Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 8, 2012

Team Obama’s Third-Rate Performance

The Republican National Committee (RNC) is out with an ad that immediately jumps on President Obama’s statement earlier today that “the private sector is doing fine.” The president’s assertion raises the question–just what planet is Obama living on? And the RNC ad is a good one. But what this episode reveals are two things of more lasting significance.

The first is that at almost every level, the Republican Party in 2012 is sharper and better than the Republican Party in 2008. Campaigns develop a rhythm and pace of their own – and so far, the Romney campaign and the RNC are easily outdueling the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). We saw evidence of this earlier this week, when the GOP’s get-out-the-vote effort in Wisconsin far exceeded what the Democratic Party was able to do.

The other thing this clip highlights is that President Obama is a much different, and inferior, candidate to what he was four years ago.

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The Republican National Committee (RNC) is out with an ad that immediately jumps on President Obama’s statement earlier today that “the private sector is doing fine.” The president’s assertion raises the question–just what planet is Obama living on? And the RNC ad is a good one. But what this episode reveals are two things of more lasting significance.

The first is that at almost every level, the Republican Party in 2012 is sharper and better than the Republican Party in 2008. Campaigns develop a rhythm and pace of their own – and so far, the Romney campaign and the RNC are easily outdueling the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). We saw evidence of this earlier this week, when the GOP’s get-out-the-vote effort in Wisconsin far exceeded what the Democratic Party was able to do.

The other thing this clip highlights is that President Obama is a much different, and inferior, candidate to what he was four years ago.

Some of that has to do with the fact that in 2008, Obama was able to run against an incumbent party that was out of favor, while today he’s forced to defend a record of almost unmitigated failure. But apart from that, the Obama campaign in general – at this point at least – is out of sorts. It’s far less sharp, more off stride, and less skilled and in touch with the mood of the public now than in 2008.

One should assume the Obama campaign will correct itself at some point and turn into a formidable force. But that is not a given by any means. Sometimes a campaign, like a professional athlete, simply loses its edge – and when it does, a tight race can break wide open.

The Romney campaign would be wise to anticipate that the president and his team will raise their game. But in their private thoughts, late at night and away from reporters, the top tier of the Romney campaign must be somewhat mystified, and unexpectedly delighted, that Obama and Company are, for now, executing with the level of precision you’d expect from a campaign running for local sheriff.

At this stage, the state of the economy — which will have a huge impact on the election — is increasingly beyond Obama’s control. But even those things Obama can control — namely, his performance and the performance of his team — show signs of being third-rate. This cannot be reassuring to the president or his party. Unless Obama gets his act together relatively soon, and relatively quickly, he might want to prepare to attend the unveiling of his White House portrait at an event hosted by Mitt Romney three years from now.

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Will Treaty Force U.S. to Abandon Taiwan?

President Obama has pinned the United Nations front and center to his administration’s philosophy of foreign policy. Prior to engaging militarily in Libya, Obama sought Turtle Bay’s endorsement, but never bothered to seek that of the U.S. Congress. With his first—and possibly—last term winding down, the Obama team is rushing headlong into a number of UN-sponsored treaties absent much regard to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.

The latest case in point could be the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Ted Bromund, my former graduate school colleague and now a Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and his Heritage colleague Dean Cheng have an important report out looking at how joining the ATT could jeopardize the U.S. ability to help Taiwan defend itself from an increasingly aggressive China.

While China calls Taiwan a renegade province, the fact of the matter is that Taiwan was only under mainland Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty, and even then the Chinese control was tenuous. Taiwan has its own identity—apparent to anyone who travels there–and, unlike China, enjoys democracy and basic individual liberty.

The United States, of course, like much of the world, recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China until Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with the Peoples’ Republic of China. While the United States and Taiwan no longer maintain formal embassies in each others’ capitals, both house institutes and organizations which act as de facto embassies. Officially, the United States remains committed to Taiwan’s security, although the number of U.S. cabinet-level visits has declined precipitously in recent years, a fault which can be laid at the hands not only of the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration as well.

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President Obama has pinned the United Nations front and center to his administration’s philosophy of foreign policy. Prior to engaging militarily in Libya, Obama sought Turtle Bay’s endorsement, but never bothered to seek that of the U.S. Congress. With his first—and possibly—last term winding down, the Obama team is rushing headlong into a number of UN-sponsored treaties absent much regard to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.

The latest case in point could be the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Ted Bromund, my former graduate school colleague and now a Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and his Heritage colleague Dean Cheng have an important report out looking at how joining the ATT could jeopardize the U.S. ability to help Taiwan defend itself from an increasingly aggressive China.

While China calls Taiwan a renegade province, the fact of the matter is that Taiwan was only under mainland Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty, and even then the Chinese control was tenuous. Taiwan has its own identity—apparent to anyone who travels there–and, unlike China, enjoys democracy and basic individual liberty.

The United States, of course, like much of the world, recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China until Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with the Peoples’ Republic of China. While the United States and Taiwan no longer maintain formal embassies in each others’ capitals, both house institutes and organizations which act as de facto embassies. Officially, the United States remains committed to Taiwan’s security, although the number of U.S. cabinet-level visits has declined precipitously in recent years, a fault which can be laid at the hands not only of the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration as well.

