August 2, 2013

COURT STENOGRAPHERS: The New York Times fails its readers—and the country. “A sort of pep talk to the liberal bourgeoisie, Democrat and Republican, is what the New York Times under Jill Abramson has become. One reads it to confirm rather than challenge one’s perceptions of the world.”

UPDATE: I can’t resist including this:

My favorite moment is when the president mentions someone he’s been talking to. “I had a conversation a couple of weeks back with Robert Putnam,” Obama says, “who I’ve known for a long time.” Putnam is a renowned sociologist, and the ability to drop his name is a requirement for membership in elite circles. What makes this name-drop special is that Obama not only assumes the reporters know who Putnam is, he amplifies his snobbery by mentioning that the author of Bowling Alone and American Grace has been a personal acquaintance for years, as though that in itself is an achievement, as though that somehow makes the sentence he is about to utter more meaningful.

Just then, though, one of the Times reporters, Michael D. Shear, interrupts the president and says what has to be one of the most beautiful and revealing sentences ever to appear on Nytimes.com: “He was my professor actually at Harvard.” Almost every word of this sentence is an act of social positioning worthy of Castiglione. “My” conveys ownership, possession, and intimacy; the “actually” is a subtle exercise in one-upmanship, implying a correction of fact or status, and suggesting that Shear, who seems to have taken a course with Putnam while pursuing a graduate degree at the Kennedy School, is on closer terms with him than the president of the United States of America; and of course the big H, “Harvard,” before whose authority all must bow down.

The president’s response is just as priceless. “Right,” he says, pausing, and one can easily imagine the look of annoyance on his face as he reacts to Shear’s gratuitous lunge into the spotlight. He then makes it clear exactly who is in charge. “I actually knew Bob”—note that it’s “Bob” we’re talking about now—“when I was a state senator and he had put together this seminar to just talk about some of the themes that he had written about in ‘Bowling Alone,’ the weakening of the community fabric and the impact it’s having on people.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mike.

The “Peter Principle,” which holds that individuals rise to the precise level where they are incompetent, is well known. But it is time to coin the Putnam Principle, which I take to hold that the number of softball questions a reporter asks is in direct proportion to the power of the Democrat to whom he is speaking. . . . The Putnam Principle applies to the Times. Here are the questions Shear and his colleague Jackie Calmes asked the president. See if you’d have any trouble answering them

It’s all very clubby. Truth to power, indeed.

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