Links to all posts: The Way We Are!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2014

Read each thrilling installment:
In our award-winning series, The Way We Are, we explore the way our national discourse actually works, as opposed to what schoolchildren read in their civics books.

Be sure to read each thrilling installment! We’ll post all links below:

Week One—The Way We Are
Part 1: Bill Clinton discussed those “storylines,” like Krugman and Shipp before him
Part 2: When Cillizza failed to respond, it was classic press behavior
Part 3: Breaking (almost) all the rules, the New York Times discussed the sexist trashing of Hillary Clinton
Part 4: Storyline ahoy! Maureen Dowd is still upset about 1994!
Part 5: Cokie pretended to name the scripts which drove Campaign 2000

Week Two—The Way We Argue
Part 1: Bombs away! Ben Affleck and Bill Maher staged a televised fight
Part 2: Affleck’s trio of bombs proved listening can be hard
Part 3: Affleck kept repeating his script, the way fundamentalists do
Part 4: Kristof agreed with Harris and Maher. And yet the bombs still fell
Part 5: Increasingly, our liberal world leans toward the dogma rules

Week Three—Gatekeepers Gone
Part 1: The doctor was IN—and was out of his mind. No dimwit need not apply!

Supplemental: Concerning a powerful photograph!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2014

Post reader gets it right:
Each Saturday, the hard-copy Washington Post includes a full page of letters from its readers.

The page is called Free for All. This Saturday, a Post reader from suburban Gaithersburg, Maryland got something very right.

She had written in praise of a photograph which ran ten days before. This is what she wrote:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (10/18/14): Michel du Cille’s photo of Esther Tokpah, the 11-year-old Liberian whose parents died of Ebola [“A new generation of orphans,” front page, Oct. 8], deserves the highest award possible. It told a story of haunting bewilderment and grief in the face of tragic reality. The courageous presence of physician Jerry Brown, offering words of comfort, added poignancy to this extraordinary window into one of our world’s unspeakable nightmares. I am humbled, heartbroken and grateful.

K— J—, Gaithersburg
“I am humbled, heartbroken and grateful.“ Those are unusual things to say about a photograph. But there the photo in question was, published again by the Post.

Especially in black and white, it’s an astonishing photo. On-line, the Post presents the photo in color, in which it loses some of its remarkable power.

On Saturday morning, we looked at the photograph in question in black and white:

It shows the 11-year-old girl who had lost her parents. Tears are streaming from her eyes. Her lips are pursed extremely hard against her grief.

We’ve looked at that photograph quite a few times since we first saw it Saturday morning. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a more penetrating photo. It’s the kind of photo which makes you wonder why any of us ever do any of the things we do.

We can’t show you the photo in black and white. In color, we think it shows us much less.

Still, we’ll suggest that you give it a look. In our view, the reader from Gaithersburg had a good eye.

The photo does deserve the highest commendation, if we’re still able to think that commendations matter. It may also make a person want to look away. Especially in black and white, its power explains the unusual set of reactions the reader described.

Why do we do the things we do? That very unusual photograph left us asking that.


GATEKEEPERS GONE: The doctor was IN—and was out of his mind!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2014

Part 1—No dimwit need not apply:
At one time, it couldn’t have happened.

Or so the theory goes.

At one point, the theory says, we had competent gatekeepers. They kept our discourse on track.

They kept The Crazy out of the discourse—The Crazy and The Big Dumb.

They restricted the things we the people could hear—the ideas we were allowed to ponder. It was hard to hear crazy shit at that time, thanks to the work of our gatekeepers. It was highly unlikely that you would get scripted by people who were well-intentioned but basically dumb.

Did such a golden age ever exist? There’s no easy way to answer that question. But when you hear this theory advanced, you’ll typically hear two gatekeepers named:

Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley.

There were lots of newspaper back in that day; some of them left a great deal to be desired. But there were only two, or possibly three, TV networks doing news. And TV had perhaps become the major medium guiding the American discourse.

Cronkite and Brinkley were different people, but neither man was crazy or dumb. They restricted the things we the people could hear. They sifted out the crazy and the dumb.

