The Times Dares Where Others Demur

Kismet, baby. If I had called the Gods of Journalism and asked, I couldn’t have received better affirmation of the underlying point in my previous post than what The New York Times delivered on the front page of their Sunday paper yesterday. Titled  “Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It,” the story looks at a group of entirely ordinary, familiar people living just beyond the north end of the Twin Cities and starkly contrasts their belief in “small government”, their belief that “government spends too much”, with the amount of government money they each personally receive, every nickel of which — other than a stray tattoo — is vital to sustaining them above the permeable status of poverty.

Here again, a national journalism entity has come to town to fully report and contextualize one of the key disconnects of contemporary American culture. Nothing about the Times story required the weight of the country’s most respected news organization. Every character, fact and head-shaking irony has been there for anyone to see and report, assuming they were prepared to draw the same direct lines the Times did between what earnest, decent Minnesotans hold as articles of faith and the harsh facts they’d prefer not to be confronted with publicly.

The question of, “Why The New York Times? (Or The Wall Street Journal in the case of UnitedHealth fraudulently gaming the stock option system), or Rolling Stone laying out a discomforting pattern of bigotry-enabling by conservative religious forces aligned with Michele Bachmann, was the primary point of my previous post. I won’t belabor it again … so soon.

Other than to say … even the Times story played soft in ways regarded as “responsible” and “non-inflammatory” by professional journalists. It avoided caustic, blogger-like descriptions of its subjects, it did not pursue the sources of their belief that no one should/could pay more taxes, it did not make over-much of their ideological beliefs and practiced notable restraint in painting Chip Cravaack territory as emblematic of tens of millions of other government-dependent Americans floundering in profound, self-defeating cognitive dissonance.

Some of that was there. But the Times, in its Grey Lady wisdom, practiced moderation … while still reporting the story, drawing unequivocal attention to the gap between belief and behavior and leaving no question in the reader’s mind that this is a vital, central issue in today’s culture.

Their decision to give it marquee presentation on the front page of their biggest issue of the week tells you everything you need to know about what The Times thinks of the story’s importance.

I’ll leave it to you to contrast this latest piece of heavyweight journalism by an outside entity with the last time our three primary, local news organizations have reported the same readily accessible story.

… and yes, I’ve dropped in a new gravatar/slug. The great decline of another two years has taken a toll I couldn’t hide any longer. There is a small visual pun to this photo, taken by my wife. And there’s a couple beers at my local pub, The Pig and Fiddle, for whoever figures it out.

41 thoughts on “The Times Dares Where Others Demur

  1. Jeremy Powers says:

    When you’re the New York Times – the greatest collection of journalists left on this planet – you don’t go into the Iron Range, or Belle Fourche, South Dakota, or Liberal, Kansas, and make them all out to be rubes. First, a lot of their reporters grew up in those places and a hundred outhers just like them. Second, it does nothing to add to the story except degrade it.

    But, again, why oh why is Minnesota the “easy pickings” state for stories like this. This state was once seen as the leader in progressive politics. Instead, now the worst of us are getting the publiciity only they deserve. And once again I get the government only the worst of us deserve.

    1. Michelle Bachmann.

      That’s why its “easy pickings” for the national media. Her gaffes, exremism and altogether embarassing campaign certainly put MN under the microscope. Especially given the perception that this state leans or had leaned progressive, leading to much “what the…?” moments among journalists who previously thought this state progressive. If not progressive there at least was a degree of Republicanism/Conservatism – this current GOP legislature being the current exception – that previously wasn’t so prone to parody.

      1. PM: I read the Strib. We still have a subscription.I still like Pat Reusse. Dee DePass did a great job on Denny Hecker, a pet fascination of mine. And, much as I dog some of their homegrown editorials, the Op-Ed page does a pretty fair job of representing prevailing arguments on issues. If I were king over there I’d require a column from Doug Tice three times a week and I’d sent an emergency alert to the entire staff to … loosen the fuck up and show a sense of humor once or twice a decade.

      2. Erik says:

        Kersten broke the TiZA story. The kind of in depth, local reporting and analysis that you lament the lack thereof. I can’t think of any other work(s) that had more civil / judicial / governmental impact here regionally over the last ten years or so.

        The other thing of course Lambo is that the line of snark you like as shorthand for Kersten assumes her lack of journalistic qualifications and bigotry. Its gets a bit difficult to claim shes unqualified when her narrative gets used as the basis for fact findings and determinations by the MN DoED and the US DoED. And then it gets difficult to claim she’s a bigot when the ACLU uses her narrative to launch successful civil actions.

        So what does it exactly mean to say “Kersten is still there” eh?

    1. John Reinan says:

      According to David Brauer, it’s turning a profit. And he seems to have a pretty good grasp of the details.

  2. Tom Borgman says:

    Great great post. The NYT piece is brilliant in its approach. There’s just no running from human realities in the context of larger, co-opted movements. Now it will be equally interesting to watch how these curious and conflicting human foibles get played out in the local (especially Chisago county community) media …or if there even is one.

