THE WARNINGS FROM JOURNALIST COUNTY: And Fallows made three!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2014

Part 3—Cokie’s hunt for cash:
In 1988, Richard M. Cohen offered a warning about the values, and the practices, emerging within TV news.

At the time, Cohen was 40 years old. Two years earlier, a senior at Yale pretty much beat him to it.

For all previous posts in this series, click here.

In the pages of The New Republic, Jacob Weisberg—then twenty years old—warned about the rise of mammon within the nation’s print press. He even coined a new term, “buckrakers,” burlesquing what journalists had become in their pursuit of cold cash.

The bright young kid was a firebrand then. By now, things have changed.

Since 1996, Weisberg has been drawing his paycheck from Bill Gates, who has pretty much ruined everything over the past thirty years.

In 2003, Weisberg somehow authored Robert Rubin’s memoir, In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington.

Did that kid get caught in a culture which ate his early values? In December, Weisberg’s wife will be co-hosting a three-day event which bears this name: The New York Times International Luxury Conference. (Actual name! Click here.) Meanwhile, two of the couple’s homes have been featured in photo spreads!

We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. But those photo spreads may have been conducted in The Houses of Journalist County!

That county’s a nice place to visit, a great place to live. But very little journalism is likely to emerge from that realm, a point that bright young kid from Yale has helped us see through the years.

We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Let’s return to the warnings which were emerging from Journalist County.

Weisberg issued his prescient warning in 1986. Two years later, Cohen described where TV news was headed. He spoke to Howard Kurtz:

CBS executives "believe you lower the common denominator, frame everything in entertainment terms, make it pablum…The currency of the realm ceases to be journalism...It's sort of a marketing mentality that takes over what gets on the air.”

“They're left with a huge game of pretend.”


So Cohen said in 1988. At present, we see that game of pretend being played every night.

In 1996, James Fallows issued another warning, the third in our current list. At the time, Fallows was Washington editor of The Atlantic. He authored a book which bore this unpleasant title:

Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy

Could James Fallows say that? The book provoked a fair amount of pushback from the mainstream press. The largest clatter concerned Chapter 4, “The Gravy Train,” where Fallows even dared to complain about the buck-raking of Cokie Roberts.

A bit of background is needed:

As far as we know, everyone agrees that Weisberg coined the term “buckraker.” In 1995, Michael Kinsley wrote a piece in The New Republic confessing to the sin.

Kinsley didn’t buy Weisberg’s premise. His confession started like this. We can't find a link:
KINSLEY (5/1/95): Confessions of a Buckraker

After years of resisting temptation, I have succumbed to the lecture circuit.
What I do mostly is not speeches but staged debates with some conservative journalist or politician. Since the audiences are generally composed of affluent businessmen, my role is like that of the team that gets to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters. But I do it because it pays well, because it's fun to fly around the country and stay in hotels, and because even a politically unsympathetic audience can provide a cheap ego boost.

These are hardly noble reasons. But are they corrupt? Some journalists, and a few gleeful outsiders, think so. Journalistic ethics cops have been very hard on politicians who accept honoraria and campaign contributions from groups with interests before the government. Is it any different when journalists accept handsome fees for addressing conventions, trade associations and so on? The paid lecture circuit is an American tradition, and journalists have always participated—until recently, without controversy. But it has become far more lucrative, and thus more controversial, in recent years.
Kinsley rejected the controversy. He went on to say that it’s less problematic when journalists, as opposed to pols, accept sacks of corporate cash.

That isn’t necessarily wrong. This was one of his reasons:
KINSLEY: [P]oliticians run the government. They have real power over people's lives and money. Journalists have no power except the power of words. Now, I wouldn't be in journalism if I thought that the power of words was inconsequential. A Sam Donaldson may well have more influence over the course of events in Washington than some obscure member of Congress. But words only have power to the extent they are persuasive, and abuses of the power of words are, to some extent, self-limiting. Faulty facts or fatuous reasoning can be countered.
Starting in 1999, Kinsley’s colleagues would stage a two-year war in which their recitation of Standard Group Scripts would show the world 1) how much power they actually had when they worked as a group and 2) how little Kinsley understood, or was willing to describe, the drift of the mid-90s press.

(By 1999, Kinsley was in Seattle, where he was creating Slate and drawing his pay from Bill Gates! Basically, Gates has paid for everything over the past thirty years.)

