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WE’RE WITH STUPID! Reading the Times, we thought it again. We’re all stuck with Stupid: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JANUARY 17, 2008

COMING TOMORROW—PHILOSOPHER FRIDAYS: (And Richard Cohen on Obama.) Do not miss the first installment of this new, life-changing series!

PROJECT FOR EXCELLENCE GETS SOMETHING RIGHT: With that surprising headline in mind, we recommend Greg Sargent’s piece about that group’s new study, a study regarding the coverage of Edwards. In our view, Edwards has been “mugged by narrative” in a way few candidates ever have. Your press corps loves to write easy novels, and “first women versus first African-American” was about as simple as narrative gets. And alas—that novel had no place for Edwards. The gentleman therefore got disappeared. Except for his haircuts, of course.

WE’RE WITH STUPID: Even during our grimmest Gethsemanes, we never thought we’d see a sentence like the one Roger Cohen typed for today’s New York Times. We ourselves have written such sentences; we do so below. But we’ve always done so as parody:

COHEN (1/17/08): McCain's attractiveness to independents, between 10 percent and 30 percent of the vote nationally, involves policy and personality. His readiness to take on global warming, back immigration and demand legal representation for war on terror detainees give him centrist appeal at the price of opposition within his party.

But McCain does not win the wavering as policy wonk; he's flesh and blood. The straight-talking survivor of more than five years of Vietnamese imprisonment is at home in his own skin in a way Bush will never be. McCain has a temper but no need to be macho to convince. He walks without his arms clenched.

Good God! That sentence can barely be scanned. But worse, it comes straight from a mold.

Yep! During Campaign 2000, every reporter knew one thing: John McCain was an authentic straight-talking straight-shooting truth-teller—a maverick former POW who felt very comfortable in his own skin. Today, Cohen strings three of these gong-points together in a nearly unreadable sentence—a sentence which made us hang our head as we pondered the inept New York Times.

How bad is the work at the New York Times? The paper’s a gong-show. Consider:

Before we read Cohen’s column today, we’d already read this pitiful mess from Maureen Dowd wannabe Gail Collins. Or rather, we’d scanned the piece as best we could. Like her nearly lunatic role model, Collins is now quite hard to get through.

And the punishment only continued. Immediately after reading Cohen, we read this gruesome editorial about the Dems’ recent race-and-gender wars. “Feelings hang in the air” in the piece—“feelings” about unexplained “strange references.” (What was strange? Were the feelings justified? At the Times, nobody tells.) Meanwhile, at the end of the piece, Obama and Clinton are jointly criticized—for making the world’s most obvious statement. This piece may have been written by Andrew Rosenthal, who succeeded the unreadable Collins as head of the Times editorial page. Like his hapless newspaper’s owner, Rosenthal is a less-than-competent “legacy”—the son of a famous ex-Timesman, of someone who once earned his spot. (You really ought to laugh out loud any time the Times talks about dynasties.)

But readers, you don’t have to be Prince Charles to do gruesome work at the Times. Lord God of hosts! We next turned to the paper’s “news” section—and Patrick Healy, a simpering stooge, had effortlessly blathered out this. This is truly gruesome work—and, like Cohen’s comical sentence, it came to us straight from a mold:

HEALY (1/17/08): There has been Commander in Chief Hillary Rodham Clinton, the steely leader who, voters were assured, would “destroy” terrorists and be Thatcher-like tough.

There has been Strong-and-Experienced Hillary Clinton, but that proved to be so uninspiring that Change-Agent Hillary and Likable-Since-I-Was-a-Kid Hillary were rolled out.

And Teary-Eyed Hillary, of course, won the New Hampshire primary last week, after the candidate choked up describing the rigors of the race.

But as her advisers said after New Hampshire, Mrs. Clinton cannot cry her way to the Democratic nomination. So she and her team have been searching for the right personality to help her connect emotionally with voters...

That was where I-Feel-Your-Pain Hillary emerged, a reprise of her husband Bill Clinton’s touchy-feely message from his 1992 campaign.

