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Sunday, September 1, 2002

Jejune Journalism

by Clinton Fein

Click to Send CardAs journalists and pundits grapple with antiquated notions of objectivity in journalism and jaw-dropping disclosures are still made over the contributions by journalists to political campaigns that supposedly reveal the slant of their coverage there is one publication that has taken the concept of objectivity and literally daisy bombed it into oblivion, along with any pretense at fairness, balance or maturity.

Once considered the blue book of the blue chip and certainly too expensive for the blue collar, The Wall Street Journal’s hard core reporting on business and familiar renderings of people they deign to deem newsworthy held the torch. Until, that is, the OpinionJournal began spreading its own delightful brand of right-wing invective around using the Internet. OpinionJournal is unequivocally the most cheap-shot, adolescent claptrap to grace the circle of ever-dwindling American journalistic respectability.

James Taranto, the hot-headed, hardly hot, hypocritical editor of OpinionJournal reads like the kind of beer guzzling clown in the frat house who not only guffawed at his own jokes while elbowing the clearly unimpressed in the side, but thought they were worthy of repetition. With tedious predictability, he latches onto a notion that he then perpetuates column after column, oblivious to the fact that few could have found amusing the first time, let alone the tenth.

If The Wall Street Journal's murdered Daniel Pearl was considered a journalist who sought to uncover real stories and present all sides – as has been posited by many who knew him, the racist diatribes that color The Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal would have been enough to provoke Ghandi to saw off a semi-automatic and retaliate with violence that would have made Rambo wince. For everything Daniel Pearl was said to represent, James Taranto serves as the polar opposite. While his OpinionJournal is as deserving as free speech as Mein Kampf was, for the most part, it tends to incite and fuel the same kind of racist, geocentric, culturally narrow jingoism that all but obliterates the respectability of the Wall Street Journal’s long standing brand.

When World Cup soccer united the world more than any event since September 11, Taranto demonstrated the maturity of his analysis by responding to America’s victory over the favored Portugal with:”This just goes to show what a lame sport soccer is. A victory over Portugal is a big deal? Portugal--a country that hasn't been a major power since the 16th century?” Further revealing the extent of his cultural sophistication, and wise ass, college kid mentality, he launched into a tortured explanation as to how certain scores were not possible in the game of football, oblivious to the fact that Europeans have been calling soccer football since long before 1863, the forming of the Football Association, a turning point in the history of soccer.

Remember that annoying family relative no one could stand who would run in and announce that denial was a river in Egypt and then stand there grinning like a smart-ass waiting for a response that not even the kindest family member could muster? Yep, you guessed it. And even though the joke was hot among the nine-year-old circuit, circa 1967, this is the verbatim quality insight you can expect from the pen of James Taranto. More than once! The Wall Street Journal still takes itself very seriously though.

Consider an Op-Ed piece in The Wall Street Journal on March 19, 2002 titled "Good Medicine, Bad Journalism" (that later was revealed to be both a smear campaign and story in which the writer had a vested interest and financial stake). Criticizing the integrity and agenda of the Seattle Times, The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Landro’s audacious title is akin to ImClone’s Samuel Waksal penning an editorial entitled “Good Pharmaceuticals, Bad Corporate Accountability”.

As Eric Boehlert of Salon Magazine (another bastion of journalistic integrity which nobody’s buying) pointed out, “The Wall Street Journal's Op-Ed pages have long been a cauldron of unethical journalism. During the Clinton years, the Journal's editorial page czars filled their pages with wild-eyed, tabloid charges about the president and his wife's so-called involvement in murder plots and drug trafficking. But the Journal's news deputies and reporters could always roll their eyes and take comfort in the fact that everyone knew the newspaper's two universes were separate and distinct.”

