Something about Shooting Stanley Fish in a Barrel
May 29, 2002 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Something about Shooting Stanley Fish in a Barrel Once, when asked by a student how he can get away with his famously unsourced assertions and oddly malicious personal attacks, Stanley Fish replied, "Because I'm Stanley Fish, and you're not." Which he defends by claiming that his actions derive from his theoretical work, mostly on the subjective nature of authority (albeit in a literary sense, but then who's to argue). So it's a little odd that in this article he attacks journalists - whom, other than a few anonymous beat reporters and David Brooks (who is a columnist and commentator, but hardly an objectivity-seeking reporter), he groups as "they" - for being less than fair to academics. Don't get too riled up, though; this is likely just Fish's latest attempt to bait a controversy and stick his name at the top.
posted by risenc (7 comments total)
What a delightful piece! Stanley Fish making fun of Stanley Fish. Nice to know that this super star from the academic world takes time from his deanship duties to continue to write stuff that is of interest not just to academic colleagues but to a larger audience.
I love the notion that reportes do not and can not understand the mysteries of the academic world--the Delphic Oracles and their gassings. But really, it is simple enough and involves merely Job Security, jealousy, massive Egos, gossip. Gee. Just like life beyond the academy.
posted by Postroad at 7:55 AM on May 29, 2002

This doesn't even sound controversial, just whiny and bitter. But then I'm one of those who "washed out of graduate school, or got the Ph.D. but never got a job, or got a job but it didn't work out."
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:55 AM on May 29, 2002

Fish is a big fan of Derrida, who refuses to talk to reporters about his work because he thinks they won't get it. On the other hand, a few years ago I saw D give a talk in which he claimed (somewhat long-windedly) that academia had to re-engage the world if it wanted to maintain its relevance. Huh.
posted by risenc at 8:10 AM on May 29, 2002

I don't know anything about Fish or the current state of mainstream reporting on academic issues. (I don't actually see a lot of mainstream reporting on issues of academia.) However, there is an element of truth in what he says - reporters sometimes come with the plotline to a story already planned, and conduct interviews only to get quotes to stick into those pre-planned stories. I remember some years ago watching a 60 Minutes segment on an issue related to martial arts (Ted Kennedy had introduced a bill to ban the sale of martial arts weapons, such as are used in training at your local dojo.) I have a considerable passion for and expertise in the martial arts. What pissed me off as I watched the segment was not the blatant misinformation from beginning to end. What pissed me off was that much of the misinformation could have been corrected with 5 minutes of critical thinking from the reporters. What pissed me off was the fact that the producers has obviously decided ahead of time what the spin of the story was going to be, and had manufactured photo ops, repeated erroneous information and twisted facts to fit that story. I've since seen and heard of other cases that fit this same pattern - enough to convince me that it approaches standard practice in at least some parts of the news industry. Sounds like Fish is possibly responding to some similar instances in his experience. (Although he's probably overgeneralizing with the use of the blanket "they".)
posted by tdismukes at 10:53 AM on May 29, 2002

While Fish is definitely whining, and the stuff about washed-up graduate students turning into bitter journalists is simply awful, I have to concede that there is an element of truth to what he's saying. But it often isn't because the journalists don't "understand"; it's because the nature of reporting is to seize on the unusual. Ergo, we hear stories about the wacko humanities courses at, say, Duke or Yale or Harvard or Stanford or whatever, and precious little about what the rest of us in second- or third-tier institutions actually teach. And "the rest of us" is the majority.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:20 PM on May 29, 2002

Three cheers for third-tier institutions, the heavy-lifters of academia!
posted by mecran01 at 4:24 PM on May 29, 2002

Rhetorica had a great rant on the types of bias inherent in modern journalism, quite apart from the usual 'liberal/conservative' mud-slinging.
posted by dhartung at 7:08 PM on May 29, 2002

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