The Prof and the Journo

Todd GitlinIn The Daily Howler series I linked to in a recent post, Bob Somerby writes about how liberals have failed to hold the professoriat to account, or alternatively, how the professoriat has failed liberals. (His writings could be summarized as how liberals have failed. And how the media has failed. He's a liberal who writes about the media, by the way.) And what did I find when I looked at the front page of the Sunday Review of the New York Times this week? An opinion piece from Todd Gitlin, a liberal professor of journalism at Columbia University, which disastrously fails: The Left Declares Its Independence.

Skipping the cliched first graf plus a sentence, with its asked and hedgingly-answered question, Gitlin writes,
As more than a few observers have noted, the Occupy Wall Street chant, "We Are the 99 Percent" ... seems synonymous with the Tea Party’s "Take Back America" ethos.
This is what good journalists know as both a straw man (creating a position in order to knock it down) and using weasel words (presenting the appearance of support for statements, but in fact offering only a vague or ambiguous claim). This one is pretty pathetic, with its clumsy and archaic-sounding group "more than a few observers" and its meaningless verb "seems." Worse, it isn't even plausible: do you think "We Are the 99 Percent" seems at all like "Take Back America"? I see the second as a whine from a perceived minority, the exact opposite of the OWS proclamation from a huge majority - really a virtual unanimity.

Of course, Gitlin easily refutes the made-up sentence: "Those similarities, though, mask profound differences." Nice work. Continuing directly, "The two movements both loathe the elite." What!?! If they do, you'd need two different definitions of "elite" to make it accurate. Professor Gitlin doesn't say how he defines the term or why both groups loathe "them." If I was handed this essay as a draft in a journalism class, I would have crossed out the first three grafs and written "Proceed." Here is how the piece could have started:
The Tea Party, for all its apparent populism, revolves around a vision of power and how to attain it. Tea Partiers tend to be white, male, Republican, graying, married and comfortable; the political system once worked for them, and they think it can be made to do so again. They revile government, but they adore hierarchy and order. Not for them the tents and untucked shirts, the tattoos, piercings and dreadlocks that are eye candy for lazy journalists.
Okay, that's clear and somewhat workable. "They revile government, but they adore hierarchy and order." That needs some explaining at best, but let's give the guy the benefit of the doubt on that one; he's not at Harvard, you know. Another small matter occurs in the next graf: a direct contradiction. First the protest "picked up thousands of marching supporters of all ages," but then it was "a few handfuls of young activists" in the next sentence.

Finally we reach the thesis statement a couple of sentences later:
Anarchism has been the reigning spirit of left-wing protest movements for nearly the past half century, as it is in Zuccotti Park.
Unfortunately, the first phrase is irrelevant and the second is false. Taking the latter first, Gitlin explains the anarchism of the Occupy Wall Street movement:
In this recent incarnation, anarchism, for the most part, is not so much a theory of the absence of government, but a theory of self-organization, or direct democracy, as government. The idea is that you do not need institutions because the people, properly assembled, properly deliberating, even in one square block of Lower Manhattan, can regulate themselves.
Is it just me, or did he overload on commas, especially in the first sentence? Boiling it down, I get: OWS anarchism is not a theory of the absence of government, but a theory of self-organization as government. Hmmmm. So OWS anarchism isn't anarchism. But he just said it was![1]

Chris HedgesAs it turns out, OWS is self-organized government. How do I know this? Because I read an actual journalist who went to Liberty Plaza and talked to people. Committing journalism, imagine that. The nerve! The journalist is Chris Hedges and the journalism is Why the Elites Are in Trouble. Here's the lede:
Ketchup, a petite 22-year-old from Chicago with wavy red hair and glasses with bright red frames, arrived in Zuccotti Park in New York on Sept. 17. She had a tent, a rolling suitcase, 40 dollars’ worth of food, the graphic version of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and a sleeping bag. She had no return ticket, no idea what she was undertaking, and no acquaintances among the stragglers who joined her that afternoon to begin the Wall Street occupation. She decided to go to New York after reading the Canadian magazine Adbusters, which called for the occupation, although she noted that when she got to the park Adbusters had no discernable presence.
Now that's a hook! Typically, Hedges waxes sanctimoniously for a few grafs after that, but he's earned the right. The last two-thirds of the piece is almost entirely Ketchup's words. Straight quotes with very little exposition by Hedges. Pure reporting. Read it. I'll compare the facts to Gitlin's easy chair after the jump.

Is OWS anarchic?

Before I read Hedges' piece, I was going to rely on OccupyMN's Facebook feed for a refutation of Gitlin's claim that OWS is anarchic:OccupyMN[2]Claim leveled. There are also several paragraphs from New York in the Hedges piece that also prove the point. Occupy(anywhere) is not anarchic. What else does Gitlin got?

Well, a seven graf digression about the history of the New Left. Why would Gitlin waste column inches on that? Because he was there. He was the president of Students for a Democratic Society for a year in the early 60's. Don't bother with the history: blah, blah and more blah. When Gitlin comes back to the present, he writes:
This new protest style is more Rousseau than Marx. What the Zuccotti Park encampment calls horizontal democracy is spunky, polymorphic, energetic, theatrical, scattered and droll. An early poster showed a ballerina poised gingerly on the back of Wall Street’s bull sculpture, bearing the words: “Occupy Wall Street. September 17th. Bring Tent.” It likes government more than corporations, but its own style is hardly governmental. It tends to care about process more than results.
My, someone's pulled out their philosophy textbook and thesaurus! But how does Gitlin know all this? Did he interview Mustard, a 27 year-old tattooed barrista from Albuquerque? Nope. He has one quote in the article:
Now, as Jeremy Varon, a historian at the New School, said of Zuccotti Park: “This is the Obama generation declaring their independence from his administration.”
I'm guessing Varon isn't a member of the Obama generation. Probably not even the Pepsi generation. Nope, but at least he's in that ballpark. There really is too much material here. More to come.

[1] Also, what would you call people, properly assembled, properly deliberating, regulating themselves? Sound pretty institutional to me!

[2] For the record, at the time of my post, this FB update (October 9) had 82 likes and 25 comments. OccupyMN had 5,792 likes. Friday, October 7, was the first day of Occupation.

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