September 16, 2012

Can the NYT stop providing phony "balance" and help readers know what to believe?

The NYT has a new "public editor," Margaret Sullivan. She introduced herself last week and explained her concept of the role: "Put readers first... Encourage conversation... Promote transparency and understanding."
The Times’s decision to open itself to criticism from the inside, criticism that is made public, is a clear indication of its desire to keep its standards high.
It's a clear indication of its desire to clearly indicate its desire to indicate that it desires to keep its standards high. We'll see what Sullivan actually does. This week, her column is about "the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story" — taking cover under the appearance of balance — instead of "more aggressive on fact-checking and truth-squading." Journalists, we're told, have been feeling "pressure" recently "to be more aggressive on fact-checking and truth-squading." Recently? Why recently?

It’s all a part of a movement — brought about, in part, by a more demanding public, fueled by media critics, bloggers and denizens of the social media world — to present the truth, not just conflicting arguments leading to confusion.
Diagram that sentence. Or, don't... just rewrite it. New media is continually applying this pressure. It's not your movement. It's your reaction. The old cover of phony balance doesn't work anymore. Now, what is the NYT supposed to do? Sullivan says:
Journalists need to make every effort to get beyond the spin and help readers know what to believe, to help them make their way through complicated and contentious subjects.
Help readers know what to believe... The one recent example she gives is the conflict over voter ID laws, in which one side points to the asserted problem of voter fraud and the other contends that the new laws are really about vote suppression. NYT readers wrote to her to complain about an article that presented the statements of both sides, instead of helping readers know what to believe: "that there was little evidence of voter fraud."
The national editor, Sam Sifton, rejected the argument. “There’s a lot of reasonable disagreement on both sides,” he said.... “It’s not our job to litigate it in the paper...We need to state what each side says.”

... “Both sides have become very angry and very suspicious about the other,” [said the author of the article, Ethan Bronner]. “The purpose of this story was to step back and look at both sides, to lay it out.” While he agreed that there was “no known evidence of in-person voter fraud,” and that could have been included in this story, “I don’t think that’s the core issue here.”
Sullivan's next line is "On other subjects, The Times has made clear progress in avoiding false balance." So the accusation — stated weakly, but stated — is that the NYT falsely equated the 2 sides' assertions and has failed to make enough progress in the movement to help readers know what to believe.

There's your problem with the NYT, according to the new public editor: It's just so darned balanced and so reticent about manipulating reader opinion. And — this is the funny part — new media is pressuring the NYT to get with it and tell us who to believe. Hint: It's the Democrats. Why can't the NYT amp up their support for the Democrats? Hmm. It's what new media wants, sayeth the new promote-transparency-and-understanding editor, telling us about something a reader wrote.

Letters to the editor! That's not really new media, even if it was email. Does Sullivan understand much of anything about the pressure new media has been putting on the NYT? She thinks the solution is to be more clear about vouching for the Democratic Party's arguments? That would relieve the pressure?

98 comments:

ricpic said...

Thread immediately polluted by AP.

"False balance" is uncomfortably close to marxists' use of the phrase, false consciousness. In any case, what could false balance possibly mean?

campy said...

Thank you President Obama for keeping our press free to worship you.

America's Politico said...

No, NYT will not cooperate with riffraff of the GOP. We are the PAPER of RECORD. We love America. America is US. We believe in POTUS Obama and VPOTUS Biden. We do not believe in Romney or GOP. Therefore, we will continue to have headlines in stories, op-eds, letters.
- GOP clueless
- Romney is losing it, or has lost the election
- Obama has gained the momentum
- Obama's economic plan now working
- Biden is a Foreign Scholar, just the Man we Want.
- Ryan is a man from last century
Etc. Etc.

You cannot win. You will lose. We the MSM want to decide. We are the deciders. Really. We. Are.

NB: We will have stories, such as the new Vanity Fair's FANTASTIC cover story on Obama's Way. We will have all bloggers support the Obama. Even GOD if he could vote, would vote for Obama. Libyans also love us. They are actually blaming the GOP for the mess. See, we tailor the news. We decide the results. We are THE DECIDERS.

NB 2: Every-once in a while, we have a snag, such as WOodward's book. OUR advice to readers: Do not listen to Bob W. He will NEVER be invited to the WH in the 2nd-term.

Tim said...

Why all the angst?

Hookers sell sex.

Thieves steal.

Meth heads are addicts.

Rabid dogs bite.

The New York Times is an ideological organ, disseminating talking points to the liberal Democrat base.

None of these things will ever change.

Tim said...

Oh, one more thing:

Trolls shit on comment threads.

Just the facts of life, people.

EDH said...

Can the NYT stop providing phony "balance" and help readers know what to believe?

Care to guess the coefficient of correlation between the NYT editorial line and what NYT journalists should be helping readers know what to believe?

Ann Althouse said...

"Thread immediately polluted by AP."

AP posted first but deleted it (to do a correction) and I deleted the trace of the original post to de-clutter. So don't think ricpic had clairvoyance that AP would post.

