After 2016 it seemed that the mainstream media — or the “reality-based news,” as the Washington Post‘s Margaret Sullivan so cluelessly calls it — could not possibly sink any lower, with its general role as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “This election has exposed as never before that there is indeed a media elite, bound together by class and geography, that is utterly clueless about its own biases and filters,” I wrote shortly after the vote. “A vast number of journalists covering the presidential campaign are economically privileged brats that seem blissfully unaware that for most Americans, the economy is in recession and people are terrified.”
But lo and behold, here we are at the end of 2017 and the media racked up an even more appalling performance, especially with its reckless pursuit of the Trump-Russia collusion narrative and related failure to give serious coverage to issues that really matter to the American people, like jobs, health care, early death and growing economic inequality. For Sullivan to describe the mainstream press as “reality-based,” in seeking to distinguish it from all us disreputable non-mainstream journalists and outlets, is a pitiful joke.
(Sadly, because otherwise people will say I’m in his camp, I must once again declare that I detest Trump. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to throw journalism standards out the window in reporting on him and jumping on the evidence-free Russiagate tale.)
I’ve been covering the media extensively here, especially with Hack List 2017. Here’s the last few entries, about BuzzFeed and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. I still need to write the last of the ten entries, and I’ll post that story next week. (I’m a little late, a combination of year-end inertia and, as some of you know, a bad month on the personal front.)
Anyway, for now I just want to run a short item on what I have unscientifically selected to be the year’s worst op-ed: “We’re living in the age of naive cynicism,” which ran in the Los Angeles Times on December 26 and was written by Noah Berlatsky. Given the stiff competition, this may not actually be the worst op-ed of the year, but it’s certainly on any short list.
Berlatsky is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Playboy and Quartz, and he edits the online comics-and-culture website The Hooded Utilitarian. He’s a minor celebrity in the world of liberal hot takes and wrote a widely mocked example of the genre in the New Republic story “Kermit Has a New Girlfriend? Good. His Last One Was a Domestic Abuser; Miss Piggy regularly beat him up, and everyone thought it was funny. Not anymore.”
Here’s an excerpt from the story:
It’s interesting that much of the light-hearted gender analysis has focused on Kermit as a faithless two-timing patriarchal jerk. There’s been relatively little discussion of the most salient aspect of the now-terminated relationship: Piggy regularly beat up Kermit. Hiiii-ya…
This is a Muppet pig and a Muppet frog we’re talking about. But still, the fact that the Piggy/Kermit relationship could be seen as harmless fun had a lot to do with the fact that the violence in their relationship was female on male rather than the other way around. If Kermit were constantly hitting Piggy hard enough to knock her off her feet and into nearby furniture or shrubbery, there would be cultural pushback.
In the end, it’s better for everyone that Kermit and Piggy have gone their separate ways. For the frog, it means the end of a long, abusive relationship. And for everyone else, it means the end of a comedy spectacle which mocked both men and women for violating traditional gender roles. After 40 years, it’s time to stop laughing at men who are victims, and at women who aren’t.
Berlatsky also wrote a much derided story in The Atlantic arguing, essentially, that there are too many women in Orange Is The New Black. The show “has been justly praised for its representation of groups who are often either marginalized or completely invisible in most mainstream media,” he begins. “The show has prominent, complex roles for black women, Latinas, lesbian and bisexual women, and perhaps the first major role for a trans woman played by a trans woman, the wonderful Laverne Cox. There remains, however, one important group that the show barely, and inadequately, represents. That group is men.”
For a funny takedown of Berlatsky, read the piece below from Feminist Current, called “Noah Berlatsky is going to objectify women straight to freedom.”
“His college freshman writing style is clunky even for The Atlantic, and his articles on race and gender hit a note between aggressively dull and insultingly shallow,” it reads. “I don’t think I could write a better parody of rudderless dude feminism than his pathetic analysis of the role ass-shaking plays in women’s liberation.”
Berlatsky has been complaining recently on Twitter about how hard it is to survive as a writer, but I’m guessing — based on his Linkedin profile, which reveals an undergraduate degree in creative writing from Oberlin College and a Masters in history from the University of Chicago, as well as no actual work history since 2003 other than freelancing — that he’s not on Skid Row.
Berlatsky’s op-ed on “naive cynicism” — which is “a force worse than pessimism” and something he defines as “a wide-eyed, credulous, often gleeful embrace of despair, an eagerness to believe the worst” — is a masterpiece in using roughly 750 words to say virtually nothing.
He starts off by misrepresenting the views of people he clearly thinks are dumber than he, i.e., it’s apparently common in America that the plebes believe that “The game is rigged, the plots are laid, and there’s nothing that people like you and me can do except lean back and nod sagely as the black helicopters land.”
He goes on to say that much of what people stupidly believe is actually true, and that “naive cynicism” is very appealing because “the world really is in terrible shape. Powerful people really are trying to hurt you. Vast, evil conspiracies do exist. The Republican Party really did push through a tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class on behalf of a few donors. A system of sanctioned harassment and abuse really has been exposed from Hollywood to Congress. There are plenty of concrete reasons to despair for our country.”
Along the way he tosses out these gems:
Naive cynicism paves the road to Hell with apathy. If you believe the game is rigged and that nothing will ever change, you’re unlikely to vote, much less canvass or donate or engage in activism.
Naive cynicism would tell you that Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore would never be held accountable in any way, but they both were.
People can change the world for the better — not always, but sometimes. Naive cynics close their eyes to this possibility. They accept defeat so that they can pat themselves on the back for being right when they are defeated.
What in God’s name is Berlatsky talking about or arguing for? The game is rigged and the system is broken. It’s not stupid to believe that, but Berlatsky is suggesting it is by caricaturing and distorting the views of people who have, on the basis of much evidence, concluded as much. And many of them are not laying around waiting for the black helicopters to land but trying, in their own way, to do something useful.
What’s Berltasky doing, other than waiting for his paycheck from the Times? Or perhaps I’m wrong and at this very minute he’s going door-to-door in poor neighborhoods of Chicago rallying support for universal health care.
Berlatsky’s’ piece is empty, meaningless and utterly cynical. The only naïveté on display here is on the part of the idiot at the Los Angeles Times op-ed page whom Berlatsky conned into commissioning this piece of tripe.