John Updike, from ‘The Dogwood Tree: A Boyhood,’ on a childhood neighbor he called ‘A’
He used to call me ‘Ostrich,’ after Disney's Ollie Ostrich. My neck was not very long; the name seemed horribly unfair; it was its injustice that made me cry. But nothing I could say, or scream would make him stop.… From A I received my first impression of the smug, chinkless, irresistible power of stupidity; it is the most powerful force on earth. It says ‘Ostrich’ often enough, and the universe crumbles.
From CNN, John King USA, 12/27/10:
Fran Townsend:He [Julian Assange] didn’t take any steps to understand the information, it was so vast, of what he was publishing, whether or not it would be useful or not. He made no distinctions about the harm he might be doing to foreign governments, the US government, to diplomats and soldiers around the world, he just wholesale threw this all out there, and so he took no steps to…
Glenn Greenwald: That’s totally false! That’s just a lie. He’s published less than 1% of the 50,000 diplomatic cables that he came into possession of, less than 2,000 of the 250,000, so for you to say that he just indiscriminately dumped these documents without assessing what they are and making decisions about what should be withheld and what should be redacted is just simply factually false. Why are you telling that to the viewers?
Townsend: He’s threatened to publish, he has threatened to publish much more than he has, and their isn’t any…the notion that we should be grateful that he didn’t commit a larger crime than he’s already committed is ridiculous!
Yellin: Glenn, let me ask you about the rape charges…
Yesterday’s viral video was the CNN discussion between Glenn Greenwald, Fran Townsend, and CNN anchor-totsy Jessica Yellin, who opened the proceedings by all but launching into a mocking imitation of Assange. Greenwald, as usual, acquitted himself beautifully. Fran Townsend got caught in a flat out lie near the end, which she capped with a graceless and dishonest attempt at saving face. Yellin mugged and smirked her way through the clip, and did nothing to hide her contempt for Assange.
In other words, both she and Fran Townsend were shouting “ostrich” as loudly as they could. Fortunately, they were dealing with an adult who didn’t resort to screaming or crying. That might not prevent the universe from crumbling, but at least it can disintegrate with some dignity.
What I find most striking about this segment is the sheer juvenility of both Townsend and Yellin. They come across as two smug junior high school girls, with Assange cast in the role of the nerdy class wonk. Anyone who remembers how such middle-school cliques operate knows that to mean girls, the truth doesn’t matter. The more the butt of their teasing insists on it, the more they shoot glances at each other and giggle. Part of the fun of catty schoolyard cliques is the sheer exercise of power, of prevailing even when the truth is not on their side.
Which seems to be the way much of the American media, as represented by Yellin, works. Otherwise, judging from Yellin’s comments and questions, I’d have to assume she believes some of the things she pretends to believe here and is therefore…well…stupid to point of mental disability. And since she can form coherent and even graceful sentences and knows what camera to look in, that stupid she is not.
Among the things Yellin asks us to believe that she believes:
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been making news lately for doing new things lately, but now he’s doing something old fashioned. Writing an ink and paper book for money! He tells London Times quote ‘I don’t want to write this book, but I have to,’ citing his legal fees and his desire to keep Wikileaks afloat. Assange tells the paper he’ll make about $1.3 million off the deal.
There is something amusingly hypocritical and fishy about a public figure trying to pay mounting legal fees by writing a book. Writing a book in order to make money? Who ever heard of such a thing?
Now, in essays attributed to him and published on the web, Assange explains his belief that some governments and corporations conspire to oppress people, and he believes that exposing government secrets leads to greater freedom because it breaks up those conspiracies.
Assange believes – get this!—that sometimes powerful institutions will try to hide things from the general public for reasons that are not admirable and not in the interests of the general public. This makes him a conspiracy mongering loon!
Glenn, I’d like to start with you I know you’ve spoken to Julian Assange several times, I’d like to get your reaction to his book deal today. Any qualms about the fact that he’s essentially profiting from classified information and do you see any irony in the fact that he’s making money off of a corporate publisher?
Anyone who criticizes corporations and expresses concern about their lack of transparency can only maintain his integrity by avoiding all interactions with corporations, including corporate publishers. Also, anyone who criticizes capitalism rejects the profit motive and is therefore a hypocrite if he tries to earn money.
Julian Assange once wrote a blog post saying ‘the more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia.’ So in other words, he should, it would seem expect the very reaction he’s seeing. He should expect the government to come after him, right? And he should also be prepared to go to jail for what he’s done as other revolutionaries have, no?
Since Assange knew he was going to be attacked for what he did, he should meekly turn himself in and go to jail because that’s what true revolutionaries do! They never hire lawyers and try to avoid going to jail.
We would draw a distinction between publishing information that comes to you by…and then publishing information that’s stolen by somebody, ostensibly stolen…
The Pentagon Papers? Never heard of them.
Journalists will go to jail to protect their sources, for example, there are things journalists will do in the line of their craft. Shouldn’t he again be prepared to go to jail in defense of his beliefs here…
Since Assange is passing himself off as a journalist, he should meekly turn himself in and go to jail because that’s what true journalists do when asked to revel their sources! They never hire lawyers and try to avoid going to jail.
The notion that Yellin actually believes this stuff stretches credibility to the breaking point. She is, however, perfectly content to pretend she believes it and invite everyone else to pretend too, all for the sake of pointing and laughing at Julian Assange.
This is the “smug, chinkless, irresistible power of stupidity” that Updike was writing about. It’s not actual mental deficiency, but deliberate obtuseness, the feigning of stupidity to avoid conceding a single point or facing a single unpleasant truth. Kids do it because they’re still testing boundaries, still learning about power, about truth, and about right and wrong.
Adults have no excuse.
Crossposted from Thoughtcrimes