Ricpic is not only without clairvoyance, he's lacking in appreciation for satire. I think AP is funny if a bit heavy-handed and repetitive. How heavy-handed would his sarcasm need to be before you'd recognize it a humor?

Maguro said...

Why can't the NYT amp up their support for the Democrats?

It's hard to "amp up" beyond 100%. Maybe they could get the amp from Spinal Tap that went up to 11.

Sorun said...

It's hilarious that the NYT gets letters from its readers complaining they're not being told what to believe.

ps: ap;dr

ricpic said...

Althouse, let's just say we agree to disagree about AP.

Jay Vogt said...

I’m not a grammar geek. As a matter of fact, I don’t like them when I run across them, as they are usually correcting me.

However, w/r/t, “It’s all a part of a movement — brought about, in part, by a more demanding public, fueled by media critics, bloggers and denizens of the social media world — to present the truth, not just conflicting arguments leading to confusion.”

And Ann’s ensuing request, “Diagram that sentence. Or, don't...”

I do recall a high school English teacher’s useful remarks; her observation was that when a writer resorted to using dashes (or hyphens) it was a pretty clear indication that they had just given up on the sentence. She extended that observation further to instruct that sentences containing them cannot be diagrammed.

That’s been good advice to me. I do find that when I’m tempted to use a dash in a sentence, I really don’t have very good control of the thought that’s trying to find its way to paper.

Freder Frederson said...

In any case, what could false balance possibly mean?

Pretending that creationism and intelligent design should be treated as valid alternatives to evolution.

Quayle said...

"It’s all a part of a movement — brought about, in part, by a more demanding public,...."

Translation:

"We're hemorrhaging cash over here and furiously scrambling to find any journalism product that will stop it."

shiloh said...

hmm, another post deleted at Althouse. Losing "our" freedoms daily in the conservative internet blogosphere!

btw, Nate Silver works at The NYT's ...

campy said...

When a leftard deletes his own post, it's the (pro-Obama) "conservative"'s fault!

Brilliant!

Andy R. said...

It's journalistic malpractice to write an article about efforts being made to prevent in-person voter fraud by making it more difficult to vote without mentioning how in-person voter fraud is not a thing that happens in this country, basically ever.

When a political party that is hostile to minority interests passes laws that makes it harder for people to vote with a disproportionate impact on minorities in order to respond to a non-existent problem, that seems relevant to the reader. Just an aside would be great. "By the way, there is maybe 1 case of in-person voter fraud in the entire country each election." Balance!

Pogo said...

Back when the 3 TV networks, AP and the NYTimes controlled all the news, Democrats knew exactly what to believe.

Now that the news is no longer so tightly controlled, the true believers are uncomfortable. They hear things that don't appear in the MSM, or see alternate versions to scripture.

The faithful are asking their bishops to lead them back to greener pastures.

AllenS said...

Re: voter fraud

Let me remind the NYT that Wendy Rosen, the Democratic challenger to Republican Rep. Andy Harris in the 1st Congressional District, withdrew from the race Monday amid allegations that she voted in elections in both Maryland and Florida in 2006 and 2008.

Quayle said...

I feel sorry for hatboy and his enablers in the NYT's crowd.

No matter how many times they watch and re-watch Citizen Kane, today's readers simply refuses to believe what they tell them to believe.

The structure and order of the universe is flying apart.

Andy R. said...

Let me remind the NYT that Wendy Rosen, the Democratic challenger to Republican Rep. Andy Harris in the 1st Congressional District, withdrew from the race Monday amid allegations that she voted in elections in both Maryland and Florida in 2006 and 2008.

Let me remind you that requiring ID to vote doesn't prevent this type of voter fraud.

Pogo said...

Shorter Margaret Sullivan: PRAVDA had it sooooo easy.

Andy R. said...

And actually, the bankruptcy of the voter suppression forces (read Republicans) is that they constantly cite voter fraud that wouldn't be prevented by requiring ID as a reason that we need to require ID to vote.

ricpic said...

In any case, what could false balance possibly mean?

Pretending that creationism and intelligent design should be treated as valid alternatives to evolution.


In that creationism is open to debate and evolution has holes in it wide enough to drive an eighteen wheeler through? Gotcha.

EDH said...

Balance, Andy, would be to mention voter ID in the same comment asserting that a law "makes it harder for people to vote with a disproportionate impact on minorities".

By the way, is there a better way to detect "in-person voter fraud" in the first place than with a voter ID law?

Pogo said...

AndyR needs to show us his surprised face, the one he'll use when US Muslims start going after gays for realz.

Because as of this week, it's illegal to criticize Mohammed.
And simply being gay is anti-Islam.

You goddamned thought criminal, Andy.

EDH said...

Andy R. said...
Let me remind you that requiring ID to vote doesn't prevent this type of voter fraud.

Maybe, but it helps prove the punishable offense was committed by limiting the "it wasn't me" defense, doesn't it?

edutcher said...

The sentence Ann wants diagrammed is the real issue.

Ever since bloggers came along, the Gray Lady can't blather a lot of nonsense about "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" and get away with it.