Whatever! In 1996, Fallows offered another warning from inside Journalist County. He didn’t credit Weisberg, whose arguments he largely recycled.

We’ll let Richard Harwood summarize Fallows' warning through his favorable review of the book in the Washington Post.

What Weisberg had shouted from his Yale dorm, Fallows had shouted again. As he started his review, Harwood offered a long quotation presenting that same old premise:
HARWOOD (1/8/96): Press critics have some of the characteristics of amateur dove hunters. We tend to be scattershots, making a lot of noise while rarely bagging any game.

James Fallows, author and magazine essayist, may be an exception. He has produced a book about journalism that seems to me well-aimed. It has a long title—"Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy." Its premise is uncomplicated:

"As journalism has become more star-oriented, individual journalists have gained the potential to command power, riches, and prestige that few of their predecessors could have hoped for. Yet this new personal success involves a terrible bargain. The more prominent today's star journalists become, the more they are forced to give up the essence of real journalism, which is the search for information of use to the public. The effects of this trade-off are greatest at the top of the occupational pyramid, which is why the consequences are so destructive. The best-known and best-paid people in journalism now set an example that erodes the quality of the news we receive and threatens journalism's claim on public respect."
Essentially, that was what Weisberg had said. As Harwood continued, this twice-told tale only got more unpleasant:
HARWOOD (continuing directly); The best-known and best-paid people in journalism are, of course, employed by the television networks. They have seven-figure incomes and are as familiar to the American masses as our presidents, professional athletes and entertainers. Their jobs provide them with neither the time nor the opportunity to do the research, reading and reporting required to make sense of the news—to give it meaning and place it in perspective. And because of the perpetual race for ratings, they are often under pressure to entertain rather than inform.

So the news is often trivialized and sensationalized. The "boring" information important to the public often is not recognized or is sacrificed to commercial imperatives...

Of greater significance, in Fallows's view, is the influence television has had on many of our leading newspaper and magazine journalists—people of great talent and skill.
They are not dumb. They know about the big money associated with television and, because they are human and normally acquisitive, they have found a way to get it. The golden goose is the television talk show, a form of news/entertainment that has grown enormously in the past 15 years or so. There are now dozens of programs—both local and national—modeled after such productions as "Meet the Press," "The McLaughlin Group," "Crossfire" and so on.
Weisberg and Cohen had said these things in their earlier warnings. Now, Fallows was making these unpleasant statements in book form—in a book he’d written from a hallowed precinct of Journalist County.

On the whole, Harwood agreed with the things Fallows said. As his review continued, he updated the money amounts from Weisberg’s earlier warning.

For ourselves, we prefer the word “buffoonism” when discussing the work of our pundit clowns. That said, was James Fallows—was Richard Harwood—permitted to say these things?
HARWOOD: [T]here is no shortage of journalists eager to perform on these programs, which to differing degrees combine moments of intelligent commentary with various forms of buffoonery. Whatever the quality of the productions, they give writers a degree of celebrity and opportunities to reap the substantial rewards found on the lecture circuit.

Thousands of colleges, universities, trade associations, lobbying groups, fraternal and civic organizations are eager to enliven their conventions, lecture series, seminars and annual meetings with the presence of a "celebrity" and are willing to pay very well for the service rendered. It is usually a 30- or 40-minute all-purpose speech suitable for any gathering, followed by a half-hour of Q & A. Ted Koppel was getting $50,000 a gig before he quit the circuit. Cokie Roberts pulls down as much as $35,000. Fees of $5,000 to $20,000 are commonplace...

There are costs involved in all this. Journalists who work the talk-show, lecture and book circuits are somewhat like the TV anchors who have little or no time for the hard work of reporting that underlies all good journalism. Their great talents are dissipated by the quest for money. Leonard Downie, executive editor of The Post, has noted this phenomenon: "They [a number of prominent writers] are no longer as good in print as they would have been if they didn't have this distraction and couldn't get all this money for saying the first thing that comes into their heads without having to think hard."
We’ll forgive Harwood for pretending that these pundits were dissipating their “great talents.” But there it was—another warning from inside Journalist County!

In some ways, the numbers there remain quaint. Earlier this summer, the Washington Post staged a major jihad about the fact that Hillary Clinton is now paid $200,000 for some speeches, as is true for other major stars.

The numbers were smaller in Fallows’ book, but they produced a kerfuffle. For some reason, Fallows’ portrait of Cokie Roberts scorching the Junior League for 35 grand seemed to provoke more reaction than the news that Ted Koppel had been hauling in 50 K per speech.