At any rate, as Bromund and Cheng explain, U.S. accession to the ATT would have devastating implications on the U.S. ability to sell arms to Taiwan which are needed to keep the peace and keep an increasingly aggressive China at bay:

One reason for the State Department’s concern is that the ATT is likely to recognize—in the words of the current Chairman’s Draft Paper, the closest equivalent to a draft treaty currently available—“the inherent right of all States to individual or collective self-defense,” and thus their right to buy, sell, and transfer arms. But Taiwan is not a U.N. member state, nor is it recognized as sovereign by a majority of U.N. member states. It thus appears that the ATT will not recognize Taiwan’s right to buy or import arms.

Moreover, the ATT will require signatories to control their imports and exports of arms. It will be incumbent on treaty signatories not to circumvent the import control systems of other signatories. The PRC claims—correctly—that it operates the import control system for China, and, much more controversially, that Taiwan also constitutes part of its territory. By the same token, the Chairman’s Draft Paper uses terminology from the U.N. Charter to reaffirm “the right of all States to territorial integrity.” The ATT thus provides the basis for a Chinese argument that U.S. sales or transfers of arms to Taiwan would circumvent the PRC’s import control system, violate China’s territorial integrity, and thus violate the treaty.

The United Nations likes to cloak itself in the mantle of peace but, alas, its actions can instigate war. No administration should subordinate U.S. national security to an international body that cares little for freedom and liberty, nor should well-meaning academics in the Obama administration trade the freedom and right of self-defense of 23 million Taiwanese for a philosophical embrace of internationalism that might win applause in a university seminar, but which would be a disaster if ever implemented.

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The Decline and Fall of Literary Journalism

Professor Norman Sims, who says that he “more-or-less invented or revived the term,” has replied to my criticisms of literary journalism. His reply was posted earlier this morning at Critical Mass, the blog that Mark Athitakis maintains for the National Book Critics Circle.

Now, I had objected that, when it is used to describe a certain kind of journalism (“journalism of the better sort,” to coin a phrase), the term literary journalism is pretentious. Sims does not entirely disagree:

“Literary” is a sacred and self-congratulatory term, and it is matched with “journalism,” a profane term. English departments tend to prefer “creative nonfiction,” a term with even more inherent difficulties. “Creative” implies that it can be made up — and it often is — and “nonfiction” says what it is not. The choice of terms was debated in the [International Association for Literary Journalism Studies], and that scholarly group decided to go with literary journalism.

So it is a bureaucratic term — or a newer substitution for an older one, rather like the personnel department’s becoming the department of human relations. “The standards have been vigorously debated in an international conversation,” Sims declares. All right, then. A consensus has been reached and the question is now closed. There is even a professional organization dedicated to propagating the faith! And I, I am a stranger to it.

Not only that: I am not permitted to call myself a literary journalist. “I’d call Myers a ‘critic,’ not a literary journalist,” Sims says, as if the difference were immediately obvious to everyone. It is acceptable, though, to go on referring to Edmund Wilson as a literary journalist. Not because he reviewed books for the New Republic, the Dial, the Nation, the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. Certainly not because he supported himself on the proceeds from his reviews. No, indeed. “If you look at Wilson’s writing in American Jitters (1932), and especially his piece ‘The Jumping-Off Place,’ you’ll find excellent examples of Wilson’s reporting and literary journalism done early in the Depression,” Sims says. “And of course he was an extraordinary literary and cultural critic as well,” he allows.

The problem with all this is that Sims’s history is farblondzshet, as the French might put it. “The first modern use of ‘literary journalism’ was probably in 1937 by Prof. Edwin H. Ford at the University of Minnesota,” Sims writes in a footnote, “but it didn’t catch on until I published The Literary Journalists in 1984.” I really like that qualification “modern.” Even after he slips it in, though, his claim remains false from top to bottom.

The term literary journalism dates from the mid-19th century. The earliest use of it in this country that I’ve been able to track down was in an unsigned editorial in the Yale Literary Magazine in June 1842.

“It is a common remark,” the editorial opens, “that every age has its own Literature.” While earlier ages had their dramas and their poetry and their satires and their romances, the literature of the time had “assumed a lighter costume, and one more adapted to the character of the age.” It had taken the form of the Review. Britain had the Westminster Review, the Dublin Review; Paris, its “Moniteurs and Gazettes, and in the metropolis the rage for Literary Journalism is actually surprising.” Germany, after all, is the “book-publishing nation of Europe,” but even there “the love of Literary Journalism has never been carried farther than la belle France.”

The contemporary usage was on the mark. Literary journalism arose with the 19th century reviews — the Edinburgh Review in 1802, the Quarterly Review in 1809, the Westminster Review in 1824. (The first Review on these shores, the North American Review, was founded in 1815. It was followed by the Democratic Review in 1837 and the American Whig Review in 1844.) As Gertrude Himmelfarb explains in The Spirit of the Age (2007):

The essays in each Review were just that: reviews of a book or several books, or of a lecture, an essay, a pamphlet, a journal, or even the text of a bill in Parliament. There had been book-review journals before that, but they were little more than booksellers’ organs, brief notices of new publications. The new quarterlies contained long reflective, critical essays, often using the book as the pretext for an excursion into the subject at large.

