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Daily Howler: At first, we were drawn to Gregory's world by those Nantucket nuptials
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GREGORY’S WORLD! At first, we were drawn to Gregory’s world by those Nantucket nuptials: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2007

THE SOURCE OF OUR PROBLEM: Yesterday, on the New York Times web site, Adam Nagourney expressed some regrets for his role in our ongoing haircut wars. “The tale of John Edwards’ $400 haircuts...arguably began four years ago this weekend with a story in The New York Times,” he wrote. Indeed, it was there that the “Breck Girl” insult began, voiced by an unnamed Bush helpmate:
NAGOURNEY (4/23/07): In the last paragraph of that story, which I wrote with a colleague, Richard W. Stevenson, an unnamed “Bush associate” was quoted as referring to Mr. Edwards as “the Breck Girl of politics.” Another Bush adviser, again unnamed, was quoted as saying of Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, “he looks French.”
“In both instances, we were attempting to flesh out for readers the White House’s plans for discrediting prospective Democratic opponents,” Nagourney writes. As Nagourney continues, he suggests some regrets. “Our story may have had the result of not only previewing what the Bush campaign intended to do, but, by introducing such memorably biting characterizations into the political dialogue, helping it.

“Was that a mistake on our part? Perhaps.”

Nagourney says he may have erred in printing the Bush campaign’s insults. On balance, we’d have to disagree with that judgment. On balance, Nagourney’s judgment may not have been perfect. But that really wasn’t the problem.

Yes, Nagourney might have framed his report in a different way. Quite possibly, he should have made the Bush campaign voice these inane remarks directly—not through anonymous attribution. But the problem here really isn’t the fact that Nagourney reported these inane, stupid comments; the problem lies in the way his paper’s top pundits reacted to these inane insults. (John Kerry “looks French!” Can we get any dumber?) This brings us back to Maureen Dowd, who should be rushed down the stairs and thrown out the door, never to be heard from again.

The Bush campaign was sending out inane insults about Edwards and Kerry. In the case of Edwards, their insult had a gender-based, homophobic quality. In a more rational world, we might imagine the nation’s pundits ignoring—even criticizing—such dumb, schoolboy comments. But we don’t live in that rational world. We live in the world of Maureen Dowd.

She’s one of our most influential pundits. And needless to say, she quickly began to recite the Bush camp’s jibes. Darlings, it was simply delicious! Indeed, this sort of thing is right up her alley; she has trafficked in such mindless drivel for year after year after year. How big a fool is Maureen Dowd? She was still reciting the “Breck Girl” insult in the column she wrote last Saturday! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/23/07.) You know? The column where she reinvented (lied about) basic facts to help you swallow her nonsense?

But then, Dowd is part of our dumbest professional cohort—she’s one of our millionaire pundits. She’s vastly overpaid and over-praised—and she’s dumb as a bunch of old rocks. This morning, a rational person from out in the world commented on her vast dumbness:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (4/24/07): While Maureen Dowd hints at hypocrisy by denouncing presidential candidates for building fancy houses or spending big money on haircuts, we should all remember how weak the connection is between personal wealth and public policy.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was among our richest presidents. He wore elegant suits, lived in the mega-mansion of Hyde Park, and was no stranger to the social life of the richest in the nation—during the depths of the Depression. Yet no president before him and none since have done as much for the poor, the hungry, the neglected.

What mattered then, and what matters now, is what the president does for the people. The rest is a monumental distraction.

Katherine S. Newman
Princeton, N.J., April 21, 2007
The writer is a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University.

We agree with every word. (Especially with the key word: “distraction.”) But remember—Dowd doesn’t give a flying f*ck about “the poor, the hungry, the neglected” (or the uninsured; or the pinched middle-class). Meanwhile, such empty-souled losers live for distraction; they often like to convince themselves that no one else cares about such matters either. It bothers them when they hear people speak about the things they find so tedious. They want to insist that Edwards must be a big fake—that no one could actually care about this! And they like to pretend that their own dumb concerns are the concerns of the far-seeing public. Hence, they invent silly claims in which they pretend that it’s the public which won’t put up with effete pretension (as they define it). For example, they pretend that the public rejected Bush 41 because he once uttered a preppy expression. In fact, Bush 41 got elected that year, as Dowd reported when it happened. But so what? As always, she simply made some sh*t up. It helped her drive home her Great Point.

