The Magazine

Occupy the Washington Post

Oct 24, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 06 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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One of the many unwritten rules of journalism is that business reporters should be temperamentally hostile to business. This is the opposite of another unwritten rule​—​that environmental reporters should be propagandists for environmental organizations​—​but, given the ideology governing most American newsrooms, it makes sense. On the business pages of most American newspapers, you will find business treated as a semi-criminal enterprise, and businessmen with disdain. 

The Washington Post is no exception​—​although the Post Company is a business enterprise like any other, if slightly more rapacious than most. Steven Pearlstein writes a business page column from a moderate Marxist perspective (he is opposed to firing squads) while Michelle Singletary writes another business column (“The Color of Money”) which explores the ways in which the American Dream is a nightmare for most African Americans.

As you might expect, the chants, anger, smells, and street theater of Occupy Wall Street in New York have enchanted these two chroniclers of American capitalism. “I wish it were true,” wrote Pearlstein, “that Occupy Wall Street could morph into our ‘American spring,’ a left-wing counterweight to the tea party.” After enumerating the various ways in which the Obama administration has failed to sufficiently embrace OWS, Pearlstein concludes,

Here’s a little free advice for Secretary [Timothy] Geithner and Chief of Staff [William] Daley: This weekend, put on jeans and a sweatshirt, ditch the security detail and make an unannounced visit to Zuccotti Park. You just might learn something, but for sure you’ll let everyone know what side you are on.

Singletary is somewhat less cerebral, a little more caught up in the excitement of the moment. “Rage, rage against Wall St. greed” is the headline of her column, and she excitedly quotes her usual sources (Public Interest Research Group, Adbusters magazine, Consumer Federation of America) to the effect that today’s anger and rage will be swiftly transformed into “a positive program about political and social change.”

Singletary is nothing if not subtle, reminding readers that “throughout history, great change has evolved from small civil protests.” For example, “It took a Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man, to inspire the Montgomery bus boycott that eventually resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation was unconstitutional.” (Brown v. Board of Education [1954] was decided the year before the Montgomery bus boycott [1955]​—​but whatever.) She even furnishes the address of the Occupy Wall Street website “for those who want to take action against corporate greed.”

Now, The Scrapbook is the CEO of nothing, and harbors many complaints about the Masters of the Universe​ ​who contributed to the financial crisis of 2008. But here’s a question for the bosses over at the Washington Post: Is the purpose of business journalism in America to help readers comprehend this complicated subject, and draw informed conclusions? Or is it to serve as well-paid cheerleaders for inchoate radicals and middle-class anarchists, whose skills are confined to tying up traffic and manipulating the press?

Protesters Only the Media Can Love

As you likely recall, the media lost their collective minds when the Tea Party movement first emerged. The Fourth Estate turned Fifth Column and went out of its way to portray earnest and concerned citizens as racist, paranoid, and violent. The Scrapbook is as weary as anyone of pointing out media double standards, but reading the adoring news reports about the Occupy Wall Street movement is enough to leave even the most jaded media consumer reaching for an airsickness bag.

A quick recap of some of the goings-on, since you’re unlikely to have read about most of these incidents in major media outlets: So far the most memorable image of the protest is of one of the participants defecating on a police car. A uniformed military officer was harassed and spat on while walking past protesters in Boston. An SUV in Eugene, Oregon, was set on fire and spray-painted with Occupy Wall Street slogans. A speaker at the Occupy L.A. protest warned that “ultimately, the bourgeoisie won’t go without violent means,” before making several animated interjections about revolution and socialism.

And then there’s the anti-Semi-tism. To the old saw about “death and taxes” it’s safe to add that another one of life’s inevitabilities is this: Wherever two or three lefties gather to complain about Wall Street, at least one of them will blame the nation’s economic woes on the less than 2 percent of the population who eat Chinese food on Christmas. Anti-Semitic signs were obvious at Occupy Wall Street protests, especially when compared with the thin gruel reporters cited in accusing the Tea Party movement of racism.

Now we don’t think Occupy Wall Street is necessarily defined by anti-Semitism. There are enough protesters to encompass a large and diverse assortment of unpleasant ideologies. But the fact that the protests were in large part inspired by the left-wing Canadian magazine Adbusters ought to give people pause. 

