The Houses of Journalist County: Do Bill and Hillary Clinton have too much cash? Too many fancy houses?
Last month, these questions arose, prompted by a Q-and-A involving Diane Sawyer. During a thoroughly pointless interview with Hillary Clinton, the famous broadcaster popped these questions:
SAWYER (6/9/14): Tonight Hillary Clinton, 66 years old, lives on a schedule almost as taxing as a campaign tour. She and her husband, thanks to some big spenders, including Wall Street companies, are no longer the couple struggling for money. Reportedly, they can charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches.You could see that Diane was really concerned.
It has been reported you've made $5 million making speeches. The president's made more than $100 million.
SAWYER: But do you think Americans can understand five times the median income in this country for one speech?
In the course of her answers, Clinton said that she and Bill Clinton “came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.”
The statement was accurate. But a two-word phrase (“dead broke”) was quickly extracted, and the pundits are still having their fun.
Was anything “wrong” with those questions? Not necessarily, no.
In truth, those questions had nothing to do with the subject of the book Clinton had just published. Beyond that, Clinton wasn’t a candidate in the presidential campaign which didn’t yet exist at that point (and still doesn’t).
For ourselves, we always find it odd when super-wealthy people like Sawyer ask questions like those, in which she seems to speak for the sensibilities of us “Americans.”
That said, there’s no reason why a wealthy journalist can’t stage a sensible discussion of a politician’s personal wealth. In our view, Sawyer’s questions didn’t produce that type of discussion. In theory, though, they could have.
For ourselves, we don’t think much of Sawyer’s work. On balance, we think she’s one of the obvious problems with modern American “journalism.”
Those questions by Sawyer led to shrieks about the Clintons’ massive wealth, including the troubling wealth represented by their two houses (plural!). But then, journalists have been clucking over the houses of various candidates dating to Campaign 2000.
These conversations have often been marked by apparent bad faith on the part of the press. In our view, the familiar bad faith started up again in the past month.
At one point, we became curious about Sawyer’s various cribs. Through a set of coincidences, we also stumbled onto the houses of Jacob Weisberg, who had started an extended critique of journalist wealth in 1986, when he was still a senior at Yale.
This led to our award-winning series “The Houses of Journalist County.” We had planned to start the series today, but we’re going to postpone for a few weeks as our research continues.
In this series, we want to explore the discussion which began with this 1986 piece by Weisberg in The New Republic. We also want to show you some of The Houses of Journalist County—the houses in which our leading journalists lounge as they help us see the troubling aspects of politicians’ homes.
In our view, this story often turns out to be humorous. For example, where does Sawyer find shelter with her husband, Mike Nichols?
Our research on that point continues. At present, though, these seem to be two of The Houses of Journalist County:
The Houses of Journalist CountyCompare those perfectly sensible cribs to the deeply troubling Houses of Out-of-Touch County:
On Martha’s Vineyard: Chip Chop, the 17-acre estate purchased for $5.3 million in 1995
On Fifth Avenue, New York: Penthouse purchased from Robert Redford for $11-12 million in 2002
The Houses of Out-of-Touch CountyIn theory, wealthy journalists could conduct a serious discussion about the personal wealth of pols. But that isn’t what tends to happen in our journalistic culture.
In Chappaqua: White Dutch farmhouse purchased for $1.7 million in 1999
In Washington: Brick Georgian purchased for $2.85 million in 2001
Our view? When you start researching the wealth of our journalistic elite, you begin to realize something quite basic: Given the basics of human nature, serious journalism will never emerge from such rarefied aeries.
What will emerge is a whole lot of spin about various targeted pols. Also, silly piddle in which wealthy TV stars try to persuade us, the rubes, that they're really just like us.
The late Tim Russert turned this act of self-abnegation into an art form; he wrote books about his working-class boyhood in Buffalo from his $6.7 million summer home on Nantucket, where he hung with Jack Welch. On the way up, Brian Williams always mentioned the way he loves NASCAR.
They want us to see that they’re just like us! In that vein, here's the extremely wealthy Sawyer, seeming to play the same comical game in a recent profile in USA Today:
PUENTE (1/8/14): "Mike would say I'm the world's best sandwich-maker, which I believe I truly am," she says, adding that meatloaf sandwich is her specialty.We’d have to say that’s the all-time classic. We’re surprised she didn’t say she makes mashed potato sandwiches, the kind Blondie used to make for Dagwood.
"I keep trying to perfect my mother's meatloaf recipe," she says. "I've always wanted to throw a party where everyone comes with their mother's meatloaf. Everybody could evoke their mother's memory through her meatloaf."
According to Sawyer, she has always dreamed of “throwing a party where everyone comes with their mother's meatloaf.” We couldn’t help wondering—what do you suppose has kept her from realizing this dream?
Phenomenally wealthy “journalists” offer vignettes like that to make us think they’re just like us. At orgs like USA Today, other members of the guild type these stories up.
Our award-winning series, “The Houses of Journalist County,” won’t appear for another few weeks. That said:
Back in 1986, Weisberg started a discussion which could have been quite worthwhile. For that reason, the discussion never took off.
Today, he lives in The Houses of Journalist County. We’d say it shows in his work.