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Caveat lector

THE ENDLESS BUMMER! Bumiller asked, Is God on our side? Answer “really quick,” the scribe said:


THE ENDLESS BUMMER: Yes, it actually happened. With two minutes left in Sunday morning’s Dem debate, moderator Dan Rather asked for “a two-minute drill.” One Q-and-A burned up 45 seconds. “I want you to keep in mind, we have about a minute-15,” Rather said. Then the New York Times’ Elizabeth Bumiller asked a question. With a minute of time to split four ways, here is the question she asked:

BUMILLER: Really fast, on a Sunday morning, President Bush has said that freedom and fear have always been at war, and God is not neutral between them. He’s made quite clear in his speeches that he feels God is on America’s side.

Really quick, is God on America’s side?

Let’s say it again, in case you’re incredulous. Helping to moderate a presidential debate, Bumiller asked four hopefuls to say—“really quick” and “really fast”—whether God is on America’s side.

Where does one start in discussing such foolishness? Perhaps here: Bumiller’s question barely stood out, given the tonnage of sheer inanity the debate’s moderators had already put on display. Bumiller was fatuous from beginning to end; her vacuous questions were only matched by her determined refusal to let anyone answer them. But the Gotham Times ace was hardly alone in her serial foolishness. For example, we were stunned to see local CBS anchor Andrew Kirtzman persist in asking (and re-asking) Senator Edwards if his constituents really knew how big his house is. Did you think that ABC’s Billy Bush embarrassed himself Sunday night, asking weird questions on Oscar’s red carpet? If so, you should have seen this Gang of 3 as it conducted this nation’s great business.

Really quick, “is God on America’s side?” For us, the sheer stupidity of Bumiller’s question almost seems to answer itself. As we have often asked in the past: What have we ever done as a people to call down this plague of journalistic inanity? A Dirty Little Secret was revealed once again: The people who steward your discourse just aren’t very sharp. Really fast, “is God on our side?” If Bumiller takes a look in the mirror she will get a hint of an answer. Our question: What did we ever do to call forth this plague under which we all suffer?

THE MORNING AFTER: Here are four of Bumiller’s last five questions, spread out over roughly two-thirds of the debate:

  1. Are you a liberal? No, are you a liberal?
  2. Should President Bush go to soldiers’ funerals?
  3. [To Kerry] What have you learned about likeability from Edwards?
  4. Is God on our side?
But then, on Monday morning, Bumiller’s piece in the Times was every bit as fatuous as her debate. She examined the president’s stance on gay marriage. Here’s how her “analysis” began:
BUMILLER (pgh 1): When President Bush announced his support last week for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, his body language in the Roosevelt Room did not seem to match his words. Mr. Bush may have forcefully defended the union of a man and a woman as “the most fundamental institution of civilization,” but even some White House officials said he appeared uncomfortable.
Like all scribes of her vacuous class, Bumiller begins with “body language,” then is gulled by a White House admission that is, more likely, a White House spin-point. (It’s clear that the White House would like us to feel that Bush is reluctant to act in this area.) Soon, Bumiller was discussing another irrelevance—the way “Mr. Bush’s friends say that…the president is quite comfortable with gays.” Passing on a lengthy anecdote, the Times ace recorded a “fact:”
BUMILLER: Although the president’s behavior might reinforce the view among his critics that he was acting cynically when he endorsed the amendment, the fact is that he has a record of tolerance in personal situations.

Last spring, during a class of 1968 Yale reunion that he held at the White House, Mr. Bush had a particularly striking encounter with Petra Leilani Akwai, who in 2002 had a sex-change operation. At Yale, Ms. Akwai was known as Peter Clarence Akwai.

“I was in the receiving line, I was dressed in an evening dress, and I was being escorted by a male friend from the Yale class of 1986,” Ms. Akwai said in a telephone interview this weekend from Germany, where she lives. “And I said, ‘Hello, George.’ And in order for him not to be confused, in case he hadn’t been briefed, because our class was all male, I said, ‘I guess the last time we spoke, I was still living as a man.’”

