A Bloggy Puttanesca
(A staple in my house since my single years, a puttanesca is a cheap, low-class pasta dish that clears out little bits of other stuff from the fridge you are trying to get rid of.)
The Media & Trayvon Martin -- Of all the various parties I hear criticized about the Martin/Zimmerman case, the one that I find the most confusing is the widespread condemning of the media. (Actually, the media is the second most confusing. But I’m choosing not to count those who are are claiming the most criticism should be leveled at Martin himself for not looking like a younger black man.)
Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that it was the sensational nature of the story that got the media’s attention. Had all the various players in Martin’s shooting been the same race -- white, hispanic or black -- it’s hard to imagine the national media (and its viewers) would have cared nearly as much. Sad but true. But regardless of the reasons they came to the dance, the fact remains that they came -- and they managed to create actual journalism in spite of themselves.
Entertainment aside, the media works best when it collects and disseminates accurate and relevant information that the powers that be have a vested interest in keeping hidden from the public. That’s exactly what happened in the Martin case. The police did no real investigation of a kid being shot, citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law -- which itself was passed more as a political tool than an attempt at crime prevention. In the Martin case, either the police were incompetent and/or dangerously prejudicial, or a law passed for campaigning purposes is potentially harmful to the community. (Or maybe both.) Without the media firestorm, silly as it has been at times, neither potential flaw in the system would be examined.
The media did exactly what they were supposed to do. Good on them.
Apple, Chinese Workers, and This American Life -- The media has given embarrassingly little coverage of the retraction of the story on Apple’s factories in Foxconn, China by NPR’s This American Life. The original story, which aired last month, was based on reporting done by independent writer Mike Daisey. Daisey has turned his investigative journalism into a one-man theatre show in order to raise awareness of the working conditions of the people that make your iPad and iPhone.
The original episode, which I heard before the retraction, was as grim as it was riveting. Armed guards, government issued blacklists of employees that spoke out against illegal activities, children working 80 hour weeks, and toxic conditions that led to people being crippled at an early age were among the many everyday life activities at Foxconn witnessed by Daisey. The reason for the retraction? It turned out that almost all of the story was made up. An NPR reporter who was stationed in China heard the piece, and was sure that it was fabricated. This reporter tracked down the translator/guide Daisey used and verified the story was a complete fiction, and then contacted TAL host Ira Glass. TAL devoted an entire show to the retraction, noting what was definitely factually wrong, what was most likely factually wrong, how TAL’s staff allowed themselves to be fooled, and looked to paint a more accurate picture of what life in a Chinese factory might be like. If you have a chance, I urge you to listen to the second episode where the story is retracted. It’s actually more riveting than the original fictional episode. It resonates with me on two fronts:
First, even though they got caught with it’s pants down this entire fiasco is less a sign of TAL’s shoddy journalism, and more an example of why it is so head and shoulders above just above anyone else in the news infotainment world today. Honestly, can you imagine Glenn Beck devoting an entire program to a story he reported on being proven wrong? Or Keith Olberman? Or Bill O’Reilly? Or Rachel Maddow? The media needs more of TAL’s willing humility in the face of accuracy.
However, the really fascinating part of the retraction episode comes from the interview with Daisey himself where he is questioned about the accuracy of his claims. As evidence is brought before him he slowly admits that much of what he reported was made up. (Tellingly, he only admits to the things that have been categorically proven to be fiction; those that just strongly appear to be lies he continues to claim actually happened. He is not remotely convincing in these claims.)
What’s striking is that despite his admission that the facts are made up, he continues -- sincerely, I believe -- to maintain that the entire story is True. For Daisey, what is True is that Apple is an evil corporation committing evil acts upon an innocent people; therefor facts that do not underscore this narrative are themselves enemies of Truth.
I will do a longer post on this over the next week, but I must say in our era of increasingly market-driven information and political media, I think that we are all far more like Daisey than we feel comfortable admitting. Hell, the Martin case alone seems to have been one giant case of people who knew the Truth before the shooting happened: Depending on the pundit, that Truth might have been that all white policemen are racists, or that there are no white racists anymore, or that anything bad that happens to kids is the fault of gansta rap, or whatever. As they have “reported” on the Martin shooting, pundits and TV/radio infotainment hosts on both sides have happily embraced internet rumors and discarded actual facts that did not speak to these Truths. What is the difference between these news-media staples and Daisey, really, other than the convenience that they lack an Ira Glass to grill them and hold them accountable on air?
I’ll have more to say on this in a longer post. But for those bored and looking for a way to pass an hour this weekend, I wanted to give a shout out to the TAL piece.
Family Values Ought to Mean Valuing Families -- When memos from the National Organization for Marriage were unsealed by federal court as part of an ongoing investigation, it was the internal strategy to turn blacks and gays against one another that got all the attention. Which seems odd, since this came as a surprise to exactly nobody. What was far more worthy of shock and condemnation was the attempt to use $120,000 to identify and lure children of gay couples to go on camera and condemn their parents for future advertisements. You know, to promote healthy, loving families and all.
That’s all I’m going to say about that. Either you just intuitively understand why you should get your own circle of Hell for implementing such a plan, or you don’t. But the next time someone tells me how important outlawing SSM is for the sanctity of the family unit, it will be hard to hear anything other than my memory of this NOM strategy plus blah, blah, blah.
Justified -- Madmen, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead get all the pixels on the internet (here included), but FX’s Justified deserves just as much attention. The Elmore Leonard vehicle, which centers around the deeply flawed but still unbelievably cool US Marshal Raylan Givens, continues to have the best story-arc TV villains since whenever Joss Wedon was last on the air -- and this year’s two additions to the Rogues Gallery are no exception. Mykelti Williamson’s Ellstin Limehouse is that rare baddie that is so part of the natural balance of things around him that you find yourself almost rooting for him; Neal McDonough’s Robert Quarles is so awesomely and simultaneously chipper and creepy that it’s hard to remember he’s not a Joss Whedon character.
If you haven’t seen the it, I encourage you to check it out on Netflix, On Demand, or even the FX website.