Taylor Swift sings her heart out for us

But just what is the megastar’s appeal?

Source: Los Angeles Times

Improbable as it may seem, our six-year-old grandson turned me on to Taylor Swift. First, I watched her Eras Tour film a week or so ago in his living room, and then I watched him on a couple long plane rides to and from Europe as he mimicked some of Swift’s moves, screening the film on his tablet at least five more times. As she pointed around the SoFi Stadium to her fans, he did the same from his airline seat.

Frankly, however, I couldn’t see Swift’s appeal. Similarly, it has been difficult for me to see the attraction Swift had for his 40-year-old mom, a draw strong enough to get her to pay a couple hundred dollars and bike quite a ways to one of the singer’s shows last July (a lucky bargain when some folks have paid as much as $18,000). I’ve also been challenged to see the allure for my 37-year-old son, who plans to take his six-year-old daughter from Germany, where they live, to a Swift show in Paris.

In the film, some of her appeal is the stunning staging on her tour. As she rises on a moving cube above the stage at times and struts along on top of and in front of dazzling lighting effects, the technology and choreography is captivating. It’s far superior to the most impressive concerts I went to decades ago. Her patter and warmth with her audience, too, is both gracious and intimate. Give her this, Swift is an extraordinary showwoman.

Her music, however, struck me at first blush as workmanlike, but bland – nothing like the pyrotechnics of the Stones or the Moody Blues, the ingenious and inventive sounds of The Doors and the Beatles, the thrilling power of Springsteen, or the passion of Janis. And on stage her lyrics seemed rushed, barely giving a listener a chance to let their meaning sink in, as seemed far easier with such brilliant lyricists as Dylan, Joan Baez, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Don McLean, Neil Young and others.

Source: Getty Images, via The Independent

Still, there’s no denying that Swift has eclipsed all those setting stars. Her billion-dollar tour is a global phenomenon, lifting some national economies. Her romance with Travis Kelce has been a cultural touchstone. And should she again side publicly with Joe Biden against Trump (as she did in 2020), she could have a potent political impact (one that Springsteen was unable to have with Clinton against Trump). There’s no question that Swift deserved to be Time’s Person of the Year last year.

Indeed, even before my grandson’s fascination with her, I have wanted to understand the magic that is Taylor Swift, the passion that Swifties feel. Was it like the depth of feeling I once had for my rock and folk icons, musicians whose songs spoke to my deepest yearnings, my joys and sorrows, my hopes and fears, even to my sense of justice and injustice? Does her music speak to the angst of teens everywhere, as my aging heroes once did for me?

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, source: The Times

recent podcast from The New York Times, provided by my son-in-law, went far to help develop my understanding. Journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner refers in the pod to Swiftmania as “the cultural event of my lifetime.” As a 48-year-old, the writer said, “I remember the way my parents used to talk about Woodstock …  And I began to see, first, that it was going to be Woodstock, and then it was going to be bigger than Woodstock. Then it was going to be something, like everything else about her, that we don’t have words to compare to. And that is what Taylor Swift is.”

Well, that’s quite a description, of course. But the author backs that up. For instance, when concertgoers in Seattle responded to Swift’s “Shake It Off” song, seismologists measured the stadium’s movements as equivalent to a 2.3 magnitude earthquake (it’s a wonder the Lumen Field venue didn’t collapse). Beatlemania pales by comparison.

The author, who also wrote about Swift for The New York Times Magazine, seemed to be onto something (at least for me) when she noted that listeners may not get what Swift is about during the first time listening to her lyrics, or even the second or tenth listening. Eventually, though, they realize that Swift is a “songwriting savant,” says Brodesser-Akner, and that the singer is “is telling the story of girlhood into womanhood…. I see her in real time cataloging the experiences of what it means to grow up.”

Bad romances, business and personal betrayals, self-doubt and even self-loathing fill Swift’s lyrics, Brodesser-Akner points out. And that is why so many fans, particularly women, respond. Swift speaks to their experiences, as if she’s holding up a mirror and letting them know they are not alone in their pain, in their disappointments. Concertgoers sing passionately along with her.

For anyone who has been wronged in love, she offers lyrics such as “You call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest” and “You can plan for a change in weather and time / But I never planned on you changing your mind.” In their simplicity and clarity, she strikes chords with phrases such as “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it / After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own / Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone” and “You said it was a great love, one for the ages / But if the story’s over, why am I still writing pages?”

As Times podcast host Michael Barbaro, a self-confessed Swiftie, put it in talking with Brodesser-Akner: “the Taylor Swift project of internalizing pain and turning it into music has the effect that you’re describing on tens of millions of people. It makes them see anew a lot of the pain in their lives, to look it squarely in the face, and to try to better understand it and to have a catharsis around it.”

Source: Hollywood Life

Now, that is not what is happening, I’m sure, with my six-year-old grandson. For him, I suspect, the simple music is the draw (though he sings along with some of the lyrics), along with the extraordinary staging and Swift’s amazing costumes. In those powerful lights, she is riveting, of course, whether she is wearing skin-tight sequined bodysuits or others filled with snake images – all of which suit her Barbie-like figure. She stuns us even in oversize chiffon dresses.

Some of Swift’s 16 outfits on her tour; source: Getty Images via WWD

In her costuming, bright-red lipstick and glittering eye makeup she is something else, as well, something that I feared had disappeared among powerful women. She is remarkably feminine, a demeanor one might think would cost her among feminists and gay women. And yet, lesbian writer Kat Tenbarge writes of Swift: “It’s incredibly gratifying to feel a little seen, and feel a little understood, by an artist whose presence has guided you from adolescence to adulthood, like Swift’s has for me. In ‘Folklore,’ Swift rolled out a moody blue carpet that chronicles all the nuances of my life so far, and all the reward of having lived through them.”

Perhaps our culture has evolved from the time when such women felt compelled to chop short their hair, eschew makeup and dresses and other talismans of traditional femininity? One might ask whether Swift, with flowing hair hanging down to her mid-back and her stunning smile, has made it okay again to exult in being a woman, just as football star Kelce can feel free to cry in public and yet be as macho as they come.

Of course, feminism need not be incompatible with femininity. Just as Springsteen can look very much like a traditional working-class stud in T-shirts and jeans and yet sing the gay anthem “The Streets of Philadelphia,” so can Swift sport chiffon and still sing of injustices dealt to women in the workplace. Her song “The Man” says “… if I was a man, then I’d be the man.” Ironically, as my son-in-law pointed out, she is “the man” when it comes to running her career; she’s unquestionably in charge.

Janis Joplin; source: AP via Variety

Certainly, earlier generations such as mine adored, emulated and sang along with their heroes on stages around the world. For me, at 69, there will never be equals to Dylan, Springsteen, Joan Baez, Neil Young, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, CSNY, Blind Faith, the Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Don McLean, Paul Simon, Janis, and so many more. At tumultuous times in my life – especially in my teens – they seemed so very important. In fact, my wife and I look forward eagerly to seeing the Stones live in June, though it’s both sad and funny that we got our tickets through AARP.

Even as the Taylor Swift phenomenon surpasses the legacy of her forerunners, at its base it is a powerful echo of them. She is a megastar because her work speaks to the needs, desires and struggles of her fans, much as that of earlier stars did to her fans’s parents. May her time in the sun last for a long while yet – at least to the day when my grandson understands her powerful and personal messages.

