Friday, January 30, 2015

Glenn Greenwald on Jonathan Chait: "What Made the Indignity So Much Worse Was That the Attacks Came from People These Journalists Regard as Nobodies"

As Joan Walsh notes in her valuable critique of Jonathan Chait's recent oy to the universe about, well, the astonishing way in which all those other people (black ones, brown ones, female ones, gay ones) now dare to talk back in the sight of God to well-placed hegemonic straight white men like him,

Chait is over the terms "mansplaining," "whitesplaining" and "straightsplaining," as he thinks they’ve become efforts to silence or subdue men, whites and straights. 

Black people, brown people, women, gays dare to talk back to Jonathan Chait and other little lords of the commentariat online. And the pain, the suffering, the woe me! this brings to those who have never experienced being talked back to before. Glenn Greenwald is brilliant as he pinpoints what this syndrome of ruffled peacock feathers is all about:

Prior to the advent of blogs, establishment journalists were largely immunized even from hearing criticisms. If a life-tenured New York Times columnist wrote something stupid or vapid, or a Sunday TV news host conducted a sycophantic interview with a government official, there was no real mechanism for the average non-journalist citizen to voice critiques. At best, aggrieved readers could write a Letter to the Editor, which few journalists cared about. Establishment journalists spoke only to one another, and careerist concerns combined with an incestuous chumminess ensured that the most influential among them heard little beyond flowery praise. 
Blogs, and online political activism generally, changed all of that. Though they tried – hard – these journalists simply could not ignore the endless stream of criticisms directed at them. Everywhere they turned – their email inboxes, the comment sections to their columns, Q-and-A sessions at their public appearances, Google searches of their names, email campaigns to their editors – they were confronted for the first time with aggressive critiques, with evidence that not everyone adored them and some even held them in contempt (Chait's bizarre belief that "PC" culture thrived in the early 1990s and then disappeared until recently is, like his whole grievance, explained by his personal experience: he heard these critiques while a student at the University of Michigan, then was shielded from all of it during most of the years he wrote at The New Republic, and now hears it again due to blogs and social media). 
What made the indignity so much worse was that the attacks came from people these journalists regard as nobodies: just average people, non-journalists, sometimes even anonymous ones. What right did they have even to form an opinion, let alone express one? 

Blogs, followed by tools of social networking like Facebook and Twitter, have leveled the playing field. They have given traditional journalism, with its propensity for selling its word wares to the highest bidder, a good run for its money.

They have enabled nobodies to sieze control of narratives which the powers that be (including their  epigones in the mainstream media) had assumed they alone control. They have created spaces, gaps, rents in the tightly woven discourse of mainstream journalistic "reality" for nobodies like black folks, brown folks, women, and gay folks to tell our stories. As if those stories count, too.

As if perhaps — just maybe — our stories actually are the narrative, while the fabulisms of elites to which the Chaits of the world, elites like the beltway media elite with its fatuous belief that it represents the "real" America, are diversions from the significant, meaningful narratives of the period of history through which we're now all living . . . . The Jonathan Chaits, the Andrew Sullivans of the world, loathe this development, in which the voices of nobodies, people who come from nowhere, did not attend the right schools, have not hobnobbed with Donald Rumsfeld and do not want to, begin to count.

This development drives the little lords of commentariat world wild. Because nobodies. Nobodies mouthing off. In front of God and the Internet.

And sometimes making a difference as a result (remember the Brendan Eich story and how some of these folks reacted to what happened in that story?).

So, to once again answer New York's question, straight white men could (and did) viciously attack "the culture of political correctness" as much as they pleased back in the day, and no one who mattered ever seemed particularly bothered by it. Now, not only is it harder to avoid reading negative feedback from people with different perspectives than you, especially if you engage online at all, but there are actually important people—people with status, who've won awards and hold positions of authority—who listen to those people with different perspectives. Ta-Nehisi Coates is at The Atlantic, for godssake, not In These Times.

We are finally approaching a critical mass of interest in ending racism, misogyny and transphobia and the ways they are ingrained into our institutions. Instead of rolling our eyes at the intensity of the feelings people have over these issues, we should be grateful that they care so much, because racism, misogyny and transphobia can and do kill people. If the price we all pay for progress for the less privileged is that someone who is more privileged gets their feelings hurt sometimes – or that they might have to think twice before opening their mouths or putting their fingers to keyboards – that’s a small damn price to pay. That’s not stopping free speech; it’s making our speech better.

As Charles Pierce says today, noting the close ties of both Chait and Sullivan to The New Republic, that ceaseless bane of anyone to the left of beltway liberal verities which long posed as "the" voice of American liberalism, and also noting Andrew Sullivan's decision to cease blogging (for the nonce), 

For those of us who watched what happened to that magazine, and who chafed under the entire notion that, on the big issues of the past 35 years, it had anything to say about progressive politics beyond the bacon-wrapped scallop liberalism of a very insular Beltway circle jerk, and who believed that political writing in this country could use a lot less TNR in its DNA, this has been a very good week.

It's high time that the nation's "liberal" journalistic menu included a few items beyond scallops and bacon. For many of us, the toppling of the little lords of the "liberal" commentariat from their high perches is good news, as greens, hocks, platanos, appletinis and who knows what other undreamt of culinary delights begin to show up on that menu, too.

I find the graphic at various blog sites discussing citizen journalism, including the Journalism and Online Revolution site, with no indication of its source.

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