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Erroneous Progressive Condescension

From The Scrapbook

Feb 20, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 22 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook has been pondering a minor detail from an item that appeared here last week. In describing the Planned Parenthood/Susan G. Komen fundraising episode, we mentioned that Greg Sargent, a Washington Post blogger, had been boasting on his Twitter feed about pressure exerted on the Komen foundation by congressional Democrats. Somebody wrote in to push back: “Senators are now censuring private organizations? This is crazy.” Sargent scoffed: “Not quite sure I see the ‘censorship’ at play here.”

Cartoon of anonymous member of the press

At which moment The Scrapbook exclaimed to itself: Bingo! Another example of Erroneous Progressive Condescension. Did you like that patronizing “not quite sure” just before the zinger? The Scrapbook could well imagine Sargent shaking his head at this example of another right-wing clod who seemed to think the Senate was “censoring” the Komen foundation over its decision to withhold funds from Planned Parenthood.

Except that’s not what was said, and the clod in this instance is Greg Sargent. The Twitter inquiry did not accuse the Senate of “censoring” anyone; it criticized Senate Democrats for “censuring” a private organization​—​a very different thing, and a perfectly defensible complaint. We’re too old to be shocked that a journalist employed by the leading newspaper in the nation’s capital would be unaware of the meaning of “censure,” a term used more than occasionally on Capitol Hill. But it is revelatory.

In fact, there is a long and undistinguished history of progressive journalists poking fun at conservatives about spelling and grammar and meaning without realizing that, in fact, they are the ones who are woefully, outrageously ignorant. Last month, for example, Larry Doyle of Time wrote a tendentious account of the GOP campaign, including this observation:

Gingrich has a point. Mitt Romney does think we’re stupid. Gingrich, on the other hand, knows we’re stupid​—​at least compared to Gingrich, whose ideas are so large only a head of his size can contain them.

The Scrapbook concedes that Doyle is entitled to his opinions, and even to make juvenile comments about the candidates’ physical appearance. But he forfeits any right to condescension with his next sentence: “And they are both towing the internal party line.” No, they’re not; they’re toeing the party line. Politicians do not “tow” party lines in the sense of heaving them over their backs and dragging them along the floor. They “toe” the line in accordance with the ancient parliamentary practice of keeping members contained within physical barriers.

Or consider the Washington Post’s ace political reporter, David A. Fahrenthold, who opined on a recent Gingrich speech:

“Obama is big food stamp,” Gingrich said, leaving grammar behind in his fervor to tie Romney to President Obama. “He’s little food stamp.”

Leaving grammar behind? You hardly needed to be in the hall to comprehend that Gingrich was characterizing Obama as Big Food Stamp and Romney as Little Food Stamp​—​a rhetorical device that ought to be familiar to any journalist employed by a newspaper that routinely refers to Big Tobacco and Big Oil and Big Pharma. 

Which raises one final, troubling point for The Scrapbook. Yes, it is annoying when left-wing journalists deploy condescension and sarcasm and abuse when they (mistakenly) accuse conservatives of errors in spelling and usage. But it is genuinely appalling that neither Time nor the Washington Post any longer seems to employ editors who know about toeing the line, or the difference between “censure” and “censor,” and whose duties used to include saving such arrogant/ignorant writers from themselves.

And Bébé Makes Four?

This week’s newspaper item that left The Scrapbook wondering when the other three horsemen will arrive comes to us via the Washington Post’s “On Parenting” blog: “When French parenting mixes with threesomes: A lesson on hiding indiscretions from the kids.”

The item concerns Pamela Druckerman, author of the new book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. It seems that just as the publicity machine for Bringing Up Bébé was heating up, a blogger at Slate unearthed an article Druckerman wrote for Marie Claire in 2010 called “How I Planned a Ménage à Trois.” 

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