THURSDAY, JANUARY 22, 2004
SKIING THOSE SLICK, GROOVED TRAILS: For students of the corps Millionaire Pundit Values, Slate is the web site that just keeps on giving. Last spring, the Post-of-the-west gave us Margaret Carlsons secret diariesan inside peak at the corps inner values. This week, the mag presents its own Jacob Weisberg, glissading his way through New Hampshire.
How empty is the insider press? Be sure to read each of Weisbergs installments. We struggled when we first found them yesterday, suspecting they were parody. They are not.
Poor Weisberg! During previous Granite State primaries, he was forced to enjoy his beloved cross-country skiing only surreptitiously. This time, though, the scribe is in charge, and hes planned a more leisurely week. This time, with others doing the serious coverage for Slate, Im mixing skiing and politics openly, he writes, partly in the spirit of multitasking and partly just to see if anything interesting happens when you bring these two unrelated activities into juxtaposition. Weisberg fails to say just who at Slate is providing the serious coverage he describes (note below). But soon, we see Weisberg as he plays country gentleman; he enjoys a long, thoughtful schuss through the woods, engaged in some brilliant discussion. He glides along with David Plotz, a writer now on leave from Slate. The definition of a good sport, David drove all the way from Hampton on the seacoast to freeze his ass off keeping me company, Weisberg writes. As we propelled ourselves along the slick, grooved tracks, we talked politics. Readers, slick and grooved would be our words too! Lets recall that this isnt a parody as Jake lets us in on the chatter:
WEISBERG: Davids view of the race is that each party has an entrenched base of 43 percent or 45 percent that is largely unconvertible. The election will be decided by the 10 percent-15 percent of voters in the swayable middle. Given that reality, it would be insane for the Democrats to nominate Howard Dean, who is unlikely to win swing voters over with centrist positions or an easygoing personality, neither of which he has.Lets see if we have this straight! After years of calculations, Plotz has come to believe that there is a large group of Democrats; a large group of Republicans; and a smaller group that is found in the middle! Readers will wonder how someone like Weisberg can ski and think such deep thoughts at the same time! But similar piffle seems to engage our country gentleman all through the week. And yes: Passages like this one did make us think, for several minutes, that we must just be reading a satire:
WEISBERG: The others still standing after IowaClark, Edwards, Kerry, and Liebermanall make plausible claims that they can capture the crucial votes in the middle. Clarks argument is his military background. Having seen the general up here a few times, David confirms my impression of yesterday that Clarks performances have improved to an amazing degree. But David sees Naomi Wolf-type issues. He thinks Clark is too pretty and feminine-looking to win. Herringboning up a very tall and cold hill, I told David he was crazy to think Clark couldnt beat Bush because his eyelashes are too long. But I must admit, its a novel complaint.Tally ho! By the time of this summers Republican convention, Weisberg will likely be riding to hounds in New Yorks outer suburbs and offering similar nattering nonsense. And dont think this is some aberration. Weisbergs whole week seems designed to prove that his brain is now made of pure mush.
What about Liebermans campaign, for example? Why hasnt the candidate with the most centrist profile and record been more of a factor? Our country gentleman sought out the answer. After lunch at a restaurant with picture windows overlooking the trailhead and a soak in the tub back at the Centennial Inn, he confides, I headed off to the Red Blazer Restaurant in Concord to try to find out. And sure enough, Liebermans rallies are quite different from Clarks. After slamming the food at the Lieberman rally, our herring-boned harrier types this:
WEISBERG: And dress. Like Clark, Lieberman wears a green sweater. But where Wes evergreen model strikes a flinty New England note, Joes is a pastel cashmere number that shouts, I have been neutered!Yes, Jake is Slates latest sweater boy. How is New Hampshire shaping up? Easy! Wes Clarks eyelashes are too long, and Joe has been wearing pastels!
Believe it or not, all these excerpts all come from one entryWeisbergs Tuesday rumination. Because we happened to read the Tuesday piece first, you can see why we thought that we must be reading a satire. But no. Weisbergs classlike all leisure classesis addicted to its tired old twaddle. For example, this predictable piece of palaver opened the Tuesday report:
WEISBERG: The news from Iowa brings us back to the Democratic race of a year ago Dean is on the way back to long-shot status. When the history of the campaign is written, I predict the Vermont governors unstoppable erosion will be dated from the moment Al Gore endorsed him. That man has a political black thumb.Weisberg predicts this? Well guarantee it! Of course Deans demise will be dated from the moment Gore endorsed him. How do we know that this will occur? Because Weisbergs vacuous class will be writing the history! They agreed on their talking-points long ago, and as they take their soaks in the tub, their scripts are applied to all happenings.