About those city resolutions and university administrator statements …

Should mayors, city councils and school chancellors take stances on the war in Gaza?

We are lucky to live high in the mountains of Colorado, a bit over an hour’s drive to Denver, just over three hours flight time to Washington, D.C., and about 14 and a half hours to Jerusalem by plane. Despite the distance, serious issues in these places – matters such as the Israel-Hamas war that trouble people in those cities — trouble us. We care a lot.

But should our local officials take a stand on that war, casting votes that suggest that their views represent the views of most of us? And, beyond sending a message – one way or another– to Washington, D.C., do resolutions at their meetings do anything beyond making proponents feel good? Are they anything more than empty gestures?

In many places around the country, pro-Palestinian organizations have called on local government leaders to back their demand for a ceasefire in Gaza, winning support in at least 48 cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and Seattle. By contrast, leaders in at least 20 communities have passed resolutions condemning the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7th, with a handful more calling more broadly for peace.

Recently, the Denver City Council hosted a heated debate about a proposal to issue a proclamation calling for a ceasefire. Hours of public testimony were logged as citizens loudly made their voices heard. The mid-February proposal failed by an 8-4 vote.

A few days later, the council in Boulder shot down a similar proposal, with only two of the nine members urging it to be put forward. Both councils parted company on the matter with folks in Glenwood Springs, whose council members some days earlier unanimously endorsed a call for a ceasefire, becoming the first city in Colorado to do so.

Now, in today’s local paper, the Summit Daily News, a letter-writer called on officials in our neighborhood to press for a ceasefire. “Ending the killing should be a no-brainer,” writer Birrion Sondahl argued. “The least we can do in Summit County is call for an end to the killing.”

But is international policy and the conduct of other nations – even the actions of officials in Washington, D.C. — really within the purview of people elected to deal with issues such as local development, homelessness, municipal finances and even the proverbial potholes?

Source: Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

As Aaron Brockett, mayor of most-progressive Boulder, argued, don’t councils have enough on their plates already?

“We have so many huge problems right here in our town of Boulder, Colorado, dozens of people living out on our streets, people dying in traffic violence on a regular basis,” Brockett said, as reported by the Boulder Reporting Lab. There are “any number of major local problems and issues where the nine of us can have a very direct and immediate impact. And I feel that that is what we need to focus on as a council.”

Another council member, Matt Benjamin, concurred. “As Mayor Brockett pointed out, we have people dying right now in this community,” Benjamin said. “A lot of them,” he added, before referencing the homeless and formerly homeless people who died in Boulder County last year.

In their stances, the Boulderites agreed with editorialists at The Denver Post, who lambasted the failed local proclamation and others like it. They argued: “All of these resolutions and proclamations are misguided wastes of precious time that would be better spent on the business these legislative bodies can actually change.”Further, the Post writers noted that the war in Gaza has split local residents, saying debating such a proclamation “only deepened those divisions.” They added: “All of this would be worth the public pain and the precious time of our elected officials if it were going to do more good than harm, but this drop in the bucket will neither convince Hamas to release the remaining hostages nor soften Israel’s stance on bombings that have killed thousands of Palestinians.”

Chicagoans demand a ceasefire, source: Scott Olson/Getty Images via Prism

Just how divided are we? In Chicago, the city council vote in January on a resolution calling for a ceasefire was split 23-23 when Mayor Brandon Johnson cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of what Politico oddly called a “nonbinding resolution.” Indeed, who could be bound by it? The status of the resolution shows how impotent and pointless it is.

Such resolutions are reminiscent of the stances leaders of many universities took in the fall, with many condemning Hamas for its atrocities. As The Washington Post reported, Rabbi Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University in New York, argued that college presidents have a moral obligation to speak out. He circulated a statement about the war, headlined “We stand together with Israel against Hamas.” The statement also expressed solidarity “with the Palestinians who suffer under Hamas’ cruel rule in Gaza and with all people of moral conscience.”

I quite agree with the rabbi’s view of Hamas, a loathsome and murderous organization that needs to be stamped out, and it’s entirely reasonable for the leader of a Jewish university to take such a stance. I applaud him for doing so and I echo his views. Indeed, condemning terrorism is truly a no-brainer (though the Summit Daily News letter-writer pointedly didn’t do so).

But do leaders of public universities or private schools with no religious or community affiliation have such an obligation to offer condemnations (much as they may rightly feel the need to speak out against wanton murder)? Do their comments – one way or the other – do anything beyond alienating some members of their faculty and some students?

It’s one thing for faculty members to write open letters, perhaps differing with other faculty members. Indeed, as teachers and opinion-shapers on their campuses, faculty members should take stances. But it’s another thing for administrators to jump into the fray, pretending to speak for all their university constituents.

New York Times opinion writer Pamela Paul recently cited comments that Diego Zambrano, a professor at Stanford Law School, made at a conference on civil discourse at the California school. “What, he asked, are the benefits of a university taking a position? If it’s to make the students feel good, he said, those feelings are fleeting, and perhaps not even the university’s job. If it’s to change the outcome of political events, even the most self-regarding institutions don’t imagine they will have any impact on a war halfway across the planet. The benefits, he argued, were nonexistent.”

All that such statements do is “fuel the most intemperate speech while chilling moderate and dissenting voices,” Paul wrote in paraphrasing Zambrano. Moreover, “In a world constantly riled up over politics, the task of formally opining on issues would be endless.”

Such statements, she noted “ask university administrators, who are not hired for their moral compasses, to address in a single email thorny subjects that scholars at their own institutions spend years studying. (Some university presidents, such as Michael Schill of Northwestern, have rightly balked.) Inevitably, staking any position weakens the public’s perception of the university as independent.”

Northwestern University President Michael Schill, source: The Daily Northwestern

In October, Schill actually condemned the “abhorrent and horrific actions of Hamas,” saying they were “clearly antithetical to Northwestern’s values — as well as my own,” according to The Daily Northwestern. “Whatever we might feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our shared humanity should lead us all to condemn these barbaric acts.” But he also maintained that in attending a vigil organized by Jewish students to mourn lives lost in the war, he did so as an individual, not on behalf of the University.

In public universities, administrators who take stances on polarizing matters – whether dealing with politics or social issues – could jeopardize their jobs and school funding.

To be sure, it sometimes is necessary and relevant for them to take stances and it takes courage to do so: at the university where I taught for 14 years, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, former Gov. Pete Ricketts and few legislators drove out a superb chancellor, Ronnie D. Green, because of his support of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Even so, budget cuts followed, as conservative legislators sought to punish academics there whom they see as too liberal.

As budgets were slashed, Rodney Bennett, who succeeded Green, bowed to the will of his political overseers, moving to cut $800,000 from the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services, against the will of many on the faculty. Conservative politicians in many states have similarly pressured school officials to quash efforts at expanding diversity, equity and inclusion, a bête noire of the right.

We’re all entitled to our views on such campus affairs, as well as local, national and international matters – and those views will differ. So can the Summit County Board of Commissioners reflect my views on Gaza along with those of the county’s other 31,000 or so residents? And should it try to? I suspect it would fail miserably, and we are awash in plenty of issues it would be better off attending to. Leave global policy issues to those who can make a difference on them and let us each have our own takes on such matters.