Harwood thought Fallows’ aim was true; many other journalists didn’t. Once again, it isn’t clear that any of this has to matter.

In theory, a person can haul a ton of cash and still produce excellent journalism, but that is just the theory. In practice, “various forms of buffoonery” were already evident on our burgeoning pundit shows. And things would get much worse.

Weisberg’s warning was the first of the three we’ve recalled. Ten years later, Fallows completed the hat trick.

Things went into the trash can from there. So whatever happened to Weisberg?

Coming tomorrow: On a downhill slope

For extra credit only: In October 1996, Frontline aired a program built around Fallows’ book.

The program bore an unpleasant title: Why America Hates the Press: An inside look at America’s elite press corps.

Did America really hate the press? That wasn’t clear from Fallows’ book or from the PBS program. But a voluminous web site still exists, with interviews and a full transcript.

The worst was yet to come! Just click to see how the matter looked to Frontline at that point.

61 comments:

  1. "Our own entertainment and pablum: The goodies and parsons of Salem Village were out last night in force...

    Last night, the parsons and goodies sere focused on the videotape of Ray Rice and Janay Rice. A great deal of moral certainty was widely and dumbly expressed.

    So it has always been from our many parsons and goodies."

    H.L. Mencken had a wonderful synonym for goodies: wowsers. You can look it up.

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  2. So Bob thinks that seizing the opportunity for a national discussion on the issue of domestic violence is done merely for entertainment purposes.

    Is there some "clowining" and "moral certainty" going on during this discussion? Of course there is.

    But are some very serious issues and some very serious information being raised? Of course there is.

    Not that Somerby really cares about battered women. After all, this case and this issue really isn't worth all this discussion, is it?


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    1. Has it occurred to you that the rush to public judgment might be itself a kind of entertainment for the general public? Like the folks who used to bring a picnic lunch to a public hanging.

      Someone can care about the issue without approving of the manner in which the public enjoys vicariously the scourging of the perpetrator. The slavering of the hordes is no prettier than the battery justifying it. And this ugly enjoyment of someone else's pain is no difference whether it is Maddow calling for the McDonnell's to be put in jail forever or a public who cannot imagine that battery took place without seeing the video of it -- over and over and over again on TV.

      If you want a serious discussion, call for that instead of a public that seems to treat news events now as reality TV instead of the sad occurrences they are.

      If you cannot understand this distinction, you are missing the parts of your soul that make you an empathetic human being. Somerby is not, as evidenced by the fact that making a spectacle out of tragedy clearly sickens him.

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    2. Well, here's the difference between you and me, bucko.

      I don't look down my nose at "the public" like you do, so I can't even pretend to imagine that what I want so badly to see -- a "public" so stupid that they treat every issue like "reality TV."

      But it is quite the pleasing tale that Somerby reinforces for you that you are among the oh-so-smart elite yearning for "serious discussion" to the point that you can't find "serious discussion" when it is served on a silver platter in front of your nose.

      It would destroy your myth of intellectual superiority to admit that, so you run here to get your safe and warm cocoon more tightly wrapped.

      Once again, is their bad journalism going on? Yep. Is there also very serious journalism going on? Of course there is.

      But like your intellectually lazy leader, you find it far easier to bitch and moan than to find the serious journalism and discuss that.

      And of all the adjectives I would apply to this Web site besides lazy -- petty, pseudo-intellectual, vindictive, cowardly spring to mind -- "serious" is not among them.

      The sad thing is, back at the dawn of the new year when Somerby made a complete ass out of himself trying to show how horrible Maddow was over the Christie and McDonnell cases, somebody who Bob listens to convinced him to back off for a while and collect his thoughts before running to the blog with his latest insult-laden post.

      All that gave us with the side trip to Tuscaloose to "prove" that a little resegregation ain't so bad, as long as expatriated five-year-olds are clamoring to learn Croatian.

      But unfortunately, that period of rehab didn't stop the death spiral this blog has been on for several years now.

      So Bob turned to his old tricks.

      1. Race-baiting about Ferguson.

      2. Maddow bashing.

      Yes, pleasing tales indeed to tell his remaining rubes -- both of them -- how intelligent they are that the public who actually sees events and holds a different opinion. Obviously, anyone who thinks differently from you and Bob are the poor, dumb misled rubes incapable of thinking for themselves-- as you dutifully repeat the Somerby script verbatim.

