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ROOTS (PART 4A OF 5)! The Washington press is inane to the end. What is the source of this problem? // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2004

FINAL APPRAISAL: At noon Eastern, we’ll spend a final pre-election hour on the Marc Steiner Show. As always, we’ll be joined by our favorite dancing partner, Dr. Richard Vatz, of Towson University. WYPR Baltimore, 12 noon Eastern. Or you know what to do—just click here.

ROOTS (PART 4a): In this morning’s Post, Howard Kurtz has it goin’ on as he reviews the coverage of Campaign 04. “Some awfully good journalism was committed during the seemingly endless presidential race,” he begins, offering Requisite Praise of the Tribe. “But for the conflict-obsessed, celebrity-salivating, echo-chamber media, it was also the Leave No Trivia Behind campaign.” Holy cow! Kurtz rattles a list of campaign-coverage horribles. We especially noted this entry:

KURTZ (11/1/04): The press seemed happy to indulge the GOP portrait of Kerry as a French-looking, wine-sipping windsurfer—though the camouflaged senator played his own photo-op games by shooting swing-state geese—and some of the big spreads on the family's lavish vacation homes resembled real estate porn.
Indeed, we wrote about some of those “real estate porn spreads” in real time, even daring to name the names of the porn-peddling journalists who penned them. But we couldn’t help chuckling at Kurtz’s use of the past tense in this tough-talking passage. The press “seemed” happy to play the French-looking card? Technically, Kurtz’s construction is accurate. But the press will play that card to the end. Indeed, just one day before Kurtz’s column appeared, the New York Times’ Frank Rich began his Sunday column with this remarkable passage:
RICH (10/31/04): John Kerry is a flip-flopper. He's “French.” Whether he's asserting his non-girlie-boy bona fides by riding a Harley onto Jay Leno's set, “reporting for duty” at the Democratic convention or hunting geese in Ohio, he comes off like a second-rung James Brolin auditioning for a Levitra ad.
No, Rich doesn’t attribute his description to the GOP, or to anyone else; in his own voice, he works “French” and “girlie-boy” into his opening sentences, pumping them up with a nod to Levitra. But then, are we really surprised to read the smutty minds of the scribes who mindlessly type for the Times? In her most recent appearance on Imus, Rich’s fatuous colleague, Maureen Dowd, told the world that Kerry was coming off “like Bush’s woman.” Yes, this is the way they think—the powdered, perfumed, inane boy and girls who define your national discourse. (In November 1997, Dowd and Rich, in three absurd columns, invented the ludicrous Love Story flap.) And yes, they tell you the stories they like. Here was Rich’s second paragraph:
RICH (continuing directly): If the cliche of 2000 remains true, that entertainment-addicted Americans will never let a tedious president into their living rooms for four long years, then Mr. Kerry, like Al Gore, is toast. But now that Mr. Kerry enters the final stretch of 2004 with a serious chance of unseating an incumbent in wartime, a competing theory also rises: it's possible for America to overdose on entertainment. No president has worked harder than George W. Bush to tell his story as a spectacle, much of it fictional, to rivet his constituents while casting himself in an unfailingly heroic light. Yet this particular movie may have gone on too long and have too many plot holes. It may have been too clever by half. It may have given Mr. Kerry just the opening he needs to win.
Like so many in the tribe, Rich is at home when he works from cliches. And he spoils himself with the boon called “projection;” because he himself is entertainment-addicted, he insists that the voters must be that way too. But how absurd is Rich’s reasoning? Was Al Gore “toast” four years ago because voters won’t tolerate a tedious president? Readers, more of those “entertainment-addicted” voters actually voted for Gore than for Bush, a fact which everyone—even Rich—knows. But as we have told you for years and years, the “press corps” tells you the stories it likes. Routinely, facts are sent to the memory hole when they defeat a good story. By the way: In the Newsweek poll released on 10/30/00, Gore was considered “likable” by 64 percent of voters, Bush by 71 percent. This minor difference followed twenty months of Pundit Insistence on the difference between the two men—a story-line Rich keeps on pushing.

Yes, the New York Times has engaged in its standard inanity in the last few days before this election. The same boys and girls whose ears sting sharply when they meet critiques on the web were offering up their Standard Cant as we approached the election. But let’s delay our critique of the New York Times’ closing rush until tomorrow—until the Big Day itself. Just who is the Washington Press Corps? And what is the possible source of their endless inanity? Before we limn the Times’ closing rush, let’s look back to the Washington Post—to Tom Shales this morning, for example.