“Literary journalism” seems to have been the American name for the contents of the Reviews. In 1859, the Southern Literary Messenger, Edgar Allan Poe’s old journal, welcomed two new Reviews that had “entered fully upon the career of literary journalism. . . .” The term was only beginning to be established, but by the end of the century, it had become accepted usage. In discussing Andrew Lang’s merits in the Bookman for April 1896 (he may not be a critic, but “he has the qualifications of fine scholarship, a long love of books, and a long habit of using them, without which no fine handling of literature is possible”), Annie Macdonell wrote:

Mr. Lang is the perfect master of the manner which suits him best, and very straightforward, lucid, and swift it is; and if he has founded no school, he has had incalculable influence in forming a lighter, brighter, simpler style of literary journalism.

Nor is it true that this use of the term was somehow “pre-modern.” Back in 1861, the Christian Review had praised Macaulay for raising the tone and modifying the character of “modern literary journalism.” The term and the practice were both strikingly modern, emerging at the same time as the modern profession of letters. Patronage was dead; creative writing was not yet born. Literary journalism — that is, reviewing books for the periodicals — was the means of economic support for the average writer with literary ambitions. By the 1860’s, John Gross wrote in The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969), “literary journalism was at last becoming a secure enough profession for it to attract a steady flow of talent from the universities.”

For over a century, “literary journalism” meant this and only this. “Nona Balakian describes herself as a literary journalist,” Alden Whitman said of the writer after whom the National Book Critics Circle’s book-reviewing prize is named, “meaning that for the last quarter-century and more she has been a workaday book reviewer, interviewer, essayist and editor whose product has appeared largely in the pages of the New York Times.”

The term was used in exactly this sense by most writers, including T. S. Eliot (who described “serious literary journalism” as a “precarious means of support for all but a very few”), W. H. Auden (who pointed out that, “In earning his living, the average poet has to choose between being a translator, a teacher, a literary journalist or a writer of advertising copy”), Allen Tate (who spoke darkly of the need to “resist the organized literary journalism of New York”), Granville Hicks (“The responsible literary journalist must be prepared to judge a political novel on more than one level”), Christopher Lasch (who described Oswald Garrison Villard as “one of the last great eccentrics who distinguished American literary journalism”), James Dickey (who dismissed a rival’s verse as “high-falutin’, bad-punning literary journalism of the trashiest and most tiresome sort”), Saul Bellow (who complained that the universities and the mass media “have between them swallowed up literary journalism”), Joyce Carol Oates (who griped about being assigned to “the sort of ready-made category that literary journalism seems too often to insist upon”), and Paul Auster (“I never thought of myself as a critic or literary journalist, even when I was doing a lot of critical pieces”).

The term was a commonplace for most writers, because they had come of age in a literary ecosystem (in Andrew Fox’s good phrase) in which book reviewing was both a means of support and a way to start out. With the post-World War II rise of what I called the “elephant machine” — the creative writing workshop, which produced graduates who went on to teach creative writing and institute new workshops, which produced graduates who went on to teach creative writing and institute new workshops — the old profession of literary journalism, as Bellow said, was swallowed up.

In England, where creative writing took longer to gain a foothold, literary journalism remained a career option for much longer. Indeed, so commonplace was the assumption that writers relied upon literary journalism as a boost and a support that the bellyache about literary journalism also became something of a commonplace. In 1961, V. S. Pritchett listed the obstacles to literary success: “too much money, too little money, popular journalism, literary journalism, marriage, ‘the pram in the hall.’ ” Three decades later, James Wood summarized the critics’ complaints about his literary generation: “We were all watching too much television or writing too much literary journalism to produce great books.”

Wood’s use of the term suggests that Sims is not even right when he argues that the meaning of literary journalism has shifted since 1984, when he published an anthology called The Literary Journalists. It’s more likely that the currency of the term in Sims’s sense dates to 1992, when reviewers began to use it at last to distinguish a certain kind of book or writer. Kenneth Brower, reviewing Bob Reiss’s The Road to Extrema in the New York Times, complains about a device flourished with regularity throughout the book:

Who is it that introduced the abrupt, jarring discontinuity into American literary journalism? John McPhee?

Just four months later, writing in the Washington Post, David Streitfeld identified Joseph Mitchell with literary journalism. “During the late ’30s and ’40s,” Streitfeld wrote, Mitchell

created a new kind of magazine feature, one that took the energy and initiative of journalism and hitched it to larger literary goals.

The new meaning of the term — its nonce meaning — was ratified when it was associated with two of the writers who are most often advanced as exemplars of “literary journalism.”

Yet the original meaning of the term remains valid, and at least to my mind, this meaning — its traditional meaning — is preferable. And for all the reasons I gave in first criticizing the new genre a month ago. Short version: there is nothing to distinguish “literary” journalism from journalism of any other sort.