Why So Sour?

Americans seem more pessimistic than ever in recent memory — and it’s tough to see what will change that

Source: The Wall Street Journal

By most measures of national economic health, things look pretty bright. And yet, Americans have become a nation of Gloomy Gusses, it seems. Just why goes some way toward explaining our troubling politics and our likely futures.

A couple recent polls – a national one released by The Wall Street Journal and a narrower one from The New York Times – both point to a surprising degree of negativity abroad in the land. And a few experts – as well as laymen – have offered concerning explanations of the results.

The Journal recently released results of a survey in which only 36% of voters said the American dream still holds true. This is down from 48% in 2016 (that fateful election year) and from 53% in 2012 in similar surveys. And it’s down substantially from a Wall Street Journal poll just last year in which some 68% said people who worked hard were likely to get ahead in this country.

The Journal observes: “… Americans across the political spectrum are feeling economically fragile and uncertain that the ladder to higher living standards remains sturdy, even amid many signs of economic and social progress.”

Source: The Economist

The American dream, as the pollsters from the University of Chicago’s NORC program working with the WSJ described it, is the simple notion that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead. And their question, from interviews with 1,163 voters, was whether that still holds true (36% said yes), never held true (18%) or, quite disturbingly, once held true but doesn’t anymore (45%).

Furthermore, half of those polled said that life in America is worse than it was 50 years ago, compared with just 30% who said it had gotten better. Asked if they believed that the economic and political system is “stacked against people like me,” half agreed with the statement, while only 39% disagreed.

The big question, perhaps an existential one for the 2024 presidential election, is “why such pessimism?” Moreover, how can Americans feel so down when macroeconomic measures are so up?

The national unemployment rate, for instance, sits at 3.9%, remarkably low by historic standards. And median weekly earnings of the nation’s 122.1 million full-time wage and salary workers are now 4.5 percent higher than a year ago, outpacing inflation (up 3.5 percent over the same period).

The Journal article suggests a few explanations. It quotes a 30-year-old Missouri fellow as saying: “We have a nice house in the suburbs, and we have a two-car garage … But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that money was tight.” For him and most of his neighbors, “no matter how good it looks on the outside, I feel we are all a couple of paychecks away from being on the street.”

Despite the extraordinary material amenities that most Americans now enjoy, thanks to technological progress and global economic health, that fellow said life is “objectively worse” than it was a half-century ago. He pointed to the decline of unions and the disappearance of pensions, things that helped his railroad-worker grandfather.

Others quoted by the WSJ similarly pointed to inflation, even though the rate of price increases has declined in recent months. Suggesting a lag in perception, the newspaper noted that inflation outpaced the gains in worker pay in 2022 for the second year in a row, and mortgage rates are at their highest level in more than two decades.

The results of a New York Times/Siena College poll, focused on six electoral swing states, likewise reflect gloomy outlooks. Eight in 10 respondents said the economy is fair or poor, with just 2% calling it excellent. Majorities of every group of Americans — across gender, race, age, education, geography, income and party — have an unfavorable view.

A Times editorial board member, Binyamin Applebaum, and Peter Coy, a former colleague at BusinessWeek now writing for the newspaper, offered some wisdom on the grumpiness.

Source: Stanford News, Stanford University

Coy pointed to differing views of inflation between the average consumer and the number-crunchers. “To an economist, inflation is the change in prices,” he wrote. “So if prices go up sharply but then level off for a few months, the monthly inflation rate at that point is zero. There’s no more change in prices, right? But to most people, inflation is high prices. So they look at high prices in the supermarket or wherever and say, ‘That’s inflation!”

Furthermore, Coy pointed to home prices and mortgage rates, both up as affordability is way down. “Rents are also up. This is no problem if you already own, but it’s awful if you’re a young person trying to buy your first place,” Coy wrote. “That’s why you see TikTok talking about a Silent Depression; that might also explain why 93 percent of people 18 to 29 in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll said the economy was poor or only fair.”

For his part, Applebaum focused on the dark outlook for the future, a sense of dread.

He noted that an NBC News poll found that only 19% of respondents were confident that the next generation would have better lives than their own generation. “NBC said it was the smallest share of optimists dating back to the question’s introduction in 1990,” he said.

Applebaum’s conclusion: “For me, this is the great failure of the Biden administration and its economic policies: Americans simply aren’t convinced that the future is bright.”

This observation was supported by a crucial detail in the WSJ poll results. To 45% of the respondents in that survey, there once was an American dream but it has disappeared. And for 18%, it was all a lie, something never real.

Let’s add a few thoughts. First, widespread unaffordability of housing may be the single biggest tangible element contributing to the bad-feelings wave. After all, a key part of the American dream is owning one’s home, something that brings with it safety and promising educational prospects for a family.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price for an existing home — one that’s already standing, not new construction — came to $410,200 in June 2023, Bankrate reports. The news service reports that the figure is the second highest since the association started tracking the data. While down a bit from the all-time high of $413,800, at the peak of the housing boom in June 2022, it’s still in nosebleed territory for many.

Those of us who recall the postwar developments such as Levittown remember a time when GIs with little assets but with steady jobs in the fast-expanding economy could afford homes. A home in such a development would sell for $8,000 in the late 1940s (or about $102,000 in today’s dollars). As Edward Glaeser recounted in Triumph of the City: How Our Best Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, the G.I. Bill and federal housing subsidies, trimmed the upfront cost of a house for many buyers to around $400 (or $5,100 today).

Levittown, Pa., source: Wikipedia

Where are today’s Levittown equivalents? From coast to coast, developers are keen to build homes that start at $500,000 or so. Are many building on the lower end? No. Indeed, the median price of an existing home in Levittown, New York, today, is $606,000.

Moreover, developers are not even building enough apartments for low-income earners – which could otherwise be steppingstones for affordable homes.

The Urban Institute and the National Housing Conference report that for every 100 extremely low income households, there are only 29 adequate, affordable, and available rental units. That means two parents who both work minimum-wage jobs might wait years to find a safe, affordable place to live with their two kids. With such high demand, why aren’t developers racing to build affordable apartments?

The answer: “building affordable housing is not particularly affordable,” the groups say. They point to a huge gap between what such buildings cost to construct and maintain and the rents most people can pay. “Without the help of too-scarce government subsidies for creating, preserving, and operating affordable apartments, building these homes is often impossible,” the groups say.

A related issue that likely contributes to national pessimism — at least among city-dwellers — is widespread homelessness. Walk the streets of just about many medium-size or large city in America and you are likely to come across people living in tents. The Department of Housing and Urban Development counted about 582,000 such homeless people in 2022, or 18 for every 10,000 Americans.

And homelessness is a product of both unaffordable low-end housing and a panoply of intractable social ills, including drug addiction and mental illness. With such highly visible and apparently worsening problems, is it any wonder that many Americans find optimism difficult?

Source: College Board

In looking forward, too, education factors into the national mood. Higher education, after all, is perhaps the biggest driver of social mobility over generations. The average cost of a college degree now is $36,486 per student per year, with all costs included. Accordingly, the amount of debt most students must incur – something that can weigh them down for decades – is prohibitively high. The costs, of course, were far lower in past decades.

