Entry from May 29, 2002

Footnotes —

To “The Day the Music Died,” my Wall Street Journal article of April 22nd about the decline of classical music on the radio:

Lately I have heard a promotional message for WGMS — the commercial classical station in Washington, D.C. mentioned in the article that programs its snippets and gobbets of music to match its listeners’ presumed moods — that has been running on its sister station in Washington, the all-news WTOP. Over lugubrious strings, an announcer tells us, again rather presumptuously about our state of mind, that we want to make the world a better place, and that now we can do so — by listening to classical music! All we have to do is tune in to WGMS, win some on-air contest or other that they are running, and the station will contribute $4000 to our favorite charity. “Making the world a better place has never been easier!” goes the tagline.

It’s a wonderful message for Bobos, or the Bourgeois-Bohemians as identified by David Brooks, all of whom do indeed want to make the world a better place but at minimal cost to themselves. You’ve got to take your hat off to the market research that went into this gimmick. Where lesser radio stations appeal nakedly to the greed of their listeners in running contests where they can win money for themselves, WGMS realizes that its demographic is much more affluent. Ergo: they run more Mercedes than Honda commercials and they appeal to the up-market self-conceit of the wealthier sort that they are philanthropists and doers of good rather than the kind of greedy capitalists that their bank balances might lead ignorant people to suppose.

Sure but, you may ask, what has this got to do with classical music? The point of connection, I think, is that both classical music and philanthropy are acceptable signs of affluence in this country. So, of course, are almost all the other signs of affluence (this is not equally true in other countries), but classical music and philanthropy and a few others (dressing down, for instance, or minimalist taste) come into the special category of things which give you a place among the American aristocracy. Knowing something about art and something about music (opera is optional) but not too much — a more extensive knowledge of wine is permissible — is thought to be a reasonable accomplishment for someone whose wealth has already marked him out as being smarter than other people. WGMS has come up with the inspired idea of combining two of these class-markers together in making its appeal to Washington’s moneyed élites.


To “Objectively Helpful,” my article in the New Criterion for May about honor in politics:

Cynthia McKinney, the Democratic congresswoman from Georgia who in March accused President Bush of complicity in the terror attacks of September 11th regards as vindication the recent feeding frenzy in the press about the administration’s failure to act on non-specific warnings about impending acts of terrorism. And what else should we expect from her when even the mainstream press produces the scandalous headline: “Bush Knew!” Rep. McKinney is particularly concerned to get an apology from Senator Zell Miller, her fellow Georgia Democrat, who had earlier called her ideas “dangerous, loony and irresponsible.”

You’ve got to admire the woman’s chutzpah — and of course it would be foolish to expect anything remotely resembling consistency from such a dangerous, loony and irresponsible person. But I wonder how in her own mind she reconciles the contradiction between her accusation against the President of the United States of being an accessory to mass murder and her righteous indignation against a colleague who dared to criticize her for giving voice to it. Either anyone can accuse anyone else of anything with little evidence and no consequences, Cynthia, or, well, anyone cannot. Surely we are not to suppose it to be the case that, under our Constitution, only Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., can say outrageous, slanderous things about other people without apology. Are we?


To my review of the new film version of The Importance of Being Earnest this week:

It is interesting to record that, in certain quarters, Victorian hypocrisy is not yet dead. When the sailors of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John C. Stennis and other ships were given shore leave in Perth, Australia not long ago, they so wore out the prostitutes of that city’s premiere brothel, Langtrees, that it had to close. So at least was it reported by the Associated Press, whose story was picked up by the local paper for the Stennis’s home port, the Bremerton (Washington) Sun — whereupon all hell broke loose, and the paper was forced to apologize. “We at the Sun used poor judgment in deciding to run the Associated Press story about Navy sailors and exhausted prostitutes in Australia,” wrote the Sun’s editor, Scott Ware.

Let us not give any further life to the story by going into the details. It is often a newspaper”s duty to hold itself up as a mirror to unpleasant realities that may be disturbing to its readers. When we do, it should be because a greater good can come of it. Considering the hurt it has caused among the Navy families that are our readers, we can”t satisfactorily answer the question: What purpose did it serve?

Indeed! Of course, in another context the paper (or another paper) might loudly have proclaimed that the purpose was the printing of The Truth, which is generally thought purpose enough in the world of journalism as we know it. But to me it is heartening that, when pushed to the limit, an American journalist can still admit that the suppression of the truth can in some circumstances also be a good thing. Such a reassertion of the need and desirability for a decorous hypocrisy which has somehow managed to outlive the Victorian age by a whole century may be a sign that the future does not belong, as we might otherwise have thought it did, to “full disclosure.” La Rochfoucauld said that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. Lately we have got to thinking of this as witty cynicism, but in fact it is nothing but the simple truth. And how much better that vice should feel constrained to pay any homage to virtue than that it should be able to treat it with the sort of contempt to which we have been accustomed in vice over the last century.

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