Good God! What in the world has become of Jake Weisberg? As he glissades on the Granite States trails, his thoughts still turn to Naomi Wolf, and he still offers dumb, scripted shots about Gore. His judgments are based on pastels and long lashes. But then, the leisure class has always been empty, and Weisbergfour years into retyping Bush quotesgives the rest of us cause to shudder as we think of whos writing our history.
SWEATER BOYS: Just who is providing Slates serious coverage? In the first three days of his diary, Weisberg links to one Slate report from New Hampshire. Its a Chris Suellentrop article written last week. Suellentrop spent his entire report describing Clark buying a sweater.
TOMORROW: Slate critiques the Globe on Kerry. And Slate recalls Campaign 2000.
HOWLER HISTORY: Now we know that he chafed and burned, kept from the slopes during Campaign 2000. Perhaps that explains his oddest effort from that campaignWeisbergs influential real-time review of the first Gore-Bradley debate. The forum was held at Dartmouth College on October 27, 1999. In Slate, Weisberg penned a puzzling description of Gorean odd description which would soon provide the corps with a pleasing Standard Script:
WEISBERG: Gore arrived on stage like some sort of feral animal who had been locked in a small cage and fed on nothing but focus groups for several days. Upon release, he began to scamper furiously in every direction at once. Assuming his stool 20 minutes before showtime, he volunteered to take extra questions from the audience. At the end of the hour-long non-debate, he promised to stay and answer even more. As of this writing (10:30 p.m.) hes still at it, sitting on the edge of the stage with his wife, talking about human rights in Africa and offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico with a few dozen New Hampshireites.Like a feral animal? Scampering furiously in every direction? Pent up with rage as hes forced to work, the herring-boned harrier keeps typing:
WEISBERG: Gore came across as a kind of manic political vaudevillian. He oozed empathy from every pore, getting all over every questioner like a cheap suit. First he would ask the person about his circumstances, his family, or his job, in a desperate effort to bond. Then he would respond with an explosion of gesticulation, sympathy and agreement...As weve explained in the past, Weisbergs factual statements are blatantly false here (links below). But this startling portrait of Gore-on-the-stage was soon being sampled by many Big Pundits. David Brooks copped the feral animal line when he did the NewsHour that Friday, for example.
Several things were startling about this portrait. First, we simply defy you to read Weisbergs piece after watching the actual tape of this forum. In fact, press reports the following day stressed how relaxed Gore and Bradley had seemed (links below). But by the weekend, pundits were getting their story together; many pundits began reciting Weisbergs odd account of Gores manic behavior. Again: We defy you to watch this event on tape, then read this puzzling description.
Yes, Weisbergs description of this event is quite hard to square with reality. And no, we cant get inside Weisbergs head. But we can report what Jake left unsaid. Lets recall the feral conduct our fine fellow knew to ignore.
By the time of this event, there was little doubtthe Washington press corps was stalking Gore and heavily pimping for Bradley. A few months later, Mickey Kaus arrived in New Hampshire; he was startled by what he found on the ground, Kaus reported. They hate Gore, he wrote of the press (Kaus emphasis). They really do think hes a liar. And a phony. But that hatred had clearly been in place when Weisberg typed his October portrait. Which takes us back to the feral conduct the scribe knew enough to ignore.
Yes, this was the same Dartmouth debate where 300 journalists sat in the press room and groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something. This astonishing conduct was later described by three major journalists who had been in the hall. But Weisberg belongs to a corrupt leisure class, and he knew not to say what his colleagues had done. Instead, he typed a bizarr-o account of their targets behaviorand kept the secret of his colleagues misconduct. Today, he still glides along his cohorts grooved paths, chatting about pastels and eyelashes. Enjoying the leisure he richly deserves, he just cant stop citing Naomi Wolf.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: We dont seem to have posted a full account of this remarkable press event. But partial accounts are available. In April 2000, we wrote an account of this debate for Capital Style magazine. You know what to dojust click here. For a real-time account of Weisbergs odd piece, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/4/99. To read about the feral behavior he ignored in his colleagues, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/18/02. One last reminder: To see what an empty ski suit one scribe has become, just read this weeks laughable diary.
Yes, this is your recent history. Americans badly need to understand it.