As readers well know, The Scrapbook prefers to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty, and so Act One, Scene 2 of the Obama scandals has been interesting to watch. True, it took evidence of the administration’s deep (and possibly unlawful) hostility toward the press to prompt the mainstream media to pay attention—and to take Benghazi and the IRS outrages seriously. But we’ll take our small victories as they come, always recognizing reality: When the media look at the Obama White House, they don’t see a government to cover but friends, colleagues, classmates, brothers-in-arms, sometimes family.
Which brings us to the New York Times’s visual op-ed columnist, Charles M. Blow. The Scrapbook confesses to a certain affection for Charles M. Blow. He is the former art director for National Geographic and—how to put this diplomatically?—writes about as well as most art directors we know. Most of all, however, we have a weakness for his unprecedented title. A “visual op-ed columnist,” explains Blow, is one who uses “visual evidence to support arguments in a persuasive essay. I use charts and maps and diagrams to support my positions.”
Needless to say, Blow’s charts and maps and diagrams are specifically designed to support the nonvisual opinions expressed in his columns, and so The Scrapbook pays more attention to the words than to the charts and maps and diagrams in any given visual op-ed column.
And lately, they’ve been fun to read, because Charles M. Blow is one of the few remaining op-ed columnists, visual or otherwise, willing and eager to protect President Obama and rationalize his behavior in the face of all evidence. But unlike his (non-visual) equivalents at the Washington Post, such as Ezra Klein or Jonathan Capehart, who are periodically summoned to the White House for instructions, Blow is in faraway Manhattan, and so must rely on his wits—and of course, his visual imagination—to ignore what he sees and defend the indefensible.
This past week’s column is a case in point. Persuasive it ain’t. But in the absence of charts, maps, and diagrams to clinch his argument, Blow relies on the time-honored weapon of schoolyard ridicule. The Obama scandals are, in his view, actually “demi-scandals,” beneath contempt, and the people endeavoring to get at the truth are purveyors of “hate . . . howling” about “bogeymen.” Indeed, they’re people who “never [miss] a chance to say something asinine,” and exhibit “a near-pathological need to say anything”—which, of course, is “mind-numbing” to a visual op-ed columnist as he watches Republicans “race off the cliff in the supercharged outrage machine.”
To be sure, Blow has merely adopted his colleagues’ technique of substituting personal abuse, and routine invective, in place of argument (see Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Gail Collins, et al.). Which is why The Scrapbook takes such comfort in reading Charles M. Blow. Yet there are limits to such tactics. For even demiscandals have been known to evolve into scandals, and sometimes the outrage machine is appropriately supercharged. As the evidence of White House malfeasance accumulates, will the spectacle become visible to a visual op-ed columnist?