Finally, while crime rates in some respects have been dropping, gun violence has been rising. In 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of death for American childrenThe New York Times reported. In 2022 things grew worse: The number of children killed in shootings rose by almost 12 percent, and those wounded increased by almost 11 percent, the newspaper said.

Of course, mass shootings garner headlines, which hardly can only corrode the national mood. The national tally of such events now tops 600 and solutions that can curb them seem impossible to find. Tragically, the number of guns nationwide continues to climb.

Amid all this, we now face the prospect of a rematch between Joseph Biden and Donald Trump for the presidency in 2024. For all his policy successes – and measurable economic gains – Biden, now 81, is widely seen as just too old. Even though Trump is just four years younger, Biden often appears feeble in comparison to Trump. Neither is, say, a John F. Kennedy, whose youthful good looks mirrored the upbeat national mood of the early 1960s.

It’s hard to see what will lift the national outlook. A new generation of presidential politicians, those who project the optimism of a Kennedy or, on the other side, a Reagan? That would go some ways. But the tougher nuts to crack are the all-too- tangible ones of affordable housing and higher education, safety and better-paying and more secure jobs.

Does the Truth Matter?

In the Israel-Palestine conflict facts can be elusive and, maybe, pointless

Aftermath of attack on Al Ahli Hospital, source: Newsweek

In war, it’s said, truth is the first casualty. Indeed, the late journalist and professor Phillip Knightly wrote a book about misinformation in wartime that is must-reading for serious reporters. Given the Al Ahli hospital explosion in Gaza, his work is especially apt.

The explosion, which American and Israeli intelligence officials have persuasively contended was triggered by a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket, has been a PR bonanza for Hamas. Across that Arab world, Anti-Israeli forces rushed to embrace the terrorist claims that only an Israeli missile could have caused the disaster, dismissing Israeli counterclaims out of hand. Even as American intelligence sources confirmed those counterclaims, the fury has continued.

But the effects went well beyond the demonstrations. Several Arab leaders cancelled their planned meeting with President Biden, depriving everyone involved of a chance for face-to-face diplomacy that could have been helpful. Outside of Israel, the explosion also pushed into the background the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7, the killings of more than 1,400 people, where the terrorist group exulted in savagery unprecedented in the long conflict. The 199 people children, elderly and others taken hostage have all but disappeared from the headlines.

American media outlets are striving to verify the American and Israeli findings about the explosion. That is as it should be. Ever since the Pentagon Papers, at least, independent verification is essential, and skepticism is warranted. Persuasive as the latest evidence seems to be, checking is crucial, especially as misinformation has abounded in this war.

However, the sad reality is that the truth may not matter except, maybe, as a historical point of interest. Even if Islamic Jihad’s ineptitude was at fault, Israel’s critics will likely argue that the assault Israel has mounted on Gaza is the underlying cause and, thus, the blame falls to Israel. Of course, Israel would not be bombarding Gaza if not for the attack by Hamas to begin with, something the anti-Israel forces appallingly ignore.

The reality is that in the eyes of its haters, Israel can do nothing right. Indeed, they deny its right to exist. The fashionable argument, which appears all too often on Linked In, X and elsewhere, is that Israelis are just Western colonizers (an absurd but common contention in Palestinian academic circles in the U.S., one that ignores the long history Jews have had in the land).    

Source: WGN, Chicago

Moreover, the inability of Palestinian sympathizers to demonstrate even a shred of compassion for Israelis is simply stunning. The claims of some that they are rallying against “genocide” of the Palestinian people is obscene in light of a true genocide, the Holocaust.

It bears repeating that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have one purpose. That is to kill Jews (or at least drive them out of the land). And, staggeringly, they think nothing of sacrificing their own people as they pursue this. Thus, their efforts to discourage Gazans from evacuating areas Israel has said they should leave, reportedly even to the extent of blocking them. The heartlessness of the terrorists – much like that of ISIS – knows no bounds. Their misuse of Islam to justify their murderousness leaves one agog.

Tragically, many more people will die in this war on both sides. Israel seems determined to uproot Hamas and Islamic Jihad, perhaps through a ground invasion and, one hopes, a short-lived occupation. Even critics of the likely invasion, such as Thomas Friedman, implicitly acknowledge that replacing the terrorists with a legitimate government could be helpful (I would suggest essential).

Source: WFAA

Of course, the enormous question is, what comes after the terrorists are crushed or routed militarily? Who will run Gaza and care for its 2 million people, most of whom are innocents trapped in what critics understandably call an open-air prison? Certainly, Israel doesn’t want to be responsible for the place again. Indeed, if not for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Gaza would likely be a more open and accessible place, with arrangements such as that of the West Bank, whose residents can work in Israel. Since Israel left Gaza in 2005, Hamas has squandered any opportunity to build its economy and move toward peaceful coexistence.

Some observers, such as Bret Stephens, argue that moderate Arab regimes could replace the terrorists in overseeing Gaza. Indeed, given the overtures Saudi Arabia had been making toward Israel, the kingdom could play a powerful role there, along with Jordan and, perhaps, Egypt. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such nations rose to aid their fellow-Arabs? It appears that President Biden is thinking along those lines, at least in terms of the need to vanquish Hamas.

Even as Jewish-Arab strife enters its second century in and around Israel, it remains the case that wars do end in time – sometimes more quickly than one can imagine. Just look at Germany, Japan and the U.S. and the rest of Europe not so long ago. Is it Pollyannish to think that horrific ugliness Hamas has committed — and the response it is generating it — could ultimately lead to some sort of resolution? Might this battle over Gaza be a final one, or close to it? Might the innocents in Gaza get humane government?

First, though, a lot more ugliness is imminent. And it will be the media’s job to report on it – as fully, accurately and thoroughly as possible. That job involves sorting through inevitable misinformation and outlets such as the Associated PressReuters and The New York Times are doing their best to combat it. Fact-checking is necessary, but whether it makes a difference in hard-set public attitudes is arguable.

Whither Print


Source: AP

It’s far too easy these days to get depressed about the state of journalism. Legacy outlets – especially those that depend on and once thrived in print – are continuing to shrivel. Just this week, word came that National Geographic lost the last of its staff writers and will end newsstand sales next year. Meanwhile, it was also reported that the circulations of the 25 largest U.S. newspapers slipped 14% to just 2.6 million in the year ending in March, accelerating the decline in print that has afflicted most of the nation’s top papers (as well as killed off many of its smaller ones).

And yet, it’s not as if all the news is dire. For one, digital readership continues to grow among the bigger newspapers. As the PressGazette reported, the New York Times Company announced that its digital-only subscriptions rose to 9 million as of the end of the first quarter of 2023, an increase of 8% from a year earlier, even as circulation of its print product slipped 10% to a bit over 296,000. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal recorded 3.3 million digital subscribers in March, up from 2.9 million in the final quarter of last year, even as its print circulation slipped 13% to about 609,650.

More to the point, the growth of alternative all-online media outlets seems to be continuing. To take one example, the nonprofit States Newsroom network has spread to operations in 34 states and it is planning an ambitious agenda of coverage of the presidential race. One of my favorite members of the network is the Nebraska Examiner, an operation staffed by prize-winning refugees of the Omaha World-Herald (which, sadly, has shrunk under the ownership of Lee Enterprises).

