Thursday, December 24, 2009

THE KEVIN GOTKIN PROBLEM: Columnist Plays The "You Really Hate Me!" Game

NOTE: The following is my reaction to this editorial from's Kevin Gotkin, who takes on the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan after she wrote this December 19, 2009 column titled "The Adam Lambert Problem" regarding the controversy over the shocking performance by the 2009 American Idol runner-up on ABC-TV's live broadcast of the 2009 American Music Awards.

Mr. Gotkin:

Before reading your column, I read the Peggy Noonan piece at your link. Then I returned and finished reading your reaction, and noted this comment:

This is [a] story of poor journalism.

I agree wholeheartedly. But the poor journalism is not Noonan's, it's yours. (Not that this is new to Mediaite).

First of all, the illustration you chose to accompany your editorial would be fitting if you were taking on Rev. Pat Robertson, Dr. James Dobson, or Phyllis Schafly, whose objections to the expanding influence of the gay rights movement are deeply based in religious belief. Peggy Noonan is not of that sandwich-board ilk, and it's dishonest of you (or the person who chose that image) to imply that she is somehow.

Then, you employ the deceitful device used increasingly by professional opinionators left and right: “code language.” That is, to make the words of someone with whom you disagree seem more objectionable to the uninformed by suggesting the reader shouldn't believe the words that were actually spoken. No, readers should ignore the actual meaning of words, and instead embrace your perception of what their darker inner thoughts must be.

You wrote, “Noonan’s problem is that she hinges on homophobia.” Then, after quoting a paragraph in which Noonan almost apologizes for making Lambert's perverted display the topic of a column (“I don't mean to make too much of it”) you wrote:
“Translation from poorly codified indiscretion: Gay people are ruining America.”

Those are just your warm-up pitches, as you continue:

I can’t ignore disturbing shorthand homophobia. It’s a not-so-subtle way of talking that allows people of like minds to say just about everything except the offensive things they actually want to say.

Of course, Kevin, it never seem to occur to people like you that perhaps the reason why they don't say “the offensive things” is because they actually don't want to say them.

This is eerily reminiscent of another writer who hears things that weren't actually said – The New York Times' Maureen Dowd, who made a fool of herself when she wrote that “Fair or not,” she “heard” Congressman Joe Wilson silently call President Obama “boy” in his “You lie!” outburst in Obama's health care speech. Dowd can be found on that Pulitzer Prize list you linked, and her continued presence on it devalues its prestige.

This is also the main weapon used by the likes of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and other race hustlers (let me interject at this point that I am a black man); they are cocked and ready to accuse people of bias or bigotry without a shred of evidence, sometimes demanding a ransom of millions (in “donations”) to remove the tar they've slathered on their targets.

All such arguments are predicated on the idea that one knows what other people are really thinking if they don't accept (or openly reject) your values. Joe Wilson calls Obama a liar (accurately)? He's a white guy from South Carolina, so he's a bigot – he just doesn't say “boy” out loud. A cartoonist draws up a gag about a mad chimpanzee being the author of the stimulus bill? Obviously, the chimp represents Obama, even though Obama didn't write the bill, and the cartoonist said that wasn't his intent at all. Carrie Prejean doesn't think same-sex marriage should be instituted into law, so that must mean that she secretly despised the gay men that helped her win Miss California USA.

See, there's so much you can learn about people's true motives and feelings by what they don't say. Right?

Your argument against Noonan falls apart like a Jenga puzzle when you start defending gay values. I'm not saying that gays don't have values, I'm saying that in her piece Noonan never accused gays of not having them. Once again, that was your perception of Noonan, fair or not. She was specifically focused on the deliberately provocative performance by Lambert ("faux oral sex" featuring "S&M play," "bondage gear," "same-sex makeouts" and "walking a man and woman around the stage on a leash”) and the fact that it all took place on broadcast – that is to say “free” -- television. As Noonan wrote well before she specifically addressed Lambert:

For years now, without anyone declaring it or even noticing it, we've had a compromise on television. Do you want, or will you allow into your home, dramas and comedies that, however good or bad, are graphically violent, highly sexualized, or reflective of cultural messages that you believe may be destructive? Fine, get cable. Pay for it. Buy your premium package, it's your money, spend it as you like.

But the big broadcast networks are for everyone. They are free, they are available on every television set in the nation, and we watch them with our children. The whole family's watching. Higher, stricter standards must maintain.

You responded by suggesting this was evidence of Noonan's "poor journalism" because of her shaky "reasoning," and that:

Without distrust for the “alternative” lifestyle Adam Lambert now represents, Noonan’s piece comes across as aloof and out of touch. But with it, she rallies the base. Proof? That fact that she didn’t write this article after the Britney and Madonna kiss.

