EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (including those of you who’ve opted not to get “Reader” tattooed on your back for fear I and this “news”letter will one day go the way of Jill Abramson),
My dog is quietly sleeping on the couch! That’s right, she is a warm puddle of furriness. Earlier this morning she rubbed up against me and asked me to feed her. Even weirder, when I asked her to sit, she didn’t. She just stared at me as if I owed her money.
My only regret is I don’t have video of this amazing activity. For if I did, I’m sure The Today Show and Good Morning America would lead with it.
Of course, that wouldn’t happen. Why? Because we expect dogs to be dogs. Not all dogs are heroes, of course. Not all dogs follow commands. Some dogs even do bad things, like attack little kids in the driveway. But these are exceptions to our expectations. Every day some dog somewhere protects a member of his family. Every day a dog does amazing things when asked. Every day millions of dogs do less-than-amazing things like sitting or fetching or rolling over.
But here’s the thing: When a cat does it — BOOM — everyone applauds like finish-line huggers at the Special Olympics. Put a video of a cat fetching a ball up on YouTube and it will rack up views like notches on Bill Clinton’s headboard.
This hero cat is a celebrity now for doing exactly what you’d expect of a family dog.
You know what this is, right? It’s the celebrifying bigotry of low expectations.
I don’t mind giving this cat her due, though who among us doubts that her motives could have been less than pure? Maybe the boy was her protein-rich “rainy day fund” as it were, “Hey Dog, I’m saving the bald baby monkey for later!” Maybe the dog and the cat worked out this whole stunt in advance to make her look good. Who knows?
All I ask is you see things through canine eyes for a minute. How would you feel if you saw this fawning coverage of a cat doing a dog’s job as proof that “cats rule and dogs drool,” as Sally Kohn put it? It’s the story of the prodigal son all over. Dogs do the hard work of being mankind’s wing-mammal in this world, and all it takes for everyone to gush over cats is one (alleged) instance of feline heroism?
What’s Next? Equal Kibble for Equal Work?
Indeed, Kohn’s ode to the feline is a classic liberal response. She takes a statistical outlier or anecdote — in this case a single cat with canine virtues — and declares it emblematic of her preferred group (cats in general). She then uses this anecdote as proof that all traditional understandings and arrangements viz-a-viz cats are inherently bigoted and unfair. Kohn writes:
Think popular culture, the heroic dogs immortalized in our stories. There’s Lassie. Benji. Rin Tin Tin. Old Yeller. Toto. Should we count White Fang? Anyway, can you think of a single famous fake cat hero besides Puss in Boots?
And in real life, dogs get plenty of good press. Man’s best friend and all of that. Cats are denigrated, treated as less than, relegated to old women and semi-ironic decorations on sweatshirts. Grumpy Cat. Or nasty and creepy, like Mr. Bigglesworth. Or the Siamese cats in “Lady and the Tramp” — you know, the movie with the heroic dog couple. Or stupid, like Sylvester. “Dog lover” is a compliment. “Cat lady” is not.
It couldn’t be that dogs are heroic in our stories because dogs are reliably heroic. It must be that there’s some unfair bias against cats that is to blame. Because as we all know, if cats were allowed to compete for traditional dog jobs they’d get them. Level the playing field and cats will run ahead of the fastest man into battle. Cats will jump out of planes and helicopters. Cats will work night and day to find fallen comrades. It’s all about the glass leash! Why do the Koch brothers keep cats down?
Oh, and when Alexander Pope, no doubt the in-house poet of canine supremacy, remarked that, “Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends,” he was simply reflecting the entrenched biases and privileges of white male — a.k.a. dog-loving — culture.
By the way, cats were famously the allies of witches, the first feminists according to the Gloria Steinem crowd. In The Revolution Within, Steinem laments the lost superior matriarchal culture — need I say it? a cat culture! — that was wiped out by the forces of Christianity (citing utterly bogus pseudo-history, Steinem writes of the “killing of nine million women healers and other pagan or nonconforming women during the centuries of change-over to Christianity”). Well, you know who marched onward with those Christian soldiers? Dogs. You know who they found with those “healers and other pagan or nonconforming women”? Cats.
I believe it was Pliny the Elder who said . . . Oh, I better stop before I make too big a deal about this.
Man Bites Dog
Some of you have no doubt already written me an e-mail complaining that this was just an ironic example of a “man-bites-dog story.” Well you shouldn’t have. Because that phrase gets me worked up like John Belushi talking about the Irish and their mothers. I wrote about it a few weeks ago on the backpage of NR. An excerpt:
“When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.” This aphorism has been attributed to several barely remembered titans of the newspaper industry (partisans of Charles Dana, Alfred Harmsworth, and John Bogart can duke it out in the letters-to-the-editor round file).
