The “g” word

Is John McCain a racist for using the term “gook” to refer to his North Vietnamese prison guards?

That’s the question that’s boiling around the Twin Cities today, thanks to an interview on The Uptake with Irwin Tang, author of Gook: John McCain’s Racism and Why It Matters.

Let’s be clear before we go too far here. The use of the term now cannot possibly be defended. Tang noted the term “is always a term of war,” and recalls that “the only good gook is a dead gook” was the motto of a significant number of soldiers in Vietnam. Dehumanizing the enemy was certainly nothing new to Vietnam, as this propaganda of World War II points out. It’s clearly racist now. Why didn’t America see it as racist then?

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The concern is real, of course. Most genocide and ethnic cleansing stems from the racist quotient of war. Long before there was Radovan Karadzic, the Japanese were in China, for example.

We tried to discuss this on Twitter since filmmaker Chuck Olsen posted the video yesterday, but Twitter is a lousy place for discussion. Nonetheless, it must be asked, is there historical context in which McCain’s use of the term must be considered? Does the fact he doesn’t use the term constitute a political calculation, or a growing sensitivity — is this issue John McCain’s Swift Boat?

Like most issues in a presidential campaign, the genesis of the controversy is years old — 8 years old in this case. The controversy actually flared in early 2000 when he was asked about his use of the term during his campaign for president:


“I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.”

McCain offered no apology, noting his use of the term, like the use of the term by most soldiers in Vietnam, referred to his enemy:


“I was referring to my prison guards,” McCain said, “and I will continue to refer to them in language that might offend some people because of the beating and torture of my friends.”

McCain made it clear that his anger extends only toward his captors. As a senator, he was one of the leaders of the postwar effort to normalize U.S. relations with Vietnam.

Tang, appropriately, notes that it’s a racist term. “It a term used toward people you intend to kill.” Well, yeah.

But Tang also says McCain uses the term “to dehumanize foreign people of color in order to prepare them for American invasion, for example, the Iranian, who are our next intended target according to John McCain.”

Tang gives no quarter to the argument that the war context matters. “If he had used the ‘N’ word to describe people he had fought with in war or people who had captured him in war or whatnot… we would have disqualified John McCain for the president immediately.”

There’s one other context. John McCain stopped using the term 8 years ago. He apologized for using it days after defending the fact he did:


“I will continue to condemn those who unfairly mistreated us,” McCain said in a statement released Feb. 21. “But out of respect to a great number of people for whom I hold in very high regard, I will no longer use the term that has caused such discomfort… I apologize and renounce all language that is bigoted and offensive, which is contrary to all that I represent and believe.”

I posited on Twitter that charges of racism are usually intended to stop a conversation rather than start it, but at some point we have to be willing to discuss these things in a more intelligent way rather than merely hurl allegations.

Maybe this is the day.

  • daveg

    is this issue John McCain’s Swift Boat?

    Uh, no, not exactly. He admits it, rather than the Kerry plan of obfuscation and disingenuous denial. Much as Obama openly admits his youthful cocaine use – admissions by both parties that are intended to defuse the issue.

    Which doesn’t excuse it, mind you. It was an inartful (love that new word!) expression to be sure. I doubt that it will be heard again.

  • Bob Collins

    daveg, I was indelicate in the reference. I meant it as a reference to the use of the issue in a presidential campaign.

  • http://www.authorsden.com/erikhare Erik Hare

    I saw the discussion on twitter, and you did a brave job of it.

    There are really two kinds of racism, one born from a rational hatred and one born from an irrational hatred. McCain’s comment is clearly racist, but we can see where he is still hurting – I don’t know where to put that comment. He is, in my own terms, Barking and not Talking – his statements say far more about him than they do about anyone else. But they are saying that he still has a lot of pain from his experience, and we have to have a little sympathy.

    The other kind of racism, an irrational fear of people you don’t know, has no excuses of any kind.

    What do we do with people like McCain? How do we get past their pain and try to be sympathetic, even while they say horrible things? I really don’t know. I can say that I think it disqualifies someone from being President, given that in a nation of 300 million people there has to be someone without that pain clouding their judgment.

    It’s easy for a white boy like me to say that we have to see this as a cry of pain rather than a call for ethnic hatred, I realize. I’m sure others won’t find it that simple. These words do hurt. But while I think that while some sympathy is in order the office of President can’t absorb such a major flaw, and I hope that can be seen as a reasonable position to those who are hurt by the words.

  • Bob Collins

    I saw an interesting question on the subject of racism today and perhaps this fits into the “context” thing I refer to.

    If racism is morally objectionable, need it have intentions and actions that can be judged morally bad?

    I’ll hang up and listen.

  • Jim
  • Bob Collins

    OK, great, McCain said there was an Iraq-Pakistan border (there isn’t), but what’s that got to do with what we’re discussing? This is my concern about the context of this particular issue, that it’s a serious subject that MAY be less about the evil of racism, and more about a presidential campaign.

    Anybody can hurl an invective and an allegation, but not being willing to discuss the particulars of that allegation in a substantive way calls into question their motives.

    We hear all the time that racism is a “conversation we need to be comfortable having.” The issue is too important to be just another day in the world of politics.

    For purposes of this discussion, if all people want to have is a pro-john-mccain or anti-john-mccain discussion, I would suggest going to one of the million places on the internet for that.

    that’s not what this thread is about.

  • Jim

    Sorry for the threadjack, I guess I thought it went to state of mind.

    Because one candidate is a person of color, because we’re involved in a war with people of color, because there are (still) a lot of bigoted people in our nation, these issues are bound to ooze to the surface like puss from a wound. It’s time to confront our racism and realize that we’re all only a few insignificant genes apart.

  • Heather

    I have two thoughts — one McCain-specific, and one in response to Bob’s question about intentions:

    1) It’s certainly possible to understand the root of a person’s racist ideas and words and still find them offensive. For instance, my dad would have been horrified if I’d dated black guys in high school. I love my dad, but I wouldn’t vote for him. With McCain, I appreciate his change in behavior, but I also think he’s prone to a sort of reductive thinking that leads him to name calling, and it’s not just racist: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/04/07/report-mccains-profane-ti_n_95429.html

    2) I don’t think actions must be INTENDED to be racist to actually BE racist. Example: I used to teach at a high school in DC, and one year a group of senior boys, all close friends, got matching t-shirts that said “Niggas” (they were all white, but apparently used this term among themselves to describe their group) and wore them to school on the same day. They were surprised at the effect. They didn’t expect anyone to be hurt or offended, because they hadn’t actually CONSIDERED anyone else. These kids certainly didn’t intend for people to have the reaction they did, but the reaction was swift and certain.

  • JohnnyZoom

    >>charges of racism are usually intended to stop a conversation rather than start it

    Well said, and well worth remembering. (other similar epithets, eg, homophobia, have the same unfortunate property)

    There is a subtle dichotomy here, between true racism (a dehumanizing oversimplification based on superficial characteristics) and feelings of vengefulness or spitefulness. The former is immoral, but most would argue the latter are, in themselves, not. McCain’s mistake was to conflate the two; his apology makes it clear he then recognized (at least nominally) the distinction.

