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SOMETHING TO ASPIRE TO! A documentary’s “involving ideas” help show what the press corps is not: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30, 2005

SOMETHING TO ASPIRE TO: We’ll join the pro critics in strongly recommending The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. Amazing! A small documentary about a little-known man who turns out to be the rarest of breeds—a deeply interesting person! Wesley Morris makes the key point in his Boston Globe review:
MORRIS: Judy Irving's terrific documentary "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" is ostensibly about birds, but only in the way that a game of Scrabble is about tiles. The movie's actually about Mark Bittner, a sensitive specimen of West Coast humanity whose eccentricity is something to aspire to.
“Bittner is an acutely compassionate man, and Irving is careful to question the details of his life without prosecuting him,” Morris writes. In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan waxes further. “[B]ecause he turned out to be an acute observer with a wry and intelligent point of view, [Bittner’s] voice-over narration is filled with involving ideas about the parrots and their world.” Involving? It’s rare to find a true rumination in the world of contemporary film. This film lists at 83 minutes. We would have guessed we were somewhere near 50 when Wild Parrots came to an end.

Critics have tried to suggest the film’s surprise ending without revealing what it is. Among the reviewers we have read, Turan comes closest to tattling:

TURAN: The other key [to the movie’s appeal] is the benefits documentary filmmakers get when they shoot over a long period of time, in this case more than five years. "Wild Parrots" benefits greatly from a confluence of gradually unfolding events that takes it to places neither the subject nor the filmmaker could have anticipated.
See how well the surprise has been hidden?

For ourselves, we’ll be going again today or tomorrow. Having pondered the Washington press corps so long, we thought Bittner’s “acute compassion” and “involving ideas” truly were things to aspire to.

ASPIRATIONS: To hear Ebert and Roeper’s review, just click here. Ebert: “This is a word-of-mouth hit...I think this movie could be an underground hit because it is so warm and so involving.”

Will Parrots become a word-of-mouth hit? At this point, it seems to be in limited distribution. For folks in D.C., it’s currently playing at the Avalon and at the E Street Cinema. It leaves our own Charm City tomorrow.

FOR LACK OF INVOLVING IDEAS: We’ve been pleased to see pundits banging the National Press Club for next Friday’s gong-show event. Dear readers, Who is a journalist? The Press Club’s inquiring minds want to know! Meanwhile, not content with the stupidest topic on earth, the Press Club scrambled to put together the stupidest possible panel as well! In the past day or so, the Club has rushed to add some respectable names to its original line-up. But when it first announced this event, the Club announced a three-member panel. And good grief! One of the three was kooky crackpot Jeff Gannon. And one of the three was Wonkette.

Strangely, a few big pundits still voice surprise at the mainstream press corps’ vacuous culture. Kevin! Kevin! Kevin! Kevin!! Kevin Drum does tons of excellent work. But why in the word was he surprised by what he read in Monday’s New York Times? Drum quoted the Times’ Katharine Seelye, who—finally having found her level—was writing about gossip columnists:

SEELYE (3/28/05): The real-time pace of Internet gossip has made it difficult for newspaper gossip columnists to stay ahead of the curve. [Gossip columnist Richard] Leiby said that many people in the Post newsroom monitored Wonkette.com, a Washington blog, all day long. "She often has the lead on me because she's in real time," he said.
Drum seemed surprised by what Leiby had said. “There are many scary things about modern journalism, but surely this one belongs on the list,” he wrote:
DRUM (3/28/05): "Many" people in the Post newsroom monitor Wonkette "all day long"? Sheesh. Wonkette isn't even a very good gossip writer, let alone someone worth monitoring continuously. Is that really the best the Post newsroom can do?
Earth to Kevin: Yes! A thousand times yes!! As they’ve made quite clear for years, that is the best the Post newsroom can do! To state the obvious, it was the vacuous minds of the insider press that produced the two-year War Against Gore—the mindless, vacuous press corps “wilding” that put George Bush in the White House. To their credit, press corps honchos rarely try to hide their cohort’s vacuous soul. That being so, we don’t understand why people like Drum are still surprised by the corps’ empty “values.”

Vacuous; empty; perfumed and powdered; an addled press corps rules in D.C, and they rarely make the slightest attempt to disguise their Millionaire Pundit Values. Only a gang of raving fools would have announced a three-member panel in which two members were Gannon and Cox. By the way: Is there anyone more vacant than Seelye, who wrote the Times report Drum cites? During Campaign 2000, could anyone have worked any harder to showcase the ways of her tribe?

“Is that the best the Post newsroom can do?” Let’s all say it: A thousand times yes!! Lounging in their bubbling hot tubs, langorous pundits hand you pure pap, as we’ve described for the past seven years. But then, all through the course of human history, this has been the way of perfumed, powdered courts. History says it’s the best they can do! Why in the world—why on earth—do pundits still shrink from this fact?

THE BEST THEY CAN DO: For ourselves, we never criticized Wonkette—nor would we have done so—until Tom Brokaw insulted the nation by dragging her onto NBC after the second Bush-Kerry debate (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/6/04). Who is Wonkette? A vacuous figure who peddles a pre-feminist, backlash persona—the smutty vamp with the dirty mouth, the slut who can’t stop talking about booze and sex. There’s a certain kind of man who loves that crap—and yes, the “press corps” is full of them! At any rate, Brokaw dragged her onto the air, and E. J. Dionne dragged her out just last week, with the completely predictable outcome (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/28/05). Adding insult to injury, of course, Brokaw put Cox on the air as a “liberal.” But let’s let Leiby describe her further. Here’s the “liberal spokesman” Brokaw threw on the air to discuss a presidential debate:

LEIBY (9/28/04): Celebrating her 32nd birthday and arrival as a New York Times Sunday mag cover girl, Ana Marie Cox—better known for her dirty-minded Internet persona, Wonkette—had a predictable reaction to the latest article boosting her fame: "I liked the part about me being a bitchy lush," she told us at a party in her honor at a U Street rooftop bar Sunday night. (Also predictably, she was quaffing champagne.)

The piece elevated Cox to goddess status in the blogosphere, detailing her activities—not to be confused with "work," we assure you—at the Democratic and Republican conventions. The cover featured Cox in a white tank top—the better, perhaps, to show off what the article described as her "peachy cream skin"—flanked by old-media campaign scribe Jack Germond and fellow veteran R.W. Apple Jr. ...

Inexplicably, the piece overlooked one key fact: Cox is married. Her husband of 41/2 years—Mr. Wonkette, also known as Chris Lehmann, formerly of The Post and now an editor at New York magazine—called it a "weird detail to omit." But, he said, "the blog is a persona. I think our marriage proves that you can talk slutty and still be a devoted spouse."

Yes, that is the best the Post newsroom can do, a fact we’ve discussed for the past seven years. When will people who do fine policy work accept the unpleasant but obvious truth about this lack of involving ideas—this trait which defines our modern “press corps?”