(I thought Mesopotamia went out with the Hanging Gardens)

(or was it hanging chads?)

(maybe "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley")

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Andy R.,

Let me remind you that requiring ID to vote doesn't prevent this type of voter fraud.

Indeed it does not. But unless she voted absentee in both states both times, there is an instance of "in-person voter fraud," which you just said never, ever happens.

It seems clear enough to me that absentee ballot fraud is much easier and therefore likely far more common. But it's annoying to be told repeatedly that no one has been able to prove many cases of in-person voter fraud, when the only real means of detecting it -- some way of verifying that the person on the rolls is the person showing up to vote -- has been effectively foreclosed.

FleetUSA said...

All consumers of news, i.e. the general public, need to be critical consumers and need to understand that the purveyors of news are only seeing the facts through their own eyes.

The problem highlighted by this discussion is that most people have lost the ability to be critical consumers. Dumb down by poor education and TV sensationalism.

kentuckyliz said...

The vote fraud I witness in every election wouldn't be prevented by voter ID, either. My friend's dead husband will continue to vote, and his name will stay on the voter registration rolls, in spite of her efforts to remove him.

However, I was working at a Quaker boarding high school and about 1/3 of our students were international students, and almost all were under age 18 of course.

They went to witness an election, and they were invited to vote. They did and came back to the school and bragged and laughed about it. I was angry because I was an honest Canadian who didn't attempt to vote illegally.

There is low reporting of voter fraud because you report it to the same election officials that are running the frauds. Your report will be filed appropriately.

In my sister's county, uniformed policemen show up at people's doors and the nursing homes to help them register to vote and to complete their absentee ballots...in a very German rural population that is meekly obedient to authority.

That's just me and my sister. Neither of us live in Cook County IL.

Quayle said...

The lost fifth verse of Springsteen's "Glory Days"

I knew a gal she was a journalist
Up at the New York Time
She could sit down and crank out some print
Make her foes look like slime
Saw her the other night at this Obama bash
She was serving drinks, I was hanging-out
She stopped me in the hall and pretended she was fine
But all she kept talking about was....

[Chorus]

Kelly said...

There is fruad in every aspect of life now. My kid was looking for a house to rent and ran across a scam. My debit card has been cloned 3 times. Yet, no way could there ever be fruad in voting, according to democrats.

Requiring ID may not have stopped that democrat from voting in two different states, but the voter purge that Florida has been attempting and the DOJ has tried to stop certainly would. Heck, even Jimmy Carter is for voter ID. He wrote an oped a few years ago, I believe it was in the NYT. His orginazation found 1.3 percent of the population didn't have ID. Easy enough to fix since most voter ID laws make it easy to obtain state ID's.

yashu said...

One of the funny (hit my head against desk funny) things about this is that what Sullivan says here is exactly one of the central theses of Aaron Sorkin's liberal fantasy HBO "Newsroom" show. Cf. what he said in this interview, re what 's wrong with cable news and his hero's reaction:

Sorkin: I think it was the point at which suddenly facts were up for grabs. Jeff shouts that line in the pilot. People choose the facts they want now. That was it for me. The other thing was this, the idea that we, good people, people who were brought up right, are conditioned to believe that there are two sides to every story, that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, that there’s enough blame to go around, and you want to be a good person and stick to those things. Sometimes that’s just not the case. Sometimes there’s only one side to the story. Sometimes there are five. Sometimes the truth doesn’t lie in the middle. Sometimes the truth lies right here and the lie lies right here. I’ve found that the news is very bad at saying that. As Will and everybody talks about in the second episode, the news isn’t biased toward the left or the right, it’s biased toward fairness. It’s biased toward talk toward false equivalencies, false neutrality. They should use the world lie more often than they do. Someone makes the joke in the second episode that if the entire house Democratic caucus were walking to the capitol and say that the earth is flat, the headline on the New York Times the next day would read, "Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on shape of Earth." That it’s really okay for the news, when it comes to facts, to be a referee and say the facts are immutable and this is what they are. That statement was wrong.

Of course, NB for all this talk of false neutrality, false balance, he makes his fictional hero (Sorkin's stand-in) a "moderate Republican"-- so the show pats itself on the back and gives itself a veneer of objectivity and fairness, by relying precisely on a false balance: if he has a Republican speaking the show's liberal "truths," this is meant to persuade the audience that those views are more likely to be true. (Cf. other fictional "Republicans" trotted out by the left, like Andrew Sullivan. Or cf. the role David Brooks fulfills at the NYT.)

Sorkin: [...] The political journey that Will is taken on is, he is a moderate Republican. He becomes horrified by what the radical right is doing. He doesn’t believe that he’s a RINO (Republican In Name Only). He believes that they’re the RINOs, just as I strongly believe that it should be moderate Muslims who are making the most noise about radical Islam. That it should be well-meaning, unbigoted Christians who are making the most noise about the Dobson’s. I believe it should be moderate Republicans who are making the most noise about the Tea Party, and so I wanted to dramatize that. Will thinks that as well, that if it’s coming from the left nobody’s going to listen. It’s a left/right thing, but maybe I can get a couple people to listen to me if I say, “I’m a Republican. This is why. This is what the Republican party has stood for. This is what Ronald Reagan stood for. This is what Teddy Roosevelt stood for. This is what Eisenhower stood for. This is what Nixon stood for. What they’re saying here has nothing to do with that."