    Alluding to the quote I highlighted above, I do get uncomfortable, though, when incidents like this are used as evidence for a particular mindset. I could plausibly see such usage being one of simply as negative a word as he could have thought of, and not some blanket demeaning of a group of people. (A caveat: I am a big fan of McCain, but will point out I shared the same concern with the Don Imus incident, where I could see his words as being merely an attempt to be as (unfortunate unintended pun alert) colorful as possible, rather than anything derisive. But I am anything but a fan of Imus.) This might be due to the fact that I didn’t hear a lot of poison language such as this growing up until much later than most people, so even then thought that innocuous use was possible. For better or worse, this is rarely (if ever) the case anymore, for many types of speech. If one believes this for any of those cases, the mistake is not one of having an immoral attitude or mindset, but of not being sensitive to the winds of language usage change.

    Another distinction we can point to is that between understandable and excusable. Feelings of vengefulness and spitefulness, in this case, are clearly both. His comment might be understandable, but calling it excuseable is problematic.

  • JohnnyZoom

    To Heather, if you accept Bob’s premise that racism is morally objectionable (which granted you may not), then what the students’ crime was was not racisn but rather insensitivity/ignorance. I would object strongly to any suggestion that these things, unless wilful or obviously negligent, are morally objectionable. Unfortunate yes. Maybe tragic even. But not morally objectionable (in itself).

    That argument reflects what I wrote about Don Imus above.

  • daveg

    I am anything but pro-McCain (or pro-Obama for that matter) but I am somewhat impressed by his apology. It did seem more sincere than the “I’m sorry if you were offended by your misunderstanding of what I clearly meant to say” non-apologies that have become the norm.

    In answer to our host’s question, I believe this is, in fact, an issue that is more about a presidential election than it is about the evils of racism. I always question the timing of a years old “issue” cropping up during an election year. If racism were truly a hot-button issue for a Senator, I would be forced to wonder how one Sen. Byrd survived for so long.

    I think Sen. McCain did discuss the particulars quite openly, albeit with yet another arguably self-serving reminder of his time spent as a POW.

    One could also arguably state that with regards to racism, as with many other topics, actions speak louder than words. If it is true that “he was one of the leaders of the postwar effort to normalize U.S. relations with Vietnam,” and if one doesn’t digress into an argument of unknowable motives, his harsh description of his captors truly does seem to be the extent of his issues with Vietnamese in general.

  • http://www.authorsden.com/erikhare Erik Hare

    JohnnyZoom said:

    I do get uncomfortable, though, when incidents like this are used as evidence for a particular mindset.

    Yes, you are absolutely correct. We can’t see into someone’s heart just by watching their actions and hearing their words. Part of the problem here is saying that someone is a racist – a statement of being. Someone who has been tortured has a lot of things in their heart that I don’t understand and never really hope to, at least firsthand.

    Racist actions or words can be judged on their own, however, as an affront. There are many things you could do in public that would be considered offensive, and we’ve succeeded in adding racist stuff to that list. Mazeltov! But does that get to intent, or what’s in the heart of the person saying them? Just as any law based on intent is nearly impossible to prosecute, a social convention based on intent makes no sense.

    I think it’s best to say that this is unacceptable behavior with the out that someone who has a bad history gets a little slack from time to time. But I still don’t want that person to be President.

  • Heather

    JohnnyZoom, ignorance and racism (or sexism, or homophobia, or ….) = a snake with its tail in its mouth. Do we have a moral problem with, say, separate drinking fountains, but not with someone who doesn’t know any black people personally thinking that they are all a certain way, or that the one black person they know is “different”? I would argue that while there may be degrees, there are moral issues at play all along the continuum. Personal responsibility comes into the equation, even with ignorance. I might be ignorant, but I could always pick up a newspaper, go to the library, listen to NPR, talk to people around me, just pay attention, all kinds of things, to become less so. And I think that I should.

    That said — and I apologize for leaving this out of my earlier post — the kids in question were well-versed in the language of “diversity” and active in school groups focused on building understanding between racial groups in the school. This didn’t stop them, however, because they simply didn’t connect the language of their own “inside joke” with the language of the larger setting — even though the were equipped to do so. They used a racially loaded word without any intent but to amuse themselves, but that doesn’t mean there was no other effect. I would argue that there was a moral weight to the effect it had on MANY other students, of several different races.

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    Thanks for posting this, Bob. Much better forum for a conversation.

    Unfortunately I have too many looming deadlines today to say much. I’d invite the author of the book to chime in, but he’s in Yellowstone.

    Gook is a racist term to a large number of people. Everyone knows this. You can’t get away with saying “nigger” then say, “oh I just meant my captives.” Then keep on using the term for 27 years until you are running for president.

    McCain has also used the word “gook” to describe Vietnamese that were not his prison guards.

    What you also don’t see in the video, but the case is made in Tang’s book, is that this is just one aspect of McCain’s racism. He has many connections to white supremacist groups, supported rescinding of Martin Luther King Day, personally funded and visited Contras in Nicaragua, and of course has made promises of war against North Korea, Iran, and so on.

    The central theme of Tang’s book is that “racism feeds war, and war feed racism.”

    Certainly, McCain’s war experience explains his racism. It’s up to each of us to decide if that’s what we’re looking for in a president.

  • B2

    “Incensitive” isn’t a word either. Its spelled with two sses. And there is no excuse for someone running for president of the U S of Hay insisting on his right to use an “insensitive” (racist) word to the public media. Make a list of all the racist slurs you can think of and imagine the candidate using one of the other ones and excusing it by saying he was badly treated by a few of “them”. If he is still suffering from PTSS and can’t help himself, he has no business to be the president of anything.

  • Heather

    In the interest of broadening the horizons, there’s a terrific chat transcript (with a link to original articles) up at (Wash. Post URL shortened) re: a series of online articles about race and Generation Y. The posters are smart and articulate, and it’s an interesting exchange.

  • c

    I totally agree with you B2-he should not be running if he does still have post tramatic -opps forgot the u.

    but bob said he did not want this post to be about mccain bashing so i refrained.

    and thank you, i was unaware that “gook” was part of mccains daily vocabulary. this being the case, does this mean it is fair game to make dumb blonde jokes in reference to his wife?

  • Bob Collins

    //ou can’t get away with saying “nigger” then say, “oh I just meant my captives.”

    That’s Professor Tang’s point but the flaw in that argument is there’s no context present in which to consider that possibility.

    The question of racism goes deeper, however. Sometimes these conversations can sound as people who aren’t racist vs. people who are. But I tend to lean on the “we’re all racist in one fashion or another,” although I tend to consider portrayals of anyone — including white southerners — with broad strokes being somewhat racist.

    The part of your quote that troubles me, though, Chuck is this one:

    “Certainly, McCain’s war experience explains his racism…”

    You’ve taken an 8 year old story of a man who once used the term “gook,” has apologized, and brought it to the present tense.

    I get the whole distaste for historical context thing, but by that repudiation, Frankin Roosevelt was not qualified to be president of the United States. Neither was Truman.

    * * *

    One minor housekeeping point (not related to Chuck’s post) , PLEASE use html when posting URLs. Long links will not only not work, the text portion will scroll off, making it impossible to cut and paste them.

