FIVE EASY PIECES! Its easy to write outraged columns on earmarks. Just memorize five easy terms: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MARCH 6, 2009
On a mission: Were off on a mission of national import. We hope to review those George Will climate change columns on Monday. In the meantime, three cheers for Chris Mooney! Welluntil his piece appears!
Weve also been thinking about Hitch quite a bit. No, not Hitchensabout Alfred Hitchcock! Last year at Oscar time, we were planning to post our ten favorite films, but a computer meltdown intruded. In recent weeks, Oscar had us thinking again. We may post this item tomorrow.
Weve been puzzling about the way Hitch kept exploring mens troubled behavior toward women. (Notorious is our all-time favorite film.) As it turns out, Donald Spotos Hitchcock bio churns a great deal of this ground.
FIVE EASY PIECES: Weve seen lots of silly pundit talk about those troubling earmarks this week. On Wednesday, Maureen Dowd offered a simpering column. That night, Chris Matthews ranted and railedand seemed to say that the pork and crap in question totaled $410 billion. All around the pundit world, similar thunder was heard.
In this mornings Washington Post, Shailagh Murray reports one apparent result. The Senate stalled action on a $410 billion spending bill that would fund much of the federal government for the current fiscal year, amid resistance over the legislation's huge price tag and more than 8,500 pet projects, she wrote.
At least for now, the spending bill is down and out.
Question: Why do pundits enjoy hackneyed pieces about earmark spending so much? In part, they love these stories because theyre so easy. You just memorize five easy terms. A schoolchild could take it from there:
There! Just throw those five easy terms in a blender. You too will have an outraged report about those wasteful earmarks. Indeed, Murray uses a loaded termpet projectsright at the start of todays news report. So did the Baltimore Suns Paul West, in this news report about the (perfectly sensible) earmarks coming to Maryland. Or not.
Once youve learned those five easy terms, the storys so easy it writes itself! And of course, according to Hard Pundit Law, you wont be asked to tell the rubes that these pet projects amount to less than 1.9 percent of the bill in question. You wont be asked to defend the claim that such projects are wasteful, or silly.
Dowds column, like others, was masterfully dumbbut it virtually typed itself. But then, almost everyone plays the fool when it comes to this type of spending. In Wests report in yesterdays Sun, Barbara Mikulski helped us recall the Requisite Spinning of Earmarks circa 2005:
Ah yesthe bridge to nowhere! In part due to Saint John McCains endless nonsense, this was one of those easy pieces back in 2005. It was just last year that we all found out that we got spun a bit back then too. And sure enough! When we Nexised the term, up popped Shailagh Murray herself! But lets stick to the work of our Major Pundits. In real time, here was Richard Cohen, typing the Standard Easy Column of that place and time:
Was the bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina a worthwhile project? Given its hefty price tag, well assume it would have been unwise spending. But in those days, readers constantly read what Cohen wrote: That this bridge would have connected Ketchikan to Gravina Island (population 50)to an island where fifty people lived! Such pundits (and reporters) kept forgetting to add a key point; they kept forgetting to say that this bridge to nowhere would actually have been a bridge to an airport! Yep! Ketchikans airport is on the island in question; this was one of two principal reasons why this bridge was sought. (Second reason: Land-locked Ketchikan can only grow by expanding onto this island.)
Was this bridge a good idea? Well assume the cost was too great. But as always, pundits like Cohenreporters like Murraydecided to have some good solid fun as they improved the facts of the story. In 2005, it was hard to learn the fact that this bridge was really a bridge to an airport. We ourselves were surprised, just last year, when we came upon this fact in researching Candidate Palin. (In his column, Cohen said the bridge proposal represented an action of vast indifference to all of mankind with the possible exception of the 50 people on Gravina Island.)
You read those silly columns this week because the story was easy to type. Just memorize five easy terms, and the column types itself! But the press world was playing its typical games back in 2005 as well. You see, Saint John McCain was tramping around, bellowing high-minded complaints. The bridge to nowhere was part of his shtick. Soon, it was part of yours.
Is anything ever true in newspapers? It would be easy to answer no. We could type itbut it would be wrong.
A long legacy: McCain wasnt the first major pol to sanctify himself in this manner. In the 1970s, William Proxmire became a liberal saint for his Golden Fleece Awards. But Proxmire may have built a few bridges too far himself. In 2006, Etienne Benson recalled the problems with the fleece awards for the Association for Psychological Science:
Scientists criticized Proxmiresometimes sued himfor what they viewed as disingenuous conduct. For Wikipedias treatment, click here. Just last month, Steve Perlstein offered a larger political view.
That bridge to nowhere was really a bridge to an airport! In 2005, you werent told that. You see, Saint John McCain was waging a warand, as always, Big Major Pundits were having some good solid fun.