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THRUST UPON HIM! John Pomfret must be a bright man. So how was this drek thrust upon him? // link // print // previous // next //

CASE CLOSED: Does our democracy face an “assault on reason?” We’ll wait until we read Gore’s book to see how well he delivers his case. But if you ever doubted the dumbness of our struggling public discourse, all you really have to do is read today’s Maureen Dowd column. Gore’s book asserts that we’re terminally dumb. So Dowd begins her thoughtful review by discussing Gore’s troubling weight:
DOWD (5/23/07): It's no wonder Al Gore is a little touchy about his weight, what with everyone trying to read his fat cells like tea leaves to see if he's going to run.

He was so determined to make his new book look weighty, in the this-treatise-belongs-on-the-shelf-between-Plato-and-Cato sense, rather than the double-chin-isn't-quite-gone-yet sense, that he did something practically unheard of for a politician: He didn't plaster his picture on the front.
Dowd goes on to reference Gore’s weight in seven of her seventeen paragraphs (1, 2, 4, 11, 14, 16, 17). Beyond that, she finds a “subliminal clue” to his future intentions (5); offers an inane analysis of his book tour’s timing (6); and pretends that a joke by Gore was serious, thereby making him sound highly pompous (13). But let’s review: Gore’s book says that our discourse is broken; Dowd responds by discussing his weight. We’ll wait to judge Gore’s work for ourselves. But we can say this already: Case closed.

Of course, discussing Dowd’s cosmic dumbness is like debating the blue in the sky. All that’s left are the puzzling questions about the way the rest of the world seems to swallow this endless, rolling inanity:
Times readers: We’re puzzled. How could someone read this column without being struck by its sheer inanity? Does such work make sense to Times readers?

Times editors: Prodigal son Andrew Rosenthal waved his typical drek into print. What did he think when he did that? Was he thrilled that his brilliant stable included this Pulitzer winner? Does this make sense to Rosenthal?
And then, the question that may matter most:
Liberal observers: Why do libs and Dems accept this? Why is this rolling insult to reason—to the American discourse—still permitted to stand?
We’ll discuss that last question tomorrow, in Part 4 of our Special Report. But are we gripped by an “assault on reason?” Gore wrote the book—but Dowd proved the point. The discussion is over. Case closed!

Special report: We’re with Stupid!

PART 3—THRUST UPON HIM: How low will the Post’s Outlook section go to keep its pieces suitably stupid? On Sunday, “Outlook” led its front page with a piece so dumb that it almost redefined press inanity (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/22/07). Vote for Stupid, it seemed to say, extending a mindless press corps trope that was already foolish during Campaign 2000, before George Bush had destroyed the known world. Indeed, how low had Outlook been willing to go? On Monday, that piece’s author, the hapless Liz Garrigan, met the world in a Post on-line chat. What follows is her first Q-and-A. Cover the eyes of the kids:
QUESTION: What are the chances of an All-Vandy race? Fred Thompson vs. Al Gore? Go [Commodores]!

GARRIGAN: Slim, I think. While I imagine Gore's ambition hasn't subsided much, I don't think he'll jump in. He's got swimming pools to heat.
Good God, that’s stupid—but in all the right ways! Note that Garrigan is “imagining” again, the impulse that led her astray this past Sunday. And of course, she tags Gore as “ambitious”—even as she says he won’t run! Remember: Nothing is ever allowed to defeat the Standard Tales the press loves to tell. In this narrative, Gore is ambitious if he gets in the race. Then again, it’s the same if he doesn’t.

Yes, that opening Q-and-A really defines “Stupid Chic.” But when a reader chided the scribe, she further explained her group’s culture:
QUESTION: Hey, what was that knock on Al Gore about heated swimming pools? Are you aware that he buys all of his energy from renewable resources (solar, wind)? Tennessee has had this program in place since 2000. Snarky asides by people in positions of "authority" just serve to perpetuate lies like this. You should be above that.

GARRIGAN: Snarky asides help to pay my bills. I was just making a joke about his substantial energy use, which was in the news recently. Yes, we all know: he mitigates his "carbon footprint.”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Snarky asides help pay her bills. Translation: She’s paid to be stupid! Further translation: Like Kathleen Parker, Garrigan is “southern fried Dowd.”

(In her next Q-and-A, Garrigan hints at her thoughts on “objectivity” versus “fairness and balance in the context of point of view.” If you cover the eyes of the horses and hounds, we’ll suggest that you give it a gander.)

So yes, the Post will stoop quite low to keep its pages suitably stupid—stupid in the Standard Approved Ways, the ways that keep driving our discourse. Indeed, this week’s Outlook showed us the types of standard framing that have increasingly defined the journalism driving our White House elections. For some reason, Outlook scoured the country, seeking the dumbest possible pander to the “brilliant” Fred Thompson; Garrigan gushed, smooched, pandered and fawned in ways that almost redefined dumb. And then, to offer a bit of “balance,” Outlook brought in a Tinseltown Dem—one who had nothing good to say about the Dems’ “dream candidate,” Gore. Instead, he trashed all current Dem hopefuls. He even playing the girlie-man card against John Edwards, whose “bangs” he just wouldn’t ignore.

In other words, Outlook hired Dumb-Ass to balance off Stupid. But that’s been the shape of the “balance” in our press corps over the course of the past many years. Outlook’s discussion was dumb as a box of old rocks—and the hero tales all went one way.

This leaves us with a puzzling problem; why would anyone sully “Outlook” with such absolute nonsense? In the matter of Garrigan, why would an editor go out of his way to present such flat-out dumb writing? Here at THE HOWLER, we were ready to ask why Susan Glasser would put such absolute nonsense in print, since Glasser herself is presumably bright. But uh-oh! As of last month, John Pomfret has taken over Outlook, as we noted a few months back (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/29/07). Pomfret’s the person who posted this drek. But what kind of person would do that?