“And he said,” Ms. Akwai recounted, “‘But now you’re you.’”

Ms. Akwai said the president seemed completely comfortable. “He leaned forward and gave me a little sort of smile,” she said. “I thought it was a sincere thing, and it was very charming.”

To Bumiller, this unverifiable account of how Bush “seemed” (in one instance) establishes “the fact” of his personal tolerance. Please don’t make us take our time explaining how foolish (and irrelevant) this is.

Where do they come from? Where do they find them? What have we done to deserve their rule? A deeply dysfunctional professional class sits at the head of our national discourse. If you watched Bumiller on Sunday morning, interrupting answers to fatuous questions, you understand why we’ve railed, for years, at this terrible problem we face.

ALL THE WAY WITH DDK: At his Boston Phoenix “Media Log” site, Dan Kennedy was startled by Bumiller too. Why not visit his incomparable archives? You know what to do—just click here.

8. IS NOT ENOUGH: We’ve read that Jennifer 8. Lee does throw great parties, but she may not reesun reel gud. In this morning’s Times, Lee describes the way Dennis Kucinich is currently viewed in his Cleveland home district. To explain her judgments, she quotes three voters. Here’s the first voter she cites:

LEE: “He has done some good locally, but I think he’s gone bananas,” said Mary V. Ridill, 79 and a resident of the western suburb of Lakewood who said she thought she had voted for Mr. Kucinich in the past.
Yes, that’s what the piece really says. Lee quotes only three voters; the first one says Kucinich has “gone bananas.” But just who is this fiery constituent? She is an elderly voter who can’t even recall if she has voted for Kucinich in the past!

Nothing in this piece suggests that Lee has done any serious research. Nothing suggests that she actually knows what voters now think of Kucinich. And of course, many scribes will quote “random” voters because they’ve said what the scribe herself thinks. But rarely do reporters pull back the curtain this far. Pleased with a colorful quote from this voter, Lee overlooked her apparent infirmities. Let them eat spoiled bananas, the Times said. What on earth did we ever do to deserve such an under-ripe “press corps?”

TOMORROW: Is Kerry a liberal?

Annals of the holier

MEL’S BELLS: There are intelligent criticisms to be made of Mel Gibson’s new film—and then, there are the critiques being written. Again this morning, Richard Cohen let us see what happens when pundits fight dumb, silly wars. What’s wrong with Gibson’s new film, The Passion? “It is fascistic,” Cohen proclaims, right at the end of his opening paragraph. Wow! And just what makes the film “fascistic?” Simple. The film is fascistic, Cohen explains, because he found himself unmoved by the suffering it shows! Yes, that really is what he says. If you want to try to puzzle it out, you know what to do: Just click here.

Like Mary Gordon’s piece on Sunday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/1/04), Cohen’s piece is notable for its odd pseudo-logic. But that’s what happens when people sign up as conscripts in vain, silly “culture wars.” No, Gibson’s film doesn’t seem “fascistic,” and Cohen’s reasoning defies comprehension. But just as conservatives all knew they must say it was good, liberals know they must say that they’re holier than Mel. Cohen is merely the latest to offer a puzzling rant about Gibson’s new offering.

Final point: What do people typically do when they “don’t get” a movie which others are moved by? If they care enough to bother, they ask other people why they’re moved by the film. But there isn’t a word in Cohen’s piece to suggest that he has tried to do this. In the past week, major newspapers have offered accounts in which people explain why they’re moved by The Passion. Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t share their response, but we don’t pretend that these folks don’t exist—or that they must be haters and Nazis. Are they all fascists? Are Ebert and Roeper fascism-lovers because they gave the film “two thumbs way up?” Cohen does what pundits do when they’re gulled into fighting dumb wars. He finds that he is bored by a film. Quickly, he gets extra-ugly.

LOST IN TRANSLATION: One more point about The Passion—the Aramaic proved tougher than we had thought. The film is more than two hours long. But by the end, we were still forced to rely on the sub-titles for translation.