June 22, 2004

It's Self-Parody, Just Not Intentional Self-Parody

Eugene Volokh reads Will Saletan's "Kerryisms" and has a "Huh?" moment:

The Volokh Conspiracy - Archives 2004-06-15 - 2004-06-21: Huh? Kerry was asked:

Is the support for Roe v. Wade a critical point, a litmus test, for any court appointee you would make?

Kerry answered:

To the Supreme Court of the United States, yes.

The Kerryism edited version, which I assume is supposed to be equivalent to Kerryism's original point but better put (remember their original charter, which is "translat[ing]" Kerry's words "into plain English," by removing "caveats and pointless embellishments") is:

Yes.

But that's not what Kerry wanted to say! It would be a stupid thing to say, both from a policy perspective (even if he firmly supports constitutional abortion rights, why should he turn it into a litmus test for district court judges?) and from a political perspective (if he does set up such a broad litmus test even for district court judges, he'd look like a fanatic).

What exactly is the point of the Kerryisms? At first, I thought -- based on the column's introductory installment -- the Kerryisms were meant to show that Kerry throws in lots of unnecessary verbiage. But here, this was a necessary proviso.

Another possibility is that "Kerryisms" has evolved into an attempt to show simply that Kerry uses a lot of qualifiers, instead of giving very simple answers. But often, as in this case, the right answer isn't simple. It's actually not terribly complex, but it's not one-word simple. Is it really good to fault a politician for refusing to oversimplify? Should we want supposedly smart media outlets mocking politicians for trying to be precise?

The only other option that I see is that the column has descended into self-parody. ("Question: What's the ratio of a circle's circumference to the diameter? Kerry's real answer: 3.1415926. Our answer, shorn of caveats and pointless embellishments: 3.") But surely it can't be intentional self-parody. So I ask again, what's the point?

Eugene: It's self-parody--albeit not intentional self-parody. Consider two other, similar examples that I ran into today: The first comes from the Weston Kosova and Michael Isikoff review of Bill Clinton's My Life. Kosova and Isikoff lament how Clinton "forces [them] on a joyless march through... arid policy debate[s]" that they must slog through before finding a "raw, confessional moment that almost makes the book seem worth the $35 price of admission." To anyone who is a politician (or works for one, whether full-time, part-time, or just out of citizenship) the "arid policy debates" are of the essence: one runs for office--one works for or supports people who run for office--because one has strong beliefs about what policies will make America a better place. It is only to a reporter like Isikoff that debates about policies are "arid". To ask Isikoff to review Clinton is like asking someone tone-deaf to review a performance of Beethoven's "Eroica". The element of self-parody--unintentional self-parody--is there, especially as Isikoff and his editors repeatedly fail to grasp that they are tone-deaf, and are thus not hearing and incompetent to review the symphony. Where others see the real business of government--real policies with complicated and uncertain effects on millions of real people's lives--they see only the Gedrosian Desert.

The second comes from another review of Clinton's My Life: Michiko Kakutani's. She sneers at Clinton's "messy pastiche of everything that [he] ever remembered and wanted to set down in print; he even describes the time he got up at 4 a.m. to watch the inaugural ceremonies for Nigeria's new president on TV." That, to her, is the low point: Clinton thinking that an audience might possibly be interested in a place like Nigeria! And--she is clearly thinking--could there be anything more a total boring and uninteresting waste of time than getting up at 4 A.M. to watch a broadcast from Lagos?

Well, here's the sum total of what Clinton has to say about Nigeria (that I could find, at least) in his book. It's two paragraphs:

p. 856: I got up at four in the morning to watch the inaugural ceremonies for Nigeria's new president, former general Olusegun Obasanjo, on TV. Ever since gaining independence, Nigeria had been riddled by corruption, regional and religious strife, and deteriorating social conditions. Despite its large oil production, the country suffered periodic power outages and fuel shortages. Obasanjo had taken power briefly in a military coup in the 1970s, then had kept his promise to step aside as soon as new elections could be held. Later, he had been imprisoned for his political views and, while incarcerated, had become a devout Christian and had written books about his faith. It was hard to imagine a bright future for sub-Saharan Africa wihtout a more successful Nigeria, by far its most populous nation. After listening to his compelling inaugural address, I hoped Obasanjo would be able to succeed where others had failed.

pp. 920-921: I flew to Nigeria to see President Olusegun Obasanjo. I wanted to support his efforts to curb AIDS before Nigeria's infection rate reached the levels of southern African nations, and to highlight the recent passage of the African trade bill, which I hoped would help Africa's struggling economy. Obasanjo and I attended a gathering on AIDS at which a young girl spoke of her efforts to educate her schoolmates about the disease, and a man named John Ibekwe told the gripping story of his marriage to a woman who was HIV-positive, his becoming infected, and his frantic search to get the medicine for his wife that would enable their child to be born without the virus. Eventually John succeeded, and little Maria was born HIV-free. President Obasanjo asked Mrs. Ibekwe to come up onstage, where he embraced her. It was a touching gesture and sent a clear signal that Nigeria would not fall into the trap of denial that had contributed so much to the spread of AIDS in other countries.

