NPR broadcasts listener pushback on their pieces about Tom Wolfe’s book and Mother Teresa

Tomorrow Mother Teresa becomes Saint Teresa, and therefore receives that Hotline to God that allows believers faster access to the deity if they go through her (just think of her as the Clinton Foundation, and Hillary as God). And all over the media there’s a big Mother Teresa LoveFest going on, with almost no journalists pointing out the darker side of Agnes Bojaxhiu.

The U.S.’s National Public Radio (NPR) is no exception. First, they had a credulous segment on the “miracles” that brought her to canonization, and then yesterday the “All Things Considered” show, with Ari Shapiro reporting, had a fulsome interview with a woman who knew Agnes, with the headline that the saint-to-be is “A saint for all of us.” (Even Jews?)

This is all part and parcel of the osculation that NPR regularly plants on the posterior of faith; and of course there was no mention of the problems with Mother Teresa, which, one would think, would be the “other side of the story” mandated by objective reporting.

The same went for Tom Wolfe’s new book, when, as I pointed out, NPR broadcast a segment by Scott Simon a week ago in which Wolfe claimed that “humans didn’t descend from animals”—without any challenge by Simon!

Well, I guess readers didn’t like the osculation of either creationism or Catholicism, and they let NPR know it. And so, on the network’s website, you can find two short segments of pushback and “other-siding”.

The five-minute bit dealing with Bojaxhiu is called “The Sainting of Mother Teresa brings up Calcuttans’ complex views of her legacy.” This one does note Christopher Hitchens’s criticism of the saint-to-be, as well as the views of two Indians that she not only failed to systematically attack poverty, but also (by Aroup Chatterjee, author of Mother Teresa: The Untold Story) that she was a “medieval ideologue” who constantly fought against abortion and birth control in one of the world’s most overpopulated nations. However, they again leaven the criticism with an ample dollop of Mother Teresa worship.

The 1.6-minute segment of reader reaction to Wolfe’s Darwin-bashing is called “We got your letters: Listeners puzzled by Tom Wolfe’s words on evolution.” As Scott Simon notes, his interview with Wolfe “sure struck a nerve” and that “we were surprised our inbox survived the onslaught.” (I did tw**t at them, but didn’t write.) Three angry listeners pull no punches in deeming Wolfe both uninformed in his pronouncement on human evolution and unqualified to discuss it.  I agree!

You can find a lot more on Wolfe’s book and Mother Teresa’s sainthood on the internet, with the latter celebrated far more than the former. I doubt I’ll mention either again, at least for a while, but take a look at the online review of The Kingdom of Speech, written by Catilin Flanagan, that will appear in the hard-copy New York Times tomorrow (there’s already been a pre-review).

Sadly, Flanagan doesn’t come to grips with the book’s thesis, and her main criticisms are of Noam Chomsky’s activism and of Wolfe’s digressions, as well as that the whole topic of the evolution of language is BORRRING. But her review is just as disjointed as Wolfe’s book. She does, however, include have this zinger: “. . . but no matter, because consistent reading of this bewildering little book is rewarded by the fact that it does eventually end.”

Yes, but Flanagan’s own review ends with encomiums for Wolfe. I suspect she knows little about either evolution or linguistics, and didn’t bone up on them.

Wolfe has much in common with “Noam Charisma.” [Chomsky] Both men so deeply reshaped their fields that no one entering either profession can do so without being aware of the long shadow. One senses that Wolfe is as irritated by his omission from the roster of immortals as by Chomsky’s inclusion in it. But one also knows that a hundred years from now, the one whose work will still be read — whose work will remain imperishable in the face of any new discoveries — is Wolfe. In the long game, the kingdom belongs to him.

I doubt that The Kingdom of Speech will remain imperishable—it’s about as permanent as a mayfly.

h/t: JP


  1. nwalsh
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    The Globe and Mail (Toronto) ran a piece extolling the virtues of MT, however the comments were at least 80% pointing out the dark side. Good to see.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    … (just think of her as the Clinton Foundation, and Hillary as God).

