I learned a long time ago, writing captions for photos in magazines and newspapers, that context is everything. Even pictures can mean vastly different things, depending on context: for example, I can show you a picture of a vacant lot, overgrown with weeds and maybe some typical urban trash. And I can provide you with two captions:
- Urban permaculture project seeks answers to invasive species problem … or
- Land use regulations create headaches for developers and eyesores for the communty.
Get it? Both pictures are the same picture. But in each case, the caption’s INTERPRETATION creates the picture’s meaning — that ‘picture worth a thousand words’ might as well be two different pictures, depending on the ten words or so that I caption it with.
But, and this is the big BUT: It’s just a picture of a vacant lot. The context, the meaning that I’ve given you in the caption has determined WHAT YOU SEE.
This is called interpretation, and can be easily manipulated to suit the bias of the caption-writer.
Which brings us to the rorschach ink blot test that CNN bloviator Campbell Brown has been taking us through the past several months. Yesterday, in her oxymoronically entitled “Campbell Brown: No bias, no bull” commentary — which not only plagiarizes Faux Nooz’ “Fair and balanced” tagline, but is true to its Orwellian roots — Brown flogs the mangy puppy that she’s chosen to ride to prominence (here’s the video):
updated 9:09 p.m. EST, Wed November 19, 2008
By Campbell Brown
Editor’s note: Campbell Brown anchors CNN’s “Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull” at 8 p.m. ET Mondays through Fridays. She delivered this commentary during the “Cutting through the Bull” segment of Tuesday night’s broadcast.
CNN’s Campbell Brown says “having no life” isn’t a requirement for a man to get a job.
(CNN) — How many times have politicians been warned about the dangers of an open microphone? And yet, on Tuesday, the lectern mic at the National Governors Conference picked up this little nugget from Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.
He’s having a conversation near the lectern about President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for to lead the Homeland Security Department, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. Here is what Rendell said about Napolitano:
Rendell: Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it….
Now, leaving aside the ethical question of having overheard a private conversation that was clearly MEANT to be private (implicitly laying the moral responsibility on an inanimate microphone), WHY is the opinion — “for that job, you have to have no life” — inherently sexist?
Well, because Campbell Brown sees a lot of interesting stuff in an ink blot. This is the sort of mind that can take the shortest sentence in the Bible “Jesus wept” and find references to the Babylonian Captivity and dietary laws in Leviticus contained in its nine letters, space and period. Here is Brown’s analysis (emphasis on “anal”):
Wow. Now, I’m sure Gov. Napolitano has many qualifications for the job beyond having no family, and therefore the ability to devote 20 hours a day to the job.
But it is fascinating to me that that is the quality being highlighted here as so perfect. C’mon. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is married with two grown children. His predecessor, Tom Ridge, had a family. Anybody remember a debate about whether they would have trouble balancing the demands of work and family?
Here is a “context” that would blow Campbell Brown’s self-serving interpretation out of the water: The Secretary of Homeland Security needs no distractions, BECAUSE THE PRIOR TWO SECRETARIES WERE COMPLETE LOSERS!
Come on! Does anybody seriously believe that Chertoff and Ridge did any kind of good job? DHS is a mess, the largest non-military department in the government, is supposed to stitch dozens of agencies together, from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, to Immigration, to the CIA, to TSA, to FEMA, and has been a clusterf@*k from point zero to now.
I think it’s very reasonable to hold the opinion that whoever has to clean up this rat’s nest is going to have to go 24/7/365 for a while, just to right this unwieldy, swamped canoe of a morass.
Does it occur to Campbell Brown that the incoming secretary of DHS needs to have NO LIFE, just to fix what the Bushies broke? Male OR female?
Of course not. She doesn’t have the context to interpret Rendell’s comments as inherently sexist, which is, in and of itself, not merely sexist, but quite probably SELF-SERVING and careerist for … Campbell Brown. The ink blots form the picture that Campbell Brown wants to see. I’ve given you another, MORE reasonable interpretation, while admitting that NEITHER of us have the content or context to fully divine the meaning of a … PRIVATE conversation, overheard. (This used to be called eavesdropping, and was the province of gossip columnists exclusively, within the realm of journalism.)
