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THE WASHINGTON POST’S OLD CLOTHES! People in Maryland saw the truth. The liberal web did not: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2007

THE WASHINGTON POST’S OLD CLOTHES: Finally! On Saturday morning, we finally saw some frank reaction to the sheer inanity of the Washington Post’s “Front Runners” series. But these reactions weren’t found on the liberal web. No, they were found in the Washington Post!

On Saturday, the Post published a pair of mocking letters about this truly remarkable series. The first came from a reader in Takoma Park, Maryland. Her comments about this astounding series pretty much summed it all up:

LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (12/15/07): Is your political series "The Front-Runners" a satire of media political analysis? Are your gossip columnists writing it? You have devoted column inches to Mitt Romney’s anchorman" hairstyle, and you said that John Edwards looks like "a man in costume.”

"How he looks"? "How he talks"? What about what the candidates say? What about what they've done?

This seems like a new low in superficial coverage. The American public deserves a cardboard cutout and a sound bite for leadership if it falls for this type of focus on trivial issues of appearance and style.

J— W—
Takoma Park

Somehow, JW managed to notice what almost no one on the liberal web did. But then, a second Post reader, in North Conway, New Hampshire, had glimpsed the idiotics too:

LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (12/15/07): Robin Givhan's Dec. 10 piece, "Anchored Away," was as idiotic as it was offensive. For what conceivable reason would you devote any time whatsoever to a presidential candidate's hairstyle?

This type of reporting is not only devoid of constructive or relevant information related to the candidate—in this case, Mitt Romney; it is yet another sad example of the disastrous political reporting promulgated by The Post this election season.

This media infatuation with the appearance of the candidates reeks of an insidious bias, or worse, the desperate attempt for a newspaper to create, and then latch onto, a story line.

Do all your readers (and yourselves) a favor: Stick to the issues. For hairstyle faux pas, we'll stick to US Weekly.

C— C—
North Conway, N. H.

We’re a bit surprised that the Post chose to print these two letters—letters which tilted toward the idea that the paper had been beating up on Romney. But somehow, these two readers managed to see the idiocy of this eight-day series. On the liberal web, meanwhile, the various giants did not.

It was very hard to find critical comment about this series on the web. Frankly, we’re tired of trying to help you guess what this type of conduct might imaginably mean. But the silence reminded us of an old radio format of ours—a format we’ll describe at the end of this post.

Meanwhile, back to those letter-writers: The Maryland writer asked a good question: Was the Post engaged in satire? And: How about discussing what the candidates have proposed? There was an obvious reason for these remarks; in this series, the Post offered analyses of how each front-runner “looks,” but no analysis of what they’ve proposed! As such, the Post almost seemed to beg for the ridicule found in this letter; the Post did seem to be constructing a parody of modern pseudo-journalism. But the giants of the liberal web had virtually nothing to say about this. By the way: This type of coverage has killed Dem hopefuls in the past fifteen years. But our liberal firebrands still don’t know it—or are still refusing to say.

How inane—how much driven by “story line”—did this series get by the weekend? This inane—this much driven by narrative:

On Saturday: On Saturday, the Post’s analysts fell all over themselves fawning about their newest darling. Faire Huckabee. In a typically phantasmagoric review of “How He Looks,” Robin Givhan focused on the “practically heroic” way Huckabee lost more than 100 pounds, some years ago. (“It’s virtually impossible to look at Mike Huckabee without thinking: 100 pounds,” she inanely began. Trust us: The vast majority of voters accomplish this feat every single day.) Meanwhile, Dana Milbank’s “How He Talks” profile bore this dual-meaning headline: “Stand-Up Guy.” The fatuous scribe went on and on about how deliriously funny Huck is. (For all “Front-Runners” profiles, click here.)

If you’re the type who dreams detailed conspiracies about the way big newspapers work (we’re not), you’d have a hard time avoiding this thought: For some reason, the Washington Post wants you to think well of Huckabee.

On Sunday: On Sunday, the Post committed an historic act of assassination-by-biographical profile when it published this remarkable piece by Michael Leahy. As we’ve warned you, it’s amazingly easy to spin candidate bio—to make a candidate’s “life story” suggest whatever you want. In this piece, Leahy tells us—in his first dozen paragraphs—that Rudy Giuliani’s father was once hit with a men’s room morals charge; that the father suffered a “nervous breakdown” because of the experience; that his mother’s “side of the family included men with links to organized crime;” that Giuliani’s father once did time in Sing Sing. We don’t plan to vote for Giuliani ourselves—but if we did, but we’d be outraged by this rank presentation.

Earlier in the week, the Post’s biographical profile of McCain seemed designed to paint a familiar, heroic portrait. This profile? It seemed designed to leave you picturing Giuliani as a defective thug. (In one tiny sentence, Leahy tells you, quite a bit later, that Giuliani decided, while in college, that he “was going to go after the mob someday.”) But then, such are the problems inherent in biographical profile. The previous Sunday, Sally Jenkins had Candidate Clinton “triangulating” (as a child; at the dinner table) by the sixth paragraph of her biographical profile. In the case of Candidate Edwards, paragraphs 6-8 of his biographical profile concerned his very large (current) house.

Of course, the gigantic stupidity of this series was contained in its format. Every day, the Post offered a profile of “How They Look”—and no profile whatever of “What They Think!” That is why that Takoma Park reader thought what any bright person might think—that this series reads like satire. We didn’t read, in this eight-day series, about Huckabee’s daffy “Fair Tax” proposal. Instead, we read about his wonderful jokes. And we read this inanity from Givhan:

GIVHAN (12/15/07): People infer certain things about those who have lost the amount of weight Huckabee has. They are assumed to be people of exemplary self-control and willpower. Their success is spoken of in spiritual terms. No one is surprised when they owe much of their success to divine inspiration.

