American conservatives tend to have a conflicted response to authority, and that shows in the reaction to the New York Times‘s Truth Vigilante column. Conservatives seem to have a postmodern position, similar to what is associated with several strands of (mostly liberal) academia. It reminds me of something I had recently read in The Shakespeare Wars. Ron Rosenbaum described an exchange with Ann Thompson, editor of a new edition of Hamlet, which featured three variants of the play, rather than one conflated “official” version, as had been typical.
“Publishing all three texts allows us to do that, to display the possibilities. If you’re going to publish one text you’re driven to excluding things, Therefore you have to persuade yourself the readings you’ve chosen are authentic and superior. What the three texts allows us to do is to say, “These are the differences, these are the passages that are in one text and not the others. We can say there are arguments for, reasons for differences but we don’t have to attribute all difference to a single factor or theory. What I’ve been finding is that we can be more inclusive. You know, the eighteenth century editors I’ve been studying in the Folger were tolerant of these differences. Recent editors have become obssessed with the idea ‘I have to have a theory of the text and everything else follows from my theory.’ ”
It was at this point I couldn’t resist asking her about a phrase that had occurred to me: “‘American feminists have a phrase- Male Answer Syndrome’- for the tendency of men to insist they’ve always got everything figured out. I wonder if your willingness to entertain conflicting theories, this inclusiveness the three-text solution offers, comes from a feminist perspective?”
“It’s certainly nice to think so,” she mused, although characteristically she demurred at anything that might sound like a countervailing certainty about her position.
So when it comes to newspaper reporting, Republicans seem to agree with feminist scholars that liberal professionals who think they know the answers should leave the judgement calls up to the readers. One can certainly argue that Left Wing critics of the Times Public Editor seem to be suffering from male answer syndrome, with their certainty that reporters would make the right calls, and that responses that seem ambiguous are really quite clear.