MR WRONG: Diploma-matic immunity

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 68

MR WRONG: Diploma-matic immunity
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MR WRONG: This Graduation Speech Could Be Yours! Inquire for Rates  

THIS IS MY reminder to Our Nation’s great Colleges, Tech Schools, Junior Colleges, Trade Schools, Universities, Anger Management Classes, Driving Schools, Obedience Schools, and other institutes of Higher Education (anything beyond a GED or High School) that the Mr. Wrong column is available any time of year, day, night, or weekends, for speaking engagements at your Graduation Ceremonies, Award Ceremonies, or Business Luncheons, and also for Motivational Speaking.

What follows is an amalgam of my “stump speech,” along with some current observations about The World, which I am an Award-winning columnist of, in general, in terms of my column’s focus upon “General Interest” which means everything in the entire world, along with Alternate Worlds and Realities, and Galaxies, even, brainwise. 

For the record let me state that, I am a College Graduate, but that should never be a qualification for speaking to an assembly of penultimate graduates, nobody said the words yet, so you are all still Nothing, in terms of Academia, you are still Matriculates or something, and some of you are walking up to the rostrum or podium or whatever knowing full well you are three credits short, or you have unpaid campus parking tickets or library fines, and you are going to be handed an empty diploma-holder or something, and also this whole thing might be an Internet Scam total Fyre Fest situation, for which you bought or most likely rented your Festival Wear, and it might turn out there’s no such thing as a degree from whatever college I am at right now, all I know is they sent me a Postal Money Order, as per my standard speaking engagement agreement, and please let me take this opportunity to remind all assembled, unassembled, and disassembled that I am ready to travel to Your Town, USA, in exchange for a modest honorarium and confirmed accommodations at the nearest Best Western or full-on Holiday Inn, and not one of those Holiday Inn “Express” things, OK? 

I stayed in one of those on my last United Airlines flight because the airplane broke. That was it, that’s what they told us, “plane’s broken,” I swear to you on your impending diplomas, we watched the flight crew walk off the plane, and that was it, and nobody knew what to do, and then somebody said “If you go to the service desk you can get a voucher for a hotel,” and of course there was a giant line, so that took an hour, and did I mention it was like 2 a.m. or something by this point, after the plane had been delayed 20 minutes at a time for a few hours, that’s how they do, and the whole airport was closed, nothing to eat or drink, and we thought about just sleeping on the floor at the gate, but then we were like “but a hotel room would be so much better, sleep in a bed, get a shower,” and then it took an hour for the fucking cab to get us to the hotel we had a voucher for, which turned out to be a Holiday Inn Express, and Jeebus H. Christmas in July, what a dump. Our room smelled like all of the disinfectants, like, Lysol, Neosporin, and Vicks® VapoRub™ with a truculent top note of urinal cake, the pink one, not the blue one. The pink one smells like bubblegum, which is what you want wafting back up at you along with the other smell as you stand and deliver, great idea. Also, getting back to the skeevy hotel room, the view out the window—which I did not give a shit about, all I wanted to do was get some sleep during the four hours we had left before we needed to get a cab back to the fucking airport—the view was nothing but a glaring, blinding, wide-spectrum atmosphere-of-the-non-Eclipsed-Sun-equivalent security light blazing away, and the curtain in the room wouldn’t stay in place because it was positioned in such a way as to billow out and away from the vertical side of the window, owing to the force of the air conditioner, which we needed because the room was armpit temp, so I had to burn precious minutes of sleep attempting to fashion a crude but effective curtain-closer, and after I failed several times, my wife got up from her spot atop, not under the covers of, her Holiday Inn Revolting single bed, and quickly employed her hair band to keep the curtain in place. My wife is a College Graduate, and also she is in Grad School, right now, doing homework.