  • JohnnyZoom

    >>Neither was Truman.

    And don’t get us started on Washington, or Jefferson, or…

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    Bob, we’re talking about the year 2000 here. The G-word is long out of historical context, dontcha think?

    I completely agree that racism discussions tend to be on/off, you are or you aren’t, and that’s false. In fact, I’ve gotten into trouble trying to be honest about my own racist-ish reactions in some situations.

    I’m no huge defender of political correctness, especially if we get into satire. But we’re talking about one of the most prominent public office-holders in the country, and he’s seeking the highest office. McCain’s use of the G-word, ties to white supremacy, comments about Iran – and how they relate to policy positions – are all very relevant to the present.

  • JohnnyZoom

    Heather, your update to your story does change things. The best we could say of it now would be provocative :P. And that is quite inadequate…

    >>we’re all racist in one fashion or another

    >>broad strokes being somewhat racist

    This gets back to the fact that this term really has quite profound shades of meaning.

    Consider a forensic pathologist trying to identify a badly decomposed body. There are particular ways in which they can identify the race of the body. But this skill would make the profession racist according to some shades of meaning with which the word is used.

    Now that is not to imply any disparagement to the profession. But it creates ambiguity. And a lot of leeway for dirty rhetorical tricks. In principle, someone wishing to discredit that profession could point out that fact, but then allude that it is a more sinister flavor of racist that they are claiming.

    And unfortunately, many people would buy it.

    I’ll point out that the founding fathers wrote “that all men are created equal”, and not “that all men are created synonymous”. The former is self evident :), and the latter absurd. But in real language situations, blurring between happens with sometimes astonishing ease.

  • JohnnyZoom

    Somewhat off the g-word topic, but perhaps on the broader topic:

    [begin quagmire]

    Consider the flap when someone described Barack Obama as “articulate”. Some objected to that, claiming all kinds of racial innuendo.

    But after several people made complete fools of themselves trying to outcriticize each other, I had a thought. It consisted of someone like Bill Cosby standing up in front of an audience and delivering these lines (with pregnant pauses noted):

    “But what should he be called if he really…is…articulate?”

    [end quagmire]

  • daveg

    I guess the bottom line for me is that my decision on who to vote for is no more going to be decided by an eight year old story about one candidate using a racial slur than it is about an eight month old story about the other candidate calling his grandmother a “typical white person.”

    Neither speaks well of the person that said it, and I’m sure both wish they could “un-say” it, but neither insensitive comment rises to the level of preemptive impeachment, at least not in my personal judgment.

    It’s hard enough to attract quality candidates to run for the most thankless job in the world – why make it impossible by insisting on an unattainable ideal: the person that has never said something they later regretted? Or, at least in both of these examples, found it politically expedient to regret saying it?

  • Bob Collins

    //Bob, we’re talking about the year 2000 here. The G-word is long out of historical context, dontcha think?

    I do. And I wasn’t all that thrilled about it then (I assume I’m one of the few folks here who was alive and experienced the period around Vietnam), especially when it was used by U.S. servicemen (I wish there were one of them here on News Cut) who would use it to describe anyone of Vietnamese extraction.

    But I’m not convinced that’s what McCain was doing and I lack the ability to relate to someone who was imprisoned and gets to remember the people who tortured him every morning when he gets to try to raise his arms. So is his use of the word racist or a bitter retort to a specific group of individuals?

    I think there’s a distinction to be made to understand his meaning and I think until I know what distinction he is — or isn’t — making, then I think one can factually say that John McCain used a racist term. I don’t think that necessarily means John McCain is a racist, which requires a hatred of a group of people based on their race. Now maybe that DOES describe John McCain. Or maybe he hates a specific group of people based on their actions. I don’t know. But I would like to.

    //McCain’s use of the G-word, ties to white supremacy, comments about Iran – and how they relate to policy positions – are all very relevant to the present.

    What specific ties to white supremacy are you referring to? “Ties” is one of those words that used to mislead. There are all sorts of versions of “ties” to something. How close are they?

    One thing that’s been interesting to me is watching how the assertions are being spread across the Internet. I would guess 90% of the ones I’ve found in a simple Google search have also included some form of the sentence, “I haven’t read the book yet.”

    But that’s not stopping some folks.

  • Jo

    >>I don’t know. But I would like to.

    I think it is beyond reasonable debate that McCain used a racist word. And that he hated a specific group of people [guards] based on their actions.

    I think it reasonable that he may have hated the Vietamese as a whole at the time of his capture etc. In fact, I would find it superhumanly virtuous had he had no generalized enmity towards them then. And I would feel the same with respect about his feelings about his captors 8 years ago, or even now.

    But I think it hard to say with any real certainty what he feels about the Vietnamese as a whole 8 years ago, and even more so now. In any case his real feelings are almost certainly more nuanced, but how is hard to say.

    In any case, any black or white proclamations about his feelings now on the subject almost certainly reveal more about the proclaimer than about McCain.

  • JohnnyZoom

    Meh, that was me (Jo)

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    I’m probably one of the only people in the world that has Tang’s book, and I don’t have time to retype it all here in a comment box. :-)

    I’m still surprised people are defending a guy who says “I hate the gooks, always will” – not much nuance there. He used it repeatedly, and not just about his captors. It’s a failure of most journalists to have given him a pass on it. Many of the citations are from the British press.

    If it was caught on video, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Can you say “Macaca” times ten?

  • Bob Collins

    Chuck: Your confusing the desire to have more information as “defending” McCain. Based on your video, Tang is asking us — and I guess you are too — to accept on faith that McCain is a racist now because he used a racist word then.

    What we want is more information.

    But, again, you bring up cases of a clear racism in the meaning of the use of a word that is not at all synonymous with McCain’s use of the word. Macaca wasn’t directed to someone who had tortured George Allen, it was directed at a photographer merely on the basis of what appeared to him to be a member of a particular race.

    In the basis for the story you cite, McCain is referring — or more accurately, says he’s referring — SPECIFICALLY to the people who tortured him just as World War II vets still refer to Germans as “krauts” and Japanese as “Japs.”

    When Tang says “McCain uses the term “to dehumanize foreign people of color in order to prepare them for American invasion, is that Tang’s opinion he’s asking us to accept as fact? Or is there a specific quote from McCain with the use “gook” in it that makes clear that this is the case? His explanation here is weak in your video and calls into question the scholarship behind Tang’s work?

    By the way, what IS the scholarship behind Tang’s work?

    You haven’t broken a story here that John McCain used the word “gook.” That’s not new. What you have is a guy who just wrote a book alleging widespread racism by a candidate for president based on the use of the word in a particular setting which is considered racist, who is not accepting a a state recognition by that candidate 8 years ago that it is now an inappropriate word, and is not accepting McCain’s explanation that he was referring to the enemy he was fighting at the time and who captured and tortured him.

    To my way of thinking — and like I said, I haven’t read the book — if Tang hasn’t talked to John McCain, there’s some serious lack of scholarship here; especially if what he’s got basically is some Googled British press quotations and a theory that he simply must be a racist.

    Roosevelt called the Japanese Japs and even imprisoned Japanese Americans and he’s considered one of the greatest presidents ever. At the time, some of his actions seemed appropriate. Now they don’t. So was Roosevelt qualified to be president or wasn’t he?

