Move along, nothing to look at: It ought to be news when David Denby says what he says about Maureen Dowd. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/30/09. Denbys new book, Snark, is shortand Dowd gets her very own chapter.) But the clan will always support the clanand the clan is now supporting their dearest. When David Ulin reviewed Snark for the Los Angeles Times, he absent-mindedly forgot to mention Denbys takedown of Dowd at all (just click here). But then, you ought to know what happened when Denby sat down with Manhattans top Charlie.
Charlie, of course, is Charlie Rose, high-ranking Gotham insider. Denby did Charlies show Tuesday nightand twice tried discussing Miss Dowd. But Charlie didnt seem to be buying. Heres Denbys first attempt at stating his views, quite early on in the session (to watch the whole tape, just click here):
DENBY (2/3/09): People said to me, how can you attack Maureen Dowd of the New York Times for being snarky
ROSE: Yes, its my question.
DENBY: and praise Jon Stewart. Isnt he snarky? Or Keith Olbermann? Isnt he
ROSE: It seems to me those are very different people because they are in very different mediums, but go ahead.
DENBY: My point was that Stewart and Olbermann and Colbert have a political passion behindthey think that the government should not lie to the people. They think that our civil liberties should not be invaded. And Maureen Dowd, who makes fun of peoples appearance and affect and manner and so on, I dont see any political idea at all of what the government should be doing, what the point of government is, what the point of politics is. Its all about ambition and sham. And
ROSE: I rise to defend Maureen, because I differ with you about this. Plus, I like her and shes a friend and all of that. But Ill come On the merits, well discuss her in a minute. But take John Simon, the critic...
Slick! Promising that hed one day return, Rose simply changed the subject. And heres what happened, a good while later, when Denby brought Dowd up again:
DENBY: Look, Maureen Dowdlets come back to heris brilliant. Were not talking about talent here...But what I dont see is any value there being defended. No matter what youve got, shes against it. You expose your throat, shes going to leap with fangs. I mean, she went after both Al Gore and George Bush in 2000. She reduced Gore, who is after all a serious guy who presents himself awkwardly to the public, she reduced him to a caricature and it was widely imitated
ROSE: Let me just say this, if Al Gore cant surviveif Al Gore cant surviveand he can. Look at what happened to him.
ROSE: Hes done quite well. If Al Gore cant survive whatever Maureen Dowd
DENBY: What if he had been president insteadinstead of a disaster we had? I mean, I think in her small way, she played a role in that.
ROSE: She playedI dont want to make her the subject of this, simply because the theme is more important than one particular person.
In fairness, Charlie permitted a longer discussion this time; he even had a humanizing tape of Dowd cued up, and he proceeded to play it. But you can see his deliberate cluelessness when it came to Dowd-on-Gore. Gore has done well, he absurdly said. And this is how things ended:
ROSE: OK, so the test iswait, wait, wait. So the test of your, of who is snarky and who is not snarky, is what they want to do, their ambition in what they are writing? Thats the test?
DENBY: Yes. Seriousness of purpose. No matter how funny or nasty you are, theres something serious behind it. And satire does that, brilliantly. You know, from Jonathan Swift on down. He makes fun, but theres some reforming instinct there. If youre just jumping at anyones weakness, thats snark.
ROSE: As long as All right. Lets move beyond that. Because Im saying, if thats your test, then you have no basis to criticize Maureen Dowd. If your test is seriousness of purpose, you don`t have any basis
DENBY: What are her values, except that we should all be honest?
ROSE: She writes brilliantly and gives us an insight into sort of the behavioral aspects of people who aspire to lead.
DENBY: She attacks everyone, Charlie. What would she have done with Abe Lincoln? I mean [imagining Dowd], Honest Abe? Really?
At this point, Charlie said that Dowd was no worse than about five or six other writers did with Abe Lincoln, by the way. And then, he again told Denby to move right alongthough not because Maureens his friend:
DENBY: My point is, shes often wrong.
ROSE: All right. Move beyond her, only becauseand it sounds like I have a moreIm trying to defend her because shes a friend, and Im not. I think on the merits, it looks that way.
Let me move to this idea, because I think really there is a very important point, which I worry about...
Charlie had a more important point than how George Bush reached the White House.
Readers, Denby is doing what just isnt done. Hes making accurate statements about Maureen Dowd at the very top of High Gotham Circles. Darlings! Even out in far L.A., Ulin knew that just isnt done! And omigod! Note that Rose will even say that Dowd gives us an insight into pols characters! My point is, shes often wrong, Denby soon said. And then, Charlie told him to drop it.
Bottom line: To this day, you are not allowed to discus what happened in Campaign 2000. The insider press corps ran that campaign, and they dont plan to discuss it.
And by the way: Have you seen Denby on Countdown or Maddow? Have you seen him asked to discuss the way Dowd slimed Gore, made Hillary Clinton a man, feminized debutante Obambi?
Actually, noyou havent seen that. Any idea why that is? Why your highest-paid fiery leaders havent rushed to discuss such affairs?
MILBANK AND GALLANT: By now, youd think that almost everyone knows the framework of the current debate. Just in case youve been off the planet, here are a few of the talking-points surrounding the stimulus package:
*Republicans have said that the stimulus package is a Christmas tree festooned with ornamentsornaments made out of lard. The packages basic provisions are pork, aimed at Democratic constituencies.