All right, enough about me, at least for a moment, and let me quote me, ten years ago in this same space, the Mr. Wrong column, in a different space at that time, on The Awl Dot Com, a famous website errbody always talks about for being a Great Website and somehow it’s not in business anymore, no offense, but it really was great for a while, certain parts, not all the time, but it was pretty good. Anyway:

In light of all the recent unpleasantness and the even more-recent, it’s easy to make fun of this Method, but when I say Positive Visualization, I mean for Positivity, not for Bad Things, OK? There’s enough Bad Things, let’s have Good Things. Please stop picturing somebody employing my Positive method for Bad Things. If you can’t stop, please excuse yourself so the rest of us can Evolve, OK? Things can always be Bad! That’s the Default Position! We gotta go Positive!

See that? Ten fuckin’ years ago, Eleven, actually! Bad Things! Plus another Bad Thing! What’s changed? What’s the point? Why stay in college? Why go to night school? Too late! You already done went and gone to College, now you gotta get on with it! Of course, if you can, stay in College some more and do some Protesting! Seems like that’s a big problem right now! Young’uns in College, protesting and shit! Are you kidding me? When else are you gonna be able to protest? Once you go out there, into The World, you are gonna need a job! No time to protest! Stay here! Don’t graduate! Occupy shit! Protest! Thank you and congratulations.

The MR. WRONG COLUMN is a general-interest column appearing weekly. No refunds. Write Wrong:  

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Indignity Morning Podcast No. 257: Interesting and alarming events in the world, committed by the planet itself.

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INDIGNITY MORNING PODCAST Episode 257: Indignity Morning Podcast No. 257: Interesting and alarming events in the world, committed by the planet itself.

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Chris Rufo, assignment editor


Chris Rufo. Image: ReasonTV via YouTube via Wikipedia

The New York Times Manufactures a Scandal

HOW DOES A media organization get into trouble? The New York Times published a story this week about National Public Radio:

Katherine Maher, the chief executive of NPR, is facing online criticism for years-old social media posts criticizing former President Donald J. Trump and embracing liberal causes.
The posts, published on the social media platform Twitter, which is now called X, were written before she was named chief executive of NPR in January. They resurfaced this week after an essay by an NPR staff member who argued that the broadcaster’s leaders had allowed liberal bias to taint its coverage.

Here, right away, was an object repackaged as an active subject. The news was not that NPR's chief executive was facing criticism, it was that someone had criticized NPR's chief executive. A person took an action, without which there would have been no story, and yet the Times chose not to focus the story on that person. Old tweets—inanimate items of data, sitting in a database—had "resurfaced," apparently on their own. 

The age of the tweets generally would have disqualified them from being news, but the Times was deriving the tweets' news value from a recent event, the publication of a complaint about liberal bias at NPR. What was the relationship between those two things? The Times spackled it over with "after," the word journalists use when they can't, or don't want to, specify a cause-and-effect relationship.

What was it that the Times was straining so hard not to tell the reader? Somehow, under the headline "NPR C.E.O. Faces Criticism Over Tweets Supporting Progressive Causes," the story could not bring itself to narrate how that criticism had happened. Fourteen paragraphs went by before the critic—the person responsible for the article existing at all—finally appeared.

"Christopher Rufo, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, called attention to many of Ms. Maher’s posts on X," the fifteenth paragraph began. This was a remarkably limited and uninformative way of describing Rufo; in the context of the story, it might have been more helpful for the Times to explain that he is the organizer of an ongoing series of right-wing scandal-manufacturing campaigns, designed to force liberal, or liberal-coded, institutions to fire people in the most embarrassing ways available. 

For instance, it was Rufo who set out to get Harvard's last president, Claudine Gay, removed—first by accusing her of not caring enough about anti-Semitism, then, when that stalled out for lack of merit, by charging her with plagiarism. In that effort, Rufo enjoyed two major allies. One was the logorrheic financier Bill Ackman, who saw an attack on a Black woman who was Harvard president as a chance to grind axes against both Harvard as an institution and employment diversity as a fact of life. The other ally, day after day, was the New York Times, which unloaded full-bore crisis-and-scandal coverage onto Gay until that coverage made itself come true. 

