Also featuring, Who is Amy Chozick: Thanks in part to our tireless efforts, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank has begun to explain.
What explains the values of the modern upper-end “press corps?” In a recent column, Milbank described the values of his parents’ generation—and also, alas, of his own:
MILBANK (8/24/13): The weakest generation?Finally, Milbank is coming around to the view of himself and his colleagues we’ve always recommended! We’re soft and uninspired, he says. Gruesomely, we lack a cause.
I was born five years after the March on Washington and three weeks after King’s assassination. My mother told me that in those grim days of April 1968, she wondered whether she had done the right thing in bringing a child into the world. I grew up on Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio. A poster hung in my bedroom informed me: “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” My first political memories were of the George McGovern campaign and of a boycott of Nestle for pushing infant formula on kids in poor countries.
But this culture was my parents’, not mine. There have been many noble causes in my time—the fight against apartheid, for gay rights and for environmentalism—but none captured my generation or required the sort of sacrifice the civil rights movement did.
John McCain, in his campaigns for the presidency, spoke of the importance of “a cause greater than self-interest.” The one-time prisoner of war, who refused his Vietnamese captors’ offer of release to avoid giving them propaganda value, knows something about that.
But what about those born after 1955, who turned 18 after the Vietnam War draft had been suspended? For the first time in decades—perhaps for the first time in history—Americans came of age without an existential threat to the nation and without massive social upheaval at home. For us, the waning Cold War was just a theoretical threat, and the vestigial air-raid drills at school a curiosity. When we were prepared to sacrifice for the country after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush told us to go shopping. We grew up soft: unthreatened, unchallenged and uninspired. We lacked a cause greater than self.
Milbank blames it on his generation. “Generation X,” he calls it—and no, that isn’t a reference to Malcolm! He also blames it on something Bush did when Milbank was 33 years old! It looks like we have a bit more work to do with this young reporter!
Milbank did have disadvantages. We have no idea how someone born in 1968 could have been raised on the Kingston Trio, to cite just one example.
At any rate, by the end of his piece, Milbank was beating himself up pretty hard. He recalled the way Tom Brokaw likes to talk about “the greatest generation.” Then, the blubbering finally started:
“I’m afraid that my generation will someday be called the weakest,” he said. The godfather would have slapped him around, the way he did when Johnny Fontaine blubbered in his office.
Can we talk? An individual can find all sorts of causes and enterprises. Milbank could perform a very large service if he would just open up a bit about the way his important guild functions.
But who knows? Maybe Milbank’s generation is as hopeless as he suggests! This brings us to a second question: Who is Amy Chozick?
Chozick is the New York Times reporter who has been assigned to Hillary Clinton as a full-time beat. In this recent column, public editor Amy Sullivan wondered if that’s a good idea.
Inevitably, Sullivan said that the Times had made the right decision. She quoted Brendan Nyhan, who seemed to be saying that it wasn’t a good idea.
Inevitably, Sullivan seemed to pretend that Nyhan had said the opposite. She also quoted several people who were pushing the upper-end press corps’ Oldest Official Group Line:
SULLIVAN (8/18/13): Carolyn Ryan, The Times's political editor, made the case to me for the assignment. Mrs. Clinton, she said, ''is the closest thing we have to an incumbent, when we look at 2016.'' And getting in early allows The Times to develop sources and get behind the well-honed facade.There is a certain opacity with the Clintons, Ryan was quoted saying. Then, Sullivan dug into Bernstein’s old book to pull out his least flattering comment about Hillary Clinton’s problems with the truth!
''With the Clintons,'' she said, ''there is a certain opacity and stagecraft and silly coverage elsewhere. Amy can penetrate a lot of that.'' She praised Ms. Chozick as a relentless reporter who is ''very savvy about power and has a great eye for story.''
Carl Bernstein, the Watergate reporter who wrote the well-regarded biography of Mrs. Clinton ''A Woman In Charge,'' told me in a phone interview that she is ''really difficult to get a reportorial handle on.''
''She's someone who tries to write her own narrative,'' and who, in words from the last chapter of his book, ''has a difficult relationship with the truth.'' So, The Times's putting an aggressive reporter on Mrs. Clinton early, he said, is a laudable effort to publish ''the best obtainable version of the truth.''
Ryan also established a key point—the “silly coverage” of the Clintons will always be found somewhere else.
