Academic prestige has some social value

by John Q on October 27, 2010

Having written a series of hit pieces on people who perform the traditional journalistic function of revealing facts that those in power would like to keep secret, NYT “reporter” John Burns copped a hit in return from Glenn Greenwald, and then got some hostile emails. Water off a duck’s back, you might expect, except that

his email inbox has been full of denunciations from readers and a number of academics at top-tier schools such as Harvard, Yale, and MIT. Some, he said, used “language that I don’t think they would use at their own dinner table.”

So there you have it. “Reporters” who are happy to act as propagandists and stenographers for the Pentagon, can still be shocked by coarse language from academics at top-tier schools. Sad to say, doesn’t pack quite the same punch, but it’s nice to know that academic prestige is still of some use. CT readers with appropriately prestigious affilations should take note.



Steve LaBonne 10.27.10 at 12:29 pm

Well, then, while not an academic prestigious or otherwise, I’ll do my duty as a Harvard grad and Northwestern Ph.D. by saying “fuck you John Burns, you syphilitic Pentagon whore.”


BenSix 10.27.10 at 2:56 pm

Some, he said, used “language that I don’t think they would use at their own dinner table.”

I sympathise with Burns here. In our kitchen anyone who says the words “New York Times” gets no dessert.


Jim Demintia 10.27.10 at 2:58 pm

No, y’all. He’s just talking about the word “torture.”


BenSix 10.27.10 at 3:19 pm

Perhaps he means “burns”. Never good to tell a cook they’ve over-charred the roast.


Curly 10.27.10 at 3:41 pm

Are you saying “Boo” or “Boo-urns?”

But really, what happened to John Burns? Five years ago I wouldn’t have picked him as a second Judy Miller, but now I’ve got to wonder if he was being paid by the government the whole time.


LFC 10.27.10 at 4:01 pm

I read down in the linked piece to the point where it quotes Greenwald calling Burns a “borderline sociopath.”

“Borderline sociopath,” “syphilitic Pentagon whore” — if you exhaust pejoratives like this on Burns you might not have anything left for the real villains. English has a lot of words but not an infinite number, and the really elaborate denunciations (cf. Disraeli on Gladstone) sound merely archaic and amusing today, which limits the number of insults still further.


Steve LaBonne 10.27.10 at 4:03 pm

But it’s useful to remember that the real villains would find it harder to get away with their villainy if they didn’t have so much assistance from bootlicking “journalists”.


dsquared 10.27.10 at 4:20 pm

#6: I do not believe in “Peak Vituperation”. The c-word has barely been touched yet and has massive unmined deposits.


dsquared 10.27.10 at 4:27 pm

(also, as John points out, if the US commentariat finally runs out of douchebags, pantloads and jerkoffs, Australia alone has a sufficient supply of exportable drongos, bogans and bludgers to keep the fires burning for decades)


ajay 10.27.10 at 4:33 pm

8: like so many other natural resources, there are immense reserves of vituperation still available in Australia…
…and in China.

Furthermore, given Australia’s natural advantages in this market (English language among them), we need not fear that China might try to dominate the supply of strategic denigration.


nick s 10.27.10 at 6:02 pm

Poor John Burns: he thought that he’d have a nice, gentle semi-retirement back in Britain filing stories for the NYT that are covered in more detail by the British press.

if you exhaust pejoratives like this on Burns you might not have anything left for the real villains.

Someone ought to hook Greenwald up to a turbine, as he appears to violate the second law of thermodynamics.


tedra 10.27.10 at 6:07 pm

Guess I chose the wrong time to retire.


piglet 10.27.10 at 7:02 pm

I like this piece:

“Burns took issue with Greenwald’s suggestion that he’s “a borderline-sociopath” who’s now coping with the guilt of having “enabled and cheered” on the Iraq war.”

UPDATE: Greenwald has responded to Burns’ comments in this piece, and said that he wasn’t specifically calling the Times reporter a “sociopath.” Greenwald explains:

“I didn’t actually call Burns that. What I wrote was that, in light of what these documents reveal, “even” a borderline-sociopath would be awash with guilt over having supported this war and would be eager to distract attention away from that — by belittling the importance of the documents and focusing instead on the messenger: Julian Assange. In other words, there’s only one category of people who would not feel such guilt — an absolute sociopath — and I was generously assuming that Burns was not in that category, which is why I would expect (and hope) that he is driven by guilt over the war he supported. That’s the most generous explanation I can think of for why — in the face of these startling, historic revelations — his journalistic choice was to pass on personality chatter about Assange.”


politicalfootball 10.27.10 at 8:28 pm

you might not have anything left for the real villains.

You mean the guys who use the phrase “harsh treatment” to facilitate torture?


LFC 10.28.10 at 4:56 am

I mean people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Yoo, Perle, Kristol, Bremer, and Rice. (illustrative list, not exhaustive)


Brad 10.28.10 at 6:10 pm

I’d say “torturer”, “mass murderer”, and “war criminal” all allow for plenty of vituperative headroom. They’re all worse than “syphilitic whore,” especially in these days of penicillin.


sg 10.29.10 at 9:30 am

hey Professor Q, speaking of academic prestige, did you see your book has a mention on the SMH editorial page?


Glen Tomkins 10.29.10 at 5:10 pm


I am a Board-Certified Internist with an MPH. As such, I am so sober and abstemious in my personal and professional demeanor (and so incapable of separating the two) that I can put people to sleep at 25 yards just by opening my mouth. People expect a lecture on acid-base disturbances, or, better yet, Bayes’ Theorem, and react reflexively by going unconscious in self-defense.

Please! Being a top-tier academic at some miserable Ivy League school is a pathetically weak predictor of careful and colorless speech compared to my credentials in that respect.

So fuck all of you, you fucking disrespectful bastards!


Josh 10.30.10 at 2:30 am

Tedra retired? I thought she retired her blog but was gonna show up elsewhere in a different guise (“Vituperative Ph.D.”?).


John Quiggin 10.30.10 at 4:37 am

Thanks for the alert, SG

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