Friday, April 18, 2008

Hard-working reporters, trying to do their jobs

Have you no sense of irony, sir, at long last?! Have you left no sense of irony!?

Not that it would have been either clever or original, but that's what I was tempted to yell at Keith Olbermann last Wednesday. Olbermann's derisive tone as he mocks Clinton doesn't come across in the transcript, but he sneered at Clnton's claims of biased press coverage in the most belittling tones imaginable before introducing a comedian to introduce the evening's number one story -- a dispute over payment of a Clinton campaign bill. Who could have predicted it, Keith Olbermann: prince of the pod people?
Do you know you're a dipshit, Keith, at long last? Have you left no sense of your own dipshittiness?

Well, I was prepared to forget all about it, until I heard Howard Fineman on last night's show:
Well, this isn‘t the Obama network. We‘re reporters here. I‘m a reporter. You‘re a reporter. We‘re trying to do our job (sic).

In Campaign 2000, just how hard did pundits work to assert that great spin-point? Consider Howard Fineman’s influential piece in the June 5, 2000 Newsweek. The piece was headlined “Al Gore’s Next Makeover.” By now, just how easy had it become to accuse the veep of conducting a makeover? Here is the entire passage explaining the use of that term:

FINEMAN: Gore’s handlers are plotting yet another rollout of their candidate, this one a massive ad campaign based on the notion that he’s not so much an alpha male as a thinking man with a heart: a former journalist who used his time in Congress to educate himself, and the nation, on over-the-horizon issues; a man of profound, restless intellectual curiosity—unlike a certain governor of Texas. In the meantime, even Democrats think Bush won the spring, and they worry about signs of drift in the Gore campaign.

“Not so much an alpha male?” Fineman pulled another dim-witted spin-point from the pundit corps’ endless supply. But what actual news was the great scribe reporting? Gore would air a set of ads stressing aspects of his life story. According to Fineman’s slender text, this new ad campaign—and this alone—comprised the veep’s “Next Makeover.”
Readers, was there something odd about these ads? Surely, the question answers itself. Obviously, candidates “roll out” new ads all the time. And just how “new” would these “new ads” be? In fact, the first of the ads wasn’t new at all; it had widely aired in New Hampshire during the primary. But Newsweek knew the corps’ approved points. The ads were described as “Gore’s next makeover;” this touched off a week of press corps spinning.

Whenever Howard Fineman strays into the truth and says something negative about Bush, Zeitgeist sniffers jump to the conclusion that Dubya is stinking up the joint so bad that Even Howard Fineman Has Turned on Him. That maybe there's hope for Howard after all.

Forget it. Fineman will never obtain a lasting clue about anything. His translucent shell of professional narcissism is impregnable.

One supremely, fatuously blithe sentence says it all. Writing about the media's bloodhound pursuit of the truth about the war in Southeast Asia and Watergate, Fineman, lolling in the comfort of hindsight, observes, "The crusades of Vietnam and Watergate seemed like a good idea at the time, even a noble one, not only to the press but perhaps to a majority of Americans."

1) I would say that those "crusades" also seem like pretty goddam good ideas in retrospect, considering that the alternatives were endless slaughter in Vietnam and the complete subversion of the Constitution and a gangster mentality unchained had Watergate never been investigated. I have to believe that if Howard Fineman had been an editor in 1972, he would have shrugged off Watergate and assigned his reporters to meatier stories, such as finding out who's designing Mrs. Nixon's inauguration gown and how well it drapes.

The day my high school declared war on Iraq
Newsweek's Howard Fineman wrote this column going on ten days ago and I thought I'd managed to shrug it off, but I guess it's been working away slowly on my mental immune system. Stupidity is a persistent little microbe.

Here's Fineman's opening:

You knew Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in high school. At least I did. They were candidates in the student senate election. She was the worthy but puffed-up Miss Perfect, all poodle skirts and multicolored binders clutched to her chest. He was the lanky, mysterious transfer student—from Hawaii by way of Indonesia no less—who Knew Things and was way too cool to carry more than one book at a time. Who would be leader of the pack?

Presidential elections are high school writ large...

Yep. Exactly as I remember it. Our high school student government had a multi-trillion dollar budget to play around with, a stockpile of nuclear weapons, thousands and thousands of miles of roads to repair and bridges to inspect, and trade treaties with Japan, China, and Great Britain all set to expire.

My junior year the big issue in the class elections was whether or not the incoming student president would continue the war in the Middle East the previous administration had started. There was a lot of angry debate about redeployment and whether or not what one of the candidates was proposing should be called a surge or escalation.

My God, there is so much stupidity packed into Fineman's paragraph that I have no idea where to start shoveling.

(Marginally related) Update:
Just heard David-the-Likable on Newshour:
DAVID BROOKS: ... the "bitter," yes. And going to the church, "Is he like us?"

So Barack Obama has to address those issues. And the way you do is through symbols that seem trivial in their nature, but do go to the essence of who he is.

And I thought he should have been grateful for the chance to demonstrate that he does share the same values. He gave, frankly, not-so-great answers to those questions.

Is dipshittiness contagious? However, he also said something that could prove useful to quote later; it could prove useful in a couple of ways:
And the reason I think they were legitimate is this. The reason Democrats have lost presidential elections in more recent years has not been because people don't agree with them on the issues. They do tend to agree with them about health care and education, things like that.

It's because they're not sure that candidate -- John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore -- is like them, shares their values, shares their basic life experience. The question is now asked of Barack Obama, "Is he like us?"

And whether you like it or not, the way people measure that question is through the use of symbols, whether it was Michael Dukakis sitting there in the tank, or John Kerry wind-surfing, or John Edwards' $400 haircut, people care about the symbols when they're saying, "Is that guy like us?"

That is a prominent conservative saying that Republicans win on symbols rather than ideas and issues.

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OUr experience over the past few years has led me to generally hold contempt and mistrust for all media that gets a paycheck for their services.

Blog and original sources themselves are pretty much it for me.

I am still waiting for one finalist candidate to visit our city and let us know about his/her commitment to our rebuilding.
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