    Wow, man, that’s cold-blooded …

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    “… because consistent reading of this bewildering little book is rewarded by the fact that it does eventually end.”

    Good to see, if nothing else, that the spirit of Oscar Wilde lives on.

  4. Wayne Robinson
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Where (and when) exactly did this theological concept of sainthood manifested by two miracles originate?

    I did a search of the New Testament and it seems that ‘saint’ just means a fervid believer in Christ and often mentioned and to be distinguished from prophets.

    The new testament use of ‘saint’ appears to be reflected in its use by the Mormons.

    Anyway. The Catholic Church’s sainthood is obviously just made up, like everything else in religious dogma.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Possibly it all started with Saint Bernard. They did a lot of alpine rescues that may have been considered miracles.

  6. Ralph
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m growing to despise that pathetic expression “seems like I struck a nerve”. If hundreds of experts in a field are telling you that what you said or wrote is complete b*ll*cks, perhaps it’s not because your incisive commentary exposed their insecurities. Perhaps it’s because what you said or wrote is actually complete b*ll*cks.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      Never mind the b*ll*cks, here’s the S*x P*st*ls.

      • Diki
        Posted September 3, 2016 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        Bollocks is a great British word, sadly neglected in the everyday filthy lexican of American English. I do hope that one day it crosses the pond and finally establishes itself.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted September 3, 2016 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

          Bollocks! … er, I mean, yes, I agree, “bollocks” is a great word.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 4, 2016 at 2:30 am | Permalink

          A Virgin Records store manager was charged with indecency for displaying the album cover. The defending QC, Mortimer, ‘produced expert witnesses who were able to successfully demonstrate that the word “bollocks” was not obscene, and was actually a legitimate Old English term originally used to refer to a priest,[25] and which, in the context of the title, meant “nonsense”. ‘ – Wikipedia


          • Ken Kukec
            Posted September 4, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

            If I ever get jammed up for using the acronym for “for unlawful carnal knowledge” … call Mortimer!

  7. Filippo
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    “But one also knows that a hundred years from now, the one whose work will still be read — whose work will remain imperishable in the face of any new discoveries — is Wolfe.”

    Of course, since she herself thinks so, so must all surely think.

    It’s no surprise that the artsy, non-scientifically-oriented would prefer to read Wolfe, in his inimitable style – as compared to Chomsky.

    • Carey Haug
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      In all fairness, Chomsky’s writing is hard to comprehend. His ideas about language are well presented by Steven Pinker. Chomsky is a brilliant linguist although I personally don’t agree with his political views.

      • Filippo
        Posted September 3, 2016 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

        Just congenially curious, with whose political views do you agree?

  8. charlize
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    This type of mainstream media getting on the bandwagon uncritically parroting popular views in the case of Mother Theresa and not challenging drivelous utterings from a celebrity author in the case of Wolfe coincides with NPR’s perfecting its internal echo chamber by recently shutting down its listener comments section.

    • bluemaas
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      True, Ms Charlize, curiously. In just the last couple of weeks or so, I had just heard that!

      This is certainly written so as to place the whammy for that decisioning — only — onto the commenters, even going so far as to state that that featured part of pieces isn’t anymore a safe space !


    • Les
      Posted September 4, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Their unmoderated comment section was a cesspool of name calling, way off-topic spam, commercial spam, and naked unsupported opinion (X is bad.) by internet randos.
      Yes, I want to comment on this topic but until they hire moderators, etc. good comments would be hidden in the muck.

  9. Billy Bl.
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    If NPR is “National Public Radio” and the nation is the USA, then either it follows public opinion or it dare not deviate too far from it.

  10. frednotfaith2
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    I find it revolting how so many people revere Mother Teresa when she really didn’t do anything for anyone except to impose her religious insanity and fool the ignorant masses that her work was wonderful. She was a mindless shill for her church, nothing more and deserves no accolades.