This saying used to annoy my late father to no end. A longtime news-syndicate editor, he simply knew that it wasn’t true. Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail he sent me on the subject over a decade ago (my father sent me scads of e-mails on everything from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Talmud to the innate superiority of basset hounds):
I have seen front-page stories over the years about dogs biting men — whether because of a case of rabies, the Post Office complaining about this continuing hazard to their deliverers, or attacks on people by pit bulls, Rottweilers, etc. I have NEVER seen a front-page story on a man biting a dog. And yet, going back to my years at NANA [the North American Newspaper Alliance, a once-prestigious news syndicate -- Hemingway covered the Spanish Civil War for NANA -- where my dad's career began], we had distributed at least five or six stories about men biting dogs (either out of revenge, pure kookiness, or whatever). Invariably, these were consigned to the inside pages as “filler,” usually run in the early editions and dropped in the final editions when “real news” filled up the pages (like dogs biting men, perhaps?). The New York Times was a customer of ours then and they used a lot of NANA material, including two concerning men who bit dogs, as filler material in early editions, both of course dropped when the big stories started coming in on land reform in Peru (which everybody, of course, was waiting for). We even distributed several stories (spread out over a year, which was the time period he gave himself) about an Australian who ate his car (yes, including the engine, headlights, and all)!!!! Did the Times give this proper attention? Of course not. They didn’t run any of them. And yet they used many stories on cars that destroyed people. So, when you hear the “man bites dog” cliché, you’ll know that it is just another big lie!
This was all by way of setting up a discussion about the Leland Yee story (which has pretty much vanished, hasn’t it?). You may recall that Leland Yee was a figure straight out of Hawaii Five-0 or the Sons of Anarchy; a corrupt Asian-American politician ensnared in, among other things, a gun-running scheme with a terrorist group (though Hawaii Five-0 wasn’t always keen on using actual Asians, which is why Ricardo Montalban was cast as a Japanese crime lord, which is like casting Pat Morita as Pablo Escobar). Even better, Yee was a famously ardent supporter of gun control. And yet, the mainstream media largely ignored the story. CNN famously dismissed criticisms of bias by saying they cover state senators “just about never.” I wrote:
Which is just about a lie. They covered then-state senator Wendy Davis’s pro-abortion filibuster as if the fate of the republic depended on it. They covered Sandra Fluke’s ill-fated state-senate run. The website Weasel Zippers reports that CNN had even favorably reported on Leland Yee numerous times, particularly when he was eager to ban violent video games. In other words, the geniuses at CNN are not only lying about their standards, but they actually think Yee became less newsworthy when he was charged with bribery, attempted gun-running, and collusion with the Chinese gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow.
The real point of the phrase “man bites dog” is to suggest that journalists have a bias toward surprising news, even if it’s merely anecdotal. But these days, that’s often at best a half-truth, which is often the most effective kind of whole lie. When it comes to politics, what ignites the press isn’t surprise but confirmation. The great herd stampedes when it hears what it expects to hear. Surprises get squashed or squelched, which is why it has become a parlor game to see how long it takes wire stories about corrupt politicians to mention their party affiliation. If they are Republicans, it’s in the lede. If they’re Democrats, it’s usually about ten paragraphs down, if anywhere at all.
That’s why actual dog-bites-man stories make it to the front pages, while man-bites-dog stories are negligible filler. When a Republican candidate does or says something awful, it’s a newsworthy dog-bites-man story because the press believes it is their duty to report on the true, feral nature of conservatives: “Rabid Republicans Claim Another Victim.” When a Democrat does or says something awful, it’s a curiosity, an anecdote, at best suitable for a squib in the back pages: “Local Puppy Learns to Play the Piano.” In this sense, Reynolds had it backwards. The Yee gun-running spectacle is a man-bites-dog story, and, like my dad said, the Times never puts those on the front page.
So instead of sending me an e-mail about how the cat hysteria was a man-bites-dog story, you should have instead sent me an e-mail complaining about how I lazily recycled something I wrote for the magazine.
Reid His Lips
Still, it seems to me this is a useful way to think about the coverage of Harry Reid (I haven’t read Kevin Williamson’s cover story about Reid in the new issue, but I will. Oh yes, I will). The man is a national and institutional disgrace (Reid, not Williamson, lest their was some understandable confusion). He gets away not only with lies but with slander. The political press generally agrees with his ends, and so they can muster only so much outrage about his means. Republicans get in trouble for far milder examples of dishonesty (real or alleged) because the press is horrified by Republican ends and they consider it their job to nitpick any statements that might persuade people Republicans are right. Democrats are held to a lower standard because the press is confident their heart is in the right place. Truth-squadding takes passion, and the mainstream media’s passion only goes in one direction.
