Lindsey Graham precisely proves Chuck Hagel’s point.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh2A7BR1PZc]

Is there a greater moron in the United States Senate than Lindsey Graham? (OK, yes, actually. But he certainly seems to be gunning for Idiot in Chief here.)

The decline of Boston sportswriting

Alan Siegel explores the reasons for the plummeting quality of Boston’s sports scribes:

The Boston sports media, once considered one of the country’s best and most influential press corps, is stumbling toward irrelevance. The national media not only seems to break more big Boston sports stories than the local press, but also often features more sophisticated analysis, especially when it comes to using advanced statistics. To put it bluntly, “The Lodge”—as Fred Toucher, cohost of the 98.5 The Sports Hub morning radio show, mockingly refers to the city’s clubby, self-important media establishment—is clogged with stale reporters, crotchety columnists, and shameless blowhards. Their canned “hot sports takes” have found a home on local television and talk radio, but do little but suck the fun out of a topic that’s supposed to be just that. And we haven’t even gotten to Dan Shaughnessy yet.

Ah, Dan Shaughnessy. Someday, when I have more time, I’ll devote a longer post to the enormous pile of rubbish that constitutes his writing portfolio. I just don’t have time today.

Stop politicizing everything? As if.

Michael Moynihan seems to have woken up on the wrong side of his bed. (On Monday, that is. At 4:45 AM EST, when his article was posted. So maybe he didn’t sleep at all.) In a rambling complaint about people who complain about movies and TV shows for various reasons, Moynihan wrote:

There is a simple lesson in all of this: if you are trawling for readers, they can be reliably attracted by accusing films and televisions shows (Argo, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, Girls, The Daily Show, American Idol, The Muppets, Homeland, The Help—a depressingly long list) of encouraging torture, war, anti-capitalism, Islamophobia, sexism, and racism. An accusation precipitates a flurry of tweets and blog posts (“I can weigh in on this; I’ve seen that movie!”) followed immediately by mainstream-media reports on the roiling “controversy.” Everyone gets provocative headlines; everyone gets page views; everyone leaves unsatisfied.

Despite a column headline that name-checks Django Unchained but then fails to mention the movie anywhere other than in the above-quoted parenthetical, and despite the fact that this very same parenthetical — consisting of a litany of film and TV titles that mostly go unmentioned for the remainder of the article — quite conveniently doubles as SEO-bait itself, the only real common thread uniting commentary on Lena Dunham’s Girls and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is that both are well-publicized pieces of entertainment whose content inspires both slavish devotion and vehement disgust.

In other words, they’re popular. Other than that, there’s not much of a similarity, despite Moynihan’s increasingly strained attempts to prove the contrary. The primary critique of Girls, to which Moynihan devotes a significant portion of his article, relates to the series’ unapologetically white, bourgeois sensibilities — with plenty of twentysomething angst and daddy’s-girl entitlement syndrome to go around.

Like Moynihan, I find some of the more common criticisms of Girls to be repetitive and uninspired (a characterization, incidentally, I’d apply in good measure to the show itself). The cries of “where are the black girls?” sound a lot like “concern trolling” to my male Caucasian ears, but then…exactly. Who knows? As I see it, it’s Lena Dunham’s show, it’s Lena Dunham’s friends, and if they all happen to be white, well…it’s probably because that’s a pretty realistic portrayal of how middle- to upper-class cliques work in real life.

They’re also caricatures of whiny, self-absorbed, only-child, Upper East Side self-actualizers whose endless navel-gazing manages to stir just enough stale air to create a mildly entertaining storyline with enough awkward sex to compile a “Best Of” YouTube hit by now. In other words, if you’re going to ask about the racial component, you’ve got to start asking about everyone else the show is ignoring too. Which, as far as I can tell, is pretty much all of us.

