Letters from our readers.
June 13 1997 3:30 AM

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Last week in Slate, Jonathan Rauch documented former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich's fabrications in his much-touted memoir, Locked in the Cabinet. Reich to Rauch's accusations. And Rauch Reich's response.

This week the controversy continues:

Third Reich

The Jonathan Rauch vs. Robert Reich controversy captures the meaning of communication in the new world of Webzines. I don't particularly care about either party, nor do I find the substance of the controversy particularly gripping: a reporter and an ex-politician going after each other like a couple of school kids in the playground--big deal. What did matter to me was being able to access the gestalt of the experience. Sounds like psychobabble, but it means I liked Rauch's original piece, felt and understood Reich's arguments in reply to Rauch, and was able to incorporate Rauch's counter-arguments, all in what seemed like a comprehensive whole occurring at one moment in time. Sort of like playing a good point in tennis--lots of interchange and then a precise conclusion, quick and satisfying. It doesn't happen the same way in print journalism.



Rauch to Judgment

Thank you for the Rauch/Reich/Rauch dialogue. I found the Rauch counter particularly compelling since it mirrored exactly my reaction to the Reich reply. What struck me most, however, was how this little folk tale of inaccurate reporting of events illustrates a dilemma of modern life.

From my occasional role in affairs reported in the media I have drawn the general conclusion that very little reporting is 100 percent accurate. Whether the inaccuracies are intentional, mere failures to understand, or just oversimplifications in order to dumb down the message or meet space or time limitations matters not. My rule of thumb is that 80 percent "right" is way above average. How, therefore, am I ever to recognize the (minimum) 20 percent "wrong" in most articles? It is this question which, for me, limits media credibility more than any other.


--Frank Ruswick

Tales From the Trans-Crypt

This from a former chief clerk for a U.S. Senate Committee:

Both Reich and Rauch wrote wrong. Recording companies never challenge chairmen's changes. Obsequious staff often offer trimmed and tabulated transcripts, the better to butter their bosses.


In contrast to a courthouse, I can tell you that the official record of any Senate or House proceeding is what the chairman says it is. Hired recording companies make typed transcripts of what their stenographer thinks the tape recorder, supplemented by written notes, captured. This "draft transcript" goes back to whomever the senator or congressman designates for corrections. Tradition mandates that changes are assumed to be technical corrections--to set the record straight, to translate garbled portions, or to sort who said what when more than one person speaks at once.

Corrections can be complete rewrites, however. Sometimes the corrections are accurate, sometimes awful. Angry, sarcastic, or tongue-in-cheek responses are most likely to be struck from the record. Poor grammar, misspoken words, and confrontational moments between important men and women also regularly hit the cutting-room floor. Even the most ethical staff member gets to the typed transcript draft days or weeks after the event and is dependent upon his or her own memory to edit the record. The connection to the stenographer's wire has been known to fail suddenly at sensational senatorial clashes. Finally, members of the press have also erroneously visualized goings-on, especially when writing hours later.

--R.L.S. KropfTahoe City, Calif.

Jonathan Rauch replies: Committee chairmen (and privileged witnesses) do sometimes modify hearing transcripts, but not in this case: I checked the hearing transcript against a videotape.


The Village People

A coffee bar full of Gotham's hippest logicians couldn't construct a better example of the begging-the-question fallacy than Anne Hollander's lead to "Black Was Beautiful." To wit: The East Village is no more the "center of bohemia" than Colonial Williamsburg is a 17th century farming community.

Whom did Hollander see decked out in pastels? Well, there's a large young professional demographic in the East Village (you'd be surprised how few genuine bohemians can come up with $1,000 a month for a 150-square-foot studio), there's a sizable Puerto Rican population, and I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few of Hollander's "bohemians" were toting cameras and wearing bulging nylon fanny packs.

Still and all, there is plenty of black being worn in the East Village. Hollander simply picked an odd time for her fact-finding stroll. The throngs of black-clad teen-agers who flock to the East Village in the summertime to use drugs, panhandle, sleep in abandoned buildings, and drink malt liquor in Tompkins Square Park--it's sort of like camp--have yet to arrive. However, many of the East Villagers most likely to go about in black--the students at NYU, Parsons, and Pratt--are gone for the summer, squatting with their parents.

It's too bad for Hollander that the summer people are late. She might have gotten a kick out of them without having to significantly revise her argument. They are almost all white. As a rule they stick to a punk-rock look: studded black leather jackets over plaid flannels and old Bad Brains T-shirts, black jeans (torn black tights or fishnets for the ladies), safety pins through the ears and nostrils, and heavy eyeliner. They lurk outside bars and restaurants begging change from passers-by, flashing curled lips and hangdog stares, as precious in their own way as any amateur anthropologist taking her first cautious steps east of First Avenue in breathless anticipation of a walk on the wild side.

--Adam MazmanianNew York City

Double Vision

I thoroughly enjoyed Luc Sante's "Master of All He Surveys" review of Robert Hughes' American Visions program. I did want to point out, however, that Time's site is not the only place on the Web where users can read Hughes' words on the subject. The PBS/WNET American Visions piece also includes a major exhibition of over 300 pieces of artwork, accompanied by Hughes' detailed commentary (drawn from the transcript of the program). We include links to other articles by Hughes, and will be posting the transcript of a live chat conducted June 3, 1997. All in all, a great stop for the Hughesophile and the devotee of American art and culture.

--Ellen Mendlowassociate producer, American Visions Web PieceNew York City

Bullish on Pippen in the '90s

Having just read "Boycott Nike and Reebok," Robert Wright's treatise on the evils of shoe companies and their athlete "pitchmen," it becomes clear that Wright has failed to do his homework, at least with regard to the Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen.

Wright calls Pippen "reprehensible" for his failure to enter a playoff game in which the final shot was not designed for him. Firstly--not that this makes Pippen's decision any better--Pippen felt that he, ostensibly the Bulls' best player at the time, should be on the floor as an option for the last shot, not inbounding the ball. He would most likely draw a double team, freeing a teammate for the final shot, thereby giving his team a better chance to win. His behavior was indeed immature and boorish. Is it not enough, however, that he publicly apologized to his coach, his teammates, and the fans of Chicago?

Unlike many self-centered and pampered athletes of the '90s, Scottie Pippen is recognized by his peers and in the league as one of the more giving players to disadvantaged youth. Unfortunately, Pippen does not call the media to follow him around with camera crews every time he finds an opportunity to give back to the community. Is Wright aware that on Christmas Eve a couple of years ago Pippen delivered over 500 winter jackets to inner-city kids in Chicago's notorious Cabrini Greens, or that he was very upset when USA Today wrote a story about it? Is he aware that the Pippen Foundation supports reading programs for disadvantaged youth in Chicago? Does he know of all the "Pippen Parks" underwritten by Pippen in his home state of Arkansas to provide safe play environments for kids?

On more than one occasion it has been suggested to Pippen that he issue press releases to help the Robert Wrights of the world understand who he really is and the values for which he stands. His response has always been that it does not matter what people think; that he knows, and the children know, and that's what matters.

Scottie Pippen's problem is that he is a very private person--one who has learned and grown as a person. To suggest that he made a mistake by not entering a game several years ago is fair. To suggest that he is "reprehensible" is absurd.

--Peter Flack

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