Tag Archives: media criticism

Scholars shouldn’t read the New York Times

If Noam Chomsky had done nothing else, he would have given us one of the strongest critique of the New York Times as the guarantor of nationalist ideology for the U.S.’s professional-managerial classes. But there’s another good reason to not read the Times besides its obvious ideological problems. Namely: that it promotes an intellectual monoculture. Too many scholars and academics read it to the exclusion of anything else.

I’ve long had a memory of having seen this complaint crop up in earlier decades, and I just stumbled back across its source in a 1969 paper by Donald Campbell (in which he critiques the “ethnocentrism of disciplines” and advocates a “fish scale model of omniscience,” but that’s another story). Here’s Campbell critiquing the “scholarly ego ideal”:

While on the theme of recreational reading and the duplication of fish scales, it seems appropriate to deplore the tendency of social scientists to feel that they all should read current newspapers, particularly the New York Times. Certainly the collective perspective would be better if most spent the equivalent time with newspapers of other epochs or with historical, anthropological, archaeological, or literary descriptions of quite other samples of social milieus. Rather than the ego ideal of keeping up with the current worldwide social developments, the young scholar should hold the ideal of foregoing current informedness for some infrequently sampled descriptive recreational literature. Too often our ego-ideals settle for uniform omniscience, knowledge of both past and present, of both here and there, and too often we settle for the same pattern of compromise all our colleagues are settling for. Compromise from the Leonardesque aspiration there must be, but even in leisure reading, one can hold as ideal the achieving of unique compromises.

Source in Google Books.

American representations of French social movements

So over in France these days there’s a pretty major protest movement against efforts by François Hollande’s Socialist Party government, and its current Minister of Labor Myriam El Khomri, to reform French labor laws. These reforms go in the general direction of “fewer protections for labor, more flexibility for employers,” and the details are still being negotiated, in the face of substantial public pressure. The reforms, however, have not received a great deal of coverage in the English-language media, and what there is seems to be more about reproducing worthless stereotypes about French culture than about any actual analysis. I was going to actually write about the protest movement today, but instead I got distracted by an embarrassingly bad article in today’s New York Times, which begins with the following attempt at comedy:

It was published several years ago, but a cartoon on the front page of the French newspaper Le Monde roughly summed up the situation across the country last Thursday when several hundred thousand public employees and students went on strike.

“What if we went on strike for nothing,” asks one demonstrator in the cartoon, which appeared in 2010 during one of France’s periodic strikes. “Ah! Not a bad idea,” another answers.

OK, so the premise of the article is that this is a strike that is basically “for nothing.” The title, incidentally, was “Crippling Strike in France May Have Been About More Than Labor Law,” in case you were in any danger of taking seriously the political issues at stake here. The journalist — Celestine Bohlen, apparently a former European bureau chief for the Times — thereby makes clear from the first that the article is going to be organized around a smug, dismissive, and depoliticizing interpretation of French politics, as if strikes were simply a sort of periodic, dysfunctional gag reflex in the body politic.

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