The magazine’s editor, Kalle Lasn, has repeatedly been criticized for publishing such quality articles as the 2004 cri de coeur “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?”—which consisted of a list of prominent Jewish intellectuals accompanied by some barely coherent commentary about how Jews were responsible for the war in Iraq, or something. Adbusters later ran afoul of the Holocaust Museum by repurposing the museum’s images of the Warsaw Ghetto as part of an inarticulate gripe about Gaza. David Duke himself has felt moved to defend the magazine publicly. Can you imagine if the Tea Party were largely the creation of such an unsavory character?

As expected, the media are going out of their way to help the Occupy Wall Street movement along. A Time magazine poll last week reported the movement twice as popular as the Tea Party. Of course, the magazine achieved this result by asking a question that was more loaded than a Kennedy scion at an open bar. The poll emphasized the group’s supposed opposition to bank bailouts. Time further failed to mention in its poll that the Tea Party was protesting bailouts over two years ago. (And when the Tea Party objected to bank bailouts, they did so without the class warfare, demands for forgiving imprudently incurred student loan debt, and poor hygiene.) 

So what else can the media do to sell the public on this movement? Former MSNBC host Donny Deutsch went on Morning Joe last week and made a modest proposal: Occupy Wall Street needs a “Kent State Moment,” but, you know, without the violence. We’re not sure what Deutsch is getting at, and frankly we don’t want to know. But until Deutsch and the rest of his media peers get their wish, we’re pretty sure that burning SUVs and pooping on police cars is unlikely to have the intended galvanizing effect.

Plagiarism Watch

The Scrapbook notes, with regret, that plagiarism has claimed the reputation of yet another journalist. Kendra Marr, a onetime Washington Post reporter lately employed to write about transportation for Politico, seems to have published at least seven “Politico stories that borrowed without attribution from work that had been published previously in other publications,” in the words of her editors, announcing her dismissal.

Betsy Rothstein of FishbowlDC reported all this in the usual manner; that is to say, Marr’s plagiarism was treated as an aberration, as if plagiarism were a terrible misfortune that had befallen the reporter, not something she had done.

Marr was a beloved reporter in the newsroom. .  .  . She was conscientious, solid. .  .  . Those who know her well say there is no way Marr did this maliciously or even, necessarily, knowingly.

Worst of all, “we’re told, her career in Washington journalism is effectively over.”

To which The Scrapbook can only say: Wait a minute. To begin with, while Kendra Marr may be “solid” and “conscientious” to her friends and colleagues, evidently she was not so conscientious or solid as to refrain from stealing somebody else’s hard work and publishing it as her own. Indeed, nowhere in the Politico memo or in the Fishbowl item may be found the names of the poor writers whose work was purloined by Kendra Marr for attribution to Kendra Marr. If this was not done “knowingly,” then Marr has problems beyond plagiarism; and if it was not done “maliciously,” then what is the term for such intellectual thievery?

Which raises a final point: FishbowlDC’s assertion that Kendra Marr’s “career in Washington journalism is over.” The Scrapbook agrees that this has thrown sand in the works of Marr’s machinery for the moment. But there are just too many examples of former plagiarists thriving in journalism—Arianna Huffington, Mike Barnicle, Doris Kearns Goodwin, the late Molly Ivins, the list goes on—to believe it’s over for Kendra Marr.

The Scrapbook believes that there is no greater transgression in journalism than palming off somebody else’s work as your own, and, in a just world, plagiarism really would have blighted the careers of these offenders. But look for Kendra Marr to land softly somewhere soon—solid, conscientious, and eager to confess that “mistakes were made.”

Sentences We Didn’t Finish

In 1969, millions of Chinese teenagers were forced from their homes in the city in order to live and work in the countryside as part of China’s Cultural Revolution. The work was backbreaking and -rations were tight, but Sasha Gong has fond memories of learning to make simple, delicious country cooking. A collection of delectable, healthy, and easy-to-make Chinese recipes .  .  . ” (from River North Editions’ winter 2011 catalogue description of The Cultural Revolution Cookbook: Simple, Healthy Recipes from China’s Countryside, by Sasha Gong and Scott D. Seligman).

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