(LOL at "this is what Nixon stood for": a dead Republican is a good Republican, even Nixon!)

Anyway, so here's the public editor of what's supposed to be America's premiere newspaper, mouthing the same journalistic/ ideological cliches as the fictional character in a notoriously liberal fantasy of a "Newsroom."

It is to laugh until you cry.

Paul Zrimsek said...

One way to get from phony balance to real balance might be to apply the same standard of evidence to both sides of the voter ID debate. Since both fraud and suppression are quite difficult to prove in specific instances, the current approach-- demanding proof from voter-ID advocates about the fraud but taking their opponents' word for it about the suppression-- is a pretty effective way of helping readers know what to believe.

DavidD said...

"NYT readers wrote to her to complain about an article that presented the statements of both sides, instead of helping readers know what to believe: 'that there was little evidence of voter fraud.' "

What evidence has anyone presented that Republican efforts to pass voter ID laws are intended to disenfranchise legal voters?

I would say that efforts to ensure that only those who are allowed to vote do indeed vote actually protects the vote of all who exercise their rights, while an illegal vote disenfranchises someone who voted the other way--but then, Democrats don't care about the votes of Black Republicans.

grackle said...

You cannot win. You will lose. We the MSM want to decide. We are the deciders.

The MSM is one of the reasons Obama will probably win. Due to MSM bias every GOP presidential candidate has to run with a 5 to 10 point handicap. The bias is there on all the issues, too: abortion, foreign policy, taxes, energy, defense.

Watered-down, second-hand Marxist principles have become the accepted conventional wisdom and have, for example, resulted in a passive acceptance of "big government." Academia has also been an enormous factor in this transformation.

The popularity of Ron Paul among certain folks is a result of blowback against the tide of Progressivism(which is pseudo-Marxism dressed up in conventionality and re-labeled). Too bad Paul is a nut with a few valid ideas embedded among the nuttiness.

It's hilarious that the NYT gets letters from its readers complaining they're not being told what to believe.

Hilarious, maybe, because the readers are confused sheep – and that is somewhat ridiculous. But it should be frightening to us all.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Let me remind you that requiring ID to vote doesn't prevent this type of voter fraud."

-- Actually, it would. As it would require the person doing it to obtain IDs in two states, which if the states were acting as responsible stewards and doing their jobs, would be cross referencing their lists to ensure people were not registered in two areas.

Simply because the government is lazy and derelict in their duties is no reason to reward some of them by making them have to do less work.

Matthew Sablan said...

The other interesting thing: Everyone is willing to acknowledge the increased rate of cheaters in sports and academics, but those same people refuse to believe that people would dare commit voter fraud.

shiloh said...

"The MSM is one of the reasons Obama will probably win. Due to MSM bias every GOP presidential candidate has to run with a 5 to 10 point handicap. The bias is there on all the issues, too: abortion, foreign policy, taxes, energy, defense."

Cry me a river!

Interesting cons never want to talk about what Romney's opponents in the 2012 Rep party accurately portrayed him as weak, flip/flopping, no core. Indeed, Santorum said Willard was the worst possible nominee Reps could pick to run against Obama.

chrisnavin.com said...

Maybe 'objectivity' was partly a function of the cultural unity under ideas with which they still seem to be at war.

Culturally, they seem to be hovering over the pile of 60's radicalism and the New Left, moral relativism and multiculturalism, movements like staunch feminism, gender equity, anti-capitalism, global warming true belief etc.

They've backed themselves into that mess, and a kind of emotive, childlike assessment of the world and the reader naturally follows.

Look at the current ticket: A Mormon, generally straight-shooting businessman along with a small town budget wonk, both family men and pretty traditional. Still politicians, of course.

On the other side: The pretty far Left product of Stanley Ann, who fled from Kansas, to Seattle, to Hawaii, to Indonesia away from those traditions. Obama "community-organized" in Chicago, and I suspect took advantage of race in this country to get as far as he did.

We're reliving the 60's, which is probably why Althouse is so relevant as well (no offense).

It just looks like we're growing a baby European-Left to me, and in a few generations, it will be strong and healthy. Fewer jobs, bigger State, less political stability, less economic opportunity, more radical and collective definitions of freedom.

Technology's changed beneath their feet, too.

PETER V. BELLA said...

NYT and the rest are just cut and paste journalism. They cut and paste whatever they are given. There is no real reporting, fact checking, digging for the truth, double checking, or providing the best version of the truth. Cut and paste is the only thing they know.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Sorkin also inadvertently illustrated one problem with helping viewers know what to believe when he gave his Ideal Newsman the line, "I’m a registered Republican—I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not by gay marriage." If our pols are going to be fact-checked, I'd rather have it done by people who don't believe in quite so many imaginary facts.

Ann Althouse said...

