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FREAKS LIKE HIM! Six years later, the Post’s Ignatius can’t see the freak within: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2006

FREAKS LIKE HIM: David Ignatius don’t reed reel gudd—or maybe he reads all too well. In this morning’s column in the Washington Post, Ignatius offers a lofty, inspiring portrait of his own mainstream press cohort. He draws this inspiring portrait from his reading of Harris and Halperin’s new book, The Way to Win. He uses three descriptive terms from that tome—“Freak Show,” “New Media,” “Old Media”:
IGNATIUS (10/18/06): People from the Old Media, like me, instinctively prefer a centrist style of civilized debate. Of course we do, say Halperin and Harris. We are the gatekeepers of the old order. The shrill voices of the New Media—the bloggers and talk-radio hosts and other partisan megaphones that Halperin and Harris describe as the "Freak Show"—don’t just threaten our beloved center. They might eventually put us out of business.
Whatever’s wrong with the insider press corps, you can’t say they lack self-esteem! According to Ignatius, the “Freak Show” of which Harris and Halperin write is conducted by something called the “New Media”—by the shrill voices of blogs and talk radio. By contrast, lofty people from the Old Media—“people like me”—prefer to engage in “civilized debate.” This certainly makes a pleasing story—a story drenched in self-regard. But it isn’t what Harris and Halperin say, and it certainly doesn’t come close to comporting with any known human reality.

In fact, the useful part of The Way to Win is the part which discusses that “Freak Show.” But uh-oh! Harris and Halperin say that the loud and dim-witted “Freak Show” discussion has been conducted by various “Old Media” news orgs as well as by “New Media” crackpots. (They cite Matt Drudge as the star of the “Freak Show.” They call Richard Nixon its “godfather.”) If Ignatius read as far as page 30, he would have read this, for example:
HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 30): A primary characteristic of Freak Show politics is the deterioration of Old Media filters. In the past, the Old Media tended to sift and suppress the angriest and most sensational aspects of politics, using its editorial sensibility to shape voters’ judgments. Technology and competition have weakened that power and shaken the self-confidence of many Old Media decision-makers regarding their own continued relevance and survival. The result is a willingness to let New Media interests infect editorial judgments.
We know—that’s oddly vague and murky. (We wonder if that might not be intentional.) But here’s what Harris and Halperin are saying (they murkily say it throughout their book): The Freak Show has “infect[ed] editorial judgments” by the Old Media. That is, the Old Media have often abandoned their traditional standards of judgment, instead adopting the tone of the Freak Show and bowing to its editorial judgments about subject matter. Though the boys often seem eager to keep this obscure, they clearly say that the Old Media has itself been part of the Freak Show. Indeed, here’s part of the remarkable (and accurate) way they describe the behavior of the Old Media in covering Campaign 2000—the two-year campaign which changed U.S. history, the one liberals still won’t discuss:
HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 129): No one who kept a close eye on the media coverage of the 2000 campaign would deny that the press corps assigned to Gore was more aggressive and more hostile toward the candidate than those assigned to Bush...This discrepancy made Old Media reporter much more likely to buy into political party press releases, late-night comic jokes, and the general story line that mirrored the Bush campaign’s crafted version of Gore.
As they continue, the boys mention the relentlessly negative work of three Gore reporters, including the Post’s inexcusable Ceci Connolly. That done, they go on to say this:
HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 129): And it was not just those three tone-setters who latched onto a negative image of Gore. Nearly every newspaper and television network in the country did stories at some point during the campaign raising the question of whether the vice president was a big liar or merely a small one. As Rolling Stone pointed out long after the election, “Journalists just refused to drop unflattering Gore stories, no matter what the facts revealed.”
That last sentence is simply astounding (and perfectly accurate). If the boys really mean what their words clearly say, they adopt the judgment of Eric Boehlert, who penned that highlighted sentence in Rolling Stone. “No matter what the facts revealed,” the Old Media’s reporters “refused to drop unflattering Gore stories!” Again, that is an astounding description of press corps misconduct—a description of major “Old Media” news orgs engaging in inexcusable “Freak Show” politics. But six years later, Ignatius seems to have no idea that such things have occurred—and he doesn’t seem to have understood the role Harris and Halperin assign to the “Old Media” in the unfolding of “Freak Show” politics.

In fairness, Harris and Halperin often write rather obscurely about the way their own “Old Media” news orgs have adopted “Freak Show” norms. (We’ll discuss that in more detail next week.) That may explain why a self-satisfied duffer can turn all the pages of their book without understanding what it says about the work of the Washington Post—about him. Six years later, Ignatius still puffs on his pipe at the club. He ponders the greatness of the Old Media—of civilized people like him.

MORE NEXT WEEK: Here’s the miracle of The Way to Win: Even after writing descriptions of press corps misconduct like the ones we’ve cadged above, the gentlemen still miraculously reach the judgment that the whole darn thing was Al Gore’s fault! Presumably, this was done so duffers like Ignatius can continue to puff away at the club. David Ignatius don’t reed reel gudd—or maybe he reads all too well.