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YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO TO THE INDIAN OCEAN! CEOs got smoked by Parade. Journalists? Not even one: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 13, 2009

You don’t have to go to the Indian Ocean: Yesterday, Parade magazine offered a regular feature: “What People Earn: Our Annual Report.” Out on the cover and inside the magazine, Parade let us see how much people earn in all the various occupations.

Well—in all the various occupations but one. By our count, Parade offered head shots, with annual earnings, for 71 different people. There was a teacher, a pilot, a CEO and a realtor—two singers, a rapper and a big famous film star. But one occupation was oddly missing. No journalist could be found in the mix!

How much are major journalists paid? Major journalists rarely discuss that.

Before we offer a helpful suggestion, consider yesterday’s column by Frank Rich—a very timely column about “the entrenched money culture.”

We thought Rich’s topic was very well chosen. (By happenstance, we’d spent an hour discussing the same topic just last Thursday, on WEAA’s Marc Steiner Show. To listen or download, just click here. WEAA-FM is Morgan State’s NPR station.) The crackpot conduct of multimillionaire elites is currently destroying the nation’s procedures and values. And sure enough! When he looks at financial elites, Rich seems to see the same thing:

RICH (4/12/09): What, if anything, have we learned from this decade’s man-made economic disaster? It wasn’t just trillions of dollars of wealth that went poof in the bubble. Certain American values also crumbled and vanished.

Those American values will continue to vanish, absent a moral correction. (Our view, as expressed on Thursday’s show: No major figure has yet articulated the sweep of this very large problem.) But we thought Rich paraded a bit himself, in the logic of yesterday’s column. Like the magazine of that same name, he focused on the way the “money culture” has affected other cohorts, while ignoring its possible effects on his own.

Before we suggest a palliative, let’s note a bit of Standard Rich Reasoning from yesterday’s column. In our view, as journalists have become rich and famous, they—much like their financial brethren—have perhaps become a bit more inclined to bend the basic rules of their craft. So it was when Rich kicked Summers around—and fawned about upright Obama.

We’re skeptical about Larry Summers (and Tim Geithner) ourselves, though we don’t understand the financial world well enough to make solid judgments. But Rich is very down on Summers—and so, he seems to pick and choose incidents to help us agree with his view. Summers got suspiciously rich at a hedge fund, he notes—and we think this is serious stuff. But then, he clucks about Cornel West, in largely irrelevant fashion:

RICH: That the highly paid leader of arguably America's most esteemed educational institution (disclosure: I went there) would simultaneously freelance as a hedge-fund guy might stand as a symbol for the values of our time. At the start of his stormy and short-lived presidency, Summers picked a fight with Cornel West for allegedly neglecting his professorial duties by taking on such extracurricular tasks as cutting a spoken-word CD. Yet Summers saw no conflict with moonlighting in the money racket while running the entire university. The students didn't even get a CD for his efforts—and Harvard's deflated endowment, now in a daunting liquidity crisis, didn't exactly benefit either.

For ourselves, we don’t know what happened between Summers and West. Nor do we care a great deal; the world will continue to turn on its axis with West repositioned at Princeton. That said, we clicked on the link Rich provided, and it took us to this 2003 Times magazine piece—a magazine piece which largely takes Summers’ side in the fight he supposedly picked with West (click ahead to page 9). Apparently, Rich couldn’t be bothered to find a piece which spun this irrelevant matter his way. Nor did he explain why Summers should have seen a similar problem in his own “moonlighting”—in the consulting he apparently did for a hedge fund while he was still Harvard president. Did this consulting cause Summers to “neglect his [presidential] duties,” the problem which had been alleged about West? Rich made no attempt to say. And by the way: Rich links to this news report as his source about Summers’ “moonlighting.” The report provides almost no information about Summers’ apparent consulting while he was still Harvard prez.

We agree with Rich’s basic statement: It’s odd to see someone consulting a hedge fund while serving as Harvard president. (If that’s what Summers did.) It’s very odd to consider the swag Summers took from a hedge fund after leaving that post—$5.2 million in 2008, for “working” one day a week! Like Rich, we’re skeptical about Summers—but then, we also don’t like the ham-handed spinning often found in Rich’s work. Which brings us to Rich’s equal-but-opposite novelization about high-minded Obama—Barack Obama, who hired the fellow whose values are so grossly bad:

RICH: Clearly the last person to serve as an inspiring role model for alternative values would have been Summers. But in her first baccalaureate address last June, his successor as Harvard president, Drew Gilpin Faust, stepped into that moral vacuum, zeroing in on the huge number of students heading into finance, consulting and investment banking. ''Find work you love,'' she implored the class of 2008. The ''most remunerative'' job choice ''may not be the most meaningful and the most satisfying.''

