nietzsche is dead

9/18/05

Verse XIII of the Swingin’ Hit “I’m a Crusty Old Fart Complaining About Kids Today”

Having given more than four years of my life to the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina – and crediting most of my future success to said paper – I feel pretty damned qualified in bitching and moaning about what has become of the Daily Tar Heel.

Last week, one of their columnists, a venomous right-wing guttersnipe named Jillian Bandes, wrote a piece saying that she wished every Arab coming near an airport would get a cavity search, being “sexed up” as they did so. Go ahead and read the article, I dare you. [Oops, it’s not there. This has replaced it. Anyone in the comments section find it somewhere? Yes! Thanks, Mr. The Budster!]

After an unusual uproar, the editor of the DTH fired her ass, not for being a racist asshole, but because she’d taken quotes out of context and misled her subjects as to her true intentions. It being a slow post-Katrina news cycle, Yahoo! picked up the story, and then the columnist fired off one last salvo in which she gives a shout-out to her Wiccan God of Venal Cruelty, Ann Coulter herself.

Now, we can get into racial profiling all you want: as an American with a heart, I feel as though none of my fellow countrymen should bear an unfair burden in our democracy, but as an American with a brain, I understand the end-game of racial profiling is a bunch of old Norwegian women with bombs. This girl’s article is reptilian hatred being sold as common sense, and it’s not even particularly original.

No, I would like to step back a little bit and say what I hate about this shit: it’s bad writing.

The editors of the paper should have smelled this car-fart for what it was: a naked attempt at stirring up controversy, and one girl’s pathetic lunge at the scraps of right-wing chaff being discarded by the likes of Coulter and Michelle Malkin. One may hate Coulter and Malkin, but at least they’re effective conduits of essentially evil misinformation; most of what I read on that DTH page scans like decongestant instructions.

I know how college moves at seven times the speed of the real world, thus everyone in Chapel Hill is sick of thinking about the Brandes brouhaha, and no doubt Jillian herself will use the publicity to land herself a coffee-fetching job at the conservative thinktank of her choice.

But the mediocrity of what used to be the brightest beacon of college journalism continues unabated. You may laugh and make deeply unoriginal “old jokes” about my perceived curmudgeonliness, but the Daily Tar Heel spawned Pulitzer Prize winner Ed Yoder, 3-time Peabody and 10-time Emmy winner Charles Kuralt and, of course, Jeff MacNelly started his comics career there (and then won three Pulitzers).

In my day, the late 80s to early 90s, we were helmed by Jean Lutes – Doctor Jean Lutes to you – who would have NEVER allowed such claptrap to get near her paper. David Surowiecki was taking pictures (and would go on to capture the most horrific moments of 9/11), and current Nation reporter Matt Bivens was editing my column. Future professor at Utah State Brian McCuskey was writing on Tuesdays, now-Hollywood-writer Jim Rash had Thursdays, and they let me have Wednesdays. God, the Dream Team we had: Bill Yelverton, Laura Pearlman, David Rowell, Jennifer Wing, Mondy Lamb… these were people who recruited for and ran a paper that won basketfuls of awards every year.

Yes, the current DTH is run by 19-year-old kids. You know what? We were fucking 19 years old too, and didn’t let it get in our way. I’ve held off criticism for many years, first because I have WAY too much love for the DTH in my heart to wish any ill will, and secondly, because in college, the advice – or opprobrium – of older alumni is about as welcome as herpes simplex 3.

The only reason I bother is because that little student newspaper, tucked away in the virtually-windowless anus of the student union, gave life to every creative dream I’ve ever had. For a few short years, it gave me – a dorky, friendless, virginal violin player – as much social power in a major university as someone on our basketball team. It let me indulge in exorcising my past and gave me the confidence to dare string words together for a living.

The pinch-hitting DTH editor writes that this column “sparked an outrage that could be quantified as the largest in our history.” Oh how wrong you’d be. Forget the Vietnam War – the biggest scandal in DTH history occurred twenty years ago this week, when the editors put a quote by Nietzsche at the bottom of the paper: God is Dead.