Reid is often compared to Joe Biden, another politician who benefits from very low expectations. But the comparison has problems. No one doubts the sincerity of Joe’s craziness. No one thinks he’s the political equivalent of Norm Crosby, deliberately malapropping his way through life. There’s no upside for Joe Biden in telling a guy in a wheelchair to stand up and take a bow. Biden’s not crazy like a fox, he’s crazy like the dude who sits next to you on the bus with a snorkel in his mouth and every single page in The Catcher in the Rye “highlighted” with a black sharpie. Reid is different. Everyone understands that he is deliberately lying. The man reads his lies from prepared texts. You can’t read from a script and then claim you misspoke.
But this is where the Reid-Biden comparison holds up: It’s never a surprise. Biden could tell Charlie Rose that we need to dismantle our nuclear program because vests have no sleeves and everyone would say “Oh, that Joe!” (Great title for a Biden-themed sitcom, by the way). Reid could go out on the Senate floor and say that Charles Koch eats the adrenal glands of orphans to stay young, and the folks at Morning Joe would roll their eyes, criticize him a little, and then quickly segue into a discussion of Reid’s strategy. “Reid is trying to change the subject . . . ” “Reid is providing cover for the White House . . . ” Etc. There’s no actual outrage or disgust. “Why make a big deal, it’s only Harry Reid?” is implicitly the response from much of the press corps when you point out the man is a disgrace. Never mind that Reid is the second most powerful Democrat in the country and the leader of an institution that is supposed to conduct itself with some dignity, at least according to the brochure.
A Quick Word on Charles and David Koch
Back during the Clinton impeachment, a standard talking point on the Left was “if they can do this to Bill Clinton, they can do this to anyone.” Like a perfect replica of the Eiffel tower sculpted from bovine excrement, it was a brilliantly crafted bit of b.s. Implicit in the line was that Bill Clinton was set up, that he was a victim, and that the fight for freedom required progressives to defend Bill Clinton’s Caligulan lifestyle and leadership. It also sounded good, even a little profound.
I think that line would be more apt for Charles and David Koch. Don’t get me wrong, being worth $40 billion is a great defense against excess sympathy. But what the Left is doing to the Kochs is more than a little scary. From the highest levels of government on down, they are demonizing people for the sin of effectively disagreeing with progressives. While there are plenty of liberal billionaires involved in politics, those billionaires have plenty of institutions speaking for them (See: the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Harvard, Yale, etc). The message and intent behind Harry Reid’s attacks is only incidentally and rhetorically about the pernicious influence of the super-rich (hence his laughable defense of Sheldon Adelson). The real intent and the real message is quite different: “Shut up” or “Silence the Heretics!” or “Hello sheeple of the Democratic party we need your donations to fight these evil siblings”).
A friend of mine made a good point recently. People should stop referring to the “Koch brothers.” It makes them sound nefarious. We should call them by their names. And it’s true when you think about it; for some reason the “brothers” label sounds more nefarious, like the “Stinking Diaz Brothers” from Scarface, or the “Malachi Brothers” from Happy Days, or the “Montirez Brothers” from Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, or the “Slade Brothers” from Working Girl. Well, you get the point.
Various & Sundry
Zoë Update!: Zoë got her cast off this week, but the vet says she still can’t exert herself too much because she’s still recovering from her lady operation. It’s all fine and dandy for the vet to tell me that, I do wish she’d tell the beast. She’s like a vegan burrito, full of beans. I brought her by AEI yesterday and she enjoyed herself quite a bit. But what she really wants to do is hunt critters. I have to keep her on a leash on all our walks, which means she spends half her time in that low predator crouch and then leaps to catch a squirrel only to yank against the leash like a Looney Tunes dog or Timothy Geithner telling embarrassing stories about the White House’s spin operation. It doesn’t help that the missus has been out of town all week. Which brings me to . . .
Couch Update: You’ll note that the Couch didn’t make an appearance in this week’s “news”letter; that’s because it’s buried under laundry, newspapers, dog toys, and other detritus. It’s so entombed everything it says comes out muffled, as if Dom Delouise was sitting on its chest (and its chest, you know, existed). Parenthetical smart-ass comments are less biting when they come out “mmmffffffackass.” I realize this is a weird update about an inanimate object that only lives in my brain (and your hearts!). But I’m a stickler for internal consistency.
I rather liked my column yesterday on morality in foreign policy, though I expected more blowback.
Speaking of my column, I finally got a new photo to go with my column (and, hopefully, my ongoing weight loss). It’s not up at NRO yet, but you can find it over at the LAT.
Interesting: What your Internet use says about your politics.
Since we’ve been talking a lot about cats and dogs (“whmmmm’s weeeef kemosabfffe?” — The Couch) some dog- and cat-related links:
Sonny Bunch: cat truther or patriot?
Pomeranian protests haircut.
Philadelphia zoo adds tiger catwalk.
As Joe Biden once asked the head of the Word Bank, Why don’t octopuses tie themselves in knots?
Transparency in dating! Turkish man seeks lover on reality show after revealing that he murdered two others.