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    Valid points, Bob.

    Like I said, I’m not going to type out his entire book and the citations in your comment box! Nor do I have time to parse every single word Tang says in the interview. There are facts, and there are assertions/opinions – Tang offers both. Feel free to buy a copy – link in the lower right: http://irwinbooks.com/

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    Bob, you now seem overly eager to discredit Tang’s book – without having read it. Why?

    Like I said to you on Twitter, I’m not Irwin Tang. I’m presenting his story in short video. The information in this video is news to many people, and lots of people are interested in hearing about this. I never claimed I was breaking a story.

    If I have time after editing more video – unlikely, as I’m trying to head up to the cabin tonight – I’ll drop in more excerpts from Tang’s book.

    But really, since you are intensely interested, you should buy it.

  • Bob Collins

    In the middle of a campaign, I tend to be suspicious of everyone. I think it stems from “Unfit for Command.” So, yes, if a person has something he wants me to believe, I tend to ask uncomfortable questions. I think that racism is one of those allegations to which my automatic response is “prove it,” and I think it behooves any good journalist to maintain a significant skepticism until such a point that it is proven.

    You ask why “most journalists” have ignored the issue. It may well not be that it has been ignored, but that the conclusion that Tang and others want drawn at this particular time — that John McCain is now a racist — has not been proven to the point where merely throwing the guy’s opinion out there is considered responsible on their part.

    I see about 10,000 books go flying by this place where I work in a given week, many from authors looking for just one interview to give their views some legitimacy. Some have some scholarship to them, most are junk.

    And I know you didn’t write the book but I was under the impression you the interview so the reasons I ask you some of the questions I’d ask him is the expectation that perhaps you had. But maybe he just set up a camera, said what he had to say and sent you the video.

    So what you’re sensing from me is merely my “old school” values. I think as mainstream media fades into whatever oblivion the experts say it’s going to fade into, whatever replaces it should pick off some of its principles. In this case, as I indicated, the issue is a complex one and requires something more.

    Your firm’s motto is “Will journalism be done by you or to you?” I would ask whether journalism involves something more than more than one guy standing in front of the camera telling his unchallenged views?

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    Your skepticism is well-founded in an election year, no doubt.

    I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the book. The quote is from Ben Macintyre of London’s The Times, reported in Washington D.C. on December 11, 1999:

    “A conservative politician who has cleverly cultivated and charmed the liberal U.S. media, Mr. McCain gets away with the sort of remarks that would blast a hole in any other candidate. Barely a hair is turned when he refers to the Vietnamese as ‘gooks’, enumerates ‘one of the many reasons I hate the French’ or makes insensitive jokes about Chelsea Clinton’s looks and Alzheimer’s disease (“You get to hide your own Easter eggs”.)”

  • Bob Collins

    I added more to my comment above so you’re going to want to reread that.

    I don’t really know who Ben MacIntyre is but I guess I would ask whether his work in that paragraph is much different from Matt Taibi of Rolling Stone writing about Mike Huckabee:

    But all the attention on his salesmanship skills obscures the real significance of his rise within the Republican Party. Mike Huckabee represents something that is either tremendously encouraging or deeply disturbing, depending on your point of view: a marriage of Christian fundamentalism with economic populism. Rather than employing the ­patented Bush-Rove tactic of using abortion and gay rights to hoodwink low-­income Christians into supporting patrician, pro-corporate policies, Huckabee is a bigger-government Republican who emphasizes prison reform and poverty relief. In the world of GOP politics, he represents something entirely new — a cross between John Edwards and Jerry Falwell, an ordained Southern Baptist preacher who actually seems to give a **** about the working poor.

    But Huckabee is also something else: full-blown nuts, a Christian goofball of the highest order.

    Now, for the record, the highlight of my week was the opportunity to read Matt Taibbi’s writing from the campaign trail every week. He’s hysterical. But in my wildest dreams of an informed electorate, is he really the vehicle I want doing the informing?

    I’m not so sure.

    That’s part of my discomfort. In an election year, this stuff is forever.

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    Bob, please stop editing your comments after you post them. I’ve now twice replied to your comments, only to find that you’ve edited or added to them. That’s a terrible commenting behavior – please make a new comment if you have more to say or I look even more foolish than usual.

    So now you’re questioning my reporting of this story? That’s fine. I stand by this story 100%. Between the video and the text with the video, I provide links to McCain’s 1973 use of “gook” and his 2000 use of the slur.

    I put a lot more effort into this story than a typical “talking head” interview, which we do plenty of. I approached it as a documentary filmmaker, which is how I think of myself first and foremost, because I think this story HAS been ignored and I’m proud The UpTake is reporting on it.

    Keep in mind, Bob, we don’t claim to be an investigative journalism organization. We want to move into the direction of longer, more researched stories – but we don’t have the funding or staffing to do that. We endeavor to tell stories that might not be in the traditional press, and that are factually correct. This fits the bill 100%.

    Honestly I think a lot of mainstream press has shied away from it, because (1) McCain has charmed them, and (2) The word “gook” in the title of the book will scare people away before they even consider the facts.

    Like I said, I admire your skepticism and your work in general. These kinds of conversations, as long as they remain respectful, will serve to make “new journalism 2.whatever” better.

  • Bob Collins

    //So now you’re questioning my reporting of this story? That’s fine. I stand by this story 100%.

    I question the conclusion of John McCain now being a racist on the basis of what was presented without any discussion and without any challenging of the author’s assertions.

    //Keep in mind, Bob, we don’t claim to be an investigative journalism organization.

    No, but you are a journalism organization and you just used the term “reporting” to describe your efforts. And I believe The Uptake is a terrific vehicle to expand the information that is available, especially in a political season. But I also think that fact also exposes you to the same questioning that traditionally MSM is subjected to.

    Do you believe you would have asked different questions or challenged his assertions if you disagreed with those assertions?

    //but we don’t have the funding or staffing to do that. We endeavor to tell stories that might not be in the traditional press, and that are factually correct. This fits the bill 100%.

    It depends on what the facts are we’re talking about. I think we can say with 100% certainty that a guy who wrote a book thinks John McCain is now a racist. But does that mean we can say with 100% certainty that John McCain is a racist?

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    We can say with 100% certainty that “a guy” wrote a book asserting John McCain is a racist, and provides some facts to back up his argument. At no point does the video assert, “The UpTake says John McCain is a racist.”

    Indeed, it’s almost impossible to actually prove someone is an -ist of any kind. All you can do is make a case and look at their record. Look at what they’ve said, look at what they’ve done. That’s exactly what Tang’s book is about, and obviously the video is a few minute glimpse into Tang’s case.

    I knew little about this topic when I happened to run into Tang at the conference. I asked him for specific citations, names, etc. at several points, knowing my real research would happen when I started editing and looking at his book.

    Bob, are you really are adamantly resisting the idea of a researched book about McCain’s racism, or a video about such a book? Tell me – in your perfect world – how you’d want this story to be reported. Then DO IT.

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    Or — don’t you *believe* this is a story, or should be? How do your beliefs shape your choice of stories?