      You should have it memorized by now.

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    3. It isn't hard to be smarter than you, @11:53.

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    4. Certainly not, if you already consider yourself smarter than the rest of the human race.

      And you know what? Comboxes like this are the only place I ever bother with snobbish, pseudo-intellectual boors. In real life, I politely walk away from such people.

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    5. How do you tell the difference between genuinely intellectual and the pseudo-intellectual, stupid as you are?

      I'm ready to believe you consider Maddow's tripe serious discussion. I also sympathize with your unpleasant discovery that the people you admire are frauds. The problem is you want to shoot the messenger instead of (1) educating yourself, (2) finding better sources of information, (3) learning to listen to someone even when they are flawed human beings, whether Maddow or Somerby, and happen to be saying something that makes you think.

      If you walk away and manage to get far enough perhaps you will reach the edge of the world. When you get there, please jump off.

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    6. It's rather easy, at least sometimes, to distinguish between the intellectual and pseudo-intellectual.

      One way is to see if the person can do more than repeat his chosen leader's favorite script about his chosen leader's chosen as a measure of how open or closed one's mind is.

      Such sentences as "I'm ready to believe you consider Maddow's tripe serious discussion" works quite nicely in that regard.

      Bob has trained you very well to dismiss anything Maddow does because, after all, Maddow did it. No need to bother thinking about it further. Maddow said it; it's got to be "tripe" because Bob says so.

      And you lack the curiosity to find out for yourself, while proclaiming how insightful your leader is and how brilliant you are for seeing Maddow exactly the way he sees her.

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    7. It isn't hard to be smarter than you, @11:53.

      But it is. And that's part of the lesson of TDH. Once people like @11:53A -- and there's a little bit of him in all of us -- have decided that someone is "the other," then it's almost impossible for them to admit of even mixed judgment. This blog is intellectually lazy, petty, pseudo-intellectual, vindictive, cowardly, unserious, racist, elitist, snobbish. Not only that, but Bob Somerby is complete ass and anybody who agrees with him is a dupe and a rube and incapable of thinking for himself and lives in warm cocoon of mythical intellectual superiority.

      Whew! Good thing there is only one other person besides me who takes Bob seriously.

      Did someone convince "Bob" at the beginning of the year to "back off for a while." It wasn't me, so it must have been that other person.

      Did "Bob" "prove" that resegregation "ain't so bad"? Or did he point out that we have few ways to combat segregation not mandated by law and too few white students in many public school systems to provide racial balance? And does that constitute "race-baiting"?

      Remember how great Maddow was over the Christie bridge scandal? Me neither. I do remember her wasting time speculating that the whole thing was payback directed at the NJ state senator who represents Fort Lee. How'd that work out? I think TDH underestimated the impact of Bridgegate, but he was right that we didn't know what was really going on. And we still don't.

      If this is a blog that no one takes seriously, a blog that's been on a death spiral (apparently the slowest one on record), where does all the drama come from?

      I'll leave the answer as an exercise to the only other reader who takes TDH seriously, whoever that is.

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    8. " ... where does all the drama come from?"

      It doesn't matter.

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  3. I first met Cokie when I was visiting my wife's dorm at Wellesley College. We now tend to see her at 5-year reunions. Sometimes she gives a speech just to the Class of '64.

    I have been particularly impressed by two things. Cokie wrote several excellent books. And, despite her highly Democratic background (her father was in the Dem leadership), she's relatively unbiased. I wonder if her relative wealth helped her to see some justification for conservative points of view.

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    1. David, you don't think political views are genetic do you? Might it be possible that despite her father's politics, she adopted her own views and was not particularly liberal before becoming wealthy?

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    2. I first met Cokie when I was visiting my wife's dorm at Wellesley College.

      Dear God, tell me this is some perverse type of performance art.

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    3. Oh, goody! Yet another David vs. deadrat "serious discussion."

      I'll get the popcorn.

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    4. 325: this is some perverse type of performance art.

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  4. Interesting the level of concern Bob shows for the swag journalists rake in on the lecture circuit.

    Any such concern about politicians and the offspring of politicians collecting such largesse, particularly from corporate-paid gigs?

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    1. Aren't you confusing sitting politicians and former politicians here? When politicians give speeches for money, they are either fund-raising and the money goes toward campaigns with rules about how it can be spent, or they are not being paid. The uproar has been about how much FORMER politicians have been paid when they are out of office, as Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Chelsea Clinton, G.W. Bush and so many others are.