But, we now continue. Campbell Brown has loaded us up with bias AND bull, and now flogs the mangy puppy to run as fast as its little legs can carry it (tripping over its ears along the way):
Now, I am a fan of Gov. Rendell. He has been on this show many times. I like him for his candor. In our attempts to cut through the bull, he delivers far less bull than most politicians. But it is his frankness here that raises so many questions.
As in: before I slam you, let me just say, insincerely, how much I love your work. Or, these two riddles:
Q: How does a businessman say “f*** you”?
A: “Trust me.”
Q: How does a politician say “f*** you”?
A: “With all due respect.”
We continue with Campbell Brown’s unreasonable and unjustified accusations of “sexism.” [emphasis added]
‘No bias, no bull’
Get the latest on the day’s main events on “Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull”
8 ET Monday through Friday on CNN
[Note: I leave this in because it’s so hilariously wrong, in context — HW]
1. If a man had been Obama’s choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not. We all know the assumption tends to be that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns.
This is a straw man argument. The point is made by posing a hypothetical question, THEN answering it in the manner that serves YOUR purposes, viz. “Ed Rendell is a SEXIST PIG!”
Moreover, so freaking WHAT? We LIVE in a society that, whether you like it or not, still maintains, IN MAJORITY, sexually based roles in child-rearing. Now, speaking as one who’s lived, as did John Lennon, the “feminine” housewife role — taking care of the newborn child, cooking the meals, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, maintaining the home while the “wife” takes the traditional “male” role of getting up, going to work, etc. etc. (and, later, cheating on the “wife” with wife’s friend and running off together), I can tell you that the roles are so rarely reversed that it the traditional sex roles are so common that the “househusband” is still a freakish curiousity.
IF Campbell Brown had been right in her interpretation, that is. If people live like that 90% of the time, is it “sexist” to notice? Are we REALLY back to the ‘Seventies where any child of four years could tell you that there are differences between men and women, but no college professor could?
No: that’s a biased expectation added to a biased interpretation of a non-biased statement. The bias only enters into it because (conservative) Campbell Brown wants to wave the “feminist” banner of “sexism” because it gets HER attention, it advances HER career, and makes her the squeaky wheel that gets the media grease.*
[* That is MY interpretation, but then, I’ve been watching her closely in this primary and generally elective season, and I base it on a thousand little points of data on her reactions, body language and statements during the electoral campaign.]
2. As a woman, hearing this, it is hard not to wonder if we are counted out for certain jobs, certain opportunities, because we do have a family or because we are in our child-bearing years. Are we? It is a fair question.
No. It is not at ALL a fair question, because there is no evidence that the same comments couldn’t and wouldn’t have been made if the DHS nomination had gone to a man. Brown is now flogging her STRAW MAN to make a “victim” argument that is horrifically self-serving, and then tells the outrageous lie: “It is a fair question.” How is it “fair” in this context? You accuse someone (whom you claim to know, but parse HIS (private, not-for-attribution) statement without bothering to ask HIM for a response?
What “fairness” are we talking about here? Florida 2000 “fair”? Guantanimo Bay rendition “fair”? Faux Nooz “fair”? Good grief.
3. If you are a childless, single woman with suspicions that you get stuck working holidays, weekends and the more burdensome shifts more often than your colleagues with families, are those suspicions well-founded? Probably so. Is there an assumption that if you’re family-free then you have no life? By some, yes.
This is a Rush Limbaugh one-person debate. Unsurprisingly, Brown “wins,” but we now have completely left the universe of Rendell’s actual statement.
Again, Rendell’s comment seemed geared at the enormity of the DHS task, and the necessity of complete devotion. Any interpretation beyond that is ENTIRELY Campbell Brown’s unfolding Fantasy Epic about Sexism and Noble Femininity cum Feminism and we have now parsed Rendell’s words beyond the horizon of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, where anything can mean anything that the speaker says it does.
Again Gov. Rendell, I don’t mean to rake you over the coals. I know what you meant to say. But your comments do perpetuate stereotypes that put us in boxes, both mothers and single women.
