King Richard: Nixon and Watergate-An American Tragedy
By: Michael Dobbs
Narrated by: Mark Bramhall
Michael Dobbs (Author, British member of the House of Lords, graduate of Oxford and Tufts University.)
Appropriately, it is a British citizen who writes a biography that focuses on Nixon’s years as President of the United States. An American is much less likely to be objective about Nixon’s Presidency.
Like yesterday’s Richard Nixon and today’s Donald Trump, Americans love or revile former Presidents.
The title of Dobbs’ book exemplifies a legitimate view of Richard Milhouse Nixon as an American tragedy. One doubts history will ever consider Trump’s fall from power as a tragedy. Both Nixon and Trump act like Kings but Nixon served America in ways that justify Dobb’s book title for Nixon as “…American Tragedy”.
Dobbs reminds Americans of Nixon’s prescient understanding of China by opening China to the west.
Nixon extricated America from Vietnam, a war that could not be justified or defeated by the delusional beliefs of past Presidents who believed in the domino theory of communist expansion.
Though Dobbs did not write about Nixon’s domestic policies, it was his presidency that formed the Environmental Protection Agency and instituted the war on cancer with a $100-million-dollar subsidy creating national cancer research centers. Nixon signed the Title IX civil rights law preventing gender bias at colleges and universities receiving federal funds. Nixon provided Native Americans the right of tribal self-determination. Nixon expanded social security benefits for working families.
Dobbs notes Nixon exhibits a kind of insecurity that clouds his judgement. That insecurity leads to the foolish decision to invade the Watergate Democratic headquarters; compounded by a cover-up that ends with Nixon’s resignation.
The prestige of office magnifies strengths and weaknesses of one who becomes a national leader. The potential for abuse of power by authoritarians has been demonstrated many times in world history. America is no exception. Dobbs details Nixon’s fall from the Presidency.
Dobb’s story of Nixon is an interesting contrast to Trump’s rise and fall. In no way is that to suggest there is any equivalence in intellect or contribution of these two Presidents because one is a tragedy while the other is a farce.
Dobb’s paints a picture of Nixon that is at times imperious and, at other times, endearing and vulnerable. Nixon seems a lonely man who loves his children but seems distant from his wife. Nixon has few friends.
A fundamental difference between Nixon and Trump is that Nixon rose to fame from nothing while Trump is born to wealth. Nixon earned his education. Trump bought his education.
To Nixon, Dobb’s shows money is a means to an end. To Trump, money seems all there is, and value is only measured by how much you have.
Nixon appears to have useful friends, not pleasant friends. The few pleasant friends are like Bebe Rebozo who never challenges his opinion and listens rather than asks questions. Useful friends are protected or abandoned based on personal loyalty. Any disagreement by useful friends with Nixon’s or Trump’s public pronouncements is perceived as disloyalty.
Both Nixon and Trump revile criticism, particularly from the press. Nixon is willing to sacrifice his closest subordinates if required to protect his position. Both ex-Presidents of the United States were willing to use the power of their office to pardon the guilty who have followed their orders.
All who become close to Nixon or Trump have been positively and negatively infected by their association. “King Richard” is a reminder of America today.
Katie Roiphe (Author, critic, tenured professor at New York University.)
“The Power of Notebooks” is a memoir of Roiphe’s life between the age of fifteen and fifty. Her first love affair is with a Rabbi when she is fifteen. On the one hand, Roiphe notes the inappropriateness of the Rabbi’s seduction; on the other, she implies a level of guilt for the affair. Roiphe is married and divorced twice and has two children which she mostly raises as a single parent. Her father was a psychoanalyst and her mother, Anne Roiphe, is an American writer and journalist.
To borrow a phrase and title of a well-known book, this memoir is of a woman who is “Naked and Unafraid”.
Though labeling is fraught with misrepresentation, Katie Roiphe is a feminist. She is an advocate for women’s rights and equality of the sexes but questions the veracity of “me to” in the world of Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. One doubts Roiphe would not vilify Weinstein’s and Epstein’s behavior but “The Power Notebooks” implies extreme behavior is not a reflection of society in general.
In “The Power Notebooks” Roiphe’s strident voice reflects on her life as an independent woman. She chooses her friends, lovers, and fellow writers based on a qualification of not caring about who you do, or what you do. Roiphe writes about what she did and what she believes.
Roiphe notes how some question her role as a single parent raising two children on her own. It is not a concern of Roiphe’s, and one wonders why anyone would question that circumstance in the 21st century.
Roiphe examines her relationship with men whom she neither depends on nor expects will be dependent on her. It is not that she does not fall in love, but that love is not all there is to a relationship.
