Last week, the column ‘Guidelines for the reader’ (Daily Times, November 22, 2013) gave a few common sense rules for critical reading. Let us delve a bit deeper this week with practical application. A New York Times commentary gives wonderful opportunity to deconstruct the work of an alternative source journalist. Stories, which are vignette-driven as opposed to panoramically historically accurate count as alternative source journalism.
So open your mind to critical thinking. Let us read through an article written by a man who is “A Marshall scholar studying history at the University of Oxford”. The link to his commentary is included for companionable reading. I begin with the first paragraph, as it will bookend the final portion of this deconstruction: “For 50 years, Dallas has done its best to avoid coming to terms with the one event that made it famous: the assassination of John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963. That is because, for the self-styled ‘Big D’, grappling with the assassination means reckoning with its own legacy as the ‘city of hate’, the city that willed the death of the president.” (1) This opening salvo against Dallas reminded me of the words of Nikita Khrushchev, “You spit in their faces and they (the Americans) call it ‘dew’.” (2)
James McAuley spit on the city of Dallas. The editors of the New York Times called it ‘dew’. Sadly, what the author has penned is not a refreshing view. The piece leaves the reader with a sense of weariness. It is the emotional state embraced by the husband with a nagging wife. We have heard Mr McAuley’s words before. He is merely the latest ventriloquist for this nagging complaint against Dallas. There is no sense of wonderment after reading his article. We are left with a sense of our time not well spent, left with disorganised thought.
How is the author able to skate his piece, ‘The City With a Death Wish in its Eye’, across an editorial desk without a discerning copy edit? Foremost, when a journalist writes about an event as if he were engulfed in the moment, it is important that he actually be present during the event. Mr McAuley writes about the culture and emotional pulse of Dallas during an era prior to his birth. So his intense pulsing disdain demands marriage (not mirage) to facts. Does his article reflect sufficient fact gathering to support his contentions? Or is he a water-carrier for mottled bias?
According to James McAuley, President John F Kennedy was assassinated because — hold onto yer’ britches! — Dallas was a hate-filled city that willed the death of a commander-in-chief.
Bold words. Bad-ass words. Let us take a look at the sweep of US political history.
Assassination plots against four US presidents were successful: Abraham Lincoln and James A Garfield were assassinated in Washington, D C, William McKinley was killed in Buffalo, New York and JFK took his last breath in a ‘city of hate’. Are Washington, D.C. and Buffalo, New York also cities of hate?
There have been more than 20 failed assassination attempts on seated or former presidents. What happened to President Kennedy was not an anomalous act. It does not take a polymath to figure this out. Aspire to the presidency! You have about a 50 percent chance of being actively targeted for assassination! The journalist offers vignettes to support his contention that Dallas was a hate-infused environment. The fifth paragraph quotes the words of a country musician: “Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eye.” The seventh paragraph references comedian Carol Burnett pulling a gun during a “Big D” routine. Entertainment — as confirmation bias?
Additional paragraphs slam first amendment rights: we are guaranteed a free press and freedom of expression. A 'wanted for treason' pamphlet is the right of a free press. And while spitting on people or whacking them with campaign signs is deplorable, it is still freedom of expression. As of late, shoe throwing and egg pelting of political creatures seems the expression of choice. President Bush found himself dodging the shoe of an Iraqi journalist in 2008. Tony Blair was greeted with biological and man-made missiles (eggs, shoes and plastic bottles) when showing up at Eason’s bookstore to sign copies of his memoir. Freedom of expression aside, the work he penned quickly shot to the top of Amazon’s best- seller list.
James McAuley spits. He does it with the printed word. It is his constitutional right. But what he hurled is a group-spitting contest coming from the urban canyon dwellers in New York all the way to the plains of Texas. This malice against my state and the city of Dallas is long-standing. We are eternally cast as country bumpkins who are culturally deficient. We have our own culture. It is just not New York culture. New Yorkers can be happy whilst they eat processed meat with their hands, purchased off a hot dog cart on the sidewalk. However, I am from Texas. Pardon me while I lick my fingers, “Ya’ll hand me another beef rib.” All of us are Americans, right?
I support the constitutional right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Let me rework Mr McAuley’s first paragraph. I have entered a time machine and have travelled back to the week of 9/11/2013. Here is the first paragraph of my (never to be completed nor submitted for publication) work: “For 12 years, New York City has done its best to avoid coming to terms with the one event that made it famous — the attack on the twin towers on 9/11/2001. That is because, for the self-styled ‘Big Apple’, grappling with the terror attack means reckoning with its own legacy as the ‘city of hate’, the city that willed the death of her citizens.”
Khrushchev’s spit. There is no incontrovertible evidence to support my statement.
The following links support the article
(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/ opinion/sunday/dallass-role-in-kennedys-murder.html?_r=0
(2) The Truth about The Foreign Policy Association, Americanism Committee of the Waldo M. Slaton Post No. 140, The American Legion, Atlanta, Georgia, page 113, 7th printing, May 1962
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at email@example.com