Plague, coups, famine, revolution, and--we hope--steps toward development and democracy. For Nigerians, the stuff of life and death. For President Clinton, the potentially most important country in Africa that he needs to know about as he tries to use his policy levers to make a better world. For an elite journalist like Michiko Kakutani, it's boring--and it is a gross violation of etiquette for Clinton to use two paragraphs in his book to try to teach Americans a little about Nigeria and give them a President's eye view of this piece of Africa.

Once again, self-parody--once again, not intentional.

I have not yet figured out why so much of our elite press is so... what should I call it? Feckless. Corrupt (in the sense of well-rotted). Decadent. Why does William Saletan find it funny that Kerry tries hard to give nuanced, reasonably-complete answers to questions about issues with nuances? Why do Weston Kosova and Michael Isikoff cover the government--rather than, say, cover something like advances in bartending--if they find debates over policy the equivalent of crossing the Gedrosian Desert? Why does Michiko Kakutani think it pointless and boring to wake up early to watch the inauguration of the first democratically-elected president in sixteen years in a country of 130 million people?

It is a great mystery to me...

Posted by DeLong at June 22, 2004 09:52 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

You are utterly & completely correct about our press.

They were corrupted when they followed the right wing pied piper into Whitewater pseudo-scandals and National Enquirer sleazoid journalism. They almost brought down a popular and extremely competent president over a personal matter that was simply not the business of the public. Current toadying to the Republicans perpetuates this shameful dance.

The truth is: policies matter. Competence matters. If the press does not realize this -- for shame!

Posted by: camille roy on June 22, 2004 10:05 PM

____

All a part of the US-centric view of the world (if not the universe). If it isn't about the US or connected to the US, then it's not of interest and then it's either "with us or agin us." And it sounds like these people are taking their cue from Bush 43, who supposedly doesn't read newspapers, no one's ever suggested he uses internet (or even knows how to use a PC for say, word processing, or any business applications) and supposedly spends alot of time watching ESPN or videos of sports. Bush is someone who had ample time, money and opportunity to explore and learn about the world and seems to have chosen not to, instead relying upon a narrow rigid ideology to reach his conclusions. Guess he's become the new role model.

Posted by: azurite on June 22, 2004 10:05 PM

____

All a part of the US-centric view of the world (if not the universe). If it isn't about the US or connected to the US, then it's not of interest and then it's either "with us or agin us." And it sounds like these people are taking their cue from Bush 43, who supposedly doesn't read newspapers, no one's ever suggested he uses internet (or even knows how to use a PC for say, word processing, or any business applications) and supposedly spends alot of time watching ESPN or videos of sports. Bush is someone who had ample time, money and opportunity to explore and learn about the world and seems to have chosen not to, instead relying upon a narrow rigid ideology to reach his conclusions. Guess he's become the new role model.

Posted by: azurite on June 22, 2004 10:06 PM

____

I think Somberby's "Kool Kidz" thesis works pretty well for all these examples.

Posted by: Tom DC/VA on June 22, 2004 10:06 PM

____

Bravo, Brad!

Posted by: kevin quinn on June 22, 2004 10:07 PM

____

This is why I rely on a half-dozen blogs to tell me what the press would consider too boring to report, and that they would be incapable of analyzing even if they wanted to. Thanks!

Posted by: Rajeev on June 22, 2004 10:31 PM

____

I don't mean to deny the cravenness of the press, but couldn't Clinton have videotaped the Nigerian inaugural?

Posted by: Chef Ragout on June 22, 2004 10:57 PM

____

Try the BBC archives, Chef.

Somebody pointed out on CNN (or CNBC, or MSNBC)that the NYT reviewer had said equally nasty things about Hillary's book, down to using the same phrases a couple of times.

You'd think they'd occasionally be embarrassed, but I guess not.

Posted by: Linkmeister on June 22, 2004 11:17 PM

____

...overlooked by those who deny the Antiquity of True Criticks...he hath set down these remarkable Words:

Amongst the rest, says he, there is a Serpent that wants Teeth, and consequently cannot bite, but if its Vomit (to which it is much addicted) happens to fall upon any Thing, a certain Rottenness or Corruption ensues: These Serpents are generally found among the Mountains where Jewels grow, and they frequently emit a poisonous Juice whereof, whoever drinks, that Person’s Brains fly out of his Nostrils.

From A TALE OF A TUB, “ Section III. A Digression Concerning Criticks”

Posted by: Jonathan Swift on June 22, 2004 11:31 PM

____

The corruption, dishonesty and failure of public service that is the mainstream of American media is at the root of a lot of our problems and failures as a nation. And it is only getting worse.

These particular "journalists" quoted are beneath contempt. I have infinitely more respect for gossip columnists, as they at least tend to revel in their whoredom without pretension.

They serve their paymasters, ambitions and ideology--truth and accuracy be damned. That is the only explanation that ultimately fits.

Posted by: Tim B. on June 23, 2004 12:04 AM

____

I read someplace that the establishment press hated Clinton because he was, culturally, vulgur poor white trash who would not act appropriately condescending around various minorities. So... they were embarassed, couldn't have fun at snooty social events with him and his crowd. And all there was else to do was, well, be forced to maybe try to write about, weird stuff like the economy, Nigeria, international criminal court, you know, weird stuff that you would have to, like, read boring stuff to learn about.

Did anyone else read that?

Thanks for posting the high-toned criticism, and then the passage itself. It is enlightening and kind of sad.