Relationship is always a work in progress and if there is no progress, relationships end.
Roiphe expresses the same concern of all working parents in being concerned about job security. She explains how she successfully gains tenure at a university which assures continued employment. In a way, there is a disingenuousness in that employment concern considering the professional status of her family. However, Roiphe shows herself to be a highly independent woman who seems unlikely to seek help from anyone in living the life she chooses.
“The Power Notebooks” shows there is only one difference between the sexes. Women give birth, men do not. Roiphe could be telling anyone’s story, male or female, if they were not reluctant to be “Naked and Unafraid”.
One is in at least two minds in listening to “The Old Man and the Boy”. On the one hand, a listener is fascinated and learns a great deal about hunting and fishing. On the other, one sees how a young intelligent boy is influenced in good and bad ways by people he knows and the environment in which he lives.
“The Old Man and the Boy” is serialized for “Field and Stream” in 1953.
The author, Robert Ruark, is a North Carolinian. “The Old Man and the Boy” is a memoir of his youth. As an adult, he is characterized on the internet as a hard drinking outdoorsman who travels the world, writes books, and publishes articles in magazines like “Field and Stream” and “Playboy”.
Scenes and experiences recall the author’s life in rural North Carolina before the depression. This is a time when the word Negro is used to describe Black Americans.
Ruark’s brief notes about Black families reflect a paternalism and assumed inferiority of the “colored race”.
The “Old Man…” in Ruark’s story is his grandfather. The author shows how impactful grandparents can be in a young person’s life.
The grandfather teaches the boy about the ethics of hunting.
Along the way, he introduces the boy to life by teaching him the fundamentals of hunting and education provided by books and experience. Some lessons are farsighted, some shortsighted.
Preservation of the ecosystem is explained to the boy in different ways.
The grandfather explains why it is important limit one’s catch of fish or animals killed. Hunting should be for no more than what can be eaten or needed for species maintenance.
Ruark tells a funny story of an untrainable goat that suggests some animals cannot be domestically trained. Dogs are eminently trainable; horses and some goats are not, in the grandfather’s opinion.
The grandfather characterizes women as homemakers with little understanding of what constitutes education and work versus idleness. The grandfather offers a dim view of women with poor justification for male idleness.
The boy is introduced to liquor by his mentor. His insightful grandfather takes a nip or two or three after, never before, a day’s hunting or fishing.
The boy makes friends with a local coast guard captain. The boy tags along on Coast Guard’ rum runner captures and is introduced to both the danger and occasional imbibing by Coast Guard’ shipmates of gains from rum-runner’ interdictions.
Coincidentally, Ruark dies from cirrhosis of the liver at age 49, mostly attributed to alcoholism.
This is an entertaining, period piece story. It offers insights to hunting and fishing to anyone who has done or wishes to truly experience the great outdoors. It is a book of its time that reflects a reality of what it was like to live in rural North Carolina in the 1920s.
Salman Rushdie is an irreverent atheist who makes a strong case for science, cultural acceptance, and freedom of choice.
This memoir is somewhat diminished by Raj Ghatak’s narration of the last essays of the book. Ghatak’s presentation recounts the meaning of Rushdie’s essays, but they seem less personal without Rushdie’s narration. “Languages of Truth” is a compilation of highly personal opinions. First chapters of “Languages of Truth” are more perfectly presented by Rushdie’s unique and mellifluous voice.
Rushdie expresses strong negative opinions of America’s two most recent Republican Presidents. He ends his last essay with the hope for Donald Trump’s defeat in the coming 2021 re-election.
Rushdie argues Modi is bad for India. Contrary to the opinion of many citizens of India, Rushdie abjures Modi’s leadership. Rushdie believes Modi promotes unfair treatment of minorities, demands public fealty to Hindu nationalism, and limits freedom of choice. Rushdie is no less repelled by religious fundamentalism in the United States and its divisive influence on equal rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of choice.
In continuation of his political opinions, Rushdie suggests Britain’s Prime Minister fails the UK as badly as Trump fails America in the fight against Covid19.
There is a good deal of name dropping in Rushdie’s essays. He writes of his love for Christopher Hitchens, Harold Pinter, and Carrie Fisher. Rushdie admires Hitchens’ irreverent sense of humor and consistent atheism. Both Hitchens and Pinter support Rushdie in the writing and publication of “The Satanic Verses”.
Rushdie recounts his first meeting with Carrie Fisher with whom he becomes a close friend. He notes how friends are particularly protective of Fisher because of her personal trials. Rushdie notes his friendship with Fisher is intimate, caring, and asexual.
Parenthetically, Rushdie notes–contrary to the notion of men not being able to be friends with women, his friendship with Fisher denies the sexual-tension myth reinforced by movies.
