Archive for the ‘media’ Category

This just in! Chavez didn’t think Chomsky was dead after all! (Chomsky still reading!)

October 7, 2006

As part of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s ebullient, unrestrained address at the UN not long ago he waved a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance at the assembled (and perhaps nonplussed) delegates. And as has been widely reported, the gesture did wonders for Chomsky’s book sales, but one of the more curious aspects to emerge from it all, at least in the New York Times coverage, was the assertion that Chavez suggested in his speech that Chomsky was dead. Yesterday the Times published this Editors’ Note that merits reading in full:

An article on Sept. 21 about criticism of President Bush at the United Nations by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran reported that Mr. Chavez praised a book by Noam Chomsky, the linguist and social critic. It reported that later, at a news conference, Mr. Chavez said that he regretted not having met Mr. Chomsky before he died. The article noted that in fact, Mr. Chomsky is alive. The assertion that Mr. Chavez had made this misstatement was repeated in a Times interview with Mr. Chomsky the next day.

In fact, what Mr. Chavez said was, “I am an avid reader of Noam Chomsky, as I am of an American professor who died some time ago.” Two sentences later Mr. Chavez named John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard economist who died last April, calling both him and Mr. Chomsky great intellectual figures.

Mr. Chavez was speaking in Spanish at the news conference, but the simultaneous English translation by the United Nations left out the reference to Mr. Galbraith and made it sound as if the man who died was Mr. Chomsky.

Readers pointed out the error in e-mails to The Times soon after the first article was published. Reporters reviewed the recordings of the news conference in English and Spanish, but not carefully enough to detect the discrepancy, until after the Venezuelan government complained publicly on Wednesday.

Editors and reporters should have been more thorough earlier in checking the accuracy of the simultaneous translation. (Go to Article)

Editors’ Notes are something the Times only resorts to when it considers it – or Judith Miller – has made an especially egregious error (and/or, as in this instance, left uncorrected for some time an egregious error to which its attention had previously been drawn). Conspiracy theorists might be inclined to read some intent into both the original mistake, and the time it took to correct it. Certainly the error does little to help Chavez’s profile in the US. The idea that a President could endorse a scholar – and perhaps the world’s most famous extant left public intellectual to boot – while mistakenly believing him to be dead, does much to further the impression of Chavez as an unhinged wingnut (can a wingnut be unhinged?). The implication is that anyone with similar leftist views must be similarly unhinged and misinformed. [For the record, Chomsky told the Times of Chavez’s policies: “Personally, I think many of them are quite constructive. I would be happy to meet with him.”] But I’m not so sure the Times‘ error was deliberate in any direct sense. In such instances I’m generally more inclined to chalk up such “mistakes” to rank human incompetence. It is certainly the case, for example, that the Times also makes missteps that are of little help to the boosters of US global hegemony, as this correction, also from yesterday, attests to:

Because of an editing error, a caption on Wednesday about an American armored vehicle that ran into a ditch in Baghdad, attracting a crowd of children, misidentified the object in the left hand of a G.I. who was shown trying to disperse them. It was a glove, not a side arm. (Go to Article)

This does strike one as a not insignificant correction. However, to return to Chavez, it certainly seems possible that Times‘ editors, reporters, fact-checkers etc. would have had an easier time ascribing such an error to Chavez than, say, a more “credible”, more “balanced” (because less leftist) world leader. Granted Chavez is responsible for a lot of his own bad press, but it’s these kind of assumptions – the assumptions that are a central meaning of hegemony,* the manner in which the boundaries of common sense, the thinkable and unthinkable are formed – that are really in need of interrogation. But I’m not anticipating an Editors’ Note on that revolutionary topic anytime soon.

*Raymond Williams offers an excellent working definition of “hegemony” from what we (or me anyway) might call a disabused Marxist perspective:

For hegemony supposes the existence of something which is truly total, which is not merely secondary or susperstructural, like the weak sense of ideology, but which is lived at such a depth, which saturates the society to such an extent, and which, as Gramsci put it, even constitutes the substance and limits of common sense for most people under its sway, that it corresponds to the reality of social experience very much more clearly than any notions derived from the formula of base and superstructure. For if ideology were merely some abstract, imposed set of notions, if our social and cultural and political ideas and assumptions and habits were merely the result of specific manipulation, of a kind of overt training which might be simply ended or withdrawn, then the society would be very much easier to move and to change than in practice it has ever been or is. [Raymond Williams, “Base and Superstructure,” in Problems in Materialism and Culture (New York, 1980), 37]

Postscript: Interestingly, over on the New York Times quasi-endorsed Freakonomics blog (there’s a Freakonomics column in the NYT Magazine), much the same open-ended conclusion re: the Times‘ “mistake” is hit upon. The word “hegemony”, however, is notable by its absence:

It sounds to me like a very honest mistake. But it also suggests an interesting psychological element: we are probably more willing to identify and exploit a flaw in those whom we have already deemed very flawed.