It couldn’t have happened, the theory says, when they were sifting the things we got to hear. Americans couldn’t have heard last week’s radio interview with the heinous Keith Ablow.

We’ll grant you this—Dr. Keith Ablow isn’t a giant figure in the American discourse. He isn’t Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly. He isn’t as significant as Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes.

That said, Ablow is a regular contributor on the Fox News Channel. Last week, he was interviewed on John Gibson’s Fox News Radio program.

Gibson once hosted the 5 P.M. program on the Fox News Channel. Last Tuesday, he spent twelve minutes letting Ablow discuss Ebola in much the way Luke Brinker described at the new Salon:
BRINKER (10/15/14): Psychiatrist Keith Ablow, a member of Fox News’ Medical A Team, embarked on an unhinged racial rant against President Obama this week, charging that Obama wants Ebola to spread in the U.S. because his “affinities, his affiliations are with” Africa, “not us.”

Speaking with Fox News Radio host John Gibson yesterday, Ablow discussed his conspiracy theory at length. Attempting to channel Obama’s inner thoughts, Ablow imagined that the president opposes sealing America’s borders to travelers from Ebola-stricken countries because Obama believes, “if only unconsciously,” that the U.S. has inflicted a “plague of colonialism” on the world and that travel restrictions would therefore be unfair.

“You miserable people have destroyed so much in the world in terms of good things, and now you’re going to build a wall?,” Ablow pictured Obama saying.
“Really? To insulate yourself from things that are devastating other nations when your gains are ill-gotten? And the very fact that you can build a wall—you’re using wealth that you never should have had to build it. This is just another manifestation of you didn’t build that, business.”

Ablow’s armchair psychiatry grew particularly disturbing when he speculated that Obama hasn’t implemented a travel ban for west African countries because the president’s “affinities, his affiliations are with them. Not us. That’s what people seem unwilling to accept. He’s their leader...we don’t have a president.”
If you click here, you can listen to Gibson’s twelve-minute discussion with Ablow. As his source, Brinker cited this earlier report by Eric Hananoki of Media Matters.

At one time, the theory goes, that interview couldn’t have happened on major radio stations. There were gatekeepers in the media who didn’t allow such lunacy on major broadcast outlets.

Is Keith Ablow really that crazy? Or does he just play a crazy doctor on TV?

We can’t answer that question, though it’s fairly clear that Gibson knew that Ablow’s presentation was nuts. That said, there was a time when such ludicrous presentations would not have been allowed on major media outlets.

Those days ceased to exist a long time ago. Today, we live in an age of The Crazy and The Dumb—in an age with the gatekeepers gone.

All around the countryside, you can see and hear the effects of having our gatekeepers gone. You can certainly hear the effects of their absence if you listen to Ablow’s twelve-minute discussion with Gibson.

Here’s the problem:

Many people who listened that day couldn’t tell that Ablow’s presentation was basically crazy. They may have thought the heinous Ablow was basically making sense.

In an earlier age, those people wouldn’t have been misled that way. Ablow’s lunacy wouldn’t have been allowed on a major radio outlet.

When we listened to that tape, we heard the effects of having our gatekeepers gone. But then, we see and hear the absence of competent gatekeepers all across our broken American discourse.

It’s easy for liberals to sense their absence when we hear the lunacy broadcast by Fox. It may be harder for us to sense the gatekeepers’ absence when we watch MSNBC, or when we read the work at the new Salon, or when we read the New York Times.

That said, competent gatekeepers are generally gone from all those sites. All too often, they’ve been replaced by men in suits—by corporate producers eager to sell us The Crazy and The Dumb.

This morning, Salon was selling The Dumb in this, its featured report. (Some commenters could tell how dumb it was.) Chuck Todd and Willie Geist were selling The Dumb on yesterday’s Meet the Press.

MSNBC was selling The Dumb on several of last Friday night’s shows. And all around the emerging liberal world, highly passionate, young liberal writers keep selling versions of The Dumb—well-intentioned but clueless theoretics which are destined to make laughing-stocks out of the liberal world.

