The swells must be crazy: Complaining a bit about slow news weeks, Kevin Drum has done some ruminative posts of late. We’ve found these posts quite worthwhile.
Yesterday, he quoted CJR's Erika Fry. In essence, Fry had complained about the types of swells the New York Times keeps using as outside contributors on its op-ed page.
Fry complained about the way the Times keeps publishing high academics, office-holders, think tank presidents and the like. She wondered why the Times can’t print a few columns by “the other half.”
Drum said he wasn’t sure the Times could find oodles of great work by “actual people with actual lives.” But he said they should give it a try.
We were intrigued by Fry’s analysis, though we’ve had a different reaction in the past few months to the outside submissions the Times keeps printing. Yes, those pieces tend to come from high academics and the like. But increasingly, we’ve been struck by the fatuous nature of the work these high-ranking swells are providing.
Could the Times get good stuff from the great unwashed? We don’t know—but the paper is printing tons of useless crap by people from very high stations. In the past few months, it has seemed to us that the situation is getting much worse—that the outside columns are getting odder, are increasingly worthless.
Consider three recent columns:
Last Friday, the Times published this worthless piece by Brian Schweitzer, Montana’s governor. In part, the piece was a comical song to himself; in its basic form, the column constituted a plea to start running the government more like a ranch. (Yes, that was the explicit advice.) At best, this column was worthless. (At worst, it extended a very dumb meme.) It’s amazing that the Times even considered publication.
On August 9, the Times published this rather typical piece by David Clay Large, a professor. The piece was designed to let us know what Adolf Hitler really thought about Jesse Owens winning all those medals. As such, it represents a type of piece the Times seems to love publishing. It thrashed out minor details about a piece of essentially ancient history—an important event which has been beaten to death long before this point. Advantage: The subject matter let the Times advertise its own lofty greatness.
On June 2, the Times published this groaner by (who else?) Joseph Califano. It described the way Lyndon Johnson handled a debt limit fight in June 1967. In June of this year, the country badly needed to read explanations of what was at stake in the debt limit fight currently unfolding in Congress. Califano’s piece was completely unhelpful. But Times readers were given the impression that they were being presented with some lofty historical stuff.
We’ve been amazed in the past few months by the steady parade of outside dreck the Times arranges to locate. Today, the Times has published a piece by Cornel West, who is willing to let us know, from his headline on down, what Dr. King would be thinking today. As he closes, the professor suggests that we get our “cemetery clothes” on.
Though we like some aspects of West’s work a lot, we’d be inclined to include this piece in our list of recent horribles. But to Fry, we’d make this suggestion: Look past the by-lines found in the Times. Instead, describe the lousy work this long list of swells is producing.
Full disclosure: In 2006, we had a brush with greatness involving Governor Schweitzer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/23/06). Schweitzer seemed like a thoroughly decent fellow, as most people pretty much are. We will say this: We’ve never met anyone who shared his new “favorable” ratings quite so quickly. The governor’s column in last Friday’s Times made us recall that event.
Special report: Two days of The Dumb!
PART 2—FRISKING THEIR HOUSES (permalink): This morning, for the second straight day, the New York Times builds its political coverage straight from the culture of Dumb.
Yesterday, the Times presented a detailed report about Candidate Bachmann’s makeup and wardrobe. Today, the Times follows with a detailed report about Candidate Romney’s “fashion sense and manner.”
As the Times continues to “report” on these topics, the sheer stupidity of our “journalistic” life-forms becomes increasingly clear.
For what it’s worth, today’s report, by Ashley Parker, is a clone of the work this newspaper did about Candidate Gore in 1999. All the basic memes are present, but we’ll recommend one photo caption:
“Mitt Romney in N.H. Voters say he appears relaxed, but some stiffness is still apparent.”
Some stiffness is still apparent! Even though the voters can’t spot it! This template littered the coverage in 1999. Parker samples that gruesome old coverage in her report today.
Your nation is dying from this culture of Dumb—had been for a rather long time. Example: The New York Times barely tried to explain the nature of the recent debt ceiling fight. But as always, it’s proving to be a tiger on issues of stiffness and makeup.