      In contrast, journalists are giving their speeches while currently employed in journalism and working their other jobs.

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    2. Except that I wouldn't rush to call Hillary a "former politician."

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    3. She is between jobs at this point. Her job right now is speaking to groups about her experiences as a public servant. She has as much right to do this as anyone else -- and they all do it, even the altruistic Jimmy Carter. Personally, I think the public benefits from the glimpse into the workings of government provided by former politicians and bureaucrats and I would pay to go hear her speak. She is an inspiring person to me and to most women. If and when she declares her candidacy, things will change and I will no doubt be able to go hear her speak for free.

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    4. BWAAAAHAHAHAHA!

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    5. You forgot to add "dead broke and in debt" to "between jobs."

      But let me give you a clue. A person who got laid off from a middle management position he worked at for 20 years was "between jobs" until he accepted whatever he/she could find just to keep a roof over the family's head and food on the table.

      The "jobs" that Hillary seems to be "between" are Secretary of State and President of the United States.

      Why no wonder she's grabbing all the corporate cash she can put her hands on.

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    6. "Personally, I think the public benefits from the glimpse into the workings of government provided by former politicians and bureaucrats and I would pay to go hear her speak."

      So you really think that if you pay whatever Hillary charges for her book, her autograph and her speech you are actually going to get insight into the "workings of government"?

      Look, I admire Hillary Clinton, too. And I fully intend to vote for her should she run. But good lordy, please take off the rose-colored glasses.

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    7. Yes, I do believe I get more insight into her mind, her work and her experiences by hearing her speak. I know I do not get the full story and that anything autobiographical is heavily edited and self-serving, but I learn more than if I didn't hear them at all.

      The solution to having imperfect knowledge is not no-knowledge at all.

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    8. I agree that Clinton will probably run for president, but as we saw in 2008 that is no guarantee she will be elected. If you forbid all potential candidates from earning a living in the years leading up to a campaign, you encourage worse graft because everyone needs to support themselves. We already have a situation where mostly only millionaires can afford to run for office.

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    9. "Yes, I do believe I get more insight into her mind, her work and her experiences by hearing her speak."

      Sonny, do you have any idea of what the purpose of these "book tour" lectures are?

      Since you apparently don't, they are designed to sell books to fanboys like you who are oh so excited to be in the same room with a "celebrity." Might even get to shake her hand for a couple of seconds as she pastes her "autograph" into the book for which you paid a premium price. Bet you'll never wash it again.

      And no, they aren't designed to give you any special "insight into her mind, her work and her experiences." They are designed to sell books, primarily to the choir.






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    10. Can we at least dispose of the notion that Hillary is now trying to "earn a living"?

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    11. I referred to Hillary as an inspiration to women like me and yet you call me sonny and a fan boy. Not everyone on the internet is male. Or maybe you"skim" instead of actually reading things.

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    12. OK, you're a fan girl, willing to pay whatever price to be in the same large auditorium as your "inspiration" with the full expectation of receiving some special "insight" during a 45-minute canned speech, and a 15-minute Q&A session.

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  5. When I was matriculating at a small land-grant college in Kansas in 1972, Sander Vanocur presented a lecture to the student body. So did Ralph Nader.

    I wonder what their compensation was.

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    1. Are you aware that every single one of your professors was being paid for the lectures they gave you too? When a university pays a visiting public figure to speak, they generally consider it educational for the students and the fees paid are to further your education, just as anyone who teaches you is paid.

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    2. OK, so we got a new rule. It's OK for anyone to speak at a university for a fat fee because it is "educational."

      I suppose since that includes Sander Vanocur then, it also includes working journalists today.

      So how about a likely candidate for president earning six figures to speak at a corporate gig?

      We dare not ask such questions, acccording to the Marquis de Somerby rules. Especially about politicans we like.

      Do ask such embarrassing questions would be, well, "tribal."

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    3. I think it is OK for universities to pay important people to speak to students, because it is educational for the students. I don't think it is good for journalists to receive large speaking fees, because I think it does compromise their objectivity and undermine their motivation to do investigative journalism, and I agree it takes time away from their preparation needed to do their jobs well.

      I see nothing wrong with a former politician speaking for money, whether it is Bush or Clinton, and I think they can charge what the market will bear. If they are running for office, I think they are more likely to accept speaking engagements for less money. Once they are declared candidates, I assume there are rules about personal payments vs contributions to their campaigns. If not, they are still not elected officials at that point and can charge what they want for their time.