Zero Dark Thirty — which, I must here disclaim, I have not watched — is something very different. And that Moynihan can’t distinguish between the two types of critiques is worrying. The film’s detractors are not, as his headline declares, “politicizing everything.” It’s simply mind-boggling to me how a movie that depicts a narrative beginning on September 11th and more or less ending with Osama bin Laden’s capture, interspersed with generous helpings of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other such light-hearted curiosities, could ever not be political.

In fact, Moynihan’s frustration brings to mind that of the Second Amendmentists, those last remaining bastions of valor in the face of government tyranny, who — with the onset of each successive mass shooting: oh look, there’s another, and oh look, cue the gun rights violins at the Newtown hearings — unironically proclaim that gun control advocates are politicizing a tragedy.

Well, torture, too, is a tragedy. It is a tragedy on a small scale, in that it doesn’t work. But it is also a tragedy on a large scale, because it is a betrayal of values that rise above temporal considerations, like efficacy and practicality, and that represent the core of a society’s priorities. This is precisely why Zero Dark Thirty is, for many, a film worth complaining about. For all the caterwauling over Lena Dunham’s Girls, the show is ultimately a reflection of the creative energies of one particularly privileged 26-year-old. (And, by the way, my callous dismissal of both the show and its critics can itself be justifiably subjected to rebuttal on political grounds.) Zero Dark Thirty is a film that, as has been well-documented, was marketed as quasi-journalistic while its director simultaneously fended off accusations of inaccuracy by insisting that a portrayal of torture is not equivalent to endorsement. (Never mind that the portrayal itself did not comport with reality.)

Moynihan makes passing reference to the utter incoherence of his comparison:

The politicization of Zero Dark Thirty is understandable; it deals with a controversial policy furiously debated during the Bush presidency, after all. But a work of art needn’t be expressly political for the critic to bemoan its political failings.

What does it mean to not be “expressly political?” Is it not precisely into these subjectively-defined political vacuums that some of the most sinister ideologies calmly began their gestation? To get the inevitable Nazi reference out of the way, it’s not as if Hitler’s campaign against the Jews began at Auschwitz. Many unthinkable crimes spawned from the seeds of a seemingly benign origin. But if we are to take Moynihan at his word — and, I presume, to accept his necessarily arbitrary line separating “expressly political” works of art from all the rest — how will we then guard against the gradual incursion of bad ideas into our culture?

The short answer is: we can’t. But if the vitriol surrounding Bigelow’s movie is “understandable,” why bring it up at all as an example of the politicization of pop culture? Why, especially, bring it up as a supporting argument for the overemphasis on racism in our movies and TV shows? And, lastly, why compare the critiques of this film to those radically different ones of Girls?

Moynihan’s contempt for both brands of the pop culture commentariat is palpable: “And on it goes, with countless writers, most not long out of college, on the hunt for smelly little heterodoxies, demanding that art be deployed in the service of the people.” But it is his own nonchalance that allows previous political taboos to enter the mainstream. It’s too late to stop politicizing everything. But it’s even worse to sit out the debate.

Just say no to drugs

Jerry Saltz was taken aback by the new Henri Matisse exhibit at the Met:

Midway through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Matisse: In Search of True Painting,” I ran into the painter Alex Katz. He looked at me, agog, and said, “I thought I was going to faint when I saw these paintings.” He gestured at two Matisse still lifes from 1946. Already in a stunned state of my own, I followed his lead and gulped at the revolutionary pictorial power and radical color radiating off these two powerhouses, one dominated by a celestial red and an arrangement on a table. In the foreground were either a dog and cat chasing each other or a pair of animal-skin rugs.

Then I looked at the painting next to it. I saw the same still life depicted on the same table with the same vase, goblet, and fruit. But this version was totally different. Where the dog and cat were, there’s an ultraflat still life within the still life. It’s so categorically compressed that it looks less than two-­dimensional — maybe one-half-­dimensional. I thought I, like Katz, might pass out.

Pay no mind to the man behind the curtain.

