Annals of Hackery

It used to be said that the most dangerous place in Washington was located between the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a television camera. Nowadays, Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat, is the standard punchline on that one—which works well as a joke since it is not too far removed from reality.

But The Scrapbook disagrees with the premise. For us, the most dangerous place in Washington is not between a preening politician and a camera—in a city where there are plenty of both—but somewhere in the no-man’s-land between a self-important columnist and the search for higher meaning. Whether it’s Thomas L. Friedman (of the New York Times) predicting the end of the world on a monthly basis, or Richard Cohen (the Washington Post) casually name-dropping for effect, the spectacle of journalists searching for metaphors, allusions, parallels, and Lessons of History reminds us, as Alexander Pope taught, that a little learning is a dangerous thing.

Consider, for example, Post columnist Dana Milbank’s recent meditation on the Anthony Weiner scandal. Milbank is a curious case: a reporter-columnist whose contradictory stock in trade is (a) smirking accounts of public officials making fools of themselves, and (b) lamentations that the public doesn’t take public officials seriously. The Weiner case fits perfectly onto Milbank’s template: It enables him to poke fun at a member of Congress who sends naked photographs of himself across the Internet and at the same time to complain that the lurid details about Anthony Weiner distract us from pressing issues of greater importance.

But not content with this ancient, and all too obvious, insight—that humans would rather be entertained than instructed—Milbank shows off his columnist’s chops by compiling a list of labored, and mildly crackpot, analogies to drive home the point.

Yes, he says, Weiner’s conduct has been reckless and deplorable; but so is the conduct of members of Congress whose opinions on economic issues and public policy are different from Milbank’s: “Each man operate[s] as if the normal rules didn’t apply to him,” writes Milbank, “rolling the dice just as the tickle fighters and scantily clad self-photographers do.” Get it? Republicans in Congress don’t have principled convictions, like Dana Milbank; they prefer to cause as much damage as possible without pondering the consequences, just like Anthony Weiner!

Consider [Rep. Paul] Ryan, who has lived a charmed life in politics, reelected many times even though he has floated ideas to privatize Social Security and Medicare. .  .  . When Republicans won control of the House and Ryan received the budget chairmanship, he cast aside bipartisan solutions in favor of his biggest risk yet: pushing a voucher plan for Medicare through the House.

Hardy-har-har. This is the same kind of tone-deaf “equivalence” that people like Milbank used to draw between the liberal democracy of the United States and the Communist dictatorship of the Soviet Union: There are food lines in Moscow, and there are food banks in Washington; what’s the difference?

The difference is that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) has been sending obscene photographs of his genitals to young women on the Internet, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is the author of a careful, conscientious, and responsible plan to control federal spending and save Medicare from bankruptcy.

A columnist in the pulpit of a prestigious newspaper who sees no distinctions here—or, worse, perceives the differences but chooses to practice partisan hackery—neatly illustrates why journalists, as much as members of Congress, are held in such low public esteem.

The Two Faces of The New York Times

For all the attention lavished on the New York Times’s editorial-page columnists, the actual, unsigned editorials at “the paper of record” are all but ignored. That may be because even those who agree with the paper’s liberal slant find them embarrassing. Case in point, the paper’s June 7 editorial suggesting that states should resist federal immigration enforcement efforts:

The idea that the federal government can commandeer states’ resources for its enforcement schemes seems ripe for legal challenge. And it’s wrong to make state and local police departments the gatekeepers of [federal] immigration enforcement.

Aha! You’re probably thinking that it’s about time the Times finally recognized the logic of protecting states’ rights from further encroachment by an ever-expanding central government! Well, not exactly. Here’s the New York Times editorial from May 29—only nine days before the editorial quoted above—decrying the conservative Supreme Court justices’ more expansive view of states’ rights:

States’ rights has been a politically charged concept for even longer. It was a basis for secession and then for years of Southern defiance on segregation. Now it is used as an excuse for rejecting national immigration policy.

