INSIDE THE PRESS CORPS LUSH GARDEN! Describing the press corps obscene money culture, Milbank at last gets it right: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 2, 2011
Who will challenge us the people: Paul Krugmans new column starts with a deeply important fact. Krugman moves on to other points, but lets stop to consider this:
People dont know who enacted the bailouts. Krugman doesnt cite a particular survey or poll, but heres a Pew survey from last July in which this problem was recorded.
For the record, there was no partisan difference in Pews responses. Democrats as well as Republicans tended to think that Obama, not Bush, had enacted the TARP bank bailouts.
Krugman went on to make other points. But the ignorance of we the people was also featured in a report in yesterdays Washington Post. What does the federal budget go? John Norris did the reporting:
We Americans are amazingly clueless. We think that 25 percent of the budget goes to foreign aid. Real answer: One percent.
Sometimes, our ignorance is the result of design. Disinformation campaigns have existed for decades, misleading the public about major issues. And sometimes, individual journalists and/or their editors seem to make a point of keeping us barefoot and clueless. In yesterdays Washington Post, a news report by Amy Goldstein seemed like a case in point.
Goldstein wrote a rather tortured piece, arguing that Paul Ryans Medicare plan has roots in both major parties. Her general work seemed tortured enough, but eventually Goldstein and/or her editor simply refused to let Post readers know a basic fact. How much would Medicare recipients have to pay under the proposed Ryan plan? No one can say with certainty, but a basic fact was quite strangely withheld:
The hackwork there is astounding. According to Goldstein, earlier proponents of Medicare change wanted the government to pay 88 percent of costs. According to Goldstein, Ryan hasnt said what portion the government would pay under his proposal. Goldstein notes that the CBO has said that older Americans would end up paying more. But she fails to give a number.
Sad. The CBO has estimated that the government will be paying just 32 percent by the year 2030, as opposed to that 88 percent. Its stunning to think that this jarring number was withheld from this lengthy report. (In Sundays Post, Glenn Kessler cited that CBO number in a fact-checker piece. So does Robert Pear in todays New York Times.)
Whatever the reason, we the people are often amazingly clueless. But journalists and politicians tend to skip past that fact. No one likes to tell us were clueless. Our cluelessness is one of the most important aspects of modern American politics. But it is rarely discussed.
Its a citizens duty to be well informed; its a journalists duty to tell us that were not. It is also a journalists duty to tell us who is misinforming us. In the last few weeks, Donald Trump gave journalists the chance to perform that basic function.
Trump paraded around for weeks, making a string of bizarre suggestions based on what he had been hearing or what theyve been saying. (Another key source for the giant buffoon: The story is...)
Journalists should have stopped him right there. But very few journalists did. On CNN, Anderson Cooper largely fumbled and flailed his way through two nights worth of special reports. At the New York Times, the editors didnt dare say boo through weeks of this ludicrous conduct.
Someone should have told the people: This is how you get played.
Who will challenge us the people about our sacred duty as citizens? Who will tell us were being deceived? Who will names the names of deceivers? Very few analysts, liberal or mainstream, seem to have such ideas.
Our cluelessness is hugely important. Who will discuss this key fact?
INSIDE THE PRESS CORPS LUSH GARDEN (permalink): As readers may know, weve patiently worked with Dana Milbank for a good long time now.
Progress with Milbank has been very slowbut yesterday, we did get results! We refer to Milbanks scathing, highly accurate portrait of the insider press corps big-money culture, a straight-on portrait which appeared in Sundays Washington Post.
With one main exception, Dana Milbank got it right with his portrait of this gruesome culture.
Milbank began with a gruesome fact: Donald Trump appeared at Saturdays Correspondents Association Dinner as a guest of the Washington Post. Given Trumps recent disgraceful conduct, this is a truly remarkable fact, as Milbank sadly noted. But soon, Milbank started describing the money culture of the upper-end press corps as that culture swims into view through this annual event.
He described this culture in rank detail. We dont think weve ever seen a journalist do it better.
As weve tried to explain for years, what follows is a basic part of the cultural framework within which major journalists function. Remember one fact as you scan this portrait: This gawdy, Gatsby-era excess was staged as part of a press corps event. This represents the squalid context within which your press corps functions:
Before dinner, they have a pre-dinner brunch? By the way: How can Democratic consultants pay five figures for such an event? Where does that money come from?
Moving on, lets ask an obvious question:
Is it surprising when a vulgar buffoon likeTrump gets so much respect from the upper-end press? Is that really surprising when the press is owned and underwritten by vulgar buffoons like the Allbrittons?
Who but a vulgar buffoon would issue a press release like that?
