Thursday, January 25, 2018

Cathy Newman vs. Jordan Peterson: A Study in SJW Demagoguery

Newman's interview got within a millimeter of outright self-satire

I’m surprised the Atlantic actually ran this piece on Cathy Newman’s pathetic attempt to libsplain Jordan Peterson to himself. Perhaps the magazine's editors, after all the guffaws produced by their piece last year explaining how “the solar eclipse is racist”, have had second thoughts about the SJW bandwagon and decided they didn’t want the Atlantic to be known as the go-to magazine for high-brow infants.

In any case, the Peterson/Newman interview is already a broadcasting classic. Seriously. If you haven't watched it, you've missed one of the best verbal sparring matches ever aired on television. Click here and sit back for some serious entertainment.

I agree with the Atlantic writer that one can find Newman's style of verbal demagoguery on both left and right. But who are we kidding? The "left" now never leaves this mode. Compare Newman here with the typical Tucker Carlson interview. Carlson doesn't put words in his guests' mouths: he draws them out with questions, often simple Yes/No questions, until they reveal the ugly implications of their positions. Very different from Newman and Co.

And of course Peterson is not really a figure of the right, and certainly not of the Alt-Right to which his enemies desperately try to link him. You can only place Peterson on the right if your idea of the left is Maoism. Which, in terms of cultural issues, is exactly where our left "liberals" now sit. They are identity-politics-Maoists-cum-pro-corporate globalists. Our 21st-century left manages to combine the worst of both worlds. And to hell with them. Peterson, a strong antidote to their nonsense, is a true liberal in the best 20th c. mode. We're lucky to have him.

#SmashThisFakeLeft #JordanPeterson #antiSJW #ConorFriedersdorf

Have some deadpan with your coffee. Check out Idiocy, Ltd. Dryest humor in the west.


nnnnn said...

Again I’m here to say I’m just completely flummoxed at your blindness to the fact that you yourself are doing EXACTLY what you’re decrying.

The claim you’re repeating, that the Atlantic piece’s thesis is “the solar eclipse is racist”, is a lie. It’s an unfaithful misreading of the piece that apparently originated in the Daily Caller and then spread virally across the right-wing outrage machine. In parroting it, you’ve done exactly what you accuse Newman of:

Alice Ristoph: It’s interesting, and illustrative of a sad and unjust historical legacy, that the US is still so segregated that an arbitrary 70-mile-wide zone drawn across the entire country contains almost no black people.
Eric Mader: SO WHAT YOU’RE SAYING is that the solar eclipse is racist.

I mean, the analogy is precise.

And again, here you are swallowing a piece of right-wing outrage porn whole, without thinking for yourself or doing your own research. I’m kind of embarassed for you.

Seriously, read the piece. It may not be the best writing in the world; it’s meandering and sort of impressionistic, and I’m not really sure it was the best choice to stretch this particular rhetorical device quite as far as the writer did. But it’s a ridiculous caricature to say its thesis is “the solar eclipse is racist”.

In reality, it’s actually a decently interesting point that it’s even possible to scribe an arbitrary 70-mile-wide path across the US — including a chunk of the US South — and, with only one major exception (Charleston, SC), have it contain virtually no black people. Is it not? Really, is it not at least somewhat notable that 150 years after the end of slavery, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, the country is still so thoroughly segregated that, outside of Charleston, a 2500-by-70-mile swath across the entire country inscribed by disinterested celestial mechanisms contains virtually none of the 12 percent or so black citizens?

If not, why not?

And the resonances of eclipse “totality” with the other instances of “totality” mentioned in the article — total exclusion of blacks from Oregon in its early history; the one-drop rule in Jim Crow; the total war of Sherman’s March to the Sea (along a linear path, no less) — are, if not necessarily as profound as the author seems to think, at least worthy of consideration, no?

Yes, there’s a bunch of checklist junk that made its way into the essay; I have no idea why the hell Chelsea Manning turned up, for instance. It’s dramatically overlong, and it could have used an editor. (So could we all, he wrote, some 450 words in.)

But the contention that the piece “explain[s] how ‘the solar eclipse is racist’”? Come on, Eric, do better.

Eric Mader said...

