HEROES OF JOURNALIST LABOR! Roberts, Boehlert, Lemieux and Foser point the way to a bright, shining future: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21, 2007
THE TWO AND ONLY: Our analysts chuckled mordantly at this clip from Anne Kornbluts report in the Post:
KORNBLUT (3/20/07): From the start, Clinton's campaign has displayed two attributes: pugnaciousness and defensiveness. Clinton advisers believe that only by being aggressive can their candidate counter negative perceptions of their candidate and give her the opportunity to make her own case for leading the country.Those two attributes—and no others! Where in the world do our major newspapers find writers who churn out such work?
THE IMPORTANCE OF NOT BEING EARNEST: Last Wednesday, Felicity Barringer penned a major report on environmental activist Bill McKibben. (Headline: Renewing a Call to Act Against Climate Change.) Her report dominated the first page of the New York Times National Report section; accompanied by two huge pictures, it covered about two-thirds of the page. We think Barringers opening makes a nice coda to our work this past week on the hapless William Broad (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/20/07). Heres how she started her piece:
BARRINGER (3/14/07): Some are born earnest, some achieve earnestness, and some have earnestness thrust upon them. Bill McKibben qualifies for inclusion in at least two of these wedges of humanity.In 1989, at the age of 28, he achieved earnestness of a dour, frowning sort, Barringer continued, as one of the first laymen to warn of global warming in his book The End of Nature.
Three words: Where to begin?
On balance, Barringer presents a reasonable profile of a figure deemed important enough to lead the Times national section. But good God—that gruesome opening! Hey look me over, it seems to say, as it calls our attention to Barringers brilliant wit. Indeed, before Barringer offers a single word about McKibbens work on climate change, she seems to offer a mocking framework: Good God, this guy is soooo earnest! Well admit it. That opening made us think of the Gotham Times Creeping Dowdism, in two quite unfortunate ways.
First: In Barringers opening, were asked to focus on the brilliant wit of the scribe herself as opposed to the subject under review. Again, we remind you of Dowds most famous lead—the purring lead to her front-page news report when Bill Clinton went back to Oxford:
DOWD (6/9/94): President Clinton returned today for a sentimental journey to the university where he didn't inhale, didn't get drafted and didn't get a degree.Ha ha ha ha ha! That was good! Dowds lead—and yes, that was a front-page news report—helped define a part of emerging Times culture: its focus on the wit and brilliance of its brilliant, witty writers. Its the witty writer who gets the attention—even if it comes at the expense of the subject under review.
Go ahead—reread Dowds classic lead, then read Barringers. Cant you see the emerging soul of the hapless but self-impressed Times?
But we thought we detected another aspect of Creeping Dowdism in Barringers lead. Ha ha ha ha ha, she writes. This McKibben fellow is just soooo earnest! Barringer seems to mock McKibbens focus on warming even before she explains what hes actually done. We thought of Dowds exchange with Joe Klein, reported by Gay Jervey (Brills Content) way back in 1999:
JERVEY (6/99): "Maureen is very talented," observes Joe Klein of The New Yorker. "But she is ground zero of what the press has come to be about in the nineties...I remember having a discussion with her in which I said, 'Maureen, why don't you go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real?' And she said, 'You mean I should write about welfare reform?Dowd rolled her eyes at the very thought of caring about a serious issue. We thought we detected that same high tone when Barringer built her A-frame last week.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! For the high Antoinettes of a millionaire press corps, serious issues tend to bring on eye-rolling. Perhaps thats how we ended up with William Broads inexcusable clowning in our greatest newspaper last week. Perhaps thats why Broads editor didnt take his laughable work and throw it in one of McKibbens compost heaps, which is pretty much where it belonged.
HEROES OF JOURNALIST LABOR: Good God! We were stunned by the superlative work we encountered yesterday on the web. Were speaking of Roberts, Boehlert and Lemieux—three heroes of journalist labor.