What is the shape of our terminal dumbness? We cover the candidates’ makeup and hair—and we cover the size of their houses! As the brains of our post-journalistic press cohort have melted away in the past dozen years, the size of those houses has weighed on their minds. Four recent examples:
Our “journalists” like to frisk their makeup and hair—and their body language, and the size of their houses! The spectacular dumbness of this “journalism” has now spread to the liberal world, where silly children have been having a good time with Mitt Romney.
His proposed house is too large.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. When she did a segment on this topic, guest host Melissa Harris-Perry did at least cop to her conduct. She introduced a silly guest child—and she explained what was coming:
HARRIS-PERRY (8/22/11): Romney’s campaign confirmed today he plans to bulldoze his $12 million beach house in California and build an 11,000 square foot beach house in its place. In addition to the California house, he also owns a townhouse outside Boston and a $10 million vacation home in New Hampshire.
Joining me now is Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post editorial writer and MSNBC contributor. Hi, Jonathan!
CAPEHART: How are you?
HARRIS-PERRY: I always feel like we always bring you in to do the snark thing with me on the GOP.
CAPEHART: It’s just too much fun!
HARRIS-PERRY: I know—it is. But is it legitimate?
Thank God a child like Capehart is allowed to have “fun” as he shovels wads of cash in his pants for advancing the ratings-pimping agenda of his corporate owners. (Has anyone ever gone down the drain as fast as this formerly sensible person?) And thank God we liberals can get entertained by this network’s “cone of snark!” That said, Harris-Perry was spreading The Dumb as she pushed this new, snarky topic. To her excellent question (“Is it legitimate?”), we will add these:
Is it good politics for liberals and progressives? Isn’t it monster-class dumb?
We would guess that this isn’t good politics, but explaining that would involve us in thought. Regarding our second question, the dumbness quickly came rolling in as Capehart entertained us rubes with the advertised snark. Before he ballooned with high pundit pride, Capehart was once a sane, balanced pundit. On this occasion, he rushed ahead to impress us with dumbness. Who would think this was the way to advance our progressive agenda?
HARRIS-PERRY: So is this really just timing? I mean, [Romney] is a millionaire. He can build as many homes as he wants.
HARRIS-PERRY: You have Vanity Fair talking about the big things that could fit inside his house. The entire Memphis Area Enterprise Rent-A-Car facility, Jennifer Aniston’s entire old house, apparently the world’s largest whale.
CAPEHART: I have some others too.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you have?
CAPEHART: Well, you could fit three times the area of Air Force One in that space. It’s 4,000 square feet. And just for comparison’s sake, President Jefferson`s Monticello—President Jefferson’s estate is just a little bit, they are about the same size at 12,000 square feet. And then both of Al Gore’s homes that he was made fun of, you know, the mansion in Tennessee and the villa in California—the villa is twice the, half the size of Romney’s new compound.
And the Tennessee house is just 1,000 square feet smaller than Romney’s.
We don’t know if Capehart’s numbers are right. But how dumb does a liberal have to be to bring in the snark in that manner? Or to offer us the following. This was Capehart’s response when Harris-Perry asked if this shit is legitimate:
HARRIS-PERRY: I know—it is. But is it legitimate? Look, presidents are wealthy people. They have Ivy League degrees. Is it OK for us to make fun of Mitt Romney for bulldozing his gigantic beach mansion and then building another one in the same spot?
CAPEHART: When you put it like that, of course it is. No, of course it is. Look, I think this plays into the narrative that unfortunately Mitt Romney unwittingly plays into. He’s smart. He’s handsome. He’s rich. And on top of it, he`s changed his policy positions on a whole host of things that sort of feed into—sort of makes you not want to like him in that way.
Remember in the—yes, 2008 campaign, there were stories going around how none of his Republican opponents even liked him.
Of course it’s legitimate! You see, it plays into a narrative! It makes you not want to like him! Beyond that, Capehart’s response struck us as tragically dumb—never more so than when we were told that “there were stories going around how none of his Republican opponents even liked him.”
The other Republicans didn’t like Mitt! Somehow, this means Mitt is bad!
Let’s face it—Romney pretty much doesn’t count a whole lot any more. He has been eaten alive by Candidate Perry. But if Romney became the GOP nominee, would his large proposed house help defeat him? We don’t know, but we do know this—in a plutocratic society, The Dumb will always work, on balance, to help the plutocrat cause. We could explain that, but that would take thought. Instead, let’s see the way two other children played with this very dumb theme.