Rushdie notes he is also an admirer and friends of well-known contemporary writers like Phillip Roth. There are other lesser-known artists of other media who become Rushdie’s friends. He speaks of Bhupen Khakhar, Grancesco Clemente, Taryn Simon, and Kara Walker. In each of these friend recollections, Rushdie emphasizes what he perceives are “Languages of Truth” expressed in movies, painting, photographs, and other artistic media.
To this reviewer, the more interesting reveal in Rushdie’s essays are his opinions about books and plays that a listener has read. He offers reviews of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five”, Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” and Shakespeare’s oeuvre. He reaches back to ancient history with Heraclitus and his sparsely remaining written notes. Rushdie identifies the difference between American and India folk tales where one has a moral while the other simply recounts events without judgement.
Ayatollah Khomieni (1902-1989, the first Supreme Leader of Iran.)
Rushdie’s intellect and wit led to the infamous Islamic fatwa from Khomeini that authorized his killing for blaspheming Allah.
Rushdie’s appeal is to liberals of the world. Many conservatives will cringe at Rushdie’s rejection of religion and acceptance of social and sexual difference. However, Rushdie shows himself to be an unrepentant intellectual with a warm heart and wicked wit.
Semour M. Hersh (Author, investigative journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner)
“Reporter” reveals why freedom of the press is both feared and revered. Seymour Hersh is an investigative reporter. After listening to “Reporter”, one realizes Hersh is among the best journalists of the 20th and 21st century. To many newspaper readers (embarrassingly including this reader) Hersh is not well known. Hersh’s reporting uncovered the My Lai massacre early in his career and followed that with revelations about the clandestine bombing of Cambodia, CIA exposure of domestic spying, and a still controversial contention that Obama lied to the American people about the Abbottabad raid that leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.
Hersh’s reporting uncovered the My Lai massacre early in his career.
The tenor of “Reporter” is personal to Hersh as one suspects all his reporting has been throughout his career. His tenacity in confirming facts before writing a story lets one know Hersh is relentless. When one is interviewed by Hersh, one suspects there is fear of being misunderstood or misquoted. “Reporter” alludes to that fear in anecdotes of his search for facts.
The NYT’s paper on 10.11.21 writes about a difference of opinion about how news should be covered.
Hersh shows no fear or favor but his pursuit of facts gives no value to reasons for misleading public perception of events. This is not criticism of the duties of an investigative reporter, but facts do not always speak for themselves.
One knows America’s government has mislead the public many times in its history. Whether that misleading is justified or not is not the concern of reporters like Seymour Hersh. To Hersh, all that matters is–facts speak for themselves. Therein lies the fear of freedom of the press.
The problem with thinking that facts speak for themselves is that all the facts revealed are never all the facts.
The many books that have been written about historic figures is ample evidence of the problem. With the principle of facts speak for themselves there would be no revisionist history. History is re-written in every generation. One wonders what the perception of Vladimir Putin will be after the events of his Ukranian war.
This is not to denigrate the great work reporters like Hersh provide to Americans. Without freedom of the press America would not be America.
Even though all the facts are never known, those that are known should be revealed in real time. How else can freedom be preserved? Hersh, like all good investigative reporters, is not always on the right side of history. Not because his facts are wrong, but that they fail to tell the whole story.
One presumes Russian historians will view Putin differently than western or Ukrainian historians. Hero or villain? –to most Ukrainians, one suspects the latter rather than the former. To Russia’s residents, Putin’s Ukrainian war may be either or both.
Every human being is trapped in their own world of experience and genetic predisposition. Facts are by nature pieced into our personal experience and predisposition. Facts do not change but they are influenced by one’s perception of reality.
Many consider Henry Kissinger to have been one of the most highly regarded Secretary of States in the 20th century. Hersh uncovers facts which suggest that is wrong. Hersh’s facts are compelling. They show Kissinger lies and distorts the truth.
Kissinger flatly denies spying on government employees while Hersh reveals facts that clearly show Kissinger lied. To Hersh, much of the secret opening of China to America happens as a result of an Arab go-between, not Kissinger’s diplomatic skill.
The covert bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam war is a policy soundly supported, if not initiated, by Kissinger. Hersh’s facts speak for themselves, but one doubts they tell the whole story. The whole story is left to historians. Though it may seem a contradiction, investigative reporter’s revelations in real time are good for American government. Only with transparency, can government become better.
Secret American bombing of Cambodia.
A most interesting chapter of Hersh’s book is an episode to expose the bad deeds of Gulf and Western Oil in the 70s.