      I see nothing whatsoever wrong with a "likely" candidate earning six figures at a corporate gig. They are not elected yet and not even declared. They may never run and may not be elected. You don't pay people today based on jobs they might or might not do in the future.

      Personally, I have a problem with female likely candidates being paid less for their speaking engagements than male likely candidates. If you want to gin up an outrage, why not try that one on?

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    4. Oh, I get it. It's OK for everybody else other than Bob's preferred targets. Glad you cleared that up.

      So was it OK for Sander Vanocur to receive a fat fee to speak at my college in 1972? Did it compromise Ralph Nader's ability to investigate when he hit the lecture circuit?

      Of course not! They are our heroes!

      And let's not even worry about a candidate who could very well be the next president of the United States stuffing corporate cash in her pants. Instead, let's wring our hands of the millions of dollars Meredith Vieira makes.

      After all, Hillary hasn't even declared yet.

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    5. It is also OK for George Bush and Ronald Reagan and Ben Stein and any number of conservatives to do the same thing. It is not OK for any journalist (including the conservatives) to speak for large fees because unlike politicians (for whom public contact of that kind is part of the job), they are diverting attention away from their work. It is not OK for journalists to take large fees from corporations because it can bias their reporting, just as it was not OK for McDonnell to take large sums in his political job. Those politicians no longer in office cannot offer favors in return for their fees.

      Hillary Clinton may never be president. She may not run for president. You could take any person and say that they should not speak for fees because they might run at some future date. Who's to say Meredith Vieira might not run for congress someday? Al Franken did.

      If you think Nader or Clinton have been compromised, you can choose not to vote for them. Can you choose whether Vieira has her TV show? No. We are stuck with the pundits given to us by media corporations. They used to take their positions seriously by recognizing their responsibility to the public. Now they seem to only recognize a responsibility to themselves, to maximize their own incomes while the getting is good. When a politician does that, they lose office. What happens when a pundit does it? Nothing.

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    6. "We are stuck with the pundits given to us by media corporations."

      So have the corporations (since they are people) pointed a gun at your head and made you watch, read, or listen? Have they taken away your ability to reason (Bob thinks you may never have had it, since you may be human) and determine the value of what you saw, read or heard?

      "Now they seem to only recognize a responsibility to themselves,"

      Now you seem to reveal your helpless captive state. Hopefully Somerby will send someone to rescue you.

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    7. Sander Vanocur was probably paid. Ralph Nader was probably trolling for students to join his asexual lifestyle of public service and perpetual candidacy.

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    8. "If you think Nader or Clinton have been compromised . . ."

      But I am not thinking that at all. Somerby says that, or at least about the people he already made up his mind are "compromised."

      As for me, I think that any person who has put themselves in a position to command fat fees for talking for 45 minutes then answering questions for another 15 is entitled to every dime.

      In fact, I think they'd be idiots for turning down that kind of dough just to avoid offending the somewhat nebulous and moveable ethical goalposts of a boob like Somerby.

      And that would have been a pretty good answer to Sawyer's oh-so-tricky question of how can us poor, dumb middle class folk understand taking such fees?

      "Because they're being offered and I'm no fool."

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    9. What is asexual about public service?

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    10. Who said public service was asexual?

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  6. You know, besides finding 18 year-old articles that discuss an 18-year-old book, it might be a better discussion to examine the warnings about the "celebrity journalist" culture from Fallows in light of all that has happened over the past 18 years of history.

    For example, did Fallows foresee the impact of an Information Age that has even the mightiest newspapers of 1996 struggling for their very lives in 2014? What impact has that had on the influence of a "celebrity journalist" culture?

    It would also be interesting to see what became of the "McLaughlin Group" cast that Fallows was so concerned about.

    Now we all know how powerful and influential (not to mention rich) Chris Matthews is because Bob tells us so. But what about Mort Kondracke? Fred Barnes? Eleanor Clift? Clarence Page? Even poor ol' Pat Buchanan, who kept leaving the show to run for presidient only to be pulled back in by a yo-yo.

    All these powerful and influential (because they appeared on TV and made lots of money there and on the lecture circuit) had 18 years to affect change in the course of human history.

    Have they done so?

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  7. We'll have the ballot box to decide how important Clinton's speaking fees are to us. After that, if she is elected, we can keep squawking about her ties to the elite, and hope she can be influenced to care a little more about a Democratic agenda despite those ties than Obama has.