Indeed, the question really puzzled our analysts when they reviewed Pomfret’s background. When Pomfret was named to take over Outlook, the Post’s Martin Weil reviewed his career. Here’s an impressive, four-paragraph nugget:
WEIL (1/27/07): John Pomfret, a prize-winning reporter and foreign correspondent who has studied Chinese in China and judo in Japan and covered hot spots including Bosnia, the Congo and Afghanistan during a 25-year journalism career, was named yesterday to become editor of The Washington Post's Outlook Section.

The Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr., and managing editor, Philip Bennett, called Pomfret, 47, "one of the great foreign correspondents of his generation."

Describing his tenure as The Post's correspondent in Beijing as an "extraordinary tour," the editors said Pomfret "arguably exercised an influence over coverage and perceptions of China greater than any American journalist" in the past half-century.

For the past 18 months, Pomfret, a former Fulbright scholar in Singapore who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Stanford University, has been The Post's West Coast bureau chief. As head of Outlook, which is published Sundays and offers in-depth discussions of public issues by specialists inside and outside the newspaper, he will hold the title of associate editor.
We find that summary quite amazing. According to Weil, the Outlook section is supposed to offer “in-depth discussions of public issues by specialists inside and outside the newspaper.” And Pomfret would seem to be up to the challenge of producing intelligent discourse; as we read his history, we find it hard to imagine that he himself is a dope. And yet, it didn’t take the gentleman long to publish the type of perfect drek that has deeply degraded our presidential discussions over the past fifteen years. Pomfret is a Stanford grad and a Fulbright scholar; he has reported from stations all over the world. But within weeks, he had published a piece in which Garrigan gushed on and on about Ole Fred’s vast sex appeal (see below) and endlessly trashed fake phony Gore in the Standard Approved Dumb-Ass Manner. Meanwhile, Pomfret “balanced” it off with a piece in which a Hollywood Democrat couldn’t find anything nice to say about his own party’s “dream candidate!” For the record, here’s the kind of “in-depth discussion” which capped the discussion by one of his “specialists.” Why would a smart person print this?
GARRIGAN: A case in point about Thompson's undeniable allure: At an April 18 gathering of about 60 members of Congress, organized by Rep. Zach Wamp, a Tennessee Republican, Thompson was asked about his dating history during the nearly two decades between his two marriages. In response, the one-time beau of country music singer Lorrie Morgan offered an honest assessment of his romantic history. "I was single for a long time, and, yep, I chased a lot of women," he said. "And a lot of women chased me. And those that chased me tended to catch me."

It was vintage Thompson, and there's more where that came from.

Shortly after I wrote in 2000 that Thompson bears a striking resemblance to the Klingon "Star Trek" character Worf —high forehead, wide nose and a hairline that exposes a bald top (Google it)—a package from the then-unmarried senator arrived in the mail. It was a picture of Worf that Thompson had signed with this message: "In the immortal words of Sawyer Brown, some girls don't like boys like me. Ah, but some girls do."

You'd never catch Al Gore or Bill Frist quoting Sawyer Brown.
Garrigan closed her piece with one last inane jibe at Gore. As it turns out, Pomfret’s “specialist” is an expert in who looks like Worf.

Let’s face it: That would have been monumentally stupid back in 2000, before George Bush destroyed the known world—before Gore warned about war with Iraq, before he changed the world with his film. (Thompson, of course, is such a dumb-ass that he’s been advising the world: Mars is warming!) But even after those cataclysmic events, Pomfret decided to track down a “specialist” who could help us see how great Republicans are because they’re just more fun to be with—because they quote top bands from Star Search. But post-Iraq, post-Inconvenient Truth, this is so stupid—so cosmically stupid—that it really is an assault on democracy. And a man who’s clearly not stupid himself chose to wave this pure drek into print.

Glasser’s history is more colorful than Pomfret’s when it comes to such matters; in July 1999, she teamed with Ceci Connolly for a pair of front-page attacks on Gore—a pair of reports which were about as dishonest as anything that ever appeared during Campaign 2000. Until we realized that Pomfret was in charge, we had planned to revisit those reports today, to ask why a person who is technically smart would have put her name anywhere near them. But then, Pomfret must be an intelligent person too—and yet, he seems to have scoured the globe in search of work that’s just flat-out stupid. Even in China, he managed to learn that this is the drek which is driving our discourse! Unlike Glasser, he has no history in these long, stupid wars. But he seems eager to prove his bon fides.

Why do intelligent people print ludicrous things—pieces which pimp the next GOP hopeful, while presenting the kind of “balance” in which Edwards is trashed as a big girlie-man? That question should be on liberal lips. And yet, somewhat dumbly, it isn’t.

We recalled those stirring old words this past Monday: Some are born stupid. Some become stupid. And some have stupidity thrust upon them. It sounds like Pomfret is very bright. By what process—by what inside politics—has Pomfret had dumbness thrust on him?

TOMORROW—PART 4: Are libs and Dems OK with Stupid?

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In January, as Glasser neared the end of her tenure, Outlook led with a silly piece in which we were asked to imagine how great things would be if we’d only elected Jeb Bush, not George (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/29/07). At the time, we asked an obvious question: When would Outlook offer a piece about how great it would be if we’d gotten Al Gore? (Jeb Bush supported the war with Iraq, the source of our current greatest problems.) But hero tales go only one way in the crackpot world of our millionaire “press corps.” Even in China, Pomfret picked that up. Result? He went searching for Stupid. He was willing to play his guild’s game. Stupidity was soon thrust upon him.