Monday, September 2, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 132: A. J. Liebling, Horsefeathers Swathed in Mink (#52)

A. J. Liebling, "Horsefeathers Swathed in Mink" (1947) from A. J. Liebling: The Sweet Science and Other Writings:

Before The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and NPR's On the Media, Liebling had a column to excoriate bad media, especially the press. And reading an example of this beat 60+ years later, I don't know whether to be comforted or depressed at how familiar it all seems. Liebling starts to note how much the press loves to punch "the undeserving poor," intimating--or outright saying--that poor people deserve to starve instead of risking an increase in property taxes. His example was a case of supposed welfare fraud--a woman with a mink coat--that got front page attention; but which (a) was not true and (b) wouldn't have been representative if it had been. Liebling goes through this case carefully, noting the distance between the three-column headlines and the reality. He pays especial attention to the Times, noting
I was saddened by the whole thing because the Times is in many respects a sound newspaper, within the translucent mass of which one may occasionally discern the outlines of commendable purposes, fixed like strawberries in a great mold of jello, and of good men struggling feebly, like minnows within a giant jellyfish.
Man, that's a good burn. I'd like to use that in my own discussion of today's media, but I'm not sure who would qualify today as a "good [man] struggling feebly" against the system?

What's also depressing about this piece is that it was placed in the New Yorker, a magazine I enjoy, but whose politics are not all that far removed from the "don't raise my taxes" crowd. As opposed to the popular right-wing papers (then and now) who call for the starvation of the poor, the highbrow New Yorker seems to take a slightly different tone that leads to the same end. Something like "it would be nice to help people, but don't raise my taxes."

And for further depression, I can barely imagine a news-outlet that took any other position.

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