    And by the way, otherwise, is there any indication that she is using these huge fees to finance a lavish lifestyle? If not, if the lion's share of the fees are going to a foundation that performs charitable activities, then what exactly is the problem with doing what any ex-or-future politician would do?

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    1. Oh, I'll bet that Hillary lives at least a we bit higher on the hog than I do. So excuse me if I look at the Clinton's $100+ million net worth, 14 years after being "dead broke and in debt," and think they are not quite like me, nor dedicating themselves entirely to altruistic motives.

      But again, I begrudge them none of that, regardless of their foundation's fine work. She could have stuffed all that book fee and lecture cash into barrels and buried them in the desert for all I care.

      What I do find curious, however, is how we find the wealth of, say, Meredith Vieira, such a threat to the future of mankind, while we look for more excuses for Hillary cashing in.

      And again, to repeat, both of them would be idiots to turn down that kind of money.

      Or . . . imagine this scenario. The head of MSNBC calls Bob and says, "Chris Hayes is falling on his ass. We need an old coot with true progressive values in his heart to take his place. Is $7 million a year enough?"

      What do you suppose would happen to Somerby's finely tuned sense of journalistic ethics then?

      And would he ever criticize Maddow again on his blog?

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    2. Huh? Me?

      Oh, sorry. I dozed off there for a minute.

      Let's see. Would Somerby abandon his progressive values for $7M and stop criticizing Darlin' Rachel?

      Absolutely, in a heart beat. And I think it's fair to take him to task for his ethical lapse right now.

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    3. What progressive values does Bob evince these days?" Rachel Maddow suxors, Al Gore wuz robbed in 2000, corrupt politicians shouldn't be prosecuted for corruption, "Mr. O" does better work than Rachel Maddow, and all these with the meta message that liberals are just as responsible for the (low) state of our nation aren't "progressive values," but the rantings of a crank.

      Here is something that's been rattling around in my mind: Bob obviously finds Rachel Maddow personally repugnant. He doesn't like the way she laughs, smirks, smiles, anything about her. Is she, on a PERSONAL level, and less repugnant than "Mr. O", with his age spots and saggy skin, his temper tantrums, smug self-righteousness, known sexual uhh... indiscretions, on a PERSONAL level, how could anyone find Maddow more objectionable than O'Reilly? But Bob, clearly, does. Well, there's no accounting for taste, granted, but there IS accounting for allowing one's biases to overthrow one's judgment.

      Oh, and to give Bob his due, this post itself is the work of good Bob, not the Bob we have come to know and wretch over. It's too bad Bob's overall work has descended to the point where discussions like these are going to happen even when he does good.

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    4. what exactly is the problem with doing what any ex-or-future politician would do?

      The problem is the appearance that if she's elected President, Hillary will reward those who donated big bux to her or to the Clinton Foundation.

      This problem doesn't normally arise with ex- and future politicians. The exes won't have the power to reward donors. And, politicians-to-be aren't generally in a position to demand big fees in exchange for speaking. Typically they're grateful for the opportunity to speak for free.

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    5. Why wouldn't this be the perception with respect to all donations to her campaign or to anyone's campaign? Voters know that politicians have to fund their campaigns somehow. This is in no way unique to Hillary Clinton.

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    6. Anonymous @8:33P,

      I think you're right that TDH finds Darlin' Rachel repugnant. And as he seems -- how shall I say this? -- a tad overdetermined in his criticism, it's fair to think that there's a personal element there. But I think the key is in his use of the word "piddle" to describe her work: pissing away time on the trivial. Darlin' Rachel is a waste of space, whether she's pitching far-fetched revenge dramas about Fort Lee or taking four minutes to tell us that Bob McD is facing 8-10 in the slammer. BillO the Clown is exactly what we expect from the right wing. Can't we do better than piddle?

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    7. An excellent question. What are your entrail instincts telling you?

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    8. I'll defer to you, the High Poobah of Piddle, or whatever equivalent title you hold back in the Galaxy Schizophrenia.

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    9. What do you think Maddow's ratings would be like if she tried to become the new Walter Cronkite? The "gatekeeper" who wisely sifted through the news and gave people only what was in their best interests to know, and -- this is the important part -- got it right, as Bob tells us Uncle Walter and David "Bunch of damned nonsense" Brinkley did? Do you think there's a reason Uncle Walter was taken off the air against his wishes, and -- this is the important part -- right about the time cable TV, with its myriad of choices, was saturating the country?

