FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2004
OUR BROADCASTER OF THE FORTNIGHT: That would, of course, be Tina Brown. We had hoped to open with this uplifting segment. But we drop it to Critics Corner, found below.
SPIN BEGINS: How will Kerrys bio be spun? In this mornings Washington Times, Charles Hurt unveils the script in a lengthy front-page profile. Needless to say, Kerry is a massive fake who has voiced his presidential aspirations since high school. Thats why he went to Vietnam, where he tried to avoid any dangerous duty. Through bad luck, he was forced into combat, but many people question whether he actually should have received all those medals. And of course, veterans hate the way he gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Crackpot Ted Sampley is quoted throughout. Our question: How many names had to be on The Wall before little-leaguers like Hurt would have been fully happy? But make no mistake: This is the story the Hurts will type for the next nine months.
QUESTIONS END: What ever happened to coverage of Bush-in-the-Guard? Several readers have written to ask. The answer is simple: At some weekend cocktail party or other, the Insider Press Corps agreed it was scared, and decided the discussion had gone far enough. Result? On Meet the Press, Tim Russert promoted Bill Calhoun to generaland accepted his unlikely tale without a word of caution or comment. The rest of the press corps dropped the tale like a rock. But this is the course the corps always takes when it gets involved in such a discussion. After years of ignoring a story, they initiate a sudden, frenzied discussionin which they cant get simple facts straight, and often focus on the wrong issues. Then, on a dime, the story is dropped. Its as if the whole thing never happened.
As usual, basic questions remain unasked-and-unanswered. As Eric Boehlert noted in Tuesdays Salon, some basic documents were MIA when the White House released Bushs military records. Where is his Officer Effectiveness Report for 1973-74, for example? Why are there no physical exams after 1971? These questions are grindingly obvious, but no one bothered asking the White House once the corps decided to cut and run. Meanwhile, the most obvious question about the documentary record has also gone unasked-and-unanswered: Why did Bushs Houston commanders say that he had been absent from Ellington air base for the prior year when they evaluated him on 5/2/73? According to the documents which the White House released, Bush had been doing drills at Ellington for roughly six months at the time this report was filed; indeed, the records show on duty that very day! Has the White House ever been asked to explain this? Have citizens been made aware of this basic conundrum? No, because even when the press corps got into a tizzy last week, they focussed on silly stories about ancient memory and ignored the puzzling documentary record. But then, you know that celebrity press corps! They love to get their shorts in a wadand they love to bark up the wrong trails.
And they love to stand down when the gunfire starts. They were scolded for hassling Scott McClellan last week, so Russert blew the all clear whistle, and they walked off their posts once again. Boehlerts readers know that questions remain. But at the Washington Post and the New York Times, duffer scribes got scared and ran. Times readers have never seen the unanswered questions. And guess what? Times readers never will.
A GUTTER RUNS THROUGH IT (PART 4)! Yes, they slithered out of their holes last week, all around the American public discourse. Drudge threw out his latest slimy tale, and Mickey Kaus and Susan Estrich ran to repeat a 1998 groaner. Meanwhile, doctored photos appeared on the web, and doctored quotes went in Kerrys mouth. Nor would Ann Coulter be left behind. She typed up an astonishing mess about that old faker, Max Cleland.
Yes, Drudge sent out a phony tale, as hes done so many times in the past. And just like that, other dirt-bagsLimbaugh and Hannityran to tell citizens all about it. But Andrew Sullivanquite brave of late, as weve notedseemed to speak for the press as a whole. He disapproved of the slimy tale. But I dont know how to talk about it, he told Howard Kurtz on CNN.
How should journalists talk about this? Maybe they should try the famous straight talk they love to praise in favored pols. Maybe they should try the truthshould say that our discourse has been in the hands of dirt-bags for the past many years. Maybe they should try telling the truthshould say that Limbaugh and Hannity behave as slugs when they peddle this dirt to their listeners. And maybe they should say one more thing that is true. Maybe they should say that voters are played for rubes when Drudge and fellow dirt-bagspeople like Kausspread around all these dirty, fake stories.
Readers, it isnt hard to know how to talk; weve shown them how to talk all week. But Drudge and Limbaugh are powerful figures, and most of your pundits dont want all the fuss. Instead, they do what Frank Rich lazily didthey go on TV and repeat Drudges message. Maybe its true and maybe its not, they lazily say, with a shrug.
But readers, when dirt-bags spread phony tales around town, you cant respond by discussing their targets. You have to do something vastly differentyou have to talk about them! You have to call the dirt-bags by nameand you have to explain what it is that theyre doing. And you must tell voters theyre being played for fools when Drudge, Rush and Mickey start sliming.
But most mainstream pundits dont play that way. Its easier to go on TV and smile. I dont know how to talk, they will say. So why are such ciphers on television?