Sims is no help. Sometimes literary journalism is whatever it pleases him to call literary journalism (“I am a historian of the form, so . . . I’m entitled to use the term to describe the work of Edmund Wilson, James Agee, Martha Gellhorn, Joseph Mitchell, John McPhee, Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe,” etc.); at another time, literary journalism is journalism that uses the techniques of literature (“the active presence of the author’s voice in the narrative,” for example, or “the tools long associated only with fiction,” etc.).

If it is the former then literary journalism is simply non-fiction with status honor. If it is the latter then it is nothing. For though there have been many “privileged criteria” (as E. D. Hirsch Jr. has called them) for distinguishing literature from non-literature, the historical fact is that every attempt to isolate the special and unique qualities of literature has failed. Literature is either a selection of the best that has been written, in which case some journalism qualifies; or it is everything that has been written, in which case all journalism qualifies.

It is time to return to the original meaning of literary journalism.

Professor Norman Sims, who says that he “more-or-less invented or revived the term,” has replied to my criticisms of literary journalism. His reply was posted earlier this morning at Critical Mass, the blog that Mark Athitakis maintains for the National Book Critics Circle.

Now, I had objected that, when it is used to describe a certain kind of journalism (“journalism of the better sort,” to coin a phrase), the term literary journalism is pretentious. Sims does not entirely disagree:

“Literary” is a sacred and self-congratulatory term, and it is matched with “journalism,” a profane term. English departments tend to prefer “creative nonfiction,” a term with even more inherent difficulties. “Creative” implies that it can be made up — and it often is — and “nonfiction” says what it is not. The choice of terms was debated in the [International Association for Literary Journalism Studies], and that scholarly group decided to go with literary journalism.

So it is a bureaucratic term — or a newer substitution for an older one, rather like the personnel department’s becoming the department of human relations. “The standards have been vigorously debated in an international conversation,” Sims declares. All right, then. A consensus has been reached and the question is now closed. There is even a professional organization dedicated to propagating the faith! And I, I am a stranger to it.

Not only that: I am not permitted to call myself a literary journalist. “I’d call Myers a ‘critic,’ not a literary journalist,” Sims says, as if the difference were immediately obvious to everyone. It is acceptable, though, to go on referring to Edmund Wilson as a literary journalist. Not because he reviewed books for the New Republic, the Dial, the Nation, the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. Certainly not because he supported himself on the proceeds from his reviews. No, indeed. “If you look at Wilson’s writing in American Jitters (1932), and especially his piece ‘The Jumping-Off Place,’ you’ll find excellent examples of Wilson’s reporting and literary journalism done early in the Depression,” Sims says. “And of course he was an extraordinary literary and cultural critic as well,” he allows.

The problem with all this is that Sims’s history is farblondzshet, as the French might put it. “The first modern use of ‘literary journalism’ was probably in 1937 by Prof. Edwin H. Ford at the University of Minnesota,” Sims writes in a footnote, “but it didn’t catch on until I published The Literary Journalists in 1984.” I really like that qualification “modern.” Even after he slips it in, though, his claim remains false from top to bottom.

The term literary journalism dates from the mid-19th century. The earliest use of it in this country that I’ve been able to track down was in an unsigned editorial in the Yale Literary Magazine in June 1842.

“It is a common remark,” the editorial opens, “that every age has its own Literature.” While earlier ages had their dramas and their poetry and their satires and their romances, the literature of the time had “assumed a lighter costume, and one more adapted to the character of the age.” It had taken the form of the Review. Britain had the Westminster Review, the Dublin Review; Paris, its “Moniteurs and Gazettes, and in the metropolis the rage for Literary Journalism is actually surprising.” Germany, after all, is the “book-publishing nation of Europe,” but even there “the love of Literary Journalism has never been carried farther than la belle France.”

The contemporary usage was on the mark. Literary journalism arose with the 19th century reviews — the Edinburgh Review in 1802, the Quarterly Review in 1809, the Westminster Review in 1824. (The first Review on these shores, the North American Review, was founded in 1815. It was followed by the Democratic Review in 1837 and the American Whig Review in 1844.) As Gertrude Himmelfarb explains in The Spirit of the Age (2007):

The essays in each Review were just that: reviews of a book or several books, or of a lecture, an essay, a pamphlet, a journal, or even the text of a bill in Parliament. There had been book-review journals before that, but they were little more than booksellers’ organs, brief notices of new publications. The new quarterlies contained long reflective, critical essays, often using the book as the pretext for an excursion into the subject at large.

“Literary journalism” seems to have been the American name for the contents of the Reviews. In 1859, the Southern Literary Messenger, Edgar Allan Poe’s old journal, welcomed two new Reviews that had “entered fully upon the career of literary journalism. . . .” The term was only beginning to be established, but by the end of the century, it had become accepted usage. In discussing Andrew Lang’s merits in the Bookman for April 1896 (he may not be a critic, but “he has the qualifications of fine scholarship, a long love of books, and a long habit of using them, without which no fine handling of literature is possible”), Annie Macdonell wrote:

Mr. Lang is the perfect master of the manner which suits him best, and very straightforward, lucid, and swift it is; and if he has founded no school, he has had incalculable influence in forming a lighter, brighter, simpler style of literary journalism.