Posted by: jml on June 23, 2004 12:23 AM

____

I don't read gossip columnists much, but I agree with Tim B. The good ones who want real scoops seem to have to do actual investigative reporting from time to time. At least that is my impression from when one of their stories pops up to the top of the news.

We should try out having gossip columnists write reviews and host the talking head shows.

Posted by: jml on June 23, 2004 12:26 AM

____

The "Gedrosian desert" gets high marks for erudition but what exactly is the relevance of this example of Alexander's Napoleonic recklessness?

Posted by: James on June 23, 2004 01:06 AM

____

Brad forgot to mention that in addition to being a feckless hack Isikoff was part of the problem and the 'story'. He was part of the 'elves' that Starr and his dastardly right wing minions kept on leaking to. 'Secret' Grand Jury stuff was not a problem for Mikey and his legal wrecking crew. He was constantly & breathlessly crotch sniffing for most of the entire decade of the 90's. Kakutani has consistently panned any and all Clinton/Gore books for the same reason, they made her read difficult passages and attempt to grasp concepts more noble than 'Let's go 'git 'em!'.

Posted by: VJ on June 23, 2004 01:44 AM

____

I have not read Clinton's book but let me ask about the following quote you made: "to highlight the recent passage of the African trade bill, which I hoped would help Argentina's struggling economy"... What is the relation between an African trade bill and the Argentine economy? I offer a not-so-wanted gmail account for the answer. Best.

Posted by: Miguel Olivera on June 23, 2004 04:06 AM

____

I have not read Clinton's book but let me ask about the following quote you made: "to highlight the recent passage of the African trade bill, which I hoped would help Argentina's struggling economy"... What is the relation between an African trade bill and the Argentine economy? I offer a not-so-wanted gmail account for the answer. Best.

Posted by: Miguel Olivera on June 23, 2004 04:09 AM

____

Trying to ressurect my opinion of the press in view of AP's recent legal action against the WH, I want to limit the ( Camille's) criticism to the book reviewers for starters. So why give this task to writers who have no interest in policy? So jml has a point that the senior editors deserve some criticism for passing this task (only) to the gossip writers.
Asking them to review it is the self-parodying step, no? (Like asking Bush to say a few greeting words in French to Chirac for example.)
So I agree that it's not intentional self-parody ( the genuine clowns) but it's not unintentional self-parody either (like we just witnessed with the congressmen at Moon's coronation).

Posted by: calmo on June 23, 2004 04:28 AM

____

Miguel, my guess is that it is a typo...

An excellent case study of what's wrong with the American media, Professor DeLong.

Of course, these "journalists" had hoped Clinton would have instead rambled on how much he regretted that blowjob etc so that they could for a few days at least, more in possible, absorb the nation's attention with these crutial matters. That is the historically instructive stuff that we need ex-presidents to tell the nation about. I am wonderering: what would Bush's bio read like if he actually ever wrote it himself? Close your eyes and try to guess, it's really funny! ;-)

"I don't mean to deny the cravenness of the press, but couldn't Clinton have videotaped the Nigerian inaugural?"

I think you're into something crutial: it *could* be in fact that instead Clinton had an insomnia that night (or perhaps even diarrhea?) and decided to watch inaugural ceremonies of Obasanjo on TV. And instead of telling us about all these interesting details, Bill Clinton decides TO LIE TO AMERICA and tell us that he had decided to watch the program. Hell! it's not like Clinton is only lying the nation into war, and authorizing the use of torture thereby placing himself in breach of the Constitution.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on June 23, 2004 04:47 AM

____

Thank you.

Posted by: hilzoy on June 23, 2004 05:44 AM

____

Why does William Saletan find it funny that Kerry tries hard to give nuanced, reasonably-complete answers to questions about issues with nuances? Why do Weston Kosova and Michael Isikoff cover the government--rather than, say, cover something like advances in bartending--if they find debates over policy the equivalent of crossing the Gedrosian Desert? Why does Michiko Kakutani think it pointless and boring to wake up early to watch the inauguration of the first democratically-elected president in sixteen years in a country of 130 million people?

Profit. Most Americans like this crap. This is why the NewsHour and NOW are not more popular.

Posted by: asdf on June 23, 2004 06:28 AM

____

Isikoff makes a living by writing about scandal. He does not cover policy. No scandal, no story. Scandalmongers have a conflict of interest that pushes them to invent scandal even where there was none, such as Whitewater.

Scandalmongers need to have a repuation for getting the scoop. They need to boost their credibility as much as possible. Thus, they constantly tout the few scoops they deliver while dismissing their numerous failures. Did you really expect Isikoff to review in great depth those facts about Whitewater that Isikoff got completely and totally wrong? These writings are as much about the careers of the writers as they are about the book.

Book reviewers are somewhat like movie reviewers. A useful movie reviewer is someone who shares your personal tastes. A movie reviewer who likes tearjerkers is not helpful to someone who likes action flicks. Michiko is a tough minded literary critic, with limited interest in policy and wonkery. We learn from her review that the Clinton wrote a serious book that is mostly about policy and not much of the People mag type fluff that sells so well to the broad public. Michiko is tired of hearing about Clinton and his record/scandals and systematically trashes any book about Clinton spun pro or con. So her review basically says that people that are bored or tired of Clinton will not like the book.