We have an important secret to tell you—we the people aren’t always tremendously sharp. This is very much part of The Way We Are—and, with our gatekeepers gone, no one can protect us from our credulous reactions to waves of dumb ideas.

Ablow was selling The Crazy last week. The Crazy is a big industry now. Unfortunately, so is The Dumb.

Tomorrow: We’re sorry, but this was just dumb

Coming later today: Links to all previous posts in our current award-winning series, The Way We Are

Supplemental: The New York Times loses consciousness!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2014

The paper’s essential culture:
In last weekend’s Sunday Review, the New York Times published a very peculiar piece.

In our view, this peculiar piece captured the famous newspaper’s peculiar essential culture.

We refer to this peculiar essay by Michael S. A. Graziano, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton.

Despite his pair of middle initials, Graziano is an American. According to the leading authority, he was born in Bridgeport and raised in Buffalo.

According to the Times identity tag, he’s also the author of “Consciousness and the Social Brain.”

Graziano’s piece last Sunday bore this headline: “Are We Really Conscious?” Such headlines signal Times readers—they're in for some very deep thoughts.

Snark to the side, are we really conscious? Speaking for ourselves, we’d pretty much have to say yes.

That said, it’s always possible to imagine that everybody else is not. And as we’ve noted down through the years, we sometimes wonder about the life-forms found in the upper-end press corps.

Let’s return to the piece in question.

In our view, this was a very peculiar essay to run in a general newspaper, even in as lofty a paper as the Sunday Times. As Graziano started, he said this:

“Of the three most fundamental scientific questions about the human condition, two have been answered.”

Two of those questions have been answered. But, according to Graziano, the third question hasn’t:
GRAZIANO (10/12/14): Third, what is the relationship between our minds and the physical world? Here, we don’t have a settled answer. We know something about the body and brain, but what about the subjective life inside? Consider that a computer, if hooked up to a camera, can process information about the wavelength of light and determine that grass is green. But we humans also experience the greenness. We have an awareness of information we process. What is this mysterious aspect of ourselves?

Many theories have been proposed, but none has passed scientific muster.
According to Graziano, we humans experience the greenness of grass (his italics). From that, he derives an extremely murky question:

“What is this mysterious aspect of ourselves?”

Does Graziano’s question make sense? We’d say his question is murky, hard to paraphrase, just extremely unclear. But when it comes from our top professors, the Times loves work of that type. In that sense, we’d say this piece captures one part of the paper’s essential culture.

Moving right along, what is the relationship between our minds and the physical world? As Graziano proceeds, he pens a murky thought:
GRAZIANO (continuing directly): Many theories have been proposed, but none has passed scientific muster. I believe a major change in our perspective on consciousness may be necessary, a shift from a credulous and egocentric viewpoint to a skeptical and slightly disconcerting one: namely, that we don’t actually have inner feelings in the way most of us think we do.
“We don’t actually have inner feelings in the way most of us think we do?” That statement is loaded with qualifiers, possibly even with a “weasel word” or two.

Graziano isn’t saying we don’t (actually) have (inner) feelings. He’s just saying we don’t have (inner) feelings in the way we think we do!

That said, as Graziano proceeds, he seems to make a stronger claim. Citing the work of Professor Dennett, he is soon saying this:
GRAZIANO: The brain builds models (or complex bundles of information) about items in the world, and those models are often not accurate. From that realization, a new perspective on consciousness has emerged in the work of philosophers like Patricia S. Churchland and Daniel C. Dennett. Here’s my way of putting it:

How does the brain go beyond processing information to become subjectively aware of information? The answer is: It doesn’t.
There’s more. But in that passage, Graziano seems to say that the brain doesn’t “become subjectively aware of information.”

Do you have any idea what that means? Neither do we! Neither does anyone who obtained and attempted to read last Sunday’s New York Times!

(We do know this. In normal parlance, we don’t say that “the brain” becomes aware of some piece of information. We say that some person becomes aware. Just that quickly, Graziano has wandered off the normal pathways of our language. Can such initial steps actually matter? You can bet your sweet bippy they can!)

