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THEY WANT THEIR MAYPO! Lovable tykes want their sugary stew. Journos insist on their trivia: // link // print // previous // next //

THEY SUPPRESS LETTERS: In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks wrote a remarkable column about Bush’s views on Iraq. (Brooks was discussing a recent, two-hour session with Bush at the White House.) At Salon, Glenn Greenwald offered a typically insightful reaction; you should read his column in full. But in large part, Greenwald focused on this, the most remarkable part of Brooks’ column:
BROOKS (7/17/07): I left the 110-minute session thinking that far from being worn down by the past few years, Bush seems empowered. His self-confidence is the most remarkable feature of his presidency.

All this will be taken as evidence by many that Bush is delusional. He's living in a cocoon. He doesn't see or can't face how badly the war is going and how awfully he has performed.

But Bush is not blind to the realities in Iraq. After all, he lives through the events we're not supposed to report on: the trips to Walter Reed, the hours and hours spent weeping with or being rebuffed by the families of the dead.

Rather, his self-confidence survives because it flows from two sources. The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: ''It's more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn't exist.''
“No one can convince me,” Bush told the small group of conservative scribes. Indeed, if Brooks’ reporting is accurate, Bush’s “unconquerable faith” about the war in Iraq is based, in large part, on religious convictions. Again, we strongly suggest that you read Greenwald’s column, in which he recalls other incidents in which Bush has suggested that his political decisions are (Greenwald’s words) “grounded in absolute moral and theological convictions and therefore immune from re-examination or change.”

Like Greenwald, we thought the highlighted passage was the most striking part of Brooks’ column. That’s why we were surprised—and troubled—by the seven letters about this column presented in today’s Times.

Surely, Greenwald wasn’t alone in his reaction to the passage we’ve quoted—the passage in which the commander in chief says that he persists in Iraq because of religion convictions. Surely, many Times readers were struck by that passage. Presumably, the Times got letters about that passage. We’ll take a guess—they probably got quite a few.

But none of this morning’s seven letters—zero!—refer to that part of Brooks’ column. Indeed, you wouldn’t even know, from reading these letters, that any such declaration by Bush was reported by Brooks at all. Instead, the Times gave us high-minded thoughts from perfesser fellers—letters about the dueling views of historical process held by Bush and Leo Tolstoy. (The unintentionally comical part of Brooks’ column was the way he imagined a great debate between these two famous minds.)

Several letters criticize Bush, saying that no one else shares his great confidence. But good grief! There isn’t a word in those seven letters about the commander’s religious declaration. Might we interpret that oddity for you? Yes, we’ll have to speculate a bit, but here goes:

Our speculation: The Times did get letters about Bush’s statement; they got a lot of letters about it. But uh-oh! At the Times, it isn’t polite to discuss this pol’s religion—to let conservatives even imagine that you’re painting Bush as a “religious nut.” And so, the editors chose to ignore this striking part of Brooks’ column. Seven letters discuss Brooks’ piece—and its most startling passage is AWOL.

Is that what happened? We don’t know. But Greenwald surely wasn’t alone in his reaction to Brooks’ column. In truth, David Brooks provided a service when he quoted the commander in chief making this religious statement. But darlings! It simply isn’t done! That is where the discussion will end!

Try to believe it. The U.S. army stays on in Iraq because of Bush’s religious views. But somehow, no one wrote the New York Times to record their concern about that.

THEY WANT THEIR MAYPO: “I want my Maypo!” Since 1956, TV viewers have seen that lovable tyke demanding his sugary breakfast porridge. But then, today’s journalist seems to enjoy sugar too. Today’s journo tends to bang his spoon and tell the world, “I want my trivia.”

At least, so it went at the Washington Post when John Edwards started his poverty tour (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/17/07). And so it went at the Washington Post when journalists surveyed the recent reports about campaign fund-raising. At the Post, they wanted their trivia! Ugh! Matthew Mosk began a gigantic piece about the campaign reports with this bit of self-exposition:
MOSK (7/17/07): Opposition researchers plowed into the latest presidential filings yesterday, hunting for a nugget that might have the same impact on an opponent as the two $400 haircuts discovered in former senator John Edwards's last expense report.
Almost surely, that’s technically accurate; almost surely, oppo researchers did scour these reports looking for new bits of nonsense. But uh-oh! Mosk himself couldn’t wait to mention those haircuts in this Post presentation. The sprawling presentation—part text, part graphics—covered the top two-thirds of the newspaper’s page A6. (For unknown reasons, it’s not on-line.) Facing it, on page A7, Perry Bacon was also discussing the haircuts, in the groaning report of the poverty tour we discussed in yesterday’s HOWLER.

Yep! The troubling haircuts were all around—on page A6, and on A7 too! But then, as he continued, Mosk began to give us a look at the press corps’ love of trivia:
MOSK (continuing directly): Virtually every major campaign was scouring the newly filed campaign spending reports for potential bombshells and distributing discreetly—"off the record"—what they turned up to reporters around the country.

"These researchers are hoping for inconsistencies in position. Flip-flops," said Mike Berman, who was a campaign adviser to Walter Mondale. "They also look for the cute stuff—something that can be a little embarrassing and maybe throw a campaign off its stride. Will it endure? Who's to say?"