His investigation is toned down and effectively stopped by his employer’s lawyers because of fear of its repercussion. Hersh concludes it is imprudent to expose seamy activities of corporate America because of potential negative economic consequence to publishers. Hersh does not back off from private industry investigations but he only refers to one other effort to expose corporate shenanigans. “Reporter” primarily focuses on government employee and policy miss-directions and lies.
Though Hersh is a Democrat, he shows no favor. Hersh notes that facts show President Obama distorted the truth in the hunt and killing of Osama bin Landen.
Hersh dutifully reveals evidence that strongly suggests Pakistan cooperated in the plot to capture or kill bin Laden. Facts suggest bin Laden was not buried at sea but his bullet-ridden remains were dropped from a helicopter into the sea. Those may be the facts but do they explain the whole truth?
“Reporter” is a memoir of a great newsman who is justifiably proud of his contribution to freedom of the press. America needs driven reporters like Seymour Hersh even though print and media news can never reveal all the facts in real time.
There is good reason to both fear and revere freedom of the press. Fear comes from truthful as well as false reporting of facts. Freedom is dependent on good reporting by reputable reporters.
The value of Dorey-Stein’s memoir is how a twenty something adult makes his/her way in America. What Dorey-Stein reflects is not just for women. It reveals much about every human’s ambition to make their way in the world.
“From the Corner of the Oval” is a subjective view of the power and prestige of an American President. The President’s power is limited, and his prestige is largely manufactured by the media. However, Dorey-Stein’s story of aides who serve an American President is a journey of extraordinary privilege.
What will draw some to Dorey-Stein’s book is curiosity about what it is like to be an aide in an American Presidential Administration. Some of that curiosity is satisfied. “From the Corner of the Oval” offers a view of Barack Obama from the perspective of a true believer.
The universality of Dorey-Stein’s memoir is a magnification of what it is to be in your twenties, on your way to a future. Opportunity is presented to all people of the world, but few grasp its temporal significance. Only in reflection is lived experience understood.
In the beginning of adulthood, when one is on their own, they choose to do one thing or another to satisfy their need for fulfillment. Fulfillment is a measure of three things—acquisition of money, power, and some measure of prestige. Each of these measures are quantitatively and qualitatively different for every person.
Some desire money more than power, power more than prestige, or prestige more than money. It is a circle of insatiable desire.
Dorey-Stein writes of her experience as a woman in her twenties. She has experienced employment, loss of employment, search for new employment, reemployment, the luck (both good and bad) of sex as a single person, and partner infidelity as a perpetrator and victim. Many people in their twenties encounter these experiences. Dorey-Stein works through these experiences in her well-written and interesting memoir.
The seemingly worst part of her experience is infidelity. One concludes good and bad experiences are overcome by her position as aide in a Presidential administration, some close confidential friends, physical health, and her supportive parents.
Fidelity is a nearly insuperable difficulty for Dorey-Stein, just as it is for many human beings.
Sex is a biological necessity for continuation of any species. From puberty to your twenties through death, sex is present in practice or thought. Dorey-Stein shows the consequence of power and prestige mixed with a natural desire for sexual relationship.
Many may be appalled by the role money, power, and position play in genuine affection and love, but that is life. Along the way, Dorey-Stein gives her reader/listeners a seat in the oval office, Air Force One, and a tour of the world at government expense.
On the one hand, “Agent Storm” outlines terrorism; its origin, its practitioners, and where it comes from. On the other, “Agent Storm” sounds like a comic book. With co-authorship of two CNN newsmen, Morten Storm’s story offers insight, but its credibility is challenging.
Morten Storm is “Agent Storm”. He is a Danish citizen who becomes a religious convert as a young man but abandons his Muslim faith in his late twenties. Storm is born into a family broken by a father’s abuse. He turns to religion for refuge.
Morten Storm looks for a substitute home. He finds it in a thobe (long dress worn by Muslim men).
Morten Storm’s story is like many told about lost children–looking for belonging and acceptance in the world. Abused children look for solace by finding substitutes for uncaring parents.
For lost children, finding religion is one end of a spectrum: the other is gang life. “Agent Storm” is a story combining both ends in religious zeal and gangsterism.
The authors of “Agent Storm” show how a young person can become a Jihadist. One wonders–is Storm’s journey different than what one may find in the Catholic crusades of the eleventh and thirteenth centuries?
Religion has been a rallying flag many times for children who are lost and wish to be found. Religion attracts the highly educated, as well as the unschooled, based on wanting to be part of something greater than oneself.
Storm attaches himself to the sport of boxing but either because of lack of discipline or skill, Storm becomes attracted to religion.