The Guantánamo Bay trial proceedings for alleged terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed hit a speed bump on Monday:

The courtroom is set up so that spectators behind sound-proof glass can listen to an audio feed with a forty-second delay. As Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald describes it, “A red emergency light spins in court when a censor at the judge’s elbow hits the mute button to prevent someone from spilling national security secrets.” At just before 2:30 P.M., David Nevin, one of the defense lawyers, who was addressing a brief having to do with C.I.A. secret prisons, said he understood that “we are going to do this in a 505 and that some portion of this will turn out to be closed or secret.” As he pronounced “secret,” the light began to flash and white noise filled the audio feed, as if it had been a trigger word—even though neither the security officer or the judge had touched the button. That’s when the judge, James Pohl, realized that he was not, as he’d thought—given the trappings and the job title—running his own courtroom. Some unknown person in another room was, and was apparently able to turn the audio off or on, or, for all anyone knew, pipe in the soundtrack to “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Judge Pohl, who is also an Army colonel, was confused and angry.

“If some external body is turning the commission off under their own view of what things ought to be, with no reasonable explanation because I—there is no classification on it, then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off,” the judge said.

David Brooks wakes up, smells the coffee

From yesterday’s column:

On the surface, Republicans are already doing a good job of beginning to change their party. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana gave a speech to the Republican National Committee calling on Republicans to stop being the stupid party, to stop insulting the intelligence of the American people.

Representative Paul Ryan gave a fine speech to the National Review Institute calling for prudence instead of spasmodic protest. The new senator for Texas, Ted Cruz, gave a speech to the same gathering saying the Republicans should be focusing on the least fortunate 47 percent of Americans.

But, so far, there have been more calls for change than actual evidence of change. In his speech, for example, Jindal spanked his party for its stale clichés but then repeated the same Republican themes that have earned his party its 33 percent approval ratings: Government bad. Entrepreneurs good.

In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them.

One wonders where this suddenly reasonable columnist has been since last November 6th.

Learning the wrong lessons from The Atlantic’s Scientology debacle

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism dean Edward Wasserman is dismayed over the consensus takeaway from the recent Atlantic advertising snafu, in which a glowing article written and paid for by the Church of Scientology was presented almost exactly as if it were regular journalism:

In the aftermath of this embarrassment, some of the criticism the Atlantic received was surprising, and focused on how poorly the magazine played the “native” game: Nobody, it was said, could mistake the Scientology missive for an article the Atlantic might actually have run. The magazine erred, Charlie Warzel of AdWeek wrote, by “licensing uninteresting and bizarre content that falls well outside the walls of the magazine’s brand.”

Economist magazine managing director Paul Rossi advised publishers to start thinking like ad agencies and get better at concealment: “The real issue is how do  you make content that’s compelling to a reader that doesn’t feel like an ad. That’s the real challenge.”

So the problem was that the deception was inept and easily detected. If that’s it, the solution, it seems, would be to integrate paid persuasion seamlessly into editorial offerings, so that reader resistance is allayed and the ads go down smoothly.

But that’s not it. The more basic problem, as Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman wrote, is an “existential” one. In that regard, “native advertising” succeeds precisely because it’s so skillfully wrought that it’s imperceptible as advertising, and joins the flow of information and commentary that readers accept as part of the chronicle of topical realities that they trust the news media to provide.

False equivalency and the White House: Obama becomes a media critic

From the newly released New Republic interview with the president, Obama had some thoughts on the prevailing practices of today’s political media:

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you’ll see more of them doing it…

The same dynamic happens on the Democratic side. I think the difference is just that the more left-leaning media outlets recognize that compromise is not a dirty word. And I think at least leaders like myself—and I include Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in this—are willing to buck the more absolutist-wing elements in our party to try to get stuff done…

In fact, that’s one of the biggest problems we’ve got in how folks report about Washington right now, because I think journalists rightly value the appearance of impartiality and objectivity. And so the default position for reporting is to say, “A plague on both their houses.” On almost every issue, it’s, “Well, Democrats and Republicans can’t agree”—as opposed to looking at why is it that they can’t agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing?