THEY WANT THEIR MAYPO! Lovable tykes want their sugary stew. Journos insist on their trivia: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JULY 18, 2007
THEY SUPPRESS LETTERS: In yesterdays New York Times, David Brooks wrote a remarkable column about Bushs views on Iraq. (Brooks was discussing a recent, two-hour session with Bush at the White House.) At Salon, Glenn Greenwald offered a typically insightful reaction; you should read his column in full. But in large part, Greenwald focused on this, the most remarkable part of Brooks column:
BROOKS (7/17/07): I left the 110-minute session thinking that far from being worn down by the past few years, Bush seems empowered. His self-confidence is the most remarkable feature of his presidency.No one can convince me, Bush told the small group of conservative scribes. Indeed, if Brooks reporting is accurate, Bushs unconquerable faith about the war in Iraq is based, in large part, on religious convictions. Again, we strongly suggest that you read Greenwalds column, in which he recalls other incidents in which Bush has suggested that his political decisions are (Greenwalds words) grounded in absolute moral and theological convictions and therefore immune from re-examination or change.
Like Greenwald, we thought the highlighted passage was the most striking part of Brooks column. Thats why we were surprised—and troubled—by the seven letters about this column presented in todays Times.
Surely, Greenwald wasnt alone in his reaction to the passage weve quoted—the passage in which the commander in chief says that he persists in Iraq because of religion convictions. Surely, many Times readers were struck by that passage. Presumably, the Times got letters about that passage. Well take a guess—they probably got quite a few.
But none of this mornings seven letters—zero!—refer to that part of Brooks column. Indeed, you wouldnt even know, from reading these letters, that any such declaration by Bush was reported by Brooks at all. Instead, the Times gave us high-minded thoughts from perfesser fellers—letters about the dueling views of historical process held by Bush and Leo Tolstoy. (The unintentionally comical part of Brooks column was the way he imagined a great debate between these two famous minds.)
Several letters criticize Bush, saying that no one else shares his great confidence. But good grief! There isnt a word in those seven letters about the commanders religious declaration. Might we interpret that oddity for you? Yes, well have to speculate a bit, but here goes:
Our speculation: The Times did get letters about Bushs statement; they got a lot of letters about it. But uh-oh! At the Times, it isnt polite to discuss this pols religion—to let conservatives even imagine that youre painting Bush as a religious nut. And so, the editors chose to ignore this striking part of Brooks column. Seven letters discuss Brooks piece—and its most startling passage is AWOL.
Is that what happened? We dont know. But Greenwald surely wasnt alone in his reaction to Brooks column. In truth, David Brooks provided a service when he quoted the commander in chief making this religious statement. But darlings! It simply isnt done! That is where the discussion will end!
Try to believe it. The U.S. army stays on in Iraq because of Bushs religious views. But somehow, no one wrote the New York Times to record their concern about that.
THEY WANT THEIR MAYPO: I want my Maypo! Since 1956, TV viewers have seen that lovable tyke demanding his sugary breakfast porridge. But then, todays journalist seems to enjoy sugar too. Todays journo tends to bang his spoon and tell the world, I want my trivia.
At least, so it went at the Washington Post when John Edwards started his poverty tour (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/17/07). And so it went at the Washington Post when journalists surveyed the recent reports about campaign fund-raising. At the Post, they wanted their trivia! Ugh! Matthew Mosk began a gigantic piece about the campaign reports with this bit of self-exposition:
MOSK (7/17/07): Opposition researchers plowed into the latest presidential filings yesterday, hunting for a nugget that might have the same impact on an opponent as the two $400 haircuts discovered in former senator John Edwards's last expense report.Almost surely, thats technically accurate; almost surely, oppo researchers did scour these reports looking for new bits of nonsense. But uh-oh! Mosk himself couldnt wait to mention those haircuts in this Post presentation. The sprawling presentation—part text, part graphics—covered the top two-thirds of the newspapers page A6. (For unknown reasons, its not on-line.) Facing it, on page A7, Perry Bacon was also discussing the haircuts, in the groaning report of the poverty tour we discussed in yesterdays HOWLER.
