Here’s what I don’t get about the Brian Williams thing.

There has to be a difference between a news report and a personal anecdote, even for the NBC anchor.

Brian_Williams_2011_ShankboneNBC News anchor and managing editor Brian Williams has now served the first two weeks of his six-month suspension in the wake of lies (if that’s the right word–but we’ll get to that) about his experience in the Iraq war. His credibility seems pretty much demolished, his name has become a punchline, and even his daughter can’t get away with defending him.

What bugs me is that Williams has been branded, in most people’s minds, with “lying about the news,” when it’s not clear to me that’s exactly true. To be clear, I’m a very firm believer in journalistic ethics, and for a reporter to fabricate the facts of a story is wholly unacceptable. But I don’t think that’s what Brian Williams did.

Certainly, the version of the story he told to David Letterman in 2013 and again on NBC in January were false. Call them lies, if you will, but it’s hard to characterize a story told 10 years later on a talk show, or even on a news program 12 years after the fact, a “news report.” In 2003, Williams reported that he was in a helicopter just behind the one that took fire, and that his was forced to land behind its companion, not because it took fire. Williams repeated that version, in that form, multiple times between 2003 and 2007; it wasn’t until the Letterman show ten years after the fact, when Williams was recounting the story not in a news context but as a personal anecdote, that he shifted the facts.

There is question whether the story as he told it in March of 2003, when it was inarguably news, was true. Stars and Stripes and others spoke to soldiers who were there that day, and remember Williams arriving in a Chinook 30-60 minutes behind the one that was fired upon; if that is in fact true, then the smearing of Williams is entirely justified. It seems important, however, to consider that those soldiers are basing their statements on memories aged nearly 12 years, and that others who were there that day say they remember things as Williams originally described. [Read more…]

What Graham Moore’s critics get wrong about “Weird.”

Persecuted though they are, queer teens don't hold the patent on feeling bullied.

459167564Graham Moore, the screenwriter behind The Imitation Game, took the stage at Sunday night’s Academy Awards and delivered a brave, stirring speech acknowledging his own teenage depression and resulting suicide attempt, drawing a parallel to the gay protagonist of his film, Alan Turing, and encouraging young people watching the show to “stay weird.” His speech was one of several highlights of an otherwise dull Oscar night, and brought tears to the eyes of many, myself included, delivered by a writer many viewers–myself included–assumed was a gay man. Then Graham Moore went backstage and delivered the lede that launched a thousand thinkpieces: “I’m not gay.”

June Thomas at Slate called the speech “stirring but confusing.” J. Bryan Lowder, writing later at the same publication’s Outward LGBT section, says the speech “reveals a problem in how we think about gayness.” At Buzzfeed, Ira Madison III accused Moore of “simplify[ing] oppression into a hashtag-ready catchphrase,” an act he labeled “deceptive to the point of near cruelty.”

The central complaint seems to be that Moore, who has not self-identified with the LGBT community, cannot understand the pain and social exclusion LGBT kids feel. “The social force behind anti-gay prejudice is far stronger and more pernicious than the animus against social outcasts,” writes Thomas. Lowder adds, “Bullying may suck for everyone, but being a Trekkie or socially awkward or straight edge or whatever just doesn’t have the same weight in that regard as being a sexual minority.” Madison pointed out that gay and trans kids “don’t have the privilege of staying weird in spaces that are only reaffirming to white men.”

While all of these points may be true on a sociological scale, they are totally off-base when applied to the subjective experience of specific individuals–to the point, to borrow a phrase from Madison, of near cruelty. [Read more…]

On Fox, a Panel of Public School Graduates Debates Whether Public Schools Should Exist

Instead of basic education, kids get "meaningless liberal crap," says public school graduate, national TV personality and syndicated political columnist. No, really.

fox-education

On Thursday’s Outnumbered, a panel of five Fox News personalities debated whether public school is something that should even still exist in the United States. The discussion, which has generated a fair amount of controversy, was prompted by a bill from Oklahoma lawmaker Dan Fisher, who wants to ban AP History because it teaches too much actual history, and not enough propaganda.

(Okay, as Fisher phrases it, the course “emphasizes what is bad about America,” and doesn’t teach American exceptionalism.)

Now, Fox generates business by manufacturing controversy and liberal outrage, and I try not to support them too much here, but this time the hypocrisy was just too much for me to resist. Why? Because every single person on the panel debating the merits of public education got there by attending public schools. Two (arguably three) of them attended public high school and public university. [Read more…]

My friend Alex is a maniac.