This same note was hit a month earlier by the commencement speaker at Wesleyan University, Barack Obama. ''The big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy,'' he said, amount to ''a poverty of ambition.'' He wasn't speaking idly. As America knows, Obama turned down the lucrative career path guaranteed to the first African-American president of The Harvard Law Review to pursue the missions of service and teaching instead. The potential rewards for our country, now that that early choice has led him into the White House, are enormous.

We had to laugh at Rich’s formulation—though we agree with Obama’s quoted statement. After all, the dumbest thing Obama ever did in his life involved the acquisition of his own “big house”—the big house he was able to purchase only because he asked a fixer to help him by buying the yard. (In fairness, Obama seems to have been the only American during this era who didn’t simply bluster ahead, purchasing too much house on his own.) Beyond that, Obama’s “mission of service” largely preceded his tenure at Harvard; his later “mission of teaching” coincided with a rather ambitious mission of seeking the White House. There’s nothing wrong with that last mission, of course—in our view, quite the contrary. But Rich’s synopsis represents the type of novelized dreck so commonly found in his work. Some of Rich’s novelized dreck has pushed very damaging narratives.

By the way: Obama, whose money values are amazingly good, appointed Summers (amazingly bad). But if something is wrong with Summers’ values, could that reflect on Obama’s values?

Not in a novel by Rich.

This brings us back to Parade. Next year, could this feature include the earnings of some big major journalists? How much is Maureen Dowd paid, for example? Why can’t she and Rich grace Parade’s famous cover? We have literally never seen an estimate of Dowd’s yearly swag. We’re also curious how much she paid for JFK’s pad—how she managed to land such a pad even before she became a big columnist. Big journalists ask questions like that about everyone—except about other big journalists.

We often wonder about these things because we’ve noticed a larger reach of the “money culture’s” destructive influence. Rich is right: The money culture seems to have rotted the brains of our financial elites, leading to truly remarkable conduct. But so too with journalistic elites over the past twenty years. For example, cable hosts are paid $5 million—and they shovel you dreck as one part of the deal. As we often tell the analysts: You don’t have to go to the Indian Ocean if you want to see modern-day pirates.

CEOs got smoked by Parade. Journalists? Not even one.

Special report: New morning?

PART 1—FIRST, DO NO HARM: For those who wandered in the wilderness, it almost seems too good to be true! We’re told that “progressive” media are emerging from the Bush-era rubble—that we’ve started to see a new morning. We have two liberal cable shows, we’re told—and Ed Schultz is now making it three. And progressive sites have emerged on the web. Some of these sites are sponsored by pre-existing liberal news organs.

What should we ask our progressive news orgs to do? We’ll discuss that question all week. For today, we’ll start at the start: Progressives! First, do no harm!

And yes, progressive orgs can do harm, when they clown or err in large ways. We all make mistakes, of course; for that reason, we’d rather not single out any particular person’s error. But one recent error struck us as especially instructive—in part, because it was especially comic. As noted, we all do make mistakes. That said, this particular error was made by Steve Benen, top blog at the Washington Monthly.

We were struck by Steve’s mistake because it was so comically wrong—so wrong as to be quite instructive.

As often occurs, Benen was seeking a rube-pleasing way to complain about conservative conduct. He linked to a column by the New York Times’ Charles Blow, in which Blow did his underwhelming job, this time complaining about nutty conservative pronouncements. The nuts have been attacking Obama, Steve said (quite correctly). The emerging pattern reminded him of something, he also said.

“IT'S LIKE DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN,” Steve declared in his headline. And then, he authored a classic mistake, in which he rather comically claimed to “remember the Clinton presidency.”

We do all make mistakes, of course. That said, this one was a beaut:

BENEN (4/4/09): Remember the Clinton presidency? A popular center-left Democratic president, with a popular domestic agenda, drove the right into apoplexy. Conservatives came up with bizarre conspiracy theories, casually threw around truly insane rhetoric, raised a lot of fears about the U.N. and America "sovereignty," and Fox News did its level best to whip uninformed right-wing activists into a frenzy.

I wonder why that seems familiar.

It “seems familiar,” he went on to say, because it’s happening all over again. Obama is being treated like Clinton, Steve alleged in the rest of his post.

