Roger Cohen: “Au Revoir, but Not Adieu”

Whatever my disagreements with him, on Israel and Zionism for instance, I’ve always admired both the style and substance of Roger Cohen’s writing. This farewell column of his for The New York Times is moving testimony to the value of the literate, civilized brand of journalism he wrote.

He was, to my mind, one of the Times’s best columnists, a consistent and eloquent defender of commonsense realism married to liberal values. He drew intelligently and without grandstanding on an enormous reservoir of hard experiences, and there was something fresh and authentic about his prose, a relief from the tedious nostrums, whether left or right, that one so often encounters on the Op-Ed page.

The highest compliment I can pay him is the sense of writerly jealousy I often felt on reading him. He’ll be hard to replace. He’s a hard act to follow.

What’s Wrong with “Cancel Culture,” Again? “A Case Study”

“Case study” is a bit grand for what follows, but this post was originally a comment I wrote a few days ago on an article in The New York Times. It was buried in the comments of the discussion about Kevin Vallier’s views on cancel culture, but I thought I’d pluck it out and post it here for better visibility. I’ve re-written the comment a bit, partly for clarity and partly for explicitness.

I guess my questions for critics of cancellation/cancel culture are these:

  • Is Thompson’s action objectionable? If so, how?
  • Is Thompson’s action a cancellation? If not, why not?

As far as I’m concerned, Thompson’s action is unobjectionable. I don’t like the term “cancellation,” but if we stipulate that we must use it, I feel no compunction (given the imprecision of the concept) in using it here. Since things like Thompson’s quit happen all the time, I regard such “cancellations” as entirely justified. I don’t know if this story is representative of what anti-cancellation types regard as a real cancellation, but part of the problem is that they haven’t explained themselves very well on that score. And considering the ridiculous-idiosyncratic-obscure origins of the concept, I would say that they owe us some precision before warning us against the supposed activity to which it refers. Continue reading

How Not to Cover Coverage

From an article in yesterday’s New York Times, about the closing of the enrollment period for Obamacare health insurance policies in New Jersey. The couple, Ana Gonzalez and Celso Morales, had earlier been described as coming to a health center in Plainfield, New Jersey in order to “sign up for a subsidized health plan.”

Ms. Gonzalez and Mr. Morales, who moved to New Jersey from Puerto Rico, came to sign up for coverage on the advice of one of his co-workers after Mr. Morales was told he has diabetes. The couple — she is 54 and he is 58 — qualified for Medicaid in Puerto Rico, but in New Jersey, their income is too high. They earn about $35,000 a year between her job at Target and his work laying stones for a construction company. With the Affordable Care Act tax credit, they will pay just under $200 a month to cover the two of them, a sum that seemed to please Ms. Gonzalez.

How useful is this information if we don’t know how high their deductible is or what their coverage is like? No middle- or upper-middle class person that I know would be content to know that their health insurance premium was $200/month without knowing anything else about their policy or coverage. But for some reason, seasoned reporters for The New York Times seem to think that we’re to judge this couple’s insurance situation knowing just that. Continue reading

Fake News: All the Counterfactual Conditionals Fit to Print

I encountered this passage in what was supposed to be a news story about Donald Trump’s intervention in the Carrier factory job decision in Indiana:

And just as only a confirmed anti-Communist like Richard Nixon could go to China, so only a businessman like Mr. Trump could take on corporate America without being called a Bernie Sanders-style socialist. If Barack Obama had tried the same maneuver, he’d probably have drawn criticism for intervening in the free market.

Does that set of claims really qualify as news? I’m not even sure the passage qualifies as editorializing. Neither sentence expresses a verifiable fact. Both sentences just seem like handwaving slop. Continue reading

Managua, Day 9: Notes on La Prensa

In my last post, I mentioned that La Prensa is a “pretty explicitly partisan” paper, but that turns out to be an understatement. I realized a little while later that the paper is owned, published, and edited by the Chamorro family, probably the most prominent political opponents of the current Ortega regime. So despite its wide circulation, that makes La Prensa the functional equivalent of a party-line newspaper.

One often hears (at least I´ve often heard) the claim that American newspapers differ from European (and I suppose, Central American) newspapers by cultivating a sort of fake objectivity—a pretense at political neutrality, and at a separation between the newsroom and the editorial pages, that—to their detriment–they never pull off. The result is a deceptive form of neutrality that fails to take stock of its own normative presuppositions, and refuses to see the need to justify them. Non-American (i.e., non-US) papers, by contrast, dispense with the pretense, and offer an integrated but explicitly selective take on current events. Exposed as I typically am to the fake objectivity of US papers, I was inclined to be receptive to the non-US journalistic model, but I now find myself skeptical. I had to read La Prensa for about a week fully to grasp the false alternative involved in the ´fake objectivity´versus `explicitly partisan´ journalistic models. There has to be a rationally justifiable mean between the two extremes, but I don´t think I´ve ever encountered it anywhere myself.

In any case, I find La Prensa´s take on things interesting. The news section is typically about 12 pages long, and 10-11 of those pages are devoted to Nicaraguan news, almost all of it critical of the Ortega regime. The last page is devoted to world news, and that in turn tends nowadays to be focusing on Gaza and Iraq. Judging from the editorials on the subject, La Prensa seems to be fairly pro-Israel: over the last week, I´ve seen two op-eds on the the Israel-Palestine dispute, both favorable to Israel. Call me cynical, but I have to wonder whether that´s a case of the paper´s posturing toward a pro-US position for US consumption. On the other hand, I´m told that the evangelical Christian population here tends to a pro-Israel perspective, and I´ve certainly seen my share of bumper stickers to that effect (`Dios benditto a la tierra de Israel´: God bless the land of Israel). A rather odd predicament for a one-time redoubt of the PLO–the PLO famously had an office in the Sandinista´s Managua–but I guess times change.

PS, August 11: For a good general discussion of journalistic objectivity, take a look at this 2007 piece by David Kelley.