An old practice reappears: At the start of last week, we thought we’d have a bit of fun, treating the press corps as the source of some “anthropology lessons.”
Alas! During the week, a familiar old practice reappeared in earnest, largely at the Washington Post. As the week proceeded, this basically wiped the grins off our faces. But it didn’t vitiate the need for those scholarly lessons.
Never before has the Washington “press corps” created a prevailing “narrative” so early in a White House campaign! But it’s fairly clear that this happened last week, an astonishing 29 months before Election Day 2016.
The creation of an election narrative has three familiar components. Here’s the way these things work:
Elites within the mainstream press corps create a poisonous narrative about some White House candidate. The narrative may be friendly. Or it may be poisonous.
On cable, questing pundits scramble to get in line with the new Standard Story. If the narrative trashes a major Dem, liberal journalists pretend they haven’t noticed.
As the narrative works its effects, our leaders don’t say a word.
Last week, it was the Washington Post which took the lead in this matter. For that reason, we had to chuckle at a piece which appeared in yesterday’s Outlook section.
The piece was written by Lillie Lainoff, who's just a freshman at Yale. Truth to tell, Lainoff’s piece is rather poorly reasoned, which isn’t surprising given her age. Unless it was meant as an arch inside joke, we have no idea why it appeared.
What could possibly make this piece an arch inside joke? Capping the week when the Post set its latest narrative into motion, Lainoff’s piece was an argument in defense of not being original!
Her essay ran beneath this headline: “This essay isn’t all that original—and that’s okay.” You could see that as a parodic account of the way our “journalism” works in this, the age of the narrative.
How does our “journalism” work in the current age? In March 2000, E. R. Shipp described the way the process was working at this same Washington Post.
At the time, Shipp was the Post’s ombudsman. She described the way The Post was misreporting basic events in support of its preferred views of the major candidates:
SHIPP (3/5/00): Typecasting CandidatesAs she continued, Shipp went into detail about the way The Post had been “typecasting” Candidates Gore and McCain. The Post was skipping unflattering facts about the heroic McCain, she said. At the same time, the paper was inventing unflattering “facts” about the “delusional” Gore.
There is something not quite satisfying about The Post's coverage of the quests of Bill Bradley, George W. Bush, Al Gore and John McCain to become our next president...
For sure, The Post provides its share of "who's winning the horse race" stories and those that dissect a candidate's strategy—the "insider" stuff that many readers tell pollsters they could do without, thank you.
But The Post has gone beyond that kind of reporting in favor of articles that try to offer context—and even conjecture—about the candidates' motives in seeking the office of president. And readers react—sometimes in a nonpartisan way, more often not—to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama. Gore is the guy in search of an identity; Bradley is the Zen-like intellectual in search of a political strategy; McCain is the war hero who speaks off the cuff and is, thus, a "maverick"; and Bush is a lightweight with a famous name, and has the blessings of the party establishment and lots of money in his war chest. As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
(That was Shipp’s word, describing The Post’s typecasting.)
This remains one of the cleanest descriptions ever offered of this anti-journalistic practice, which is the familiar norm within our mainstream “press corps.” In Shipp’s description, The Post seemed to have assigned different “roles” to the four major candidates, as if the paper was scripting a drama.
Post reporters were bending their work in support of these preferred story-lines. As a result, Shipp correctly wrote, “some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.”
This same process went into effect at the Washington Post last week. All over cable, the nation’s pundits swung into action, getting in line with the new narrative being pumped about Hillary Clinton.
Your favorite liberal pundits kept quiet, the way they always do.
We’ll review as many cases as possible this week—the Hostins, the Hoovers, the Hendersons, even cable hosts like Cooper, Burnett, O’Donnell, Matthews. We’ll review the predictable posturing of woman-of-the-people Mika Brzezinski, who hauls in only $2 million per year.
Within the guild, it’s against the law to explain the process which began unfolding last week. Shipp explained it long ago. It has rarely been described since.
To cap the week when this process took form, The Post decided to run a very weak Sunday Outlook piece. The piece explains that it isn’t such a bad thing to be unoriginal—to say what others have said.
We have no idea why the Post ran this piece. But the piece captures the ethos of this tribe in the week when it swung into action with its latest “typecasting.”
Was this meant as an arch inside joke? The piece reminds us that it’s OK to say the same thing as everyone else. It also reminds us of the low standards of this guild:
Why, a college freshman could peddle this pap! You just keep you ear to the ground and get in line with the text!
That piece by Shipp was very sharp. Precisely for that reason, it was never mentioned again.
We still owe you that report: For whatever reason, the Post seems to prefer young climbers from Yale.
Example: The no longer young Dana Milbank, class of 1990. Last Wednesday, Milbank devoted a column to the claim that President Obama plays too much golf.
People, the ludicrous Milbank cried. He plays a round every week!
Quite literally, we recall hearing this sort of thing said about President Eisenhower when we were ten. More than fifty years later, the Washington Post still puts this pap into print.
That said, we still owe you a report about Molly Ball’s remarks to Chris Hayes. Ball, class of 2001, established herself as one of the most compliant script-readers we’ve ever seen in her instant adoption of the new narratives about Hillary Clinton.
Ball writes for The Atlantic. In our view, the brilliant compliance of people like Ball should be displayed for all to see and admire.
Like The Post’s Philip Rucker (class of 2006), she may have majored in Deference Studies during her tenure at Yale. We still owe you that report. Barring new craziness from The Post, we'll get to it this week.