The XX Factor

Can a Barricade-Manning Liberal Ever Win the Benefit of the Doubt?

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Marjorie, I agree that it’s time to let the McClelland firestorm die out, although it, like all bare-knuckle debate, has been good for both journalists and readers.  More so for journalists, since we’re the ones who, more or less, decide what to write about. And how.

I’m not agreeing because, as you suggest, I think either Haiti or McClelland “have suffered enough.” Both will go on much as before (though McClelland’s career will be enhanced, something for which all of us hope when we publish). She asked for it; she knew what would happen and I’d better not catch her whining. I’d still support the piece even as I viciously dogged her for trying to have cake she’d already eaten.

We should move on because there’s been coalition-busting debate on a hot-potato issue; both sides are so entrenched, all that can happen now is posturing and “winning” at all costs. If anyone has changed their position, I’d be pretty damned surprised. The stakes just got too high too quickly and to recant now requires a strength of character that few possess. 

But before I sign off….

Forgive me, but your argument that pieces like this can negatively affect policy towards Haiti seems makeweight, dangerous, and unethical (unless you’re arguing that anything that makes Haiti look bad is ipso facto inaccurate). Crucial to your opposition is your assertion that the essay was journalism, not memoir, and therefore to be judged on its “truth-telling and accuracy.”  Firstly, it’s memoir, not journalism. Secondly, I don’t read the new Atlantic piece to conclude that McClelland is guilty of “using” “Sybilene” without her permission. Thirdly: It wouldn’t matter if I did. It’s still a killer essay, with or without permission, just as a beautiful song remains so even if you stole a neighbor’s piano to compose it.   

If it really is an essay, would you still oppose it?  Could you? (This is one of many reasons I’ll teach this piece in future journalism classes. Students will be asked to defend their opinion as to which it is). She wouldn’t have worthy supporters if we believed it to be offered as journalism and, certainly, no reputable magazine would have published it. 

This brings me to the crux of my opposition to y’all’s opposition and why we question your motives:  What very special kind of stupid would we have to be to fall into such an obvious trap? Racist, we may be, but dumb? The minute we’d read enough to realize the piece was about a bizarre, negative personal experience born of white reporting in the black third world? C’mon! Give us a break.  None of us matriculated at Bob Jones U or were homeschooled by evolution rejectors. We all teach our kids that’s it’s great when boys love boys, that affirmative action doesn’t go far enough, and that whales are people, too. However subconsciously egotistical colonialists we might be, none of us with a public, liberal voice could ever be this self-destructive, this dense.

I’ll be bummed, at first, if I run across that magical piece that does make me reconsider my feelings about Mac McClelland;  I’m sorta invested in feeling all renegade and daring.  But I’m sincerely doing my best to take you critics seriously and if I encounter that magic analysis, I’ll admit it publicly. And gratefully; I’m geek enough to rather be morally and intellectually rigorous than victorious. If you’re brave and if you’re honest, it will all come right in the end.