The LA Times and The Washington Post both carried prominent reviews of my “Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America”, but The New York Times merely lifted several stories from an advance copy of the book without attribution (for example this one). I wonder if the (rather stuffy) publishers were upset at the way their paper was characterized in the book?
Despite its recent conversion, the newspaper had not historically shown any empathy for the subject. In an 1854 review, as I mention on page 110, The New York Times, dismissed Walden by Thoreau as the product of “cold and selfish isolation.” Walden went on to become one of the great classics of American literature.
In 1923, they ran with an exclusive story about the building of the new national electricity grid. “One vast power system for whole country projected,” declared the New York Times on July 17, 1923 in a breathless preamble to a front page report written by none other than the Chairman of Westinghouse, Brigadier General Guy Tripp. “The only reason for the existence of such a system,” wrote Tripp, “is that it will increase the welfare of the people served by it.”
Fancy that, an impartial report on the electricity grid by the Chairman of Westinghouse! Anyone who bemoans what the Times has become should recall – its always been like that.
In the late 1920s, a Federal Trade Commission enquiry revealed the exact level of manipulation, and the large propaganda budget devoted to persuading households to go on the grid.
And so to the excerpt, in which a New York Times journalist, I can reveal, shows that he had not quite learned how to clean up after himself. He was visiting the brilliant Carolyn Chute, author of The Beans of Maine amongst others. His story was recounted during my visit there a few months later:
“I had brought food and wine, and Carolyn had prepared soup, so we were able to go on talking and drinking, interspersed with a few smoke breaks, until after dark. I was treated to a range of Carolyn’s opinions, from the lack of vision among right wing militia men to the predictability of left wing activists. “The CIA is always infiltrating things, so why don’t the good guys infiltrate things, use what they use against us. And I say this to people and they just go, ‘oh no, we’ll just do our little lectures and have healthy snacks and sit in little circles.’ That’s the professional middle classes. The working class guys, they form a militia and then just sit around in the kitchen and complain. They weren’t into doing anything, right?” She looked to Michael for confirmation. “Just sit there with their guns and say ‘nobody better bother us,’ right?”
Her first book came out in 1984, and that gave them just enough money to buy the land and build the main house, so they started with no power. Water is from a shallow well.
They had moved from an apartment in town. “There’d be fighting in the next room, banging around. Ooh, yuck. It would get me so upset…Or if you wanted to have a good fight you couldn’t.” She laughed her good natured belly laugh.
I run the gauntlet of blackfly in order to use the outhouse. By the time I return, Carolyn has remembered a visit from a “big city journalist” who left the outhouse “filthy…yuck.” And that reminds her of the New York Times article, and she insisted on taking me through it, line by line, pointing out a dozen alleged inaccuracies, perhaps as some kind of warning to me.
Before I go to sleep, Michael brings me in a big pitcher of water from the well. The next day, as I wake at first light to make some notes, I wish I was not leaving so soon. The blackfly take the edge off the summer here, but there are not two sweeter souls on this Earth than Michael and Carolyn, and it will be hard to tear myself away.
The main house, when I visit it for breakfast, is even more crowded and chaotic than the cabin. There is more artwork, and funny little decorations, like a cardboard TV with the words “Damn Lies” written on the screen, all crammed closely together. Pride of place is given to a huge photocopier, one of the reasons Carolyn had electricity brought in more than a decade earlier. She uses it to correct drafts of her novels, and also to turn out copies of the anarchist cartoon tracts she and Michael produce. She writes the words, he does the drawings, and they sell for a quarter each. ”
Author’s Note: come to think of it maybe it was Carolyn Chute’s reference, above, to journalistic inaccuracies that upset the NY Times rather than the unfortunate inability of their man to clean up after himself.
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