It was another memorable year for the media, a year in which I managed to get involved in various dustups, some humorous and some which were fine examples of the media’s occasional self-important pomposity. So before we get too far into this new year, it’d be fun to take a look back on the last.
January: David Cay Johnston of the New York Times takes me to task for daring to use, in my own column about pundit payola, an anecdote about something that had happened to me — how could I just disregard that a New York Times reporter, who’d interviewed me about the incident, wanted to use it in her own story first? Johnston hoped I would “seriously ponder” the error of my ways, and also the harm I’d done to journalism.
February: Los Angeles magazine describes Charles Johnson’s “Little Green Footballs” site as “hate speech.” The hatefulness? Basically, regularly pointing out what is regularly done in the name of Islam, Religion of Peace.
March: UCLA alumnus/conservative activist Andrew Jones plans to expose leftist pedagogy on campus by paying people to take notes during these professors’ lectures. One professor complains to the Los Angeles Times: “I wonder who in here is being paid to spy and take notes and then sell my notes to this guy who is going to mock my class?” These professors don’t have the thickest skins, I guess.
April: The Danish-cartoons controversy continues to inspire strange new definitions. The USC Muslim Students Union, for instance, announces that while free speech is important, “anything that is discriminatory does not qualify under this heading.” So now you know. Maybe it’s time to come up with something to replace “Islam, Religion of Peace,” which is getting sort of stale. How about “Islam, Religion of Free Speech”?
May: I report that I got in trouble when I was on an L.A. Times Festival of Books panel for suggesting that perhaps Jill Carroll, the young Christian Science Monitor freelance reporter kidnapped (and later rescued) in Iraq, shouldn’t have endangered her rescuers (and gotten her translator killed) for a newspaper that few outside Christian Science reading rooms ever even see. My worst offense? Referring to the twentysomething Carroll as “a girl.”
June: I reconsider my antipathy to corny public-service announcements on TV in an L.A. Times piece: “I have to admit that the fact that we’re now a nation of seat belt-wearing nonsmokers owes far more to annoying, heavy-handed public service announcements than to even the most cleverly argued polemic.”
July: Nikki Finke, the L.A. Weekly’s Hollywood columnist, gets enraged at a (flattering) profile of her because the reporter dares quote someone implying that Nikki doesn’t exactly have the most temperate of personalities. My favorite comment comes via Gawker: “Is it sexist to call Nikki Finke crazy? Either way, we’re about five minutes from a batshit rant in our inbox.”
August: Spike Lee’s new documentary about Katrina, When the Levees Broke, premieres. During the HBO press conference, someone asked if the film deals with all the animal suffering.
“Well….” Lee said, allowing himself the slightest shadow of a bemused smile as he stared at the white reporter in disbelief, drawing out a perfectly timed pause. “I give preference to human life over animal life.”
“But is it going to be addressed at all?” insisted the reporter.
“Not really,” said Lee, getting a laugh with another expert pause.
There goes the assignment from Dog Fancy!
September: LAist.com interviews me, asking (among other things) what a wingnut is and whether I’m one. I explain that the definition of a wingnut, in Los Angeles, is anyone slightly to the right of center, so that would be me. A better question is why there seems to be no such thing in L.A. as merely rightwing. You’re either a wingnut (that is, far right) or default normal (that is, liberal).
October: My friend Sandra Tsing Loh gets a book contract for her kids-and-schools writing, which is great. I’m so sick of all those books and essays written by liberal upper-middle-class women who know all about what’s wrong with the public school system even though they’ve never set foot in it themselves. Sandra’s liberal, but isn’t shy about taking fellow liberals to task.
November: I’m struck by the odd notion that the way to improve the L.A. Times is to lure Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich and Alex Witchel from the New York Times out to Spring Street. That’s just crazy — why would they ever go, when everything about them is so essentially New York? Also, part of the problem with the L.A. Times is elitism combined with insecurity. Why do people keep thinking that importing yet more out-of-town Jaspers to explain our city to us is some kind of great solution?
December: Former L.A. Times writing coach Bob Baker’s misbegotten attempt at satirizing the Michael Richards incident uses the n-word 23 times, getting him in hot water with a “reporter/friend” (presumably non-white, otherwise I suspect Baker would have tried to come up with some sort of defense for his piece). Baker quickly backed off, offering as excuses 1) hey, this is the Internet! and 2) he was in a state of desperation from having gone four weeks as one of the L.A. Observed’s (an L.A. media blog) foreign-to-the-form stable of “blogger” essayists without even the glimmer of an idea for a post. I note that if it takes you a month to think of an idea for a post you probably shouldn’t be blogging, which quickly gets me accused (by one of Baker’s friends) of “character assassination.”
If 2006 is any indication, 2007 should yet again be full of plenty of news about those in the business of news.
– Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.