I don’t think the temperature has moved above freezing here in approximately two weeks, and my friend Alex just uploaded this video yesterday.

I hope you’ll honor his sacrifice with a large donation to help fight ALS.

This is one of those “How did my life lead me here?” moments.

2015-02-16-13

I’ve been meaning to check out the Museum of Sex on Fifth Avenue for quite a while–it’s only a couple blocks south from my office, and I’ve walked past it on many a lunch break. I always suspected the “museum” was an ad-on to exploit some loophole and locate a sex shop in such a prime location, but it turns out I was wrong: It appears the sex shop is the afterthought, a means to help fund the museum. [Read more…]

Valentine’s Day 2015

Cat eating roses

Cat sniffing roses

This is how we spend Valentine’s Day here. I didn’t get a chance to photograph the chocolates because Liz and I ate them too fast. Pizza is on its way now.

Hope you’re having a good one.

Photos: More Manhattan Skyline

sklyine6 at home sick on Wednesday and going pretty stir crazy, when I happened to notice the sunset had turned the sky a beautiful shade of yellow gold. I grabbed the camera to try and capture it–I’ve been trying to practice working with longer exposures recently–and while I didn’t quite capture the perfect yellow, I did get a few other photos of Manhattan and Long Island City that I’m pretty happy about.

As a note: I don’t make my photography (or any of my other original work) available under Creative Commons, but if you’d like to use it ask me and I will likely give you permission.

Are criticisms of Kanye West motivated by white supremacy?

Does the use of heavy metal imagery owe to musical rivalry, or race?

Zakk Wylde Kanye West MemeBy now you’ve already seen it, or at least you know the story: At the 2015 Grammy Awards, Kanye West responded to Beck winning the year’s best album award by intruding onto the stage, apparently ready to relive his infamous 2009 moment with Taylor Swift before reconsidering and returning to his seat. Afterward, Kanye was quoted as saying Beck “needed to respect artistry” and give his award to Beyonce.

If you didn’t see the little drama play out live (if, like me, you ignore the Grammys as one more among a slew of bloated, masturbatory and irrelevant award shows) then you probably learned about Kanye and Beck from the ensuing controversy, pre-packaged and ready-made for social networks. By reversing course and not taking the mic, Kanye even kept his intrusion brief enough to fit in a Vine. At last count it had just over 3.2 million loops, and I bet only 100,000 of those are from Kanye watching himself. Shirley Manson of Garbage delivered a carefully worded skewering, and millions of everyday viewers have either chided or cheered Kanye.

…and this is where I get a little uncomfortable. The image above was among the many memes and responses trending on Facebook and other social networks. Any pop culture controversy, especially one involving Kanye West, is going to wake up Racist Twitter, but something about this image felt subtle and coded. I didn’t recognize the man in the picture (first mistaking him for Metallica frontman James Hetfield) but it turns out this is Zakk Wylde, former guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and founder of the heavy metal band Black Label Society.

Now, to be clear I’m not accusing Wylde of racism–but he’s almost certainly not the one who created this meme, and heavy metal has long been a favorite of the white supremacist movement. With his beard and long hair, the leather wraps and gothic font, he becomes is a nordic warrior, his chosen weapon on a studded leather strap, standing atop a mountain and promising implied harm to his interrupting foe. [Read more…]

Now I’ll Never Get My Hug: Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, and America

Yes, every middle-class white liberal is now having existential angst. Here's mine.

Obama_DailyShowI have a confession: I have long harbored a secret fantasy that I would one day be a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I knew exactly how I would approach it: I’d find a way to make it about him, to thank him for having the courage to take a silly little news parody show, a half-hour Weekend Update, and turn it into a substantive critique of governance, politics, and media culture. There was no way for him to know that formula would succeed–that people in their teens and 20’s and 30’s would not only take a sudden interest in policy, but come to view him as their most trusted name in news, but he did it anyway. I’d tell him why I think he is the one to thank for President Barack Obama (because he made politics cool) and then I’d ask for a hug. If there was any time left, I’d maybe talk about my book or whatever I was there to plug, but if I didn’t even get around to it that somehow felt better.

I knew it would never happen–even if I was somehow fortunate enough to write best-selling novels, Jon’s preference for door-stopping nonfiction is well established. But now there’s another reason it will never happen: The day has finally come, that tragic day we all knew was inevitable, and Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show. [Read more…]