One of the children was Rachel Maddow, one of the least perceptive political observers we’ve ever seen on the planet. She rarely seems to have any idea how the average bloke might think. And she loves to run with this ignorance.
One night after Harris-Perry’s snark, Maddow set out to top it. In two segments totaling thirteen-plus minutes, she and another grinning performer spent their time like this:
MADDOW (8/23/11): Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post and MSNBC political analyst. Willard, thank you for being here tonight. Mind if I all call you Willard?
ROBINSON: Yes, I do mind, absolutely, Rachel.
MADDOW: I take it back.
ROBINSON: But, listen, here, before we start, I have a question:
OK. So, Mitt Romney is Thurston Howell III, right?
ROBINSON: So does that mean Jon Huntsman is The Professor, even though he has a lot of money, because he believes in global warming and he believes in evolution? Then Michele Bachmann could be Mary Ann. Sarah Palin, of course, is Ginger.
MADDOW: Wait, wait, wait! You’ve got Ginger and Mary Ann backwards!
ROBINSON: Do you think so? I’m going with Bachmann as Mary Ann and Palin as Ginger.
MADDOW: Oh, I totally see Bachmann as Ginger. But, OK, keep going.
ROBINSON: No, but there it ends. Who’s the captain? Who’s Gilligan?
MADDOW: Well, the skipper is hard to say, because the skipper is an unusual—the thing is that if you think, if you’re thinking about this in terms of pure impression, Ron Paul is the skipper, don’t you think?
ROBINSON: Yes, I was thinking Ron Paul for Gilligan and Newt Gingrich for skipper.
MADDOW: Gingrich is a little skipper. All right. Then Gilligan—I mean, that does put Rick Perry in the position of being Gilligan. I’d prefer for Gilligan to be Rick Santorum, but I’m afraid Rick Santorum will sue me for even saying that of some obscure of what I`ve said that he’ll reveal as religiously offensive.
ROBINSON: That’s a given, so we won’t go there.
MADDOW: A three-hour tour. Now we’ve done it.
It seemed like a three-hour tour to us! But then, who’s keeping score?
Rachel had introduced the “Gilligan’s Island” theme in her previous segment; that explains Robinson’s comment. From this point, she and Robinson discussed her latest “political theory”—the theory that the Romney campaign has decided to “turn a rich guy caricature into a strength by embracing the heartless rich guy caricature.”
We’ve never seen anyone who seems to understand average voters quite so poorly. In this particular segment, she clipped a quote from the Romney campaign in a thoroughly typical way, giving us liberals a chance to snark but disguising the likely way the actual quote would likely strike many voters. That said, Romney may be a goner by now, but The Dumb will be with us forever—especially now that The Liberal Channel is increasingly seeking the fun.
As a minor personal aside, we learned about “Gilligan’s Island” humor during our years in the nation’s comedy clubs. Even there, people roll their eyes at this descent to the LCD. We’d never have dreamed that Our Own Rhodes Scholar would one day be serving us this pap, with a Pulitzer-winning journalist helping her Bring In the Dumb.
The Dumb and the Snark will always be with us because (just a guess) they help build cable ratings. We’ll close with a small piece of theory:
Those who oppose plutocrat power should probably oppose The Dumb and The Snark. The plutocrats will always wield disproportionate power; to the extent that we loosen the rules, this loosening favors their interests. When you let corporate journalists talk about makeup, wardrobe, body language, hair, they will disproportionately use this power to run down the more liberal candidates.
In the past twenty years (or more), it’s Democrats who have been most harmed by this rapidly spreading bullshit. On balance, that is the way it will always work, as long as we run with this culture.
Just a fantasy: As Capehart and Harris-Perry spoke about much-too-rich Romney, we dreamed of a day when chyrons would show the annual incomes of the pundits engaged in this stupid clowning.
Harris-Perry took some time during this segment to let us know how committed she is to the problems of the poor. Instinctively, we wonder about such claims—especially when these losers and shakers are pushing the culture of The Dumb, as they did those two nights.
Romney is probably out of the race. But would he be hurt by this kind of talk? We will guess that the answer is no. And by the way:
Who has been hurt most up till now? Which party has paid the big price as The Dumb has become the new normal?