued his succession of “dirty jobs.”

As we do, we’ll ask ourselves where such writing comes from, and where a nation which tolerates such work is likely to be headed.

Perlstein was playing with dolls in that passage. Nine years earlier, a major journalist had played with his Al Gore doll, describing Gore’s revealing conduct at the age of 6.

Perlstein plays with dolls throughout Chapter Two. What does such childishness mean?