"I do recall a high school English teacher’s useful remarks; her observation was that when a writer resorted to using dashes (or hyphens) it was a pretty clear indication that they had just given up on the sentence. She extended that observation further to instruct that sentences containing them cannot be diagrammed."

Sorry, but your teacher was wrong. Dashes can be used in different ways, some of which are evidence of flighty thinking, the old run-on sentence problem. But there are good ways too, in which they are like commas -- properly used commas -- that set material apart very clearly. They are especially useful for setting things apart when the sentence has other commas elsewhere. It's a matter of control or lack of control.

There's a way of using dashes that I do all the time that I learned from Kafka, read in an excellent translation of "The Trial." You get a sentence inserted inside another sentence, and it's not done carelessly, though it feels like speech. It's done quite deliberately. (I don't know what the original German looked like, but I greatly admired this punctuation move in the translation.)

Ann Althouse said...

Funny that you used the words "clear indication," when my post is making fun of Sullivan's use of that phrase.

yashu said...

It's amazing that progressives are now so insecure about their ability to persuade Americans that they can't even risk presenting the "other side" in a news article (without immediately denying and dismissing it), lest readers stray from the TRUTH ("pravda").

Can't risk letting readers sift, judge, evaluate, make up their own minds: after all, they might get it "wrong"! The role of the news, says the NYT-- the effing news, not editorials-- is to "help readers know what to believe."

My God. To live during the Obama administration is to live an episode of the Twilight Zone.

I laugh, but... it's grotesque and scary.

edutcher said...

grackle said...

You cannot win. You will lose. We the MSM want to decide. We are the deciders.

The MSM is one of the reasons Obama will probably win. Due to MSM bias every GOP presidential candidate has to run with a 5 to 10 point handicap. The bias is there on all the issues, too: abortion, foreign policy, taxes, energy, defense.


Yet, there has been only one Demo to have 2 terms since FDR and more Republican than Demo Presidents.

Don't worry, Zero is losing or we wouldn't be seeing all these gyrations.

EMD said...

to help them make their way through complicated and contentious subjects.

Seriously?

We are the dumb unwashed.

edutcher said...

PS If the centralized media was winning, Ms Sullivan wouldn't have felt it necessary to write her column.

The decentralized media is why the Romster is leading.

garage mahal said...

Because as of this week, it's illegal to criticize Mohammed.

Let's try.

Mohammed SUCKS!

wef said...

power-worshiping lewinsky press

why bother?

campy said...

Don't worry, Zero is losing

He might (or might not) be losing, but he's definitely not losing by enough to prevent him from stealing it.

Matthew Sablan said...

Garage: Just because something isn't consistently enforced doesn't mean it isn't criminal. For example, violating the Hatch Act is a crime. Just because someone isn't punished for it doesn't make it not a crime. Likewise, if the government punishes people for certain actions that are technically legal, they are not really legal.

chrisnavin.com said...

There can be problems with too many blogs, too many links and aggregation and not enough time, money, and shoe-leather journalism.

Their foreign correspondence is pretty good.

As to their newsroom, ideological slant, etc. I don't trust them at all. Politicians aren't your friends, NY Times. Carve a path toward greater objectivity, attack some sacred cows, put together a long string of factually accurate stories and forget the ideology for a while. Earn readers.

shiloh said...

"but he's definitely not losing by enough to prevent him from stealing it."

Perfect! And speaking of punctuation, period/exclamation point on this sites ad nauseam Obama whining ...

Jay Vogt said...

Ann Says, "Sorry, but your teacher was wrong. Dashes can be used in different ways,. . . . They are especially useful for setting things apart when the sentence has other commas elsewhere. . . . "

The yeoman's work on that should be done by the more robust semi-colon. At least that's what I learned.

No need to apologize. I've found that her guidance was really useful and true. The more dashes the higher probability of Bullshit.

I know that from my own writing.


edutcher said...

shiloh said...

Perfect! And speaking of punctuation, period/exclamation point on this sites ad nauseam Obama whining ...

A twofer!

The little animal's favorite vehicle of projection (whining = telling the truth) and obfuscation.

Althouse hyperbole lemmings cons mittens

"j :k #e :H

%%%%%%%%%%Althouse%%%%%%%%

Californy or bust!

PatCA said...

"Both sides have become very angry and very suspicious about the other."

I wonder if Ms. Sullivan can guess why that is. It seems to me that what we are seeing is the awakening of America as the old information gatekeepers are revealed to be mere partisans.

Now we know they are not telling the truth, and they know that we know. And we're angry.

Ann Althouse said...

"The yeoman's work on that should be done by the more robust semi-colon. At least that's what I learned."

What are you talking about? The dash is like a comma. A semi-colon is like a period. They have different functions. And that thing of inserting a sentence into a sentence -- I learned it from Kafka -- cannot be done with semi-colons. If your point is you don't like that structure, don't do it. But I like it, and my using it isn't my failure to do something else. It's a choice. If a semi-colon is somehow better because it's "robust," then use a period. It's even more robust.

