Saturday, November 27. 2010
Alex Pareene: The War Room Hack Thirty:
One view of the "worst columnists and cable news commentators America
has to offer." Looks to me like more print than broadcast, but I watch
so little TV, read so few of their papers, and never listen to radio,
so I'm not to best person to sort this out.
I don't recall ever reading Richard Cohen, and several other names
come up blank. On the other hand, I can think of others who escaped
the list. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and their ilk were
exempted as entertainers, or maybe their demagoguery is so blatant
that they don't pretend to be anything else. This isn't really a
list of right-wingers, although they figure prominently, and isn't
a ranking of vile political opinions (otherwise Michael Savage and
Max Boot and Mark Steyn would have ranked high). Pareene namechecks
Ann Coulter, then picks the decidedly more mediocre Laura Ingraham.
Self-conscious centrists figure prominently, especially ones who
fell hook, line and sinker for the Bush war line (lies not least of
all). But that may be less because they're centrists than because
they're gullible when the propaganda winds blow strong, and that's
ultimately what defines them as hacks. As for active right-wing
propagandists like Jonah Goldberg, Bill Kristol, and David Brooks,
they tripped themselves up so repeatedly they couldn't be ignored
as mere ideologists.
This was done as 31 separate posts, so work through the Earlier
Articles links or pick and choose from the index. Nearly all are
worth reading. And the Thomas Friedman one has links to two Matt
Taibbi reviews that nail him perfectly. [Links:
World Is Flat and
Flat, and Crowded]
- There's no subject on which Richard Cohen is not
completely inessential. The looming debt crisis? Caused by kids today
and their tattoos and hippety-hop music! The financial collapse? Did
you know that Richard Cohen went to high school with Ruth Madoff?
'Cause that's all he's got.
- Repetition of White House spin is a fairly noxious trait
in a journalist, but [Mark Halperin]'s worst quality is actually
that he is constantly wrong. He is a professional political
analyst, yet he often seems to be completely, 100 percent wrong about
even the horse-race aspects of politics that he specializes in.
- [Thomas Friedman]'s a silly, simple-minded man whose
success leads a cynic to the conclusion that the world is run by similarly
silly, simple-minded men.
- [David Broder] has a simplistic understanding of
politics and no understanding of the electorate except as an abstract
concept. His hatred of partisanship is actually a thinly veiled disdain
for popular rule itself.
- Because [Marty Peretz] fancies himself both the
nation's foremost authority on Middle Eastern affairs and a scintillating
writer, he has named himself editor in chief of [New Republic],
and his work goes up before a grown-up can look it over.
[ . . . ] Peretz can't make it through a simple
account of the concerts and dance performances he enjoyed on a recent
trip to Tel Aviv without lobbing a few bombs at those judged to have
treated Israel unfairly -- in this instance, Elvis Costello, the
Pixies(!) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
- In the growing pantheon of "Bush speechwriters hired as
columnists," Marc Thiessen's moral depravity set him apart.
- Jonah Goldberg writes the political column equivalent
of weekly fart jokes, but longs to be taken seriously as a public
intellectual. [ . . . ] Goldberg favorite rhetorical
move is to pretend that he's making some grand, semi-controversial point,
then back off when asked to defend it. He wrote an entire book called
Liberal Fascism, about how liberals are the real fascists,
but constantly insists that the theme of his book was not "liberals are
fascists." He wrote a column about how Julian Assange should be assassinated,
but insisted that the point of his column was not to say that Julian
Assange should be assassinated. Did you know that proposing that kids
perform community service "is modern slavery"!? ("No, national service
isn't slavery," he eventually writes, before saying, again, that it's
basically the same thing.)
- But I don't think even Maureen Dowd is still into
Maureen Dowd anymore. Dumb insults mysteriously scrubbed from a column,
the "plagiarism" scandal in which Dowd revealed that she "weaves"
unedited e-mails from friends into her column, the equally stupid
"dateline" incident in which she had an uncredited assistant do the
reporting while she filed from Jerusalem, all of these point to a
hack whose heart isn't even in it anymore.