The fault lies not with the reviewer, who is wrote an honest PPOV opinion, it is with the editor who assigns reviewers capable of appreciating the book and its focus on policy. When someone like Clinton writes a book that is largely about policy, it would make most sense for someone who is a policy wonk to write the review. Adding a few disclaimers about what the book is not (gossipy, titillating) should suffice. With this book, the number of people who actually read the book or parts of it will greatly outnumber those who read the reviews.

Posted by: bakho on June 23, 2004 06:36 AM

____

bakho's assessment suggests that books need to be read twice in-house before being reviewed. First, an editor needs to read the book to assess which reviewer is qualified, before the second reading by the reviewer. Not a chance in hell this will happen at a standard big-league news outlet. They are too scoop-oriented to do justice to reading a book.

Posted by: kharris on June 23, 2004 06:44 AM

____

Solution to mystery: Outstanding professional success typically requires one or two outstanding talents; few people possess more than that. For journalists it's writing talent and the ability to ferret out information. It would be surprising if many also possessed intellectual depth (how many scholars write lively prose?) There is also not a market demand for that kind of thing. What compounds the problem is that many of the "elite" journalists have developed the conceit that often goes with celebrity.

Posted by: Phil P on June 23, 2004 06:50 AM

____

The Slate column tries to be cute, but does not make it.
There are improvements that Kerry could make to his speech pattern, we could all improve. The "Kerryisms" are complex and tangled, not mangled and incongrous. This is why Kerryisms fail to be funny. Bushisms are only funny because of the incongruity.

Mr. Bush would rather have people chuckle at his language than be angry about his policy. Most Democrats have stopped talking about Bushisms because it distracts from the important. The Bush policy failures and the harm done to America are the important issue. Whatever, Mr. Bush says is merely sideshow.

This is why it is so difficult for the press to cover Mr. Bush. He does not provide sound bites that reflect his policies. The only way to accurately cover the Bush administration is to get sound bites from people who are actually familiar with the policies of the administration and can argue the pros and cons.

Posted by: bakho on June 23, 2004 06:53 AM

____

The World hasn't gotten bigger or more complexe. It's just the journalists that got small.

Posted by: Scott McArthur on June 23, 2004 06:59 AM

____

I'm not sure I agree with the prevailing wind in these comments. I think the Kakutani reference to the Nigerian inauguration might actually warrant criticism -- not for boring the reader, but as an example of name-dropping pandering. In this reading, the key phrase in Kakutani's review is: "everything that Mr. Clinton ever remembered AND WANTED TO SET DOWN IN PRINT."

I think the reality is probably somewhere in between this, the most cynical interpretation, and Brad's more charitable view. But Brad's case is not helped by the fact that in 927 pages, Clinton could find only two paragraphs devoted to Nigeria. That makes it sound like window-dressing. Perhaps if he had adopted less of a drive-by approach, Kakutani would have taken it more seriously.

A distinction I find interesting is the point made by Bob Rubin in his book: That he didn't want to do a memoir unless he could do one that had a point -- in his case, to advance the cause of "probabilistic thinking." Clinton, by contrast, does not appear to have ay grander mission in mind for this work other than to give his account of his term. That's fine, but it opens a legitimate line of criticism that the whole lacks a coherent focus.

Posted by: Mike S. on June 23, 2004 07:08 AM

____

Slate hopes to be regarded as a member of the mainstream media (or at least the mainstream alternative media, which it has pretty much achieved), which goal is hampered by seeming too overtly partisan. Putting up Kerryisms is at least partly a sop to the wingnuts, so Slate can say "see, we hit the democrat too..."

Plus, unlike other news sources, Slate wears its "infotainment" nature on its sleeve - and the first Kerryism or two were fairly entertaining.

What Saletan seems to have run up against now also happens to be the core difference between Kerry and Bush: when reductio'd ad absurdum, Kerry's statements have at their core an attempt to grapple with a thorny issue in a politically tolerable manner - while Bush's have at their core an obstinate and willful ignorance.

Posted by: rjt on June 23, 2004 07:21 AM

____

It seems to me that Bakho and Mike S. are right about Kakutani, who probably shouldn't have been assigned this review. She's pointing out (in a flippant and irresponsible way,I agree with Brad) that Clinton's memoire lacks cohesion and organization. She's making an aesthetic point, not a policy point. Maybe the Times should assign more than one reviewer to a book, which I think they sometimes do.

(The Kerryisms are just stupid, though.)

Posted by: Jackmormon on June 23, 2004 07:25 AM

____

I think that people in the big media have a sense of entitlement, as arbeiters for everyone else. They do not feel that they have to live up to any standard; they set the standards themselves, because of their position. (Compare hereditary aristocrats during the period when aristocrats had real power -- no matter how ignorant he might be, an aristocrat could reasonably expect that his opinions and judgements would be respected, and in many cases would be completely decisive.)

If journalism were a profession like medicine or science, there would be some legitimacy to this arrogance. But in a profession, no one is invulnerable. It happens slowly, but if science progresses or if a scientist makes an error, he will lose his status and be replaced by someone better,

But journalists are not really vulnerable to the judgements of their fellow professionals. They have learned that their job is to please Rupert Murdoch or Jack Welch, and (to a degree) to entertain the public. (It's not true, though, that journalists are the way they are because that's what the market demands; there's more going on than that).

