As it turns out, having a sense of anthropological, historical, and even sometimes anecdotal context can be useful in the field of journalism.
To frame Tom Perkins as senescent and ill-spoken barely helps to defend his recent comments in which he compared President Obama’s economic policies to the Holocaust in a letter to the Wall Street Journal titled: “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?” (Jan. 24, 2014). Following that day’s print, the Journal received comments that “drop(ped) anvils on Tom Perkins” for writing what the Journal’s editorial board described as the most-read letter to the editor in the paper’s history.
While many assiduous Journal readers in this country and across the world might expect a respectable publication to properly address such excoriating backlash from its readership, the Journal threw us a curveball by devoting an entire editorial to defending Perkins. If Paul Gigot, Editor of the Editorial page, planned to ease us in to the controversial waters his steering produced, the title failed to deliver: “Perkinshacht: Liberal Vituperation makes our letter writer’s point.” The pique continues: “The irony is that the vituperation is making our friend’s point about liberal intolerance—maybe better than he did.”
Perhaps now a reference to the importance of cyber security, and a reminder to change your work computer password each week? Lest we think the United States’ most widely-circulated newspaper is defending the words of a man who seems to have slipped into a state of confusion (or delusion), we learn this was no hack:
“I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” wrote the legendary venture capitalist … Mr. Perkins called it “a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?… Maybe the critics are afraid that Mr. Perkins is onto something about the left’s political method.”
The comparison is unfortunate, as the editorial ultimately admits. If this brand of journalism constitutes business news, then comedy has been relegated to tragedy. And there was no shortage of laughs in the Review section that day. The most painfully funny item was the grand finale: “Mr. Obama doesn’t merely want to raise taxes on the rich to finance the government. He says “millionaires and billionaires” simply make too much money and deserve to be punished.”
Jonathan Chait, writing for NYMag.com, says it best: “One good clue that somebody is mischaracterizing a source’s words is if they omit important context from the quote. Here the Journal hasn’t merely omitted context, they’ve omitted the entire quote. Or, rather, they quote three words — “millionaires and billionaires” — and then simply assert the parts about Obama thinking the rich make too much money and need punishment. They truncated the entire quote.”
The Journal’s defense strategy is borderline genius, but it is more so a sad explanation for printing and then defending a blatant affront to Jews, Americans, the literate population, or any human that has any sense of historical context.
Just last week, my friend Aaron Qayumi and I wrote a piece describing how our recent Birthright trip to Israel reignited our intellectual curiosity surrounding our culture, others’ histories and cultures, and most importantly, how different cultures mesh, interact with each other, and collaborate to create a functioning society.
Maybe Mr. Perkins needs to get out more.
Brian Block is a Penn State graduate with a passion for Italian food and his hometown, Philadelphia, most specifically the Phillies. Following campaign stints in New York, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, he’s lived in DC for nearly two years working in government relations and financial services.