Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

"That Which Survives" Edition.

"I am for you, Joe Biden!" (click pic for larger)

Who are you?

I am Losira. Commander.

Commander of what?

Of this station.

Station? Station, where?

For a long and terrible time, American journalism has been slowly bleeding out its heart and soul. Dying. Putrefying into a lifeless, profit-centered fortress for political celebrities.

Degenerating into a multi-billion-dollar scam best described over 35 years ago by Doctor of Journalism Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, as…
“…not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits - a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.”
Except now they do it on camera. In very nice suits. And for a payday so lavish it would have dwarfed Thompson’s wildest, acid-fueled dreams of expense account El Doradoes. But it is also a fortune based on a fraud so precariously balanced on the edge of collapse that it must be savagely protected every minute of every day from the grotty rabble who want to upset the Golden Applecart of Mindless "Objectivity" with a lot of loose and dangerous talk about Liberty and Truth.

And so, lost today in all the folds of black bunting and pleats of mourning dresses around the Mouse Circus were the differences between informational rigor, and intellectual rigor.

Between hard work and good works.

One after another, Sunday talkers queued up to attest to Tim Russert’s Punkin’-Haid-and-shoulders-above-the-rest status as a towering plier of their trade; what a hurricane force Best Practices model he was.

And, sadly, that assessment is exactly true.

I have no standing to say a word about Tim Russert’s personal life, so I’m perfectly happy to assume that it was exemplary. Good husband, son, father, uncle and husband. Loyal friend. Picked up after his dog.

Alla that.

But his professional life was another thing entirely, and no fire hose of laudatory prose from his peers -- however heartfelt -- with alter the fact that Russert was no pioneering journalist. Instead, he kept ferocious watch over the Beltway's Velvet Rope Line; keeping the Serious People Secure and In and the dirty fucking hippies Marginal and Out.

Week after week after week, Russert held his meaty thumb on the scale, insuring that only the Royalty of Bourgeois Centrism made it into the clubhouse.

Here, according to Wikipedia, is a list of the most frequent guests on Meet the Press
* Bob Dole/63 appearances
* John McCain/50 appearances
* Joseph Biden/41 appearances
* Richard Gephardt/41 appearances
* Richard Lugar/36 appearances
And (no surprise) the most frequent pundits to tread the MTP boards were David Broder (396 times) and (until his despicable involvement in the Plame Case finally cost him his free pass) Novakula (247 times).

Old. White. Predictable. Centrist. Safe.

And, to no one’s surprise, it was a clubhouse that -- like all the other sideshow tents at the Mouse Circus -- leaned conspicuously to the Right.

(All charts from Media Matters here)

Second, Russert did not practice journalism so much as he perfected a new infotainment magic trick to take the place of journalism.

A ritual as rigid as High Mass.
Step One: The Sermon and The Lesson -- Roll out a guest. And, as Atriot Neponset once said so perfectly, drop out of a tree onto them with ten-year-old quotes. Which Russert would then read for forty minutes, and then say "Well?"

Step Two: The Call and Response -- Read off endless reams of polling data, and then say “Well?”

Step Three: The Choir –- The Matalin/Carville freak show are wheeled out to nod and wheeze and giggle and snark and affirm the Glorious Conventional Wisdom of it all.
Rinse and repeat, week in and week out: A computer with webcam reading LexisNexis entries would have accomplished the same function.

Third, well, in the end, when you sweep aside all of the thousands of sincere words spoken over the death of Tim Russert, the fact remains that only way to judge the value of the Spam factory is by the quality of it’s potted meats.

So…how many important national stories were ever rooted out and broken on Meet the Press? (And no, “being forced to testify about your own ignominious role in a major national security scandal” does not qualify as “breaking” a story. Neither does “acting as a launch pad for Administration Trial Balloons”)

How many traitorous douchebags were ever brought to book by a Russert journalistic crusade?

In a country where Russert is held out as the ne plus ultra of his profession, has the Mainstream Media been doing a consistently better or worse job of ferreting out the Truth over these last twenty years?

Take a wild guess: Have Americans grown more or less ignorant?