- And most of [Peggy Noonan's] columns follow a similar
pattern: Rambling anecdote (probably involving Reagan), misty-eyed
reminisce of a Catholic girlhood in a more pleasant America, paean to
Grown-up Seriousness in our politicians, pro forma endorsement of some
randomly selected item from the Republican Party platform. Things were
better before, and that is why we need tort reform, or English as our
official language, or tax cuts.
- Laura Ingraham is just awfulness personified.
Pointless, talentless, a second-rate Ann Coulter without the wit.
Her day in the sun is long gone, her novelty has evaporated, and
yet still she remains. Old shameless right-wing TV stars never die.
They just move into talk radio and release horrible books.
- George Will is a sanctimonious moralist, a
pretentious hypocrite, a congenital liar and a boring pundit, to boot.
[ . . . ] And his baseball writing is so bad
as to defy parody.
- [John Fund] just picks the latest stupid Republican
outrage (voter fraud! Black Panthers! ACORN!) and dutifully lies about
it, using predictable talking points and the requisite Monday Meeting
- But this list would be incomplete without a representative
from Politico, the world's most cynical media outlet, and [Roger Simon]
is guilty of most of its worst practices.
- The sad thing is, [David Ignatius]' expertise is
supposedly foreign policy, which makes his respect for warmongering
numbskulls like John McCain and Joe Lieberman even more inexplicable
than David Broder's.
- [Mort Zuckerman] is a conservative Democrat, sort
of. It's hard to pin him down, actually, because, as Wayne Barrett once
documented, he's on both sides of every issue.
- But as a political commentator [Michael Barone]'s
proof that encyclopedic knowledge does not lead to insight. He is, in
most respects, your bog-standard right-wing pundit. Ensconced at the
conservative American Enterprise Institute and penning predictable
columns for the right-wing Washington Examiner, he regularly appears
on Fox to say the sorts of things that analysts who regularly appear
on Fox should say.
- While it's one thing to be consistently wrong about
everything in the pages of your own magazine, it's quite another to
remain a paid opinion-giver at other supposedly serious media outlets
despite that impressive record. But [Bill Kristol] manages it,
and the Washington Post continues to print his uninteresting lies and
obviously incorrect predictions.
- While [Tina Brown's] comically shallow columns on
actual current events resemble real editorials, they tend to lack a
point, besides reassuring the reader that Tina's been keeping up with
the news out of Wall Street and Washington.
- [Joe Klein] is a man who's internalized his own
noxious bullshit. First of all, Gore received more votes than his
straight-shooting opponent, which is traditionally how we measure
who "won" an election. Second of all, he "lost" not because Joe Klein
thought he "seemed stiff" -- though Joe Klein and his peers made sure
that everyone in the nation knew how "stiff" he seemed to them -- but
because a Supreme Court with a partisan Republican majority halted
the Florida recount.
- You can always count on Howard Fineman for a clear
distillation of whatever the new conventional wisdom is. Unlike those
who seek to drive coverage, Fineman was always content to sway with
the prevailing winds. [ . . . ] And Fineman, it
should not be forgotten, was a member of that special class of pundit
that trashed candidate Al Gore for complete nonsense and worshiped
post-9/11 Bush as a decisive man of action. He was as psyched as
anyone when George Bush led us into a pointless war.
- An atheist who wrote a book about the liberal media's
attack on "Christian America" (they gave the Narnia movies bad
reviews because they hate Jesus), S.E. Cupp is the sort of
commentator who'll declare creationism legitimate solely because
liberal scientists say it isn't. She's not a moron or a nut, she
just declares common cause with them to get ahead in the field of
punditry. [ . . . ] On cable she plays the hip,
young Republican girl-about-town -- who also loves hunting! There's
nothing a booker loves more than an attractive young woman with the
mind of Fred Barnes.
- [Tucker Carlson] is a thin-skinned mess of
hypocrisy. [ . . . ] After getting fired from
all three 24-hour cable news channels, Tucker decided to start a
website. It would be a smart website, he promised! With real
journalism! [ . . . ] It has settled on being
more like a low-rent Daily Beast, or HuffPo with poorer standards
of reporting and slightly fewer celebrity nipple galleries.