But then, our upper-end, Washington press corps is our dumbest professional cohort. Their dumbness—and their cosmic disinterest—are a national problem. Indeed, this is exactly what you’d expect from a multimillionaire pundit elite. You’d expect that they’d gravitate toward the inane—and that their jibes would be aimed at Big Dems.

No, the problem wasn’t Nagourney’s reporting; the problem was the pundit corps’ reaction. We can all imagine a rational world, where pundits mock pols who offer such jibes. Instead, we live among our press Antoinettes. They’re amused by brainless jibes—and darlings, they love to repeat them! And yes, they’re clearly our dumbest elite. More on this problem tomorrow.

TOMORROW: Omigod. Roger Simon.

Special report: Gregory’s world!


PART 1—NANTUCKET NUPTIALS: Our interest began some years ago, with the report of those Nantucket nuptials. We were struck by the odd arrangement described by the Washingtonian’s Sallie Brady in June 2003—the slightly odd social practices of “the Nantucket NBC crowd, one of the cliques that fuels the isle's social engine.” In her profile, Brady discussed topics your press corps tends to avoid—and she mentioned those Nantucket nuptials:
BRADY (8/03): [Tim] Russert is part of the Nantucket NBC crowd, one of the cliques that fuels the isle's social engine. It was Jack Welch, the story goes, the 20-year chairman and CEO of NBC's parent company, General Electric, who drew network folk to Nantucket.

Russert and his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, began summering on Nantucket in 1992. Russert has said he can go days without leaving his house except for a bike ride to get the newspapers. Then he'll sit in his rocking chair and watch the grass blow in the breeze....

Russert's boss, NBC CEO Bob Wright, is also on the scene. Add to the cocktail chatter the latest tidbits from the Oval Office, care of White House correspondent David Gregory, who was married on Nantucket and returns with his wife, Beth, for vacations.

Before Brady chose to spill the beans, did you even know that Russert “summers?” More specifically, did you know that he summers in consort with GE’s Jack Welch, his long-time (conservative) boss-man? (A year after Brady’s piece appeared, Chris Matthews plunked down a cool 4.4 mill to buy his own Nantucket shack.) And we’ll be honest; this whole thing seemed a bit more odd in light of the November 2000 profile by USA Today’s Peter Johnson, who said this of Russert tie to his bosses: “Colleagues say he shares a Catholic bond with NBC president Bob Wright and General Electric chairman Jack Welch.” If Brady’s report can be believed, the three men seal their bond on Nantucket.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course—unless you’re concerned by the way that slightly odd Nantucket boys’ club has covered the politics of the Clinton/Bush era. In Part 4 of this report, for example, we’ll show you a remarkable journalistic flip-flop from October 2000—a flip which frankly makes us wonder if a call from Jack Welch might not have been placed to at least one of this island clique’s great cable stars.

Yep! In light of this network’s odd decade of coverage—its trashing of all things Clinton/Gore/Clinton—we were struck by the slightly odd buddy arrangement those two profiles seemed to describe. The profiles went where the press rarely goes, to issues of big pundits’ wealth and connection. And we were struck by the mention of David Gregory, a better-than-average Washington hand who generally doesn’t engage in the clowning which has often characterized MSNBC’s bizarre cable clique. (Hardball gets a little bit smarter—and a whole lot more dignified—when Gregory serves as guest host.) Our analysts hungrily rushed to their searches and sure enough—Brady was right about those island nuptials. The New York Times had reported the June 2000 event. Gregory married someone who is, by all accounts, an exceptionally talented lawyer:
NEW YORK TIMES (6/11/00): Beth Ann Wilkinson, a lawyer, and David Michael Gregory, a television reporter, both of whom work in Washington, were married on Nantucket Island yesterday. Judge Merrick B. Garland of the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit officiated at the Summer House [no relation], an inn in Siasconset, Mass.

Ms. Wilkinson, who is keeping her name, is a partner in the law firm of Latham & Watkins. A former special attorney with the Justice Department, she was a prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing trials. She graduated magna cum laude from Princeton and received her law degree from the University of Virginia. She is a daughter of Judith and Robert Wilkinson of Richland, Wash. Her father, a retired Navy submarine captain, is the director of the nuclear spent-fuel project in Hanford, Wash.

