Yes, this actually matters: Amazingly, this actually matters.
At the start of this morning’s column, Maureen Dowd offers the latest fascinating fact about her family background:
DOWD (2/26/14): I have long been opposed to gays marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue.Good God! Who knew?
It isn’t because my father was a past national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which ran the parade for a century and started the rule that no gays need apply. Faith and begorrah, heaven knows I have nothing against gays. I have something against Irish parades.
Fir the record, we’ve always denounced parades too. That said, the highlighted passage should be filed under “amazing factoids.”
As we’ve often noted, there’s obviously nothing wrong with growing up East Coast Irish Catholic in the middle part of the last century. To the extent that we ourselves had a cultural niche, we grew up East Coast Irish Catholic in the middle part of the last century too.
(In the summer of 1960, right before we entered eighth grade, our family decamped to the Bay Area, which was a different world. Our mother and our aunt were puzzled. Why in the world were the priests so friendly, so kind, so pleasant?)
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with growing up East Coast Irish Catholic. But make no mistake—the mid-century culture within which Dowd was raised has played a major role in the journalism of the past few decades. That’s especially true of the anti-Clinton, anti-Gore journalism of the 1990s and Campaign 2000.
We know you think that can’t be true. In thinking that, you’re wrong.
As we’ve discussed in the past, the mainstream press corps of the 1990s had a very substantial East Coast Irish Catholic contingent. At NBC News, Jack Welch virtually built an entire news division out of sons and daughters of the old sod.
We’re going to say that it showed.
We Irish! No one screeched about Clinton’s sexual conduct more than We Irish did. Beyond that, we’re going to tell you that We Irish had problems with the southern-ness of Clinton and Gore as well.
We know, we know—you think that’s crazy. In thinking that, you’d be wrong.
The cultural norms of homes like Dowd’s were rampant in the anti-Clinton press corps. Is all political craziness local? The late Michael Kelly was one of the craziest anti-Clinton, anti-Gore voices—and he was a childhood friend of Dowd’s, right there in Washington, D.C. On occasion, Dowd likes to write about the connections in those days between her brothers and the Buchanan clan—Pat Buchanan, who denounced “Clinton and Clinton” at the 1992 convention.
The cultural norms of homes like Dowd’s drove much of that decade’s journalistic craziness. Then too, there was the Irish Catholic network assembled by Welch.
It’s amazing that the press has agreed not to discuss the comical and troubling way Welch assembled a news division almost wholly from the old sod. He recruited Tim Russert into the news business, put him atop Meet the press. He made Chris Matthews the face of NBC cable. Brian Williams rose under Welch to be Brokaw’s anointed successor.
Out on Nantucket, Russert and Matthews bought multimillion-dollar summer homes, part of the NBC Irish Catholic guild which summered on the island (text below). Bob Wright, Welch’s East Coast Irish Catholic CEO of NBC, summered on Nantucket too.
Welch built an Irish-Catholic news division. When Bush and Gore debated, this was the five-member pundit panel which discussed what occurred on NBC cable:
Brian Williams, moderator
Doris Kearns Goodwin
All five, East Coast Irish Catholics from the mid-part of the last century. First additional guest to opine? Russert! Who else?
Compute the probabilities of assembling a lineup like that by chance!
Obviously, there’s nothing “wrong” with hiring any of those people as pundits, although Matthews plainly went into the tank in the drive to send George Bush to the White House. That said, something was crazily wrong with pundit culture by the end of the Clinton-Gore years, including the two years of Campaign 2000. And the mid-century culture within which Dowd was raised played an extremely large part in the cockeyed pundit culture of that era.
Except for Joe Klein, everyone has agreed to ignore the fact that this cultural phenomenon ever occurred. We thought that biographical note by Dowd took this important bit of history to the next level.
Can Sallie Brady say this: The press corps never discusses such matters. That said, on one brief shining occasion, the Washingtonian’s Sallie Brady discussed the way the NBC gang would decamp to Nantucket to lounge among the swells:
BRADY (8/03): Russert is part of the Nantucket NBC crowd, one of the cliques that fuels the isle's social engine. It was Jack Welch, the story goes, the 20-year chairman and CEO of NBC's parent company, General Electric, who drew network folk to Nantucket.Matthews arrived in 2004, purchasing a $4.4 million summer crib. (Russert’s “hideaway” was priced at $7 million.) Matthews “earned” that money trashing Candidate Gore for two solid years. Back then, Hillary too!
Russert and his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, began summering on Nantucket in 1992. Russert has said he can go days without leaving his house except for a bike ride to get the newspapers. Then he'll sit in his rocking chair and watch the grass blow in the breeze.
Russert does make it back for Meet the Press, the show that made him and that helped finance the Nantucket hideaway he acquired in 1999. The sprawling gray-shingled house, with rooftop sundeck and cutting garden, lies down an unmarked dirt path through a secluded forest. Hanging over the portico, a wooden sign bearing the cottage's name says it all: SUNDAY MORNING.
Russert's boss, NBC CEO Bob Wright, is also on the scene. Add to the cocktail chatter the latest tidbits from the Oval Office, care of White House correspondent David Gregory, who was married on Nantucket and returns with his wife, Beth, for vacations; celeb updates from Access Hollywood host Pat O'Brien, who retreats here; and Washington gossip from News 4 anchor Barbara Harrison, and the only ones missing from the NBC lineup are Will and Grace.
Although Welch retired in 2001, he's still a power magnet. He holds court from a massive gray-shingled home festooned with window boxes, near Sankaty Head Golf Club. It was there that Welch once played Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, only to discover that two of the richest men in the world routinely bet only $1 a round.
It was ugly, astonishing stuff. The careerists all agreed not to notice. Today, Matthews is hailed by Rachel Maddow as her “beloved colleague.” According to TV Guide, she hauls $7 million per year.
(Do you think that’s a good idea?)
We know—you think this can’t have mattered. In thinking that, you would be wrong, the victim of an undiscussed con.