The Muslim faith is under attack in the 20th century and today. The Muslim religion offers a refuge and acceptance to Storm. His acceptance connects him to radical practitioners of the faith that terrorize the world. Storm’s early world view is the view held by Osama bin Laden and other distorters of the Muslim faith.
The killing of innocents appears to be a turning point for Storm who becomes a spy for the English and then American governments. Storm becomes an agent for identification of terrorists that hide behind interpretations of Koranic teaching.
To some, Storm’s sudden conversion may seem disingenuous. However, he does help Denmark, England, and America in its fight against terrorism. What is somewhat galling about Storm’s story is its formulaic meme of changing sides. Storm’s story might be told of any converted religious zealot who finally rejects false interpretation of religious text. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Protestant, killing or harming innocents is wrong.
Though Morten Storm may have become a better person, he sounds more like a lost boy-man. How many Jihadists, Catholic crusaders, or Protestant reformers will come to the realization that their way is not the only way?
All the Single Ladies (Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation)
By: Rebecca Traister
Narrated by Candace Thaxton, Rebecca Traister-introduction
Rebecca Traister (American author.)
In a broad context, “All the Single Ladies” is about freedom’s two edges. One edge lets people be themselves. The other edge makes people conform to societies’ rules.
Rebecca Traister begins by summarizing the history of unequal treatment of women. The truth rings loudest because of today’s “Me To” movement.
“Me Too” is a movement long delayed, and figuratively disfigured by a sharp edge of male’ power, domination, and social conformity.
Freedom is a function of power. No one is free. All nations have rules that limit freedom.
America’s founding fathers recognized freedom is defined by power. That is why government “checks and balances” were created.
The weakness of “checks and balances” is that they continue to be influenced by the power of human (principally male) rationalization.
Human beings do not see themselves as others see them. In that light, Traister notes one of Patrick Moynihan’s blind spots.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003, NY State Senator, author of The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.)
Moynihan affixed “The Negro Family” break-down as a cause of ghetto poverty. The cause of poverty is not single-parent homes. Poverty is a consequence of discrimination.
Singlemom homes are a choice for some mothers. Sometimes for reasons of independence, as explained by the women interviewed by Traister. But also because of a history of misogyny, and dysfunctional marriages or partnerships.
Too often it seems the choice of single-parent homes is because of abuse, loneliness, loss of emotional commitment, adultery, financial crises, or some other extrinsic cause.
Single-parent homes are not a cause of poverty. If women are employed and compensated at the same rate as men, they could afford child care for their children while they work. Like some low wage workers, women may have to take two jobs. (Of course, what’s new?–Working women have always had two jobs. Working at home and working at a job.)
The cause of poverty is systematic discrimination. Discrimination denies educational opportunity. Discrimination denies equal pay for equal work.
The rules of freedom are based on power, not science, not truth, but on human rationalization. Traister indicts male domination of the rules of freedom. She also notes societies’ discrimination based on race.
Discrimination against women may have begun with male domination when physical strength meant survival (not suggested or inferred by the author).
The growth of society, and the ascendance of religion, reinforced gender roles. Gender roles may have had some validity in the stone age, but they became rationalizations as humanity and society developed. Here is where Traister strikes at the heart of gender inequality.
Traister interviews many single women, some high achievers, others just making a living. What she finds is that some women choose to be single because of a lifestyle that offers freedom. It is the freedom of choice.
Freedom requires no cooperation from another to do whatever one wants, with the caveat of doing no harm to others.
With freedom, Traister is not saying single women choose to be anti-social. On the contrary, she argues single women are likely to be more socially connected than married women. In her interviews, Traister notes that single women are likely to have more social contact because they are not constrained by a life-partner’s interest or attention.
An irony of Traister’s observation about the consequence of marriage in “reducing social contacts” is that Traister chooses to marry. Her book is not meant to be anti-marriage, but to recognize the difference between single-hood and life partnership. Her unspoken belief is that both have equal potential for happiness and fulfillment. Her intent is to explain how happiness and fulfillment can be equally satisfied by single-hood.
Traister identifies a social construct that might be labeled “slammed relationships” that are not necessarily sexual but deeply, emotionally connected.
A great number of “…the Single Ladies” interviewed by Traister recount slammed relationships.
Though not suggested by Traister, a slammed relationship between men seems less likely because of the gravitational pull of “power”.
To many humans, the sexual act is pursuit of power over another, not emotional connection.
Real intimacy is not about a player’s control, or an actor’s act. A truly slammed relationship is not about power. A slammed relationship is about common interests and emotional connection.
Traister gives the example of a single lady in Boston that has a slammed relationship with another woman that chooses to move to California because of a job. Their emotional connection is so close that the woman who stays in Boston feels abandoned.