What followed were thousands of letters to the editor, entire classes being overtaken by Nietzschian philosophy, liberals throwing water balloons at the crazy groups of galloping Baptists in the Pit, parents threatening to take their kids out of school, and calls for the student newspaper to be defunded. As a silent, brooding, scared freshman, I was stunned that so much dialogue had opened up a floodgate of opposing philosophy. I was IN COLLEGE and it was AWESOME. I ran to the DTH and signed up to report on anything they wanted. My first piece: the return of Halley’s Comet.

Get better, Daily Tar Heel. Some other silent, brooding, scared freshman NEEDS you.

0 thoughts on “nietzsche is dead

  1. Bud

    Here’s a link to the original column:
    http://www.dailytarheel.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/09/13/4326450119685?in_archive=1
    They were right to revoke her “License to Jill,” but the DTH staff’s clumsy handling of the situation came off a lot like kowtowing to the god of PC.
    Speaking of which, why don’t I remember the “God is Dead” uproar?
    I’m guessing alcohol had something to do with that. That was truly a semester of “laissez les bon temps roulez.”
    Speaking of which, I forgot to mention: break out the Pepe Lopez — I finally graduated.

    Reply
  2. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    Congratulations, Bud!
    Hey Ian, do you know there whereabouts of Pete Corson? Wasn’t he a Chi Psi as well? We were in UNITAS together, and I loved his cartoons.
    Speaking of which, remember when Julianna and I were in the first ever year of UNITAS in Carmichael Dorm? And I helped create the now defuncted UNITAS 2. . . anyway, from what I can tell from the UNC website, that program has gone down the toilet as well. And that is too bad. It was quite a cutting edge program. . . multicultural living/learning before anyone even heard the term “multicultural” (and before all the backlash began!)
    Just face it. Carolina was never the same after our generation of folks left!

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  3. Just Andrew

    LFMD – shoot me an email to justandrew@gmail.com and I’ll get you Pete’s email – he’s in Atlanta, working for the paper there and was married in April.
    Also, not to trivialize a great blog entry, but the main thing I got out of it was that I had forgotten the name Mondy Lamb – good gravy did I have the hots for her. She was a freshman, I was a Junior – dinner a couple of times and a movie or two, but I guess I wasn’t her type, sigh.

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  4. Reader

    It’s a stupid column and a stupid opinion, but do you really want to censor it? Where is the line drawn? At least we know that there are people who think like this.

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  5. Tanya

    I considered myself sort of a satellite writer for the DTH for several semesters – I wrote mainly for the Arts & Enertainment desk. So, while I don’t have the visceral connection that Ian or others do, I still consider the DTH as part of my collegiate experience. Heck, my most stand out articles were my review of “Tombstone” and an article on gourmet cooking. Pushing the envelope, eh, T??? LOL
    I don’t think the general decline in the quality of writing/editing/content of the DTH is solely an ailing of the the DTH. I think it’s a malaise that’s spreading to many, many, many media outlets throughout the nation. Perhaps we’ve seen the retirement/aging out of the post-Watergate boom of reporters and editors. And their only replacement are folks who just don’t feel the need or committment to the role of watchdog that the generation before did? Who knows.
    Regardless of the cause, it’s a disease whose symptoms are cropping up in many different facets of our way of life. The sheer ballsiness of one George W. unchecked is just the most obvious.

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  6. Greg from Winston Dorm

    Mondy lived in Winston Dorm, by way of Asheville. I believe her full name, Mondamin, means “earth nugget”. She is beautiful and smart. Great combination to have for any woman, if you ask me.
    Pete works for the AJC in Atlanta and can be spotted occasionally at The Cheyenne Grille for the big Carolina games. Didn’t he do the cartoon of Bobby Hurley as Bart Simpson?