For reasons only known to the Post, the paper likes to keep pretending that Shales knows something about politics. Well sorry—the paper likes to keep pretending that Shales has something of interest to say about the way major candidates come across on TV. But Shales—the world’s leading authority on Kathy Lee Gifford—is over his head when it comes to these matters. Today, for example, he offers this thought on this year’s debates:

SHALES (11/1/04): Now there's some question whether [the debates] even had much influence. Kerry won all the debates, both in terms of style and content, and he experienced his appropriate upticks in the polls. But here we are down to the wire and the race is the proverbial neck-and-neck one...
Because Kerry isn’t ahead in the polls, Shales debates whether the debates had any actual impact. This “logic” is straight outta kindergarten. But then, his “reasoning” is little more advanced when he tells us how the candidates “seem” on TV. After beating up on Bush, he begins his cliche-driven limning of Kerry:
SHALES (11/1/04): So whom do the Democrats nominate to go up against Bush, this man who all but turns blank under the allegedly revealing rays of a television camera? John Kerry, a man with less channelable charisma than Wolf Blitzer. Something is wrong when, the minute a candidate is chosen as his party's nominee, he is shunted off to some mysterious laboratory in a valiant if vain effort to make him less stiff (the one word that always comes up when people describe Kerry) and spooky, to make him somehow camera-worthy in time for the convention.
But is that true? Is “stiff” “the one word that always comes up” when voters describe Kerry? Shales offers no evidence supporting this claim, which leads us to suspect that he is really naming “the one word that always comes up” when Kerry is discussed by his vacuous colleagues! Indeed, Shales seems to be highly suggestible—easily swayed by Key Pundit Limnings. Here’s what he says as his reading continues—an analysis that seems to be wholly derived from favorite press/pundit jibes:
SHALES (continuing directly): The number of wrongheaded decisions from the Kerry imagemakers would appear to be enormous, including the photos that showed this oh-so-serious man of the people, this regular guy who spoke repeatedly of his devotion to the middle class, merrily wind-surfing in the waters off Nantucket, or Martha's Vineyard, or some other place where Mr. and Mrs. America never go, which is part of what makes the rich people feel so safe and comfy there. He looked nearly as preposterous on a hunting trip that looked more like a GQ fashion shoot.

Ever since Kerry started looming large in the public eye, some of us have tried to figure out which fictional TV or movie character he reminds us of. His dreary professorial nature suggests a rather obscure image only a few movie buffs could recognize: the mad scientist who continues living even though his head is severed in 1985's "Re-Animator." Kerry would have to be animated before he could be re-animated, however.

His long face, subject of much gibing, is compared to that of the Frankenstein monster in "This Land," the very funny satirical cartoon (which takes swipes at both candidates) playing on the Internet and some satellite channels. On “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend, he was compared to the sad-faced nocturnal creature of the "Scream" movies.

How vacuous is the Washington press corps? Their cultural horizons derive from cartoons and from tired, worn-out old TV shows—and, of course, from their colleagues’ favorite stories. (Or should we borrow from Kurtz’s assessment? Should we say that Shales “seems happy to indulge the GOP portrait of Kerry as a French-looking, wine-sipping windsurfer?”) How does your press corps evaluate hopefuls? Let Shales tell you: “Ever since Kerry started looming large in the public eye, some of us have tried to figure out which fictional TV or movie character he reminds us of.” And yes, these actually are the empty souls who define your public debate.

Shales, of course, has a closing complaint. “If only Kerry had been able to summon more passion for the political statements he's made on TV and the political positions he has taken,” the pundit laments. “It's a sad deficiency from which both candidates suffer.” But of course, as he notes this “sad deficiency” in Kerry and Bush, Shales has just completed a column in which he has searched the annals of cartoon characters looking for ways to describe the candidates! Is Kerry more like “the mad scientist who continues living even though his head is severed?” Or is his “long face” more aptly compared “to that of the Frankenstein monster?”

Kurtz wraps up this morning’s column with more Requisite Praise for the Tribe. “Whatever their shortcomings, journalists have also churned out hundreds of stories on the candidates' positions on Iraq, terrorism, jobs, taxes, health care, stem cell research and a host of other concerns,” he writes. “Anyone who complains about not being able to find substantive reporting hasn't been looking very hard.” We would be inclined to dispute that assessment; we think the coverage of issues like health care has been amazingly light this year. But there is never a shortage, with this press corps, of the inane, the insulting, the fatuous. Where can a citizen look to explain this press corps’ endlessly fatuous soul? Tomorrow, we’ll start with Fred Hiatt’s election-end concern—and end with incomparable speculations.

YOU CAN’T MAKE IT UP: What concerns Fred Hiatt one day out? Hiatt runs the Post’s op-ed page—and no, you really can’t make this stuff up. Hiatt describes a pressing concern. You know what to do—just click here.