Patrick Lawrence: Of Journalists, Students & Power

Student protesters with their clarity of words and actions are riveted to reality, while the media class flinches from it.

A Pre-White House Correspondents’ dinner reception pre-party at Washington Hilton on May 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Yahoo News/Flickr CC BY 4.0 Deed)

By Patrick Lawrence

The American media are never short of red-letter days when it comes to their wonderful combination of superciliousness and irresponsibility. But last week the mainstream dailies and magazines went all the way to scarlet and alizarin crimson.

The brighter the better, I say, when the derelictions of our media are on display such that readers can no longer miss the deceptions and distractions that are at this point their intent.

I was reading along over breakfast last Thursday in search of the overnight news on the Israeli–U.S. genocide in Gaza when I came upon the headline in The New York Times, “Laundry Detergent Sheets Are Poor Cleaners.” Wow.

This is a story The Times had been following since its April 5 opener, “The 5 Best Laundry Detergents of 2024,” but my friends on Eighth Avenue left me hanging. At last, I could go forth into the day confident I was a well-informed American, altogether engagé.

Last Thursday — wasn’t that the day the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reported that Israel’s military operations “continue from air, land and sea” and that “in northern Gaza only five hospitals remain operational, and in the south only six”? Yes, I read this on a U.N. website, but the Times didn’t have room for it. 

Then I was even better informed last Sunday, when The New Yorker published a long, delightfully inane conversation between David Remnick, who has very excellently overseen the ruination of what was once a good magazine, and Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian who always has a lot of important things to say. The occasion was … I shall let Remnick explain:

“And now, for the first time, he has directed a movie. It is about a Russian Orthodox monk in the sixteenth century who starves himself to death rather than give in to the depredations of tsarist society. No, it isn’t. It’s about the race in the early sixties between Kellogg and Post to invent the Pop-Tart. Yes, really. It is called Unfrosted and will air on Netflix on May 3. It is extremely silly, in a good way.”

Extremely silly in a good way. I think I understand.

Elsewhere in the news, as they say in the broadcast trade, the Israel Occupation Forces continued bombing Rafah as the Remnick item came out — Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where the IOF had ordered Gazans to flee for their safety as they, the Israelis, bombed and bulldozed northern Gaza to the point of uninhabitability.

But let us not allow brutalities of Medieval-style gore, savagery for which we pay, to disturb our psyches. With what shall our media fill our minds? The dropping of American ordnance on Palestinian children or the history of Pop–Tarts, humorously told?

We knew the answer by the time The New Yorker published the adolescent, time-wasting badinage Remnick and Seinfeld shared because we had watched — the caker over this past week — the White House Correspondents’ Dinner nine days ago. 

Feckless Poseurs

Host and comedian Colin Jost at a Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Red Carpet event. (Anthony Quintano/Flickr)

We watched a stream of reporters eager for some passing social connection to celebrity and power stride disdainfully by people demonstrating against the Israeli–U.S. genocide. We watched Medea Benjamin of Code Pink get thrown out of the dinner for holding up a placard reading, “100 journalists killed in Gaza.”

[WATCH: Protestors Confront White House Correspondents’ Dinner]

We heard Colin Jost conclude his 23 minutes of sometimes-pithy humor with his ode to what was most conspicuously missing in that roomful of feckless poseurs. “Decency is why we’re all here tonight,” the television comedian said with unfeigned seriousness.

“Decency is how we’re able to be here tonight.” By then Jost, at bottom a court jester, had already told his audience of narcissists, “Your words speak truth to power. Your words bring light to the darkness.”

Yes, believe it, in the spring of 2024 people still say these sorts of things about corporate journalists. And the people so addressed take them to be true.

Words. Words. Language, its use and misuse.

As I reviewed the week that was in our media, I thought of a book that greatly impressed me when it came out in the mid–1990s. In The Unconscious Civilization (House of Anansi, 1995; Free Press, 1997) John Ralston Saul, the Canadian scholar and writer, was early in identifying the disconnection between language, as used in our public discourse, and reality.

The expansion of knowledge has not produced an expansion of consciousness, Saul observed. It has instead caused us to take refuge in a universe of illusions wherein clear language becomes a kind of transgression. We render ourselves unconscious. Ideologies substitute for thought.

And then I thought of something else altogether. I thought of all those principled, clear-eyed students pitching tents, occupying buildings and holding placards across the U.S. in support of the Palestinian cause — which is to say the human cause.