    Finally, what was your experience with the Vietnam War, what were your political views then, and what are they now?

  • Bob Collins

    But part of McCain’s record being cited is the fact McCain voted against MLK holiday and also the phrase “ties to white supremacists.” Tang concludes not only that McCain IS a racist, but why he uses the word gook, to dehumanize somone in advance of an American invasion, and then cites Iran. How does “gook” apply to Iran?

    Singing bad Beach Boys’ parodies is then offered up as further evidence of his racism. Really? That’s not just stupidity and a callous disregard for diplomatic niceties?

    In his book, who does Tang cite who might explain other reasons for the anecdotal evidence that he provides? Anybody? Certainly not John McCain because he wasn’t, apparently, given the opportunity to talk face-to-face with Tang, right?

    Is it impossible to prove someone is an “ist” of any kind? No, didn’t George Allen do a pretty good job of proving it. What other than a broad characterization of an entire race could Allen have meant? He had not previous dealings with the individual involved.

    That ‘s not the case with McCain only it doesn’t appear, based on what has been presented, that Tang believed it to be so, and so it wasn’t explored.

    I am not against a well researched book on John McCain’s racial beliefs. I am against a poorly researched book on McCain’s racial beliefs. Since I haven’t read the book, I can’t say for certain whether his is poorly researched; I can only go on the interview provided.

    How do my beliefs shape the stories I select? That’s a great question. My beliefs tend NOT to be political and the stories I write about tend not to be big hairy issues but smaller stories about individuals experiencing something. For example, I can do a story about the life of a trucker in the age of $5 diesel without having an opinion on the country’s energy policy. To me, there’s great nobility (and interest) in the lives of working people.

    A couple of weeks ago I did a well-ignored segment on the life of public defender. It wasn’t because I disagreed with cutbacks of the public defenders’ budget. It was because I think the debate is irrelevant until we know what a public defender does. I was pretty sure I’d find a fascinating person behind the job description, and boy did I ever.

    Tonight I’m working on a piece on the life of one particular soldier in Iraq. Whether he — or I — agreed with the war never came up, because it was irrelevant to the story.

    Last week I went down to Rushford to talk with some people recovering from the flood — another well-ignored story. Why? Because I have a curiosity about what it’s like to be those people.

    That, for the most part, is the essence of this blog. Keep in mind, I have a far, far, far different view of what constitutes news than most people in the news business. And that’s not saying I’m right and they’re wrong. It’s just me saying it’s different.

    What I would never do is shape a story based on my beliefs. I couldn’t look in the mirror and say “I’m not going to offer to present this side because I don’t believe in it.”

    Re: Vietnam. In the years when I first became eligible for the draft, my lottery number was pretty high. In the last year before the draft ended, I was #4. I was against the war. I was a kid in college, voting for McGovern.

    Now — and I think I’ve written about this many, many times — I’m on the outside of most big hairy debates because things don’t come to me as black and white. Issues that seemed neatly packaged in my youth, reveal themselves as far more complex now.

    I’m much more willing now to listen to other points of view on an issue and usually I end up seeing some valid points on each side, which puts me in a difficult spot. Here’s an example: Everyone makes fun of Michele Bachmann’s view on CFL light bulbs. I get that. Funny stuff. Then my CFL bulb in my garage door opener burned out after only a couple of months and I started realizing that it didn’t save me any money, it cost me more money and the technology isn’t suited for this purpose. So there’s got to be some changes in the current plan to ban incandescents until the replacement is COMPLETELY compatible with real life.

    Now, that’s not me accepting Michele Bachmann’s energy policy or her Freedom of Whatever plan. But it is me recognizing she’s got some valid points that others won’t consider.

    So where am I politically? Right in the middle, seeing things I agree with on one side, and things I agree with on another, and things I disagree with both on and hating the aspects of American life that tries to make me join one or the other.

    And the only thing I accept on faith is my wife loves me and the dog wants to go for a walk.

  • http://www.irwinbooks.com Irwin Tang

    Irwin Tang here, the agitator of this debate.

    I’m on vacation, but let me say this:

    McCain admitted that he stopped speaking of Vietnamese as “gooks” because he did not want to “feel the fire” for his comments.

    Because he did issue a half-hearted apology at first (“I apologize if I offended anyone”) and then a nicely written one later (as you read in these comments) does not mean there is not something of concern here.

    Most veterans do not call Vietnamese people “gooks” for 27 years IN THE MASS MEDIA – for reporters to publish, even if they refused to publish it for a long time.

    John McCain is DIFFERENT from the average veteran. Different from the average American. The only way of describing him is that he is more “racist” than most Americans.

    Read my book if you want the full story on his hiring and endorsing members of hate groups/white supremacists.

    Check out the C of CC website to see what kinds of people McCain endorses – namely George Wallace, Jr.

    Look into his history of fighting MLK Day tooth and nail, fighting for the Confederate battle flag as an official state symbol, and hiring the most bloody-handed lobbyists for terrorists and dictators, sending his own money to the contra guerillas, and so forth. . . . .

    the list is endless . . . so I had to write a book.

    Do your research, then come back and email me and post from a deeper understanding of McCain’s attitudes on race and war.

    I dare ya.

    Much love to all who debate on behalf of the future of our nation.

  • http://www.irwinbooks.com Irwin Tang

    I didn’t think that McCain was hardly as racist at the beginning of my research.

    At the end, I was deeply,deeply disturbed. And I had 180 pages of material that was complex and interconnected.

    It required the medium of the full-length book.

    But it was clearly damning.

    What a person says over the course of his long life matters, if it shows a consistent patterns. It does not matter if what he says he say in the form of jokes, speeches, insults, physical assaults or where he puts his money.

    If it fits a pattern over fifty years and continues to build day by day, it is obvious that there is something there.

    Gather your evidence before you judge me for judging McCain. My judgment is based on months and months of research. Yours is based on a three minute video.

    Chuck interviewed me at a conference. And he did a very good job on his piece, but he had to cut out a great deal of information to make it broadcast-able.

  • Bob Collins

    So now you’ve got this video racing across YouTube and the people who watch it aren’t going to be buying your book, they’re going to be accepting your premise which may or may not be correct.

    Based on that video and your response above, your conclusion may be correct but in many cases, it’s not established fact — it’s a guess and as with all guesses, you have a shot at being correct.

    For example, your “ties to white supremacists” is that George Wallace Jr endorsed McCain. That means McCain is a racist? It’s a phrase, by the way, that Chuck also used without explanation and, you’re right, it is damning as, perhaps, it’s intended to be. But is the extent of these ties actions others took to establish it, or McCain actively establishing it? And if you get an endorsement of a state’s official, does that imply that you embrace all that is that official, or does it establish that you do? It’s an important distinction.

    For example, McCain’s former torture-chief also endorsed him. Does that make him a Communist?

    These are the aspects of what I’ve heard so far that are troubling.

    How does this video, for example, differ from “Stolen Honor” and the motives of the Sinclair Group? And the one question that still gnaws at me. Did you attempt to get an interview with McCain?

    Also, can you tell me who the editor at the publishing house for your book was? I’d like to talk with him/her.

    I know you and Chuck don’t understand why I’m asking these questions and I realize you think it means I’m a McCain supporter for doing so, but that’s not correct either.

