Ethan Holda of Ethan’s Journal just left a comment on my blog post about Michael Totten, the poor misguided fool who thinks he’s America’s answer to Lawrence of Arabia. The latter’s traveling the Arab world on behalf of Pajamas Media and the National Review and whadaya know–everywhere he goes he finds people who reinforce his notions about the wonderfulness of America–American shopping, American suburbs, American values (as refracted through a neo-con lens). Some people can make a journey of 10,000 miles and never have their preconceived ideas about themselves or their homeland challenged. They are blissfully content in their own smug, self-satisfied realm.
Ethan seems to be having a lot of fun at Totten’s expense here:
Tottenism – The act of imbuing an ordinary occurrence with an inordinate sense of danger or drama. For instance, one might normally say, “Today I rode the A train to my first day at my new job.” However, were one to express this using a tottenism, one would say, “Today I rode the notoriously dangerous NYC subway system and managed to make to my first day on the job without getting mugged, murdered, or raped.” This is so named after the style of journalist Michael J. Totten. It is sometimes thought that tottenism also refers to stating an assertion based on a single experience or testimonial as an unassailable and universal fact. While this is another element of Mr. Totten’s style, we don’t have an expression for it yet.
Michael visited Lebanon and wrote about it extensively (including one memorably stupid post entitled I Am Not a Spy) though not very accurately according to Ethan, who actually lives there as opposed to Totten who just blew through. Ethan’s not very impressed by Totten’s carelessness and inaccuracies.
Apparently, Totten’s touring the Mideast on our behalf not for some pure journalistic purpose al la Andre Malraux, Lowell Thomas or Jack Reed. Rather, Totten’s purpose is to bring home the gold (this from an e-mail exchange between the two of them):
Totten: Don’t be a jerk. I’ve made more money in the last month than I have ever made in my life. And I worked in a very high paying industry before I got switched to this.
This is journalism as “cashing in” and represents the cheapening of the once vaunted ideal of the foreign correspondent.
I have this image in my mind of Totten chirping in some Arab’s ear about the wonders of American suburbs, malls and Red Bull beer only to find that the guy’s some Osama type who promptly tries to knock his block off. Totten desperately needs some “native” to trim his sails. This is a scene that cries out for the irony and slashing satirical wit of E.M. Forster as written in A Passage to India.
Ethan’s done us the invaluable service of dredging up this piece of buffoonery from a 2002 FrontpageMagazine post (can anyone who’s ever published there have ANY journalistic credibility?). This really must be seen to be believed so in the interests of fun I present it to you now:
Send Pizza to Our Israeli Allies
By Michael J. Totten
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 9, 2002
While surfing the (indispensable) blogosphere, I came across a link at www.blogsofwar.com that said “Send Pizza to the IDF.” I found this charming and followed the link. Turns out there is a non-profit organization in Israel with the Web site www.pizzaidf.org. These folks take orders from all over the world for pizza, donuts, and soda pop, and in cooperation with Israeli security forces, deliver food and messages to IDF soldiers. Gifts of more than US$250 are tax-deductible in the United States.
There’s something truly heartwarming about this. Such a small and easy thing to do for people who could really use some encouragement and thanks. I’m an atheist/agnostic ex-Christian who has never been to Israel, but sometimes I feel like those folks over there are my countrymen, not just “merely” our
It costs less than US $20 to send a pizza to a patrol. With so much virulent anti-Semitism from nearly all quarters, a small gift to Israeli soldiers from someone outside Israel is a nice little antidote to racism and hate.
You know after an Israeli Border Police detachment gets done with some serious bone-smashing of Palestinian shepherds who refuse to hump their donkeys (yes, it really happened), it’s really nice to offer them refreshments to keep up their spirits. Pizza bought with the donations of kindly, right-wing zealots like Michael J. Totten really does hit the spot.
If you’d like to read a particularly vicious (and deserving) surgical evisceration of Totten’s writing about Arabia, read this piece by Lounsberry. He really has Totten’s number.
In the interest of full disclosure:
1) It was actually my wife that found the “Send Pizza to Our Israeli Allies” story.
2) I had only lived in Beirut about 6 months when MJT arrived, so not too long. Long enough, however, to call him on his baloney.
Michael J. Totten came to Lebanon many times but he does not understand anything. What he writes is not even close to reality.
I think he is paid to tarnish the reputation of some groups.