Nor is it true that this use of the term was somehow “pre-modern.” Back in 1861, the Christian Review had praised Macaulay for raising the tone and modifying the character of “modern literary journalism.” The term and the practice were both strikingly modern, emerging at the same time as the modern profession of letters. Patronage was dead; creative writing was not yet born. Literary journalism — that is, reviewing books for the periodicals — was the means of economic support for the average writer with literary ambitions. By the 1860’s, John Gross wrote in The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969), “literary journalism was at last becoming a secure enough profession for it to attract a steady flow of talent from the universities.”

For over a century, “literary journalism” meant this and only this. “Nona Balakian describes herself as a literary journalist,” Alden Whitman said of the writer after whom the National Book Critics Circle’s book-reviewing prize is named, “meaning that for the last quarter-century and more she has been a workaday book reviewer, interviewer, essayist and editor whose product has appeared largely in the pages of the New York Times.”

The term was used in exactly this sense by most writers, including T. S. Eliot (who described “serious literary journalism” as a “precarious means of support for all but a very few”), W. H. Auden (who pointed out that, “In earning his living, the average poet has to choose between being a translator, a teacher, a literary journalist or a writer of advertising copy”), Allen Tate (who spoke darkly of the need to “resist the organized literary journalism of New York”), Granville Hicks (“The responsible literary journalist must be prepared to judge a political novel on more than one level”), Christopher Lasch (who described Oswald Garrison Villard as “one of the last great eccentrics who distinguished American literary journalism”), James Dickey (who dismissed a rival’s verse as “high-falutin’, bad-punning literary journalism of the trashiest and most tiresome sort”), Saul Bellow (who complained that the universities and the mass media “have between them swallowed up literary journalism”), Joyce Carol Oates (who griped about being assigned to “the sort of ready-made category that literary journalism seems too often to insist upon”), and Paul Auster (“I never thought of myself as a critic or literary journalist, even when I was doing a lot of critical pieces”).

The term was a commonplace for most writers, because they had come of age in a literary ecosystem (in Andrew Fox’s good phrase) in which book reviewing was both a means of support and a way to start out. With the post-World War II rise of what I called the “elephant machine” — the creative writing workshop, which produced graduates who went on to teach creative writing and institute new workshops, which produced graduates who went on to teach creative writing and institute new workshops — the old profession of literary journalism, as Bellow said, was swallowed up.

In England, where creative writing took longer to gain a foothold, literary journalism remained a career option for much longer. Indeed, so commonplace was the assumption that writers relied upon literary journalism as a boost and a support that the bellyache about literary journalism also became something of a commonplace. In 1961, V. S. Pritchett listed the obstacles to literary success: “too much money, too little money, popular journalism, literary journalism, marriage, ‘the pram in the hall.’ ” Three decades later, James Wood summarized the critics’ complaints about his literary generation: “We were all watching too much television or writing too much literary journalism to produce great books.”

Wood’s use of the term suggests that Sims is not even right when he argues that the meaning of literary journalism has shifted since 1984, when he published an anthology called The Literary Journalists. It’s more likely that the currency of the term in Sims’s sense dates to 1992, when reviewers began to use it at last to distinguish a certain kind of book or writer. Kenneth Brower, reviewing Bob Reiss’s The Road to Extrema in the New York Times, complains about a device flourished with regularity throughout the book:

Who is it that introduced the abrupt, jarring discontinuity into American literary journalism? John McPhee?

Just four months later, writing in the Washington Post, David Streitfeld identified Joseph Mitchell with literary journalism. “During the late ’30s and ’40s,” Streitfeld wrote, Mitchell

created a new kind of magazine feature, one that took the energy and initiative of journalism and hitched it to larger literary goals.

The new meaning of the term — its nonce meaning — was ratified when it was associated with two of the writers who are most often advanced as exemplars of “literary journalism.”

Yet the original meaning of the term remains valid, and at least to my mind, this meaning — its traditional meaning — is preferable. And for all the reasons I gave in first criticizing the new genre a month ago. Short version: there is nothing to distinguish “literary” journalism from journalism of any other sort.

Sims is no help. Sometimes literary journalism is whatever it pleases him to call literary journalism (“I am a historian of the form, so . . . I’m entitled to use the term to describe the work of Edmund Wilson, James Agee, Martha Gellhorn, Joseph Mitchell, John McPhee, Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe,” etc.); at another time, literary journalism is journalism that uses the techniques of literature (“the active presence of the author’s voice in the narrative,” for example, or “the tools long associated only with fiction,” etc.).

If it is the former then literary journalism is simply non-fiction with status honor. If it is the latter then it is nothing. For though there have been many “privileged criteria” (as E. D. Hirsch Jr. has called them) for distinguishing literature from non-literature, the historical fact is that every attempt to isolate the special and unique qualities of literature has failed. Literature is either a selection of the best that has been written, in which case some journalism qualifies; or it is everything that has been written, in which case all journalism qualifies.

It is time to return to the original meaning of literary journalism.

