Friday, January 16, 2009

The Right Wing Bias of the Media - HARD PROOF!

I recently had a letter to the editor published in The Westminster Eagle and its sister publication The Eldersburg Eagle. The letter was a response to yet another of Hoby Wolf's articles, which can be found here.

My response to the article, as printed by the paper, can be found here.

My actual response follows:

Hoby Wolf suggested in his most recent editorial that “legislating prosperity isn’t how the marketplace works” and that FDR (and by extension the New Deal) was not responsible for ending the Great Depression. He knows these things because he’s seen them first hand, and because he’s read about them in Adam Smith.

Living through things can make you an expert on them, it’s true. But I wouldn’t assume that a fourteen year old living in Oxford Mississippi in 1930 is an expert on William Faulkner any more than I would assume that a fourteen year old living in Baltimore in 1938 is an expert on the Great Depression. I certainly wouldn’t assume that reading The Wealth of Nations makes you an economist, either. Paul Krugman, however, is an economist - a Nobel Prize winning economist who happens to teach at Princeton - and he feels that the New Deal did in fact save us. He is one example of many, just as there are examples on the other side of the fence. The news media, for its part, tends to agree or disagree along fairly consistent lines. Left-center channels like MSNBC openly support the idea of New Deal prosperity, while right-center channels like Fox News say the exact opposite. Americans, with their typically poor understanding of history, tend to believe whichever interpretation best fits their intuitive understanding of the issue. The issue has at its heart, however, the very nature of the inequality inherent in our system and deserves more than mere intuition - and certainly more than the easy dismissal that Mr. Wolf attempted.

One thing which can be easily dismissed, however, is the notion that “legislating prosperity isn’t how the marketplace works.” Across the spectrum from neocon to socialist, it takes serious effort to overlook the consistent protectionism inherent in US economic policy. From the secured, no-bid contracts of Blackwater and Halliburton to Clinton’s ban on Mexican tomatoes, from the Spanish-American war to Reagan’s breaking of the air traffic controller’s strike, the prosperity of American business has consistently been improved and protected by legislation with the government working increasingly harder to make sure that truly free markets are available for those corporations to exploit abroad. What Mr. Wolf means to say is “legislating individual prosperity isn’t how the marketplace works” - which is certainly true for the time being. The legislation insuring the wealth and prosperity of corporations removes more and more rights from individuals until, as Noam Chomsky points out in his Profits Over People, corporations have more rights than citizens. We can see the result as our middle class slides down the slippery slope as the top 1% continues to reap the rewards of their hard work in Washington, holding more wealth than the remaining 99% combined.

The sad part is that the same neo-conservative economists (Larry Summers, Paul Volcker) that presided over the economy for the past 30-50 years will be prominent in Obama‘s administration as well, which would seem to mean that Mr. Wolf has nothing to worry about. There won’t be a new New Deal - it’ll be the same old deal we got with Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and W.


. . . now that you've dutifully read all three items, allow me to point out the following changes that were made to my letter. (Point 1 is my original, point 2 is the edited version. Red text indicates changes/additions made by the newspaper, while green text indicates items that were deleted by the newspaper.)

  1. Hoby Wolf suggested in his most recent editorial that “legislating prosperity isn’t how the marketplace works” and that FDR (and by extension the New Deal) was not responsible for ending the Great Depression. He knows these things because he’s seen them first hand, and because he’s read about them in Adam Smith.
  2. In his most recent column (Jan. 7), Hoby Wolf suggests that "Legislating prosperity isn't how the marketplace works," and that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and by extension the New Deal, were not responsible for ending the Great Depression.

    He knows this because he saw them first hand and because he's read about them in Adam Smith.

In example 1 the clause "FDR was not responsible for ending the Great Depression" is grammatically correct because FDR is singular (he) and requires the appropriate singular verb form (he was). The edited version mistakenly includes the parenthetic notation ("and by extension the New Deal") in its consideration of the subject and mistakenly uses a plural verb form (they were). This introduces a grammatical error into a text that did not have one previously. The same error is committed shortly thereafter when the editor changes "He knows these things" to "He knows this." In the first example, "these things" refers to the two separate concepts mentioned in the first sentence. In the second example "this" refers to a single idea - which could be either "legislating prosperity" or "the new deal" but cannot be both. (Also: who, amongst the intended audience for this letter, doesn't know that FDR = Franklin Roosevelt?)

  1. Living through things can make you an expert on them, it’s true. But I wouldn’t assume that a fourteen year old living in Oxford Mississippi in 1930 is an expert on William Faulkner any more than I would assume that a fourteen year old living in Baltimore in 1938 is an expert on the Great Depression.

  2. Living through things can make you an expert, that's true. But I wouldn't assume that a 14-year-old living in Oxford, Miss., in 1930 would be an expert on William Faulkner any more than I would assume that a 14-year-old living in Baltimore in 1938 is an expert on the Great Depression.
It's a fine distinction, I know, but saying "living through things can make you an expert on them" is not the same thing as saying "living through things can make you an expert." My readers will no doubt be surprised, but I am all for the Strunk and White advice of "omit needless words." But they need to be needless first. And so much for parallel structure - I guess "would be" and "is" are interchangeable in this new English. Also, the change from "it's true" to "that's true" is strictly stylistic, not just a misguided grammatical error introduced by a newspaper editor.