The Examiner continues to hold the feet of Nebraska politicians to the fire as it covers state government well, just as other members of the States Newsroom network do. Indeed, the outlets arose because local papers were cutting back on their coverage of state government.

Another example of intriguing online efforts is the Flatwater Free Press, which seeks to cover a broader array of subjects of statewide interest. It’s akin to a for-profit operation, The Colorado Sun, a venture staffed mostly by former Denver Post journalists. These outlets don’t cover local news as closely as dying local papers once did (city councils, zoning boards, school boards, etc.), but they do a sterling job on topics of broader interest. Consider this Flatwater piece about the prospects for restricting gender-affirming care and this interesting piece from the Sun about psychedelic drugs.

Zach Wendling, source: Nebraska Examiner


Will these alternative operations ever match the breadth and depth of coverage that metros and local dailies once offered? That seems hardly possible, as their staffs are a fraction of the size of once-robust legions of journalists at the larger papers. And yet, they are providing opportunities for young people who would find few at shriveled print outfits. One of the more productive folks at the Nebraska Examiner, for instance, is still a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Zach Wendling, whom I was privileged to have in a class. He’s interning among the handful of seasoned veterans at the outlet. (The place employs four staffers and Zach).

Inexorably, the shift away from print will continue, of course. Young people have little or no interest in news on paper and those of us who still like to hold a print product (in my case, magazines including The Atlantic, Harper’s and The New Yorker) are aging out. And nothing compares to the immediacy of the online realm.

Whether that shift will ultimately do in even the biggest names in print remains a huge question mark. Outlets such as the Times and the WSJ are smartly creating lots of alternative products – newsletters and podcasts and such – to keep their edge. But smaller papers are hard-pressed to keep up, especially those owned by vulture-capital-backed chains more focused on milking the papers on the way down rather than growing them or their online efforts. (See the Chicago Tribune, whose average print circulation in the six months up to March slipped 23% to just over 82,000, according to the PressGazette, putting it at ninth place among the top 25 papers. The Tribune is a property of the notorious Alden Global Capital.)

We have long been in a painful period of transition in news, of course. That’s not new to anyone familiar with the business’s decline over the last decade or longer. It may be that the biggest names will endure and innovate their way through. Prospects for the rest seem bleak, even as the outlook for the little online-only innovators seems fairly bright (so long as the public continues to donate to them).

Jeff Jarvis, source: Twitter


Perhaps a new book by Jeff Jarvis will guide us. As its promotional material tells us, “The Gutenberg Parenthesis” traces print from its beginnings to the digital present. Print, we’re told, “was as disruptive as the digital migration of today.” Now, we are immersed in the changes that may make the print era little more a very long parenthesis between pre-print darkness (though still an era filled with creativity) and what has yet to fully reveal itself. He’s mostly optimistic, it seems, though not about the prospects for conventional media, whose virtues and faults he recounts.

“For half a millennium, the mediators of media-editors, publishers, producers- controlled the public conversation,” Jeff writes. “Now we may break free of their gatekeeping, agendas, and scarcities-while at the same time risking the loss of the value these institutions have brought in recommending quality, certifying fact, and supporting creativity. What must we create to replace these functions? The internet finally allows individuals to speak and communities of their own definitions to assemble and act, killing the mass at last. I celebrate the closing of the Mass Parenthesis. As for Gutenberg’s Parenthesis, I do not cheer its end. Instead, I believe this is the moment to honor its existence and all it has brought us, and to learn from it as we enter a next age.”

Fittingly or not, Jeff’s book is on offer in hardback, though I suspect the slightly less costly ebook sales will trump that format ($27 in hardback on Amazon; $14.34 on Kindle).

A Commencement Rant Suggests Poor Schooling

A sweet-smiling, freshly minted CUNY Law School grad triggered an international outcry with an impassioned commencement address that attacked Israel, capitalism, the New York Police Department and a host of other bogeymen. While celebrating the achievements of what a New York Times writer called “a small, modestly ranked law school in Queens,” Fatima Mousa Mohammed, 24, provoked the ire first of the New York Post (which drew global attention to her talk with a cover piece headlined “Stark Raving Grad” two weeks after the May 12 event).

Mohammed’s talk lasted less than 13 minutes and can be seen in its entirety here. As any viewer can see, she liked tossing verbal bombs, even as she condemned real ones – at least those fired by one side.

“Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshippers, murdering the old, the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards, as it encourages lynch mobs to target Palestinian homes and businesses, as it imprisons its children, as it continues its project of settler colonialism, expelling Palestinians from their homes, carrying the ongoing nakba, that our silence is no longer acceptable,” she said in her most fiery phrases.

Riding the storm she generated, the Post has run a long strand of pieces covering reaction to Mohammed’s invective. Politicians ranging from Mayor Eric Adams (also a target of Mohammed’s talk) to Ted Cruz have decried her remarks, as other media outlets piled on (see the Daily MailThe Times of IsraelFox NewsNational ReviewThe Chronicle of Higher Education). For a more sympathetic account, check out Aljazeera.

Some of the critics probed Mohammed’s social history to find such gems as her wishing in May 2021 that “every Zionist burn in the hottest pit of hell.” In her commencement talk, she praised BDS and the support given it at CUNY Law, the sort of hook that almost made her comments relevant to the event (though that was a stretch).

For their part, the chancellor and trustees of CUNY, in a brief statement, slammed Mohammed for “hate speech.” They lambasted her “public expression of hate toward people and communities based on their religion, race or political affiliation.” And they added: “This speech is particularly unacceptable at a ceremony celebrating the achievements of a wide diversity of graduates, and hurtful to the entire CUNY community, which was founded on the principle of equal access and opportunity.”

Calls went out to defund the law school. Indeed, some politicians called for New York’s governor to withhold public funds from any CUNY campus allowing incendiary rhetoric at university events. In turn, this has provoked the ire of free-speech advocates such as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

Was Mohammed’s talk repugnant, inaccurate, unfair, mostly baseless, etc.? No doubt. While she attacked Israelis, could she not spare a phrase condemning Palestinians for killing a British-Israeli mother and daughter in April? That attack prompted Israel to retaliate by killing the assailants. Indeed, any honest account of the Israel-Palestinian conflict would have to address both sides in a very ugly and long conflict.

Mistaken as she was in so many ways, it is nonetheless understandable for someone to want to defend her community. But, as a lawyer supposedly trained to see all sides of an argument, she left glaring gaps in a one-sided tirade that had all the nuance of a freshman diatribe. It fell far short of what one might expect from a law school graduate. If they watched the spectacle dispassionately, CUNY Law faculty members would find little to be proud of in Mohammed or in the training they gave her.

Still, the contretemps offers an important lesson for media and the academy. Free speech is messy and may include ignorance, bias and many other ugly things. But, as FIRE argued in its letter, “At CUNY, if the university punished speech that is anti-Israel, it would open the door to punish speech that is anti-Palestinian, anti-conservative, anti-liberal, and more.”

The extensive coverage, particularly by some of the more level-headed outlets on the right, suggests that the best response to the ignorance Mohammed demonstrated is intelligent speech. With her vile remarks, Mohammed has given her school quite a black eye and shown how poorly CUNY and other schools she attended have served her. It may be that a hard look at CUNY Law is warranted and one would hope the press – on all sides – would provide that. If her talk serves any useful purpose, it would be in triggering such examinations.