From the Boston Globe (h/t to the one-and-only Digby):
The dumbing down of voters

By Rick Shenkman | June 15, 2008

THE THOUGHT occurs to almost everybody, I would suppose, that politics today is conducted at a lower level than it used to be. Not many voted against William Howard Taft because he was fat or Abraham Lincoln because he was thin. One can't imagine Franklin Roosevelt being judged by how badly he bowled or how convincingly he knocked back a tumble of scotch. Indeed, studies show that the speeches presidents gave a half-century ago were pitched at the 12th-grade level - five grades above the level of speeches given by presidents over the last generation.

Which brings up a paradox. Decade by decade Americans are getting smarter and smarter, and decade by decade our politics is getting dumber and dumber. How can we explain it?

Unfortunately, what the polls show is that Americans cannot make up for their lack of basic knowledge even if they shrewdly employ shortcuts. The harsh truth is that ignorant voters are sitting ducks for wily politicians. This is why millions were so easily misled when the Bush administration dropped hints that Saddam Hussein played a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. One study by the University of Maryland found that nearly 60 percent of Americans were convinced that Hussein was helping Al Qaeda when we undertook our invasion. A majority based their support for the war on this flagrant misunderstanding.

Why hasn't education helped voters become smarter about politics? Television is a big part of the explanation. Once television replaced newspapers as the chief source of news, this happened around 1965, shallowness was inescapable as Americans began judging politicians by how they looked and acted.
Yeah, Russert could make a crackpot like Perot look sweaty and addled. And he spanked that weak, little tub of mendacity named Scott McClellan, but remember that it was only after Scotty Dog himself decided to stop lying with every breath and write a confessional that the Russert Maneuver of waiving contradictory quotes at people and huffing out a Very Serious “J'Accuse!” could gain any traction.

For the causal and careless liar -- for the pipsqueak liar -- navigating the Russert Show could be genuinely uncomfortable. But against our nation’s Liars Royale -- against professionally and treasonably conscienceless men like Cheney or Bush of Rumsfeld -– Russert’s silly brand of “gotcha” was a joke.

They knew how his little card trick was performed and knew how to beat it. And so week after week after week, Administration heavies and their button men glided onto the set of Meet the Press, looked directly into the camera, lied their filthy asses off with clear eyes and dry brows, and then went away to rape the Constitution some more.

Which is why, as Dana Milbank wrote in the Washinton Post a year and a half ago, Dick Cheney thought he pwned Tim Russert.
In Ex-Aide's Testimony, A Spin Through VP's PR

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2007; Page A01

Memo to Tim Russert: Dick Cheney thinks he controls you.

This delicious morsel about the "Meet the Press" host and the vice president was part of the extensive dish Cathie Martin served up yesterday when the former Cheney communications director took the stand in the perjury trial of former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Flashed on the courtroom computer screens were her notes from 2004 about how Cheney could respond to allegations that the Bush administration had played fast and loose with evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions. Option 1: "MTP-VP," she wrote, then listed the pros and cons of a vice presidential appearance on the Sunday show. Under "pro," she wrote: "control message."

"I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used," Martin testified. "It's our best format."

So, Washington insider...
Boy from Buffalo...
Network Vice President...

In the end, perhaps we can agree that Tim Russert was a Man of Many Names.

But “journalist” really wasn’t one of them.

Elsewhere at the Circus…

On “Face the Nation”

Gov. Bobby “Father Damien” Jindal, (R-La)spoke very reasonably about Barack Obama and John McCain and some other stuff...

...right up until he was asked about Evolution.

When it comes to Evolution...the Republican Governor of Louisiana thinks States should decide!

That kids should be exposed to “the very best thinking” on both sides. And then test those theories.

So the Republican Governor of Louisiana believes that the facts underpinning biology, geology, environmental chemistry, cosmology, genetics and a dozen other sciences …are merely articles of faith.

Matters of opinion. Like gravity. Or arithmetic. I mean, if the good people of Louisiana wake up tomorrow believing that, say, Long Division is Heathen or Fractions are the work of Lucifer ...why should their children be forced to endure some kind of elitist, liberal, Archimedio-Euclidean brainwashing!

Just to placate SomeWashingtonBureaucrat (which is now officially OneWord)!

And by the way, how exactly does one “test” Intelligent Design?

I mean, how can one ever know to a scientific certainty whether is it God’s will or mere biology that Republicans have tiny brains and tiny penises?

So, go Bobby go!