The Bostonian is told, by acquaintances of both people, that her friend will return and their slammed relationship will resume. But, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, “you can’t go home again”. Her friend does return from California. They renew their friendship, but they never reconnect at the same slammed friendship level.
Interestingly, the slammed relationships Traister writes about are between women, not men.
That raises the question of whether men can have slammed relationships, but that is not the subject of Traister’s book.
(From this reviewer’s perspective, most men are unlikely to develop slammed relationships. They have little reason to–because society has been dominated by men since the stone age. Men have power; most women do not. Men have little need for slammed relationships.)
Traister notes many of today’s women gravitate to singlehood because of its freedom. The freedom to stay or leave, to be alone, or to be with someone.
The freedom to choose has consequence. It has the potential of destroying the value of slammed relationships. Losing emotional connection is a criticism of society. One might conclude from Traister’s book, the world needs more “…Single Ladies”. “…Single Ladies” have the tools for slammed relationships.
Men can hugely benefit from women that take control of their lives. It is liberating for a driven man to be married to a driven woman because each takes responsibility for themselves.
Traister acknowledges; from her personal experience and interviews of single women, that there are consequences for choosing single-hood. All singles have vulnerabilities. They are vulnerable to loneliness.
Being single makes one vulnerable to accidents without help from someone living with them. People who are alone have less financial support when they become ill. However, all of these vulnerabilities are common to both sexes. The difference is women receive 73% of what a man gets for the same work. The difference is power of employment, advancement, and financial opportunity remain disproportionately in the hands of men.
Traister notes that loneliness can be equally present in marriage as in single-hood. Vulnerabilities are a consequence of living life whether with someone or no one. The difference is that today’s society has more men than women with power–power that aids or obstructs equality of opportunity for all.
Equality of opportunity is what every man and woman deserve. Life takes care of itself.
There is an increasing lack of empathy from world leaders because they are mostly men. Losing emotional connection is one of the reasons America is unable to eliminate homelessness. This book offers praise to “All the Single Ladies” of the world. Women seem better at emotional connection. It may be why America needs a woman for President.
Merchants of Truth (The Business of News and the Fight for Facts)
By: Jill Abramson
Narrated by January LaVoy
Jill Abramson (American author and journalist, first female executive editor of the NYT serving from 2011-2014.)
Jill Abramson describes a “near death” experience for print media in “Merchants of Truth”. She begins with the rise of BuzzFeed and Vice, with a newspaper reporter’s view of YouTube, and a vignette about Jackass. Then, she zeroes in on the “New York Times” and “Washington Post” and how their news coverage has changed. Abramson explores the principles of the new “Merchants of Truth”.
It is disappointing to see “click bate” from Apple, Amazon, YouTube, and Facebook competing with news about local, and worldwide events that mean something.
To some, Abramson’s brief history of BuzzFeed and Vice is a cringe worthy exploration of how vapid we are and how easily we are distracted by titillating, often idiotic, and sometimes false facts. However, Abramson shows that BuzzFeed and Vice make a contribution to news gathering that appeals to a wide audience, particularly a younger audience.
The criticism Abramson launches against BuzzFeed, and particularly Vice, is that both slip into Gonzo (exaggerated and fictionalized) reporting. The public is titillated but not accurately informed.
BuzzFeed and Vice are becoming bigger players in the media news business. The key to their success is public attention but advertising revenue is its vehicle for growth. Pleasing advertisers encroaches on the objectivity of news.
BuzzFeed and Vice have reduced the barrier between advertising and news. That barrier breach is exhibited by Abramson’s story of The New York Times apology to China, and the Washington Post’s turn to the metrics of popular news coverage.
Abramson pulls no punches in her judgement of The New York Times’ bow to economic necessity in kowtowing to China when a reporter’s story is critical of Chinese suppression. She recounts Arthur Ochs Sulzberger’s letter apologizing to President Xi for a reporter’s story about Chinese government repression. Abramson implies the apology is for potential loss of revenue.
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. (Publisher of The New York Times.)
The implication is advertising revenue influences NYT’s and Washington Post’s reporting in the same way as clicks on Apple, Amazon, Facebook, YouTube, BuzzFeed and Vice. The concern is in the bending and blending of news to attract wider audiences for advertisers who have little concern about the accuracy of news that impacts society.
On the other hand, Abramson suggests Sulzberger as a publisher of “All the News Fit to Print” may have been more concerned about losing a foreign outpost for the paper’s news reporters. One suspects, it is both concern about loss of a news site and bending to the demands of a political and revenue producing hegemon. There has always been a tacit concern about advertising revenue and news reporting in the media. One might recall “60 Minutes” initial rejection of an expose on smoking. They eventually aired the episode, but fear of loss from a major advertiser was in play.
