Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Lord of the Lies
A Wannabe Ann Coulter
Kathleen Parker (below) is a syndicated right-wing columnist, called an Ann Coulter wannabe, who is connected to a newspaper with a long right-wing tradition, the Chicago Tribune. On December 30th, 2006, the Portsmouth Daily Times (PDT) published her column, “Beware of Bloggers.” The original name of the column was “Lord of the Bloggers,” which is a play on title of a misanthropic novel, Lord of the Flies. The title “Beware of Bloggers” was apparently chosen for Parker’s column by the PDT, which probably fantasizes about returning to 1950, when there was no internet and no bloggers to warn its dwindling readership to beware of. In her column in the PDT, Parker made an invidious comparison between blogs and the mainstream media. Who do you think came out smelling like roses? Who do you think came out smelling like crap?
“Say what you will about the so-called mainstream media,” she wrote in “Beware of Bloggers,” “but no industry agonizes more about how to improve its product, police its own members and better serve its communities.” Keep in mind that even small newspapers like the Portsmouth Daily Times are part of the mainstream media. Then ask yourself whether more preposterous claims for the PDT have ever been packed into one sentence?
The mainstream news media is an industry. Parker got that right, and like every other industry, its purpose, its reason for existence, is profits. That is the single most important thing to remember about the mainstream news media. Writing the truth about local political corruption and rampant drug-dealing is not the way to please Portsmouth advertisers and the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, as those of us in Portsmouth know all too well from the example of the Portsmouth Daily Times. The truth is bad for Portsmouth’s image, you see, and therefore bad for business. Those who try to tell the truth about Portsmouth are labeled as “troublemakers and malcontents,” and, in Chief of Police Horner’s latest game of one-upmanship, as “domestic terrorists.”
When we need an exposé of the Marting scam or of Portsmouth’s role as southern Ohio’s hottest drug spot, we rely not on the PDT but on a non-mainstream newspaper, the Shawnee Sentinel, which has been sounding the alarm on corruption and drug activity in our river city for a decade. Eventually, the Columbus Dispatch follows the Sentinel’s lead, as it did in June 2004 when it reported on the Marting scam and as it did on 21 Jan. 2006, when it published an article on the heavy drug trafficking in our river city: “Columbus’ Crack Trade Takes Root in Portsmouth.”
The Sentinel is also host to several blogs, including Porstmouthcitizens.info, Doug Deepe, River Vices, Councilman Mollette’s Homepage, and Moe’s Forum. From Kathleen Parker’s perspective, bloggers are “insidious enemies of decency, humanity and civility – the angry offspring of narcissism's quickie marriage to instant gratification.” She allows that there are a few good bloggers, doctors, lawyers, and such, but most she says are unspeakably vicious. “Each time I wander into blogdom,” she writes, “ I’m reminded of the savage children stranded on an island in William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies.’ Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.”
Like those punishers of impiety in Puritan New England, blogger-floggers like Parker are out in force and flexing their political muscle. They are sniffing out the innate depravity of human nature, especially when it is not held in check by a “civilizing structure.” And they are not advocating just verbal floggings. “I have to say I'm all for public flogging,” Ann Coulter said on MSNBC (3/22/97), adding, “And it might not be such a cool thing in the ‘hood to be flogged publicly.” Bloggers, blacks, Lewis Black – they should all have red stripes on their back.
A Million Little Lies
The recent controversy over James Frey’s “memoir” A Million Little Pieces shows that in publishing, as in the press and in politics, truth is often a fiction. From Kathleen Parker to Oprah Winfrey, truth is whatever those with money and power tell us it is. “Bloggers are murderous barbarians,” Parkers says, and mainstream newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and the PDT print such lies as truth.
