THURSDAY, MAY 20, 2004
CALLED AWAY: Our entire staff has been called to Virginias Homestead to provide entertainment for a professional group. We may not do a full post until Saturday. In our absence, we strongly suggest that you consider Kevin Drums post RE Jonathan Alter:
DRUMS ALONG THE POTOMAC: We strongly recommend Drums report on Newsweek pundit Jonathan Alter. Alter appeared on Tuesdays OFranken Factor. According to transcripts from the man called 8rivers, heres one of Alters remarks about the Bush Admin:
ALTER: The level of incompetence is so staggering here, and yet theres this gap between how astonishingly incompetentand we can go over particulars in the last year if you want tohow astonishingly incompetent theyve been and the perception is still of them as solid citizens...As we think we mentioned last week, this is in many ways the problem confronting our mainstream pundits. From the start, they portrayed the Bush Admin as essentially competent; you might have concerns about Bush himself, but he had surrounded himself with highly capable aides. In fact, the thing that has most stood out about this Admin has been its apparent lack of competence. For example, if we take events at face value, they were played for fools by the Chalabi gang, those heroes in error discussed here yesterday. This seems to place the Bush Admin among the ranks of historys greatest rubes. But it has been hard for pundits to state this point, becauseas Alters comment suggeststhe pundit corps basic talking-point has always been just the opposite. Result? The Admin has been astonishingly incompetent, Alter says. But because pundits have a hard time reversing their core appraisal, the perception is still of them as solid citizens.
Drum suggests you review what Alter told Franken, then compare it to his latest column in Newsweek. We think this is well worth doing. Did the guy who said these things to Franken actually write that Newsweek piece? If the Bush Admin is astonishingly incompetent, wouldnt that be the obvious basis for a column? Not in the world of Washington pundits! They are very timidly inching away from a world-view theyve recited quite well.
LEMANN ON RUSSERT: But then, timidity seems to rule our press. On Tuesday, Eric Alterman offered the following post about a new profile of Tim Russert. The profile appears in the current New Yorker, written by Nicholas Lemann:
ALTERMAN: Too bad that Tim Russert had to throw a hissy fit just a day after Nick Lemann did such a bang-up job of dissecting his appeal in an essay that the Dean should assign to all Columbia J School students both for its content and its example. Russerts essential con-game does not escape Lemann, but the piece is nevertheless as generous and rational as one could hope for. Still, if you read it carefully, you understand why these Sunday shows are ultimately so contentless and hence, why administration officials are so eager to go on them, knowing as they do that nothing they say will be challenged in any fundamental fashion no matter how little evidence they may have to support it.When we read the profile by Lemann, we were struck by its timidity; for that reason, we dont understand Altermans praise for his efforts. After all, if Lemann noticed an essential con-game at the heart of Russerts work, why should he have written a piece that is as generous and rational as one could hope for? Why should we have to read it carefully to understand its basic points? Well probably discuss Lemanns profile later on. But in our view, you have to read his profile as Soviets read Pravda to tease out the things that dont escape him. Is the Bush Admin astonishingly incompetent? Is Russert running an essential con-game? Why should citizens be forced to read with great care to tease out such startling observations?
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