A Local Newspaper with a Taste for Wit

The Sort of Thing that Matters Outside the Big City

Folks who work for Big Media in such places as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., tend to think their outlets produce the only news that matters – or at least the only stuff that is interesting. So, every once in a while, it’s helpful to get out into what people elsewhere in the U.S. regard as real America to see what folks are really concerned about.

I just got back from a few days in Moab, Utah, where I came across a most intriguing weekly paper (and it’s actually a newspaper, though it also boasts a website). This was the March 31-April 6 edition of what was flagged “Moab’s Un-News” on the outside, but which admitted to being the Moab Sun News on an inside page.

The cover page included a most illuminating piece on how Utah Gov. Spencer Cox plans to stave off the drying out of the Great Salt Lake by distributing absorbent garments to residents that are designed to collect bodily moisture. Once filled with sweat, the garments will be squeezed directly into the lake. “I just hope the folks down south are wearing their deodorant,” one lakeshore denizen was quoted as saying. “I’m afraid the water will be too stinky for us to boat in.”

Another piece told of how tourists would be shuttled away from such sites as the [incredibly stunning] Arches National Park and brought to Moab businesses so they could “watch skilled dishwashers do their thing, or even shadow the housekeeping staff in the hotels they’re already staying in!,” one county official said. This piece was headlined “Economic De-Diversification efforts begin, Tourists forcibly funneled to local businesses.”

Of course, this was an April Fools edition (as the editors acknowledged in small print above their ersatz flag). It was the sort of spoof that no serious-minded urban paper could pull off, but which works just fine in a town of 5,462 residents (and many more visitors). It’s a reminder that not all the news needs to be deadly serious (and indeed far too much is).

Inside, the editors promised that “the rest of the content in this paper is as truthful as we can make it.” And, indeed, there were legit stories, such as one on the city’s budget (suggesting it could be problematic because revenue would be $2.3 million short of what departments asked for) and another on a school district nurse who helped to get needed shots for unvaccinated children whose families were short on money or transportation. A feature profiled a local nonprofit that provides science education and outreach programs.

Another intriguing feature discussed a most peculiar phenomenon – an academic piece from www.theconversation.com that reported the finding by researchers at Wayne State and Auburn universities that female Airbnb hosts in the U.S. on average earn 25% less than their male counterparts. The average nightly rate of a female host’s listing was $30 cheaper than those of male hosts, the researchers reported. And this was so even though women made up 53% of hosts and had slightly more valuable properties than male hosts. The authors didn’t explain this discrepancy, but they suggested that other research found that men typically negotiate for higher pay than women and in professional fees, women tend to set lower rates.

Not only was the piece interesting in its own right, but in Moab, where Airbnb places are popular, it might have prompted a few women property-owners to up their rates. (Because I was staying in an Airbnb there, this might not be something I’d particularly like). The paper included plenty of other items of local interest such as community events, a bit of history, area sports, and a surprising number of obituaries (which, I recall from my days writing obits at a small New Jersey daily, are among the most-read sections of any local paper).

The Moab Sun News, I learned from its website, is now marking more than a decade of providing local news and material that would interest Moab residents. The paper is free, though readers on the site are asked for monthly donations of $3 to $25 or one-time donations of any amount. The paper distributes news through a weekly print edition, email newsletters, its website and social media channels.

“We are committed to helping residents get involved locally through civic engagement, publicizing events and promoting an inclusive and passionate community,” the paper says in an “about” section. “Our journalism responds to your questions and priorities and our community’s pressing needs.”

It notes that its small staff collaborates with a local radio station, KZMU, and several other outfits, including Science Moab, The Moab Museum, the Grand County Public Library, the Utah News Collective, High Country News, Writers on the Range and the Corner Post.

Maggie McGuire

I learned in a quick Google search that the paper’s editor-in-chief and owner, Maggie McGuire, bought it in 2021. She had been hired as managing editor there in 2019 after freelancing a while for the paper. Earlier in her career, she led digital strategy campaigns for nonprofits. Her work drew attention on CNN, Bitch Magazine and the Rachel Maddow Show.

According to the NewStart Alliance, both her parents worked for their hometown newspaper in Michigan. Her great-grandfather also ran a newspaper.

NewStart, as I also learned in a Google search, is a local news ownership initiative, created by West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media. It collaborates with the West Virginia Press Association. The outfit’s mission is “to recruit, train and support the next generation of community news publication owners and publishers across the country.”

McGuire was a fellow at NewStart.

“I’m excited for all the ways the paper can expand the sense of the community, (showcase) itself as a viable business, but that it also is a social good and serves a social purpose,” she told folks at the outfit. “It’s really cool. We’re not just selling burgers, so that’s rad. I’m 100 percent getting to live my values, and that’s awesome.”

Indeed, local newspapers may also sell burgers – or, at least, their advertisers do – but they are essential and terribly endangered as newspapers around the country disappear. May the Moab Sun News live long and prosper — and keep its sense of humor.

Outsiders Shine a Light on America

As far back as the 1830s, it was clear that an outsider could look at America in a fresh, independent and novel way. Back then, the keen observer of American culture was Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political scientist, historian and politician whose four-volume “Democracy in America” praised much about the burgeoning country, but also noted its flaws.

Alexis de Tocqueville

Tocqueville pointed to equality as the great idea of his era, and he thought that the United States offered the most advanced example of equality in action, as the History website summarized his work. “He admired American individualism but warned that a society of individuals can easily become atomized and paradoxically uniform when ‘every citizen, being assimilated to all the rest, is lost in the crowd.’” Trenchantly, Tocqueville also took note of the irony of the freedom-loving nation’s mistreatment of Native Americans and its embrace of slavery.

Now comes Helen Lewis, a British staff writer for The Atlantic and former deputy editor of England’s New Statesman magazine. She reports on the abundant irony, as well, in just one state, Florida. While exploring various aspects of the state’s odd culture, she casts that irony in timely political terms in a piece headlined “How did America’s Weirdest, Most Freedom-Obsessed State Fall for an Authoritarian Governor?: A journey through Ron DeSantis’s magic kingdom.”

To Lewis, Florida is “America’s pulsing id, a vision of life without the necessary restriction of shame. Chroniclers talk about its seasonless strangeness; the public meltdowns of its oddest residents; how retired CIA operatives, Mafia informants, and Jair Bolsonaro can be reborn there.” To her, the state is “the Australia of America: The wildlife is trying to kill you, the weather is trying to kill you, and the people retain a pioneer spirit, even when their roughest expedition is to the 18th hole.”

And she notes that it’s no surprise that the two top contenders for the GOP presidential nomination, Gov. DeSantis and former President Trump, both call the state home. They fit in smoothly in a place that she says “has come to embody an emotional new strain of conservatism.” She quotes Miami-based author Michael Grunwald saying: “The general Republican mindset now is about grievances against condescending elites, and it fits with the sense that ‘we’re Florida Man; everyone makes fun of us.’ ” Lewis adds that criticism doesn’t faze Florida men, but just emboldens them.