Mr. Gregory is a political correspondent covering the presidential campaign of Gov. George W. Bush for NBC News. He graduated from American University. He is the son of Carolyn Surtees of Los Angeles and Don Gregory of Newport Beach, Calif. His father is a theatrical and film producer in Newport Beach. The bridegroom's mother is an account manager in the business services division, in San Fernando, Calif., for Office Depot, the office supplies chain.
Not that there’s anything wrong with it! And before we type a single word more, let’s make sure we all know one thing. We will not allege undesirable conduct, of any kind, about the subjects of this week’s profile. Let’s say it again: Gregory is a better-than-average Washington TV journo. Wilkinson is a highly accomplished, superstar lawyer. And yes, she donates to Democratic hopefuls. On kooky-con web sites, she sometimes gets hammered for alleged ties with some Big Major Dems.

It may seem odd for us to tell you that nothing is wrong with Gregory’s world—but that we plan to spend three more days on it. But as we’ve periodically searched on that Nantucket tie, we’ve come across issues of wealth and connection that we think are well worth your attention. What is the shape of David Gregory’s world? The press corps rarely reports on itself. This week, we thought we would help them.

Over at the Washington Monthly, T. A. Frank has been nosing around in the lives of D.C.’s power couples; Gregory and Wilkinson are one of the Monthly’s tandems. As we’ve long noted, your country has a multimillionaire press corps—and David Gregory is clearly part of it. No, there’s nothing wrong with having a couple of bucks—but there can be problems with much of what follows. Your press corps is careful to deep-six these topics; Russert jets to his house on Nantucket to write pleasing books about being from Buffalo. But uh-oh! Gregory spends time on the island too. Tomorrow: Vast wealth.

STILL HOLDING COURT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: Jack Welch no longer runs GE, but it seems he’s still part of the island. Brady wrote this in 2003:
BRADY: Although Welch retired in 2001, he's still a power magnet. He holds court from a massive gray-shingled home festooned with window boxes, near Sankaty Head Golf Club.
Last summer, Welch did a Hardball interview from Nantucket, telling Chris all about the great job Bush had been doing with the economy (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/13/06). Should Welch and Matthews have explained their connection? Who knows? It wouldn’t have hurt.

Wright, who’s still in place at NBC, staged a charity event on Nantucket last summer. The Boston Globe’s Carol Beggy described the outing, live and direct from Eel Point:
BEGGY (8/1/06): Nantucket nabobs feted NBC Universal bigshot Bob Wright and his wife, Suzanne, at the American Ireland Fund's cocktail party over the weekend. The power couple were commended for their "Autism Speaks" initiative, a campaign they founded to find a cure for the undeclared epidemic. (The Wrights' 5-year-old grandson, Christian, is autistic.) “Autism knocked on the wrong door," said Suzanne Wright. Not only did Deutsche Bank managing director Bart Grenier host Sunday's shindig at his Eel Point manse, but he ponied up $15,000 for the right not to address the assembled elite. Chaired by "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert and his wife, "Vanity Fair" correspondent Maureen Orth , the posh party was attended by NBC White House correspondent David Gregory and his wife, Fannie Mae executive VP Beth Wilkinson, "Hardball" host Chris Matthews and his wife, DC news anchor Kathleen Matthews, former PBS poobah Pat Mitchell, actor John Shea, Irish ambassador to the United States Noel Fahey, Democratic consultant Bob Crowe, Fidelity Investments vice chair Bob Reynolds , Boston Capital CEO Jack Manning, "Cheers" owner Tom Kershaw, and model Hollis Colby. The event raised more than $100,000.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. At least Maureen Dowd wasn’t there.

Presumably, this was a worthy event. And let’s be sure to say it again; David Gregory is, in our view, a better-than-average Washington journo. But journalistic conflicts can arise when journos traffic in wealth and connection. Routinely, NBC’s punditry has been gruesome during the sweep of the Clinton/Bush years. All this week, we ponder the ways such miserable work can arise.

By the way: John Edwards pays way too much for his haircuts. Added problem: His house is too large.