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Daily Howler: The work in yesterday's Post and Times was almost impossibly awful
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STUNNING! The work in yesterday’s Post and Times was almost impossibly awful: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2007

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Nothing which follows is intended as a criticism of Garance Franke-Ruta. But in many ways, this innocuous post is the weekend’s top (meta) story.

“Congratulations,” says the headline on the Matt Yglesias post. He goes on to tell us that Franke-Ruta has accepted a job at the Washington Post. It’s fitting that this announcement occurs on a weekend in which the Post and the New York Times produced so much awful work (see below).

In a rational world, the fatuous culture of these broken-souled newspapers would be torn to shreds by vibrant young writers at our liberal journals. But sadly, out here in the actual world, the career path of these young writers leads straight through the Times and the Post. They congratulate themselves when their ships come in. You—and your interests—pay the freight.

As we’ve noted before, the most striking example of this syndrome occurred in 1999. Staring in March of that year, the Post turned Ceci Connolly loose to savage the Democratic front-runner, Gore. (They also turned the late Michael Kelly loose—and a host of others.) In a rational world, you would have read about this in The New Republic, a liberal journal with ties to Gore, a journal which would endorse Gore in 2000. But The New Republic took a pass on the Washington Post’s War Against Gore, which was already so active and obvious. And oh yes! At the end of 1999, editor Chuck Lane took a new job—at the Washington Post! So did Dana Milbank, TNR’s lead campaign reporter.

(After Lane left, Peter Beinart took over—and he maintained the journal’s silence about the Post and the Times all through the campaign’s second year. Today, Beinart is a monthly columnist—at the Washington Post!)

Congratulations, Matt enthused—as your interests got thrown in the trash. But then, this is an obvious part of the social network which gives you the “mainstream” “journalism” under which your modern politics suffers. The big mainstream papers maintain their culture in part through the silence of these young liberal lambs. “Congratulations,” they say to themselves, keeping it all in the family.

STUNNING: There are no words for the nonsense displayed in yesterday’s Post and Times.

In the Post, it was just as it ever was: The Dem front-runner wears funny clothes (see Robin Givhan) and bores us with policy talk (see Dana Milbank). The Post told you this about Candidate Gore—and now, about Candidate Clinton. Of course, Clinton is also a bit gender-kookie, Givhan suggests as she simpers along. Remember the rule of this upper-class clan: Big Dem women are really men. And Big Dem men are just women.

Meanwhile, Sally Jenkins offered an inane “biographical profile” of Clinton. Like the rest of her simpering breed, Jenkins believes she can capture the soul by thrashing the events of a pol’s teen-age years. But aside from the inanity involved in this thesis, Jenkins is such a hapless reporter that she can’t even get her chronology straight. Clinton graduated from high school in June of 1965; Jenkins is persistently off by one year, in all sorts of illuminating anecdotes going all the way back to eighth grade. But then, this is typical of this group’s public culture. Jenkins is able to x-ray the soul. But she can’t make a calendar work.

For the record, these three scribes offered these gruesome pieces as part of the start of a new Post series, “The Front-Runners.” This morning, Romney gets the same fatuous treatment dished out to Clinton—and let’s not ignore the Post’s photos. With both Clinton and Romney, the paper seems to have hatched a clever scheme. They asked the candidates to pose for a photo, then they snapped a meta-photo—a photo which shows them posing for a photo! This is exceptionally clever stuff—if your IQ is 10.

(We can’t find these photos on-line; in the hard-copy Post, they’re enormous. In another, smaller photo, Bill Clinton’s head is shown—where else?—between some woman’s legs.)

Meanwhile, in the Sunday Times, things may have been even worse:

Frank Rich: Rich is now in love with Mike Huckabee, whom he compares to JFK. All too typically, he seems to have penned his valentine about Huckabee’s love for immigrants just in time to miss the Huck’s tough new, send-them-home policy (announced Friday). Meanwhile, how does Rich know that Huck is for real? Simple: Cornel West said! But this is typical work from the man who likes to call Don Imus smart.

Maureen Dowd: Dowd gives us the latest look inside her crackpot soul. Let’s just say that, by paragraph 6, Dowd has described various aspects of her tortured youth—and she’s pondering Mitt Romney’s underwear. After that, she spends the bulk of her column playing eek-a-mouse about aspects of Mormon history and culture which seem to have nothing to do with Romney, her purported subject. Forty years later, she’s still “driv[ing] on the beltway” past “an alien world.” (See her opening paragraphs, which could have been drawn from Springsteen’s best work—if Springsteen had grown up a nutcase.) Explanation: At our most tortured, we Irish can still be like this. This is extremely rare, of course—except in America’s upper-end press corps, where it so clearly predominates.

Mark Leibovich: On page one, Mark Leibovich offered his latest attempt at bio-psychiatrization of Clinton. Some months back, Leibovich had a small nervous breakdown when he saw Clinton force a male aide to hold her purse for a moment. Yesterday, pure pap of the following sort was found all through his oracular piece:

LEIBOVICH (12/9/07): Aides often describe her as ''the most famous person nobody knows,'' a conceit that both condemns those who have mischaracterized Mrs. Clinton and acknowledges how inscrutable she can be.

Indeed, Mrs. Clinton is guarded by nature, friends say, a fundamentally ''private person'' despite her hyper-public profile. She has always been easier for many people to follow than to know, and people around her tend to speak of her in tones of distant awe, suggesting that they are more acolytes than friends.

People who have known her well acknowledge her protective shell. ''Hillary is a person who feels herself very vulnerable, and her response is to make herself bulletproof,'' said Nancy Pietrafesa, a classmate of Mrs. Clinton's at Wellesley College.

Thanks to Leibovich, Pietrafesa gives us a peek into Clinton’s soul. Only later does Leibovich note that Pietrafesa “was a close friend of Mrs. Clinton when they were in their 20s but has not spoken to her in many years.” Clinton turned 60 in October.

We may offer more remarks on these masterworks as the week unfolds. (Givhan and Milbank deserve exploration.) But yesterday was a very bad day for intelligent people who read these big newspapers. Routinely, the work of these papers is impossibly fatuous; for years, these big newspapers have been defined by a simpering, upper-class culture which was hatched inside their own private Versailles. You’d almost think that bright young liberals would scream and complain about such inanity. But they’re too busy congratulating themselves when they get in on the gravy train. That post by Yglesias helps explain the death spiral of your culture.

SUMMING IT UP: Summing it up, Deborah Howell wrote this in Sunday’s Post ombudsman column. She was critiquing Perry Bacon’s report about the Obama “rumors:”

HOWELL (12/9/07): "This was a legitimate subject for journalism explored by one of our most sophisticated political reporters," said Managing Editor Philip Bennett. "We should have been clearer about what it did and didn't say—in the headline, through the display and in the body of the piece.”

Good God. Bacon is a regular guest on Hardball; we’re often struck by how un-sophisticated he seems—by how little he has to offer. When we watch Bacon, we often wonder why the Post can’t hire sharper young reporters. (The sophisticated gentleman seems quite young. In the fall of 2001, he became a junior at Yale.) But so what? At the Post, Managing Editor Philip Bennett says that Bacon is “one of our most sophisticated political reporters.” Here’s the problem—Bennett may even believe that statement. Bigger problem—he may be right.

By the way: Also on Sunday, Bacon explained the Huckabee-Wayne Dumond matter. This was the Post’s first treatment of this incident. (Rich simply raced past it, of course.) Is it our imagination, or did one of the Post’s most sophisticated political reporters end up letting Huckabee suggest, for the ten millionth time, that his own appalling misjudgment had really been Bill Clinton’s fault?