Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Insiderism

It’s striking how a new story can emerge on an old figure so very quickly. We’d all been waiting for Vinny del Negro to be fired, and instead of the (hopefully) real reason—Vinny’s incompetence—we’re given another version: that fight between Paxson and del Negro. And here’s the weird new reality part of it:
Del Negro's firing does not signify some kind of irrevocable schism in the organization that was heretofore unknown. John Paxson has always been, and will always be, a hothead. That's how he's wired. That he had an altercation with his coach proves only that both of them cared about this team and that they didn't get along.

There’s a great scene in 1984 where, in the middle of a speech by some Party propagandizer, he effortlessly switches from condemning Eurasia to condemning Eastasia. Orwell meant this as a criticism of the way the state can control the narrative, but I think it’s just people and the way mass media works nowadays: the media will simply decide on a narrative and treat it as if it’s been reality all along.

The rap against John Paxson earlier was that he was too cautious. Witness his non-trades for Gasol, Garnett and Kobe (this was what’s widely reported, so it may not be true; nevertheless, it is the narrative, which is what we’re concerned with). That quality is not strictly mutually exclusive with being a hothead, but I have trouble imagining that there are many people who alternate between being a hothead and being too cautious. At any rate, the portrait there is too complicated to simply switch on the fly with a dismissive wave that he’s always been a hothead. If he’s both too cautious and too hotheaded, then that’s something that requires explication, not dismissal.

Anyway, it’s kind of a weird phenomenon. There are times when the new-reality swap makes sense: epochal stories and changes in the world. The financial crisis is an excellent story; so too is the Tiger Woods story. But even those stories had a widespread recognition that, yes, reality has very definitively changed.

This story is a bit more local and a bit more picayune, so it’s difficult to get that widespread recognition. So I think there’s no other conclusion than it’s a little bit of a goofy move. What galls the most about it is that it’s an insider’s move--“you didn’t know? Oh well I thought everyone knew--that dismisses someone’s concerns by making them some novice, some bumbling idiot. Obviously the firing of del Negro isn’t consequential to anyone besides a Bulls fan, but the tendency is very common among media elites. Take for instance this Jacob Weisberg piece defending Robert Rubin for his role on the crisis, full of its assurances that you just don’t know the real Robert Rubin like Jacob Weisberg does. It’s b.s. as Felix Salmon demonstrates, but it’s a pernicious b.s. because how many people read Weisberg’s piece but not Salmon’s? Whatever the number, it’s nontrivial. And of that nontrivial number, how many believed the insiderism?

There will always be insiders and outsiders, but the key is to make sure the insiders don’t have an exclusive monopoly of invented reality. Otherwise we’ll always be at war with Eurasia, until we’re fighting Eastasia.

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