To cite Tony Judt writing on Thomas Friedman in a recent article excoriating US liberals for their failure to oppose Bush, Freakonomics is perhaps rather proffering “pieties…road-tested for middlebrow political acceptability.” Actually, that’s more than a bit unfair to Freakonomics in this instance. Mostly I just needed an excuse to deploy that Judtian bon mot. That said, my point about the Freakonomics’ reading is that it fails to ask the (archæologically) prior question of how we ended up being convinced Chavez is “very flawed” in the first place.


meanwhile tony snow sells siding AND the global war on terror

October 6, 2006

from the New York Times, a story that pretty much speaks for itself such that creating category-tabs for it along the lines of “auto-satirical”, or, “would be hilarious if it wasn’t so endlessly tragic”, seems kind of beside the point:

“Just imagine, you’re listening to the radio, Tony Snow has been speaking to you as the spokesman for the leader of the free world, and then a commercial comes on with him trying to sell you a window,” Ms. Henderson said Thursday. “He introduced himself as Tony Snow, talked about the travails of remodeling projects, boasted about the 30-year history of this business and delivered the 800 number of the business, twice.”

 I’m particularly fond of her use of “travails”.

Times article

the day the mountain fell on wallace

September 25, 2006

I really hate to do this – hate, that is, to add anything to the e-cacophony on fox’s “interview” with clinton – but this is both so predictable, and yet so difficult to credit, that it’s here in case you missed it. (of course if you care, you likely didn’t miss it.) this is the fox reporter, Chris Wallace, describing the fear and terror he felt confronted by what fox is now calling a “crazed” clinton:

Former President Clinton is a very big man. As he leaned forward–wagging his finger in my face–and then poking the notes I was holding–I felt as if a mountain was coming down in front of me.

click here for: i_felt_as_if_a_mountain_was_coming_down_in_front_of_me

i’m still trying to decide whether this is a joke, but this question seems increasingly irrelevant, archaic even. Wallace’s comments, his aggrieved, wounded tone – he’s shocked, shocked, to imagine anyone could presume him guilty of partisanship – are the very model of disingenuousness. But, as a descriptor, “disingenuousness” may also have increasingly little purchase when it comes to US political discourse. The “disposition to secure advantage by means not morally defensible; insincerity, unfairness” (to cite the OED definition) ceases to be remark-worthy when it becomes structural to, if not constitutive of, the words being spoken.

meanwhile, here’s the clip fox is running to promo the day the mountain fell on wallace. looks pretty fair and b’d to this guy. then again, Clinton didn’t make it difficult for fox to portray him as hectoring and bug-eyed:

still the shape of jazz to come

September 22, 2006

With the Mets having secured the NL East pennant – and with a subway series in the offing where the plucky Mets sweep the hegemonic Yankees in four raucous games – I may have temporarily acquired a new go-to page in the paper. It seems a little too dark altogether to just plunge right into one’s morning update on the learned debate as to precisely which species of enforced organ failure constitutes torture, so for now I’m starting with the Arts section, a decision which this morning yielded considerable dividends. Ornette Coleman:


We listened to “Cheryl,” a Parker quintet track from 1947. “I was drawn to the way Charlie Parker phrased his ideas,” he said. “It sounded more like he was composing, and I really loved that. Then, when I found out that the minor seventh and the major seventh was the structure of bebop music — well, it’s a sequence. It’s the art of sequences. I kind of felt, like, I got to get out of this.”

He talks a lot about sequences. (John Coltrane, he said, was a good saxophone player who was lost to them.) With regard to his Parker worship, he kept the phrasing but got rid of the sequences. “I first tried to ban all chords,” he said, “and just make music an idea, instead of a set pattern to know where you are.”

Times article

oh, just a farrago of benign news items…

September 21, 2006

…all read in the Times on the subway home and, cumulatively, telling you far more about the world than you ever wanted to 21train6001.jpgknow even if you already knew it. Consider each a sort of putrid world in a grain of unhappy sand. Where to begin…

1. The Bush administration is stalling an investigation of a brazen act of state-sponsored terrorism – a pair of assassinations; one of those killed was an American – committed on US soil. This sounds decidedly odd – didn’t I hear something about a war on terror? – until one twigs to which state sponsored the terrorism: Augusto Pinochet‘s Chile:

grain of sand the first

2. The US Justice Department is forced to contradict comments from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Yesterday, Gonzales denied responsibility for the deportation of Maher Arar to Syria and said he was “not aware that [Arar] was tortured.” The Times reports the comments “caused puzzlement” as the US decision to deport the Canadian citizen is a matter of public record, and the results of a public inquiry just released in Canada confirmed Arar had been repeatedly tortured during his more than year long imprisonment. (Not incidentally, the inquiry also found no evidence linking Arar to “terrorism” despite the Mounties’ best efforts to find something, anything, to justify the faulty, unverifed “intelligence” they passed on to the Americans which likely led to Arar’s deportation in the first place.)