That’s an ideological gymnastics routine so impressive even an East German judge would be forced to give it a 10. By their own roundabout admission, it seems the Times editorial board cares more about pushing an agenda with the nearest weapon to hand than they do about any semblance of intellectual consistency.

Weiner’s Defenders

Some of us can’t wait for the Anthony Weiner saga to end—if you find bad puns annoying, you’re probably in a fetal crouch by now. But the episode does have its upside. For the liberal commentariat, it seems it’s hard to defend a Weiner without making an ass of yourself. (Sorry; we’re afraid it’s just an involuntary response at this point.)

Reactions to the scandal have proved as amusing as they are clarifying. Three days after the Weiner scandal broke, CNN host and Daily Beast media critic Howard Kurtz took to—where else?—Twitter to announce: “To twerps demanding I cover Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal: Whole thing appears to be faked. Sometimes it pays to wait for the facts.” For a “media critic,” sometimes it also pays to know what the heck you’re talking about before spouting off.

New Yorker writer and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said, “To turn it into something more than a mild prank, hack, whatever you want to call it, seems really excessive,” adding, “I just don’t think it’s a big deal.” Note that a few years ago, married Toobin had a child out of wedlock with the daughter of CBS News’s Jeff Greenfield, who subsequently had to sue him for child support. If anyone would like to downplay spousal betrayal, it’s Toobin.

The biggest hypocrite of all, however, might be the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, whose purple pen spewed forth the following defense of Weiner—after Weiner confessed to lying about his online affairs:

Another Christian has been thrown to the lions. The “Christian” in this case is a Jew, and the lions are the news media but the general idea is the same. For the entertainment of the people, yet another man was subjected to near-death by mortification. Anthony Weiner, you have committed no crime—none that has been alleged or proved, anyway—[but] that is a mere technicality. It is the spectacle that matters. .  .  . We are doing a terrible thing here—we hypocrites of the press.

This, of course, is the same Richard Cohen who was reprimanded by the Washington Post in 1998 for contributing to a “hostile working environment” by acting inappropriately toward a 23-year-old editorial aide. According to an article in the Washingtonian:

Among the allegations reported to [then Post deputy managing editor Milton] Coleman: Cohen asked Spurgeon to come into his office and close the door, then queried her about her generation’s view of oral sex. Also at issue: a conversation where Cohen said it’s too bad Bill Clinton is the only one who can grope in his office and get away with it. He also is said to have intimidated her with references to his connections with top Post editors, such as Tom Wilkinson, who can hire and fire. No one said Cohen touched her or hit on her. Still, when Coleman asked the reporters if they considered Cohen’s comments sexual harassment, three said yes.

Hypocrites of the press, indeed.

Open Season on Palin

Leave it to the “lame-stream media” to live up to the nickname Sarah Palin gave it. The news that the state of Alaska would be releasing 24,000 emails sent to and from Palin when she was governor has created such a frenzy at the Washington Post and New York Times that they are resorting to crowd-sourcing their reporting. In perhaps their first mass hire in years, the Post said they were looking for 100 people to help the reporting staff “investigate” the emails:

“We are looking for 100 organized and diligent readers who will work alongside Post reporters to analyze, contextualize, and research the emails. Think of it as spending some time in our newsroom. Our hope is that working together, we can efficiently find interesting information and extract new stories that will lead to further investigation. We don’t know what we’ll find, but we want you to be ready and open for the challenge.”

The Times, for its part, wanted readers to make a weekend of it:

We’re asking readers to help us identify interesting and newsworthy emails, people and events that we may want to highlight. Interested users can fill out a simple form to describe the nature of the email, and provide a name and email address so we’ll know who should get the credit. Join us here on Friday afternoon and into the weekend to participate.

The papers’ obsession with Palin isn’t news, but this latest display left The Scrapbook wondering: Where was the legion of investigative readers when there were over 6,000 pages of Obamacare regulations to dissect?

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