Entry from January 8, 2010

“U.S. Job Losses in December Dim Hopes for Quick Upswing,” says The New York Times in response to today’s news of a further 85,000 unemployed. That’s all right, that’s OK, the upswing’s coming anyway. “Some economists fixed on a potentially positive trend tucked within the data,” the Times reassured. “For a fifth consecutive month, temporary help services expanded, adding 47,000 positions in December.” And then there was Michael T. Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners of Greenwich, Connecticut, who told the Times that “We’re going in the right direction. . . If we just have a little bit of patience, we’ll start to see monthly increases of 200,000 to 300,000 jobs within six months.”

What’s the opposite of sensational? Subliminal, I suppose. But there should be another opposite as the word applies to newspapers in general and The New York Times in particular. Not that the Gray Lady is averse to a bit of sensationalism when the mood strikes her. But in the Age of Obama, all those exclamation marks that accompanied its routine assessments of what the paper regarded as the negative superlatives of the Bush administration have given way to semi-colons. My favorite recent headline — admittedly only in a Times e-mail — described the guy who blew up seven C.I.A. agents along with himself in Afghanistan thus: “Behind Afghan Bombing, an Agent with Many Loyalties.”

Now there are lots of smart people at The New York Times, and you don’t have to be very smart to know that when you have more than one loyalty, and they are contradictory, as was the case with the Jordanian doctor and suicide bomber, Humam Khalil Mohammed, also known as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, then you have no loyalties. But in fact he did have one: to al-Qaeda, as the seven murdered CIA agents ultimately found out to their cost. His ostensible “loyalty” to the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate, which recruited him, or the Americans for whom he pretended to work, was no loyalty at all, not one among a number of loyalties.

In other words, the headline was complete nonsense. But trust the Times to find a way to make harsh-sounding words like “treacherous” or “turncoat” into something that sounds less sensational and more like an unfortunate emotional affliction from which the doctor was suffering. Too many loyalties! Poor man! The article itself is headed only “Attacker in Afghanistan Was a Double Agent” which is also illogical (as he had been imprisoned as a jihadi before being recruited by Jordanian intelligence, he must have been a triple agent, which The Times of London correctly called him) though not as egregiously so. And it too euphemistically describes its supposed double agent’s act of treachery and murder as “a deadly turnabout.”

Could it be that all the bad things in the world, for which it used to be axiomatic that President Bush was responsible, are not so bad now that President Obama might get blamed for them? One is encouraged to thinks so by this headline to a story from Wednesday’s Times: “Promise to Trim Deficit Is Growing Harder to Keep.” Well, that’s one way to put it, though not the most obvious one when you consider that something like three quarters of the deficit is a direct result of spending decisions made by the guy who is now finding it hard to trim. But it seems that the Times is uninterested in playing the blame game, at least in the case of the 44th president, noting instead that “a deeper recession and slower recovery than the administration initially forecast have increased the tab for economic stimulus measures beyond the original $787 billion package” — presumably a sum which was unrelated to, and which would have been deficit-neutral without, the misfortune of that “deeper recession and slower recovery” of the forecast.

The Times’s new fondness for understatement is even spreading to non-Obama-related stories, like this one from today’s paper: “China Turns Drug Rehab Into a Punishing Ordeal.” Perhaps it was only my fondness for my favorite TV show, “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” which drew my eye to this article, in which I learned that, unlike Dr. Drew’s, China’s rehab centers are compulsory. “The minimum stay is two years, and life is an unremitting gantlet of physical abuse and forced labor without any drug treatment, according to former inmates and substance abuse professionals.” Singular nation, the Chinese! Chinese “rehab” apparently consists of no actual rehab but essentially what we had before there was such a thing as rehab, namely jail — only worse:

Han Wei, 38, a recovering heroin addict who was released from a Beijing detention center in October, said the guards would use electric prods on the recalcitrant. “At least they’d give us helmets so we wouldn’t injure our heads during convulsions,” he said. Meals consisted of steamed buns and, occasionally, cabbage-based swill. Showers were allowed once a month. And the remedy for heroin withdrawal symptoms was a pail of cold water in the face. “They didn’t give me a single pill or a bit of counseling,” Mr. Han said.

I love the touch of the helmets. Only The New York Times could make that sound unironic, a genuine tribute to the humanitarian impulses of those tough-love Chinese therapists.

Mind you, the non-rehab version of rehab seems to work a bit better than Dr. Drew’s. “Despite the deprivations, Mr. Han, a former nightclub owner, said his two-year sentence achieved the desired goal: it persuaded him to kick a habit he began in 1998. ‘I’m never going back,’ he said.” But the Times cites a Chinese expert, a Mr Zhan who is an addict himself and who claims such resolutions are “fleeting.” The good news merchants prefer to put their trust in the expert’s further acknowledgment of “the progress that China has made in recent years” with methadone clinics and needle-exchange programs. In China, as in America it seems, things just keep getting better.

Discover more from James Bowman

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Similar Posts