Trust us! Of the millions of people who saw last Sunday’s New York Times, no one has the slightest idea what Graziano is talking about. No one could paraphrase his remarks in a way which could survive simple scrutiny.

In fairness, many people may have said each word in his piece to themselves as their eye moved down the page. As they did, they may have had the subjective sense that they were tracking the expression of some sort of deep thought.

That doesn’t mean they had any idea what, if anything, was being said. It doesn’t mean that Graziano himself could explain his various statements if exposed to competent questioning.

People inclined to defer to authority may recoil at that last proffer. Of course Graziano understands what he’s saying, such folk may reflexively think.

Don’t be so sure, Times subscribers. Wittgenstein’s later work was all about dismantling the kinds of murky statements found in Sunday’s peculiar piece. However much academic authority may stand behind such statements, Wittgenstein kept saying that they’re incoherent—that they just don’t stand up.

This doesn’t mean that Graziano isn’t doing highly useful research of some kind. It may mean that he gets tangled up, in the ways Wittgenstein described, when he starts “philosophizing” about his own work.

However one wants to judge those questions, we’ll confidently return to our basic premise. As you can easily see for yourselves, no one who purchased the Times last Sunday had the slightest idea what Graziano was talking about.

This leads us to a basic question: Why was this peculiar piece in the Sunday Review?

Here’s our answer:

On the upper end, the New York Times simply loves this kind of fuzzy, high academic work. On the lower end, its editors also love the low-brow inanities of Maureen Dowd, the pabulum of a Nicholas Kristof, the fifty references to Mitt Romney’s dog penned by the high lady Collins.

Dowd’s inanities make no sense, except as crude political insults. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, no one has the slightest idea what certain professors are saying.

At the Times, top-ranking editors can’t seem to discern either fact.

“Are we humans really conscious?” Thanks to the work of the New York Times, we’re not quite sure what to say!

The professor’s prior appearance: Professor Dennett was also cited in the Sunday Times of September 28.

(Full disclosure: His sister, little Charlotte Dennett, was our grade school pal!)

In our view, Dennett’s work is very murky. At a paper like the Times, that qualifies him as a star.

Supplemental: This is what “liberal” pandering looks like!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2014

Chris Hayes bombs Bill Maher:
Do liberals get pandered to on MSNBC?

Sometimes, yes, they do. Consider Chris Hayes’ handling of the epic debate between Bill Maher and Ben Affleck.

Affleck appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday evening, October 3. Three nights later, Hayes devoted a segment to the discussion.

He teased the topic right at the start of his program:
HAYES (10/6/14): Plus, the epic Ben Affleck/Bill Maher smack down.

AFFLECK (videotape): Because it’s gross! It’s racist.

HAYES: All In starts right now.
Ben Affleck had called Maher a racist! It was an epic smack down!

Later, Hayes teased the excitement again:
HAYES: Ben Affleck calls Bill Maher “gross and racist.” We’ll play you the tape ahead.
Plainly, the excitement was building. And the R-bomb was flying again.

After a break, the segment ran about the epic smack down.

To watch the full segment, click here. What did viewers get in that segment?

They saw a highly selective set of video clips from the HBO show—clips in which Affleck is hurling accusations at Maher and Sam Harris. They then saw Hayes display his own moral greatness.

After playing those rather selective video clips, Hayes began with this:
HAYES: All right. Two things. First of all, the definition of Muslims as people who “just want to go to the store, eat sandwiches and pray five times a day” is basically perfect and can’t be improved upon.
Admittedly, that was cute. But Hayes bungled what Affleck had said on the tape, and it isn’t a “basically perfect” definition of anything in the first place.

Mainly, it’s just silly. Presumably, Hayes must know that.

Whatever! That was simply a cable host pandering to his viewers. But as he continued, Hayes did something that was flatly dishonest—and perhaps just a tiny bit vile:
HAYES (continuing directly): Second of all, put me down on the Ben Affleck camp on this, strongly. I think to suggest that what is happening in the most extreme form in some Muslim countries is representative of the views of all Muslims is gross and racist. Or to obsess over what the particular problem with Islam is.
For the record, Harris’ name was never mentioned by Hayes. He only mentioned Affleck and Maher when he described the smack down.