Helen Lewis

Lewis’s observations struck me as spot on because I’ve recently spent time in two corners of the place, Sarasota and Orlando. In the former, I visited relatives of my wife who live in a gated community that is a haven for retirees – one of many such guarded places in the state. It boasts palm trees, lovely ponds sometimes frequented by alligators, a couple pools and lots of paddle ball-playing oldsters who like the mix of independence and security, as well as the chances to hang out with mostly white middle class folks that such a homogenous place can offer. As for Orlando, I spent several days with grandkids at the Walt Disney World Resort, a place Lewis says “flatters its customers the way Florida flatters the rich, by hiding the machinery needed to support decadence. You absolutely never see Cinderella smoking a joint behind her castle, or Mickey Mouse losing it with a group of irritating 9-year-olds.”

Disney World, Lewis writes, “only underlines how the state is one giant theme park. She quotes Grunwald saying: “This is not a place that makes anything, and it’s not really a place that does anything, other than bring in more people.” She adds, “Having brought in those people, what Florida never tells them is no, nor does the state ask them to play nicely with the other children.” She quotes Grunwald again: “We’re not going to make you wear a mask or take a vaccine or pay your taxes or care about the schools.” (Indeed, I came down with COVID-19 in Florida and had a devil of a time persuading a doctor to give me the new drug Paxlovid. Masks were rare.)

Lewis points out various contradictions about Floridians, noting how they value freedom but call for government help when reality intrudes. “In Florida, no one wants to hear about the costs or the consequences,” she writes. “Why else would people keep rebuilding fragile beachfront homes in a hurricane zone—and expect the government to offer them insurance?” 

The central irony in Lewis’s work is that this state so eagerly embraces two GOP politicians who would do more to take power and rights away from individuals – or businesses — than any Democrat would dare to. Both Trump and DeSantis would much like to restrict voting and would curb abortion rights, for instance. Both slam “woke” culture, attacking diversity efforts in academia and business. Indeed, DeSantis recently one-upped Trump by stripping away the independence of state-funded New College of Florida, in Sarasota, as he installed cronies and right wingers such as Christopher Rufo (an out-of-stater famous for attacking critical race theory) on its board.

More than anything, though, DeSantis’s headline grabbing action at Disney World has defined him for a national audience. The governor drove legislation that ended the autonomy that Disney has long exercised over its 39-square mile tract of land near Orlando. He took control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which governs the theme parks, hotels and other amenities in the area, appointing a board to oversee municipal services. He did this to punish the Disney Co. CEO at the time for criticizing the “Don’t Say Gay” law of March 2022 that limited what public school teachers could teach.

As the Orlando Sentinel recently editorialized: “…the governor’s ego had been bruised, by tepid criticism from Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek, aimed at DeSantis’ hateful attacks on LGBTQ+ people. And though DeSantis loves to chant ‘freedom,’ he’s clearly established that freedom only covers himself and those who follow the same track. For everyone else, retribution is as swift as a whip crack.”

And, as Atlantic writer Lewis put it: “DeSantis is a politician who preaches freedom while suspending elected officials who offend him, banning classroom discussions he doesn’t like, carrying out hostile takeovers of state universities, and obstructing the release of public records whenever he can.”

As I wandered about the Disney resort parks along with thousands of others in this spring-break month, I was struck by how un-Republican DeSantis is. Disney brings in millions of visitors, employs 77,000 “cast members” in its parks, and is responsible for countless other jobs in and around Orlando. It is an economic machine without parallel. So why would any politician, much less a Republican, want to tamper with that?

Beating up on gay and transgender people and on the “woke” culture that encourages toleration seems to be a common trope for right wing politicians these days, though. DeSantis seems to be calculating that railing against Disney and other “woke” companies, as well as political stunts such as busing migrants to more liberal states will garner attention for him in the culture wars. Economics and old-fashioned GOP ideology be damned; it’s all about winning the votes of conservative straight white people who feel threatened by folks of different sexual orientations (and by diversity in all senses).

Firing back at DeSantis, Disney announced that in September it will host a conference promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the workplace. Run by the Out & Equal organization, the event is expected to draw some 5,000 people, according to the Miami Herald. The paper reported that the meeting will include dozens of corporate sponsors such as Apple, McDonald’s, Uber, Walmart, Hilton, Amazon, Boeing, Cracker Barrel and John Deere, and several government agencies, including the State Department and the CIA, which will have booths at the conference.

Disney World has committed to host a second annual meeting of the group in 2024, possibly just as DeSantis makes his bid for the White House. Slamming Disney yet again at that point could play well for him with the culturally conservative folks he needs to steal away from Trump. And, certainly, his attacks would grab more headlines. But will that tune play well for most American voters, the ones who have accepted gay marriage? The ones who voted for Obama and, more recently, for Biden? The ones who still flock to Disney World? The contest will be fascinating.  

Language is Powerful


Source: Artistry House

Language is central to journalism, of course. That’s true whether we work with the printed word or the spoken one. So, a couple very different recent pieces showcase the power – and perversion – of words. They are worth pondering as a host of new terms worm their way into the public prints and airwaves — or are likely to do so.

Both pieces are exceptional. George Packer, making “The Moral Case Against Equity Language” in The Atlantic, inveighs against the diminishment of words in so-called equity-language guides. These publications take what used to be called political correctness to new depths as they counsel myriad ways to avoid offending. “Enslaved persons” replaces “slave,” for example. And “people with limited resources” replaces “the poor.”

And, in The Washington Post’s “Much of the 2024 GOP field focuses on dark, apocalyptic themes,” Ashley Parker and some colleagues enumerate the dire warnings that some Republican candidates hope will sweep them into the White House. While reminiscent of Trump’s “American carnage,” the phrases are new and improved, as the contenders excoriate “the woke mob” and attack President Biden’s “blueprint to ruin America.”

Tackling Packer’s theme first, there’s no question that offensive terms deserve to be junked. Does anyone use “gypped” or “jewed” anymore? But language guides such as “A Progressive’s Style Guide” and the Racial Equity Tools glossary seem like parodies, as does the guidance of groups such as the Sierra Club. Did you know that “urban,” “vibrant,” “hardworking” and “brown bag” are all subtly racist? And, in San Francisco, some officials no longer refer to “felons,” but rather to “justice-involved persons.” Elsewhere, “stand” is barred for fear of offending those who can’t do so. (We should “protect our rights,” but never “stand up” for them, we’re told.)

Will such tortured or simply bland phrases slip into common parlance? It’s very likely they will, perhaps through universities where folks keenly jump on the latest linguistic trends. Many of my colleagues in the academy now routinely end their emails with counsel on which pronouns – he, she, they, ze — they prefer for themselves. And how long will it be before The Associated Press Stylebook embraces the new lingo, just as it grew to love “they” instead of “he or she?” Going even further, NPR nowadays seems to refer to every individual as “they,” even when he or she is named and his or her distinctly gendered voice is aired (I keep waiting for the second voice to chime in).

