A Pub Chat

IMG_0514 A few weeks ago, I went to the New Yorker website to look up a link for my blog. I clicked on a link to enter myself in a contest to win free tickets to see Malcolm Gladwell, a staff journalist, and David Remnick, the editor for the magazine. A few hours later, I received a notice that I was one of the first hundred to sign up. I won! Yay! Such a geeky prize.

My friend, Suze, was my date for the evening. We squeezed into a tiny table in Joe's Pub on Lafayette Street and ordered wine and nibbles. I have to say that Suze and I were both pathetically gleeful to be there. We're both avid readers of the New Yorker and, after this crappy winter, it was good to be out and about. 

There was a stage set for Remnick and Gladwell. With dramatic lighting and microphones and arm chairs. Just in case they didn't want to talk about journalism anymore and wanted to break into a Liza Minelli medley. 

When they came out, Remnick immediately brought up the Gladwell's social media article from a few weeks ago, where Gladwell wrote that social media only created weak ties and wasn't sufficient to push a people to form a social movement. He took a lot of heat in the past few weeks, since social media may have played some role in the uprisings in Egypt. 

Gladwell was pretty hostile to his critics. He scoffed that his critic was some blogger from Huffington Post. Why should we listen to some pajama-wearing blogger, he asked? Some pajama-wearing blogger who lives in Brooklyn, he added for extra laughs. 

Well, I'm not sure why we should listen to a journalist who doesn't like to travel north of 14h Street. 

Look, it was a very entertaining evening. Those guys were funny and witty and shared lots of amusing stories. But they didn't know anything about revolutions or social media or Egypt. That's okay. Journalists don't have know be experts in their field. But they have to acknowledge that they aren't experts and they really have an obligation to talk to people who spend their lives studying those subjects. 

Why should anyone care what Malcolm Gladwell thinks about Egypt and Facebook, when there are people who have travelled to the Mid East, are fluent in Arabic, and spend most of their waking hours learning about this subject. Gladwell has a gift for being entertaining, which is great. Probably the Arab expert is long winded and boring and doesn't have nice, fluffy hair like Gladwell.  Gladwell should be translating the long-winded Arab expert, not pretending to be a more entertaining version of the Arab expert. 

There's a long standing grievance between political journalists and political scientists. That night, the political journalists lost. 

6 thoughts on “A Pub Chat

  1. Listening to Arab experts can also suck, at least at the start. They feel compelled, more than anybody but the East Asian specialists, to explain why their topic of study is so difficult, important, misunderstood, vital, and whatnot.


  2. “Listening to Arab experts can also suck, at least at the start. They feel compelled, more than anybody but the East Asian specialists, to explain why their topic of study is so difficult, important, misunderstood, vital, and whatnot.”
    Also, the Saudis are handing out millions of dollars to American universities. What exactly do they think they’re buying?


  3. I agree totally with our hostess, and have said much the same thing myself. The great thing about the blogosphere is that you don’t have to rely on someone like Anthony Lewis, whose claim to fame was that he went to law school for one(!) year, to comment on legal issues, you can read what people who actually know something (e.g., Eugene Volokh, Jack Balkin) have to say. The same goes for economics and most other fields. It’s a very beneficial species of disintermediation.
    I enjoy reading Malcolm Gladwell, but that’s like saying I enjoy eating candy: for real nourishment, you should read people with actual expertise.


  4. There are plenty of sources of information, but you’ll see none of them at Crooked Timber, which links to this post or even a discussion of the issues.
    I’ll play it safe and link to Helena Cobban, who’s as white as you are.
    But I remember your linklist included the blog of a woman describing her new life and home, having left Ohio (if I remember correctly) and now somewhere in “Judea and Samaria”in the occupied west bank.
    I won’t expect much.


  5. “To Jerusalem We go, to be the Martyrs in our Millions”
    Democracy in Egypt.
    And there are christians in that crowd too.


  6. Laura
    Over on Crooked Timber I noted the connection between Malcolm Gladwell and Paul Kingston. They were classmates at Trinity College, U of Toronto, in the early 80s.
    Kingston is a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at U of Toronto, with a focus on modern political issues. He has travelled widely in Egypt and the region.
    If Gladwell spoke to his former classmate, then he may well know more about the situation than most journalists.


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