Translation: “With all due respect …”
And no, clearly you don’t know what Rendell meant to say. This is the manufacture of fact by fiat. “It means what I say it means because I say so.”
In government and beyond, men have been given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to striking the right work-life balance. Women are owed the same consideration.
Undoubtedly so, but it has nothing to do with your eavesdropping on a private conversation, and even less to do with your interpretation of those purloined sound bites, Campbell Brown.
Even if Rendell HAD said what Brown say she did (and he demonstrably did NOT), her phony high dudgeon would be negated by her unethical behavior in reporting the “fact” and in parsing the language without letting the person who MADE THE STATEMENT offer Campbell Brown clarification.
Because the ink blot ONLY means what “no bias and no bull” Brown wants it to mean, in an industry in which OVER 50% of all television producers and reporters are now women — often, I will note, promoted because of their LOOKS and not their journalism, which is far more pernicious and sexist than any complaint that Brown has made here, and is, frankly, at the base of BROWN’s hiring.
You don’t see UNshapely and UN-sexy women television hosts on TeeVee.
Rachel Maddow on R, with some guy (L)
With one recent exception, about which I am inordinately pleased: Rachel Maddow, who is on the air because of her talent, and not for her dancing eyebrows or her boobs, or her Deborah Norville “come-f**k-me” flirty facial contortions.*
[* Norville, it ought to be remembered was fired by NBC’s Today Show in 1990 — according to MY sources after other women in the news business complained bitterly that Norville’s looks trumped her “journalistic” talent — and were, seemingly, the reason for her hiring — and NBC dropped her. Wikipedia disagrees, but the fact remains, Norville was the tip of the spear in the Infotainment versus Information battles of TV news through the 1980s and 1990s. Now, if you DON’T look like Norville, you ain’t gonna get hired, sister.]
That was back in the days when Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters held journalistic sway and not the current crop of bionic Barbies™.
Of which Campbell Brown is one, frankly. She was promoted to her new show in the midst of CNN’s ongoing attempt to recast itself as “Faux Nooz Lite” (looks great! less filling!). And Brown continues to show herself as a “dame”-agogue (“dame” as in “Grand –” and not “there’s nothing like a –“).
Equality WILL take some time. And we cannot (as we tried and failed once before) simply say that men and women are the same, end of discussion. They’re not, and if blame must be placed, then we must blame nature and nurture, and not mere nomenclature.
But, to find “sexism” in Rendell’s overheard remark is, itself SEXIST. It is the personal exploitation of another with whom one “identifies” (Napolitano) — even though we can identify in a thousand ways, e.g. white, brunette, left-handed, English, Type O, East Coast, white collar, Kentucky native, top, straight, wine-drinker, Methodist, Protestant, Christian etc. etc. etc. ACCORDING TO OUR PERSONAL AGENDA at the moment that we identify the identification.
As all censorship takes place on “behalf” of some other imagined group of offended and/or harmed, so, too, this charge of “sexism” takes place on behalf of someone not present, based on comments not fairly in the public domain, using words that don’t mean what Campbell Brown says they mean.
In short: Campbell Brown is a sexist pig.
Who probably deserves a poke, in my fantasy (spun out of the same hallucinatory gingham that Brown stitched her faux-“feminist” commentary out of) by Janet Napolitano.
It is to dream.
If you agree with her “assessment” then let me return the interpretative favor.
Of course, that isn’t really true, since Brown is pregnant. Again. Media Bistro:
Monday, Oct 27 
Insiders tell us Brown is “ecstatic.” Brown, who anchors CNN’s 8pm ET program, is married to political strategist Dan Senor, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.
• Earlier: Campbell Brown’s TVNewser interview from the RNC. “Being a mother has completely changed me.”
But, you know, I’m sure they’d say the same thing if Brown were a man. Because it would be sexist not to treat a man’s pregnancy in the same way as Campbell Brown’s.
Because, you know, married to a Republican strategist, Brown is an EXPERT on sexism (TV Newser, September 4):
… Critics went after Brown Monday night after she pressed McCain spokesperson Tucker Bounds about Palin’s qualifications for the VP slot. “Despite what some people have said, there was a recognition from most people that I was doing my job,” Brown says. “She’s new to the political scene. There are a million questions to ask about her. It’s our job.”
