Thanks to Jonathan Schwarz of TinyRevolution.com for passing along this hilarious exchange between Time reporter Alex Perry and Julie Hollar of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). It's one of the best case studies in the dangers of Google that I've ever seen.
The thing about Googling yourself — look, everyone's done it. In the most literal sense, it's like jacking off, and find me the grown man who'll deny that he does that. But part of the growing up process is learning that playing with oneself, if not shameful and sordid exactly, it's certainly something to be done at all times in private. Not even your average eight year old will go charging bug-eyed into a room full of grownups frantically pulling on his Johnson. Time reporter Alex Perry turns out to be a different story, however.
Background: last week, the press watchdogs at FAIR did a review of Perry's scare piece about how the Chinese are taking over Africa (China's New Focus on Africa, June 24th). The Perry piece used the standard Western-correspondent formula for covering the third world, a formula I'm very familiar with from my Russia days. In it, the moral of every story you write has to be that the backward subject country cannot survive without the indulgence, political protection, and gigantic brain-power of the superior Western societies. At the eXile we used to call this "White God" reporting.
As my friend Schwarz amusingly dug up, Perry is such a master of the White-God template that he even wrote a piece once (Come Back Colonialism, All is Forgiven, February 14th, 2008) based on the musings of a Congolese riverboat captain who missed Belgian rule. The money quote from that piece:
"On this river, all that you see — the buildings, the boats — only whites did that. After the whites left, the Congolese did not work. We did not know how to. For the past 50 years, we've just declined." He pauses. "They took this country by force," he says, with more than a touch of admiration. "If they came back, this time we'd give them the country for free."
Anyway, in his latest thing, Perry was up to something similar, seeming to blame everything that's wrong with modern Africa, including AIDS and malaria, on Independent Congo. He drew FAIR into the action when he added that "Independent Congo gave the world Mobutu Sese Seko, who for 32 years impoverished his people while traveling the world in a chartered Concorde." This comment provoked FAIR's Hollar to note that Mobutu only came to power after the U.S. and Belgium backed the assassination of his predecessor, the socialist Patrice Lumumba.
The FAIR blog entry was like three or four paragraphs long. It was just a little thing. Still, Perry — whose auto-Googling habits must be fairly regular since he's just the third entry in the comments section — went ballistic. In the ensuing comments discussion he goes completely ape. I'm not going to laugh too hard here because I'm sure I've done this myself once or twice, but it's really an excellent performance.
He says Hollar's piece was libelous and factually inaccurate (it wasn't), then accuses Hollar of having never been to Africa. When Hollar quietly, and briefly, replies that she has in fact been to Africa, Perry doesn't own up to it and instead explodes in multiple lengthy retorts, accusing Hollar — whose sole response was to point out that she had in fact been in Africa — of not being able to "stand the heat" of the "kitchen she seems to have wandered into by mistake."
When other commenters chime in, Perry starts whaling away at them, too. At one point he takes on a negative comment written by someone named Kambale Musavuli — who strongly hints in the comment that he's African — by saying, "Bravo, old boy... Such erudite depth. Such spelling."
It really doesn't get any better than a Western reporter lashing out at an African by calling him "boy" and picking on his spelling. In his place I probably would have avoided using the "kitchen" metaphor when attacking a female journalist, too, but that might be being picky.
Anyway, not that this is so terribly newsworthy or anything, but it's extremely funny and, thanks to the Internet, here for us to examine for all eternity. BTW, anyone want to bet on how long it takes for me to hear from Perry once this gets posted? I'm putting the T-minus at nine hours.