    This is important stuff. Elections swing on these sorts of things and racism is a very serious allegation. I want to be sure you’re right and I want to be sure the old axiom of journalism (“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”) was followed here.

    You’ve put out a book four months before an election against a guy who’s running against a guy that the people who produced the video obviously support, the underpinning of which is an 8 year old story.

    Saying “do the research” is a poor response to tough questions about your methodology. This is serious business.

    The new journalism (aka not THE mainstream media) often consists of pushing out these one-person stories. Queried by MSM whether this is a good way to do it, we’re often told that it’s OK because in the blogosphere, if something isn’t correct, someone will post something that corrects it. Part of that process is asking some tough questions of the person making the allegations and the media that acts as the surrogate to do so. So to the extent that Chuck and/or you are unhappy with that process, well, I’m only engaging in the one that the new journalists say is the one they prefer. The alternative in the absence of a balanced presentation is acceptance of the premise without question and I don’t think that’s a particularly intelligent approach to serious issues and allegations.

    It’s a little disconcerting that the people who have gained this awesome responsibility at a time of the decline of mainstream media don’t seem to understand that.

  • c

    Tang’s blog makes sense to me.

    McCain could very well live in a climate where racism-inappropriate terms for ethnicities-is the norm.

    Growing up on the east side in the 70′s, I went to a catholic school and there were tons of the “n” word jokes on the playground along with jokes about every nationality you could think of..

    But that was then and we have grown since then, but in certain social circles I hear all kinds of racial slurs, and jokes. And these people think that it is still ok.

    Should McCain be president? Well if he does become president perhaps he will lower the bar and racism will be accepted and tolerated once again.

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    I’ve always and still do encourage you to dig deeper and get the story you want, Bob – seriously. I’m glad that you and Irwin are having a conversation now.

    You are increasingly sounding like you want to show these new media upstarts a thing or two about journalism, and you’ve made it perfectly clear you’re unhappy with our video.

    Like I said in my blog post, the more the merrier – I welcome your approach to this story and whatever you can add.

  • Bob Collins

    //McCain could very well live in a climate where racism-inappropriate terms for ethnicities-is the norm.

    Yes, he could. And so could you. But don’t we need to establish it as fact before broadcasting it?

    // become president perhaps he will lower the bar and racism will be accepted and tolerated once again.

    Perhaps he will. But perhaps he won’t. In matters of selecting a president, shouldn’t we endeavor to do so based on facts?

    Or do we just leave it to whatever supporters can scare us the most about the other guy?

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    (don’t think my recent comment made it through… trying again)

    I’m glad you and Irwin are having a conversation now. You’re increasingly sounding like you want to show us new media upstarts a thing or two about journalism.

    To which I say – great. Throughout this conversation I’ve encouraged you to talk to Irwin Tang, ask whatever hard-hitting questions you have, get the story and the balance you seek. As I said in my blog post, the more [stories] the merrier.

    Unfortunately you’re also increasingly suggesting that the way I approached the story is wrong or not valid, and I reject that.

  • Bob Collins

    Unfortunately, Chuck, this is where these sorts of conversations end. I think a literal translation of what I’ve said is the best way to determine what I mean.

    And, yeah, the more I look at it the more I think the approach you took is wrong. You think you did a piece about John McCain’s racism. You didn’t. You did a piece about Irwin Tang. Unfortunately, as I watch it get passed along the ‘net, nobody’s making that distinction.

    My question is why do you think it wasn’t your place as a journalist (which is what you are in this case) to ask hard-hitting questions? What do you believe your role is?

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree. You think my approach is wrong. I think it’s fantastic. :-)

    As I’ve said, I think of myself first as a documentary filmmaker. I bring those storytelling skills to The UpTake, where we report on stories not often covered by traditional media and ensure those stories are factual.

    This story is both about Irwin Tang and John McCain’s racism. As you say, our conversation has come to an end because we’re going in circles now. I look forward to seeing how you cover this issue, and hopefully our two stories will complement each other and be valuable in different ways.

  • Bob Collins

    Before you go, though, Chuck, could you just take a moment and answer that one question. I don’t know anything about being a documentary filmmaker but does such a person have an obligation to ask tough questions of the person being interviewed?

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    There are no rules.

    When I said it’s impossible to prove anyone is an -ist? That applies not only to racist, but to journalist.

    I’m frankly not impressed by what you’ve come up with as hard-hitting questions, or this requirement that John McCain himself has to be interviewed. That’s ridiculous. The Bob Way of covering this story is not The Only Way, or even necessarily The Right Way. It’s one of many ways. Why can’t you see that?

    I’m very disappointed that you think my story approach as “wrong.” My video is compelling, informative, and factually correct.

    I’ll say again – I interviewed Irwin Tang about a subject I knew virtually nothing about. This was not an arranged interview, I overheard him talking about his project and grabbed him. We talked about his book. When something questionable came up – such as, McCain hired white supremacists? I asked him who. I asked him to cite sources. He ultimately gave me the book, which cites sources.

    I also asked Irwin about his personal experience with racism, and being an Asian American in East Texas. Irwin is of Chinese descent. When he was born, the hospital put “white” on his birth certificate.

    The story I crafted out of that interview covers Irwin making the case for McCain’s racism by documented use of “gook”, Irwin’s history of the word “gook,” and his own personal experience. I think you took issue with how you get from that to war-mongering, which I expanded upon bit on my blog.

    Do you ask hard-hitting questions when you interview Iraq vets? It sounds like you avoid politics when you talk to them. Is that wrong?

  • http://wcco.com/jasonblog Jason DeRusha

    When I hear authors on the radio pimping a book, I hear occasional tough questions, but often I hear the author getting an open microphone to share their views or the result of their research. As a listener, I understand this, and understand I’m hearing a viewpoint.

    I take Chuck’s piece the same way. Which is to say I think Bob and Chuck are both right. Bob’s right that Chuck’s approach is not appropriate for the evening news. Giving an open mic isn’t reporting. It’s repeating.

    But Chuck’s approach certainly started an interesting dialogue about race and McCain and I find that worthwhile. Chuck gave us access to a voice and an opinion that most of us wouldn’t have heard otherwise. Chuck isn’t the New York Times and I as a viewer get the distinction.

  • Bob Collins

    // Why can’t you see that?

    Chuck, you quite often criticize mainstream media — usually correctly — and The Uptake bills itself as journalism and you say there are no rules.

    But there are. Even in the changing media landscape in which you have positioned The Uptake, is there not a responsibility to the audience?

    This could’ve actually been an interesting part of that disastrous forum in February on what ethics can or should migrate from mainstream media to the new media which appears to bill itself as the next step in media and the sharing and dispensing of information. But I did a lousy job at that forum as we all agree.

    But if we had been able to have that discussion and gotten passed the “why doesn’t mainstream media love us,” I think this is probably why. To say there are no rules, no responsibility, no context, and no point in doing much more than providing an open microphone to any person who wants to make allegations against anyone else, unchallenged, is frightening to those of us who understand the power we have — or had — in the tools we have to not only do great good, but — used improperly and cavalierly — do great harm.

