Monday, November 27, 2017

The NYT really does suck: the problem with the "Nazi sweety pies we love" article.

In a scoriating essay on the NORC survey of sexual behavior issued in 1995, Richard Lewontin goes after the social sciences both for their manufacture of categories that segment their surveys and for their naïve notion that people generally report the truth about themselves on fraught issues like sex and racial attitudes to interviewers.
“It is frightening to think that social science is in the hands of professionals who are so deaf to human nuance that they believe that people do not lie to themselves about the most freighted aspects of their own lives, and that they have no interest in manipulating the impression that strangers have of them. Only such deafness can account for their acceptance, without the academic equivalent of a snicker, of the result of a NORC survey reporting that 45 percent of men between the ages of eighty and eighty-four still have sex with a partner.”
I have been thinking about the social sciences – with their faulty methodologies – and journalists – with apparently no methodology at all – lately. The latest lately is the NYT’s incredible malversation of newspaper reporting in their article about the “Nazi Sympathizer Next Door.” The article is better viewed through the parody of it published in the Atlantic, here: https://www.theatlantic.com/…/2017/11/a-nazi-cooks-…/546737/
Today, an editor of the NYT – who should be bodily prevented from writing anything for the newspaper – intervened on the “controversy” (Nazis – good or bad?) to apologize/non apologize for offending readers. Obviously, pansy readers just aren’t tough enough to read about “extremists” (not racists, mind you, or not people dreaming of building gas chambers to eliminate blacks and Jews, but “extremists”) with the sang froid of one of the Times “smartest thinkers and best writers”.
Obviously, the NYT doesn’t get it. 

The “it” here, though, is a whole work style of reporting. “It” includes the unquestioned testimony of “experts” that often season NYT’s articles, as well as the “we tell your story” stories. The problem with both is the methodological assumption that expertise answers the methodological question posed in Lewontin’s article, “How do you know it?” That it never occurs to a reporter who is “one of the smartest thinkers” at the NYT, or his editor, that a man who thinks Hitler is cool might also have other vices in the veracity department points to the fact that the smartest thinking in the NYT doesn’t go very far.
In fact, it doesn’t even go so far as to search through the NYT’s own archive and stumble on the last time American Nazis were really in the news. That period was the early sixties, the period of the civil rights movement. And the person who represented that movement was a man named George Lincoln Rockwell.
Frederick Simonelli, Rockwell’s biographer, had a longer deadline time than the NYT-er, but as a “smart thinker” one would think that the reporter would read the book and other materials about “extremists” – especially people who end up believing in a not so coded call to violence. The questions that they could ask would accordingly search out past patterns, and the story could be about the continuance or the difference with those patterns. This is not a do it yourself kind of thing.
So you think: perhaps such people have some violence in their past? Perhaps the way to know about it is to interview friends? Acquaintances, employers, teachers? Cops? Check out harassment in the town the Nazi lives in. Ask at the local temple. Ask maybe oh, some black guys about it.
Of course, for the NYT, black guys are "no angels" - for as was pointed out on twitter by many, the NYT reporting on the black victims of police shooting has been harsher than their reporting on Nazis.
I’m intentionally not linking to the idiot story itself – it is easy enough to find – but in tracing the development of the little Nazi’s political “thought”, the reporter seems uninteresting in asking whether what he has done in the world, besides putting up friendly picks of Nazis on facebook. He quotes from one of the town’s politicians about how disgusting the Nazi is, but that is it as far as the town is concerned. He quotes from one of the Nazi’s bandmates, but that is it as far as checking out the Nazi’s story is concerned. It is like one of the “sharpest thinkers” at the NYT has the reporting skills of a fourteen year old. When your story is about a guy who went to an armed rally of Nazis at Charlottesville, probably it is a good idea to start by asking about the arms he owns, not the few books you can take a picture of. It all goes downhill from the faux novel lede graf.
The best thing about the NYT is the archive. In the past, the NYT was an amazing paper. This article, written by one of the elite Timesmen, shows why that isn’t the case anymore.

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