I never comment on things that I haven't read, so yes, I did read the solar eclipse piece when it was published. And I thought the piece was race-baiting junk.

Still I think you make a half-decent point here, nnnnn, namely that I'm doing the same thing I accuse Newman of, because of course the article doesn't outright say "the solar eclipse is racist". But your point is only half-decent, I'd say, because my jibe is more rhetorical, satirically couched, echoing laments frequent online, also rhetorical, that "Everything is racist". Newman's lame restatements of Peterson's points are not however so much rhetorical jibes or jokes as attempts to frame him in her narrative.

Did you actually watch the Newman/Peterson interview? What's your assessment of her interviewing skills?

nnnnn said...

OK, so help me out then: what’s the heuristic for distinguishing between caricatures of arguments which are “rhetorical” and “satirically couched” (and therefore apparently OK and a net positive for discourse), and caricatures which merely rank as “verbal demagoguery”?

As far as I can tell, the only thing that distinguishes the two categories is whether or not Eric Mader agrees with the argument. The false statement “the Atlantic explained how ‘the solar eclipse is racist’ ” — a notion that originated in the Daily Caller — sure sounds like plain demagoguery to me.

Anyway, no, I haven’t watched the interview, simply because I’m not actually contesting the assessment that Newman is a demagogic interviewer. I find it insane, however, that you add this as another entry in your catalog of “liberals are horrible, conservatives are so much better”. Fox News? Rush Limbaugh? For heaven’s sake, man, the demagoguery of gigantic chunks of the right-leaning news/entertainment industry ought to be self-evident.

I thought your point was generally “Liberal-leaning media is demagogic too, you dopes, but you’re too snooty and self-satisfied to see it’, and I take that point. But here you seem to punch right through to the idea that liberal-leaning media is “constantly in this mode”, IN CONTRAST TO conservative-leaning media. That… just isn’t consistent with reality.

Tucker Carlson: For due diligence, I watched a couple of his interviews on Friday. One was with Rob Reiner, one was with a Canadian MP (I think). In both instances, he did exactly what Friedersdorf described! “First, a person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.” I mean, that seems to be PRECISELY Carlson’s style. At least, that’s what happened in 100 percent of the clips I picked at random on Friday. If you can find a counterexample, I’d love to see it.

Bottom line: I loathe pretty much all broadcast “news” these days, for pretty much the same reasons you complain about in this post, and I’m perfectly happy to accept that the interviewer here is of a piece with most of the rest of them. There are no David Frosts any more, it seems. I blame Limbaugh and Fox News for starting it, and demonstrating that this is the key to the empire, but most of the other outlets seem to have been only too enthusiastic to fall in line with it, to their eternal shame, and to the detriment of all of us.

This is why it’s so intensely frustrating to see you engage in the very same tactic here. This is why I say, Do better.

Anyway. I appreciated Friedersdorf’s piece. I had a pretty dim view of Jordan Peterson beforehand, due exclusively to getting fed up with the first part of a video of one of his lectures that seemed to be headed down an incredibly old and tired path. But, for example, If his view is actually that pay inequality is due partly to bias, and it’s important to address and fix that, but we also shouldn’t overlook the 17 other factors that are part of it… why, I agree with that, when taken as a whole! The issue is that the same right-winger impulse that thinks it’s fair and useful to say “The Atlantic explains how the solar eclipse is racist!!!!” is also likely to take Peterson’s position and turns it into “Jordan Peterson identifies 18 causes of the pay gap, and the OVERWHELMING NUMBER have NOTHING to do with bias!!!!!”.

The result being that nobody on any side ever learns anything new.


Eric Mader said...

I don't agree with you on Carlson's tactics. In nearly all interviews, I see a questioning tactic to draw out the guest and get the guest to come down either Yes or No on this or that development of his/her views.

I never anywhere write “liberals are horrible, conservatives are so much better”. I think the Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh crowd, as well as certain figures on Fox such as Sean Hannity, approach the *talking over* mode Cathy Newman shows in her interview. But the difference is that this mode is *the* mode of virtually *all* cultural liberals now--yes, as in 95%.