Certainly, language must evolve. And dehumanizing or pejorative terms are best sent the way of Shakespeare’s obsolete phrases. AP, for instance, is correct to ban “illegals” and “illegal immigrant,” preferring the wordy but more precise “immigrants lacking permanent legal status.” And the outfit wisely and sensitively favors “people with disabilities” or “disabled people” over “the disabled.” In a recent class, one of my talented students educated me when she said the term “the Blacks” or “Blacks” made her skin crawl; “Black people,” she held, makes it clear we are dealing with people, not objects. That seems like something always worth remembering, whatever group we deal with. For that matter, if someone wants to be called “they,” instead of “he” or “she,” that seems fine – just don’t mandate such vagueness for everyone.

For his part, Packer offers trenchant insights into the motivations and troubling effects of the latest language distortion. “The rationale for equity-language guides is hard to fault,” he writes. “They seek a world without oppression and injustice…. Avoiding slurs, calling attention to inadvertent insults, and speaking to people with dignity are essential things in any decent society.” But the risk is that soft or absurdly complex terms serve to mask the truth. As he writes, prison is no less brutal for “a person experiencing the criminal-justice system.” And obesity isn’t any healthier for people with “high weight.”

Source: DemCast

As for the political distortions that Parker et al. point out, it was shocking to many when Trump’s belittlement of his opponents and his bemoaning of America’s state under President Obama helped him win in 2016. Denigration in the coarse terms he used was uncommon among serious candidates in recent political history (though not in the earliest days of the Republic, of course). Nowadays, ridiculing and labeling one’s competitors is as common as Congress members indecorously (and inaccurately) shouting “liar” at a president in a national speech. Trump was said, by his supporters, merely to be telling it like it is, but was referring to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” just telling it more like racists would have it?

Parker’s report, describing how GOP aspirants are busy alerting us all to how Democrats plan to “ruin” and “destroy” America, offers a distinctly post-2016 take. Nikki Haley recently warned that “the Democrats are destroying our people’s patriotism and swapping it out for dangerous self-loathing.” Ron DeSantis exalted his state, Florida, as an alternative to a Democratic “dystopia, where people’s rights were curtailed and their livelihoods were destroyed.” And Trump menacingly asserted that he would be “your warrior” and “your justice,” vowing: “And to those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.” It was only he who could “fix it” in the nation’s last presidential election, of course.

Yes, some Democrats are indulging in strong language, too, but does much of that not seem more rooted in reality? With the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection still top of mind, Biden recently intoned: “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” Hyperbole? Perhaps not, in light of the aims of those who invaded the Capitol dressed in military garb and wielding staves and pepper-spray as they called for the execution of the Vice President.

What’s unsettling about the GOP rhetoric, in addition to its heat, is that it seems untethered to facts or events. Jobless rates remain at historic lows. Patriotism remains in vogue in both parties. Rights – to such things as voting and abortion – would not be curtailed by Democrats, in fact, but very much would be limited by Republicans. And as for Trump’s seeming intention to be everyone’s “justice,” is he not really just hoping to wreak vengeance on those he believes have wronged him?

In the past, heated political language could be easily dismissed, especially when read critically in print or avoided by national TV networks. Nowadays, in our conflict-driven cable TV world, it gets lots of airplay. The more vile the crack, the more attention it gets, stoking the anger of the apparently very many angry folks out there. Such language helped get an otherwise undistinguished New York developer and political naif elected once already. For better or worse, it may help him – or an imitator of his — get to the White House once again.

Source: Fluency King

The job of the media, however, is to point out when such language goes over the top. When it’s baseless, that needs to be illuminated. And, as they do so, the media need, too, to shun euphemism and vagueness (indeed, Packer’s piece is titled “The Moral Case Against Euphemism” in the print magazine, but the editors were likely mindful of search engines in retitling it online). Clarity and plainspokenness do not mean coarseness and, indeed, they are the stock-in-trade of good journalism.

Is J School Moral?

Source: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

When I began this blog back in 2009, newspapers and magazines were endangered, journalism jobs were disappearing and students were rethinking their futures. It was all enough to make me wonder whether keeping J Schools open was immoral. After all, how could we ethically take money from students, train them for the fading types of careers we older journalists had enjoyed, and send them out to flip burgers instead of produce news stories?

Now, as my time in academia is nearing its end, many things have gotten worse. Newspapers and magazines continue to die, journalism jobs continue to fade away (or get hacked away by vulture capitalists and others), and J School students are wise to think about alternative futures. So, the question is even more compelling: is it moral for J Schools to stay open?

My answer then – and still – is yes. Why? Well, first, while lots of traditional journalism jobs are going away, alternative media outlets have been surging. Online outfits, often operating as nonprofits, have sprouted all over the country. Many of them cover things more narrowly than general-interest newspapers, focusing on state legislatures, for instance. Some for-profit ventures, with broader missions, have emerged, too.

There has been so much growth that I led a special-topics course about it in the spring of 2022. I had many leaders of such programs speak to my students. They hailed from new outfits such as The Texas Tribune, The Colorado Sun, Nebraska Examiner, Flatwater Free Press, The Oaklandside, and Boulder Reporting Lab and older ones taking innovative paths, such as Chicago Public Media. Sure, such outfits will provide fewer jobs than the once-robust newsrooms veteran faculty members were used to, but as fewer students seek traditional reporting jobs, the smaller numbers are tolerable.

And let’s not forget the big-name outfits, whose brands have become only more important lately. Even more than before, the big-name outlets are available to students. Yes, The Washington Post and even The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are under pressure. But they still offer opportunities, especially internships. And specialized media, such as Bloomberg News and Reuters, remain vibrant, thank you.

Second, J School is not just about job training for reporters. Most students in such schools nowadays major in PR and advertising, where opportunity abounds. And, within journalism, the skills students acquire would serve them well in whatever field they go into. These skills include researching, analyzing, seeing different viewpoints and writing clearly. Remember that critical thinking – in such short supply throughout society – is at the base of what journalism faculty teach.

Source: Columbia Journalism Review

J School remains great preparation for particular professions, too. Several of my students went into law, for instance (some did so after stints in journalism and some went directly to law school). The skills they learned in our classes were essential. Similarly, some of my business journalism students went into accounting and related fields, where their writing skills were enhanced by training they got from us.

Think about the parallel with another endangered academic species – the English major, my own focus as an undergraduate. I studied the works of 18th and 20th century writers, in particular – works with as much practical value as philately, at least in terms of occupations. And yet, the tightly written prose and verses of Swift, Pope and Johnson taught me how to write with economy. Certainly, the work of Hemingway – who got his professional start as a reporter — was inspirational and worth trying to emulate.

For a time, I considered grad school in English, even gaining admission to a fine program. But the paucity of academic jobs on the horizon in the field back then (in the 1970s), helped me to choose graduate J School instead. Much as my heart may have been in literature, the public prints were my destiny. Even so, that training in the most impractical area of English proved helpful – enriching me personally and professionally.

Source: Study.com

Moreover, J Schools usually require students to take many courses outside of the field. The way I described this to prospective students was that journalism classes can teach you how to say something well, but other academic areas help give you something to say. Along with Journalism 101, students should take classes in such areas as law, business and economics. Indeed, the most intellectually adventurous might want to double-major in English.

So, should J Schools endure? Is it moral to train students in journalism? I believe so. The faculty must keep close tabs on the rapid changes in the field and make sure students are equipped with the skills they will need. But the core skills remain essential, whether the students wind up covering news, toiling in the courts, running businesses or doing anything else where good writing and clear thinking are vital.