- [Howard Kurtz's] Media Notes columns for the
Washington Post were just lengthy recaps of what bloggers said
about things and while he often enjoyed policing journalists for
potential conflicts of interest, he never addressed the fact that
the Post's media reporter was a paid employee of Time Warner's
CNN, where he hosts a media chat show.
- Humor generally needs to come from some sort of point
of view to have real bite, but [Dana Milbank] did not count
as an "opinion columnist," so the message behind his work -- the
grand, overarching theme -- was basically "isn't all of this --
the theater of legislating, the passion of activists, the entire
political process -- a stupid, pointless game played by idiot
- [Mickey Kaus] obscures his beliefs in 100 layers
of obnoxious gnomic in-jokes, but his reflexive hatred for unions and
immigrants colors nearly every post (when he's not complaining about
the L.A. Times). Unions and immigrants are responsible for stagnant
wages, the jobs crisis, the failure of G.M., etc., etc.
- There's a special circle of hell for the journalist whose
mendacity or incompetence directly leads to actual war. Jeffrey
Goldberg's work in the New Yorker helped get us into Iraq. He wrote
false and stupid things that helped lead to the deaths of thousands,
and he has never seemed even slightly sorry about that fact.
- Pat Caddell is the epitome of a Fox Democrat.
He was a high-level party apparatchik in the distant past and can
theoretically still be referred to as a Democrat, but he'll reliably
repeat every idiotic right-wing talking point that comes down the
pike. And he doesn't just do it on Fox. With his partner in failure,
fellow former Democratic pollster Mark Schoen, he also pens a
neverending series of ponderous editorials (printed, usually, in
the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal) about how the
Democrats are wrong, stupid and doomed.
- Andrew Malcolm is a political blogger for the
L.A. Times, where his job is to craft every story in such a way that
maximizes its chances of getting linked to by Matt Drudge.
- These are all allusions to a center-right consensus
that exists solely among comfortable Washingtonians (from both
parties and neither party), treated as if it represents the
national ideal. So [Matt Bai], charged with covering the
modern progressive movement, covers it as if its naiveté about
the role of government in a post-industrial economy is a given
fact, rather than the opinion of the guy writing the story.
- But politics has very little to do with what makes
[David Brooks] Brooks. He is simply the laziest smart
writer on the planet. [ . . . ] The actual
"reporting" that went into the book [Bobos in Paradise] --
bits in which Brooks struggles to spend more than $20 on dinner
in the exurbs -- was rather definitively shown to be totally false.
But the "truth" of his insights into the differences between blue
America (Thai restaurants!) and red America (Applebee's!) was
immaterial. Here was a highbrow Jeff Foxworthy joke, and the
liberals ate it up. [ . . . ] Occasionally
he writes something exceptionally stupid or suprisingly vile,
but mostly he just plays his part as a PBS Newshour Conservative.
I scanned through the comments for more names. Most often nominated,
by far, was Charles Krauthammer, but also:
L Brent Bozell,
Victor Hanson Davis,
Melissa Harris-Perry [aka Melissa Harris-Lacewell],
I left out the Salon writers (e.g., one commenter repeatedly taunting
Joan Walsh), and I'm inclined to dismiss Sullivan and most of the
liberals (Kinsley, Rich) as pure right-wing snark.
One letter writer complained about the parochial American viewpoint
and suggested some more names:
Reuel Marc Gerecht.
I'm an habitual listmaker myself, so let me say something in defense
of lists: the ranking may be near-arbitrary, but building lists forces
one to think of aggregates rather than individuals, and as such it puts
individuals into a reasonable context. Clearly, a lot of thought goes
into who's in/who's out/who ranks where here, and it provides not just
a useful guide to individuals but to the whole practice of the opinion
wing of the mainstream media. Given its breadth, this strikes me as
the most useful broad survey since Matt Taibbi took on the presidential
news reporters in 2004 by refereeing
Wimblehack (won by
Elisabeth Bumiller, something to keep in mind any time you see