Vice reporting of a trip to North Korea with Rodman (the former Bull’s basketball player) is one of several examples of click bate reporting. It offers titillation but hides the brutality of a murderous government regime.
As a fossil (oldster), one might read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, a local paper, the Economist, and Foreign Affairs. The reason for variety is perspective. Each covers most aspects of news (culture, business, local and international).
Abramson explains reputable media outlets have checks and balances. They try to insure objectivity and accuracy in their reporting. The checks and balances sometimes fail as they did with the NYT’s Jason Blair. However, BuzzFeed, Vice, YouTube, Facebook, and other newcomers are just beginning to establish checks and balances.
Jayson Blair (Former journalist with The New York Times, fired for fabrication and plagiarism.).
New media argues all societal beliefs should have equal expression. That is a distortion of America’s freedom of speech. Americans have regulated freedom, just as they have regulated free speech. Freedom Of Speech is to DoNoHarmToOthers.
Another failure Abramson notes is the paucity of critical reporting by the New York Times and Washington Post of WMD in Iraq. Checks and balances did not work in either paper because of investigative failure.
All news media fight for facts. However, for many reasons, the facts chosen create spin.
With the addition of BuzzFeed, Vice, and YouTube the inherent bias of chosen facts is accelerated and amplified by emotion. Abramson implies spin is not the intent of reputable media like the New York Times and the Washington Post. One might disagree because all facts are not included in every report that is posted. All news reporting has some level of distortion.
Every merchant might report facts, but a listener/reader comes away with subtly, and sometimes, widely different understandings of the same story. It is not that facts are necessarily untrue, but choice of facts and the addition of emotion infects the story.
Additionally, there is inbred bias in the mind of listeners and readers of the news. Those listed as liberals, conservatives, or libertarians bring their personal beliefs into everything they read, hear, and say.
The difference between traditional news sources, and BuzzFeed or Vice, is elicited emotion. There is less fight for facts with BuzzFeed and Vice. Their fight is for attention whether the facts are correct or not.
Abramson shows how BuzzFeed and Vice, and similar “news” gatherers are willing to manufacture facts to get attention. BuzzFeed measures public expression and interest. BuzzFeed tailors’ articles to magnify whatever is popular. BuzzFeed’s and Vice’s objective is to get the reader to click their feed. It has less to do with a fight for facts than what Big Data tells these new “Merchants of Truth” is the public’s interest.
Videos, like Jackass that play on YouTube, fit into the titillation genre. However, as a merchant of truth, YouTube’s platform generates often useful information. Its platform offers do-it-yourself help, from people who demonstrate how they did it themselves.
YouTube also offers educational programming on current events, history, and science. As a “Merchant of Truth”, it is not fighting for facts. It, like BuzzFeed and Vice, is looking for clicks to increase advertising revenue.
BuzzFeed and Vice fight for attention, not facts. They make money for clicks whether facts are right or wrong. Advertisers are interested because attention drives sales.
Like BuzzFeed, it resists control of content to increase popularity under the cloak of freedom of speech. Both BuzzFeed and Facebook are struggling to keep hate out of their content without acting as Big Brother monitors of vitriol. Neither are focused on a fight for facts or truthful news. Both seek user clicks to give interest to vendors that will pay to advertise.
Facebook is a ubiquitous forum meant to connect society. In actuality, it appears Facebook is a forum that often reinforces and magnifies difference in society.
The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Economist, and Foreign Affairs have video and online feeds. Most offer those feeds to subscribers. Some, like Foreign Affairs want an additional fee for the online service. The degree of adoption of emotion by traditional media varies, but it creeps into all “Merchants of Truth”. All media serves what big data shows the public wants.
Abramson shows that national TV and newspaper coverage of the news have adopted some of the characteristics of BuzzFeed, Vice, and YouTube to improve their income, and economic viability.
Somewhat more ominously, Abramson explains how traditional media is adopting measurement metrics that tell publishers how many clicks or engagements reporters get from their writing. If news reports do not achieve a certain level of interest, the reporter’s continued employment and/or compensation becomes a topic for discussion. News is in danger of being measured by popularity, not substance.
Getting back to Abramson’s personal experience at The New York Times, she acknowledges not having much management experience when she became the Executive Editor of the paper. She notes former employers never offered management graduate courses for her to broaden her education. Undoubtedly, she was an excellent employee that got things done.
Abramson devotes a part of her book to air grievances about an “old boys club” in the news business. Other writers, as well as Abramson, have reported a double standard for women in the media industry. Women are viewed differently when they exhibit the same aggressiveness that men show as managers.