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  7. CL

    >>>And their only replacement are folks who just don’t feel the need or committment to the role of watchdog that the generation before did? Who knows.
    Wrong…there are fewer newspapers in existence now, and thus, fewer newspapers to hire journalists, and thus, each journalist has a lot of responsibility.
    Think back to Watergate. Do you remember, in the movie, where Woodward and Bernstein were also running out every day to do their police beat and cover school board meetings? I don’t think so. They were given the time to cover Watergate. TWO journalists.
    Now, assigning two guys to one story for that length of time and losing them on so many other stories is not easy because there are fewer newspapers…and less competition.
    Daily newspapers are merging, and if there are fewer reporters around to compete and call sources, less information gets out.
    This is not, of course, the problem with the North Carolina student paper – I’d guess this is an incident that happens at all papers. I went to the U of Penn and we always had some political column or other that would really piss people off.
    So I doubt this is a sign of a decline in journalism or the responsibility of an individual journalist. If the newspapers today aren’t uncovering Watergate, it may be that there aren’t enough of them to do it.
    The public, of course, can help the media out by pointing out what they are doing wrong and writing letters to the editor, and giving tips to journalists. But you’d be surprised at how few make the effort.
    Newspapers don’t work in a vaccuum. I’m always reading screeds against “the media” and about what they aren’t covering all the time on people’s blogs, but I wonder if those same people take the time to e-mail their thoughts to newspaper editors. It’s a productive thing to do.

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  8. Bill

    I am a former DTHer from 1987-1990, and I consider my time spent there as one of the best experiences of my college years. “BUDGET, FPG!” still brings back strong memories — I loved those daily meetings with the desk editors, figuring out what stories should lead the next day’s edition. I left on bittersweet terms, after losing a campus-wide election for editor in the spring of 1990. Thank god they changed that system…although the campus often got it right, with the likes of Jean Lutes (who was editor when I started at the paper at the business desk, “breaking the news” that Gumby’s pizza was coming to town).
    Anyway, like Ian and some others who commented here, I loved the DTH and the opportunities it presented me and the friends it introduced me to. And I’m sorry to hear that its quality has perhaps declined.
    “The duty of the press is to tell the truth and raise hell.” — Mark Twain (and the backside slogan of a late 1980s DTH sweatshirt).
    (rough paraphrase — 15 years after the fact)

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  9. J.Boogie

    So much for liberals and freedom of speech.
    When someone writes a conservative piece, they get fired and the liberals seem proud of it.
    Unless you tow the party line and pump out some NPR/Daily Kos/NY Times left wing piece, the left-wing fascists want you silencecd. Ian once again shows his true colors.

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  10. scruggs

    So much for conservatives and basic reading comprehension. Though it is clear Ian isn’t a big fan of her column and racist commentary, it seems his focus is ultimately on Miss Bandes writing ability and delivery above and beyond the content.
    Also, Miss Bandes portrayed her subjects’ views inaccurately by quoting the individuals out of context, and should have been canned whether she is a supporter of the Heritage Foundation or of the ACLU. If some reporter interviews me and asks me what my favorite color is, say I respond: “I love red, red rocks, I wear it every day no matter what people think.” If, the next day, my quote appears in an article about the crips and the bloods and wearing red or blue or whatever shows your support of them, I think I’d be grumpy. She obviously asked them about racial profiling in general, not if they were for searches to the point of personal violation yet that’s what she makes it seem in the article. Let’s have a little bit of journalistic integrity here.

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  11. eric g.

    As a DTHer on the State & National Desk during the Sharon Kebschull era, I have to say this is sad. To hide behind the First Amendment is beside the point; I agree with Ian—this is just crappy journalism that shouldn’t have seen the light of day. The fact that writing like this wasn’t published during our day is a testament both to the writers and the editors. I’d love to hear Sharon’s or Jean’s take on this situation. And the fact that the current staff wouldn’t let its editor step down is less a stirring tale of loyalty than a tacit admission that no one else is willing to step up and ensure that dreck like this doesn’t appear on the back page again.