That said:

Had Maher “suggested that what is happening in the most extreme form in some Muslim countries is representative of the views of all Muslims?” Plainly, that’s what Hayes implied in that statement. Is that suggestion accurate?

We’d have to say it isn’t. In fact, when Harris made his most definitive statistical statement on Real Time, he said he was discussing the beliefs of roughly twenty percent of Muslims worldwide.

Twenty percent isn’t all! If a person actually wants to be fair, neither Maher nor Harris said or suggested that “what is happening in the most extreme form in some Muslim countries is representative of the views of all Muslims.”

This distinction was perfectly clear on Real Time. It wasn’t in the selective clips Hayes played for his viewers.

To be honest, Maher didn’t say or suggest that. But so what? That had been Affleck’s hysterical claim, as shown in the tapes that Hayes had just played.

Now, Hayes implied that this was what Maher had actually said—and he went on to say that Maher’s supposed suggestion really was “gross and racist.”

In short, Hayes dropped an R-bomb on Maher’s head after playing selective tapes and offering a grossly tilted account of what he actually said. By traditional norms, this is ugly behavior. More and more, though, this is our “liberal” norm.

As Hayes continued, he played one last rather dumb card. He criticized Maher for holding his discussion without any Muslims on his panel. He then played tape of Reza Aslan discussing Islam on CNN, leading to this pronouncement:
HAYES: It turns out, as a general rule, that asking people to explain what they believe, and why, is a whole lot more enlightening than speculating about their beliefs as if they’re not in the room.
“As a general rule,” that may or may not be right. It all depends on what you're discussing and who you choose for your panelists.

The fact that Aslan is a Muslim doesn’t automatically mean that he can or will explain the views of Muslims worldwide. It doesn’t mean that he can explain those views more accurately than Harris.

Similarly, the fact that a Muslim panelist can explain his own views doesn’t mean that he can explain the views of Muslims worldwide. Still, this let Hayes exit the segment with a final lofty pronouncement.

Including Muslims in such discussions may well be a good idea. In the meantime, how about this:

Hayes had just conducted a monologue about Bill Maher without Bill Maher in the room! He misrepresented what Maher had said, then said his statements had been gross and racist.

We’re going to say there was a time when Hayes wouldn’t have done that. But the suits have gotten ahold of Hayes since they put him in prime time, and Hayes has become a somewhat different cable performer.

Liberal viewers were pandered to and misled this night. As those viewers were misled, the R-bombs continued to fall.

THE WAY WE ARGUE: The liberal world and the dogma rules!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2014

Part 5—Increasingly, we want our Maypo:
Just for the record, we aren’t big fans of Sam Harris’ anti-religionism.

For ourselves, we don’t have any religious or cosmological views, aside from the view that we humans are very poorly equipped to answer cosmological questions.

That said, we the humans have always been religious. It’s kind of silly to think that we the liberal intellectuals can find a way to stamp that out.

As a political matter, the impulse toward that approach also seems counter-productive.

What about Harris’ interest in the views of Muslims worldwide? We have no particular thought about that, in part because of Ben Affleck.

Uh-oh! On October 3, Harris began discussing his views on Real Time with Bill Maher. To watch the whole segment, click here.

The gent didn’t get very far. Eighty-seven seconds into the segment, Affleck staged his first interruption. Excluding Maher’s introduction, Harris had spoken for 43 seconds at that point.

Seconds later, Affleck grossly misparaphrased something Harris had said. (Affleck: “You’re saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing.”) And alas!

Before two minutes had passed in the program, Affleck had dropped the first of the several R-bombs he would unloose. This is the type of racist statement Harris had made at that point:
HARRIS (10/3/14): I’m not denying that certain people are bigoted against Muslims as people. And that’s a problem.
“That’s big of you,” Affleck sarcastically said. Seconds later, his first bombs were dropped.