For years, weve tried to explain the noxious effects of this big-money culturethe role this culture has played in creating the Millionaire Pundit Values which have driven so much press coverageincluding the type of work you never see because journalists know to withhold it. Make no mistake: Many people exposed to such wealth will want to acquire such excess for themselves. Few will end up with a Georgetown manse, of course. But by any normal standard, they can end up extremely well-off, with an enormous amount of celebrity. But such rewards will only come to those who play by established rules; excessive pay and celebrity are used to help guarantee silence. And please note: the gruesome influence of these rewards is not restricted to mainstream or conservative journalists. The liberal world has routinely been played for fools by its intellectual leadersby people who are themselves in the thrall of these upper-class bribes and values.
For the record, it is virtually impossible to get liberals to understand this fact. In large part, this is true because many of our favorite liberal heroes are mired in this culture up to their necks, while other famous fiery liberals are cover for their bought-and-sold friends. We liberals just dont seem to get this. Our simple minds work by a golden rule: If the journalist doesnt work for Fox, the journalist surely must be On Our Side. Its especially likely that shes on our side if she smiles at us as she says so.
Let us take a few wild guesses about the role played by this culturea culture in which excessive rewards go to those who agree to play by the rules:
Does this explain why Joan Walsh never ordered a serious profile of Chris Matthews in her years as head of Salon? Does this explain why she instead kissed his ass for a decade, eventually becoming a cable star on Hardball?
Does this explain why David and Josh sit at Matthews right hand, having kept their traps shut tight through all the years of his gruesome misconduct?
Is this why liberal intellectual leaders ignored Gene Lyons Fools for Scandal when it emerged in 1996? How about Lyons later book with Joe Conason, The Hunting of the President? Those books emerged at a time of rising conservative power in Washingtonand they savaged the work of the big news organs at which young liberal writers go on to make their careers?
Is this why Milbank himself said nothing about Ceci Connollys astonishing work in 1999, when he was chief election correspondent for the New Republic? After ignoring the Washington Posts misconduct all through that year, he then took a new jobat the Washington Post! Might a future reward of this type have colored his real-time judgment?
Were just asking, of course. In the case of individuals, theres no way for us to explain the ways they have played the game in the past several decades, as liberal journals gazed away while Big Democrats got slaughtered. (This pattern only began to change in the summer of 2003, after things went wrong in Iraq.)
Having praised Milbank, lets note his shortcomings. The gentleman does a brilliant job describing this Gatsby-esque press culture. He does fall short, although only a bit, in this later part of his column:
Milbanks focus is wrong in this passage.
We largely agree with one pointtheres nothing automatically wrong with a few hours of fraternization. To adapt an old political adage, some journalists can drink Johnny Walker Blue with a pol, then tell the truth about him.
But in reality, this fraternization shouldnt exist, certainly not at this level of splendor. Milbanks presentation is way off here: He says that, because of these squalid affairs, average people might get the impression that journalists have shed their detachment. But the actual problem is quite different: It has become rather clear, down through the years, that many journalists actually have lost their professional detachment. Just here at THE DAILY HOWLER, weve discussed that problem in the following instances:
Gwen Ifill fails to challenge her dinner companion, Condoleezza Rice. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/03.
Tim Russert boasts about his silly conduct at Rummys Christmas party. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/17/03.
Ted Koppel attends a lavish dinner to praise his great good friend, Colin Powell. Later that night, Koppel goes on the air, plainly unprepared, to interview the leading swift-boater. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/19/04.
Bob Schieffer takes trips to spring training with George W. Bush, part of a leading political family. Later, Schieffer defends Bushs conduct in Campaign 2000 in the most ridiculous ways, while trashing Bushs opponent. He even moderates a Bush-Kerry debate in 2004. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/12/04.
Duh! Koppel shouldnt be palling around with Powell. Ifill shouldnt be dining with Rice. Schieffer should never have gone within a hundred miles of spring training with Bush. Does this conduct merely give the impression that these people may have lost their detachment? In our view, their subsequent conduct strongly suggested that they actually had.
Final point: The late David Broder always talked a good game about refusing to fraternize. (Milbanks quote: The only way a reporter should ever look at a politician is down.) For all we know, Broder mostly abstained from such conduct. But in one of the most remarkable episodes of his career, he formed a negative judgment of a major White House candidate while playing poker with him and the boys. Broder then went out and concocted a story which played a large role in ending that candidates White House campaigna story he later semi-renounced. This is one of the most remarkable cases of fraternization in the whole insider press corps canon. Its also never discussed.
Did Broder look down on Edmund Muskie? Actually, the pundit dean looked at him from over his cards! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/28/07.
Overall, Milbank does a very good job describing a highly poisonous culture. Donald Trump hobnobbed with the Post, but his big-money values have long been around. This Gatsbyesque culture should be discussed.
Milbank gets 2.5 cheers.
Woe be unto us liberals: For Digbys take on Milbanks column, click here. Well recommend the comments.
Milbank described the big-money culture quite well. But Digby failed to tell her readers. In turn, they failed to notice. We just dont see the point.
Needless to say, career players hurried away from this topic. You know what to dojust click here.