      As an aside, it amazes me that Bob would approvingly mention Brinkley as some kind of role model, as Brinkley, behind the scenes, was pretty plainly a Clinton-hater, and therefore helped get the ball rolling that would eventually lead to the "War on Gore." And Brinkley "kept his trap shut" as Bob would say, all through said war. But he can use Brinkley to bash Maddow and sometimes others, so even that -- the original and ultimate sin in Bob's universe -- is washed away. It gives you an idea of the depth of his animus. But I digress... or at least, I wish it was a digression.

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    10. The ridiculous idea that two people -- Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley -- had such complete control as to decide what is in the public's best interests to know would be horrifying if it were true.

      You might yearn for the days that never existed when you didn't have to decide for yourself what is and is not important for you to know. I don't.

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    11. And may I add that anybody who thinks Maddow only does "piddle"doesn't watch Maddow but certainly reads Somerby.

      And yes, deadrat, a very high official in the govern's office calls for "traffic problems" from her boy at the Port Authority, tying up traffic for thousands of people for a full week.

      Nope, nothing to see there. Move along. The Almighty Somerby has spoken! After all, it could still be a "legitimate study" only bungled. That was never disproven, on a journalistic basis.

      Except that it was.

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    12. deadrat. We are not the Poobah of Piddle on Doom. We rose to the crown the hard way, working our way up through a series of lesser noble titles. Our favorite title was Squire of Squat and Squadoosh, but it was a nothingburger of a job.

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  8. While we all search for that which is preferable to piddle, it is worth noting that we have been treated to a treatise on three pieces of work raising questions about the future of journalism and thus democracy. All three touch on the not so subtle premise that pursuit of money is an inherently evil force. How novel is that idea?

    All of this was written in a roughly 12 year span immediately preceding the founding of this blog.

    The first work was written by what the blogger here would otherwise deride as an Ivy League kid. His piece, frankly, smacks of the disdain for money often expressed by someone who was comfortably awash in it as the child he recently was. Check your privilege, anyone?

    The second piece was written by someone recently embittered by his firing. The third was written by a highly regarded member of what the blogger derides as the guild. All share something in common beyond their theme. The authors named names. They did what the blogger tells us the guild prevents its members from ever doing, proving his oft repeated "rule" is bullshit. Not bullroar. Bullshit.

    There is nothing the media loves more than gazing at its navel. The story is as old as the hills. The tattling is really quite tattered over time.

    Yet none of the authors, despite naming names, was driven from the guild. Cohen went back to a network as soon as he could. Weisberg, as BOB notes, began paying bills on his own and became that which he aptly named in disdain. Fallows book, as BOB notes, spawned a network TV show that named even more names and Fallows remains as highly regarded now as then.

    Funny, but the premise was in these pieces that money would either corrupt the journalist or weaken their craft. Yet none of the authors, despite naming names could give an example save Fallows, who gave up Sam Donaldson and George Will as having undisclosed conflicts he finds ways to dismiss as real.

    BOB holds up the era of Walter and David as a time when broadcast journalism hewed to a higher standard. We doubt it. There was just a lot less of it and three networks held a monopoly. Did more people watch because the product was better, more substantive and less trivial? Or did they watch because, when they got home from work there was nothing else on the tube in the time slot? There wasn't better journalism, just a lot less bad jouralism. And it had no competition.

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    1. Somebody on here a couple of days ago posted a series of YouTube links to those wonder years when TV news was supposedly never better -- long before money corrupted the entire bidness.

      It was quite the eye-opener for those of us old enough to remember, but perhaps a bit nostalgia-cloudy of mind.

      You know, a long time ago in a galaxy far away, the old Bob once wrote eloquently about how these top celebrity journalists were socializing with the very people they were covering.

      He wrote about the swell dinner parties Maureen Dowd would through for the movers and shakers of D.C. society -- including journalists and politicians -- and how an invite to one was to die for.

      He wrote about Gwen Ifill bragging about the dinner she hosted for Condi Rice. He wrote about the time Colin Powell spent at the home of Ted Koppel.

      I thought he was really onto something there -- how can we expect these people to be objective about their dinner guests?

      But then Valerie Plame Derangement Syndrome took over his blog, only to be replaced by Rachel Maddow Derangement Syndrome.

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    2. So why are you still here?

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    3. A probing, never before asked question in these parts befitting of a serious answer, 10:10.

      Because.

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