In a January 26, 2002 letter to The Pulitzer Prize Board, The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Steiger wrote: ”From the perspective of several months later, breaking-news stories in the September 12 Wall Street Journal are notable for the strength of their details, the clarity of their deadline writing and the discipline with which they confront uncertainty - by publishing no facts of which the reporters and editors aren't sure and reaching no conclusions that the known facts don't justify.”

While professionalism is relative, consider Taranto’s “We Get Results” brag line which is frequently employed to preen and puff about successful removal of “hate speech” (loosely defined as any opinion muttered that goes against Taranto’s virulent pro-Sharon, one-sided, narrow world view) in violation of an ISP’s terms of service on even the slightest technicality. While Taranto trolls Yahoo and MSN reporting small sites and opinions of people with less, readership, clout and resources than The Wall Street Journal and who are subsequently silenced with the force of a Kristalnacht blitzkrieg, consider this smarmy expression of masked violence under the tag “Blowing Up the ACLU” in the context of “We Get Results”: “Now that the ACLU has been the victim of a terrorist bombing, will it develop a more balanced approach to the trade-off between civil liberties and national security? Probably not, for it wasn't that ACLU that was bombed but the Afghan Construction and Logistics Unit.” Not only is this barely veiled invitation reminiscent of the Nuremberg Files web site which list the names of physicians performing abortions, crossing them out when one is murdered, but the logic itself flawed. What, Mr. Taranto should ask, as he looks in the mirror, is did the terrorist slaying of a Wall Street Journal reporter develop a more balanced approach to the trade-off between journalistic integrity and polemic invective?

In a similar vain, as if cut from the same journalistic cloth, the rabid WorldNetDaily is under fire from, among others, the Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR), for a fanatical diatribe written by one pathological John Maniscalco, dubbed, “An airline pilot challenges Arab Muslims in America”. While violent verbal attacks against anyone who doesn’t ascribe to WorldNetDaily editor, Joseph Farah’s demented, perverted blend of patriarchal, heterofascist Christian supremacy -- that makes the mini-skirted, Barbara Olson-wannabe, Ann Coulter, look like Nadine Gordimer -- are to be expected, the brand dilution being perpetrated in the name of American Airlines is staggering. Published last month, (although numerously and earlier by other publications - and suddenly mysteriously absent from the WorldNetDaily site), Maniscalco is billed as an American Airlines pilot. To date, American Airlines has not challenged the assertion, nor disassociated their brand from the invective.

Unlike the Maniscalcos, Tarantos, Sullivans, Goldbergs and other backslapping, under-exercised, thirties-going-on-seventies school of mediocre, William F. Buckley-inspired puffery pundit poofs who stuff themselves on an inebriating diet of hate-filled, self-aggrandizing, paradigm-trapped swill that perpetuates their distorted sense of relevance and inflates their already-obese egos, I do not wish to see them muzzled or shut down. On the contrary, their disturbed regurgitations offer a daunting yet valuable insight as to how much education is needed in America’s synagogues and churches before we can expect to see or make a difference in the mosques and madrassas in the Middle East, let alone demand it.

California Congressman Bill Thomas, the Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee had both the ways and means to ensure a Los Angeles Times sportswriter, Brian Robin, was fired after he absent-mindedly fired a critical email using his LATimes.com email account. He did not even mention his profession or affiliation in the email, simply signing as Brian Robin, Lancaster, CA. If the holier-than-thou Los Angeles Times, owned by the Tribune, is willing to exercise it's corporate right to fire a writer for exercising his right to free speech, The Wall Street Journal and American Airlines are just two entities that may want to seriously reconsider their brand positioning rather than wonder why their journalists and pilots are first on the receiving end of the repercussions fomented and fueled by the likes of John Maniscalco and James Taranto.

The 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Distinguished Breaking News Reporting was awarded to the staff of The Wall Street Journal for their coverage of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the effects of those attacks on business, culture and geopolitical events. But then again, as Taranto would scornfully repeat, Yasser Arafat won The Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

Respond to Clinton Fein at clinton@annoy.com

 
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