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Pundit Patrol

Where do they come from?

That's the question the perpetually (and rightfully so) exasperated Bob Somerby frequently asks at the Daily Howler.

Where do our most well-known commentators who construct and endlessly convey the mediocre thinking that somehow passes for both conventional wisdom and insight at the same time come from?

And when Somerby asks that, he's asking what planet?

Somerby would have a field day with the locals. Let's take a look at some of their recent work.

James Warren: "[O]ne might wonder about the unceasing refrain from Rush Limbaugh and his ideological confreres in Washington about 'the Chicago way' of doing business," Warren wrote in the Sunday New York Times. "It's all tied to bashing President Obama and top aides as being products of a culture of chicanery."

Not that Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, Arne Duncan, Desiree Rogers and, yes, even the president (D-Rezko) are products of a culture of chicanery. (Warren must have missed the Sorich trial.)

Beyond that, it's not just Dittoheads disgusted by the Chicago Way.

"On Friday, Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak, the Democrat challenging [Arlen] Specter for re-nomination, launched the controversy by accusing the Obama White House of offering him a federal job in exchange for his agreeing to abandon his race against Specter.

"In August of 2009, the Denver Post reported last September, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina 'offered specific suggestions' for a job in the Obama Administration to Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff, a former state House Speaker, if Romanoff would agree to abandon a nomination challenge to U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. Bennet was appointed to the seat upon the resignation of then-Senator Ken Salazar after Salazar was appointed by Obama to serve as Secretary of the Interior. According to the Post, the specific job mentioned was in the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Post cited 'several sources who described the communication to The Denver Post'."

"The paper also describes Messina as 'President Barack Obama's deputy chief of staff and a storied fixer in the White House political shop.' Messina's immediate boss is White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel."

The funny thing is, the political culture here is decried by the press until it's called out by folks elsewhere; then it's defended.

But that's not all.

"Invoking the phrase [the Chicago Way] is too facile by half, even conceding the convictions of 31 Chicago aldermen since the 1970s and the fact that former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich awaits trial as his predecessor, George Ryan, sits in prison. You can stipulate to the corrosive nature of money in Illinois politics but still argue convincingly that we're minor players on the world stage of public perfidy."

Warren literally argues that we're not so bad - if you "compare the sins of an alderman to those of Abdul Qadeer Khan."

And Richard M. Daley isn't half bad if you compare him to Hitler, but that won't get you anywhere in seventh-grade debate class.

"By some measures, corruption in Illinois even trails that in five or six other states, with Florida leading the way."

Which measures? I was a reporter in Florida once and as odd and weird and nuts as that state is, I've never heard it described as among the nation's most corrupt; in fact, its public records law is a beautiful sight to behold - and generally complied to. Instead, Chicago and Illinois's rivals in corruption are generally thought to be Louisiana and New Jersey.

"And we're pipsqueaks if you exhibit a broader perspective than, say, a City Hall news media corps that tends to see Mayor Richard M. Daley - perhaps America's most successful mayor - as a duplicitous, dissembling, omnipotent, one-person evil cabal."

If only! I would kill for that kind of City Hall press corps.

Beyond that, Daley's national reputation encompasses, um, his use of the Chicago Way, but is also prettier than his local reputation in large part because of the careful nurturing his team does of obsequious national reporters.

Warren goes on to defend America at-large with a distinct lack of national self-awareness.

"We're not in the same league as drug traffickers managing billions of dollars and undermining governments, the robber barons of Russia or the pirates of Somalia."

Yes, the United States has never trafficked drugs nor undermined governments!

"Robin Wright, a former foreign correspondent now with the United States Institute of Peace, said, 'What Blagojevich may have done was disgraceful, but it's small potatoes compared to the likes of Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, who stashed tens of millions of dollars in personal bank accounts and commandeered the national airline so his wife could go shop in Paris.'"

Well, yes, but Blago never flew a plane into the World Trade Center either. Should we be grateful?

"Of course, there's a more insidious culture that can pollute officials, regardless of party or their hometown. It's the Washington way."

Ha, ha! See, it's them, not us!

But then, Warren is well-versed in both the Chicago and Washington Ways. I'm reminded of his column previewing the Illinois primary:

"Governor Quinn's unbecoming peevishness marred an otherwise solid performance. It was also emblematic of a surprising patch of late-campaign troubles contradicting conventional wisdom - including mine - that he was a likely winner due to the anti-charisma of the capable Mr. Hynes and a shortened primary campaign favoring incumbents.

"The seeming turnabout is a reminder of the need for humility, even among the smarty-pants class of politics. So I asked experts, including journalists and politicians, to disclose what they don't know before the primary.

"The ground rules were simple: Be brutally candid, even about a candidate you support, and don't exhibit a firm grasp of the obvious by citing either 'turnout' or 'the weather.' I obliged by not identifying them by name."

And just what brutally candid insights did Warren extract in exchange for granting anonymity to the folks every reporter talks to? Speculating about whether the problems at Broadway Bank would hurt Alexi Giannoulias and if the old Stroger organization had any gas left in the tank.

Phil Ponce: I don't agree with every last bit of Driftglass's takedown, but I certainly do in the main. This passage particularly struck me:

"Look, Phil. I'm not a Highly Paid Chicago TeeVee News Host. I don't have a research department. I don't have staff. Not one lone administrative assistant to chase round my desk do I have, nor have I a single intern to get me my fucking latte.

"I'm just some poor, civilian goof who has can recognize a plague when its at his door, who is sick of watching paid teevee journalism die of spine-rot, and who does this in his spare time. And yet even I - with about 30 minutes of clicking a fucking mouse on my wheezing, old laptop - was able to find out all sorts of fascinating stuff about your skeevy guests and their mendacious claims that were, for some reason, utterly beyond the collective ability of the mighty WTTW to ferret out."

I have a similar thought nearly every morning wondering how I somehow seem to have access to what I consider basic information that must be off-limits to the people actually paid to obtain it. Of course, when a story gets by not just the MSM but the blogosphere, the MSM cries without irony, "Where were the bloggers? Even they missed it!" (See "Quit Giving Us More Work" at First-Draft.)

Laura Washington: Cultural literacy is important in a journalist, but if you come across a celebrity whose work is unknown to you, do a little research instead of assuming everyone else is equally as ignorant. To wit:

"Who's Kevin Smith?" Washington wrote on Monday. "I had never heard of the guy. I suspect I am not alone (his obscurity is probably one motive behind his headline-hungry rants.) Turns out Smith is an actor, director and comedian whose credits include Hollywood gems like Mallrats."

If Kevin Smith was such an obscure figure, this never would have become news. Being obscure to you doesn't mean being obscure to everyone.

See, it turns out Smith's brilliant directorial debut, Clerks, merely won awards at Sundance and Cannes before being put in release by Miramax; also turns out that besides Mallrats, Smith's films include Chasing Amy and Dogma; turns out Smith was a co-executive producer of Good Will Hunting; turns out he's revered in the comic book world, has scores of media appearances in various roles including guest reviewer three times on Ebert & Roeper, he posts nearly daily to his blog, and on and on and on.

But yes, his obscurity is probably behind his headline-hungry rants.

I mean, he totally provoked Southwest Airlines into throwing him off that flight! He had it all planned! Sources say he ate at McDonald's three times a week for a month just to make sure he'd get fat enough to cause a stir on that flight.

Where do they come from?

I'll continue exploring that question tomorrow.

-

Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on February 23, 2010


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