Affleck’s remarkable sense of grievance created a striking discussion. As we noted yesterday, it’s hard to find any factual disagreements between the allegedly racist Harris and the aggrieved racist-hunter Affleck.

Nicholas Kristof supported Affleck in the televised discussion, and in a later New York Times column. He dropped his own R-bombs in both settings—but in his column, he kept repeating the sorts of things Harris and Maher had said during the TV program.

For these reasons, we think that October 3 “TV brawl” provides a fascinating picture of The Way We Argue.

Alas! Increasingly, we liberals argue in the ways we long derided among those in the other tribe. Increasingly, we insist on hearing our treasured frameworks and dogmas to the exclusion of everything else.

Increasingly, we drop our bombs on those who refuse to comply with our desires, even when we seem to agree with every word these Others have viciously said.

Increasingly, this is The Way We Argue. In our view, a modern nation can’t function this way. It’s hard to believe that progressive advances will result from this unimpressive conduct.

Why was Affleck so aggrieved that night? On a rational basis, we’d have to say there was no obvious cause.

Once again, we’ll suggest you review the full road to the first of his several bombs. This is the full discussion by Harris which led to “You shifty Jew:”
HARRIS (10/3/14): Well, liberals have really failed on the topic of theocracy. They’ll criticize white theocracy. They’ll criticize Christians. They’ll still get agitated about the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984.

(Maher chuckles)

But when you want to talk about the treatment of women and homosexuals and free thinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us. And the crucial point of confusion—

(Audience applauds)

HARRIS: Yes. Thank you. The crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people.

MAHER: Right.

HARRIS: And that is intellectually ridiculous.

AFFLECK: So hold on! Are you the person who understands the officially codified doctrine of Islam? You’re the interpreter of that, so you can say, “Well this is—”

HARRIS: I'm actually well-educated on this topic.

AFFLECK: I’m asking you! So you’re saying, if I criticize— You’re saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing. That if you’re critical of something—

MAHER (ironically): Well, it’s not a real thing when we do it.

AFFLECK: Right.

MAHER: It really isn’t.

HARRIS: I’m not denying that, that certain people are bigoted against Muslims as people. And that’s a problem.

AFFLECK (sarcastically): That’s big of you.

HARRIS: But the—

MAHER: But why are you so hostile about this concept?

AFFLECK: Because it’s gross, it’s racist.

MAHER: It’s not. It’s—but it’s so not.

AFFLECK: It’s so— It’s like saying, “You’re a shifty Jew.”
Somewhat pitifully, that was all it took.

It didn’t take much to set Affleck off—to persuade him to unloose his bombs. By the end of the ten minutes, Kristof had also signed on for the fight, though he was more refined than Affleck.

“This does have a tinge, a little bit, of the way white racists talk about African-Americans and define blacks by black criminals, which are not representative,” Kristof said at the nine-minute mark. Our advice?

Beware of pundits who claim that they can detect “tinges!” More importantly, beware of scribes who will drop our most sensitive bombs on the basis of such perceived “tinges.”

Warning! Such pundits will often be looking for ways to state their own preferred frameworks and dogmas. There may be nothing “wrong” with those frameworks. There may be something we can gain from hearing those frameworks advanced.

But there is something wrong—something badly wrong—when pundits are willing to drop our most consequential bombs on the basis of small disagreements. Affleck did that all through the ten-minute “brawl.” Kristof followed suit in his subsequent column.

In truth, Harris had said nothing even dimly racist when Affleck dropped the first of his bombs.

When Kristof wrote his subsequent column, he included an R-bomb and a B-bomb. But it’s amazingly hard to find the place where he actually disagreed with anything Harris had said.

What explains the willingness to strike that way on the basis of small disagreements? (To the extent that any disagreement can be found at all.) The answer lies in the realm of dogma—in the attractiveness dogma may have for our small little brains.

We liberals are good at mocking conservatives when they repeat the tedious scripts they’re handed by Rush and Sean. As Harris noted in the passage above, we’re often good at mocking the dogmas of white Christians.

