Lord knows I wrote enough, probably more than enough, about self-congratulatory contrarianism the other day. But while Paul Shirley’s great-sucking-abyss of a career-killer about Haiti was probably not worth the words I spilled on it — and anyway, is a week old, and thus occurred in 1972 in Internet Standard Time — and certainly was vacuous, it didn’t take place in a vacuum. (Alternate bon mot: “while it reflected a great emptiness on its author’s part, it didn’t take place in a vacuum”) (you’re welcome).
While Shirley’s spectacularly ill-chosen subject matter (certainly) earned him a pink slip from the WWL, this sort of fake-fearless yeah-I-said-it stuff is not going anywhere — his was the dumbest recent example of what is an ascendant style, and his punishment had more to do with his incredibly poor judgment than boldly telling readers what imaginary elites don’t want them to hear. Thanks to Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins’ recent piece on the Focus on the Family Super Bowl ad Tim Tebow cut with his mother Pam, we have a new (if slightly less morally egregious) look at the bold new face of Glib Imaginary Journalistic Courage. Sally?
I’ll spit this out quick, before the armies of feminism try to gag me and strap electrodes to my forehead: Tim Tebow is one of the better things to happen to young women in some time. I realize this stance won’t endear me to the “Dwindling Organizations of Ladies in Lockstep,” otherwise known as DOLL, but I’ll try to pick up the shards of my shattered feminist credentials and go on…
I’m pro-choice, and Tebow clearly is not. But based on what I’ve heard in the past week, I’ll take his side against the group-think, elitism and condescension of the “National Organization of Fewer and Fewer Women All The Time.” For one thing, Tebow seems smarter than they do.
Tebow’s 30-second ad hasn’t even run yet, but it already has provoked “The National Organization for Women Who Only Think Like Us” to reveal something important about themselves: They aren’t actually “pro-choice” so much as they are pro-abortion…
Here’s what we do need a lot more of: Tebows. Collegians who are selfless enough to choose not to spend summers poolside, but travel to impoverished countries to dispense medical care to children, as Tebow has every summer of his career. Athletes who believe in something other than themselves, and are willing to put their backbone where their mouth is. Celebrities who are self-possessed and self-controlled enough to use their wattage to advertise commitment over decadence.
Okay. While Jemele Hill makes similar points in a similar way in a similarly themed piece at ESPN — the groups arguing that CBS choosing to air the ad after refusing political ads in the past (and a truly bizarre ad for a gay-dating service this year) are “special interests,” and those dreaded “feminists” are again telling women that they “can’t think for themselves” — she does so far less stridently than does Jenkins. Which is not to say that Hill’s piece isn’t strident: she compares Tebow to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, before applying a ESPN Certified Authentic stamp to the kid’s concussion-prone forehead and peacing-out in classic ESPN style. If Jenkins had left it there herself, she would still have written a forgettable bit of star-stroking boilerplate, but the piece wouldn’t have made much of an impact. And “an impact” was clearly the point, here.
The Drudge Report logs many times more traffic every day than does the Washington Post. Why this is, I don’t know — I’m baffled by the Huffington Post having a readership, but Drudge’s page looks like an Angelfire page created by a 15-year-old in 1995 and features an editorial approach so dependent on innuendo, cheap heat and scurrilousness that it makes the nip-slip-reliant HuffPo look like The Economist. The Post knows this — they have a self-proclaimed Drudge-ologist on staff, so you’d hope so — and have announced in the past that Drudge is in fact their biggest driver of traffic. While Jenkins’ piece didn’t make the cut with Drudge, it did get some play on some high-traffic conservative blogs (here’s one) and a scolding from Media Matters on the left. Which is to say that, on the same bankrupt terms as Shirley’s piece succeeded, Jenkins’ piece also hit its marks — it got people mad, talking, Tweeting, whatever.
What it almost certainly did not make anyone do was think about what the actual controversy here is, or think anything other than “Lady, what are you even talking about?” Leave aside that Jenkins’ piece didn’t address the central controversy surrounding the advertisement — again, that CBS is airing this ad after opting not to air ads in the past that might’ve offended the very people who’d cheer this particular decision — and you’ve got… well, a poorly conceived, point-missing piece, but also a clumsily curmudgeonly pander, something clearly written with links, rather than argumentation, in mind. Jenkins props up some very familiar, very helpless, and very pander-y straw men — those elite feminists and PC commissars, again, telling you what you can’t do, as ever — and then perfunctorily beats the shit out of them. It’s nothing that an army of millionaire conservative pundits — squeakers who simply cannot rest knowing that a guy with a ponytail is teaching economics at a state school somewhere — don’t do every day, but it’s still something to worry about, with the obvious caveat that this is a sportswriter praising a universally acclaimed college football star, and therefore not the sort of thing that really matters very much.
But what matters about it, I think, is how clearly it reflects, again, the way that the incentives of the market are running the wrong way, and way from both quality journalism and thoughtful opinion writing. The Drudge-touted piece Reuters retracted (due to “significant errors of fact”) yesterday about “Obama’s Secret Taxes” is an obvious recent example of this. That is obviously something different than this, but at the most basic dollar-and-cent level a click is a click, and the imperatives of the news economy demand (because they reward) slipshod scandal-manufacture on the news end and this sort of audience-stroking goofery on the pundit side. In the same way that Shirley’s piece elided every ethical or journalistic consideration in favor of glib provocation, Jenkins skips everything interesting about the Tebow story in favor of handing out high fives to everyone brave enough to watch commercials with their brains off. Congratulations, then, on taking a stand against your NOW overlords, readers, and kudos for standing up to those who argue that this issue might be more complex than, as Jenkins writes, “CBS owns its broadcast and can run whatever advertising it wants.” Everyone comes out a winner, here: Jenkins takes a brave stance against powerless “elites” (and a statement of theirs that she never quotes at length), and readers get the comforting news that nothing about this story is really the point except the fact that The PC Libtards Are Trying To Censor Tim Tebow, who it turns out is a pretty stand-up dude (and a virgin, if you hadn’t heard).
All very easy, and all very, very lazy. As Brendan Flynn wrote in the email accompanying the link to Jenkins’ piece, “There are an incredible number of athletes who believe in more than themselves and who devote time, money, and their name to numerous charitable and ideological causes. Perhaps Jenkins doesn’t recognize this, because not all those athletes choose to proclaim it in their eye-black. But of course she does.” For all her unconvincing thundering about elites condescending to You, trying to tell You what to think, Jenkins’ self-laudatory pseudo-courage and transparent pandering to easy biases couldn’t be clearer, or more condescending. Or, unfortunately, make more bottom-line sense.