Subject: Go Ahead, Al, Take the Bait
Re: "Kausfiles: The Gift of Nader"
From: Ralph Nader
Date: Mon Jul 10 10:57 a.m.
Yes, yes Mickey, please persuade your friend Al Gore to do exactly what you say. Have Gore stand tall for autocratic, closed door systems of governance, called the pollution-friendly WTO and NAFTA, that permit international trade in products built by brutalized child labor. Have him defend the forthcoming entry of $7-a-day Mexican truck drivers steering their companies' poorly maintained trucks over highways in all fifty states. Have him support the death penalty system that focuses so heavily on the poor and minorities who are so incompetently defended that Mr. Gore's own allies on Capitol Hill are moving reform legislation to thwart execution of innocents. Have him explain away the documented failures of the welfare-for-the-poor reform while he supports massive subsidies, giveaways and bailouts for healthy drug, oil, coal, nuclear, banking and mineral companies. And that's just Mr. Kaus' list of boomerangs!
Thanks to your journalistic hall monitor, Timothy Noah, I've learned that I did a bad thing. I recently wrote a column in which I recounted what happened to many of the signers of Declaration of Independence. The column (and a similar version in my syndicated column) was partly inspired by an e-mail that's been going around the Web for eons. I originally ran the e-missive in a column over a year ago with full disclosure about its origins, or lack thereof.
This year, however, I decided to find out how "real" it was by checking it out on Lexis-Nexis, and as Mr. Noah points out I did a pretty poor job. The story was recounted with various attributions and in different forms in more than a dozen news outlets and one speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. I took that to mean that it was true. Considering my usual contempt for the media, that was dumb. It turns out that there was much to it that was inaccurate. And I apologize sincerely for the inaccuracy. On this score Noah's gotcha is warranted.
But Mr. Noah seems to think I should be offering mea culpas for not divulging that the e-mail partly inspired the column, calling me "dishonest." Here, I think he's off base. The (seemingly) factual content of the e-mail was similar to various articles and speeches written over the years. But how am I supposed to know that the e-mail inspired those articles or whether the articles inspired the e-mail? I get a dozen e-mails a day from people who have story ideas inspired by the Associated Press or Reuters. If it looks like a good idea, I go look up the Reuters story. If it turns out that Reuters, AP, United Press International, the New York Times et al. have run the Hillary story, I will simply say "Hillary Clinton will not be indicted," without giving credit to anyone. I do not go with the e-mail. "Cleophus Bandersnatch of East Orange New Jersey tells me that Hillary Clinton will not be indicted …" is not great journalism. And, "An anonymous e-mail tells me that X many signers of the Declaration died and Y many lost their homes …" doesn't strike me as too hot either. If I find that numerous stories recount the same facts about the signers, I will not give one of them credit because credit for historical facts need not be given.
[To reply, or to read an unedited version of this letter, click here and scroll to the bottom.]
Subject: "The Book Club" or "The Critics Club"?
Re: "The Book Club: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
From: George Leonard,
Professor of Humanities, San Francisco State University
Date: Tue Jul 11 11:29 a.m.
Judith Shulevitz writes (Tuesday's entry):
The assignment of this "Book Club" is to work our way through the new, 734-page Harry Potter novel over the course of the week. But for true mimeticism, we ought to admit that we're also doing what every other Potter fan is doing—reading the critics reviewing the book and the journalists profiling its author, J.K. Rowling.
Judith, this is an understandable professional handicap/bias on your part. In truth, no Potter fans need critics to tell them what to think, or even care what "the critics" think. The idea of Harry Potter's audience turning to the New York Times to find out if it's right to like him is hilarious. By now we almost think that English professors (in existence for 80 years, at most) made Shakespeare and Milton and Dickens and company popular. This Saturday, midnight, watching the readers snatching up the books, I realized with joy that, although my own profession (English professor) has all but destroyed itself, literature never needed us anyway and would do just fine without us.
Ken Kurson writes (Tuesday's entry):
So if Francis S. Collins pretends that this Frankenscience genome project was more holy than a despicable profit grab based on a demonstrably false premise (that there are too few people, and that people should live longer), good for the good doctor.
What an ugly comment by Mr. Kurson! How exactly is the premise that people should live longer demonstrably false? I like the idea of using government money to prolong life (especially my life, it's demonstrably true that my life is cool). We have a right and responsibility to know what makes us tick and we have a right and responsibility to use that knowledge to help people better enjoy their lives. If science produces a way for people to live longer, I will gladly participate. If you don't want to, Mr. Kurson, then don't. I'd hate to see you go, but I won't interfere. Just don't go around saying that longer lifespans are demonstrably bad—it might not seem so biting on the abstract level, but it's hurtful to individuals who are dying and would rather live.
Whether or not this new knowledge brings us a step closer to God-hood remains to be seen. Even if the answer is no, or if the question is irrelevant, it does make me happy to see that we humans are so clever, curious and philosophical that we've finally started to figure ourselves out—if not metaphysically, at least physically.