DOWNEY GETS IT RIGHT: We were intrigued by this recent, largely accurate profile of Saturday Night Lives Jim Downey. Indeed, it took us back to that extremely controversial panel discussion we once engaged in with Jim.
Uh-oh! Larry Sabato had outdone even himself in assembling this panel of all-stars! Please come to Charlottesville, he had said, to discuss the state of political humor. We sat on the panel with Jim, and some others. Why, Matt Cooper—Coop—was even there!
And wouldnt you know it? Everything was going along nicely—until Jim pulled a fast one! Hed been asked to show a sample of SNLs work. And doggone it! Out of all the film clips in the world, he had to show up at our panel discussion with the famous clip that is, in fact, badly mis-described here:
ITZKOFF (3/3/08): [W]hen Mr. Downey has taken aim at the presidential debates, he has consistently defined the candidates before they could define themselves: his send-up of the 2000 debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush coined the Bushian malapropism ''strategery,'' an invention that is sometimes attributed to Mr. Bush.
Defined the candidates before they could define themselves? In fact, that famous sketch advanced tired old versions of Bush and Gore—stereotypes that had been set in stone at least a year before that debate. Yes, strategery was (quite) funny, but that send-up utterly failed to capture what was happening at that stage of that race. And lets face it: When Jim showed that tape with us on hand—well, he might as well have waved a red flag in front of a vastly over-prepped bull. Lets put it this way: Larrys students got to watch a lively debate! And we thought Jim showed a lot of class, given the incomparable onslaught his classic film clip had brought on.
In our view, that famous sketch just wasnt good political comedy. It was what we call comedy by the polls—comedy which reinforces some tired old notion, instead of speaking truth to power. (Imagine The Fool saying this to Lear: That Cordelia! Shes such a stone b*tch!) But in its recent sketches about the press corps possible bias, SNL has done exactly what good political comedy should. Itzkoff got this part right. So did Brother Downey:
ITZKOFF: Most comedy writers are loath to admit that their work has any lasting value or influence. But after receiving several congratulatory phone calls from friends and colleagues that evening, Mr. Downey realized he had struck a chord.
''It tells you that you might have articulated something that was vaguely out there, but had yet to be stated in a comedy form,'' he said in a telephone interview. ''Some things make you laugh because they're funny, and other things, the effect is: 'Hey, that's right. That makes sense.' ''
Damn straight! Those sketches went right to the heart of a problem—a problem the press corps was trying hard not to discuss. In the process, the sketches initiated a serious discussion about an actual, serious problem. (For example, see this report in todays New York Times.) If we remember correctly, thats the kind of comedy we argued for at that highly controversial discussion.
Brother Downey got it right with those recent SNL outings. Now, for a new suggested topic: Wed love to see SNL take on the Obamas-a-Muslim lunacy. On last Sundays 60 Minutes, Steve Kroft interviewed the worst kind of voter—the kind who believes what he reads in his e-mails. Ah yes: Gruesome voter ignorance! Its is a topic the press corps works hard to avoid—and a topic that should be discussed.
How do voters stay so clueless? How do they manage to believe so much crap? Pols hate to discuss it—and so does the press corps. Wed love to see SNL take this one on. For all our past controversial chatter, we just luvv it when Jim get it right!
Postscript: What was happening after that Bush-Gore debate? The press corps was trying to help one candidate, and was working to take down the other. SNL missed this in Campaign 2000—but nailed it in those two recent sketches.
WERE GLAD THATS FINALLY BEEN SETTLED: Unless were hallucinating, Josh Marshall actually wrote this, last night at TPM:
MARSHALL (3/4/08): You have to give Clinton credit. She's gone a month of crushing defeats. She's been outspent. The narrative has all been against her. (Not because, like a lot of people think because the press is biased, but because losing breeds negativity.) And Obama charged hard against her in Ohio and Texas, probably coming close to even in Ohio, at some point last week.
Phew! Were glad thats finally been settled! The press corps hasnt been biased against Clinton! Its just that losing breeds negativity.
(Note on press bias: Chris Matthews was forced to apologize for what he said the morning after Clinton won in New Hampshire. The Russert/Williams gang bang debate occurred when Clinton was ahead in the polls.)
We know—Joshs punctuation was hurried, which makes his statement somewhat harder to parse. And here, as in so much of his recent work, Josh has simply thrown off a short, ambiguous statement about a complex matter. Look for a non-clarification clarification to follow in short order.
But in that careless (and silly) statement, Josh spits on sixteen years of your history. Can we say it? Josh may continue to be a source for outstanding policy and political work. But when it comes to the work of the press corps, Josh has long been a pool boy. He panders to the Times (then they pander to him) and he assures us of the corps lack of bias. Sixteen years of reality goes down the drain as the gentleman, cleaning leaves from the pool, makes his latest pronouncement.
People deserve serious work on this subject. Instead, Josh keeps handing them this.
For a more advanced version of this familiar old conduct, just read on, to our piece on Ruth Marcus. Hard Pundit Law rules Village life. Insiders know to obey it.
MARCUS WONT TELL: Twice a week, the Times prints ugly, misogynist hate speech from its resident lunatic. Today is one of those mornings:
In paragraph 1, we learn that some women dont like Hillary Clintons shoulder-pad feminism.