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Obama “Offended” by WH Leak Allegations

President Obama is crying foul against allegations that White House officials leaked classified information to the media for political gain, insisting that the White House would never “purposely” pass on classified secrets. The Hill reports:

“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said. “It’s wrong, and people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office, and the people around me approach this office.” …

Obama said the White House has “mechanisms in place” to “root out” people who leak national security information.

“When this information or reports, whether true of false, surface on the front page of newspaper — that makes the jobs of folks on the front lines tougher, and it makes my job tougher, which is why my attitude has been zero tolerance for these type of leaks and speculation,” Obama said.

As Politico’s Josh Gerstein suggests, the “purposely” qualifier sounds like an escape hatch. Obama didn’t deny that the White House released the information, just that it was not done intentionally or with a purpose in mind.

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President Obama is crying foul against allegations that White House officials leaked classified information to the media for political gain, insisting that the White House would never “purposely” pass on classified secrets. The Hill reports:

“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said. “It’s wrong, and people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office, and the people around me approach this office.” …

Obama said the White House has “mechanisms in place” to “root out” people who leak national security information.

“When this information or reports, whether true of false, surface on the front page of newspaper — that makes the jobs of folks on the front lines tougher, and it makes my job tougher, which is why my attitude has been zero tolerance for these type of leaks and speculation,” Obama said.

As Politico’s Josh Gerstein suggests, the “purposely” qualifier sounds like an escape hatch. Obama didn’t deny that the White House released the information, just that it was not done intentionally or with a purpose in mind.

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers is hinting he has information the administration had relaxed rules on classified information for some in the media:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) stopped short of asserting that the leaks were politically motivated, but he said the administration had decided to share some classified information with the media.

“The committee has materials suggesting that agencies were instructed to expand the scope of classified information they gave to the press. We know in some cases someone from a segment of the media was present in a classified setting,” Rogers said.

Republicans are continuing to call for an independent investigation, and the normally tough-on-leakers Obama administration is still stonewalling the idea.

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America’s Youth Aren’t Fine, Mr. President

During the last several months, the political classes have come to the realization that the level of student debt in the United States is reaching crisis level. Many have suggested that the burst of the student loan bubble will be more far-reaching and more damaging than the housing bubble that precipitated the Great Recession. This week, the Huffington Post linked to a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that showcased just how deep the student loan problem reaches:

  • Of the 241 million people in the United States who have a credit report with Equifax, approximately 15.4% — or 37 million — hold outstanding student loan debt.
  • The average outstanding student loan balance per borrower is $23,300. About one-quarter of borrowers owe more than $28,000; about 10% of borrowers owe more than $54,000. The proportion of borrowers who owe more than $100,000 is 3.1%, and 0.45% of borrowers, or 167,000 people, owe more than $200,000.
  • Borrowers between the ages of thirty and thirty-nine have the highest average outstanding student loan balances, at $28,500, followed by borrowers between the ages of forty and forty-nine, whose average outstanding balance is $26,000.
  • About 27% of the borrowers have past due balances, while the adjusted proportion of outstanding student loan balances that are delinquent equals 21%.

Many have put the blame on ballooning costs of public and private universities across the country. Christian Science Monitor reported this week that “between 1999 and 2009, tuition at public four-year colleges rose 73 percent on average, and tuition at private nonprofit colleges jumped 34 percent. In the same period, median family income fell by about 7 percent.”

For graduating high school seniors, the allure of a college degree isn’t what it once was. Obtaining a degree, after falling tens of thousands of dollars in debt, no longer guarantees job placement upon graduation. Is there an alternative?

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During the last several months, the political classes have come to the realization that the level of student debt in the United States is reaching crisis level. Many have suggested that the burst of the student loan bubble will be more far-reaching and more damaging than the housing bubble that precipitated the Great Recession. This week, the Huffington Post linked to a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that showcased just how deep the student loan problem reaches:

  • Of the 241 million people in the United States who have a credit report with Equifax, approximately 15.4% — or 37 million — hold outstanding student loan debt.
  • The average outstanding student loan balance per borrower is $23,300. About one-quarter of borrowers owe more than $28,000; about 10% of borrowers owe more than $54,000. The proportion of borrowers who owe more than $100,000 is 3.1%, and 0.45% of borrowers, or 167,000 people, owe more than $200,000.
  • Borrowers between the ages of thirty and thirty-nine have the highest average outstanding student loan balances, at $28,500, followed by borrowers between the ages of forty and forty-nine, whose average outstanding balance is $26,000.
  • About 27% of the borrowers have past due balances, while the adjusted proportion of outstanding student loan balances that are delinquent equals 21%.

Many have put the blame on ballooning costs of public and private universities across the country. Christian Science Monitor reported this week that “between 1999 and 2009, tuition at public four-year colleges rose 73 percent on average, and tuition at private nonprofit colleges jumped 34 percent. In the same period, median family income fell by about 7 percent.”

For graduating high school seniors, the allure of a college degree isn’t what it once was. Obtaining a degree, after falling tens of thousands of dollars in debt, no longer guarantees job placement upon graduation. Is there an alternative?

