Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Op-ed: How to smear, Times-style

A lot of people wonder what could be more insulting than the New York Times stationing an American correspondent with the surname of McKinley in Mexico? Possibly one with the last name of Wilson?

It's an interesting sort of "reporting" that emerges from Mexico. Bully club style, the region's scolded and berated -- such as the tizzy the paper worked itself into when it appeared Vincent Fox's wife might run for office or the "literary critic" book review of a novel co-written by Zapatista Subcommander Marcos. The coverage doles out air kisses to our bully acting as ambassador and more recently to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (someone the paper was initially against -- but never look for consistency in Times reporting from this region --
coverage which appears to be based upon a paternalistic sense of outrage more than anything that resembles actual reporting).

James C. McKinley, Jr. offers up "At a 60's Style Be-In, Guns Yield to Words, Lots of Words."
The headline, which McKinley's not responsible for, clues you in to what awaits. (I have no problems with a Be-In but the Times does and the headline, like the article, is meant to ridicule.)

Amping up the melodrama in a way that puts his past efforts to shame, McKinley breaks new ground with this paragraph:

The weekend gathering looked like a cross between the Woodstock concert, a Grange Hall meeting and a convention of Che Guevara fans. At times it looked as if a public hearing in the East Village had been transported to a horse pasture in the rugged green mountains here.

(The intended audience for the Times is supposed to chuckle at the above.)

Now an editor might turn it down a notch on such excessive prose, but when they cover Mexico, the Times prefers to amp the drama and filter out reality. Which is why a basic question is never asked about the above paragraph: Well does it look like a cross between your catch all list in the first sentence or not? (It's really bad writing. Forget the content and just focus on the logic -- or 'logic' -- in the two sentences. It can't look like something and then, a sentence later, "at times" look like something else. "At times" needs to be included in the first sentence for the second sentence to work on any logical level. It's like saying "The earth moves round the sun." followed by "At times the earth moves round Mars.")

You get lines like the following: "Marcos, who may be the only man in history to make a ski mask and pipe look sexy."

Who said that? It's meant to cause laughter among a certain set. But who said it? Because this is reporting and not op-ed.

". . . a panoply of left-leaning folks on the fringe of Mexican politics " -- that clause is really important to the Times, specifically "on the fringe."

While titlating the intended reader of the Times with tales of "lesbian anarchist," "polysexuals,"
"a collective of witches" and so much more, McKinley never finds the time to inform the reader what issue Marcos has with Lopez Obrador.

(Among other things, Marcos feels that Lopez Obrador and the PRD sold out the legislation, backed by Vincent Fox in 2001, that would have aided the indigenous people. There's also the issue of Lopez Obrador's worshipping at the alter of the free market and privatization.)

By tone and word choice, McKinley signals to the intended reader that Marcos and the Zapatista are to be ridiculed and mocked:

Words there were aplenty. Rebellion was celebrated. Violence against homosexuals was decried. The mainstream media was derided as untrustworthy. The evils of capitalism were roundly criticized, while the virtues of socialism, communal farming, organic foods, same-sex marriage and human rights were expounded at length.
Some participants grew tired of waiting to speak and left early. A few questioned how they were to change the Constitution without forming a political party. Several despaired at all the high-sounding speeches.

And it's "news." Not op-ed. The Times doesn't use pad and pen to report on Mexico, they use a bully club. It's a paternalistic approach which, in good times, means a gentle push or, in bad times, full blown mockery and derision. Again, let's note, this occurs in supposed reporting.

"Words there were aplenty" McKinley guffaws. Laughs on McKinley because in his attempt to turn in a P.J. O'Rourke style prose essay for Rolling Stone on the state of Mexico, he's forgotten he's supposed to be reporting for the New York Times. (McKinley probably curses himself for not finding some local phrase to build it upon, as O'Rourke once did on another region, repeatedly, with "vomit comet.") He's the one piling on the "words" "aplenty" so maybe Freud was right on one thing, the criminal's compulsion to confess? Or maybe it's merely projection on the part of McKinley?

Francisco dubbed Juan Forero "the littlest Judy Miller" and I agree with that. But Forero (with his committment to, and efforts to push, the Reagan views of Latin America) gives me a migraine when I bother to read him. McKinley's a different sort of "reporter." He's given a wide berth to write random musings (that then pass for reporting) as long as he remembers he's to mock and bully in a way that's in keeping with the paper's semi-liberal view on social issues and neolib view on economics.

It doesn't appear to matter that McKinley's informed readers of nothing. There's not one concrete fact informing readers of why Marcos and the Zapatistas are bothered by current situations. (McKinley asserts that he couldn't get an interview with Marcos, then goes on to pull quote him for laughs. Having failed to present Marcos' view, he doesn't have any trouble then airing speculation on the part of those who question Marcos' motives.) As long as he manages to ridicule the event, the Times appears happy to run it and call it reporting.

There's a very xenophobic attitude coming out in the reporting from Mexico. (Or "reporting.")

Today on Democracy Now!:

Wed, August 31: On the last day of Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside President Bush's estate in Crawford, Texas we look back at the day her son Casey was killed in Sadr City, Iraq on April 4, 2004.

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