"I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not!"

I don't know if I'm dreaming, but it seems to me that there was a time when journalism professionalism meant adhering to some kind of professional standard, whereas now professionalism means figuring out what the boss and the audience want, and then giving it to them. There's really no goal other than material success (I remember a story about some whore journalist wandering by a table full of ethical journalists and letting it drop that she was making three times as much as any of them).

Posted by: Zizka on June 23, 2004 07:58 AM

____

Saletan: whenever someone from Slate, Salon, or TNR writes a good article, he feels guilty and immediately rushes to write a bad article. You gotta maintain the essential hip, jaded, counter-intuitive-liberal image. Gotta have that balance.

On Matt Yglesias I compared them to nice Christian girls hurrying to rinse with Listerine after giving a blowjob. Nobody thought that was very funny, but it's true -- writers in that set feel guilty whenever they write a nice, sensible, partisan Democratic article, and they always have to do something jerkish afterwards to compensate for it.

Posted by: Zizka on June 23, 2004 08:09 AM

____

Jackmormon-- Yes, Kakutani is the book reviewer on staff at the NYT, as opposed to the Book Review, which is run by separate management and generally gets outside writers to do reviews.

As for why the "Cool Kidz" think things like Kerryisms are funny, I think Howard Kurtz explained it well in one of the last good things he wrote, "When the press outclasses the public," published in 1994. (http://archives.cjr.org/year/94/3/kurtz.asp) In essence, journalism has become a white-collar profession with ever-higher barriers to entry, especially when it comes to the elite publications that set the tone when it comes to political debate.

Ironically, and unfortunately, these elite publications no longer see themselves as trying to communicate the views of the corporate class from "on high" to middle-class and working-class folks; instead, all the elite publications are trying to skim off the cream all around the country (for example, the majority of the New York Times copies are sold outside the New York metro area).

So, in other words, prestige is no longer measured in terms of the widest possible audience, but rather the richest audience. And that means that the prestige writers are writing for people who don't really care about the patient's bill of rights or whether their kids will get called up to go to Iraq or what have you. Thus, all of a sudden Gore's "earth tones" suit becomes an "issue" because it's the kind of thing that's funny to talk about at a cocktail party.

Unfortunately, the political writers at, say, the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, or the Arizona Republic (which are still following the old model of appealing to readers of all social classes), have little choice but to piggyback on what the folks at the top of the prestige pyramid are saying is important, because they have too little clout to stake their own claim on what's important. (Witness, for example, the fact that the Knight Ridder bureau's reporting on the faulty Iraq war rationale was mostly ignored: http://www.campaigndesk.org/archives/000655.asp.)

And so, "earth tones" becomes the sort of buzzword that people still understand four years after it first surfaced.

Anyway, speaking of Bushisms, it is rather hard to figure out what 43 will do with himself after he gets out of office. It's not like he has the elegance to go into high-class shakedownery (a.k.a. the Carlyle Group) like his father; nor does he seem to have the conscience to spend the rest of his life trying to build houses and run elections like Jimmy Carter; nor does he have the book-smarts to spend the rest of his career writing books to rehabilitate his reputation like Richard Nixon. And at 58 he's unlikely to be stricken down by Alzheimer's like Reagan. So, will he just spend the rest of his life clearing brush on the ranch and sliding into mediocrity like Gerald Ford?

Posted by: Patience on June 23, 2004 08:21 AM

____

It's like asking rebellious teenage girls to review Clinton's book. The mindset (and maturity level) is precisely the same.

Such people might be appropriate for the "fashion" section of a magazine, although that might be asking a lot, too (and insulting to fashion critics). Clearly, they're not qualified for anything approaching serious journalism.

Posted by: Jonathan on June 23, 2004 08:51 AM

____

"I compared them to nice Christian girls hurrying to rinse with Listerine after giving a blowjob."

In the case of this press corps, you have the sequence backwards, Zizka.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on June 23, 2004 08:57 AM

____

Oustanding post.

The answer to your question is that the elite media are a bunch of conformist, yuppie, careerist fucks. Two other observations: they're really not that bright and they're not particularly devoted to any principle or set of values.

Posted by: The Fool on June 23, 2004 09:00 AM

____

I think the reason for the poor performance of the news media is pretty simple -- if you are interested in policy, you don't take a job as a reporter. Instead, you work in DC or at a college. Reporters are those who like to track down a story, and by default they become those who opine in our newspapers and magazines.

Posted by: Greg Arnold on June 23, 2004 09:04 AM

____

Isikoff's complaint recalls media crack whore, Margaret Carslon's explanation that falsely accusing Gore of being the liar on tax cuts instead of truthfully saying so about Bush was just more "fun".

When these kind of people are shamed out of public life, we will begin to make progress.

Posted by: The Fool on June 23, 2004 09:04 AM

____

but I mean 4 in the morning !!! he could have programmed his VCR to tape it. Brad you just can't understand what waking up at 4 in the morning is to late sleepers.

Also remember how slowwww most people read. It makes reviewing a long book burdensome, especially if it is hot enough that other people will actually read it and catch errors made by skimming.

You fast reading, fast typing, fast writing early risers with a highly functioning concience and brain just have no idea how hard it is for a normal person to be a journalist.

