Category Archives: Op-Ed

When Op-Eds Relitigate Facts

Bret Stephens’s first Op-Ed column for The New York Times.

What year were we taught the difference between facts and opinions in grade school? Was it an election year?

To review: The bar for an opinion is low. The bar for a fact is higher. Statements of fact need to be verifiable, substantiated, and proven. An opinion doesn’t need to meet any standards at all. The bar for what constitutes an opinion — sans corroboration, sans evidence, sans proof — is, indeed, low. The bar for who will listen to it is somewhere else.

A published opinion doesn’t need to meet any particular standard, either, other than an editor deeming an opinion piece worthy of publication. In opinion journalism, the publisher sets the bar. And no publisher’s bar placement comes under more scrutiny than The New York Times’.

At Splinter, David Uberti asks: “Who Is The New York Times‘ Woeful Opinion Section Even For?” If the paper of record is to remain any kind of standard-bearer in our current political moment, what should its opinion section look like? How rigorous should its standards be? Uberti advocates for raising the bar, preferably one or two notches above the denial of facts that have been painstakingly reported on the other side of the Times‘ news-opinion firewall:

In his initial column, in late April, Stephens questioned the predictions about the effects of climate change that the Times has reported on extensively. This slickly branded “climate agnostic” approach stuck a finger in the eye of both the Times’s readership and its newsroom. It risked mimicking the pundit-reporter dynamic seen at CNN, where in-house bloviators are paid to spout opinions that at times directly contradict the network’s own news reporting. Bennet defended the column as part of a “free exchange of ideas,” in what Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple described as a “Boilerplate Kumbaya Response to Public Outrage.”

The op-ed page—opposite of the editorial page—was unveiled by the Times in 1970 to foster a true “conflict of ideas,” as onetime Editorial Page Editor John B. Oakes put it. Points of view clashing with the Times’ institutional perspective or biases would be especially welcome. Names floated as potential contributors ranged from Communists to members of the John Birch Society.

“They really wanted diversity when they came out—they really prized it,” said University of Maine media scholar Michael Socolow, who authored a 2010 paper on the origins of the op-ed page. Its debut contributors included a staff column on the need for super-sonic air travel; a Chinese novelist describing Beijing during the Cultural Revolution; a political scientist and former LBJ aide analyzing U.S. policy in Asia; and a New Republic contributing editor slamming Vice President Spiro Agnew. It was a radical expansion of the Times’s opinion offerings that other newspapers soon emulated, and it hasn’t fundamentally changed since then besides expanded publishing space and formats online.

“In general, we’re looking to challenge our own and our readers’ assumptions, and, we hope, put people who disagree on important questions into conversation with each other in order to sharpen everyone’s thinking,” Bennet wrote to Splinter.

Some recent attempts to do so, however, seemed to trade intellectual rigor or true diversity for the appearance thereof.

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On NYC’s Paratransit, Fighting for Safety, Respect, and Human Dignity

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad, Photo by Chris Sampson (via Flickr)

Britney Wilson | Longreads | September 2017 | 18 minutes (4,410 words)

 

He pulled up on the wrong side of the street fifteen minutes late for my pick-up time. I was sitting outside, in front of the New York City office building where I work, in a chair that the security guards at my job have set aside for me. They bring it outside when I come downstairs in the evening and take it back inside whenever I get picked up, so I don’t have to stand while I wait anymore. I was on the left side of the street; he pulled up on the right. I stood when I saw him, and taking a few steps closer to the tide of people rippling endlessly down the sidewalk that early evening, I waved one of my crutches in the air trying to get his attention. He looked up and down the street. I wasn’t sure if he’d seen me.

“Excuse me,” I said, taking a few more quick half steps forward, trying to catch the attention of a passer-by, “do you see that Access-a-Ride across the street?”

“The what?” the passer-by asked.

“The Access-a-Ride,” I repeated. “That little blue and white bus across the street.” I pointed my crutch in its direction, and his gaze followed its path.

“Oh,” he said. But just as I was about to request the man’s assistance, I saw that the driver had finally spotted me. He put his hand up as if to tell me to stay put.

“Nevermind. I think he sees me,” I said. “Thanks anyway.”

My Access-a-Ride driver, a skinny older Black man with glasses and a graying beard, exited the vehicle and crossed the street toward me. I bravely parted the latest oncoming wave of pedestrians and made my way to the curb to meet him.

“Come on,” the driver said when he reached me, urging me to step right out into traffic on Broadway and cross with him, but I was reluctant.

“I’d rather wait for the light to change,” I said.