    Like I said, what you’ve stated in the comment above could easily — easily — be the same mantra the Sinclair Group invoked in 2004.

    I just don’t see the public service in a “I’m not sayin’ I’m just sayin’ form of storytelling.

    As near as I can tell, basically what you did was an interview with someone who said something that resonated with your political views, you had this vehicle which has positioned itself as the new journalism, so you packaged it up, shoved it out there and then said the rules of journalism — i.e. ethics — don’t apply to you.

    How does that not make you a souped-up, Democratic version of Minnesota Democrats Exposed?

  • Bob Collins

    // I as a viewer get the distinction.

    Well, you should, Jason. You’ve been around the online community in the Twin Cities longer than anyone else and that’s what’s helped you make that distinction.

    But do you think the average voter gets that distinction?

    And why is this any different, as I’ve said before, from “Stolen Honor.” Lots of people believed it, unchallenged as it was, and didn’t or couldn’t make the distinction, went to the polls and voted.

    Many of the same people who I see reposting this video on their sites — very, very popular sites … the same sites who howled about “Stolen Honor” have no such qualms about its lack of depth and questionable research.

    I get what you’re saying, Jason, I really do. But you can’t wrap this product under the “journalism” banner (and The Uptake’s banner specifically says journalism) and then tell me there are no rules.

    I’m sorry, it simply doesn’t work that way. And the distinction between an author on the radio and this piece is that if you have ANY kind of decent host on the radio, the author is being asked challenging questions to see if the various hypotheses hold up to scrutiny.

    If you don’t have that, then you have an infommercial.

    So is that what this is? An infommercial?

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    See DeRusha’s comment. The kind of story I did is not at all unusual. Is it a deep, hard, expansive journalism piece on McCain’s racism? No. That’s what you want it to be. But, that’s not what it is. It’s smaller, more personal, I think you could say it has a point of view and it presents facts to back it up.

    When I said there are no rules, I meant there isn’t any specific style of question I am required to ask. I never said I didn’t have ethics. I think my piece is perfectly ethical.

    Still waiting to hear why you don’t ask hard-hitting political questions of those Iraq vets.

    I’ll say it one more time – you don’t like this story? Make your own. Extra credit if you do it in video, and people watch it.

    Incidentally, I don’t have the convenient answer of saying my political views are in the middle, or that they defy classification. Most, but not all, UpTake citizen journalists are progressives. Our choice of stories reflects that, and we make no secret of it.

    That doesn’t mean we’re not engaging in journalism, regardless of your opinion on the matter.

  • http://www.powerliberal.blogspot.com robin marty

    Bob, you seem to be putting a great deal of effort into making a story out of another’s reporting of a story, rather than actually creating a story yourself. Even worse, you are doing it on a story that you yourself have stated wasn’t worth a story in the first place.

    Chuck has piece with a character who has proven a positive — he has used McCain’s own words to support a theory that he may be racist. Now you ask that Chuck go and find a person who…what? Proves a negative? How does one prove to your exacting standard that he is NOT racist? Go publish a list of all the times he made statements in the media that DIDN’T have that word in it?

    Seriously, you are saying Chuck’s approach was inappropriate and you advocate that they only responsible form of journalism was to include a point that has no ability to be proven. So instead, you would want a person who would simply state his or her opinion with no irrefutable proof, just to assuage your mindless need for fictitious “balance.”

    This is why the old media’s approach to news is laughable.

  • Bob Collins

    Robin, I understand what you’re saying but if you can step back from the endorsement of your political view that Chuck’s piece holds, and look at it as a piece of journalism, then perhaps you can see why I disagree with as presented.

    And I realize that many of the people — but not all — who are engaged in “new journalism” think things such as balance and fairness and checking facts and challenging those to whom we’re turning over our very powerful media is laughable. I get that. I’m scared to death by how that makes us a more informed society, but I understand that some people consider it laughable.

    Let me suggest to you and Jason and Chuck.

    Let’s call upon the Minnesota News Council to examine this piece. Let’s let it have a hearing. Let’s fly Mr. Tang in, let’s have Justice Gilbert provide the guidance and let’s see what the Council has to say.

    It could be an invigorating an enlightening session.

    Would you be willing to participate?

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    “lack of depth and questionable research” — you keep bringing up this FALSE assertation that is your opinion, Bob. You haven’t read the book. I’ve provided a couple links that point to McCain’s use of “gook” and a few more on my blog that support his Iran assertion.

    WHy are you ignoring this? And why on earth do you think McCain would ever (a) talk to Irwin Tang in the middle of his presidential campaign, and (b) say anything of any value? That’s ridiculous.

    Just what is the opposing view here, Bob? And why don’t you present it in a story? I keep saying, such a story would be valuable. Instead, you keep harping on my story having apparently no value, apparently being not intelligent. I think thousands of people disagree, a few of them may even have journalism degrees.

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    No thank you. I’m not going to go on trial before the ivory tower.

  • Bob Collins

    // And why on earth do you think McCain would ever (a) talk to Irwin Tang in the middle of his presidential campaign, and (b) say anything of any value? That’s ridiculous.

    My old pappy — a salesman — used to tell me, “the best way not to make a sale, is not to go see anyone.”

    In my life as a journalistic dinosaur, I’ve modified that to “the best way not to check facts, is not to try.”

    You’re probably right. John McCain probably wouldn’t agree to an interview. The reason I asked was to see if anyone invested enough in a story that has enough buzz to it to change the future of the country to go to the trouble of picking up the phone to at least TRY.

  • Heather

    I don’t know that this video will have the level of impact you think it will have, Bob, unless it’s as part of a set of things that reinforce an impression about John McCain’s mindset. If he gives the impression that he’s a grumpy old man, in a “Get off my lawn!” kind of way — an image I think he actually cultivates — maybe other things he says or does will “stick” to that image in a way that reinforces it. Some of them may do so in a way that he intends, like making a sharp remark to a questioner in a way that gets a laugh. Others may be a little more insidious, like this “g-word” flap, or his calling his wife a nasty name in front of reporters, or his saying that women don’t need the right to sue employers for economic discrimination, they just need more education and training. Where does he cross the line from kinda-funny-grumpy-old-man to totally-unfunny-grumpy-old-man? Individually, these individual blips might not add up to much, but taken together, they might result in a real effect on his candidacy.

    Also, I have no problem saying that Roosevelt was a great President AND a racist. But that doesn’t mean he could be elected NOW.

  • Bob Collins

    //to go on trial

    The first thing Justice Gilbert says is it’s not a trial. Nor is it an ivory tower. Part of the News Council is made up of citizens who have no link to the profession.

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck Olsen

    I could make a story that the ivory towers of journalism would sign off on. I’ve gotten paychecks from ABC News. They have Mickey Mouse on them.

    No thank you.

  • http://s4xton.com/ Aaron

    I made it about half way through the comments here.

  • Gary Leatherman

    okay I’m going to wade into the fray. First off, this is a (mostly) intelligent discussion! That’s good. It’s what we want from our journalists, our citizens, and the like. Also, my biases upfront: I like both Chuck and Bob. I respect both of their work. I follow both on Twitter. I know Chuck personally – we both have a public television background. I like his work and his dedication to his craft. I’ve never met Bob, but follow both his newscasts/chats with Mary Lucia on the Current and News Cut blog online. I respect his work and his opinion. The discussion has turned a little personal as tempers flared on just that, respect – respect between so-called new and old styles of media – so let’s all talk a step back. Breathe. Okay. here we go..

