2010 According to Katie Couric
The New Year is as good a time as any to evaluate the Old, and The Scrapbook has been interested to read the varying interpretations of 2010. Among the chattering classes, for example, there seems to be consensus that the past year was a horror—and from their point of view, with some reason. Not only did the guard change in Washington, with unprecedented Republican gains in Congress, but Barack Obama was unmasked as a mere politician, and a hamfisted one at that.
The Scrapbook’s most revealing look back, however, came from the perspective of Katie Couric, the CBS news reader. In 2010 she was horrified, she declared, by objections to the Ground Zero mosque in Lower Manhattan, which revealed a “seething hatred” of Muslims in America.
To be sure, she didn’t mention anything specific, nor explain that criticism of the Ground Zero mosque was seldom directed at Muslims or Islam in general—dozens of mosques thrive in greater New York—but at the painful symbolism of a mosque deliberately constructed beside the site where 3,000 people were murdered by Islamist fanatics. The problem for Katie Couric is not the notion of a bumptious development proposal but the “seething hatred” she ascribes to principled dissent.
Of course, there’s no accounting for network anchors; and The Scrapbook can hardly begin to explain to Katie Couric that people in the news business, above all, should avoid simple epithets when explaining complex circumstances. But then again, this is Katie Couric we’re talking about—and the best part of her year-end review is her solution to the problem of “seething hatred” for Islam: “Maybe we need a Muslim version of The Cosby Show,” she says. “The Cosby Show did so much to change attitudes about African Americans in this country, and I think sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t understand.”
Well, when it comes to Islamists who consecrate their lives to killing as many innocent Americans as possible, people are afraid of things they understand all too well. But what can The Scrapbook say to someone who thinks America’s problems are alleviated by sitcoms? Only that a lifetime spent in TV studios seems to affect the brain.
The Cosby Show (1984-92) was a pleasant depiction of an affluent obstetrician, his lawyer-wife, and their adorable kids in a comfortable Brooklyn brownstone. It is deeply insulting to suggest, as Katie Couric does, that “attitudes about African Americans in this country” were affected in any way by the Cosby sitcom, especially as late as the mid-1980s. It takes a genuinely provincial mind to believe that social attitudes in a country the size and complexity of the United States are influenced, in any demonstrable way, by mildly amusing TV shows intended to sell soap.
Unless, of course, you think that I Love Lucy taught tolerance for -Cuban-American bandleaders, or that -bigotry ended with All in the Family. Surely that would explain how Gomer Pyle, USMC made the Vietnam war wildly popular, and I Dream of Jeannie put a man on the moon. ♦
Calling All Atheists of Color
Beliefnet.com—a religious website so ecumenical that it serves every community, from the Bahai to pagans to faithful nonbelievers—recently ran a sobering piece about the appalling lack of diversity in the atheist community.
Most atheists, it turns out, are white men. Says Beliefnet:
From the smallest local meetings to the largest conferences, the vast majority of speakers and attendees are almost always white men. Leading figures of the atheist movement—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett—are all white men.
Alert the EEOC!
Atheists are working to put a more diverse public face on their movement. A new group, Black Atheists of America, drew about 25 attendees at its first national meeting in October. Also last year, the Institute for Humanist Studies was born in Washington, D.C., with a goal of helping atheism become more diverse. But diversity remains elusive. As of late December, American Atheist magazine hadn’t been able to find enough black atheist writers to fill a special Black History Month edition for February. In another telling sign, the Council for Secular Humanism tried in vain to present a diverse array of speakers at its four-day October conference in Los Angeles. Most of the 300 attendees were white men, as were 23 of the 26 speakers. “Considering the changing demographics of our country, we need to consider why our message is not resonating with Latinos, why it’s not resonating with people of color, and why it’s not resonating with women in the way that it could be,” said Debbie Goddard, director of African-Americans for Humanism.
Well, then. The atheist establishment types are saying all the right things about their diversity goals, but can we really take them at their word? After all, if they really cared about it, wouldn’t they take the sort of radical measures that the diversity police routinely force on fire departments, government contractors, and the rest?
If atheists can’t increase minority participation through recruitment, then it may be time for some selfless white atheists to suspend their non-belief and start going to church, for the good of the cause.
Meanwhile, the folks over at the Stuff White People Like blog need to update their list. ♦
Read, Learn, Enjoy
Upon returning from its holiday revels, The Scrapbook found not one but two excellent gifts of the season in the mailbox: sparkling new issues of two of our favorite quarterlies, the Claremont Review of Books (Fall 2010) and National
Affairs (Winter 2011).
The Claremont Review features many writers familiar to readers of this magazine—Christopher Caldwell and Matthew Continetti, James -Ceaser and Harvey Mansfield, Cheryl Miller and Jeremy Rabkin, to mention only some. They and their fellow contributors are all at the top of their form. Curious about Barack Obama or Somerset Maugham, the state of democracy or the strength of the West? There’s an amazing amount of high-quality reflection and lively writing on these and other topics in this issue’s 70 pages.
And when you’re done with that, pick up National Affairs—a little less polemical, a little more policy-oriented, but equally thoughtful and stimulating—and consider James -Capretta on the budget, John Hood on the states’ fiscal crisis, Jeffrey Miron on redistribution, and, for a change of pace, Ralph Lerner’s charming and penetrating reflections on Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration. And by the time you’re done with that . . . you’ll be just in time for next quarter’s Claremont Review and National Affairs. ♦
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Barry Zorthian, 1920-2010
Not too many civilian officials emerged with distinction from the Vietnam war, but Barry Zorthian, who died in Washington last week at 90, was an honorable exception. Chief spokesman for the United States government in Saigon (or in formal terms, head of the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office) during 1964-68, he had the difficult, and deeply unenviable, task of explaining the American mission to the South Vietnamese—and to an increasingly contentious and adversarial American press corps. It is to his great credit that he served his country’s cause with energy and success while retaining the admiration and respect of reporters.
After Vietnam, he became a senior executive at Time Inc., and up until the time of his death was a familiar, and much admired, figure in the Washington public relations and policy-making world. His life was also an interesting sidebar to the American dream: Born in Turkey to Armenian parents who fled for their lives in the early 1920s, Barry Zorthian was a Marine artillery officer in the Pacific during World War II, and a Yale graduate, Class of 1941, where he was tapped for Skull and Bones—not bad for an immigrant’s son who had landed in America with nothing but hope. ♦
The Fake-Tocqueville Virus Spreads
John J. Pitney Jr. of Claremont McKenna College’s government department sends word that the -celebrated “fake Tocqueville” quote—“America is great because she is good”—continues to proliferate. Pitney first chronicled this plague in our pages 15 years ago (“The -Tocqueville Fraud,” November 13, 1995). He notes at his blog, www.bessettepitney.net, that its most recent victim is TV host Glenn Beck, who cited it on January 4. “De Tocqueville said this,” said Beck. Nope. Its earliest known appearance is in the 1940s. Eisenhower popularized it, and it has been suckering the speechwriters of great (and not-so-great) men ever since: Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Ross Perot, John Kerry, et al. As Pitney says, “It’s the quotation that will not die.” ♦
Sentences We Didn't Finish
"If everyone in America was very, very pleased with his or her health insurance and had no complaints and had access to quality, affordable health care in our country, it still would have been necessary for us to pass the health care reform care bill . . . ” (outgoing House speaker Nancy Pelosi at her -January 4 press conference). ♦