*Democrats have said what Krugman says in todays column (when they bother speaking at all)that the economy is in a state of free-fall rapidly approaching disaster. Increased government spending is required by this emergency. Theyve said that Republican complaints have only concerned a tiny part of the overall package.
The debate has featured other claims and talking-points, points which should be quite familiar. By now, youd think that major newspapers would have produced a string of reports in which these claims are sifted.
But the D-plus elite of your national press corps doesnt approach major issues that way. In fact, there have been very few attempts to analyze this debates basic talking-points. Last week, the New York Times produced this news analysis, a capable but very limited first effort. But thats pretty much where the Times effort currently stands.
In this mornings Washington Post, economics columnist Steven Pearlstein offers his views on some familiar claims. But in the news pages of the Post and the Times, efforts to evaluate such talking-points have been virtually non-existent.
But then, your D-plus elite simply doesnt do issues, a fact which has become quite clear. Instead, they tend to write fatuous novelsnovels built around their impressions of politicians motives and character. The Posts Dana Milbank may be the worst of this fatuous breed. That said, the sketch he crayons in todays Post ought to go straight to the Smithsonian, so perfectly does it capture the way this silly elite has long conducted its affairs.
Milbank doesnt breathe a word about the issues at stake in the current debate. Instead, he writes a childish morality tale about two groups of senators. One groupthe group he currently favorsare described as the senates workhorses. The other groupthe group he dislikesare described as a gang of show horses.
In Milbanks column, the insincere show horses prefer drama to lawmaking. The love to prance before the cameras while the workhorses selflessly toil in the yard. According to Milbanks column, the heroic workhorses got to work [yesterday] on a compromise plan that could get bipartisan support. But alas! As they did so, the show horses came out of the gate with unbridled partisanship.
But readers, exactly what sort of compromise plan have these noble workhorses proposed? More importantly, does their compromise plan make sense? Go ahead: Read through Milbanks entire column. See if you get any idea what this favored breed has proposed. Beyond that, see if you can find any attempt to evaluate their plan on the merits.
Quite literally, Milbank doesnt even attempt to say what the workhorses are proposing. (Late in his piece, we do seem to learn that theyre making some sort of effort to cut the cost of the package.) And he makes no attempt to explain why their proposals make sense. But its clear that the workhorses have good character, as opposed to the prancing show horses. Heres an early part of Milbanks novel, where this childish view starts to come clear:
MILBANK (2/6/09): The workhorsesan ad hoc group of 18 moderates and dealmakers from both partiesholed up in a committee room on the third floor of the Dirksen Building, tossed out their staff and got to work on a compromise plan that could get bipartisan support.
The show horsesincluding the leadership of both partiesgave speeches on the Senate floor and news conferences either to trade blame for partisan deadlock or to denounce the Group of 18's dealmaking efforts.
The workhorses, taking a lunch break so some of them could confer with the White House about the compromise, were pleased with their labors.
But 10 minutes later, Senate Democratic leaders pranced into a news conference and trampled on the workhorses' work.
Trust us, theres more where that came from. Milbank makes it very clear that his workhorses work sincerelywhile his show horses dance.
Milbank, a former Skull-and-Bonesman, apparently did his senior thesis on the ethics of Goofus and Gallant. (For their latest adventures, click here.) In this, his latest cartoon, the noble workhorses are the Gallants; the show horses sit at the right hand of Goofus. And readers, heres the best part of all: You dont have to read a single word about what these groups believe or propose! When it comes to judging those gallant workhorses, you dont have to waste a single moment on their proposals content or merits!
Again, Milbanks column brilliantly captures the way your upper-end press corps does business. Instead of examining policy questions, they dream up silly character tales about the various participants. Unfortunately, their judgments of character tend to be faulty, much as you would expect from people who work in this ludicrous manner. If you doubt that, consider Milbanks appraisal of his workhorses. Not that theres anything wrong with it, but their names are Nelson and Collins:
MILBANK: The workhorses, taking a lunch break so some of them could confer with the White House about the compromise, were pleased with their labors.
"It is unusual to think of senators actually doing that kind of painstaking, thorough work," said Susan Collins (Maine), leader of the Republican workhorses.
"Always refreshing to be able to do that," added Ben Nelson (Neb.), captain of the Democratic workhorses.
But 10 minutes later, Senate Democratic leaders pranced into a news conference and trampled on the workhorses' work.
In this childish tale, Nelson and Collins are noble hard-workers; other senators play to the cameras. And yet, even the dumbest among us could imagine a different shape for this silly tale. Nelson, after all, is a Dem from a red state; Collins is a Rep from a state which is blue. That said, isnt it possible that they are the ones who are desperately playing to cameras? That they are just going through centrist exertions to convince their states voters that theyre people of conscience? Here at THE HOWLER, we cant read these senators minds, any more than Milbank can. But we do know how stupid his childish tale isand we know that any damn fool could invert its heroes and villains.
Whos being noble and honest here? Who is merely playing to cameras? Theres no earthly way for us to knowand the Bonesman doesnt know either. (As far as we know, all these senators believe what theyre saying. We also know thats not the point.) But this is how your insider press corps has dealt with such matters for a very long time now. First, they decide whose side theyre on. Then, they start to dream silly talessilly tales in which those folks are portrayed with superb, gallant character.
Is your nation facing great peril? Are Nelsons proposals the right way to go? Milbank doesnt kill his buzz with such questions. Instead, he shows how his clan has done its own work in the years which have led us to peril.
Coming Monday: A tale of three or four cities. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/5/09.