Now I think that Kakutani isn't generally this bad. I think she doesn't like Clinton, it's an idee fixee for her. I think I can prove that her reviews are unreasonably hostile when Clinton is involved.

I call this the Kakutani's fixed point theorem.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on June 23, 2004 09:18 AM

____

I think the reason for the poor performance of the news media is pretty simple -- if you are interested in policy, you don't take a job as a reporter. Instead, you work in DC or at a college. Reporters are those who like to track down a story, and by default they become those who opine in our newspapers and magazines.

Posted by: Greg Arnold on June 23, 2004 09:19 AM

____

Despite one comment to the contrary, the tenor of the media debate is non-partisan. The same degree of vituperative contempt for abandonment of journalistic standards is found on both sides of the political spectrum. I also think there might be something to the argument advanced above about the lack of professional registration that isolates journalism from licensed professions such as law, medicine, and engineering.

Having erected an ideological commonality between the Left and Right, it is only sporting to suggest at least one line of attack and that is the similarity in the arguments condemning the self-imposed isolation of the elite media from main stream Americans to the problematic sniffiness exhibited by the domestic and international Left community to the cowboy team from Texas, which had a decisively different way of doing things. The international lady didst protest a great deal and very possibly too much.

Posted by: alk on June 23, 2004 09:32 AM

____

Greg Arnold:

You may have a pint in general, but see William Greider's work for a good counterexample. Or...maybe he's the exception that proves the rule: he used to be a Washington Post editor and now he writes for The Nation, which is a good 'zine, but the circulation really doesn't compare.


Posted by: boonie on June 23, 2004 09:44 AM

____

Me again. Sorry for the pun. I really couldn't resist. I'm going to try to be serious about what is wrong with the press, and argue that it is inevitable.

The problem is that almost no one knows enough to comment competently on the news (Brad does note the careful kerryveat "almost").

Everyone is ignorant about most things. Most people are ashamed to write or talk on topics about which they are ignorant. This disability blocks them from jobs where one must display self confidence (most jobs including journalism). Other people don't care about being ignorant so long as they don't get caught too often. They are suited to journalism (or politicians or well the list is long).


People who are not willing to write in ignorance would miss deadlines studying.

More specifically, people without unreasonable self confidence often suffer from writer's block. Normal people worry about what they are writing too much to meet deadlines.

But there is hope. The web will save us. Not just because we can get good journalism from blogs but because we can bombard people with our opinions by chatting writing comments etc. I am sortof writing here, but have no problem because it is just a comment on a blog.

Kids raised on the web will be able to be journalists even if they are not shallow arrogant loud mouths.

I was trying to be optimistic but I must admit there is a chance that they will all grow up to be shallow arrogant loud mouths.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on June 23, 2004 09:46 AM

____

This is the same woman who, a few months ago, invented nonexistent references to al-qaeda in Conoleeza Rice's pre 9-11 public statements, in a lame effort to discredit Richard Clarke's book.

She's just not a factual person. She has no business reviewing works of nonfiction.

That the NYT would misuse her in this capacity is not a sign of incompetence, but rather conflict of interest. It is a sign that the editors of the NYT are cognizant of the factual indefensibility of their past coverage in certain areas, such as Whitewater.

Posted by: Kuas on June 23, 2004 10:01 AM

____

Robert Waldmann: Myself, for 4 in the morning, I would have probably just stayed up!

Many people, in the media and at large, though, have long ago made up their mind about the Clintons (and the Gores, and the Kerrys, and the Bushes) and so are avoiding actually reading the book, because they don't want to confuse their minds with the facts. Or, maybe, with any facts.

Me, I'm up to chapter 4, having picked the book up at the supermarket last night when I stopped to get milk.

Posted by: Lois Fundis on June 23, 2004 10:27 AM

____

Two reasons. One is perennial: newspaper proprietors expect their newspapers to express their views on subjects of sufficient importance (see the collected works of A. J. Liebling, passim). Editors know this and assign a reliable person to write the piece. That person's knowledge of or enthusiasm for the subject is secondary to him or her getting the line right.

The second is more recent in origin. Even 40 years ago, newspapering wasn't a particularly desirable career. Newspaper men or women were mostly anonymous, weren't highly paid and had poor job security since newspapers often went broke. Today, however, reporting is something of a glamour job. Today's reporters are well paid. Now that most newspapers have established a local monopoly, there is little risk of the paper disappearing from under you. Reporters can and do move between media, so are no longer so anonymous. The result is that the Cool Kids want the job. Political reporters are no longer guys who were interested in politics who fell into writing about it. They're guys who wanted to be reporters and political reporting isn't a bad gig: yeah, the minutiae of policy are boring but "who loses and who wins, who's in, who's out" reminds them of high school; there's opportunities for television appearances and there's always the possibility it will lead to something better: a syndicated column, a television show--food critic, even.

You can't blame newspapers for hiring the Cool Kids, either. They were journalism majors in college and worked on the student newspaper, so they don't come in absolutely cold. Attractive, intelligent, personable, friendly, they can turn out an elegant and amusing (if a little thin) 900 words in an afternoon. What's not to like?