grain of sand the second

3. Four US government auditors launch a lawsuit against their own bosses claiming they’ve been prevented from going after tens of millions of dollars oil and gas companies have been fraudulently holding back from the government:

grain of sand the third

4. The UN says far more people have died violent deaths in Baghdad (5,106) in the last two months than was previously thought. Meanwhile, US officials claim even the earlier number revised by the UN is inflated. The UN report also describes evidence of torture on many of the bodies:

grain of sand the fourth

5. Documents reveal Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed combined have attended more than 100 meetings at the Bush White House:

grain of sand the fifth

6. And Hugo Chavez waves a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance before the UN General Assembly. There’s even a photo:

grain of sand the sixth

In fact to segue to some less dispiriting grains,

An Australian court rules the entire city of Perth belongs to Aborigines.

And a charming story about subway sounds and a cell phone call from Neil Young. It’s all very reminiscent of the Wim Wender’s movie Lisbon Story, a tale about a movie soundman who arrives in Lisbon to discover a movie with no sound, and no filmmaker, and a beautiful woman with a haunting voice sharing his mansion. Highly recommended, but in the interim read about the subway sounds and the singular pleasures of exploring a city with large headphones and a powerful microphone.


Remnick on Clinton (Bill just wants to be loved)

September 19, 2006

Even by New Yorker standards I think the article might qualify as elephantine. Perhaps this is simply one of the advantages of penning a profile for the magazine you edit, or perhaps the length is meant to underline the cultural significance, the historical moment of it all: David Remnick, leading member of the liberal bien pensant media-intellectual set, expatiating on Bill Clinton, bill-clinton.jpgpresent-day icon and former President (Sept. 18 edition; and now available on-line). Then again, we might just as easily say expiating. For, of course, Clinton is more than simply one more ex-President. The failure of his presidency – an especially bitter one when one considers what it helped pave the way for – is also the failure of the American liberals who put their hopes in Clinton (many of whom subscribe to the New Yorker).

This is perhaps one means to account for the unexpected tone of Remnick’s piece. Certainly there are some more than obligatory nods to Clinton’s post-presidential philanthropy and its not altogether self-serving motivations, but on the whole the portrayal of Clinton is uncharitable to the point of being mean-spirited, even vindictive. The use of italics, for example, is always discretionary when recounting speech and Remnick never seems to pass over an opportunity to make Clinton sound gushing and worthy of mockery. “Oh Hillary just loves giraffes” is a typical Clinton comment mediated by Remnick. There is also no shortage of snide authorial asides and non sequitur conversational snippets from Clinton that, again, appear designed to make him out as something of a buffoon. In general, the impression one has of Clinton after reading the article is of the kind of person you’d hate to be stuck sitting beside on a plane (as Remnick often was; although these planes were owned by hedge-fund managers), a logorrheic blowhard whose knowledge is as broad as it is shallow.

But I’m not questioning the veracity of Remnick’s account. It may all be true – and likely is; I don’t, for example, need much convincing that Bill has a boundless appetite for the adulation of others. Indeed, we should perhaps be grateful for Remnick’s honesty. (Here’s a recent intelligent portrait of Remnick in The Guardian.) It’s just the snideness of his treatment that leads me to venture there’s more at work in this piece than simply a journalistic desire for verisimilitude. Something about it smacks of a long-awaited score-settling. Not that Bill didn’t have it coming.

“stay tuned!” or confirmation of the end of gravitas (Weltschmerz)

September 15, 2006

katie couric, like, so totally celebrates the end of her first week anchoring the manifestly unmoored cbs evening “news”:

“We’re trying to make the news more accessible, more compelling, more interesting, and we’re trying to give people a little hope, optimism and even a chuckle when we can.”

Quel mandate! Sure hope they can live up to it! To quote again from the formidable Ms. C’s blog: “As the late Karen Carpenter sang, ‘Close to you’, I mean, ‘We’ve only just begun.’ Wow, how hip am I?”

sigh. so, our super awesome (imported directly from German) WordOfTheDay? (and come on i just know you saw it coming and no it’s not “snide”): Weltschmerz, which the generally non-ebullient OED defines as: A weary or pessimistic feeling about life; an apathetic or vaguely yearning attitude. indeed. kudos, katie.

katie’s breathless first week

(thanks milloy)