26 September 2008
The Scandalously Wimpy New York Times
Here's a correction The New York Times ran yesterday:
A front-page headline on Wednesday with an article about Warren E. Buffett's plan to invest $5 billion in the Wall Street investment banking firm Goldman Sachs described that company as "ailing." While its stock has been battered and it has agreed to tighter government regulation and wants to raise more capital from investors, "embattled" would have been a more accurate headline description of Goldman's state than "ailing."
What kind of letter did a Goldman lawyer have to write to get that "correction"?
Anyone who thinks that "ailing" is an unfair term to apply to Goldman Sachs just isn't paying any friggin' attention!
It seems clear to me that TNYT wants to occupy the niche of utter gutlessness.
They should, as my older brother likes to say, "man up," at least to the minimal extent of calling an ailing bank ... an ailing bank! without apologizing for it. This is so classically "wimpy" one expects the editors to head out to a cheeseburger joint, offering to pay Tuesday for a cheeseburger today.
Pedantic note. "Embattled" is an odd word. Nowadays it is often used as the author of that wimpy correction seems to mean to use it, to mean "battered by battles."
But there was a time when it meant -- and it sometimes still means -- "prepared for battle".
Remember the poem Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about the minutemen at Concord in April 1775?
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
He is describing the farmer/soldiers just as the battle was to start. So "embattled" doesn't mean battered. It means "ready to take what battering may come in the impending battle."
The shot heard round the world refers to the FIRST shot of that battle, logically. And they were already "embattled." So the term has the meaning of "in readiness."
As always, when I make these semantic points, I do so to serve a substantive point. The Times is complciit in hiding the fact that the bankers of Wall Street today aren't "embattled" in the right sense, the Emersonian sense. They aren't ready to do battle like proper entrepreneurs with a risky world.
A wimpy press of this sort is proper for a monarchy, not for the descendants of the farmer who fired that shot at Concord in defiance of a monarch.
That's a scandal.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.