Tag Archives: spy magazine

New/old rule: no one gets to criticize the way other people mourn

The days since the attacks in Paris and Beirut have followed a predictable Scold Cycle:

  • Massive coverage by Western news sources of the attacks in Paris.
  • Outpouring of sympathy for Paris with associated profile-photo-changing, Marseillaise-singing, and awkward-French-speaking.
  • Outpouring of hypocrisy-pointing-out with calls to acknowledge the recent attacks in Beirut.

Rinse repeat.  Although I guess this blog may be the next round in the cycle:  the criticism-of-hypocrisy-pointing-out.  But ever since Republicans decided to launch a media campaign denouncing the way grieving liberals spoke at Paul Wellstone’s funeral — one of the most craven political acts in a sea of cravenness — I’ve decided that people get to say pretty much whatever they want when they are grieving.  Perhaps all the Tricolour profile photos belong to people who have traveled to France, or have loved ones there.  Or maybe it is because they identify with white Europeans more than brown Lebanese.  I don’t know.  Let them process their shock and grief for a bit before telling them that it’s racist or colonialist.

Corollary:  this is not the time to point out that France has done all sorts of First World colonial bad shit.  Yes.  True.  This is not the time.  Like that time you attended the funeral of a guy who had done both good stuff and bad stuff in his life.  The funeral, right then, was not the time to point out the bad stuff.

Obviously, the media are in a different situation.  They need to be more evenhanded in the way they cover violence.  Yet the American media still cover the rest of the world according to Spy Magazine’s “Death News Equation:”  a calculation that involves the number killed or injured, the “sensitivity . . . of Times editors to the episode,” and the proximity of the incident to Times Square.  And by “sensitivity,” I think they meant “resemblance of the victims to actual Times editors.”  That equation still holds up, though I’ve always thought — based on my experience living in Taiwan — that it was a fairly universal phenomenon.  The day Benigno Aquino was assassinated, the banner headline in the main Taiwanese newspaper read, “China Airlines service to Philippines suspended” with a smaller headline and article below explaining that Mr. Aquino had been shot on the tarmac after disembarking from a China Airlines plane.  We’re all about ourselves, wherever we are.

Headline: White Conservative Gadfly Goes to Jail; Dislikes Gravy

That’s how the headline should have read in the center, front, above-the-fold article in today’s Denver Post.  I wish I were kidding.

Douglas Bruce went to jail for 104 days and faced cruel and unusual punishment:  the rolls were cold and the gravy tasted funny.  And he’s gonna sue.

I don’t know who to be more furious with:  Bruce for being a selfish jerk, or the Denver Post for devoting so much space on its front page to a middle class white guy who goes to jail for just over three months and fails to receive gourmet-level cooking.

Denver Post, Mr. Bruce, I’d like you to meet Troy Anderson.  Mr. Anderson has been in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary for 12 years.  In those 12 years, he has not been allowed to exercise outdoors.

I’d have loved to introduce you to Shawn Vigil but, sorry to say, he’s dead.  He committed suicide at the Denver County Jail in 2005 — after being locked up for a month in solitary without a sign language interpreter.  You see, Mr. Vigil was deaf.  He was in solitary with no way to communicate with his jailers.  Wonder what he thought of the gravy?  Perhaps the Denver Post will write a front page story about that.

Actually, the Denver Post did write about Mr. Vigil’s case when we filed.  This many words.   Though I don’t have the print edition, I’m confident it wasn’t on page one.  Former Post columnist Susan Greene* also wrote about it in more detail, but of course she’s not there any more.  Can’t have someone providing nuanced coverage of marginalized people.

Back in the day, Spy Magazine had an equation for how many column inches a story would get in the New York Times based primarily on the number of people killed and the distance of the event from Times Square.**  Although I’m not a math major, there has to be some sort of equation at work here:  R x C x L x G where R = race, C = class, L = length of sentence, and G = quality of gravy.  In the newspaper world, being white (r = 100) and middle class (c=100) will completely outweigh the length of your sentence and other conditions.


* Full disclosure:  Susie is a friend.  And also a kick-ass journalist.  The lack of her voice (and other recent departures) in the Post makes it not much more than People Magazine:  Denver Edition.

** Yes, of course it’s on the internet:  the November 1989 issue of Spy Magazine.    The equation is on page 56.  Check out page 55 for proof that Donald Trump has been annoying us for a long, long time.  And generally peruse the issue to take yourself back to a time when being a smart-ass, sarcastic, irony-appreciating young law grad felt fresh and new.  Or maybe that was just me.

[June 2:  Edited for accuracy.]