In paragraph 2, we learn that these unnamed women dislike the men-are-pigs thinking that Clinton has revived with a vengeance.
In paragraph 4, we learn that a woman I know thinks Clinton doesnt make it look like fun to be a woman. In paragraph 5, the crackpot paraphrases Clinton thusly: I have earned every wrinkle on my face.
In short, Maureen Dowd is a vicious old hater—and the Times prints her misogynist hate speech two times each week. Which brings us around to the Posts Ruth Marcus, one of the least honest people on earth.
In fairness, the lack of honesty isnt Marcus fault; in todays column, she merely follows Hard Pundit Law, the law which rules her Village home. Never discuss the real work of the press corps! The sign appears at each entrance into the Village. And people like Marcus follow that law—would follow that law to the death.
How does Dowds column pertain to Marcus? This morning, Marcus pretends to examine the role of gender in the current election. (Is Clinton hampered by her gender as she fights for the Democratic nomination? the Post columnist asks.) And wouldnt you know it? Marcus ponders this matter for a full column—but never mentions the way the press corps has banged away at Clintons gender! Youd never know that Dowd existed, with her endless gender-trashing of Clinton. You dont hear about the crackpot Matthews, who was forced to apologize for his own gender-trashing. You dont hear about poor little Tucker Carlson, who finds himself involuntarily crossing my legs every time Clinton pops up on his screen. Somehow, none of this conduct appears in Marcus deeply-felt column.
Thats right! Marcus considers possible woman-hating—but only among the voters! At a time when conversation roils about the misogyny of her insider cohort, she manages to keep her trap tightly shut—she acts like she still hasnt heard. Never discuss the real work of the press corps! The sign is posted wherever you enter the Village where Insiders work.
Just think how hard Marcus had to work to follow this Prime Pundit Rule:
Within the past two months, two major players at MSNBC have been forced to apologize, on the air, for gender-trashing remarks about Clinton. (One of them was then suspended.) And the open misogyny of players like Dowd has become a point of wide discussion. Indeed, just three days ago, Marcus own newspaper led its repellent Outlook section with a pair of ugly misogynist pieces. Thats being widely discussed today too—unless you read Marcus column.
Never discuss the real work of the press corps! Marcus obeys Pundit Law in the following passage, a passage in which she pretends to list the reasons for Clintons electoral problems. She lists four reasons for Clintons possible defeat by Obama. But what reason doesnt appear?
MARCUS: Clinton's loss, if it comes to that, will have more to do with squandered and mismanaged resources; a shapeless, shifting message; a loose-lipped spouse; and arrogant strategists who dismissed the threat from Barack Obama and assumed the past would predict the future.
Marcus lists four reasons for Clintons possible loss. She doesnt consider a fifth possible reason—the unfortunate work of the press corps. In this way, Marcus arranges to keep her trap shut even when the New York Times is printing this report about the corps conduct. At present, the press corps is being widely accused of bias regarding Clinton. But Hard Pundit Law says this cant be discussed—and so Marcus keeps her trap shut.
On this morning, Dowds hate-filled misogyny spews forth again—and Marcus keeps acting like she hasnt heard. She hasnt heard about Dowd, or about Matthews, or about those recent SNL spoofs. A sign is posted outside her Village—and Marcus obeys Pundit Law.
MONICA NEVER DIES: Heres the way that resident crackpot finishes up todays column:
DOWD (3/5/08): Watching Bill Clinton greet but not address—the Big Dog has been muzzled—an excited group of students at Texas State University in San Marcos on Tuesday, 19-year-old Allison Krolczyk said she was leaning toward Obama and felt no gender guilt about voting for him. ''Not at all,'' she said. ''I think they're both pretty amazing.''
The crowd held up their camera phones to capture the former president, in his bright orange tie and orange-brown ostrich cowboy boots.
''We love you, Bill!'' yelled one boy. ''You did a good job, except for Monica.
It always comes back to Miss Lewinsky! Indeed, in todays Post, on the page facing Marcus, this heartfelt letter appears:
Judging Hillary Clinton
Regarding the March 4 front-page article To Women, So Much More Than Just a Candidate:
I support Sen. Barack Obama because I believe he represents change. I also dont think that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is so much more than a candidate." A better headline would have been "To Some Women, So Much More Than Just a Candidate."
I also take exception to Marion Wagner of the National Organization for Women, who said that Mr. Obama's holding a chair for Ms. Clinton was somehow demeaning to her. I would not find it demeaning if a gentleman held a chair for me. But I would find it demeaning if my husband cheated on me the way Ms. Clinton's husband cheated on her.
I would have voted for Ms. Clinton in the Virginia primary had she left Bill Clinton. Staying with him set a bad example and was really demeaning to all women.
In both major papers, on this very morning, Miss Lewinsky reappears.
Youre right—this obsession with Miss Lewinsky doesnt necessarily represent gender bias. But at the Post, an editor thought you should consider her role once again. It has been ten years since she first appeared, sending a thrill up the Villages leg. But so what? Today, in both the Post and the Times, Miss Lewinsky—as always—reappears.
TOMORROW: Last weeks questions.