What's more, if you haven't watched the Newman interview, as you admit you haven't, you can't really keep comparing me or others to Newman. Because you haven't seen how truly dismal that interview is in terms of reductiveness and tendentious restatement.

Again, there is no comparing my one-phrase quip about the Atlantic's solar eclipse piece to what Newman does in her sustained attempt to misunderstand and misstate.

Nonetheless, I always do appreciate your comments. You have in the past found real problems in my arguments. I just don't think you have this time. Be interesting to see if you have any comment on what I'm going to post in a couple minutes re: Google.

nnnnn said...

Eric. Man. Re: Carlson, watch this video, for example:

and see if you can tell me with a straight face that Carlson isn't doing exactly what Friedersdorf describes.


0:32 “Suddenly liberals in LA are warming to the idea of pointless foreign wars.”

1:30 “So there’s Morgan Freeman, working for rob reiner in league with longtime war enthusiasts in Washington […] telling us we’re at war. So when does the bombing start, exactly?”

I mean, this is PRECISELY what we’re talking about here.

Reiner, Freeman et al.: Russia has engaged in a cyberwar against us, the most worrying part of which is its cyberattacks on our democratic processes.
Carlson: SO WHAT YOU’RE SAYING is that you want to have a conventional war with Russia.

4:42 Reiner: "We're not advocating going to war, or going to a 'traditional' war..." Carlson: "Oh, so you're just saying that."

Again, LITERALLY what we’re talking about. I mean, practically word for word.

9:19 Reiner: “What I’m saying is, [China] didn’t utilize that [hacked] material to try to influence an election.” Carlson: “Ohhhh. To hurt Hillary. I get it.”

Again. (Leaving aside the blatant whattaboutism....)

Reiner: The reason Russia is more worrisome than China is that China doesn’t seem interested in influencing our elections and sowing chaos in our political systems, and Russia very much is.
Carlson: SO WHAT YOU’RE SAYING is that cyberattacks are only important when they hurt your candidate.

Come ON, Eric. It's plain as day.

Eric Mader said...

Yes, I think Carlson is doing some of this kind of thing here. There are two levels:

1) Carlson is at first exaggerating the statement in the ad "We are at war", or rather he is underlining that this statement is dangerous, given that it's coming from both mainstream liberals neocon hawks simultaneously.

2) Carlson is also to a large degree trying to steer the interview in service to the point he's trying to make re: liberals' lack of interest in China's cyber activities vs. Russia's.

But again, Carlson is not restating Reiner's every sentence and at some points he openly agrees with Reiner. He's rather prodding Reiner to address *his* point re: the silence on China. And again, this is not on a par with Newman's practice vis-a-vis Peterson in terms of sheer tendentious misunderstanding (i.e. Newman can't be as dumb as she pretends to be on Peterson's various presentations of the science; she can't be as dumb on how science works).

So I'd say it's a half-half. And: Have you STILL not actually watched that Peterson interview? You should. It's fascinating on multiple levels.


nnnnn said...

So, I guess I’m having trouble tracking what your actual point is.

I’ve already stipulated to the fact that this Newman person is often showing bad (tendentious, demagogic, whatever) interview technique here. At this point I’ve gotten through about 2/3 of the interview: mostly a waste of my time, for the reasons you identify, plus others. (Namely, I think there’s also a fair bit of obtuseness and question-begging on Peterson’s part. I’m sure you disagree, and that’s fine, it’s a different discussion.)

But the nut graf of your OP juxtaposes Newman with Tucker Carlson as a counterexample. This implies that you judge Carlson, and by extension at least some identifiable segment of other right-leaning interviewers, as “better” than the left-leaning ones.

But then in one of your comments you disclaim this. This leaves me scratching my head about what your point actually is.

And meanwhile, I adduced evidence that debunked Carlson as a counterexample. Plain fact: Carlson regularly engages in exactly the same interview tactics that are at issue here. So you retreated to a position that Carlson is, in your view, maybe only about half as bad as Cathy Newman. While at the same time agreeing with me that Limbaugh, Hannity, Alex Jones et al are prototypical examples of the tactics Friedersdorf laments.

So: What is your actual point?

We seem to be in agreement that right-leaning media, especially the most popular examples thereof, is by-and-large horrible; and that left-leaning media is joining them there, or else has long been there, suum cuique.