Yep! The troubling haircuts were all around—on page A6, and on A7 too! But then, as he continued, Mosk began to give us a look at the press corps love of trivia:
MOSK (continuing directly): Virtually every major campaign was scouring the newly filed campaign spending reports for potential bombshells and distributing discreetly—"off the record"—what they turned up to reporters around the country.Again, that passage is almost certainly true. Opposition researchers do scour these records looking for more of the cute stuff. But the thing that gives this cute stuff its traction is the willingness of big reporters to bruit it all around. And sure enough, Mosk started to dish—and we all were given a look at the way modern journalists reason:
MOSK (continuing directly): What made the cut was a blend of hypocrisy, personal indulgence and, in some cases, simple irony.Presumably, that was an example of simple irony—and yet, for some reason, it headed the list. But then, Mosks next item was pointless too—or at least, so it struck us:
MOSK (continuing directly): Or that the Edwards campaign bought items from Harris Teeter at the same time labor in North Carolina was staging a nationwide protest of the grocery chain—with Edwards's backing—because of its relationship with the anti-union Smithfield Packing Co.The campaign bought items. Next, we got a Giuliani item—offered without the slightest attempt to tell us if it was significant—and an Obama puzzlement:
MOSK (continuing directly): Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani's campaign got tagged for paying $15,215 to the candidate's own consulting firm, Giuliani Partners—for "rent."Was there actually something wrong when Giuliani paid that rent? Mosk didnt say—and who really cares! Its fun, and it takes up some space! Regarding the donation to Obama, Mosk said that it is no coincidence that Democrats will be attending...a debate sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. And yet, he didnt make the slightest attempt to connect this upcoming debate to the cited donation. But so what! The donation provided some Hollywood flash—and it ate more space.
But then, the Posts Michael Shear was having some fun with trivial aspects of the campaign reports too. His report came right after Mosks—and it focused on John McCain. The sinking solon held fundraisers at two of the hottest nightclubs in the country, Shear excitedlytold us. These are not your father's nightclubs, he said. And then, he gave us our Maypo:
SHEAR (7/17/07): On May 17, it was Tenjune, a club in New York City, for a Young Professionals cocktail reception hosted by his daughter Meghan. McCain paid the club $6,669 twice, for "Catering/Personnel SVC/Equip."We could picture McCain on those stairs. But, unlike the excited Shear, we decided not to be bothered.
This sort of thing could be overlooked—if it werent for the way this Post report started (see above). As Mosk noted, everybody has been on the prowl for the next haircut story—for the next bit of trivia that scribes might be able to turn into a referendum on somebodys troubling character. Increasingly, thats where our presidential reporting has drifted in the past fifteen or twenty years: Journalists seize on some trivial point, then turn it into a portrait of somebodys character. If they have to fudge the facts to get conclusions they like, theyve been endlessly willing to do so.
This morning, Mitt Romneys $300 for makeup services is cited on page one of the Times—and yes, this latest bit of trivia is even dumber and more irrelevant than Edwards now-famous haircuts. (Duh! Candidates wear make-up when they go on TV. Is there someone who doesnt yet know this?) But over the course of the past fifteen years, these trivia-driven character tales have increasingly been aimed against Democrats. In the 1980s, half-witted journos—think Maureen Dowd—were still inventing or embellishing tales to help us see that Bush the elder is out of touch or that Quayle is a hopeless idiot. But its been a good long while since this kind of nonsense was aimed at major Republicans. Big Dems have become the favored marks as the mainstream press, for whatever reason, has become a Republican entity.
If Democrats plan to establish rules with which to guide the mainstream press, well have to come up with some really cool rules concerning the role played by trivia. Like that adorable kid on TV, todays big journalist want his Maypo; he want tiny bowls of sugary stew, from which he can craft favored stories. And increasingly, journalists use this sugary stew to draw dim conclusions about Major Dems. Tomorrow, well offer some good sound advice—and roll our eyes big-time at Mellman.
TOMORROW: What must Dems do about trivia?
MAYPO FAQs: Do you still make Chocolate Maypo? Its one of Maypos most frequently asked questions! And the Homestat people (nee Maltex) arent pulling their punches. For the answer, well suggest you click here.
We also enjoyed that final question-and-answer! [T]here is always product that will stick to this wet glue, the people at Homestat have told us.