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COLLINS AMONG THE PEOPLE! Lady Collins forgot her picnic things–and Lehrer discussed Clinton’s steak: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, AUGUST 15, 2009

Three more cheers: Once again, we cheer Rutenberg/Calmes for yesterday’s name-naming, front-page report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/14/09). If big newspapers had behaved that way in the past twenty years, we’d be in a different country. And world.

On Monday, we’ll look at some work in the Washington Post on that same day, on that same subject. In one case, our analysts groaned to see Anne Kornblut back. Let’s just offer this small thought: In the work from yesterday’s Post, different impulses and frameworks appear.

COLLINS AMONG THE PEOPLE: Bob Herbert is doing a good thing today; he’s trying to understand his nation’s system of health care. It’s the sort of thing you’d almost expect a major journalist to do!

More specifically, Herbert has found “a good news story about health care” in an “economically stressed, rural region of Vermont.” Herbert describes “a national network of centers that are officially (and clumsily) known as Federally Qualified Health Centers.” He never quite examines the funding—the federal cost—of these centers. But he finds good things occurring in this part of Vermont:

HERBERT (8/15/09): Those who live in the area, no matter what their income, can get high-quality primary care, dental care, prescription drug services and mental health assistance at a price they can afford. All they have to do is call or stop by the Health Center at Plainfield, which is part of a national network of centers that are officially (and clumsily) known as Federally Qualified Health Centers.

[...]

All types of patients are served at the center, from the well off to the impoverished. There is a sliding scale of fees for patients without insurance. They are charged what they can afford. No one is turned away.

“This place is so important,” said Kathleen Hoyne, who was at the center with her 14-year-old son, Daniel. “Neither my husband nor I have health insurance through work.” Daniel, she said, is covered by Vermont’s expanded children’s health insurance program.

We’re suspicious. Is it possible Hoyne’s a tea-bagger? Herbert probably should have asked. But his column is about a serious topic, even if he’s a bit indiscriminate in his choice of interview subjects.

Then again:

On that same op-ed page, we find our highest lady, Gail Collins, reminiscing about her days at Woodstock. (“Forty years ago this weekend, I was at the Woodstock concert.”) Through her endlessly frivolous work, Collins is sitting out the major events of the current era. But then, she seems to have missed the point of the Woodstock exposition as well:

COLLINS (8/15/09): [The retrospectives have] brought back my concern about the fact that I do not have any memory whatsoever of having heard any music. Woodstock-wise, I am the walking definition of anhedonia.

I spent a lot of time trying to talk a state policeman into helping me charge the battery on the car I had borrowed from my boyfriend. And, having left the picnic basket behind on the front porch, I was in charge of finding food for myself, my brother and the six friends who came with us. This took a great deal of time, and involved making my way to a little town down the road, where the store shelves had been stripped nearly bare and the people seemed to feel as if they were living out an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

We recalled the late Tim Russert’s memoir of his own trip to Woodstock—the reminiscence which appeared in Tom Brokaw’s book on the 1960s. Brokaw chose to examine the era in a predictable way; he asked a string of major celebrities to offer their recollections. Soon after publication, Russert brought Brokaw onto Meet the Press to help him peddle the book.

Needless to say, Brokaw had an interesting take on the era. According to Brokaw, the 1960s was “a transformational time:”

RUSSERT (11/4/07): A new book, Boom! Voices of the '60s. Why did you write it?

BROKAW: I lived through it. It was a transformational time...And so I organized, Tim, a virtual reunion of people who went through the ’60s. Most folks think ’60s, and they have a vision of a flower child, but it encompassed everyone from Karl Rove to Arlo Guthrie. Even Tim Russert, who was at Woodstock, it turns out, with a Fu Manchu mustache.

[photo magically appears]

RUSSERT: It is remarkable. Paul Simon, James Taylor, Gloria Steinem, John Lewis, the civil rights leader, Newt Gingrich. No matter what ideology, no matter what political party, there is this common experience of growing up in the '60s.

BROKAW: And still trying to work their way through it, by the way. Hillary Clinton said to me, “Have you cracked the code yet?” And I said, "I don't think it's crackable yet, but I do think that there are lessons in this book and in those experiences that will help us get through these next very challenging years that we have ahead of us.

RUSSERT: You should know—I went to Woodstock in a Buffalo Bills jersey with a case of beer.

BROKAW: I know that, and I make that clear.

So let’s see: Russert was chucking the football around; Collins had forgotten her picnic basket. It’s amazing this thing ever got off the ground with so many “squares” around.

Skimming Boom, we weren’t sure if we were really supposed to believe what Russert wrote about Woodstock. Was this just something he dreamed up at the club, with Jack Welch, among the swells? Just the latest chance for NBC News to establish the “brand” of its leading star? Once again, we learned that Russert was just a beer-drinking galoot from Buffalo. At the same time, there he was, in Brokaw’s book, with nothing but big stars around!

Luckily, there were lessons in the book that will help us get through these next very challenging years.

Last night, another major media star seemed to be sleep-walking through those years. Hillary Clinton has been in a series of African countries, confronting some overpowering issues. But last night, sitting with Brooks and Shields, the American novelist Jim Lehrer started his discussion like this:

LEHRER (8/14/09): OK, you mentioned the word, the name “Clinton.” How about Secretary of State Clinton? What do you think about her trip to Africa and that little outburst about her husband?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I thought it was an absolutely legitimate outburst. I really—I thought it was an important trip.

LEHRER: We've got to refresh people's memories.

SHIELDS: Yes.

LEHRER: Somebody said, “What does your—what does President Clinton think about something?” And she said—

SHIELDS: She said, "I'm the secretary of state. I don't channel my husband." You know, you want to know—basically, “You want to know what he thinks, ask him yourself.”

LEHRER: Twitter him!

SHIELDS: Yes, ask him yourself, pal! And he happened to be—there might have been a little resentment, because at that moment, I think he was celebrating his birthday prematurely in Las Vegas at a place that has steaks for $240, $240 steak. I mean, you've got to look at that.

LEHRER: I can't even imagine.

SHIELDS: No. Can't imagine. Vegetables extra!

Shields and Lehrer, two men of the people, can’t imagine spending money like that!

(We have a comedian friend who once appeared at an event with Shields. By an error on the part of the bookers, he saw what Shields had been paid for his speech: 35 large.)

They became deranged many years ago. Few of them will ever emerge. They long to talk about Bill Clinton’s steaks. African lives don’t count for much inside such a culture.

On Monday, we’ll start a series about some of the truly remarkable facts which are being almost wholly deep-sixed in our health care pseudo-discussion.

You too, Brooks: Doggone it! David Brooks went there too, as soon as he got his chance:

LEHRER: What do you think?

BROOKS: Yes. You lost me at the steak, the $240 idea. You put A-1 steak sauce on this thing? I mean, is that an insult?

LEHRER: He's trying to imagine that!

BROOKS: How much are the carrots?

It hurts when we think of the fun Cillizza and Milbank could have had with this topic!