If you knew as much about Peggy Noonan as I do, you would know that she's not a big fan of "rallying the base" -- she did just the opposite a year ago, joining a chorus of urban intellectual conservatives in extolling the potential of Barack Obama to be a great centrist Chief Executive. I knew that wouldn't happen.

I never went to J-school, (I'm presuming that you did, Kevin -- maybe I'm wrong) but I always try to check my facts. Sometimes I fall short, and write something that is technically inaccurate, but I always try to get the big honking hippopotamus facts right. Such as the fact that the Britney-Madonna liplock was NOT on broadcast television, it was ... on cable, specifically the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.

Another huge error of yours was linking a 1993 Andrew Sullivan NYT editorial about gays serving in the armed services openly as an example of "Gay Values, Truly Conservative." I won't go into the salacious details of Mr. Sullivan's values in practice (all of you who have the stomach for that can Google his name with the phrase "milky loads" or "power glutes"), but I wouldn't cite a man obsessed with Sarah Palin's uterus as a good way to get people OVER homophobia.

But I guess such dead-end rhetorical devices are a part of what you call "journalism that speaks through ingenuity instead of ignorance..." Is that what you believe you've accomplished here, Mr. Gotkin, this collection of prejudicial, presumptive, stereotypical assertions based in a gelatinous foundation? You are mistaken.


Yogchick said...

As far as “a stunning 66% say they are not confident that their children’s lives will be better than their own,” I have never understood why polls are so obsessed with generational progress when Americans already have a high standard of living and have for some time. It would be one thing if this were 1800 and we were polling pioneers who were literally laying down the foundation of the first towns and villages (i.e., the future cities). Those pioneers would, understandably, be concerned about their offspring’s well-being because, if they would not have a better life than theirs, then what would be the point of coming to America in the first place? Many of our forefathers came here not because they expected instant prosperity and an easier life (they usually got neither), but because they were thinking of future generations. They toiled for us. We have been that future generation for many generations now; we are living, for the most part, a more prosperous, easier life – even in these hard economic times. When Americans whine about their children not having an improved life compared to their own, I seriously wonder if they need a good shot of gratitude injected into their veins. Today, people still come to this country for a better life and would settle for a life much less comfortable than that of most American citizens – if only because that less comfortable life would still be an improvement over what they can expect in their homeland.

Our children do not need a life better than our own. If they get a life as good as we’ve gotten, that should be enough and they should be grateful.

[to be continued ...]

Yogchick said...


However, Noonan, when referring to “a better life,” was looking beyond mere comfort and prosperity. Noonan was referring to values and morals and standards and boundaries, etc. . But were the Americans polled really looking beyond mere comfort and prosperity? Were the poll takers? Were the Americans polled really thinking about manners and consideration and sensitivity? Were the poll takers? Something tells me, NO, and that Peggy Noonan is giving Americans more credit than they deserve. Peggy Noonan is not America even if that might not be such a bad thing.

For better or worse, Americans are not that upset that Adam Lambert simulated fellatio on stage (or whatever he did – I missed it.). These kind of cultural debates usually come up when a) the President or some other high-ranking politician wants to deflect attention away from the economy or the War in Iraq/Afghanistan and or some other, more serious, immediate failure and b) someone genuinely concerned about American character uses an event or phenomena to spearhead a greater discussion because that event or phenomena really irked them. A great example of the latter would be when Tipper Gore took it upon herself to alert the world about obscene lyrics in rock music and spearheaded the Parental Advisory Warning label movement back in the late 80s. The result of Gore’s earnest campaign is that Parental Advisory Warnings labels on CDs actually make young people want to buy them more. And Peggy Noonan’s outcry at Adam Lambert’s performance is exactly the kind of publicity Adam Lambert needs to push his career to the next level. Clearly, Lambert has learned well from the George Michael handbook (for those born after 1980, Michael released a song and risque video titled I WANT YOUR SEX in 1987 which effectively established him as a serious “adult” solo artist. It was a totally calculated move).

I would recommend that Noonan use her intellect more wisely by going after the more disturbing trends in American character such as runaway materialism and our affliction with affluenza. When Americans realize they don’t need so much, that real value is in others and community (and not money), and that our God should not be the green dollar, maybe then we’ll be a more considerate, courteous, sensitive nation. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when material wealth is the driving force behind a society, manners and character tend to go out the window.

Having said all this, I think this recession is good for American character-building. We’re actually having to find value in each other rather than in the things we own. Life isn’t so much about competing with your neighbor to see who has the most expensive toys, but, rather, is now becoming more about appreciating what you already have and realizing you don’t need anything more.

If we can impart these lessons unto our children, they will indeed have a better future than our own.