And now the Times was doing Rufo's work for him again, writing about a scandal that only rated as a scandal to the extent that the Times was writing about it. Consider the subheadline of the story about NPR:

Katherine Maher, who took over the public network last month, posted years ago on Twitter that “Donald Trump is a racist.”

The headline package is where you try to make the case that a story matters. "Years ago" is not usually a thing you want to put in there, in a daily newspaper, especially not juxtaposed with "last month." As the Times wrote: 

An NPR spokeswoman, Isabel Lara, said in a statement that Ms. Maher “was not working in journalism at the time and was exercising her First Amendment right to express herself like any other American citizen.”

A judicious editor, reading that passage, might have recognized it as a pretty solid argument against running the story. If Maher didn't write the tweets when she was in charge of NPR, or even when she was working as a journalist, then half of the putative news value of the story goes away.

The other half of the news value went away with the revelation that the spiciest tweet at issue read "Also, Donald Trump is a racist." That Donald Trump is a racist is simply a true fact; the Times allows its own employees to say Donald Trump is a racist, in those words, in print. Why was it worth writing about someone tweeting that same thing? 

The answer—the sole and complete answer—is that it was worth writing about because a partisan crusader wanted the Times to write about it. The deference to Rufo was so complete that the framing device in the headline, "Faces Criticism," was the same device the Times uses in everyday newswriting to conceal its own hand: attributing this or that rude fact, or accusation of wrongdoing, to the voice of vaporous "critics." 

In this case, though, the point was to muffle the voice of a very specific critic, on a very specific campaign. It's NPR's turn to take a beating, and so the Times took up whatever stick was handed to it. Or sticks, plural. On its long way to getting to Rufo, the Times story turned to Uri Berliner, the now-former NPR editor who'd criticized the network's liberalism. Berliner's story ran in the Free Press, the well-publicized complaint-culture journal run by the former Times opinion staffer Bari Weiss (a pioneer of the maneuver that Berliner pulled today, quitting one's job and then declaring oneself a victim of canceling). 

As the Times put it:

Much of the discussion about the posts has emanated from conservative critics after the publication of an opinion column in The Free Press, a popular Substack publication. In the column, Uri Berliner, a senior business editor at NPR, said that “people at every level of NPR have comfortably coalesced around the progressive worldview.”

There was that sneaky "after" again! Maher has been at NPR for a month. What do her old Twitter posts have to do with Berliner's long-gathered list of grievances and grudges from before she ever got there? What did plagiarism have to do with anti-Semitism? They were all just different tennis balls for Rufo to throw, secure in the knowledge that the dog would chase them. By now, it all reads as if, in addition to trying to cost his targets their jobs, Rufo is running a meta-campaign to see how low he can drive the newswriting standards at the Times. Once Rufo finally showed up in the story as the person pushing the tweet controversy, the Times added that he had: 

shared a response from Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, who had responded to one of Ms. Maher’s posts that Mr. Rufo highlighted, saying, “This person is a crazy racist!”
“If NPR wants to truly be National Public Radio, it can’t pander to the furthest-left elements in the United States,” Mr. Rufo said in an interview. “To do so, NPR should part ways with Katherine Maher.”

Elon Musk, the world's most prominent promoter of neo-Nazi propaganda, was calling someone else "a crazy racist," and the Times was printing his words without context or explanation—not even a quote of the text the post Musk was responding to, let alone comment from the person being accused of being crazy and racist. 

And then the Times handed its megaphone directly to Rufo, so he could call Maher's tweets—which were entirely mainstream pro-Democratic Party cringeposting—examples of "the furthest-left elements in the United States." With that claim unchallenged, Rufo could then use the Times to formally demand that Maher lose her job. The journalistic crisis was spinning out of control. And not the one at NPR. 

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The second printing of 19 FOLK TALES is now available for gift-giving and personal perusal! Sit in the strengthening sunshine with a breezy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read before the damp ground seeps through your blanket.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm DailyThe special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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