Unfortunately, we’d have to say that Chozick has already peddled some of The Silly in her few weeks on the job—for example, in this report about the Clintons’ rental crib out in the Hamptons. Here you see some of the salient reporting you will get nowhere else:
CHOZICK (8/9/13): [C]ontrary to earlier reports, they will not be staying the month at the East Hampton home of the developer Elie Hirschfeld that they have rented the past two summers but, rather, at an estate near the ocean in Sagaponack, some five miles to the west.Where else can you get the important news about the Clintons’ security deposit last summer? Last Friday, Chozick was back on the job in the Hamptons. Again, she brought you the hard-hitting stuff while others trafficked in piddle:
Mr. Hirschfeld, whose oceanfront house was built by John Custis Lawrence and sits in a plum spot at Georgica Beach, said in an interview on Thursday that he was not renting it this season. But the Clintons indicated that they were not necessarily interested in returning anyway after enduring last year what so many Hamptons renters have before them—the loss of a large chunk of their security deposit, according to two people with knowledge of the former first couple's Hamptons plans.
One of those people, who would share details of the Clintons' rental only on the condition of anonymity, said the expenses associated with the home—which has lush landscaping, a large heated pool and eight bedrooms in 12,000 square feet of space—ate up the bulk of the deposit. Security deposits are typically applied to household expenses like heating oil, electricity, housekeeping and lawn maintenance, and Mr. Hirschfeld said the Clintons did not make a fuss about it.
''I recall sending back the funds, with of course some deduction for utilities and things like that, and that amount was accepted,'' Mr. Hirschfeld said. ''It's a large house, it has upkeep and it's expensive—that's a fact.''
Over all, he said, his experience with the Clintons was ''very pleasant.''
CHOZICK AND RUTENBERG (8/23/13): Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton are renting a virtual Shangri-La in this lush, beachside paradise in the Hamptons. The $11 million mansion sprawls over 3.5 acres of prime real estate, with four fireplaces, six bedrooms, a heated pool and private path to the beach.Regarding President Clinton's key joke, you probably had to be there! At any rate, Chozick and Rutenberg went on in this vein for 1200 thoroughly pointless words. They even spoke with Hirschfeld again about Bill Clinton’s activities from last summer.
But Clinton vacations are not about kicking back.
Mrs. Clinton will be spending many hours here holed up in an office, though one with an ocean view, working on a memoir about her days as secretary of state, people close to the family say.
And, not one day after arriving here late last week, Mr. Clinton was already making a public appearance, at a softball game played each summer between artists and writers in East Hampton. There he found himself deluged by news photographers and autograph seekers as the ''Today'' show host Matt Lauer and The Daily News publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman looked on.
A reporter asked, Was he getting to relax? ''Apparently not,'' he joked.
(He rearranged some books.)
One last note. On August 14, Chozick joined forced with Nicholas Confessore for that giant front-page report about the Clinton foundation. They produced 3000 words of nothing-burger, using plenty of hamburger helper.
Milbank has made his confession. Who the heck is Amy Chozick that she would be willing to waste her life this way? Was she raised on “Tom Dooley” too? Did she long for her own kind of music?
Since you’re asking, Chozick hails from South Texas, which ought to count in her favor. She graduated from the University of Texas in 2001.
That said, she strikes us as a bit of a self-promoter, which isn’t unheard of in these precincts. This is the cinematic way she tells her own colorful story:
“She began her journalism career by moving to New York with no job, no apartment and a stack of clips from The Daily Texan. In 2003, she landed a job as a news assistant on The [Wall Street] Journal's foreign desk.”
Chozick is married to Robert Ennis, a VP at Goldman Sachs—not that there’s anything wrong with it! This is the part that really grabbed us in her self-description:
CHOZICK BIO: Before joining The Times, Amy spent eight years at The Wall Street Journal where she held posts including foreign correspondent based in Tokyo, national political correspondent and a features writer covering Hollywood. Journalism has taken Amy from the neon of Tokyo and the tranquility of the Japanese countryside to car shows in Shenzhen and dumpling joints in Shanghai. As a member of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's traveling press she rode on oddly aromatic campaign busses in 48 states and covered more than 20 debates ("You're likable enough, Hillary.") She covered the entertainment industry traversing Hollywood's back lots, studio sets and corner offices.Working at the top of the national press, Chozick covered twenty presidential debates. What’s the one thing that stuck in her mind?
Of course! The time Obama said, "You’re likable enough, Hillary!”
To us, each generation in the upper-end press corps seems more vapid than the last. Does Chozick ''have a great eye for story,” as Ryan cheerfully said?
We’re afraid she possibly might! Given the nature of her new beat, every American should be concerned about that possibility.
When it comes to figures like Hillary Clinton, the Times has churned a whole lot of stories down through the years. Indeed, if we might borrow from Lord Russell, New York Times coverage tends to be stories—stories all the way down!