    As to Wolfe, he’s exposed himself as a vain, pompous twit pretending to have sufficient knowledge to disregard science of which he clearly has pitifully poor understanding.

    • Filippo
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

      Wolfe, by virtue of being Wolfe – like an economist or a Romneyesque MBA/JD – is qualified to hold forth on any topic.

  11. Hempenstein
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    The MT controversy has made it to CNN.

  12. Jenny Haniver
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always thought Tom Wolfe overrated. Yes, he has a certain way with words, some interesting ideas, and can be a bold and acid social critic, but as I recall (and I haven’t read him in many years, never read the Right Stuff), I didn’t find any of it truly novel or uniquely insightful; and frankly, his vaunted championing of the prole underdog over the privileged rings especially hollow coming from a man who comes from the uppercrust of the South, lives in ostentatious luxury, and dresses as a bad caricature of a plantation master in “Gone With the Wind,” just come from the counting-house. I’ve called him a popinjay provocateur and I regard him as a kind of cultural parasite. I think he’s basically a very conservative man, and that it frightens him on some deep, subconscious, ontological and phylogenetic level to come to grips with the fact that he, Tom Wolfe, a lily white man whose roots are in the Old South, descended from apes. (calling Dr. Freud.) Language, whatever its origins and functions, isn’t simply a way to separate humans from animals; rightly or wrongly, it’s used to pigeonhole people according to false hierarchies of ‘race’, ethnicity, and class. And I think I get whiffs of old pseudo-scientific ‘theories’ of race and class. I’m going out on a limb in saying all that; perhaps I’m reading too much into things, but that’s my considered opinion. I could be wrong and welcome corrective information. Someone may well accuse me of making an ad hominem argument by criticizing him in this way, but I must borrow Randal Schenck’s characterization and say that mine is definitely an “ad hominin” argument. I wish that poor Nim Chimpsky could weigh in on all this.

    As for the sanctification of Mother Teresa, I am very glad that Aroup Chatterjee and his book are being discussed. Perhaps his meticulously researched book will be reissued. Hitchens consulted with Chatterjee. Equally appalling as the abomination of her elevation to sainthood is that most of the media, including NPR and writers in journals such as the Daily Beast take miracles for granted and accept the bogus authentication process as some genuine standard of proof.

  13. somer
    Posted September 4, 2016 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    ABC Reports
    Pope Francis also used his sermon to recall Mother Teresa’s fervent opposition to abortion, which she termed “murder by the mother” in a controversial Nobel Peace prize speech in 1979.

    No, the Pope is Not progressive. And neither was MT.
    Another excerpt

    “Mother Teresa loved to say, ‘perhaps I don’t speak their language but I can smile’,” he said.
    So she never learned Hindi.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted September 4, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Funny that she spoke English with a Hindi accent. Some kind of pious affectation?

  14. Posted September 4, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I join others shocked at the adulation over Mother Teresa, and express further shock at the wildly wrong positions on evolution espoused by Tom Wolfe, someone who should know better.

    I don’t have much else to say, and perhaps my shock doesn’t matter a hoot, but the alternative was to stay quiet, and I didn’t want to do that.
    Carl Kruse

  15. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted September 4, 2016 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t wasted much attention on the “Great Skinning of The Wolfe” because my main response has been “who that?”. But this comment does sharpen the point :

    Wolfe has much in common with “Noam Charisma.” [Chomsky] Both men so deeply reshaped their fields

    What, if anything, was Wolfe’s field? As in, a field of study or research in which it would be useful to look up his contributions to get a handle on whatever the field is? Chomsky – linguistics, I get. Certainly not undisputed, but definitely a contributor. But Wolfe?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 4, 2016 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

      Umm, literature? His contribution was probably equivalent to that of Mother Saint Teresa in the field of medical care.


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 5, 2016 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

        Pretty much a non-subject then.

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