Lets start (again) with David Roberts. His superlative post on Broads bungled effort was simply invaluable last week. And he wasnt afraid to call a spade a spade when it came to the lofty New York Times:
ROBERTS (3/13/07): [L]et's summarize: Bill Broad took to the pages of the paper of record to establish that there is significant concern in the scientific community about the accuracy of Gore's movie. To do so, he trotted out scientific outliers, non-scientists, and hacks with discredited arguments. In at least two cases...he made gross factual errors. As for the rest, it's a classic case of journalistic false balance—something I thought we were done with on global warming. I guess when it comes to Al Gore, the press still thinks it can get by on smear, suggestion, and innuendo.Hurrah for Roberts! He didnt just correct Broads bungles—here and elsewhere, he reminded his readers that this sort of thing has been standard when the press corps (when the Times) has dealt with Al Gore. (Earlier, he said this about Broads report: It's got all the hallmarks of a vintage Gore hit piece: half-truths, outright falsehoods, unsubstantiated quotes, and a heaping dose of innuendo.) As weve long said, voters have to be told about this, again and again, until they come to understand it. To this day, American voters are endlessly told about the press corps famed liberal bias. We have to tell them, over and over, the truth about this mainstream press corps. We have to tell them—again and again— how this press corps has treated Major Dem Leaders over the past fifteen years.
And omigod! Yesterday, at Media Matters, the incomparable Eric Boehlert extended the case. His headline: The New York Times continues its War on Gore. Boehlert summarized the problems with Broads misleading hit piece, then took readers on a long journey through the Times disgraceful history of savage, bungled attacks on Gore. Voters—Times readers—have to be told this! Meanwhile, over at Tapped, hero of journalist labor Lemieux was helpfully posting this:
LEMIEUX (3/19/07): I don't like going along with implications that the 2000 election was entirely about Gore's weaknesses as a candidate. Gore didn't design the definitively irrational system the Constitution uses to select presidents. He didn't insist on Ralph Nader's vanity campaign. He didn't encourage the Florida state legislature to create its election statutes by having the attorney general's infant son scrawl something in crayon. He didn't appoint 5 partisan hacks to the Supreme Court. He didn't force outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times to conduct an endless smear campaign against him, or generally cover this highly consequential election like an elementary school student council race...Oh. Our. God. He even named Rich! Voters have to hear this history, again and again, if theyre going to understand modern politics—if theyre going to understand the punishing role the mainstream press corps has played, and will play, in our attempts to send Dems to the White House.
(For the record, Media Matters moved on all fronts in the wake of the Broad report. Click here, here and here to see other writers grapple with Broad—and his aftermath. Meanwhile, Jamison Foser has endlessly told the story of the mainstream press corps and Big Major Dems. Foser, whos clearly a HOJL, does this every Friday.)
Yes, it was thrilling to see Boehlert and Lemieux help Dems and libs understand recent history. Voters hear constant propaganda about liberal bias; they need to hear the truth told constantly too. Lets conclude with two old bits of theory:
Gene Lyons, who wrote Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater in 1996.Gene and Joe chronicled the early years in which our press corps turned into the mess it now is. We have to explain these things to the voters. The other side will always yell, Liberal bias. Over and over, we have to make sure that voters get to hear the real truth.
BECAUSE WEVE FAILED: Today, Gore testifies to the Congress about climate change. Because weve failed, this passage appears in Mark Leibovichs front-page report:
LEIBOVICH (3/20/07): There are still Democrats who hold Mr. Gore responsible for losing the 2000 election, and the 2008 field is already crowded. But if he were to decide to run again, Mr. Gores fame, network of donors and wealth would allow him to enter the presidential race late, political strategists say.That highlighted passage is perfectly accurate. But because weve failed to tell the truth up to now, theres a great deal which has been left out. See Lemieux, Scott, just above, for an alternative vision.