Jesus, that’s awful! And, like Cohen’s comical sentence, that passage comes, as a matter of style, straight from the play-books of Campaign 2000, where hacks like Healy worked to convince you that Candidate Gore “didn’t know who he was”—that he was a fake, just a handler’s confection. Especially in the spring of 2000, hacks like Healy hacked it out endlessly. For one quick example, here’s the gruesome Howard Fineman, appearing on The News with Brian Williams. Healy’s hackworthy hackwork today comes straight from this hackmeister’s mold:

FINEMAN (5/30/00): By my count we're on about the fifth or sixth Al Gore now. I covered his first presidential campaign—that was Bible Belt Al, followed by Environmental Al, followed by Good Soldier Al, followed by Attack Dog Al, and now comes the Intellectually Questing, Soulful Al who uses his brain to look over the horizon to see issues that are going to face us in the 21st century.

Today, of course, there’s another Al Gore: “Nobel Peace Prize Winner Al.” But the giant dim bulbs of your pseudo-news business worked very hard, all through that campaign, to get this structure into your head (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/00). This morning, Healy hacks it out once again. It’s stunning what hacks these fools be.

Over the years, we’ve discussed many aspects of the mainstream press corps. We liberals have often complained, in recent years, about the biases of these typists—and those biases are worth examining, in substantial detail. But something more basic than that is in play—the sheer stupidity, the lack of mental talent, displayed by these ludicrous pool boys. Cohen’s sentence is through-the-looking-glass hackwork—hackwork his cohort has hacked out endlessly over the course of the past dozen years. But all around the New York Times, one is struck by the endless low caliber of their intellectual work. Most of these hirelings are deeply unimpressive. In a word, these folk are just dumb.

Many people have a hard time coming to terms with this obvious fact. For many of us, it’s counterintuitive to be told that New York Times writers just aren’t very smart. But focus in on that blather by Healy, then understand that you’re seeing two things. You’re seeing the work of a baby assassin—as was true when Fineman, along with so many others, laid the groundwork for today’s hackistry. But understand this basic point too: Intelligent people just won’t work this way. If people are smart, they just won’t do it. The Healys and Cohens? It’s hard for many people to process, but among other things, they’re just dead-dog dumb. That’s why they’re hired—and that’s how they work. When they type, we’re all stuck With Stupid.

Bonus link: Greg Sargent limns Healy’s latest.

THE LATEST SUCCESSFUL D-STUDENT: Then there’s Yglesias, with this sad, groaning piece, expressing the latest consensus.

Our question: Could an undergraduate at a mid-level university get by with such cosmically lazy work? With work which ties such sweeping claims to such an absence of effort or evidence? As with other gentlemen of his fine class, Yglesias makes a pair of sweeping assertions, claims which seem to define a new “liberal” consensus: Tim Russert’s work is “unbearably inane,” but it betrays no partisan animus. But the mahoganied gentleman makes little effort to defend either one of these sweeping assertions. For ourselves, we’d have to call him our own Baby Bush—the latest successful D-student.

Because we think these questions matter, we’ll explore them in more detail next week. In the meantime, you might want to read the transcript of Russert’s hour with John McCain from last May, which forms the basis for one of Matt’s claims. In fact, Russert’s work isn’t persistently inane, as is clear in the course of this session. For that reason, a pattern emerges when we note the occasions on which this powerful host does screw up. Meanwhile, enjoy a good laugh when you notice this fact: The word “repeatedly” seems to mean “twice” when it appears in Matt’s work. Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve seen thumb-on-the-scale hacks play you that way year after year after year.

By the way: Did you simply laugh out loud when Yglesias discussed the October 30 debate? Readers, when they hand you gong-show nonsense like that, they’re treating you like a gang of rubes—like things they own and use for their pleasure. For ourselves, we have no idea why our “liberal” Baby Bushes have settled on this latest consensus. But they still avoid the most obvious facts of mainstream press work of the past sixteen years. Their “liberal” employers avoided them too. Unless you’re just seeking an imaginary hip white friend, you might want to ask why they do that.