But you wrote the post (and I rebutted) on the basis that the left is uniquely horrible. You haven’t appeared to contend with the consequences of my argumentation that no, it’s really not just the left, and your obsessive focus on the left is blinkered.

So I just don’t get it.

I guess what I need to do here is simply to chalk it up to “some people just aren’t that interested in consistency” and move on.

Eric Mader said...


What is my actual point? you ask.

In my original post I wrote: "I agree with the Atlantic writer that both left and right are guilty of Newman's kind of verbal demagoguery. But who are we kidding? Our 'left' is now constantly in this mode."

I still stick with this assessment. Yes, you're right that Carlson can be found engaging in it, but I don't agree with you that it's a constant of his interview tactics. Rather he, as I said, is often concerned to prod the guest into declaring clearly on this or that question. But Newman in her Peterson interview, which is almost a *locus classicus* of daft feminist-speak, doesn't prod Peterson to clarify himself. Every time he does clarify himself, she intentionally obfuscates his clarity by dumbing it down into the message she wants to convey. Compare Carlson in his interview of Reiner: He does ironically restate Reiner at least twice, but he doesn't dumb down, and his main thrust is to get Reiner to explain why at this point Russia is suddenly a problem, "but meanwhile you folks don't care much about Chinese interference." In short, Carlson has at least two valid questions he's trying to get Reiner to declare on: 1) How did it come about that liberals suddenly became McCarthyite hawks? and 2) Why Russia and not China? Look for comparison at Newman. Does she have a valid question that might unmask Peterson's hidden agenda? If she does, I don't see what it is. Perhaps you could type it out for me.

And so, no, I don't think "Carlson regularly engages in exactly the same interview tactics that are at issue here." There are nuances, as I've just explained re: his interview with the Meathead.

Newman's kind of demagoguery is now characteristic of left-liberal interviewing across the board. You will see the same tactic if the issue is BLM or the trans movement or, again, anything related to feminism. The left-liberal answers to anyone who differs with them on these issues are, respectively: Racism! Transphobia! Patriarchy! The journalist will do all they can to restate what any dissident might say so as to paint them with one of these three terms, depending on the issue.

As to my way of writing my post above and your response, I'll use an analogy. If there were two high schools near me, one to the north and one to the south, and it were demonstrable that 89% of the kids in the one to the north were crackheads, whereas only 23% of those to the south were, I might write something like: "The school to the north is totally overrun with crack. It's a nightmare. Crack is also a problem in the school to the south, but who are we kidding? Crack is now *a way of life* for those kids north of us."

Then you'd go after me and say I'm being inconsistent because, after all, there are crack users in the southern school too. And you'd find a kid that who's done crack now and then but who in my view is not actually a crackhead and you'd say: "See? He's a crackhead. What's your point."

Eric Mader said...


I think you can follow the analogy. In terms of this blanket refusal to even *hear* answers that don't agree with their ideology, our mainstream liberal press is currently 89% crackheads. Yes, there are serious crackhead conservatives, I didn't deny it. I don't think Carlson is one. Fox News is a mixed bag. A lot of their editorials and interviews are now more nuanced than what we regularly hear on their competitors: the egregious Rachel Maddow or the clowns Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo on CNN.

I don't think I'm being inconsistent. 89% crackheads is what I see. I also think you get my point, you got it before this last comment you made, but you just don't agree. Maybe you see 78% percent crackheads evenly distributed north and south. That's not what I see. To prove which of us is right we'd need a massive amount of research data and a rock-solid methodology and still the results wouldn't be reliable, because assessing truth vs. rhetoric is always difficult, and nobody can collect all the data for such a study (i.e. a comprehensive archive of conservative vs. liberal journalistic speech acts from February 2012 to February 2018).

So I hope you now understand my "actual point" and why I don't agree to your claim that I lack consistency.

I'd be interested to know what journalists on the left you find drug-free. Myself I trust Caitlyn Johnstone and Glenn Greenwald, the former more abrasively progressive, the latter just a damn good journalist with a left-liberal bent. I trust these two writers to ferret out answers rather than to begin with answers they then impose through bombast and implicit. They do their homework.