If it weren’t for The Smoking Gun blogger William Bastone, James Frey (below) would have gone on pocketing millions of dollars and very few people would have known that his memoir was more fiction than fact. (The name of Frey’s website, incidentally, is Bigjimindustries.com.) Bloggers' livelihoods do not depend on the mainstream media, and bloggers are not “policed” by their industry because they are not part of any industry. Bloggers are more likely than the mainstream media to publish the truth, however unprofessionally and uncivilly they may do it. Do you think a blogger would have sat for a year on the story of the Bush administration’s domestic snooping, as the New York Times did? A Million Little Pieces is filled with profanity and vulgarity for which bloggers are verbally flogged, but because Frey’s memoir qualifies as self-help/uplift bullshit, of which Oprah is America’s prophetess, it continued to get her seal of approval, even after Frey was exposed as a fraud.
What does Kathleen Parker advise doing about the plague of bloggers? She concludes “Beware of Bloggers” with a grandiloquent pronouncement. “We can't silence them, but for civilization's sake – and the integrity of information by which we all live or die – we can and should ignore them.” Consider this as advice from a high class mainstream hooker about what to do about streetwalking bloggers.
As bad as Parker’s advice may be, a Portsmouth resident in a letter to the editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times (6 Jan. 2006) complained that Parker had not gone far enough. It is not enough to ignore bloggers, as Parker advocated. No, not nearly enough, this Portsmouth reader wrote. “Is it not sad that a communication tool that began over three-decades ago as a professional ‘Bulletin Board’ used nationwide by responsible and educated people has bottomed-out into a mass-communication quagmire hustled by bunches of unprofessional, clannish degenerates who verbally pat each other on the backside with every crass touché? What say ye, Congress? Why let back-stabbing sass be so openly easy? What do you gentlemen and gentle ladies do when insulted, for example, by a fellow cohort from across the aisle? Don't you ‘take steps’ to clean up the mess?”
The highfaluting, flatulent writing and shallow thinking in this letter-to-the-editor, might have been inspired by the National Review School of Writing. The letter is not so much to be read as deciphered. We gather that this Portsmouth pettifogger wants congress to outlaw or at least regulate bloggers, although the quotes around “taking steps” may hint at something worse. And the “mess,” as in to “clean up the mess,” appears to refer to something sexual as well as political.
Conservatives cannot stop obsessing about homosexuality, especially since same sex marriages have become a favorite subject in the mainstream media. With his references to “backstabbing sass,” patting “backsides” and, my favorite, “‘crass touché’,” this flogger is apparently implying that bloggers, whom he labels “clannish degenerates,” engage in anal sex. Choosing not to call an asshole an asshole is this backward flogger’s rhetorical right, but if he ends up in the process sounding like one himself that is only the more reason that he should have settled for clarity instead of cleverness.
Kathleen Parker lives in South Carolina, and her politics, if not her style, may owe something to all the Buckleys associated with the Palmetto State’s Buckley School of Public Speaking, whose founder is William F.’s younger brother, Reid Buckley. “Since its launch in 1988, the Buckley School,” its website boasts, “has provided speaking and writing instruction, private coaching and media training for nearly 2000 first rank executives and political leaders.” Where do the second and third rank executives and political leaders go for their writing instruction? What say ye? Why to Yale, of course.
Blogger flogging flourishes in China, which tries to regulate the internet by putting pressure on Yahoo and Google, and on Microsoft, which kowtowed to the Chinese authorities. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are part of an industry whose goal is profits, and there is an awful lot of potential profits in China, with its 1.3 billion population.
Back in the USA, in the name of national security, the Bush administration puts pressure on Google to provide information on its users, but Google resists. Not because Google believes it would be an unconstitutional infringement of a fundamental American freedom but because it would be bad for business. Google is resisting the Bush administration because it does not want to reveal trade secrets to its competitors. It is free enterprise, not free speech, Google is defending. On that apolitical reed, on the profit motive, may rest the survival of blogging, as we know it.
In her review of A Million Little Pieces, New York Times book critic Michico Kakutani reminds us we live in an age that bends the truth in a million little ways (17 Jan. 2006). River Vices, like millions of other blogs, is hosted by Google, which could snuff us all out in a nanosecond. The U.S. government also could regulate every website. The U.S. government could provide the “civilizing structure” that Parkers says bloggers lack. Then we would be back in the mainstream, without a paddle, ruled over by the Lord of the Lies.
Posted by Robert Forrey at 11:30 AM