  3. PM says:

    The Pig and Fiddle, eh? Went there last week for the first time–really enjoyed it.Definitely worth a few more visits (and quite a change from the former tenant!)

    So, is that the Texas version of El Capitan in the background?

      1. Chuck Carlin says:

        You seem to have acquired a creature beneath your sunglasses, traversing, with difficulty the passage from left eye to right eye. Is this a post-slaughter addendum?

  4. Lambruno:

    Holy shit. Being a liberal left of McGovern must be good for one’s physical appearance. You actually look younger. I’m thinking of switching ideologies. And here all this time, I thought liberals were the negative nervous Nellie types, always predicting doom and gloom from the homeless to wars to big bidness. Oh, but maybe I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Could have just been the facial hair that made you look older. Never mind.

    1. PM says:

      Or maybe the reason he looks younger is that he is smiling…so did your wife take the earlier picture too? Or do you only smile for her? 😉

  5. Expatriate says:

    We’ve sussed the photo pun here at Expatriate House.

    It’s Lambert to the Slaughter, live on location in…

    (wait for it)

    Death Valley!

    And props for hanging on to that pair of Ray Bans for two years. I lose sunglasses immediately.

    1. Very good on the Death Valley. But the (modest) visual pun?

      And hell, i go through a pair of sunglasses every four months. It’s not so bad since I got hip to buying them off eBay or via Amazon.

  6. john sherman says:

    But, but, but the Times did something really important–a long discussion of Callista Gingrich’s hair.

    I’m not too hard on the strib; the Times could have equally embarrassed the Denver Post, Seattle Times or a couple of dozen other (self) important regional newspapers.

    There was a poll which I can’t find at the moment showing that lower income people understand that they’re getting government help, but higher income people, equally sucking on the government teat, were oblivious to the fact, and it was pretty the more you made the less you understood.

    1. It’s not like the Times produces a steady run of winners. We all remember Judy Miller, right? They can get as twisted up in their macro responsibilities to state security and source-whoring as anyone. But the fact is they’re not living and dieing off local ad dollars in places like metro Minnesota. And they have the resources to send — two — reporters out for several days, instead of whipping something off the phone to save mileage expenses.

      1. Brian – I’ve long wondered about this – do you think journalists/editors actually shy away from covering certain stories because they’re fearful of lost Ad revenue? Really!? I worked in newspapers for a long time and never once saw an example of this. Yet I hear this criticism a lot more lately – that “they’re … living and dying off local ad dollars.” Unless I read it wrong I think you’re implying this actually happens, right?

      2. The decision making is never so explicit. If you’re intemperate enough to suggest that your editor is dialing it back out of fear of “reader reaction” you’re clearly too intemperate to be in the meeting making such decisions. Every organization will point to some example of how they “covered” such and such a hot button story. None will admit they consciously avoided making much if anything about partisan political influences, and certainly never because they feared a loss of ad revenue if the partisans revolted. If it’s even a close call on the story, there will be sagely talk of “not taking sides” and “remaining objective”. The “why” of the absence of drawing direct lines to partisan wedge-driving has less to do with “fair” truth-telling journalism and much more to do with living to tell another story another day. But no one who wants maintain career viability will say that.

      3. To John Nemo:
        “– do you think journalists/editors actually shy away from covering certain stories because they’re fearful of lost Ad revenue? Really!? I worked in newspapers for a long time and never once saw an example of this.”

        I covered a courthouse for the NYPost in the 1980s. I came across a case of a department store Santa who said he was not rehired by Macy’s cuz he took AZT. He claimed medical discrimination cuz he was HIV-positive. Macy’s defense: HIV was not a factor. We didn’t hire him cuz he also took Prozac. We were afraid he’d get violent and hurt the kids. This seemed unclear on the concept of health discrimination.

        I called the city desk. The editor who answered said, “Macy’s? Our biggest advertiser? Does anyone else have this story?” I said no. That’s good, right? Nope. The editor did not want us alone on the story.

        Turns out the NYTimes legal reporter, who did not work out of the courthouse, was following the story. The Santa’s lawyer alerted him after I called her. The Times was alone with it, a local cover centerpiece.

        An example. A rarity in my career.

  7. Brian, i read the same story in my daily perusal of the print edition of the pioneer press. i guess my internal editorializing, sometimes referred to as “contextualizing” , is slightly different than the authors’. i tend to take people at their word and not assume that any disconnect i perceive is due to the cognitive dissonance of the subject person under examination. in laymen’s terms (i’m from the northern suburbs here), when i don’t understand someone i don’t assume that they are too stupid (sometimes referred to as floundering and self-defeating) to know what they are saying and doing.

    The Time’s authors say that Ki: 1) wants us to know he doesn’t need gov’t help; 2) believes that too many lean on taxpayers and live beyond their means; and 3) supports politicians who promise to cut spending. the authors paraphrased instead using direct quotes, perfectly acceptable practice though it forces the reader to rely on the authors’ contextualization. the authors then point out that Ki: 1) gets EIT credit on his taxes; 2) his kids get subsidized meals at school; and 3) his mother uses Medicare. To further their argument, they also state that each resident gets an avg $6,583 in government benefits (a 69% increase since 2000) and that most of the that goes to seniors in the form of Social Security and Medicare.

