Every year I collect Dubious Media Moments from the past twelve months, and 2004 has been particularly rich. Here are some of my favorites:
January: Yet another example that the fascist-boot-in-the-face-of-the-lowly-writer is so often placed there by earnestly leftist magazines: Two years after Lingua Franca folds, its bankruptcy trustee threatens freelance writers who actually managed to collect payment just before the arty academic journal went out of business. If they don’t return the fees, he’ll sue.
February: Naomi Wolf writes a New York Magazine cover story claiming that 20 years ago, when she was a Yale student, professor Harold Bloom put his “heavy, boneless hand” on her thigh, precipitating a “moral crisis” and “spiritual discomfort.” And therefore, she explains, she will no longer accept speaking invitations from her alma mater. Because even though she never complained about Bloom at the time, “the institution is not accountable when it comes to equality of women.”
March: I describe Rick Orlov of the Los Angeles Daily News as “the Dean of City Hall Reporters” in a local alt-weekly piece. This causes another longtime L.A. City Hall reporter, Marc Haefele, who writes for a different alt-weekly, to complain that he, not Orlov, is the Dean of City Hall Reporters, because a local radio host called him the dean three years ago. “I began covering city halls in 1978 for the New Jersey Daily Record,” Haefele insists, “where I reported on municipal venues from Newark to Lake Hopatcong. So unless Rick can unearth another decade of city hall experience, some place, I’m the Dean.”
I explain that I first heard Rick Orlov described as Dean of L.A. CHR ten years ago, so his “title,” for those who care about such things, actually seems to predate Haefele’s–who does, to be fair, have all that experience reporting on municipal venues from Newark to Lake Hopatcong. So how about we call him Dean of L.A. City Hall Reporters Who Have Also Covered New Jersey Politics?
April: The Los Angeles Times prints ten letters to the editor about President Bush’s press conference, every single one of them critical. Now obviously, Bush is not popular in L.A., and the affluent readership of the Times leans markedly towards the limousine liberal side of the political spectrum. Still, how likely do you think it that all the readers who wrote in were entirely of one mind? I don’t care if these are the op-ed pages; this sort of obvious slant spells trouble with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “B” and that stands for bias.
May: I go to a Media Bistro party here in L.A. and get into a conversation about blogs with some guy from KPFK, the lefty Pacifica Radio station. A recent Blogads survey indicates that 80 percent of blog readers are men. “More women should write blogs!” the KPFK guy exclaims. “Then more women would read them.”
“Should we make women read blogs even if they don’t want to?” I asked. “Should we limit the amount of male blog readers…or prevent more men from starting blogs, since there are already so many?”
His argument sort of fizzled out there, as I guess even a loyal KPFK-er isn’t quite willing to enforce Stalinist methods for making All Blogs Equal In a Non-Sexist Blog Paradise.
June: Los Angeles Magazine runs a story about public-radio commentator Sandra Tsing Loh’s problems with the FCC, mentioning that my NRO columns about Sandra “might be the first time National Review Online has taken the lead on a free speech issue.” Well, it might be; and pigs might fly. Even at L.A. Mag they should know that it isn’t the Right that’s enforcing speech codes on college campuses, or destroying press runs of school papers for “offensive” opinion pieces.
July: The magazine the Writers Guild sends out to members, Written By, publishes a strange tribute to Robert Lees, the 91-year-old screenwriter murdered a few weeks before by the crazy homeless Hollywood decapitator. Lees was a blacklisted Communist, and therefore is to Written By not only a victim of a peculiar and horrible random crime but also something of a saint. “The life of the Party is no more,” the magazine observes in an intro to a Q&A one of its interviewers did with Lees before his death, an interview that crosses the line from gently lobbed softballs to outright shilling. Example:
Q: “What do you think of websites that urge audiences to boycott productions with pro-peace actors?”
Lees: “We had that same war against godless Russia. The Great Satan has now been switched to mean the Arabs, and we are on the side of god…”
Evidently, the Guild rethought its insistence on lower-case “god,” especially after upper-case “Satan,” because they changed it in the website version of the article. (“Pro-peace” was also changed to the more conventional “anti-war.”)
August: L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan’s review of Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism, blandly reveals the iron fist between the fuzzy liberal mitten. “Perhaps the most disheartening thing about Outfoxed,” Turan writes, “is the realization that, unlike any administration, liberal or conservative, a news organization cannot be voted out of office.”
Yes, he actually said it: If only we had the power to simply get rid of all sources of news we don’t like, just think how much better the world would be. But, alas, we don’t. How disheartening.
September: I get into a conversation with a young friend who never wants to hear how old I am, lest he (as he puts it) freak out, about the Rathergate/fake “type-written” documents. But I have to explain some forgotten lore from the ancient era of typewriters. “See, my mother made me take typing class in school,” I begin, “because then I’d always be able to get a job…”
“What–like a secretary? Are you telling me she wanted you to be a secretary?”
“Well, the idea was that a girl might have to work as a secretary if she didn’t get married right away… Anyway, there was this thing called margin release. The typewriter stopped a few characters before the end of the line.”
“Didn’t the typewriter just take care of that for you?”
“No, typewriters didn’t do word wrap. So another fake thing about that memo is that if it was really written on a typewriter, there’d probably be either word breaks or at least one extra long line on the right margin.”
“So did you ever work as a secretary?”
“In publishing they’re called editorial assistants. And then when I was an AP news clerk I had to change ribbons and paper on the teletype machines and…”
“I would have quit the first day if I had to do that!”
Well, that’s yet another difference between men and women: Women have more tolerance for low-level drudgery. But I’ll bet it’s been so long since Dan Rather had to type anything himself (if he ever did) that he can’t remember what typewriter-written documents looked like.
October: I stop by NR illustrator Roman Genn’s house in South Pasadena to pick up a special election-eve drawing Roman did for an L.A. Press Club party I helped organize. Because he grew up in Moscow, where he once spent three days in jail as a teenager, Roman is unsympathetic to lefty mass emails from friends about the crushing of dissent in Bush’s America. He’s still on the forwarding lists, though: “I tell them, yeah, just as soon as Michael Moore is executed, give me a call,” he shrugs.
November: Even after Bush wins the election, the opening credits of the new WB drama Jack & Bobby–a montage of 20th-century presidents as adolescents and adults–stop with Bill Clinton. Well, what can we expect from a show in which the future president’s mother says of a vagrant she’s befriended: “Jonah was good–and stupid–enough to fight for our country in Viet Nam…”
December: L.A. Times Book Review editor Steve Wasserman, describing Michael Crichton’s new book, State of Fear, writes with Humpty-Dumpty assurance that “Crichton’s real genius is to have written the first neo-con novel.” From the plot description, State of Fear sounds like an anti-environmentalist screed in the form of a thriller, which wouldn’t seem to have anything with neoconservatism. But it’s strangely gratifying to see language change, right here in the pages of my favorite newspaper. The definition of neocon among the p.c. set has become so much more than a euphemism for Jew. Now it can also mean any rightwing idea we in polite society especially dislike.