Posted by: jam on June 23, 2004 11:04 AM

____

"I have not yet figured out why so much of our elite press is so... what should I call it? Feckless. Corrupt (in the sense of well-rotted). Decadent."

The word is arrogant. A common failing of elites, and a common reason for their failing.

Bill Clinton, losing it, on these people: "One of the reasons he [Kenneth Starr] got away with it is because people like you only ask me the questions. You gave him a complete free ride. Any abuse they wanted to do. They indicted all these little people from Arkansas, what did you care about them, they're not famous, who cares that their life was trampled. Who cares that their children are humiliated."

From a BBC interview http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3829799.stm
Via the Sideshow.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on June 23, 2004 11:19 AM

____

Zizka and Patience have said most of what else there is to say in response to Brad's "mystery."

Patience, I think the answer about what Bush will do starting next year is pretty easy to predict. He will be very well taken care of by as many corporations as can put him on their boards, with further payoffs from Scaife-funded organizations to give them snide and vitriol-filled talks for large honoraria. It will simply be an endless payoff for what he did for all of them while in office.

While your analogy to Ford may superficially seem to fit, it is kind of unfair to Ford. Yeah, he's gotten rich by doddling around on corporate boards, but in recent years he's acknowledged (IIRC) that his pardon of Nixon was wrong substantively (not just politically), he's worked with Carter -- with whom he's become good friends, which speaks well of Ford as a person -- on some civic engagement projects, and has helped to expand the public policy school at the U. of Michigan (which has since been named for him). I can't imagine Bush ever caring enough to be constructive in any way like these, or being anything but openly bitter ("you all didn't deserve me").

Posted by: Steady Eddie on June 23, 2004 11:28 AM

____

You forgot to mention the ridiculousness of Isikoff reviewing Fahrenheit 9/11 in addition to Clinton's autobio.

Posted by: steverino on June 23, 2004 11:28 AM

____

All you have to remember to understand the media is that entertainment values matter much more than news values.

News values are chiefly important so that the media can say First Amendment to avoid all accountability.

Posted by: lovable liberal on June 23, 2004 11:34 AM

____

Why don't we just call the press Celebrity Corporate Newsreaders? Too long for them to read, do you think???

Posted by: Seattleite on June 23, 2004 11:47 AM

____

Although Slate's "Bushisms" column has spawned a series of books, calendars, and who-knows-what-else, it hardly ever runs new items on the site any more.

But "Kerryisms" has become virtually a daily feature.

It sure looks like they're going easy on Emperor Bush, and trying to undermine his challenger.

Posted by: woid on June 23, 2004 12:06 PM

____

Camille Roy writes: Competence matters. If the press does not realize this -- for shame!
----

Ah, the irony: The Incompetent asked to judge and report sagely back to us on the Competence they find in the world.

Camille Roy,

I give you: Livraghi's Corollaries to Cipolla's Laws, courtesy of rageboy (link at bottom) -- with perhaps the most salient bit of the third corollary to begin with...

"Another dangerous element in the equation (as pointed out by Carlo Cipolla) is that the machinery of power tends to place "intelligent bandits" (sometimes even "stupid bandits") at the top of the pyramid; and they, in turn, tend to favor and protect stupidity and keep true intelligence out of their way as much s they can. That is, I think, an important subject per se. Maybe one day I shall try to comment on it... if and when I do, the title could be The Stupidity of Power."

• First Corollary: In each of us there is a factor of stupidity, which is always larger than we suppose

(I explained that in my original "stupidity" paper).

• Second Corollary: When the stupidity of one person combines with the stupidity of others, the impact grows geometrically -- i.e. by multiplication, not addition, of the individual stupidity factors

It seems to be a generally accepted concept that "the sum of a network increases as the square of the number of members" and it seems quite obvious that the same criterion applies to the combination of stupidity factors in individual people. This can help to explain the well-known fact that crowds as a whole are much more stupid than any individual person in the crowd.

• Third corollary: The combination of intelligence in different people has less impact than the combination of stupidity, because (Cipolla's Fourth Law) "non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid people"

Stupidity is brainless -- it doesn't need to think, get organized or plan ahead to generate a combined effect. The transfer and combination of intelligence is a much more complex process.

Stupid people can combine instantly into a super-stupid group or mass, while intelligent people are effective as a group only when they know each other well and are experienced in working together. The creation of well-tuned groups of people sharing intelligence can generate fairly powerful anti-stupidity forces, but (unlike stupidity bundling) they need organized planning and upkeep; and can lose a large part of their effectiveness by the infiltration of stupid people or unexpected bursts of stupidity in otherwise intelligent people....

http://www.rageboy.com/Stupidity2.html


Posted by: fouroboros on June 23, 2004 12:17 PM

____

In a similar vein, why there's distrust of media coverage of Iraq, at
http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000780.php
(via pressthink)

Posted by: Anna on June 23, 2004 12:19 PM

____


Anyway, speaking of Bushisms, it is rather hard to figure out what 43 will do with himself after he gets out of office. It's not like he has the elegance to go into high-class shakedownery (a.
a.k.a. the Carlyle Group) like his father;
By Patience


Carlyle Group for W? Are you kidding?
Read this from Suzan Mazur's report.


David Rubenstein, co-founder and Managing Director of The Carlyle Group, the "world's largest private equity firm," recently recounted his first meeting the current president and Bush's days on the Carlyle board in a speech to the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association.
...