    You believe this an example of the Times courageously drawing direct lines exposing the head shaking irony of the subject’s believes vs. actions. Admittedly, i would also tend to exaggerate the virtue of those that agreed with one of my previous posts. taking Ki at his word could simply mean that he is practical. even though he doesn’t condone the increased scope, intrusion, and budget of government, he makes practical decisions about availing his family of resources that are provided by government. His use of EITC and subsidized meals is not necessarily inconsistent with his desire to rein in government. Since he can’t immediately and solely change the system, does he need to disadvantage his family today by foregoing resources available to him? Some would call that hypocritical, not me. that is the kind of superficial dissonance (though no actual dissonance) that nuanced intellectuals should easily navigate. Must Ki and others refuse benefits to calm the sensibilities of those objecting to or questioning perceived dissonance?

    Also, for the Times article to pass as a courageous, wise, practiced moderate, and professional example of journalism, where is the follow up question to Ki seeking an explanation from the subject himself as to the perceived dissonance of his stated beliefs and observed actions?

    As for his mother using medicare and the claim that most of the benefits go to seniors in the form of medicare and social security, are these not social insurance programs for which recipients have paid all their lives? It is odd that the authors would combine these (essentially pre-paid, okay at least partially) insurance programs with other non-insurance benefits (transfer payment programs like EITC and subsidized meals). If so inclined (though I’m not), one could argue virtue in foregoing transfer payments, but only stupidity in refusing insurance for which one has already paid. Again, it would actually take courage and balanced journalism to point out this obvious, not so nuanced, difference. Please note the intentional use of the phrase “balanced journalism” which used to be a redundancy.

    Keep fighting the good fight

    1. Mark: Mr. Gulbranson and the others in the story are entitled to the benefits they are receiving. That isn’t the point of the story. What is, as I read it, is their yes, “self-defeating”, support of politicians and policies that are not in their best interests, likewise their belief that the cost of these services is not sustainable by adjusting tax policies. There is no shortage of money in modern America. It just happens to be piled up — in an unprecedented fashion — in places where it isn’t as accessible to programs of widely accepted public value.To be more blunt about it, most of the subjects in the piece struck me as your average “low information” voter, otherwise decent people you’d be happy to have as neighbors making serious decisions based on some very faulty information/reasoning … which they get from where?

    1. Heh! No. But I think I know where you’re going with that, and you really ought to plus your upscale shopping and microbrew experience with a stop at 50th and France sometime.

  8. John Gaterud says:

    I see Sean Penn’s Jack the Architect from Malick’s “The Tree of Life” scrambling across an Antonioni/”Zabriskie Point”-stylized landscape en route to (then through) a Mission San Juan Bautista-like doorway from Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” to plumb our individual (and individualized) inner grief, doubt, and turmoil amid profound and perplexing collective (and collectivized) (daresay national) anxiety, with a touch of Lacan on the side, which is clearly yet ironically signified by your shadowed demeanor amid such seemingly benign yet disturbingly alien surroundings. In fact, isn’t this from the opening scene of “There Will Be Blood”?

    Lambert'(s)Laughter, indeed.

    “The world’s gone to the dogs.”

    Cue the Jonny Greenwood.

    1. Well, the maestro has spoken. You are of course correct on the Zabriskie Point setting — although as Antonioni goes I much prefer L’Avventura. But as for the modest visual pun, a hint is that it struck my wife — a wife, I say — as funny, hence my laughter.

      1. Expatriate says:

        So we’re doing Antonioni one-upsmanship, eh? I’ll bite.

        For me (alone, I snobbishly maintain), it’s “Il deserto rosso”

      2. Oh, a throw down, is it? Being an old school guy I prefer the black & white Antonioni. But I also confess to having impure thoughts about Monica Vitti, as a Catholic school boy.

      3. John Gaterud says:

        And she has every reason for smiling/laughing, too, presumably, given all coordinates of this geography/geometry—the mise-en-scene—positioned as you are at the, er, crux of the matter, with the pinnacle tantalizingly placed just outside (yet also just within) your grasp, together. In this case, Pink Floyd writhes and thunders simultaneously. Struck, as you say—precisely as Michelangelo would have it—and now poised.

        We all know what comes next. (That’s what vacations are for.)

      4. John Gaterud says:

        “The path climbs into the badlands toward Manly Beacon, a pinnacle of gold sandstone,”* on the Golden Canyon Trail to Z-Point.

        No wonder your wife finds it funny.

        Perfect, Brian. Straight outta Hollywood.

        Now, go save the world—before it blows itself up all over again, slo-mo and all….

        (*Thanks to John McKinney, L.A. Times.)

      5. We have a winner! And because you find the thought of it as funny as my wife she has offered to stand you for a couple rounds as well. Anytime you’re in the neighborhood.

        Pity. “The Bard of Manly Beacon”. It has a ring, y’know?

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