Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dear Fred

Fred Hiatt
The Washington Post

Dear Fred,

I see that the latest survey of mainstream customers shows another decline in readership. Before the slide becomes terminal, you might want to consider the role that agnotology has come to play in many newsrooms. Take the recent piece by Matt Miller (31 March) in the Post, a transparent series of White House talking points masquerading as analysis. Worst still was the editorial by Jessica Valenti (21 February), an essay that was flawed in fact and logic. Ironically, in the shadow of Janet Cooke, fact checking, especially on the editorial page at the Post has gotten worse, not better. Indeed, Ms Valenti's essay is a classic piece of journalistic agnotology; not merely a wrong-headed opinion, but a swirl of evidence designed to produce a false narrative or perpetuate ignorance. An analysis of Ms. Valenti's nonsense was published in FSM earlier this month. See previous post or:


You can continue to argue, like your two predecessors, that you are victims of internet competition, technology, or shifting reading habits; yet, at some point you have to consider the quality of your product. Quality matters! You also have to ask why other news outlets are flourishing while you continue to wilt. I'm not talking about featuring conservatives like Will or Krauthammer for token balance, but rather an examination of the agenda embedded in the tone, politics, and quality of reporting and analysis. The Post, the NY Times (especially under Hal Raines), and many urban newspapers have regressed from printing the "first draft of history" to publishing agnotology - the last draft of truth. As a practical matter, you might also want to take a business clue from the competition. The best model for the information age is often something as simple as another point of view; and a judicious mix of fact and argument.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Insects in the Dust

Feministing (the blog) is head and shoulders above any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” – Columbia Journalism Review

Once upon a time, American feminists had noble goals; sexual equality, a political franchise, and a host of concerns about the rights of girls and women. Over time, this agenda has been eroded by special pleading and self-indulgent vulgarity. In your face now takes pride of place on the distaff schema. If you think the Vagina Monologues are art, but Hooters needs to fold, you could be an American feminista. And on questions of national security, many progressive women are more naive than their male counterparts, if that’s possible. A co-dependent press often provides a forum for many weak gender arguments.

Take a late February Washington Post column, “For Women in America, Equality is Still an Illusion,” by Jessica Valenti, founder of the blog Feministing. She begins by trivializing epidemic rape in Africa, genital mutilation in Arabia, and female slavery worldwide by suggesting these barbarities are comparable somehow to the plight of women in America:

"… too many of us in the United States ignore the oppression on our doorstep. We're suffering under the mass delusion (sic) that women in America have achieved equality…women are still being raped, trafficked, violated and discriminated against -- not just in the rest of the world, but here in the United States."

A reader hardly has time to ponder the distinction between rape and violation before Valenti stumbles into a thicket of select statistical evidence.

She tells us that “last year the Justice Department reported … 182,000 sexual assaults” in America, but the real number was more like a million “because victims often don’t label their experience as rape (sic).” So we are to believe that the Justice Department is in error by multiples of five due to semantics? (One of the authors of the report cited by Valenti was a woman.) Valenti doesn’t mention that any number between her high and the Justice Department low would still be a fraction of one percent in a population of over 150 million American women. Without context, a number is whatever you want it to be.

Her argument goes on to lament the number of women in Congress (17 %), the number of US counties that do not provide abortion (85 %), and the fiction about women making “76 cents to the man’s dollar.” All of this is characterized as an “epidemic of Sexism.”

Ms. Valenti’s statistics deserve to be refreshed with context: American women are the majority sex, women are the majority of registered voters, and they are also a majority in the professional workforce. They have the numbers, the votes, and the money. More women than men vote by a wide margin. If women do not run for or serve in Congress, who is at fault? If voting patterns prove anything, they prove that Americans do not share Ms. Valenti’s illusion about women as victims.

Speaking of painful issues, abortion may be a (legal) right, but convenience is not. Even abortion advocates argue circumstances should be created to make abortion unnecessary. Convenient clinics don’t qualify as an entitlement or a disincentive.

