Jack Shafer, "In Praise of Insensitive Reporters: We'd hate them even more if they didn't overcover the VT story." Slate, April 17.
William Saletan, "Low Tech: Thank God the Blacksburg killer only had guns." Slate, April 18.
SO, how moldy is the Slate schtick at this point? Don't Eat That You Might Take Sick moldy? Instant Proustian Sense Memory of Your Doctor's Office in the Heyday of Penicillin moldy? How 'bout Mass Outbreak of Gangrenous Ergotism?
The third and last time I swore off Slate--the ban has never included an absolute refusal to go there, just a life-long prohibition against ever again opening anything there on the grounds that it appears "interesting"--took place back before the Post Company bought it. They look for all the world to have improved it in the way, as the Sufis say, a dog improves a pool of rosewater, but then I have to judge mainly by how awful whatever the current mistake of a page makeover is. Seeing the names "Mickey Kaus" and "Christopher Hitchens" is enough to let me know whether they've tightened their standards for content.
The place has a distinct Desperate 38-Year-Old Divorced Accounts Manager in a Bar at 2:45 AM Where All The Women Are Fourteen Years Younger Than Him vibe. It's the dilemma of the rapidly-aging late-80s trendy Libertarian, ain't it? Those lights get more unforgiving every fucking time they turn 'em up on you, and whaddya gonna do? Start believing in something? That's why the Iraq war must've looked so promising to these guys, like somebody announced that loose slacks, receeding hairlines, and a slight paunch were the hot new styles for spring. Hey, Rumsfeld is Sexy!
Back in the early days I attributed this to some bizarre Michael Kinsey experiment that assigned writers to cover stories from a point of view drawn from a hat, or possibly after consulting the I Ching; I later recognized it as schtick, once the mathematical probabilities of a large group of people taking almost comic-book "contrarian" positions had been exhausted. I don't actually recall the circumstances of my first swearing-off, or of my awarding it a Second Chance, but I do recall the blinding-light intensity of my later recognition that the reality was Slate had managed to attract a remarkably large contingent of writers whose dedication to Dashing Shit Off was compounded by a Contrarianism not so much mannerist as downright contemptuous of the idea that anybody would be reading the thing.
Thus Saletan, whose point is, no shit, actually encompassed by that stupid headline. It's just the deadliest shooting! he informs the sorry-assed abuse craver who'd read such a column; much bigger numbers have been run up with plastique! (Pan Am 103), fertilizer bombs! (Oklahoma City), and, of course, commercial airliners!! (9/11), for those of you keeping score. Never mind that Cho couldn't have walked into a store and bought $500 worth of C4, or a DC 3, and if he had made it to Ray Earl's Merchantile over t' Scugginsville his request for several hundred pounds of ammonium nitrate would have resulted in the quick appearance of the FBI. (Compare his buying a Glock, thanks so much, do you need a gift receipt? Hurry back!). Guns kill four World Trade Centersworth of Americans every year. This is the sort of detail that's irrelevant at Slate. Along with anything else which might interfere with the "Gee, common sense and everything I've ever witnessed tell me one thing, but this Slate article says I'm wrong! What a find!" reaction they apparently imagine taking place hundreds if not thousands of times an hour, wherever America goes online.
As for Shafer, well, what can you say after you've said, "Eh"? He quotes Michael Kinsley to the effect that reporters who haven't gone too far haven't gone far enough. I'm not sure what reputation Kinsley has left anywhere, but Shafer is quoting him in defense, not of the cable nets going wall-to-wall and offering days worth of half-baked speculation and a stubborn refusal to listen or use higher brain functions, but of sticking microphones in people's faces to ask them how they feel. Fer chrissakes, the real fucking news gathering has broken down. What do we get from that fake Human Element crap we didn't know beforehand? Maybe today's reality is that if there's a reporter within two hundred miles of such a story he hasn't gone far enough. In the opposite direction.