Huckabee, who has attributed his stamina to God's intervention, may not look like the most powerful man in the room. He certainly isn't the most stylish. But he very well may be the one people view as the most miraculous.

And then, he very well may not be. Meanwhile, Givhan—dumbest of all known political scriveners—just couldn’t help saying this:

GIVHAN: Huckabee—the name gets caught in the throat and then ricochets off the tongue—has a single distinguishing accessory: his bass guitar.

Huckabee has a funny name! As if to invite that hail of ridicule, Givhan just couldn’t help saying it. But then, Chris Matthews had said it many times first. Within this daft and palace-housed cohort, this counts as established “analysis.”

But the hail of ridicule this nonsense invites only rained down in letters from readers—letters published by the Post. On the liberal web, good boys and girls thought what mommy would want and avoided Word One about this sheer nonsense. The Post was practically crying out for the type of ridicule voiced in those letters. But the children who pretend to defend your interests couldn’t see the great paper’s lack of clothes.

Years ago, on WBAL radio, we did an occasional humor series, titled “Too Dumb To Be Self-Governing.” (Our favorite example: A Texas gubernatorial candidate unveiled his ten-point education plan—only to see that it contained nine points!) Yes, those items were offered as jokes—but we thought of that series again this past week. Your political discourse lies in the hands of a deeply dysfunctional, palace-bound cohort; in this past week, they practically begged for public ridicule for their vastly inane, empty work. But the paper-trained losers of the liberal web are too well-schooled for such rude observations. A Maryland reader could see what occurred. They couldn’t; cannot; never will.

WHO IS MICHAEL LEAHY: If we have such things as journalism schools, Leahy’s profile of Giuliani may well be taught in them for decades. But who is Michael Leahy? In early 1999, he distinguished himself at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for his fawning interviews with Juanita Broaddrick (click here), and for his angry-man attacks on apparent senatorial candidate Clinton. (“But mostly, we're just entertained. We like the star-quality and gossip-quotient that our royals bring to our otherwise dreary politics, and no one has more of either right now than Hillary Clinton.”) On Hardball, he showcased a bit of oddball logic, agreeing with Chris Matthews’s deduction; because Bill Clinton hadn’t tried to silence Broaddrick, her story just seemed more true. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/2/99.

The Washington Post spotted something it liked. It had hired him away by the summer.

GROUNDHOG BLOG: Here at THE HOWLER, we like Greg Sargent. But last Friday, he presented our liberal infirmity in a capsule. In this generally accurate post, Greg reviewed a report by the Times’ Katherine Seelye. He started like this:

SARGENT (12/14/07): Isn't it an article of faith that you never find baseless speculation in the news pages of The New York Times? Well, it's time to jettison the idea. Because in today's paper, reporter "Kit" Seelye injects pure speculation into the Times news pages, saying outright—based on a highly questionable and selective reading of the facts—that the Hillary campaign is trying to keep the Obama drug issue alive.

What? Excuse us? Say what?

As a general matter, we agree with Greg’s critique of Seelye’s piece—although the liberal web has also been filled with mind-reading savants who can just tell (they just know) what the Clinton campaign intended (and didn’t intend) in recent remarks about Obama. But readers, Good God! Good lord almighty! This is December 2007! Why on earth do liberal writers still start the way Greg started that piece—by acting like it comes as news that the New York Times sometimes includes “baseless speculation” in its news reports? On the admittedly hapless career liberal web, Greg counts as one of the toughest press critics—and he writes here as if he’s inside Groundhog Day. He writes as if, every day, he awakes to a brand-new world.

It’s especially odd to see Greg write this way about a piece by Seelye. Her current work should be judged on its merits—but in August 2000, the Financial Times judged her coverage of Gore quite correctly; it said she was “hostile to the campaign, doing little to hide [her] contempt for the candidate and his team.” That was a perfectly fair assessment. But so what? Eight years later, we still say we’re shocked—just shocked!—to find hints of bias in her work! But so it goes as the liberal web seems to play its assigned role in this long-running drama. So it goes as your liberal lions—like a famous emperor’s subjects— refuse to process mere truth.

We’ve given up. We don’t understand why Greg would write that. And we don’t understand why liberals keep accepting it.

A READER' SUGGESTION: A reader suggests that we read Greg's item wrong. We're not sure what makes him sure. But here's what he said:

E-MAIL: Your urgent rant style does fit the times well, and we appreciate your humor and intelligence. But sometimes you're tone deafness really leads you down the wrong path. Such as Monday's section titled, Groundhog Blog. The opening sentence of Sargent's writing that you hold up as ridicule is meant to be ironic. This sort of writing seems constantly to elude your grasp--it could be a neuronal thing. It seems to me Sargent is holding up a straw man, the infallible NYT, to have people who already know the Times regularly engages in nonsense collectively knock it down. And for those who don't regularly ponder such things, the rhetorical device still works.

Now, if you want to criticize this commonly employed sort of "ironicization" as an ineffective means of communicating important information, that would be valid. But at least show us that you "get" the rhetorical style.

In fact, we wouldn't assume the presence of that "rhetorical style" (although it's always possible that this was Greg's intent) because the "who knew" style seems to me to be fairly common, sometimes with Greg, often with others. We did assume he was being ironic in his closing comments (even the Clinton campaign deserves fair treatment from the press) although we didn't think that was entirely obvious either.

One way to proceed would be to ask Greg. But by now, we're too embarrassed. But yes, if that was Greg's intent, we'd tend top think it's an ineffective style. Many liberals are very weak on press critique--thanks, in large part, to defective leadership down through the years. We'd tend to favor more direct assertions.

Finally, we assume the e-mailer was engaged in ironicization when he made the "neuronal" remark.