It’s harder for us to see how dumb we liberals are when we insist on our own treasured scripts. Increasingly, though, that is The Way We Argue over here in our own “liberal” world. And uh-oh:

Historically, when liberals start behaving this way, it leads to conservative triumphs.

Where can this “liberal” trend be seen? We’ll offer two suggestions today, although we’ll put off the analyses till next week.

For starters, we’ll suggest you consider the types of analyses emerging from young liberal writers concerning a range of sexual questions. As we noted last week, we think Salon’s Katie McDonough is the most interesting of these young writers, though we don’t necessarily mean that as a compliment.

To liberals like Affleck, every wayward statement about the world’s different populations will quickly be scored as “racism.” To writers like McDonough, sexual encounters which go bad will almost inevitably be scored as “rape.”

In our view, this dogmatic reaction leads McDonough to judgments which sometimes tilt toward being quite dumb. Here’s the problem:

Pleasing though such judgments may be to a certain strain of liberal, people in the wider world will perceive these judgments as dumb. In such ways, writers like McDonough have often triggered counter-reactions which badly harm progressive causes.

It can be hard for liberals to see this. But these counter-reactions are often justified on the merits.

Here’s a second suggestion. For another example of dogmatic liberal writing, consider Margaret Sullivan’s recent posts about the Shonda Rhimes flap.

Sullivan is the New York Times public editor. Rhimes is the highly successful TV producer whose most recent series is called How To Get Away with Murder.

Here's the background to the recent debate:

On September 21, Times TV writer Alessandra Stanley offered a 1500-word review of Rhimes and her work.

As Sullivan correctly noted, the piece was “intended to be in praise of Rhimes.” That said, the piece struck many readers as offensive and racist. Sullivan offered two long posts about the furor, in the course of which she endorsed the complaints.

(Sullivan: “The readers and commentators are correct to protest this story. Intended to be in praise of Ms. Rhimes, it delivered that message in a condescending way that was–at best–astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch.” For her second post, click here.)

Was Sullivan right in her judgment? We’re not sure. In large part, this is why:

In her two long posts about this matter, Sullivan makes no attempt to justify or explain the judgment she stated. It was clear that she sided with those who complained. But at no point did she attempt to say why.

(Warning! Simply calling something “tone-deaf” isn’t an explanation.)

We were struck by the lack of explanation or argument in Sullivan’s lengthy posts. Still, the analysts didn’t start to cry until they saw the piece in praise of her work at Salon.

In the lengthy piece, Simon van Zuylen-Wood went on and on about the way Sullivan has changed the role of the ombudsman. Here’s the way he started:
VAN ZUYLEN-WOOD (10/13/14): When Alessandra Stanley published her now-infamous essay on Shonda Rhimes in the New York Times last month, the backlash was swift and furious...Through it all, there was one consistent voice of reason: New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan.

“Intended to be in praise of Rhimes,” Sullivan wrote, “[the article] delivered that message in a condescending way that was—at best—astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch.” Sullivan, thanks to that sentence, became a Twitter hero. Emily Nussbaum called the column “thoughtful and balanced”; novelist Gabriel Roth tweeted: “I don’t envy whoever has the public editor gig after @sulliview.” At every turn in the controversy, readers and critics seemed to be waiting for her to weigh in.
To van Zuylen-Wood (and others), Sullivan’s statement made her the bomb. He didn’t seem to notice that Sullivan never argued for or justified the judgments she had stated.

Next week, we’ll look at this matter, along with McDonough’s judgments. But it’s hard to miss an obvious point:

Increasingly, we liberals love to hear our dogmas stated. In Affleck’s case, the gentleman couldn’t wait two minutes before he began to recite.

For years, we liberals laughed at conservative talk for its clueless lines of reasoning. We laughed at talk radio’s ditto-heads, at the way they recited their tribe’s dogmas and storylines.

Increasingly, though, a problem obtains: Dogma isn’t just for the right anymore! Increasingly, that's also the way we argue.

Affleck and Kristof point to a problem. Increasingly, we liberals want our Maypo too!

We suspect this will lead to no good. More on this problem next week.