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Print view: Sheryl Gay Stolberg is a very bad person, as she makes clear today
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STUPIDISM V. SILLY-BILLISM: Sheryl Gay Stolberg is a very bad person, as she makes clear today: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MAY 25, 2011

Coming across as a fraud: It helps when you have a good candidate! Smiling broadly and speaking clear regional English, Kathy Hochul came across as a superb political figure in her victory speech last night. As county clerk of Erie County, Hochul is an experienced public figure, of course—but beyond that, she seems familiar with life out in the real world.

Hochul came across as a superb public figure. We only wish we could say the same for Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who appeared on last night’s Ed Show to celebrate Hochul’s victory. Schultz kept the goose-stepping to a minimum—but Israel offered pure twaddle:

ISRAEL (5/24/11): This is not just a win for Democrats and it is not just a win for Kathy Hochul, who will be an extraordinary and independent member of Congress. It is a win for Medicare. And it is a very serious warning sign for Republicans who would continue this reckless scheme to terminate Medicare in order to fund those tax cuts for big oil companies.

[…]

I think tonight proves to Democrats and Republicans throughout the entire country that we have better priorities. We don’t need to reduce Medicare, we need to reduce the tax subsidies to the big oil companies. That’s the choice that we presented to the American people and the voters of New York’s 26th district agree with our choice and our priorities.

That highlighted statement is pure perfect garbage. Do we need to “reduce Medicare” in some way? You’ll have to speak to some actual experts. (That would not include Digby.) But if we get rid of those “tax subsidies to the big oil companies,” it will reduce future deficits by $21 billion total, over the next ten years. The current deficit, just for this year, is around $1.5 trillion.

A trillion is quite a bit more than a billion; you can check with your local math teacher. Nor does anyone need to “terminate Medicare” to fund those tax cuts for the big oil companies. Are we really that dumb?

To our eye and ear, Hochul came across as a superb public figure. Israel came across a fraud.

Special report: Any given Sunday!

Part 2—STUPIDISM V. SILLY-BILLISM (permalink): Sheryl Gay Stolberg is a very bad person. This morning, she puts the culture of American political “journalism” on vivid, depressing display.

Stolberg’s piece appears on page one of the New York Times, one of the most famous newspapers in the declining collection of duchies still known as “the United States.” In our lexicon, her “political memo” represents an especially noxious example of journalistic “stupidism.”

Here’s how the nonsense starts:

STOLBERG (5/25/11): All That Glitters May Redefine Run by Gingrich

To the long list of rich-guy foibles that turned into defining campaign moments—John Edwards's $400 haircut, John Kerry's kite-surfing, John McCain's inability to remember how many homes he owns—let us now add Newt Gingrich's using $500,000 revolving line of credit at the luxury jeweler Tiffany & Company.

Like the hapless Bob Schieffer before her, Stolberg has a large cow today over one of the candidates’ jewels. In her noxious opening paragraph, she recalls other recent cases where the culture of stupidism helped “redefine” a White House campaign.

Example: During Campaign 2004, Candidate Kerry dared to go wind-surfing—and someone even took his picture! In response, hapless boobs like Stolberg told us what this troubling conduct showed us about Kerry’s character. Four years earlier, this same collection of half-witted mutants lectured the world about Candidate Gore’s buttons and boots—and about his polo shirts, and about the fact that he wore a brown suit when he debated Candidate Bradley!

In each case, Candidate Bush ended up in the White House.

This morning, the stupidists are at it again through the labors of Stolberg. In fairness: As she pushes that cow out into the world, she does at least acknowledge her agency:

Let “us” add Gingrich’s line to the list, this high-ranking stupidist says.

Having explained who’s creating the list, Stolberg continues her stupidist narrative, crafting a prime example of the way this cult’s adepts “reason.” Note the slippery, nuanced way Stolberg discusses the voters:

STOLBERG (continuing directly): The way Mr. Gingrich sees it, as he said on ''Face the Nation'' on Sunday, he's ''a guy running for president who pays all of his bills,'' who lives within his budget and who is in fact ''very frugal.''

The way some voters out in the rest of America might see it, he's a guy who paid more for jewelry than some people pay for their houses.

Wow! According to Stolberg’s reporting, voters see Gingrich as a guy who paid more for jewelry than people pay for their houses! Well, not exactly: According to Stolberg, some voters see Gingrich that way; well actually, some voters might do so. (More precisely, this undisclosed number of voters might see Gingrich as a person who paid more for his jewels than some people pay for their houses.) Of course, some voters might see Gingrich as the second coming of the Buddha. We’ll assume that Stolberg won’t waste our time thrashing that “story line” (to use her own chosen term).

Simple story: Stolberg’s piece is part of a post-journalistic culture which took full form during Campaign 2000: A culture in which “journalists” seize upon some trivial matter to drive pre-existing tales about character. Often, the “facts” about these trivial matters will be fudged, invented or redefined to drive the pre-existing tale. Let’s get clear on the stupid way Stolberg does that today.

In her opening paragraph, Stolberg tells us that Gingrich used a “$500,000 revolving line of credit at the luxury jeweler Tiffany.” Like you, we have no real idea what that actually means—but so what? Stolberg quickly tells us how “some” voters “might” see this troubling matter.