But when we were putting the board together, somebody [Fred Malek] came to me and said, look there is a guy who would like to be on the board. He's kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. Needs a board position. Needs some board positions. Could you put him on the board? Pay him a salary and he'll be a good board member and be a loyal vote for the management and so forth.

I said well we're not usually in that business. But okay, let me meet the guy. I met the guy. I said I don't think he adds that much value. We'll put him on the board because - you know - we'll do a favor for this guy; he's done a favor for us.

We put him on the board and [he] spent three years. Came to all the meetings. Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones. And after a while I kind of said to him, after about three years - you know, I'm not sure this is really for you. Maybe you should do something else. Because I don't think you're adding that much value to the board. You don't know that much about the company.

He said, well I think I'm getting out of this business anyway. And I don't really like it that much. So I'm probably going to resign from the board.

And I said, thanks - didn't think I'd ever see him again. His name is George W. Bush. He became President of the United States. So you know if you said to me, name 25 million people who would maybe be President of the United States, he wouldn't have been in that category. So you never know. Anyway, I haven't been invited to the White House for any things.

Posted by: ecoast on June 23, 2004 01:18 PM

____

having now read the book, I would say that Mike S is wrong: The book does not lack a coherent focus.

The coherent focus would be Bill Clinto's life. Which is probably why he titled it: My Life.

I think that was a clue.

Posted by: 16 on June 23, 2004 01:56 PM

____

I don't know if it's been said yet but Kakutani is deteriorating into hackdom. The review was the weakest defense possible for the criminally negligent coverage the NY Times gave to the Whitewater scandals.

Not long back, Toni Morrison said that a NYT review of one of her books looked like it was written by a high school student. Guess who she was referring to?

Posted by: cc on June 23, 2004 06:18 PM

____

Someone above mentioned Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler -- this is the premier website for press analysis. According to Bob, it's all about the money and ego. His site is excellent.

Posted by: DSchultz on June 24, 2004 07:27 AM

____

Dumb is good, nuance is dumb, therefore nuance is good....no wait, what I mean is simple is good, Bush is simple, therefore Bush is good...no wait complexity is bad, policy is complex, therefore policy is bad...no wait.....

Posted by: BD on June 24, 2004 12:11 PM

____

Dumb is good, nuance is dumb, therefore nuance is good....no wait, what I mean is simple is good, Bush is simple, therefore Bush is good...no wait, complexity is bad, policy is complex, therefore policy is bad...no wait.....

Posted by: BD on June 24, 2004 12:12 PM

____

Dumb is good, nuance is dumb, therefore nuance is good....no wait, what I mean is simple is good, Bush is simple, therefore Bush is good...no wait, complexity is bad, policy is complex, therefore policy is bad...no wait.....

Posted by: BD on June 24, 2004 12:12 PM

____

BD -it was good, then better, and finally best. Another original! A Deliberate Triple post, no?

Posted by: calmo on June 24, 2004 10:19 PM

____

Dumb people double- and triple-post.

Posted by: Bengt Larsson on June 24, 2004 10:53 PM

____

It reminds me of what Jackie Gleason said about critics... "They have the map, but they don't know how to drive the bus".

Posted by: Mark on June 26, 2004 07:16 PM

____

It reminds me of what Jackie Gleason said about critics... "They have a map, but they don't know how to drive the bus".

Posted by: Mark on June 26, 2004 07:16 PM

____

I expect GWB to spend his retirement, first, with the International War Crimes Tribunal -- as a defendant -- and then later in what might be described as "quiet seclusion".

Or at least that, or something like it, is how I'd like to see GWB spend his retirement years. I mean, he's earned it.

Posted by: themusk on June 26, 2004 11:27 PM

____

Some have pointed out what they believe is the most cynical view on this -- that the press really is incompetent.

I would say, though, that my view is yet more cynical: It's not that Saletan, Isikoff, Kosova, and Kakutani actually hold these views. I think they do find the policy wrangling fascinating. I think they are engaged.

No, what I'm afraid is, they want a constant drumbeat message to the bulk of the American people that these matters are boring, dull, trivial, etc.

The base message always is, "You unwashed masses shouldn't take an interest in this. Leave the driving to people like us."

And that is the single most corrosive -- and untrue -- position the press pushes.

Note: I don't know how many people have commented on this to you in the past, but as a first time poster, I would like to ask if you could activate at least the italics tag in HTML. While I don't agree with the position of disabling HTML, I understand it. But I fail to see the security aspects of disabling italics, which is how such measures are usually justified.

Posted by: Hal O'Brien on June 27, 2004 03:33 PM

____

Good post Hal ( can't help you with the tech stuff though, sorry)
Your cynicism is more sophisticated than mine: I don't believe they are competent enough to dumb-it-down in the way you describe. Do you have evidence that any of them can critique economic policy? I could be persuaded if you had sources.
The senior editorial decision to pass the task to the Gossip writers is the political action that generates the (my) cynicism.

Posted by: calmo on June 27, 2004 09:29 PM

____

Cheaper Digital Cameras have great information on a wide range of cheap digital cameras available online
http://www.cheaper-digital-cameras.uk.com

Posted by: cheap digital cameras on August 1, 2004 03:27 PM

____

Post a comment
















__