What is the difference, I came to wonder, between the demonstrating students and the journalists writing about laundry detergents and junk breakfast food or obscuring best they can the daily atrocities in Gaza? If the question implies the two are comparable, good. I think they are in some essential respects.

Media Class Flinches From Reality

If we understand those who populate corporate media as painfully representative of the unconsciousness of our civilization—and I cannot see anyone disputing this — we can stay with Saul’s terms and rotate our gaze to recognize those demonstrating in many American colleges and universities as, before they are anything else, highly conscious human beings. May the future lie with them.

They are riveted to reality, while the media class flinches from it. While corporate journalists hide in forests of frivolity, the students we read of daily take refuge in nothing unless we count all those tents they’ve pitched on campus quads and greens.

Last Tuesday Columbia and other universities were besieged by police in riot gear — or, at UCLA, marauders, presumably students but maybe not, swung sticks in defense of the Zionist cause.

Listen to the language of the demonstrators, not only for what they say but for how they say it. The diction, simplicity and clarity of their placards and public statements have the force of true conviction.

Reconnecting language to reality lies at the core of our recovery into consciousness, Saul argued. Or there is Hannah Arendt’s variation on the thought:

“We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.”

So, as demonstrators speak, they make themselves humanizers.

Put this next to the mainstream’s coverage of the protests. It is replete with foggy language, intentionally obscure pieces casting the perfectly obvious distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as some kind of insoluble conundrum. Nonsense. I have heard any number of Jews complain that Zionism rips off their religion, their beliefs and their identity, and in this way they consider Zionism what is truly anti-Semitic in our midst.

This business of anti-Semitism everywhere, or anti-Semitism as “shadowing the demonstrations”—a phrase from The New York Times brimming with mal-intended suggestion but with no discernible meaning — is a case of language misused for the most cynical and corrupt of reasons.

Last Wednesday we were treated to a House vote on legislation that will define criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. I blame mainstream media for encouraging over many years this outright abuse of language by pretending the equivalence deserves to be taken even the slightest bit seriously.

Clarity and Blur


Between the demonstrators and the journalists, you have clarity and you have blur — language well used and language misused. There is, once again, much hope implicit in the former, none in the latter. 

There is one question that divides, more radically than any other, those acting on behalf of the Palestinian people and those either ignoring or obscuring Israeli-U.S. aggression. This is the question of power.

Protests in and around Columbia University in support of Palestine and against Israeli occupation, April 22, 2024. (SWinxy/Wikimedia Commons)

Look at the David Remnick, or those at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (which became an idiotic obscenity long before the Gaza crisis), or the Times’ laundry correspondent. What are these people doing if not running for their lives — or at least their careers — from any serious confrontation with power?

Those at the White House dinner, so eager to identify with power and its demotic distant cousin, celebrity: Are they not merely power-worshiping wards of the very state they are supposed to report upon?

You may have noticed that I have treated together those refusing to cover the daily atrocities in Gaza truthfully — or any of the other crises confronting our lapsing imperium, for that matter — and those filling their newspapers with … what’s my phrase? … insidious garbage. To explain this, I propose to introduce the notion of passive dereliction.

Outright fabricators such as Jeffrey Gettleman are the most craven servants of power, true. And parenthetically, I can hardly wait to see what the Times, which is very inventive when it comes to punishing correspondents who embarrass it, does to Gettleman now that his “sexual violence” stories have so publicly collapsed. The Manhattan real estate desk, maybe?

But no reporter writing stories about the merits or otherwise of laundry detergent, or the importance of Beyoncé washing her hair — yes, I read a piece on this the other day — can claim to be outside the loop of responsibility as to the duties of professional journalists.

Those helping to fill newspapers with distracting rubbish to crowd out worthy news reports, especially during a time of crisis such as ours, are also complicit in keeping the public distracted and misinformed in the service of power.

This is what soma, that perversely calming drug Huxley imagined in Brave New World, looks like. These people administer daily doses of it.

By contrast, if there is one thing shared in common among the demonstrators who have their administrations, police departments and a lot of people in Washington quaking, it is their unabashed, right-out-front determination to confront power.

What has brought them onto the streets and the commons of their universities is a world-historically depraved use of power to exterminate a people. They are exactly where they ought to be.

But I hope they understand that the Israeli-U.S. genocide is but one manifestation of a vastly larger question, the question of late-imperial power.

And I hope they stay with it when they recognize, as eventually they must, that it is this larger question that requires address if the humanity for which they stand is to be served.

