Weiner, Weiner, & more Weiner
From the Scrapbook
Jun 20, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 38 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Annals of Hackery
One of these men is not like the other.
Weiner: Newscom; paul ryan: AP / Carolyn Kaster
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!
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:
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:
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