And then Newt!Fucking!Gingrich! explains that a Supreme Court decision which would limit the Crawford Dauphin’s ability to throw people into secret prisons forever without a hearing is…wait for it…worse than Dred Scott.

(Video and succulent commentary over at Crooks and Liars)

Newt says that “It may cost us a city” just because “five lawyers” (not judges – even though they serve on the Supreme Court – but five lawyers) want to let “any random, nut-case district judge” usurp the power of the Imperial President.

I think Newt Gingrich referring to anyone else on the face of the Earth as a "random nut-case" is the funniest thing in the world.

And I think that you could not find a more perfect example of just how fucked our media has become than the act of putting a sociopath like Newt Gingrich in front of a camera and treating him as anything other than a rabid dog.

On “Fox News Sunday” - Senator Byron Dorgan, (D-N.D). Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, (R-Exxon/Mobil) and Some Oil Wank talk about why the solution to every problem is drilling for more oil.

Wallace: The most obvious solution to the energy problem is…domestic drilling. Drilling the crap out of everything would “dramatically reduce” the price of oil. Why do Democrats hate America?

Dorgan: There is far more oil in the Gulf of Mexico than in ANWR, and I support drilling in the Gulf if we have to. ANWR was set aside by Dwight Eisenhower. And McCain voted against drilling there.

Hutchison: Must drill. And drill more. Environmentalists are cray-gee!

Wallace: You oil people have leases on 68 million acres of oil land. Why not drill there?

Oil Wank: Because Sweet Baby Jebus made oil hard to find. Hard! And we spend lots of money exploring and stuff…so…shut up!

Dorgan: There is nothing having anything to do with supply and demand that explains the high price of oil. This is being driven by speculation.

Hutchison: We need transparency. The only thing that will stop speculation is…more drilling!

driftglass: Drilling Is Magic. Like…Republican Jebus or tax cuts for billionaires. It solves all problems. It appeases all gods. It makes the sun to rise and set. Make the corn grow. The people of New Orleans and Burma and Iowa are all being punished for not drilling in ANWR.

Or something.

Wallace: What about your obscene profits?

Oil Wank: Yadda Yadda Yadda. We are penniless, I tells ya! I make nothing! Nothing! My children are in rags. My mother has to pick gobbets of discarded Hungry Man Salisbury Steaks out of dumpsters. My wife has to use a hand-me-down, steam-powered vibrator. If we drilled more…we’d make less profit. And then our profits wouldn’t be so grotesque.

Hutchison: The only “compromise” that will save America and stop the Evil Speculators…is more drilling,

Then an apparition that looked like Karl Rove floated onto the set

It could not have been the actual Karl Rove, because the actual Karl Rove is rotting away in the Treason Wing of some federal gray bar hotel, right?


On “The Chris Matthews Show”, David Broder wandered around the set, knocking over lights and asking strangers who was going to give him “sponge bath and pudding” now that Tim Russert had “moved to a very nice pundit farm in upstate New York”? Where (so Broder had been told) Russert was going to spend his days gamboling happily in the sun with other journalists.

Because as has been true for a long, long time now, no one wanted to burden the Dean of the Washington Press Corps with any ugly truths.

It was all very sad.


Fran / Blue Gal said...

It is a sign of your genius and place in the blogosphere, Sir, that when I and a lot of others heard that Mr. Russert had passed, we thought immediately of "Sunday Morning Coming Down."

You, dg, do some of the best writing in the world. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

And I think that you could not find a more perfect example of just how fucked our media has become than the act of putting a sociopath like Newt Gingrich in front of a camera and treating him as anything other than a rabid dog.


And thanks for an accurate take on Mr. Russert's role in the decline and fall of "journalism."

WereBear said...

Priceless Star Trek photoshopping sir! Top notch!

I believe you, with your revered charts and graphs, have keyboarded the definitive Russert perspective.

Perhaps, as such times often do, they will gain a bit of perspective, our less-than-beloved Fourth Estate.

Then again, I'm still waiting for my Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Anonymous said...

Good goddamn AMEN.

Anonymous said...

I think Newt Gingrich referring to anyone else on the face of the Earth as a "random nut-case" is the funniest thing in the world.

Well, I consider Gingrich a Lagrangian determinstic nut-case. The trajectory of sick-fuck demented shitbag wackaloon "conservative" politics led predictably and inexorably to a nasty fucking turd like Gingrich floating to the top of the right-wing sewer arounf the time that he did.