    The discussion is swirling around two salient points – one of which I’m going to approach. The first is the content of the video, i.e., if it’s a John McCain attack piece in the vain of a swift boat, or the airing of uncovered news by the Mainstream Media (or MSM as Bob abbrvs it). I think the second point is far more important and revolves back to this first point. So on to..

    The second point: just what the hell IS the definition of journalism is in this new world of web/citizen journalist/online-instant-coverage.

    Objectivity/Balance/Bias.

    Bob is trying to be truthful to the traditional journalistic ideal of non-bias objectivity and balance. He’s calling for more details and more hard hitting questions of Mr. Tang. He wants a more rounded/balanced presentation of ideas. I can respect that and while I think it is a noble idea – (although a relative new idea in journalism, taking the long view) – I also think it’s never quite been a realistic or achievable ideal. But more importantly, I don’t think it’s quite necessary anymore as the viewers are now the filter. Take me as an example (bad idea, I know but bear with me): I know Chuck. I know the Uptake. I know their views and I know that what they present offers a progressive bent. Just as I know City Pages has a liberal bent. Powerline blog is conservative (whoa nelly is it). Star Tribune pretends not to be ‘liberal’ and gets itself in a huff when the wags call it a liberal rag. Same for MPR/NPR. I also know that I respect the depth and coverage of MPR reporting (and even, sometimes the Strib). The point is that the viewer knows these things. It is no longer the responsibility of the journalist to point out, to edit, to pretend to offer balance, particularly when their is none to be had, or none needed. The viewers are media savvy. One hundred years of training has brought us to this point. Two hundred if you count the fishwraps.. I mean newspapers.

    I recognize the video is just Mr Tang’s view. I didn’t expect a counter view or hardball political questions from Chuck. I knew the recording was at a ‘liberal’ conference. I didn’t know about Mr McCain’s use of the word ‘gook’ before – so that was news, literally, to me. I do however have my own opinions of McCain’s background in using that word. Opinions which I form from not just the viewing of one video, but all the information sources at my disposal. Which I think is the point now… the viewer will take the responsibility to find the information they need to round out the argument. A simple Google search now creates many avenues of news/opinion and research. Does it argue against in-depth coverage? No. I appreciate that type of piece and the work involved (think Frontline and many MPR/NPR stories). Does it diminish another piece that doesn’t have that depth? Not in this new digital world. There in lies the MSM old-school media’s failing – that they need to vet the information – balance it out for all to see, not realizing that their audience doesn’t need that service anymore.

    Bob wrote “I’m scared to death by how that makes us a more informed society,” – we are already an informed society (some may argue overly informed)- we no longer get information from a single source (radio/TV). All points all view are easily accessible. We do the vetting and the defining on what is a reliable, truthful, and a fair respectable source. It no longer has anything to do with denying biases, or forcing objectivity and balance. Let your bias and objectivity hang out – it only makes it easier for the viewer to vet their info. The new world of media and news has to do with the power being with the viewer, not the source of information. There in lies the true revolution.

  • http://theuptake.org/ Jason Barnett

    “The second point: just what the hell IS the definition of journalism is in this new world of web/citizen journalist/online-instant-coverage.”

    Great definition from Jay Rosen of NYU Shot and edited by Chuck Olsen

  • Bob Collins

    I have to ask.

    (1) Does anyone believe the Swift Boat Veterans — and their media supporters/surrogates — influenced the 2004 presidential election? Yes or No.

    (2) Do you believe there was a significant lack of fairness in the manipulation of details by SBV and/or their media/online surrogates. Yes or No?

    If you believe #1 and you believe #2, then I don’t think there’s substantive evidence that the country has reached the level of savvy re: emerging media. If the answer is “no,” then there is said evidence.

    Now, it may well be true that there is no ethic in emerging media — or at least a sense of obligation — to ask tough questions rather than just provide a platform for people to say whatever it is, unchallenged, that they wish to say. I get that. I understand that’s one of the concepts that some find laughable in the quaint grandfatherliness of “old journalism.”

    But let’s think about one of the basic complaints — and a darned appropriate one — that has led to the role emerging media has assumed: the performance of the old media in the runup to the war in Iraq.

    What were its failings? As I understand it: Failure to ask tough questions. Willingness to provide a platform with unchallenged positions and being a willing — if perhaps, uninformed — participant in the spread of an untruth (note: I did not use th word lie) that led us to a war.

    You — and I don’t mean you specifically, Gary, can’t have it both ways. You can’t on the one hand criticize the mainstream media for its alleged lazy approach to the Iraq war coverage while at the same time defending as the “new” journalism, what is — in essence — the very same approach.

    Take Mr. Tang out of this situation and insert Colin Powell. Take “gook” out and insert “weapons of mass destruction,” and I’m guessing we’d have an entirely different conversation going here.

    What you just described, Gary, is absolution of the performance of “old journalism” in that argument That it was the responsibility of the consumer to determine what was going on, not the journalist. The journalist merely had an obligation to throw Colin Powell on to say whatever he wanted, and President bush to say what he wanted, and Don Rumsfeld to say what he wanted and maybe throw in the obligatory sound bite from a Paul Wellstone and then just let that mush get sorted out by the people from whatever thousands of sources exist out there (most of whom are throwing out an equal amount of mush), pat ourselves on the back and head to the bar. Mission accomplished.

    You use the word “power.” I use the word “responsibility.”

    I really don’t see how it can be argued that the disastrous failing of old journalism is now a success and a strength merely by transferring its execution to the emerging media.

    I think we’ve seen how that works. It can be argued — because it has been argued — that it worked so well, 4,124 Americans and an estimated 42,852 Iraqi civilians are dead, possibly because the American media didn’t execute “the old approach to news” (fictitiously described here as me demanding that someone prove John McCain not a racist. What I actually said was that the speaker should at least be challenged) that one person here finds “laughable.” It wasn’t that the media didn’t wield its power; it’s that it didn’t live up to its responsibility.

    If one believes that responsibility is one of the laughable tenets of old journalism, then the leaders of this emerging media might as well stop getting upset when people roll their eyes when the word “blogger” is uttered in the(in my opinion mistaken) opinion that it’s just a place where irresponsibility is celebrated. Where propaganda and journalism mix.

    The very reason that propaganda has worked so well is precisely because people CAN’T make the distinction between the two.

    In this environment, we haven’t created a more informed society. We’ve created a more polarized one, where “truth” is whatever one was already inclined to believe, and a lie is that with which we disagree.

  • Bob Moffitt

    Okay, slightly different subject. While that Collier’s cover was meant as a racial sterotype, “bat bombs” were one of the stranger side stories of WW II. There was a plan to tie small incendary bombs with leather straps on to bats. The bats would chew through the strap as they took shelter in buildings. The bomb would fall to the floor, ignite, and set the building ablaze. It was tested and the weird scheme actually worked.

    The target? Japan.

    The war ended before any of the “bat bombs” could be deployed in the Pacific Theater.