(If a semi-colon is somehow better because it's "robust," then use a period; it's even more robust. )

I was influenced by something I heard Kurt Vonnegut say in an interview. All I can remember of it was: Never use a semi-colon. Or even: Reject any author who ever uses a semi-colon.

That sounded robust to me. If we're going to have a robustness competition, I'm going with Kurt.

Roger J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

Found it: "Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.” "

Roger J. said...

I am unconvinced that the media as truth tellers has ever existed. They are indeed gatekeepers, for their own political points of view. Publishers push their points and political preferences just as with politicians. And the media as political entities goes back at least as far as the debates between the federalists and the democrats which led to the alien and sedition acts. The media as gatekeepers (and truthtellers) is one of our longstanding myths in this country. As far as i can tell, it is simply a myth.

Comanche Voter said...

More horseshit from The Grey Lady. I can figure out what to believe on my own, thank you very much. I can also smell BS at 50 paces.

Roger J. said...

I am enjoying the English lesson, but do have a question for the good professor: are not semi-colons appropriate for a longer series of independent clauses?

Roger J. said...

An interesting discussion of the "invention" and use of the semi-colon in Wikipedia.

yashu said...

Althouse is right and Jay V. is wrong about dashes.

I love 'em and doubtless overuse them. I'm also overfond of parentheses and colons.

Most idiosyncratic user of dashes: Emily Dickinson.

No oaklike robustness to my sentences, usually; they're more like a tangle of weeds.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

The New York Times is an immense sauropod lying on its side in the deep mud of the swamp. The thrashing of its mighty tail only makes it sink deeper in the mire. Some day historians will unearth the bones, and marvel that such an ungainly beast could ever have existed. I think that day will be about five years from now.

Robert said...

I think Althouse should apply for Public Editor at NYT. They need some body from outside the organization. Maybe it is called "From the Out House".

Freeman Hunt said...

I love them all.

---(((;;;;)))---

So there. Look, the semicolons are gently embraced by the others. Or shoved together. I can't quite tell which.

Tyrone Slothrop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Real American said...

If the NYT wanted to accurately portray the leftist position on voter ID they would write that the Democrats want to continue to commit voter fraud and that Democrats think black people are too fucking stupid to get identification, even if it's free.

Hagar said...

I disagree with the Professor. The NYT is not being criticized by Democrats for not supporting Democratic Party positions; it is being criticized by its fellow Journolist members for not sufficiently supporting them in convincing the Democratic Party what its positions should be.

Hagar said...

and I assert my 1st Amendment rights to use dashes, semicolons, and any other puntuation marks as I damn well please!

Tyrone Slothrop said...
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Tyrone Slothrop said...
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DavidD said...

But the whole point of the original semi-colon comment, I thought, was that semi-colons have their use where a comma would ordinarily be used but it follows a series set off by commas--but this is a completely different context from the use of a dash in place of a comma, where a semi-colon would be wholly inappropriate.

Ipso Fatso said...

"Pretending that creationism and intelligent design should be treated as valid alternatives to evolution." Freder Frederson

Wanna bet that Freder believes in global warming?

Dante said...

I'm not a big reader of the NYT, but the window into the writing of it by Sullivan is hysterical.

Summarizing, "We've been trying ever so hard to be balanced (no really, we have, honest), but we aren't going to anymore. No, we aren't going to use facts. Facts are simply too hard, with deadlines, no one reads corrections anyway. And who knows what a fact really is, anyway? Instead, because of what you, dear reader, want, we are going to program you. This is our coming out of the closet declaration. You can now officially view us as a propaganda organ of the leftist Democrat party! Thank you for giving us our voice.

Now, back to your regular scheduled programming."

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Heh heh. Thought I was in a different thread there for a while.

Andy R. said...

No, we aren't going to use facts.

You're reversing what is happening. For the longest time, newspapers have been charitable about reporting the factual thing that liberals say and they made-up thing that conservatives say.

Now, they are going to do the radical thing of reporting what both sides say, and in instances where there is factual information, they are going to say who is right and who is wrong.

I understand why this is so upsetting to conservatives.

Dante said...

Andy, this is what Sullivan says in her 9/16 article about facts:

"The trick is . . . to determine those facts, to identify the established truth. Editors and reporters say that is not always such an easy call. And sometimes readers who demand “just the facts” are really demanding their version of the facts. [Facts are hard]

“There’s a temptation to say there are objective facts and there are opinions, and we should only use objective facts,” said David Leonhardt, the Washington bureau chief. “But there’s a big spectrum. . . .” [Who knows what a fact is, anyway?]

What’s more, reporters and editors often have to make these calls on tight deadlines [Facts are hard]

. . .

What’s more, readers want it done immediately, not days later in follow-up articles.[No one reads follow up corrections anyway]

. . .

Journalists need to . . . help readers know what to believe [As in Believe, not think, we will program you with leftist religious dogma]"

Get your free programming here.

Alex said...

This is just another in the long line of Althouse hysteria articles now that Romney is losing!

/AllieBitch

Alex said...

Allie - you're descending into Shiloh douchebaggery.