  1. I certainly wouldn’t assume that reading The Wealth of Nations makes you an economist, either.

  2. And I certainly wouldn't assume that reading "The Wealth of Nations" makes you an economist, either.
As if I didn't start enough sentences with conjunctions on my own!

  1. Paul Krugman, however, is an economist - a Nobel Prize winning economist who happens to teach at Princeton - and he feels that the New Deal did in fact save us.

  2. Paul Krugman, on the other hand, is an economist -- a Nobel Prize-winning economist who happens to teach at Princeton -- and he feels the New Deal did in fact save us.
On the subject of omitting needless words . . . Another completely stylistic change.

  1. The issue has at its heart, however, the very nature of the inequality inherent in our system and deserves more than mere intuition - and certainly more than the easy dismissal that Mr. Wolf attempted.

  2. The issue has at its heart, however, the very nature of the inequality inherent in our system and deserves more than mere intuition -- and certainly more than the easy dismissal that Mr. Wolf attempts.
This is one of those highly technical things about the English language, I suspect, about which I might have been able to tell you four years ago but can't right now. My logic for using "attempted" is that "In his article, Mr. Wolf attempted to dismiss . . ." Hoby Wolf's article exists in the past, as does the verb form "attempted." As this letter was published on January 14, 2009, and Hoby Wolf's article was published on January 7, 2009, there is a definite issue of time at work. Time affects tense. Furthermore, as there is nothing wrong with the initial sentence, what justifies the change?

  1. From the secured, no-bid contracts of Blackwater and Halliburton to Clinton’s ban on Mexican tomatoes, from the Spanish-American war to Reagan’s breaking of the air traffic controller’s strike, the prosperity of American business has consistently been improved and protected by legislation with the government working increasingly harder to make sure that truly free markets are available for those corporations to exploit abroad.

  2. From secured, no-bid contracts of Blackwater and Halliburton to Bill Clinton's ban on Mexican tomatoes; from the Spanish-American war to Ronald Reagan's breaking of the air traffic controller's strike, the prosperity of American business has consistently been improved and protected by legislation with the government working increasingly hard to make sure that truly free markets are available for those corporations to exploit abroad.
The removal of the article "the" muddles the meaning of this sentence. You wouldn't say "From contracts of Blackwater" but you would say "From the contracts of Blackwater." Furthermore, the first clause is not independent, and therefore a semi-colon cannot be used to seperate it from the second clause. Yet another grammatical error introduced for no obvious reason.

  1. What Mr. Wolf means to say is “legislating individual prosperity isn’t how the marketplace works” - which is certainly true for the time being.

  2. What I think Mr. Wolf means to say is "legislating individual prosperity isn't how the marketplace works" ... which is certainly true for the time being.
Of course I think that. I wrote it. It's a letter to the editor. If I didn't think it, I wouldn't have written it. Furthermore, if I wanted it to say "I think" I would've typed it in there myself.

  1. The legislation insuring the wealth and prosperity of corporations removes more and more rights from individuals until, as Noam Chomsky points out in his Profits Over People, corporations have more rights than citizens.

  2. Legislation insuring the wealth and prosperity of corporations removes more and more rights from individuals until, as Noam Chomsky points out in "Profits Over People," corporations have more rights than citizens.
We'll remove "the" and "his" because they're absurdly unnecessary here; however, here . . .

  1. There won’t be a new New Deal - it’ll be the same old deal we got with Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and W.

  2. There won't be a new New Deal -- it'll be the same old deal we got with Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush.
. . . it's absolutely necessary to include the first names of three of the four presidents mentioned.

So what we have here is a right-wing editorial published by a news media organization. A (very) left wing response to this editorial is sent in to the editor. It is sent in with a bare minimum of grammatical errors (ok, I admit it. There weren't any mistakes at all.), yet comes out with a multitude of them - as well as a hack-job on its otherwise fluid and beautiful prose. As if this were not evidence enough, said media organization then goes on to expand the names of three out of four presidents in the final, perception-shattering sentence. The fourth, last-name only president? Bill Clinton. You guessed it - a democrat!

Armed with this new-found truth, I suspect that I will be doing the tour circuit between Olbermann, Colbert, Stewart, and O'Reilly soon. Look for my upcoming schedule and book tour!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Imagine what they're doing to Hoby Wolf! He is actually a sophisticated intellectual who writes well-considered, thoughtful, reasonable (more centrist than anything) editorials. It's the evil editors who turn them into the drivel you see in print! This is tyranny!

devon said...

Did you see Hoby's response to your letter? He said you were learned.

Sean said...

I did! I'm sure Mrs. Lawlor will appreciate his estimation of my education.

I was surprised to see him devote essentially the whole column to my letter, but it rather seems like he missed my point entirely.

Sean said...

And my response.