Knowing what might capture the public's fascination is no more predictable than figuring which videos will take off on YouTube, he said. But every once in a while there is a "macaca" moment.
Again, that passage is almost certainly true. Opposition researchers do scour these records looking for more of “the cute stuff.” But the thing that gives this “cute stuff” its traction is the willingness of big reporters to bruit it all around. And sure enough, Mosk started to dish—and we all were given a look at the way modern journalists “reason:”
MOSK (continuing directly): What made the cut was a blend of hypocrisy, personal indulgence and, in some cases, simple irony.

There was, for instance, the discovery that on the same day Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was telling union officials that he "won't shop" at Wal-Mart, members of his staff were in a Wal-Mart in Bedford, N.H., buying $182 worth of office equipment.
Presumably, that was an example of “simple irony”—and yet, for some reason, it headed the list. But then, Mosk’s next item was pointless too—or at least, so it struck us:
MOSK (continuing directly): Or that the Edwards campaign bought items from Harris Teeter at the same time labor in North Carolina was staging a nationwide protest of the grocery chain—with Edwards's backing—because of its relationship with the anti-union Smithfield Packing Co.
The campaign “bought items.” Next, we got a Giuliani item—offered without the slightest attempt to tell us if it was significant—and an Obama puzzlement:
MOSK (continuing directly): Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani's campaign got tagged for paying $15,215 to the candidate's own consulting firm, Giuliani Partners—for "rent."

There was little likely to alter the course of the campaign, but there was some Hollywood flash. Obama got $2,300 from former "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington—who was accused by a co-star of using a homophobic slur and went on Larry King's show to apologize. It's no coincidence that Democrats will be attending early next month a debate sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign that will be centered on issues important to the gay community.
Was there actually something wrong when Giuliani paid that rent? Mosk didn’t say—and who really cares! It’s fun, and it takes up some space! Regarding the donation to Obama, Mosk said that it is “no coincidence that Democrats will be attending...a debate sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign.” And yet, he didn’t make the slightest attempt to connect this upcoming debate to the cited donation. But so what! The donation provided some Hollywood flash—and it ate more space.

But then, the Post’s Michael Shear was having some fun with trivial aspects of the campaign reports too. His report came right after Mosk’s—and it focused on John McCain. The sinking solon “held fundraisers at two of the hottest nightclubs in the country,” Shear excitedlytold us. “These are not your father's nightclubs,” he said. And then, he gave us our Maypo:
SHEAR (7/17/07): On May 17, it was Tenjune, a club in New York City, for a Young Professionals cocktail reception hosted by his daughter Meghan. McCain paid the club $6,669 twice, for "Catering/Personnel SVC/Equip."

The invitation for the event lists former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger— known as a great fan of the nightlife in his day—and former Navy secretary John F. Lehman Jr. as "Honorary Chairmen" of the event. The club's Web site features a picture of two women in a sensuous embrace.

"As you descend the main stairway, you enter the middle section with its soft, velvet seating and wood flooring," the site says. "Behind the bar, a marble wall twinkles with points of light. Overhead, wooden waves undulate across the ceiling with soft light spilling out between the ripples that continue into the dance room."

You can just picture McCain coming down that stairway, can't you?
We could picture McCain on those stairs. But, unlike the excited Shear, we decided not to be bothered.

This sort of thing could be overlooked—if it weren’t for the way this Post report started (see above). As Mosk noted, everybody has been on the prowl for the next “haircut story”—for the next bit of trivia that scribes might be able to turn into a referendum on somebody’s troubling character. Increasingly, that’s where our presidential reporting has drifted in the past fifteen or twenty years: Journalists seize on some trivial point, then turn it into a portrait of somebody’s “character.” If they have to fudge the facts to get conclusions they like, they’ve been endlessly willing to do so.

This morning, Mitt Romney’s $300 for makeup services is cited on page one of the Times—and yes, this latest bit of trivia is even dumber and more irrelevant than Edwards’ now-famous haircuts. (Duh! Candidates wear make-up when they go on TV. Is there someone who doesn’t yet know this?) But over the course of the past fifteen years, these trivia-driven character tales have increasingly been aimed against Democrats. In the 1980s, half-witted journos—think Maureen Dowd—were still inventing or embellishing tales to help us see that Bush the elder is out of touch or that Quayle is a hopeless idiot. But it’s been a good long while since this kind of nonsense was aimed at major Republicans. Big Dems have become the favored marks as the mainstream press, for whatever reason, has become a Republican entity.

If Democrats plan to establish rules with which to guide the mainstream press, we’ll have to come up with some really cool rules concerning the role played by trivia. Like that adorable kid on TV, today’s big journalist want his Maypo; he want tiny bowls of sugary stew, from which he can craft favored stories. And increasingly, journalists use this sugary stew to draw dim conclusions about Major Dems. Tomorrow, we’ll offer some good sound advice—and roll our eyes big-time at Mellman.

TOMORROW: What must Dems do about trivia?

MAYPO FAQs: “Do you still make Chocolate Maypo?” It’s one of Maypo’s most frequently asked questions! And the Homestat people (nee Maltex) aren’t pulling their punches. For the answer, we’ll suggest you click here.

We also enjoyed that final question-and-answer! “[T]here is always product that will stick to this wet glue,” the people at Homestat have told us.