Gary Rosen said...

"and I assert my 1st Amendment rights to use dashes, semicolons, and any other puntuation marks as I damn well please!"


Watch it, Hagar, that's what Nakoula thought. And AA has already informed us off that semicolons are not Artistically Correct; use them at your own peril.

grackle said...

The media as gatekeepers (and truthtellers) is one of our longstanding myths in this country. As far as i can tell, it is simply a myth.

Somewhat true, but there used to be at least a nod to the facts. Facts are important because voting decisions cannot be informed unless the facts are published. The MSM doesn't bother with that anymore. And in the past(pre-FDR) the MSM was not so thoroughly on one side – there were countervailing opinions in the MSM that served as a rough equalizer. Today we have Journolist – or whatever they are calling it now.

Yet, there has been only one Demo to have 2 terms since FDR and more Republican than Demo Presidents.

Could it be that the Democrats were bad Presidents? So bad that even a 10-point advantage did not enable them to win?

Marshal said...

Fallows, Klein, and now Sullivanthe Journolist influence is strong. We're seeing the end of actual journalism. Alleged journalists are doubling down on their transition to activism. Those activists might win, but their publications will lose.

From Inwood said...

William McGowan
On the decline of the Gray Lady.

Is The New York Times a liberal newspaper? In 2004, Daniel Okrent, then the paper’s “public editor,” wrote a column asking that very question.[1] His answer: “Of course it is.” Okrent noted that the word “postmodern” had been used “an average of four times a week” that year, and if this didn’t reflect a Manhattan as opposed to a mainstream sensibility, he remarked, “then I’m Noam Chomsky.” (In August 2010, the standards editor, Philip Corbett, urged the Times newsroom to limit the use of the word “hipster,” which he said had appeared 250 times in the last year alone.)

Okrent also noted that the culture pages of the Times “often feature forms of art, dance or theater that may pass for normal (or at least tolerable) in New York but might be pretty shocking in other places.” The Times Magazine, he said, featured photo essays of “models who look like they’re preparing to murder (or be murdered), and others arrayed in a mode you could call dominatrix chic.” In the Sunday Style section, he found “gay wedding announcements, of course, but also downtown sex clubs and T-shirts bearing the slogan, ‘I’m afraid of Americans.’ . . . The front page of the Metro section has featured a long piece best described by its subheadline, ‘Cross-Dressers Gladly Pay to Get in Touch with Their Feminine Side.’ ”

Okrent acknowledged that a newspaper has the right to decide what’s important and what’s not, but stipulated that some readers will think, “This does not represent me or my interests. In fact, it represents my enemy.” He finished his controversial meditation: “It’s one thing to make the paper’s pages a congenial home for editorial polemicists, conceptual artists, the fashion-forward, or other like-minded souls (European papers, aligned with specific political parties, have been doing it for centuries), and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear.” For those with a different worldview than the one that dominates the Times, the paper must necessarily seem “like an alien beast.”

Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the publisher, responded to a query from Okrent by saying that he preferred to call the paper’s viewpoint “urban.” The tumultuous, polyglot metropolitan environment that the Times occupies meant that “We’re less easily shocked,” Sulzberger said. He maintained that the paper reflected “a value system that recognizes the power of flexibility.” But the cat was out of the bag. An authoritative voice at the Times had said, in effect, that the paper’s views—especially in matters of culture—were characterized by moral relativism and a celebration of the transgressive over traditional American norms and values.

***********
For some, the vulgarity and desperate hipness have been too much. As Joseph Epstein put it in The Weekly Standard in 2010, The New York Times’s traditional sobriquet, “the Gray Lady of American newspapers . . . implied a certain stateliness, a sense of responsibility, the possession of high virtue. But the Gray Lady is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. She’s become a bit—perhaps more than a bit—of a slut, whoring after youth through pretending to be with-it. I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly fifty years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

This New Criterion essay is excerpted from Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of “The New York Times” Means for America,

From Inwood said...

I drive my insecure friends carzy by repeating Barone's mot about being a recovered NYT Reader.

I tell 'em as follows:

While it is certain that “nothing is certain, & not even that” & that truth is relative & changeable, nevertheless, what occurred, occurred & what did not occur, did not occur. This is tautology that thise who are FOX News, Talk Radio, & Rightwing Blog deniers will never admit.

To the Chattering Class, in the tank for the Dem Party & usually on the Government Teat, if it wasn’t “reported” in the NYT, it never occurred, & if it was “reported” in the NYT, it did occur & moreover occurred exactly as the NYT “reported” that it had occurred.

But what may be the real problem here to those who have to be dragged kicking & screaming into the 21st century is that FOX News, Talk Radio, & Rightwing Blogs are reporting what has occurred & questioning what cannot be proven to have occurred, things that the MSM might, say, prefer to hide.

It would be amusing if it were not so serious when would-be serious people respond immediately & in lockstep that “rightwingnut” Blogs are déclassé, “Hate” Radio guys are entertainers (that is when they’re not “racists”) & “FAUX” is not a “real” News Channel.