“Don’t worry, I’ll stop traffic for you,” he said, moving toward the middle of the street, his right hand extended making a “stop” motion toward the oncoming cars. I tried to pick up my pace while also being careful not to place my crutch tips on anything slippery, or get too close to other pedestrians rushing to the other side of the street.

“Take your time. I’ll make them wait,” he attempted to reassure me. I wasn’t reassured.

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What Thomas Jefferson Taught Me About Charlottesville and America

Exterior of University of Virginia with statue of Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville, VA (Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

Joshua Adams | Longreads | August 2017 | 11 minutes (2,840 words)

 

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I had no idea about the University of Virginia. I knew I wanted to go away for college, and from about the time I was 10 years old, my mind was set on attending the University of Michigan. If it weren’t for my father constantly checking college rankings in magazines and taking me on college tours my junior and senior years of high school, UVA wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. But soon I got to see how beautiful the campus and city of Charlottesville were. Everything on the grounds has an historical aura to it — the neoclassical architecture, the Amphitheatre, Edgar Allen Poe’s room, the Rotunda designed by founder Thomas Jefferson, a man who at that point I knew little more about than what they teach you in grade school. I didn’t research UVA’s acceptance rates, tuition, majors, alumni success rates, or any of that stuff, because after I saw the alluring Central Grounds, I was sold.

That fall, my family and I drove to Virginia from Illinois, and I settled into the Kent building of what are known as “Old Dorms.”

The first year transition into UVA was rough. I was battling recurring bouts of colds and flus, and felt socially isolated as an out-of-state student and the only Black male from Chicago. I felt like I was falling through the cracks, and didn’t know who to reach out to. But by my second year, my health improved, I felt more comfortable in my surroundings, and I found my niche within African American Studies and English classes. Add the immeasurable warmth of folks like legendary dining hall cashier Mrs. Kathy McGruder, long lunch and dinner dates in Newcomb with groups of friends, and the hilarity of “Adventures of Cavman” at home football games, and C-Ville and UVA became my second home.

I will always have enormous affection for Charlottesville. In reflective moments, I look back and feel blessed to have called it home for four crucial, formative years of my college life. Charlottesville has figured into my professional life, too. My first ever print feature story as a journalist was with its local paper, C-VILLE Weekly.

Last weekend, I found myself glued to the television as the“Unite the Right” rallies unfolded. Alumni all over the country took to social media to give updates about what was going on. The footage of white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. driving into counter-protesters left me speechless. Charlottesville being in the national headlines for domestic terrorism might not have seemed predictable for that quaint and quiet college town. However, as positive as my feelings are towards the place, I can’t say I was entirely surprised about this attack. It was undoubtedly tragic, but I think we’d be dishonoring the memory of Heather Heyer and what she stood for to see it as unprecedented.

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Please Watch This Video Showing the Unfathomable Cruelty of U.S. Immigration Policy

I’ve been obsessed with systems in government, and in business, that completely erase our humanity. That could mean an algorithm on Facebook that’s designed to prevent nudity but unwittingly bans one of those most powerful images from the Vietnam War. It means the lengths we’ll go to pretend that our phones are not built from slave labor. Or it could mean the layers of bureaucracy built into a company that allows its owner, now one of the President’s top advisers, to target and harass low-income tenants without sullying his own hands in the process. Read more…

My Electric Bike is Not ‘Cheating.’ And It Could Replace Cars for Millions of People

Boy learning to ride a bicycle
Learning to Ride a Bike via Wikimedia

“Hey, no fair! You’re cheating!”

The guy was wrapped head to toe in black Lycra. He had clip-in cleats and a racing helmet. I was wearing a skirt and blue suede shoes. He was annoyed because I’d passed him. He was riding hard, I could see his effort and as I pulled out on the left, I could hear him breathing.

This stretch of road doesn’t look like much, but it’s an uphill grade. When I’m heading into town, I hit it from a right turn or a full stop, both of which kill my momentum. It’s nowhere near the gut emptying climb before you reach my house, but it’s not a coast, either. Road bike guy had probably come from the park at sea level; he’d likely been climbing for a mile already. Read more…

What We Saw in Washington, D.C.

Photos by Nate Gowdy for Longreads and The Stranger.

To cover this past weekend’s inauguration and Women’s March protests in Washington, D.C., Longreads teamed up with Seattle publication The Stranger. Armed with mood rings supplied by their editors, writers Sydney Brownstone and Heidi Groover, along with photographer Nate Gowdy, met those celebrating and protesting, shared their personal perspectives, and examined what it means for the next four years. Here’s their full diary from the events of January 18-23.

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