Anonymous said...

the only program I saw was the wolfman somehow managing to make russert's death into a masturbation session. thank goodness I did not see the others you mention.

you should probably get some kind of award for watching this tripe, week after week.

anyway, my hat is off to you. thanks for the graphs, I honestly expected them to be worse than what they are. perhaps I am expecting some kind of balance in the way of left and right instead of just right and further right which we have now with dems and repubs.

Rehctaw said...

"Russert did not practice journalism so much as he perfected a new infotainment magic trick to take the place of journalism.

Nailed. Game, set, match.

To paraphrase Lewis Black. Russert did for TV "news" and journalism, what MTV did for music.

That so many lament the passing of this GAP marketing guru (Everybody in Khaki!...Everybody in Cords!)
Rather than examine the WHY?!?!?, instead immediately focus on the WHO will replace him.

If the goal is replacement, I nominate Zoltan or a specially reversed Magic 8 Ball or twelve monkeys throwing feces at a question board. Any of which would amply fill the void.

Anonymous said...

Driftglass for president. Seriously, your writing is superior.

Athenawise said...

Drifty, right on, right on. Devastatingly on the money about Russert and the state of American journalism. We are so boned.

Anonymous said...

Russert may have been somewhat less sleazy than certain others we could name (almost anybody would at least look respectable compared to a piece of garbage wrapped in human skin like Rush Limbaugh), but that doesn't make him a Prince of Journalism.

It's been a sickening spectacle over the last few days, watching the media whores weeping and gnashing their teeth, shamelessly venerating one of their own, like he was some Egyptian Pharoah of Old. As Nero Wolfe used to say: "PHOOEY!!!!"

Unknown said...

ABSOLUTELY A+ Writing!!!!

And may I echo Michael?


I've sent this to everyone I've ever known as an example of who we should want to write like when we grow up.


Welcome to Pottersville

WereBear said...

I have no doubt that Mr. Russert was genuinely liked.

But the way they hammer on "how he asked tough questions" when, in all honesty, he let a lot of slow balls go by, makes me think that there's something else going on.

Scotty's book really knocked them for a loop, and now they are overcompensating.

Maybe they will actually ask McCain some tough questions.

And I live on a Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Anonymous said...

I hoard all the time I save not reading the idiots on the NYT and spend it savoring your every word. Thanks again.

lostnacfgop said...

You put my feelings about Saint Timmeh of Punkeenhedistan on, er, paper so clearly. He was a nice guy, like many a charlatan before him. But he shore gave THE DICK a major pass on our way to "Big Muddy II-Back to Iraq." And his only real defense was "hey, It wasn't (just) me . . . ." While technically correct, few of us have the greatness to bend history, but Timmeh had the chance to stand up for an ideal, strike out against injustice and send forth a tidal wave of hope - one large enough to waterlog the malignant war hard on of the DICK and his neocontardist pals. Apologies to the Days of Affirmation speech.

Anonymous said...

Another Thompson commentary on the profession of journalism:

"I have explained many times that I am, by Profession, a Gambler -- not some jock-sniffing nerd or a hired human squawk-box with the brain of a one-cell animal."

He was talking about sports journalism in particular, but the shoe still fits.

Rehctaw said...

In theory, The Newt is almost rational. On any number of issues, he manages to formulate proper questions.

The problem with anything Newt spews forth is his conclusions and solutions for his theories.

IMO, that is what propelled the Gingrich revolution. He managed to put a whole slew of theories out there without his one-size-fits-all "solutions".

It's also what killed his "movement". When it came time to apply his "solution" there were no democrats left to blame, so he was clueless. He's been sent back to the cheap seats lobbing laments.

Why he gets back up on the dais is beyond me. Why he's INVITED back is the even bigger mystery.

Jill said...

On “The Chris Matthews Show”, David Broder wandered around the set, knocking over lights and asking strangers who was going to give him “sponge bath and pudding” now that Tim Russert had “moved to a very nice pundit farm in upstate New York”? Where (so Broder had been told) Russert was going to spend his days gamboling happily in the sun with other journalists.

OK, Drifty, that was a laugh-out-loud moment. Now everyone in my office knows I wasn't working. Thanks a LOT. :)

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