Paul From Minneapolis

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Now You're Doing Something To Help Me

The mainstream press is criticized as “liberal.” I've read that, anyway. On top of that, it’s criticized as existing itself only to criticize, eager mainly to burrow in and find the most damning aspect of any enterprise while caring hardly at all for anything that might be seen as worth celebrating.

Inhabitants of the media generally do not deny that they focus mainly on flaws and problems. As for the idea that they’re liberal, most say – they don’t see it. Just, honestly, um… what?

But in as essay called “The Media and Medievalism,” published recently in Policy Review and which is great for a lot of reasons, Robert Kaplan makes a case (among other things) that these two complaints about the mainstream media world are largely one and the same. That’s because what we call the “left” in this country and Europe is essentially all about criticism, a general questioning, of the unflinchingly (or at least less flinchingly) pro-capitalist, business-oriented status quo as defined and defended by the “right.”

Complaining and being liberal? Very similar endeavors. Complaining and being in the press? I think you can see where I'm headed. Do the math. (I think it would be geometry in this case.)

Gross and disgusting generalizations, maybe. That is no, not really. Seems pretty obvious to me. But bear with me because I am headed somewhere generous with regard to the press, and I don't mean to be explicitly un-generous to liberals, not at all, I love 'em, they're great, it's just that I'm mostly talking about the press here. My generosity is based on a third criticism, actually an addendum to the second criticism, the one about negativity.

It’s this: that in being simply critical, the press takes the slacker’s way out.

It’s always simple to complain, isn’t it? It’s the easiest thing in the world to just pick apart, pick apart, to make like Eddie Haskell and whine about the vast shortcomings in the efforts of those actually trying to do something. Do you have a better idea, one feels like demanding? We can assume you would just love some awesome public responsibility yourself, especially the guaranteed snide ridicule from people like, you know, you?

And so here’s the generous part. Last week my local paper, the Star Tribune, Newspaper of the Twin Cities, which is undeniably a liberal paper editorially and a paper which is prone to criticizing, broke though to another level of engagement, providing an example of substantive critique that says: We have thought about it, we acknowledge the intricacies and unknowns and this is precisely, exactly what should have happened.

In the editors’ eyes President Bush fell short in the days after the tsunami disaster. His early promises of aid were “stingy,” proclaimed an editorial, his overall performance “appalling.” He should have immediately promised more aid. But that wasn't all because this is how, precisely, and I mean the substance here really is impressive, he should have gone about it:

“Dressed in a somber black suit and subdued tie, President Bush should have called an impromptu news conference in Crawford Sunday afternoon.”

Now that is spectacular. Sure, one can quibble that the earth-shattering nature of the event was not really clear yet, there were things happening in the background already, and so on, but dammit I do not want to fall into that kind of bellyaching myself. Because this is a very specific piece of advice: not just the day, the time, but the clothing, culminating in sincere advice on the coloring of the President’s tie. My gosh. In most hectoring editorials, that’s what’s missing, that specificity. I just want to acknowledge it, because we don’t always get along, me and the Star Tribune, Newspaper of the Twin Cities.

Update: A reader has sent along evidence that the advice is even sounder and more important than I'd believed. It's a photo of Bush dating from last March taken at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland. I want to verify its authenticity but let's just say whoever's in charge of souvenir ties at Surfside Sammy's Crab Shack in Lubbock deserves a raise.