Cubans, Syrians, Venezuelans, Iraqis, Nigeriens, Nicaraguans, others — let’s take the famous post-September 11 phrase and make it: They are all Palestinians now.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for The International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of Journalists and Their Shadows, available from Clarity Press or via Amazon.  Other books include Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored.

TO MY READERS. Independent publications and those who write for them reach a moment that is difficult and full of promise all at once. On one hand, we assume ever greater responsibilities in the face of mainstream media’s mounting derelictions. On the other, we have found no sustaining revenue model and so must turn directly to our readers for support. I am committed to independent journalism for the duration: I see no other future for American media. But the path grows steeper, and as it does I need your help. This grows urgent now. In  recognition of the commitment to independent journalism, please subscribe to The Floutist, or via my Patreon account.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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11 comments for “Patrick Lawrence: Of Journalists, Students & Power

  1. Karin Lorenz
    May 7, 2024 at 14:19

    Colin Jost describes Biden as having “decency” during his boot-licking speech. That was the same word Himmler used to describe the soldiers who enacted the atrocities as “still having kept their “decency” despite commiting genocide.

  2. firstpersoninfinite
    May 7, 2024 at 13:13

    Nicely done lamentation upon the unfortunate realities of our time, Patrick Lawrence. Yes, we are all Palestinians now, but not before the people of those countries you mentioned are put in line after the people of Palestine. We are all, as Chris Hedges put it, either “willing or unwilling victims,” awaiting our sentences for the crime of questioning our unchosen reality.

  3. Lois Gagnon
    May 6, 2024 at 20:26

    As Jill Stein said recently, “As Gaza goes, we all go.”

  4. Emme
    May 6, 2024 at 18:51

    Regardless of what happens in Rafah tomorrow’s NYT will be full of coverage on the Met Gala and all the over the top costumes worn by the guests. This is the shindig AOC wore her Eat The Rich dress a few years back. Has she figured out she now probably has enough in the bank to be on the menu herself?

    • Ray Peterson
      May 7, 2024 at 10:06

      And Emme, AOC supported US puppet Guaido in Venezuela;
      she’s so immersed in corruption that disloyalty to her own
      ethnicity suits her.

  5. Ray Peterson
    May 6, 2024 at 18:13

    New York Times front page headline that sippy cups are now
    ready for children, read it this morning 5/6.
    Not a word about the genocide in Gaza where some 17,000
    children have been killed by Israel’s military assault. One
    report from a Canadian doctor said he saw a two-year
    old with shrapnel in his abdomen the size of a man’s fist.
    Maybe America needs another “paper of record.”

  6. Rafi Simonton
    May 6, 2024 at 17:25

    When the genteel, smug Ivy league center is on the same side as empire defending neocons, they’ve lost any right to be considered genteel. Or superior. Or educated. Obviously they consider history irrelevant–why we’re living with governments repeating The Best and the Brightest plus The March of Folly.

  7. May 6, 2024 at 16:51

    University students are frequently the least serious and most feckless members of the lowest rung of the purported intelligentsia, hence, the term sophomore, sophos moros, wise fools. But not always, every once in a while, they prove to be the wisest and bravest among us, declining to wear today’s obligatory blinders. That is certainly the case today with reference to the Palestinian Holocaust, a case of real genocide, of real apartheid, of real ethnic cleansing, of real crimes of lesse humanidad. One wonders what happened to all those who protested against police brutality four years ago when it was Black lives that mattered and a Republican was in the White House? The students protesting today are the best among us, as students were in the 1960’s when Vietnam was the issue, or when South Africa needed to be identified as a pariah. They deserve our support and those who, charged with their welfare, are instead betraying them, deserve our repudiation and scorn.

  8. Alan Ross
    May 6, 2024 at 16:41

    These “journalists” hide the fact that they despise themselves and each other as they spend their time excusing and diverting themselves.

  9. Voltaria Voltaire
    May 6, 2024 at 16:17

    Thankyou. Beautifully said.

  10. Drew Hunkins
    May 6, 2024 at 14:37

    It’s hard for a man to understand something when his paycheck relies on him not understanding it.

    The students are untied, they can speak freely, take the gloves off. They’re also somewhat well read in the critical thinkers. Thank god.

    Folks with hefty mortgages, big car payments, sending the kids to expensive private schools, are under the thumb of the Zionist oligarchs, the pro-Israel psychopaths have them right where they want them. Of course, coupled with this is the fact most of these people of the affluent establishment internalized certain mainstream values and opinions going back to elementary school and middle school, they were willing players in the genocide game.

    A person doesn’t know they’re chained up if they never reach the end of the range, if they never push to get past the length of the chain.

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