Benen was right about one thing; some conservatives have been saying absurd things about Obama. On the other hand, we thought Blow did his usual hapless job discussing the problem; his column was pegged to a rise in gun sales, but he made little attempt to explain why that rise has occurred. (The rise seems to amount to roughly 20 percent. Blow seemed to imply the worst, of course—as do the various pseudo-cons he claims to find so appalling.) But nothing he said in that particular column was as wrong at Benen’s lead—the account in which he claimed to be “remembering” the Clinton years.

What was wrong with Benen’s account? Progressives! Please! Stop doing harm!

First, Benen played a standard canard, restricting his complaint about Clinton’s mistreatment to “conservatives,” “the right” and “right-wing activists.” Alas! No matter how often reality gets explained, progressives like Benen will always pretend that Clinton was assailed by “the right-wing”—and by “the right-wing” only. This turns the rest of us into uninformed boobs concerning our recent history. In fact, Gene Lyons was the first to write at length about the punishing wars against Clinton; his critically important 1996 book was entitled Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater. (The book developed from an article in Harper’s, which also published the book.) But rubes! Which parts of the “media” did Lyons cite? Principally, he discussed the Washington Post and the New York Times—and these are mainstream entities! The mainstream press corps drove this war. What makes progressives insist on offering alternative history?

Conservatives were active in the wars against Clinton, of course—and in the subsequent war against Gore. But the war against Clinton was largely driven by pillars of the mainstream media. (So too with the war against Gore. Conservatives barely mattered.) But no matter! No matter how many times such facts are explained, fellows like Benen assure us rubes that it was really done by “the right.” We can’t tell you why they love this claim so. But persist in it they always will.

Which brings us around to the comical part of Benen’s misstated history.

Claiming to “remember the Clinton presidency,” Benen named exactly one news org which took part in the onslaught. And the one news org he remembers is Fox—a news org which literally didn’t exist during most of the (nine) Clinton years!

"Fox News did its level best to whip uninformed right-wing activists into a frenzy?” Truly, that’s a remarkable way to remember the Clinton years. By our measure, those years began in early 1992—when, among other things, the New York Times launched the first of its bungled Whitewater stories. And yes, that was the New York Times. No, it wasn’t the Washington Times. It wasn’t Drudge, Rush, Sean or Fox.

That’s right, rubes! The Fox News Channel went on the air in October 1996! The Clinton presidency was almost half when the channel debuted. Bill Clinton had endured years of high-profile probes—“investigations” which, by and large, led to absolutely nothing. Kenneth Starr had already replaced Robert Fiske as independent counsel. In fact, Starr had been chasing Bill Clinton around for more than two years at that point!

Quite literally, Fox had nothing to do with this. Simply put, Fox wasn’t a player in the long wars against Clinton.

By the time Fox went on the air, Fools for Scandal had been written and published—and abandoned by the type of liberal org for which Benen now works. And by the way: When Fox News did go on the air, it had little influence. Currently, Fox is influential. But it wasn’t influential back then:

At launch, Fox aired in ten million homes. (Current figure: 102 million.) It couldn’t be seen in New York or L.A.; indeed, the channel didn’t air in Gotham until October 1997, after swapping anti-trust suits with foot-dragging Time Warner. Fox News is a fairly powerful player today. (We’d say its power is overstated.) But it played little role in the wars against Clinton, wars which began in 1992—the wars which were seamlessly transferred to Gore, thus changing the course of world history.

“I wonder why that seems familiar,” Benen asked, after “remembering” the Clinton years. In truth, we asked ourselves the same question! That record of the Clinton years is absurd on its face—and the Fox citation makes it a classic. But progressives love repeating such cant, in which the mainstream press disappears. And uh-oh! When other progressives munch such food, they grow dumb, and immeasurably dumber.

Other things were slightly shaky about Benen’s remembered history. In fact, Clinton’s “domestic agenda” wasn’t all that popular; unfortunately, in the early years, neither was Clinton himself. (Just click here.) But Benen insisted on a reliably bogus history of the Clinton era. As usual, he told the rubes to be angry at Fox—a news org which didn’t exist during most of the period in question. He skipped the central role of the mainstream press during this critical era.

Everybody makes mistakes—though this one is especially comic. But as our progressive news orgs emerge, they often emerge with the values and practices persistently found in other sectors. They love to rattle sweet, scripted tales—tales which take the place of reality. They’ll even say Fox ruled the world before the network existed.

Progressives do harm when they work from scripts, just like other script-runners do. Progressive news orgs have begun to emerge. What should we tell them to do?

Part 2: Tell the truth/Formulate frameworks/Challenge the mainstream to act