Finally, the wage disparity complaint is another social vampire; this issue simply will not die. Feminists like Valenti seldom note that wage bias is impossible in the military, in education, or in government at any level where salary is tied to grade and tenure, not genitals. Female demographics among minorities also undermine the wage disparity canard; black women, for example, are better educated and better paid than black men by a wide margin. For the rare case (8,000 per year in a population of 79 million working women) of sex based wage bias in the private sector, the legal remedies are abundant and well used.

Ms. Valenti also fails to recognize that “progressive” politicians are often the worst offenders in wage disparity disputes. The Obama political campaign, for example, on average paid women staffers 20% less than men.

The most annoying assumption imbedded in Valenti’s whining is one that suggests that, if some select set of gender demographics were more equitable, somehow the world becomes, ipso facto, a better place. No evidence supports this fable.

Kabul fell (September 1996) to theocrats a few months before Madeline Albright’s watch began. Every girl’s school in Afghanistan was subsequently closed while America was absorbed by President Bill Clinton’s exploitation of a junior female intern and his subsequent impeachment. At the time, neither Albright nor Clinton’s wife made much of the personal abuse of women at the White House, or state sponsored abuse abroad. Indeed, the priapic President’s behavior exposed feminism on the Left for what it is; a highly selective concern, more about extreme party politics than exploitation or abuse of power.

Indeed, there is no evidence, with Miss Albright as Secretary of State or now with Mrs. Clinton that “equality” or woman’s rights have any priority in foreign policy. Misogyny, polygamy, consanguinity, slavery, child marriage, punitive gang rapes, public floggings, honor killings, stoning, and genital mutilation continue unabated in the Arab and Muslim worlds (1.6 billion citizens). In Egypt alone, the most populous Arab nation, World Health Organization figures establish that as many as 40 million women (95.8%) have been victimized by partial or full circumcision. Now that’s a troubling statistic!

Meanwhile back at Ms. Valenti’s blog, beyond regular features such as Friday Feminist F--k You, one might read an elaborate defense of a Pakistani jihadist, aka Lady al Qaeda, Aafia Siddiqui, a former graduate student at MIT and Brandeis University. After going underground for five years Ms. Siddiqui was captured in Afghanistan where she tried to shoot a US military officer. In July of 2008, Siddiqui was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to prison. The 1 March post in Feministing ended with the following tribute: “The veiled terrorist; now how sexy is that?”

Uninformed apologists for Pakistani or Afghan theocrats might want to check in with Christina Lamb, a journalist who covered Afghanistan during the last reign of terror. Talking to a teen in a soccer stadium, she recorded this grim picture of Taliban diversions:

"I‘ve seen more than a hundred (executions). I used to come because it was entertainment….The best time was during Ramadan because then there would be at least a hanging or amputation a day, sometimes three or four….we would buy pistachios or oranges.

The person could be shot, hanged or sacrificed….you know, like sheep. Their hands would be tied and they would be laid on a block then their chest split open with a long knife and their guts spilled out.

Women were tied to goalposts and shot down, or if they had committed adultery, they would be stoned….I saw some homosexuals have their hands and feet tied and a wall collapsed on top of them. That was interesting….

They (the Taliban) made the family (of the victims) come and watch and collect the dead bodies."

The stadium where this “entertainment” took place was completed in 1996 with the help of American taxpayers – at the midpoint of the Clinton administration.

Lamb recorded these Jihadist atrocities in the Sewing Circles of Herat (pp. 246-249), a classic chronicle of the plight of women under Islamic radicals. One of her correspondents was a young Afghan girl who was forced to wear the burkha and prohibited from teaching. In a smuggled letter to Christina Lamb, she likened the status of women under Islamic religious law to “insects in the dust.”

Now how sexy is that?


This essay first appeared in Family Security Matters on 16 April 10.


About Me

The author is a native of the Bronx, a transplant to DC. He is a Vietnam veteran and former USAF Intelligence officer with tours at all of the major 3 button Intelligence agencies. He is a graduate of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. School and Cardinal Hayes HS in NYC. He also has several degrees from less illustrious institutions. Check Six writes primarily at G. Murphy Donovan and Agnotology in Journalism. His work has appeared in various political, national security, and Intelligence journals.