Then last night, Brown found herself, in a way, standing up for Palin after Senate majority leader Harry Reid described Palin’s speech as ‘shrill.’ “Several of the women on the panel had a very strong reaction to it,” Brown says. “There are words that set off alarm bells for women.”
Brown’s point? Attacks from democrats [sic] could backfire if perceived as sexist. “Just in the same way that many of Clinton’s people charged sexism,” Brown predicts, “I think you’re going to see Republicans in certain cases when she’s attacked, charging sexism.”
For Brown, it’s all just another day at the office. The former NBC News anchor knows it comes with the territory. Motherhood just puts it all in perspective.
“Being a mother has completely changed me,” Brown says. At NBC she was “a travel junkie.” Now, not so much. Brown will travel when necessary for CNN, but says, “it’s killing me” to be away from 8-month-old Eli. [And this is where Brown shows me the photo of Eli, taken just this morning, and emailed by her husband Republican strategist and Fox News analyst Dan Senor] “Dan went home early [from the RNC], because we want one of us to be there,” Brown says.
Yeah, she and Sarah Palin are “feminists.” Still, I wonder if either of them ever sat in front of abortion clinics (in the snow, in 100 degree plus temperatures), to PHYSICALLY protect a woman’s right to choose (In the latter case, we KNOW: Not!) — rather than having a Campbell Brown or Sarah Palin choosing FOR them.
There is something, finally, ludicrous about Conservative women supporting a party that ceased to care about women’s issues long ago, while they claim implicitly to be “feminists.” Like an African-American Catholic with a Jewish mother applying for membership in the Ku Klux Klan. (Yes, the GOP used to care about women, but after 1976, nope.)
It’s like a woman using her free speech rights to protest that all women should be forced to wear burkas.
When you’re literally in bed with a party devoted to angry, white, racist and sexist male prerogatives, it takes some real … er, VARIABLE-s* (* female bodily parts appropriate to what I’m euphemizing about here, usually used in a male anatomical context for assertiveness) to claim you’re a “Feminist.”
Of course, feminism might have less to do with anatomy than with ideas, but you’ll never catch a Sarah Palin or Campbell Brown admitting it when flouting their body parts either literally or figuratively advances their personal agenda so effectively.
“No bias, no bull”?
In a pig’s eye.
(With all due respect, of course.)
PS — Just breaking: In the time that it took to write this, Ed Rendell has “apologized” for the “sexist” remark — which is exactly what I would do in his shoes, because we live in an “offendocracy” in which you have to apologize for the ink blot interpretations of others, else you be hung with political liability by sexists like … Campbell Brown. You can’t be too sensitive nowadays.
Domenico Montanaro / MSNBC:
RENDELL APOLOGIZES FOR AZ GOV COMMENT
From NBC’s Lauren Appelbaum
During a news conference on budget reductions today, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) apologized for a hot mic statement he made yesterday, saying Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) is perfect for the position of Homeland Security Secretary, in part, because she “has no family.”
“What I meant is that Janet is a person who works 24/7, just like me,” Rendell said in an explanation today.
“She works literally 24/7 as governor,” Rendell said. “She’ll do a great job. You have to live that job every minute.”
After being pressed with a follow-up question on the insensitivity of the comment for a working mother balancing career and family, Rendell joked that was “fractured logic,” from “Rocky and Bullwinkle.”
“I guess, if you stretch it, it could be taken by some people the wrong way,” Rendell said. “I certainly didn’t mean it the wrong way. Janet is a friend of mine. She’s a great, great governor, and she’ll be a great Director of Homeland Security. And if anyone out there was offended, I apologize….
And the sorrow and the pity of it is that Campbell Brown will take this as a ‘victory’ of ‘good reporting’ and be emboldened in her quest to continue to hallucinate “sexism” — which advances her own career very nicely, thank you. One must balance Campbell’s self-interest in this story against Rendell’s self-interest expressed via his comments … oh, wait. That would make Campbell look like a “look at me!” opportunist.
Sorry. Don’t go there, on second thought.