Yesterday, National Journal highlighted a recent study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University on the employment situation for high school graduates without any college background or plans. Some of their chilling findings:

Only three in 10 of these recent grads are employed full time, according to the study, which tracked the employment outcomes of 544 young people who graduated from high schools across the country between 2006 and 2011.

Only 16 percent of those who graduated during the recession (2009-2011) are employed full time, although nearly half are looking for work. A third are unemployed and 15 percent are working part time. One in six have left the labor market altogether.

Thirty-seven percent of students who graduated pre-recession (2006-2008) are employed full time, according to the report.

Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said they were paid hourly. The average hourly wage was $7.50, only  a quarter more than the federal minimum wage. Three quarters of the jobs reported were temporary.

Today, less than 24 hours after National Journal’s piece on youth unemployment was published, President Obama said during a press conference that “the private sector is doing fine.” This statement may come as a shock to Americans when unemployment was assessed at 8.2% by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the stock market is down 7% since April, and there is still no good news on the horizon for jobs either.

During the last election, Obama garnered 61 percent of the youth vote, compared to McCain’s 31 percent – the results were almost identical for the college educated and not. America’s young people, whom the Obama campaign is trying to whip into a frenzy in order to produce the support he saw in 2008, won’t buy the hype this time around. Every morning they wake up unemployed and in debt, every conversation they have with a classmate and peer affirms that they aren’t “fine.” The Obama White House can turn Republicans into student debt boogeymen, send emails from Sarah Jessica Parker inviting recipients over for dinner, and issue statements about gay marriage every day from now until November. The only issue that matters to America’s youth this election isn’t looking any better for the Obama campaign – it’s the economy stupid.

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Now at Gitmo: Soccer Field and Cable TV

So President Obama never actually followed through on that campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay. But as a modest consolation, the administration has reportedly made certain upgrades to the facility to enrich the lives of the detainees, including a world-class soccer field, a “communal living” environment with cable TV and entertainment, and life improvement classes. Yes, they are still detained indefinitely, but at least they can learn how to write a cover letter or hone their watercolor techniques:

Among the recent improvements to the facility commonly known as “Gitmo”: a heavily guarded soccer field for detainees known as “Super Rec,” which cost nearly $750,000 and opened this week; cable television in a communal living quarters and “enriching your life” classes for detainees, which include instruction on learning to paint, writing a resume  — even handling personal finances. …

Many of the improvements have been made at the most modern facility in the detention center, known as Camp VI, a communal living compound that houses about 80 percent of the 169 detainees currently held at Gitmo. There, detainees who are deemed to be compliant with the rules and therefore eligible for more privileges are able to watch 21 Cable TV channels, DVD movies, read newspapers and borrow books from a library.

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So President Obama never actually followed through on that campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay. But as a modest consolation, the administration has reportedly made certain upgrades to the facility to enrich the lives of the detainees, including a world-class soccer field, a “communal living” environment with cable TV and entertainment, and life improvement classes. Yes, they are still detained indefinitely, but at least they can learn how to write a cover letter or hone their watercolor techniques:

Among the recent improvements to the facility commonly known as “Gitmo”: a heavily guarded soccer field for detainees known as “Super Rec,” which cost nearly $750,000 and opened this week; cable television in a communal living quarters and “enriching your life” classes for detainees, which include instruction on learning to paint, writing a resume  — even handling personal finances. …

Many of the improvements have been made at the most modern facility in the detention center, known as Camp VI, a communal living compound that houses about 80 percent of the 169 detainees currently held at Gitmo. There, detainees who are deemed to be compliant with the rules and therefore eligible for more privileges are able to watch 21 Cable TV channels, DVD movies, read newspapers and borrow books from a library.

You’ve got to be kidding. Only 21 cable channels available? It would have been so much more humane to simply drop a drone on their heads and get it over with.

Notice that Democrats pretty much stopped complaining about the detention facility after gaining control of the executive branch. Most of their concerns about civil liberties at Guantanamo Bay seemed to evaporate shortly after Obama’s election. The issue just never comes up anymore — and even the media lost interest in stories about alleged “mistreatment” at the facility. Also note that Democrats are pretty nonchalant about Obama’s “kill list,” and his increase in drone strikes. They were appalled with the idea of detaining terrorists and attempting to collect intelligence from them, but they support killing them in the desert with hellfire missiles.

For the record, I’m in favor of both. But how can you support the latter and not the former, and claim it’s for humanitarian reasons?

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Is China Testing Weaponry in Afghanistan?

The General Accountability Office has released a report accusing Pakistan of blocking efforts to curb the smuggling of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) into Afghanistan:

IEDs are the top killer of U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan, according the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization. JIEDDO estimates that 83 percent of IEDs used in attacks on U.S. troops are made with fertilizers produced in Pakistan. IED attacks have increased slightly over the 12 months ending April 30, the most recent data available. There were 16,165 IED incidents over that period, a 2 percent increase.

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The General Accountability Office has released a report accusing Pakistan of blocking efforts to curb the smuggling of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) into Afghanistan:

IEDs are the top killer of U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan, according the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization. JIEDDO estimates that 83 percent of IEDs used in attacks on U.S. troops are made with fertilizers produced in Pakistan. IED attacks have increased slightly over the 12 months ending April 30, the most recent data available. There were 16,165 IED incidents over that period, a 2 percent increase.