Gingrich used a revolving line of credit! In a true journalistic culture, the journalist wasting her time on this matter would try to explain what that murky phrase means. Not Stolberg! This is the best she does at explaining this basic point, in two separate stupid passages:

STOLBERG (continuing directly): It has been a week since Politico broke the news that while working for the House Agriculture Committee, Mr. Gingrich's wife, Callista, filed forms for 2005 and 2006 disclosing her husband's ''revolving charge'' of $250,001 to $500,000 with Tiffany. Mr. Gingrich, insisting his jewelry buying habits are his own business, has declined to say what he bought.

[…]

On CBS News's ''Face the Nation,'' Mr. Gingrich called the credit line a ''standard, no-interest account.''

The Tiffany spokesman, Carson Glover, said the company offers customers a ''revolving credit card agreement'' with state-specific rates; those who hold such cards are eligible for up to 12 months of interest-free borrowing if they spend more than $1,000 on an engagement ring or $5,000 on other merchandise.

Do you know what a “revolving credit card agreement'' is? We don’t know either! That said: As best we can tell from that puddle of muddle, Stolberg has no idea how much jewelry Gingrich ever bought, though he did spend more than $1000. In her attempt to explain why this piffle matters, the stupidist soon offers us the highlighted statement, hiss-spitting as she goes:

STOLBERG: But the glittering strand of diamonds that Mrs. Gingrich wore last month to the Washington premiere of the couple's latest documentary movie looks strikingly like one that Tiffany advertises for $45,000. And Time magazine's Web site on Tuesday posted a slide show of Mrs. Gingrich wearing various baubles that seemed straight out of the Tiffany catalog, including what looks like a $22,000 pair of diamond and gold starburst earrings ''inspired by electrons orbiting in the nucleus of an atom.''

Tiffany's or knockoffs? The Gingrich campaign won't say. But at this point, it no longer matters, according to political strategists of both parties. What matters, they say, is that the Tiffany story is sticking to Mr. Gingrich, helping to define—or perhaps redefine—him in the critical early days of his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

As House speaker, Mr. Gingrich preached the virtues of fiscal conservatism; now he is struggling to explain how spending large sums on jewelry fits in with that philosophy. And while a spokesman for Tiffany confirmed Tuesday that Mr. Gingrich had paid the debt in full, with no interest, parrying questions about a six-figure jewelry bill is hardly what his campaign needs at a time when many Americans are out of work or have lost their homes.

Did Gingrich “spend large sums on jewelry?” Stolberg doesn’t quite know. (She does know what a “knockoff” is, having looked in the mirror each morning.) But assuming that he actually did spend such money, the stupidist is required to show why this discussion is actually relevant. Stolberg pretends to do that in the highlighted passage, in which we’re invited to imagine a troubling contradiction:

Gingrich preaches the virtues of fiscal conservatism—but he spent large sums on jewelry! With respect, might we offer a point? If you see a contradiction there, then you’re too stupid to play this game! The next time political discourse breaks out, please just stay in the house!

No, there isn’t an actual contradiction between fiscal conservatism and buying a necklace. But by law, the stupidists have to pretend that they’ve spotted a troubling problem—and they’ve been building this culture since Campaign 2000, when they kept it up so long that Bush ended up in command.

By the way: Gingrich said amazingly stupid things all week about very important policy matters. Have you seen a front-page report about that? No! By the rules of stupidism, Stolberg must instead finger his jewels! By definition, the stupidist rarely notices, or cares about, the stupid remarks of others.

Stolberg’s very stupid report is matched by Maureen Dowd’s column today; we’ll discuss that stupid pile tomorrow. But Stolberg’s stupidism is only one part of post-journalistic culture. A related culture, “silly-billism,” was on vibrant display in Sunday’s Outlook section.

The Washington Post still carries a reputation as our leading political newspaper, but it has sunk into cosmic dumbness over the past many years. Any given Sunday, you can see this culture of dumbness in full flower in its high-profile Outlook section. In a rational world, this section would be a weekly salon for very smart political discourse. But consider some of the silly-billism found in its pages this week:

Read this lengthy piece, if you can, about a woman who spent a whole year doing everything Oprah told her. (Our remark is not intended as criticism of Oprah.)

Read this piece, in which Chris Cillizza (briefly) discusses the stupid things Gingrich said about policy matters last week. Predictably, Cillizza fails to tell us that he himself, just one week before, hailed the “considerable strengths” of this long-time ninny, citing the fact that Gingrich is “widely regarded as the brightest policy mind in the [Republican] party” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/13/11).

Most punishingly, fight your way through this long piece about the various Republican candidates. The piece was written by a sitcom producer. Accompanied by a massive graphic, it was Outlook’s featured front-page report. It’s silly-bill crap from beginning to end, reflecting an apparent belief that Post readers have low IQs.

If you can read that featured piece all the way through, you win a silly-bill merit badge for completing a long hard slog. For extra credit, scan this piece, about how we should get rid of lawn-blowers.

Let’s establish the difference between these two schools: Stupidism drives a political point. By way of contrast, silly-billism simply wastes everyone’s time with utterly pointless blather. Any given Sunday, these complementary cultures are found all over Outlook.

This Sunday, the Outlook section’s featured piece was a dumb-brick review of Republican hopefuls. In the next two days, we’ll review two additional front-page Outlook efforts—pieces which truly show us the broken soul of American post-journalist culture.

Tomorrow: Good lord—Sissela Bok on James Stewart!