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  12. Anne D.

    IMO as an editor, I agree that this piece needed heavy work (rewrite, editing) before it saw the light of day. But I think condemning a young student columnist for her purple prose (that stupid “sexed up” quip etc.) is a bit absurd. This is not Maureen Dowd we’re talking about; it’s a kid writing for a college newspaper.
    Taking potshots at student journalists is easy. Is it really important enough for a long blog rant? Go after the big guys who mess up. There are plenty of them.

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  13. kaz

    i think this is a great topic for a blog entry, especially because examples that aren’t set early (professionalism, fact-checking, basic grammar), often aren’t set at all. and that kind of sloppy writing and lack of critical thinking is becoming a pervasive and detrimental part of our culture.
    last night, i heard victor navasky, the publisher and former editor of “the nation,” speak about point of view in journals of opinion. and, what seems most salient to me is that writers should profess the context of their comment. as the philosopher max otto wrote: “Let us remember that even Plato wore spectacles, and that if he or any absolutist ignores or repudiates this fact, it only makes him careless of the kind her wears.”
    so, it’s not so much that columists write conservative or liberal pieces and catch flak, it’s that they often publish in journals or papers that purport to have no bias or subjectivity. and, in this case, there was a clear bias. this is not the view of a moderate and thoughtful person. a real examination of racial profiling would do more for the greater good than a blathering opinion parading as a thought piece.

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  14. cullen

    I concur concurrently with many comments, but I valiantly and objectively tried to prepare myself to respond to the article by projecting/flashbacking as a STUD, I mean student. That said,
    1. The writing really sucked. I’d be more pissed about that than the fact that it was a warped-arse opinion, especially if I was reading it on the can in some nether-world basement campus privy like Hill Hall or a Woollen shit-sweat box. (BTW, I can’t tell you the number of times “Wednesday’s Child” accompanied my bowels’ howls. That’s readership man.)
    2. I can read b/w the party and panty lines enuff to know that on some level, this attractive chica thinks she and her in-your-face take on this soberingly serious subject is so HOT. It’s snot, and so is Ann Coulter.
    3. She called W “Bushie”. That’s fucked up. And what the hell does ’embrace the race’ mean? Inquiring minds want to know.
    Espouse the vows.

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  15. david

    How come the downsizing in journalism, CL?
    ‘as much social power in a major university’ Something about absolute power corrupts… what was that again? Wink.
    The Miami Stupid, http://miamistudent.net/ was vapid from what I recall, and I worked there, but it was the nations oldest college newspaper.

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  16. david

    ‘saying that she wished every Arab coming near an airport would get a cavity search, being “sexed up” as they did so’
    She should have been fired. Violation of their amendment rights. The same amendment that protects us all from discrimination by race, gender, sex, and / or relgious preferences.
    Many people forget that last part.
    To paraphrase Archie Bunker, ‘A bigot is a bigot. It’s only OK to play one on TV.’

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  17. CL

    >>How come the downsizing in journalism, CL?
    A few conglomerates are buying and merging the newspapers. Wherever you’re from, think of how many newspapers there were there when you were a wee kid, and think of how many there are now.
    Now, as for why THAT is, I’m not exactly sure. Too much money among too few publishers?

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  18. david

    Happened here in San Francsico. There were two, er, ahem, papersand a bunch of free rags. Now there is one, er, ahem, paper, and a bunch of free rags.
    “Now, as for why THAT is, I’m not exactly sure.”
    Happens in every industry sector. Business buy other business in order to expand or dominate a market, and then kill them off. Adobe, Aldus. Adobe, Macromedia. Those are just big players. Countless small frys too. Small business owners (creators of blog software) need to sell to get out from a cash hungry personal company debt. They accept golden handcuff deals and find that they hace to watch their baby die. Occasionally there are some sucess stories. And sometimes babies that are incubated get spun off in divestitures.
    But, I had not realized this was hitting journalism. But, of course it has.

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