While the majority of IEDs used in Afghanistan may be low-tech—made with fertilizers as JIEDDO notes—questions remain about the origins of other IEDs. Certainly, Iran has been smuggling weaponry to the Taliban. But, according to American servicemen deploying or recently deployed to Afghanistan, there is growing concern that China may be working with Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) to provide and perfect IEDs with the goal of testing new Chinese technology against American armor.

If so, the Obama administration, Governor Romney’s team, and even Tom Friedman might want to take pause to once again consider China’s trajectory and its future intentions.

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Erdoğan: We Don’t Want Israeli Tourists

Even prior to his party’s embrace of the Mavi Marmara attempt to break the blockade of Gaza, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held both Israel and, more broadly, Jews in deep disdain. While Turkish diplomats may say that Turkey’s problem with Israel involves its government and not its people, no one gave Erdoğan that memo. From Hürriyet Daily News:

“We don’t need Israeli tourists,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying. “Thirty-one million tourists came to Turkey last year. Israel’s tourism boycott won’t affect us.” Erdoğan said Israel needed to take three necessary steps if it wanted to improve bilateral relations with Turkey, namely, apologizing for the commando raid that killed nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, paying compensation to their families and removing the blockade against Gaza.

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Even prior to his party’s embrace of the Mavi Marmara attempt to break the blockade of Gaza, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held both Israel and, more broadly, Jews in deep disdain. While Turkish diplomats may say that Turkey’s problem with Israel involves its government and not its people, no one gave Erdoğan that memo. From Hürriyet Daily News:

“We don’t need Israeli tourists,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying. “Thirty-one million tourists came to Turkey last year. Israel’s tourism boycott won’t affect us.” Erdoğan said Israel needed to take three necessary steps if it wanted to improve bilateral relations with Turkey, namely, apologizing for the commando raid that killed nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, paying compensation to their families and removing the blockade against Gaza.

Interestingly, Erdoğan and his Interior Minister have yet to outright apologize for his government’s massacre of 34 villagers last December. When the Wall Street Journal recently reported on the Uledere massacre, Erdoğan blamed “the Jewish lobby.”

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WH Faces Pressure About Leaks

The White House may have gotten some flattering New York Times scribbles about Obama’s unparalleled machismo on national security, but it sounds like it could soon face an independent investigation into its intelligence leaks as a result. House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties held a press conference this afternoon excoriating the Obama administration for leaking sensitive intelligence to the media and calling for a major crackdown. HuffPo reports:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and her fellow lawmakers are not voicing concerns as a way of “finger-pointing at anybody,” including the White House. “What we’re trying to do is say we have a problem and we want to stop that problem,” she said. “We’re not finger-pointing.”

Feinstein, joined by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), promised new legislation to crack down on leaks of classified information, The issue has gained traction since the publication of two front-page New York Times stories last week providing new details about President Barack Obama’s secret terrorist “kill list” and the U.S. government’s cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

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The White House may have gotten some flattering New York Times scribbles about Obama’s unparalleled machismo on national security, but it sounds like it could soon face an independent investigation into its intelligence leaks as a result. House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties held a press conference this afternoon excoriating the Obama administration for leaking sensitive intelligence to the media and calling for a major crackdown. HuffPo reports:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and her fellow lawmakers are not voicing concerns as a way of “finger-pointing at anybody,” including the White House. “What we’re trying to do is say we have a problem and we want to stop that problem,” she said. “We’re not finger-pointing.”

Feinstein, joined by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), promised new legislation to crack down on leaks of classified information, The issue has gained traction since the publication of two front-page New York Times stories last week providing new details about President Barack Obama’s secret terrorist “kill list” and the U.S. government’s cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

For now they’re focused on getting through some legislation to combat administration leaks, whatever good that will do. If they really want to prevent future blabbing from the White House, a credible investigation is the best way to start. The FBI has already launched a probe, but there are concerns about its legitimacy, according to Rep. Rogers (via Politico):

Rogers said the bipartisan presence spoke to the seriousness of the issue. Of the leaks, he said: “It seems to be a pattern that is growing worse and more frequent. … Their inability to keep a secret, this has been as serious a problem as I have seen.”

Rogers also raised the possibility some of the leaks could be coming from the Justice Department or FBI. The Justice Department’s national security division has recused itself from part of the leak investigation, Rogers said.

“It appears the sources of these leaks could be in a position to influence the investigations,” he said.

Republicans are already calling for a special counsel to be appointed to the case, an idea that was oddly supported by David Axelrod on CNN today. He may have to eat those words, as The Hill reports the White House has since rejected the idea of a special counsel investigation:

In response to a direct question, Carney said “no,” the president would not agree to an independent counsel. But Carney said the president took the issue of the leaks “very seriously.”

“This is something that the president insists that his administration take all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk our counterterrorism operations,” Carney told reporters on Air Force One, according to a transcript.

An investigation like that could turn into a public relations nightmare for the administration — and is it all really worth the two-minute PR glow that has already faded?

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