And if they feel it necessary or appropriate, these deniers respond further that whatever FOX News, Talk Radio, & Rightwing Blogs are claiming to have occurred never occurred or if it did it occur, it didn’t actually, you know, occur as FOX News, Talk Radio, & Rightwing Blogs said that it occurred, or it wasn’t as important as FOX News, Talk Radio, & Rightwing Blogs made it sound to their déclassé audiences or it was more nuanced than FOX News, Talk Radio, & Rightwing Blogs, being mere superficial entertainers, not like us my dears, understood.

In any event, someone has noted that in the minds of the deniers, the NYT is the paper of record because it’s always able to interpret what actually occurred in order to be able to show the deeper truth of the meaning of it all. Apparently a talent not to be minimized.

From Inwood said...

Er, make that "crazy"

& me too lazy to proofread.

From Inwood said...

Fowler's allows dashes.

Those who oppose them are inventing a Pecksniffian rule, tho obviously, run-on sentences should be avoided, a rule I, alas frequently violate.

BTW, another typo in my original post "those"

Did you hear about the Magician who said “abradacrabra” & nothing happened? He was a poor speller.

David said...

No in person fraud? How the hell can you know that? I know for a fact that there are people who have no problem voting in two states if they can pull it off. I've heard my kids' friends talk about it. Dont think it's wrong because they "are registered." Surely do not think they are going to get caught.

People cheat. It's a human trait to do so regardless of political views. It's incredible that a NYT editor would assert that it does not happen because it's been hard to detect.

From Inwood said...

You may remember the late Susan Sontag’s criticism of liberal publications.

“Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?”


Update that to the 21st Century:

“Imagine, if you will, someone who reads only the [brain-dead] NYT, and someone who reads & listens to only Talk Radio, FOX News, intellectual periodicals like Commentary, National Review, First Things, The Weekly Standard. Which reader/listener would be better informed about the realities of the world we live in? The answer, I think, should give you pause. Can it be that the rubes, the great unwashed, the hoi barbaroi, the (gasp) Tea Party people, you know those who are not like us my dears here in the Uppa East Side, Kalorama, Cambridge, or those college towns in flyover country are right & we wrong?”

damikesc said...

Now, they are going to do the radical thing of reporting what both sides say, and in instances where there is factual information, they are going to say who is right and who is wrong.


Like how Paul Ryan was wrong about Obama promising to keep a GM plant open --- even though it did, in fact, close under Obama and his decisions made it happen?

Or how Romney was wrong about saying that Obama never visited Israel in spite of the reality that Obama never visited Israel?

Or that Romney was wrong to say we have the lowest number of ships in our Navy since 1916 --- because we could always build more. What Romney said, mind you, was supported by the Sec of Navy.

Synova said...

Obama *implied strongly* that he'd keep the GM plant open if the people there voted for him and he won. He won.

Excuses: the decision to close the plant was made before Obama became president. So he's off the hook for his "promise."

Reality: Other GM plants that were also scheduled to close before Obama became president, and that were *closed* before Obama became president, were re-opened. We heard about them during the Dem convention (over and over and over.)

So... lose/lose.

Either Obama made promises that he *could not* keep or Obama made promises that he *could* keep and chose not to keep.

So quibble... did Obama actually promise to keep the plant open, or did he use weasel words to imply such so that his listeners believed it but if his words were examined carefully he had sidestepped and not promised at all? If so, then Paul Ryan *might* be a liar, but Obama is a scumbag.

Synova said...

I'd like to see traditional journalists start to care about and report the truth rather than what people *say*.

Because then they'd have to answer the question "is the Tea Party racist" by finding out what people really think instead of just reporting what some anti-tea-party hack *says*.

And they'd have to find out, before running a series on how scared people are of their children being drafted, if there is any chance of that happening and *where* the rumors originated (with the Democrats.) They might also have to report that their random "concerned mother" is actually a political activist.

People are tired of the stupid "balance" where the liberal side is reported and then some wack-job fringe person is found to "balance" the issue.

A journalist ought to be finding out what really happened, not reporting what one side or the other claimed happened.

Andy thinks that this will distress conservatives, but someone reporting the TRUTH could not report that people advocating for voter ID were racist or trying to disenfranchise anyone but those not eligible to vote.

RecChief said...

Didn't president Obama talk to reporters about "false balance" or false equivalency within the last couple of months. I will look for the story, I believe it was in NRO. I guess it goes to prove that the lapdog media is just that. And at least they will be open and upfront about it.

Charles said...

Ms. Sullivan,

As a Buffalonian I say, good riddance to you.

To the readers of the NYT, I say...
sucks to be you!

God I wish the Courier Express was still around.

Kirk Parker said...

"How heavy-handed would his sarcasm need to be before you'd recognize it a humor?"

That's missing the point--in order to be recognized as humor, it'd have to be actually humorous (that's "humorous-humorous" for you Whoopi fans.) As it is, though, most of us have no problem recognizing dull and plodding.

MarkD said...

The old lies no longer sell, so the Times needs new lies.

You didn't think they had an epiphany, did you? Same stuff, new bag, no sale.