Abramson acknowledges she does not listen as carefully as she should when confronted with opposition. That is a characteristic of both men and women who have come up through the ranks of an organization. They are superstars. They get things done and are promoted to become managers.
In well managed companies, mentor-ships or management development programs are offered rising stars. They offer employees an opportunity to see the difference between doing things yourself to having things done through others, a skill set that can be taught.
Women and men rise in organizations to become managers by getting things done. Abramson notes that aggressiveness is judged differently in women. Women are called pushy while men are called forceful and effective.
Becoming a manager is a difficult transition because it involves ceding control that is the hallmark of an employee’s success as a doer of things. A manager needs to trust others to do the things that need to be done. One suspects it is more difficult for women to develop trust in others because of generations of unequal treatment. Whether a man or woman, when an employee becomes valuable as a person who gets things done, it is difficult to give up one’s control to others.
Being a manager requires trust in employees that may not do their jobs exactly the way a new manager (a former “doer of things”) believes they should be done. This is where skill-set adjustment is needed.
If an employee fails at a task, a new manager needs to help the employee overcome the failure. If the employee continues to fail, he/she will eventually be fired. If the employee succeeds, he/she goes on to the next task. Abramson’s dismissal may have been as much a function of unequal treatment as inadequate training. Her analytic and reporting skill is proven by her history and her analysis of media news in “Merchants of Truth”.
In a fight for facts, what a consumer can take from Abramson’s analysis is how important it is to read and listen to more than one “Merchant of Truth”. Finding truth is what Americans of conscience seek.
Freedom of speech cannot be an excuse for unvetted news.
Much of what Abramson’s personal experience is at The New York Times is reinforced by her analysis of the evolution of the Washington Post. This century has not been kind to traditional news media. It is in a state of transition. Some of us hope it evolves, and is not relegated to the trash bin of history.
The media for this generation is changing. What one hopes is that the best of each is eventually adopted. Every news source must be measured against truth. Determining truth is made up of true facts that no singular news outlet is capable of compiling.
“All the news that is fit to print” is an apt logo for the New York Times but it is misleading. History is continually revised because new facts are discovered, and the perspective of society changes. Americans need to be diligent in seeking the truth. The truth does not lie in one source.
T Kira Madden’s memoir is a non-fiction account of her life. This memoir may reach beyond America. It rings true for many children wherever they are raised. Madden is the child of a philandering father; mostly raised by her mother, but deeply connected to her father.
Madden’s father is never far from her thoughts but frequently gone from her presence.
Her journey to adulthood is difficult. Children can love their parents with “Leave it to Beaver” ideals, but in the midst of a chaotic family life, Madden shows children’s lives are scarred. Many American children are affected by parental absence, and conflict. In childhood’s journey, physical and mental abuse between parents affects a child’s view of the world. Their place in it is confused, indeterminate, and seriously affected by the way parents behave. Madden tells the story of those conflicts in her memoir.
Sometimes parental absence is because of working
parents. Other times, it is because of the
personal lives’ parents live. In Madden’s case it is more of the former than
the latter. Madden’s father works in an undisclosed
profession and makes a good deal of money but is absent for long periods of
time. As Madden finds later, part of her
father’s absence is because of another family. He is the husband and father of a
different wife and children.
Both of Madden’s parents are recovering addicts. Madden’s parents fall into what she calls “sleepy time” when they over-indulge. At times, her father physically abuses her mother. Her father’s other family may suffer some of the same effects but that is not the focus of Madden’s memoir. This is Madden’s life story; not her father’s, and not the family she had yet to meet. Madden recounts meeting with her father’s other family as an epilogue at the end of her story.
Madden’s story begins with the purchase of a male mannequin as a substitute father. The mannequin is a symbol of male presence. It offers a kind of security when mother and child are at home alone. It is something more to Madden. That “more” is a reflection on the title of her book.
To a father, Madden’s memoir is heart breaking. Men are frequently indiscriminate in their relationships. Often, they have little concern for the consequences of their action.
Men spread their seed and too often walk away. Women are stuck with the most difficult decision of their lives-raising or giving up their child.
Women are always left with the major decisions of life when they become pregnant. Fathers can leave or stay. Women can never leave. Women stay with a decision to abort, adopt, or single-parent a yet to be born child. The reality of staying is a physical and mental trial for women; pending a life sentence. For men, if there is a sentence, it is limited to guilt and an uncertain, and frequently ignored, financial penalty.
“Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls” sadly implies an abusive or profligate father is a bump in the road, rather than a tragedy.
However, Madden shows a child can survive the worst a broken family can do and become something better. Madden’s story begs the question of how many children of single parents are unable to meet the challenges of a neglectful father, and how many of those children are life’s casualties?