THE HOST THAT WOULD NOT BARK: We couldnt help chuckling when we watched Bill OReilly offer his Talking Points Memo last night. The tide may be turning against defamation, he said. Talking Points was pleased to see many in the media ignore the John Kerry rumor last week I was proud that many of my colleagues would not stoop to rumor mongering without facts to back up those salacious allegations.
Good for Mr. OR! we quickly exclaimed. And as he continued, he grew more ferocious. Ill repeat the Factors mantra, he said. We wont report rumors or personal attacks unless the controversy is relevant to public policy. What we will report is who the smear people are and why theyre doing what theyre doing. Were keeping a list.
All right! Cheers rang out at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters as Mr. O finished up his harangue! But even as the workers cheered, one worried analyst entered the room. He had transcribed Mr. Os complaintand hed noted a puzzling omission.
Darn it! And yes, it really is true! Despite all his blather about naming names, Mr. OR completely failed to name any names in his memo this night! The Kerry rumor was sickening, he said. But who had spread this tale around town? Mr. O had forgotten to tell us!
Below, we offer OReillys full memo. Drudges name is never mentioned. Neither, of course, is Rushs or Seans. Mr. O had pimped himself hard. But, alas! He forgot to perform:
OREILLY: Caution, youre about to enter a no-spin zone [sic]. The Factor from L.A. begins right now.Wouldnt you know it! Drudges name was never mentioned on the Factor all last week! Mr. O knows how to talk. But he knows something elsehow to run and hidejust like the rest of the press corps.
OUR BROADCASTER OF THE FORTNIGHT: That would, of course, be Tina Brown, whom we hail for featuring In America director Jim Sheridan on last Sunday nights Topic A (now weekly on CNBC).
Since last we hectored you on this topic, In America has grabbed Oscar nominations for Best Actress (Samantha Morton), Best Supporting Actor (Djimon Hounsou) and Best Original Screenplay (Jim/Naomi/Kirsten Sheridan). The nominations are deserved, but theyre odd in one way. Many criticsand Sheridan himselfsaid that the performances by real-life sisters Sarah Bolger (age 10) and Emma Bolger (age 6) were the films greatest achievement. But the Bolgers were overlooked for Oscar nods even as adult cast-mates were honored.
Were the Bolger performances In Americas great achievement? That, of course, is a matter of judgment. But its stunning to read the words of praise that have been heaped on the heads of the sisters from Dublin. Gene Shalit searched the last century for a comparison. So captivating, so accomplished, they are the purest, most promising acting sisters since Lillian and Dorothy Gish appeared together for D.W. Griffith back in 1912, he proclaimed. At our hometown Baltimore Sun, Michael Sragow restricted his search to the past sixty years: Emma and Sarah Bolger as the lead couples children are astonishing juvenile performers, as fresh as Peggy Ann Garner, who received a special [Oscar] as the years outstanding child actress for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in 1945. Meanwhile, at the Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Roeper called Sarah Bolgers work the best performance by a child since Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. His assessment: She is the heart and soul of this film, and her performance resonated with me as much as [Sean] Penns work in Mystic River, [Charlize] Therons in Monster and Naomi Watts in 21 Grams. But Emma Bolger had her advocates too. On Good Morning America, Joel Siegel recommended her for an Oscar nomination: I loved that movie, loved that performance. Did we mention that EB was six at the time In America was made? (The sisters are 12 and 8 now.)
Has any director ever shown child life in the way In America does? After repeated viewings at our neighborhood cinema, we came to share an assessment offered by Sheridan himself. The kids in this film are magical, he said on NPRs Fresh Air last November. Sam Mortons fantastic, Paddy [Considine]s great, Djimons great, but the kids are magical and we all knew that and we all stepped out of the way. You know, its like when you have a holy thing happening, you dont mess with it.
Will the Bolgers become fine adult actors? There is, of course, no way to tell. But rarely does genius burst on the scene as it did when they teamed up with Sheridan. Since theyll likely be ruined for life by their notices, lets marvel at their acclaim while we can. Liz Smith in Newsday: The performances of these girls are astonishingevery gesture and expression transparent with feeling. David Edelstein in Slate: The miracle of the movie is the Bolger sisters, who are so direct and matter-of-fact that they hardly seem to be acting. But their simplicity is radiant. David Ansen in Newsweek: Perhaps most astonishing are the luminous Sarah and Emma Bolger, who make most child actors look cloyingly artificial. They act so well they seem not to be acting at all. And why not? Rex Reed in the New York Observer: In Americas sisters are played with rapturous wonder by Sarah and Emma Bolger, two of the most miraculous real-life sisters who have ever shared a screen or purloined an audiences heart. Edelstein built his Slate review around Sheridans claim that the performances are holy. If you buy this films aestheticand most of you willyou may come to see the film that way too.
So thanks again to Tina B for providing a hook for these observations. When dirt-bags are throwing the dirt all around, the holy may deserve a quick mention.