Writing in today's Bergen Record, Editor Al Doblin presumes to reach into a man's soul -- to determine whether he be good or evil.
The man is a working-class farmer from rural northwest New Jersey. It is a station-in-life that Mr. Doblin knows very little about. Mr. Doblin is a confirmed one-percenter, a recognized member of the establishment and of the economic elite. Residing in a kind of bubble world.
What a great opportunity then, this could have been, for Mr. Doblin to get out a little -- to stretch his legs, so to say, and make his way to a place, amongst people, he knows little about.
Mr. Doblin's opinion piece concerned the logo of a rock band. No, it wasn't the Nazi double-lightning bolts in the "KISS" logo. The logo he objected to belongs to Hank Williams Jr. and his band. It consists of the old rebel flag with Mr. Williams' face on it and lyrics from one of his songs. Now those lyrics are not edgy in the way that most rap is, but you could certainly make the argument that they are edgy.
Mr. Doblin's objections appear to be confined to the Hank Williams Jr. logo. Whether the logo is printed on a piece of cloth or paper or etched in metal shouldn't affect Mr. Doblin's emotions.
Mr. Doblin objects to the farmer, and the farmer's wife, standing in front of the logo at a Hank Williams Jr. concert. At a tailgate party. Then they shared a photograph of it on Facebook. And added a funny line.
Yes, we're serious. This was the subject of a lengthy editorial by Al Doblin.
Now Mr. Doblin would argue that we're leaving out something very important here: The farmer was elected by his community to serve in the Legislature. But that is a matter of identity, isn't it? Because most people elected to the Legislature soon identify with that elite institution and with the establishment it represents. That's why, in America, most people feel left out by the political process.
The problem with the farmer is this: He isn't behaving "as he should" according to the rigid "code" set by the establishment and economic elites. He still identifies as "a farmer" and continues to behave that way.
It is not enough that just 3 percent of the legislators in America are blue-collar -- that's 3 percent to represent the 60 percent of Americans who are working class -- but economic elites like Al Doblin want to be able to set the agenda for that 3 percent too. Instead of reflecting the values and folkways of the people they come from, Al Doblin wants them to reflect his values, his agenda.
In Al Doblin's opinion, the farmer's responses to those who object to the Hank Williams Jr. logo were "deflections" -- although he fails to explain how. What Editor Doblin does is to engage in the sort of embellishment that would make the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists cringe.
Again and again, Doblin reaches into the farmer's mind to tell us what he was thinking, into his heart -- to tell us what his feelings and motivations are. Al Doblin doesn't know this man, in any way, and yet -- as in a novel -- Doblin speaks to us from within the farmer's soul, as though he were inside, looking out. This is a style of fiction, not of journalism.
You have to wonder about people who bathe in what they imagine to be the "faults" of others -- in order to signal the "virtue" that they possess. It is not unlike what Joseph Conrad called "the stench of the repentant sinner." And you have to wonder what are the sins that Mr. Doblin feels he needs to atone for, that makes him so earnest to demonstrate his very public "virtue"?
What small depravities, sins mortal and venial, dishonesties and behaviors unethical, are in Mr. Doblin's catalog? Is he remembering all those union workers let go from well-paid, blue-collar jobs? All those working class newspaper families made to find a new way to live? Or the writers -- all those writers -- who went from earning a livable wage to a sub-standard one? All detritus shrugged off by Al Doblin, who went on and on. Save yourself, be a survivor, there is just one skin that is important.
Or is Mr. Doblin considering all those "political" accommodations he has had to make with the establishment over the years. To develop "access."
Suppressing a story about the number of employed lobbyists openly serving in the Legislature, for instance, or the corruption that has allowed convicted criminals to openly serve. The number of mistresses quite openly on legislative payrolls. The visits to sex clubs by legislators -- and all the rest he's been handed over the years. Would Doblin say: Look, being convicted of a federal crime is one thing, but a Hank Williams Jr. logo? Now you really have gone too far?
We will not do to Al Doblin, what he has done to others. We will not step into his head and claim to know him. We won't even qualify his acts of suppression as acts of common cause. We will chastise him a little though, for missing a great opportunity to be a human being.
Once upon a time, old-fashioned liberals were pretty nice people. Too nice, some said, but an old-fashioned liberal -- upon hearing or reading about the farmer -- would have reached out to him. "Can I come over for a cup of coffee," he would have said. And the old-fashioned liberal would have explained to the farmer why he thought his ways were in error.
Now maybe they would agree or maybe they wouldn't, but they would come away, each with the measure of the other man. The old-fashioned liberal would either understand that the farmer meant no harm -- or if he did mean harm, then the old-fashioned liberal would have cause to act.
But people like Al Doblin don't do that today. They rely on the media, forgetting that what they see is filtered, and then they re-filter it some more. They filter out the human factor.
Perhaps Mr. Doblin forgets that those living outside the bubble world of the economic elite have lives every bit as nuanced as his own. Their lives matter too, so before you paint the stain of racism on someone -- and on everyone else who would have done the same thing without giving it a second thought -- take a moment to reach out. Human to human. Doesn't the Code of Ethics of your own profession demand as much?
A good old-fashion liberal once wrote:
“It is his millions of relationships that will give man his humanity… It is not our ideological rights that are important but the quality of our relationships with each other, with all men, with knowledge and art and God that count..."
Mrs. Lillian Smith was a Southern writer and a pioneer in the battle to end segregation. We don't know if she ever listened to Hank Williams Jr., but we're sure there were a few dear to her who did.
Mr. Doblin, you could have been a human being about this. You could have been what used to be called "a liberal." Instead, you chose to make it about you. You chose to call someone else a sinner to deflect from your own sins and the sins of the establishment and economic elites that you serve.
Next time, try to act like a human being.