Monday, October 25, 2010
All Juan, All the Time
Who's this? Pauline Kael. We'll explain.
THE PERILS OF PAULINEVIVIAN. Can't decide what order to do this in: the Setup or the Punchline. Because in this case, they're actually kind of interchangeable. In some sense, the Setup is the Punchline, and vice versa.
Oh well. I've always been a contrarian. Thus we begin with...
This weekend at Fox News has really been "All Juan, All the Time," and it was a four-day weekend at that. Since his Wednesday firing, Juan has been a guest on the O'Reilly Factor and Fox & Friends, a guest host on Friday's O'Reilly Factor, a guest on Sunday' night's Huckabee, a panelist and topic on Fox News Sunday, and a subject of discussion on Hannity, Megyn Kelly, the WSJ Report, Media Watch, and, well, every other show on Fox News. Along the way, not even a casual watcher could have missed footage of NPR's Nina Totenberg wishing that Jesse Helms's grandchildren would contract AIDS, NPR talk host Terry Gross denouncing all Republican candidates in the mid-terms as "extremists," and NPR correspondent Cokie Roberts jumping ugly on sundry Republicans about various other aspects of their evil natures.
It was all very funny, but it's hard to categorize what it was exactly in its essence. A victory lap? A show of brute force? Or, perhaps more cynically and accurately, a welcome mat for all the suddenly irate NPR listeners who had never watched Fox News before but only heard about it from NPR and the other liberal sources who have also told them how awful Rush Limbaugh is. (Whom they also know only from other non-listeners' descriptions of him.) I'm inclined to think it was all three. All payoffs of the same joke.
Because the real punchline is this: What NPR did to Juan Williams guaranteed that people who had never watched Fox News before did so this weekend, if only to see for themselves, finally, what this Great Satan of the news biz was really all about. While shooting itself in the head over its paranoia about Fox, NPR boosted the ratings of -- TA DA -- Fox News. HA HA HA.
A subtler part of the same punchline may have been that while CNN failed to cover its own controversial firing of anchor Rick Sanchez, Fox News was unafraid to recognize that its own approach to news coverage and commentary could also be a legitimate news story. For example, they booked Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who was willing to argue that NPR's blatant lefty bias was no reason for the federal goverment to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Which raises the question, What did NPR think it was doing when it fired Juan Williams? How could CEO Vivian Schiller not have foreseen the obvious but unintended consequences of her hasty action and her arrogant characterization of that action? Which leads us back to...
It's called the Kael Effect. Here's how Wiki describes the analogous event, which involved New Yorker movie reviewer Pauline Kael:
Kael is frequently quoted as having said, in the wake of Richard Nixon's landslide victory in the 1972 presidential election, that she "couldn't believe Nixon had won", since no one she knew had voted for him. The quote is sometimes cited by conservatives (such as Bernard Goldberg, in his book Bias), as an example of the alleged cluelessness and insularity of the liberal elite.
Nobody at NPR watches the Fox News Channel. Nobody they know watches the Fox News Channel. Therefore, the Fox News Channel does not actually exist as a potent media force, whatever the ratings might indicate. Somehow the reality of their dudgeon was more real than Fox News itself. ALSO therefore, a show of dominance by NPR would serve to put the hapless propagandists in their place. With one bold stroke, NPR figured it could get rid of a liberal Quisling and embarrass the sinister cabal from which he collected his 30 pieces of silver. Win-Win.
Uh, Lose-Lose. As it turns out, more people know Juan Williams from the Fox News Channel than know him from NPR. Including liberals. In fact, Fox News has as many liberal viewers as conservative viewers. Those liberal viewers no doubt regard Juan Williams as a hero who speaks truth to conservative powers like Brit Hume, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. So what kind of lefty would you have to be to (try to) lop his head off for debating conservatives in the only forum where conservatives and liberals actually do debate? Are they too ignorant to have heard of the Kael Effect? No. They're just too smart to take the lesson it offers.
Here's the kind of lefty you'd have to be to make Juan Williams the most famous black intellectual liberal in the country by attempting to humiliate and ostracize him (from the same Wiki entry that describes the Kael Effect and in the next breath tries to explain it away):
There are variations as to the exact wording, the speaker (it has variously been attributed to other liberal female writers, including Katharine Graham, Susan Sontag, and Joan Didion), and the timing (in addition to Nixon's victory, it has been claimed to have been uttered after Ronald Reagan's re-election in 1984.)
There is, in fact, no record of Kael stating or writing this exact sentiment. The story most likely originated in a December 28, 1972 New York Times article on a lecture Kael gave at the Modern Language Association, in which the newspaper quoted her as saying, "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them." [boldface mine]
The way they think. There's some difference between what Kael may have said and what conservatives like to remember. Therefore, the Kael Effect is simply an urban legend. Liberals are too smart to be taken in by urban legends. Which means they can be safely disregarded.
How it shakes out. Conservatives opine to NPR, "Your view of Fox News is like Pauline Kael's view of Richard Nixon. Just because no one you know pays any mind doesn't mean that that's the smart thing to do." To which the logical secularist replies, "That's not what Pauline Kael actually said. You're an idiot."
Well, sometimes the facts aren't exactly the facts. Sometimes there's truth in legends that aren't, strictly speaking, true. And sometimes the truth speaks more eloquently from the facts that are true: "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them."
I can feel them. A more damaging statement than anything in the urban legend. What was Juan Williams fired for? A feeling he has on planes. Why is NPR the newest laughingstock of the nation? A feeling they have about anyone who would dare to consort with conservatives. Sometimes being too smart is just plain damn dumb.
My guess is, they have "more than a feeling" right now about who conservatives are and how much power they possess.
Ignoring Nixon didn't actually help Pauline Kael. And ignoring Fox News hasn't helped NPR, either.
Further perils await. Perhaps they should get in touch with their psychiatrist. And they definitely need to fire their publicist.