Interlude—Show us the wine list: How sharp—how “smart”—is the mainstream press corps?
Consider a current example.
In a recent on-line report, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple described a set of charges by major journalists against the Obama White House.
Most dramatically, USA Today’s Susan Page “called the current White House...‘more dangerous’ to the press than any other in history,” according to Wemple’s report. The statement was made at a recent seminar conducted by the White House Correspondents Association.
At one time, Page was president of the WHCA; in our view, she has never seemed to be crazy or stupid. According to Wemple, she was making “a clear reference to the Obama administration’s leak investigations and its naming of Fox News’s James Rosen as a possible ‘co-conspirator’ in a violation of the Espionage Act.”
Let’s assume that Susan Page was discussing a genuine point of concern. Here’s the problem:
When Wemple listed other complaints made at the WHCA seminar, the analysts started to cry. We’ll confess we have no earthly idea why the example described below constitutes a problem at all, let alone an example of “White House-administered madness:”
WEMPLE (10/27/14): The WHCA convened the event both to strategize over how to open up the byways of the self-proclaimed most transparent administration in history, as well as to compare war stories on the many ways in which it is not. Peter Baker, the veteran Washington reporter from the New York Times, provided perhaps the best instance of White House-administered madness. In covering a breaking story recently, Baker received a note from a White House handler indicating that President Obama had been briefed on the matter in question.Given the way our journalism works, we don’t understand why that incident, as described, is worth discussing at all. According to Wemple, it represents “the best instance of White House-administered madness.”
That information came to Baker “on background.” The gist: Not from me—a meeting has occurred.
Already, we were puzzled. But after describing another underwhelming complaint from the press, Wemple hit the jackpot with this:
WEMPLE: Bloomberg White House correspondent Margaret Talev noted how the White House stopped giving details on the fine wines served at state dinners, an opaque measure that she exposed in this story. In pursuing the piece, said Talev, she got the runaround from White House press officials, making her “so mad at them.” Over the course of a few weeks, she had to become, in essence, a wine correspondent.By now, the analysts were weeping inconsolably. Some of them tore at their hair.
Talev really did write a Bloomberg report concerning the lack of information about fine wine at the White House. To peruse the piffle which tortures the minds of these frequently puzzling life forms, you can just click here.
In her report, Talev went into stunning, numbing detail about this new terrible problem. She speculated about the reasons for the shift concerning the naming of wines.
For ourselves, we don’t know why the White House no longer provides the names of the wines it serves. But we can offer a bit of history from Campaign 2000.
During that deeply consequential campaign, Candidate Gore was letting reporters attend his many fund-raisers. Candidate Bush, who was raising much more money than Gore, was keeping his fund-raisers closed.
As you may have heard, the New York Times’ Katharine “Kit” Seelye, was at war with Candidate Gore at this time. For that reason, she filed one report after another detailing the fancy menus at Gore’s fund-raising dinners, even citing “the Miros and Chagalls” she was able to spot at one of the fancy-pants venues.
Times readers were buried under irrelevant detail about Gore’s fancy-pants dinners. By way of contrast, it was virtually impossible to learn in the Times that Bush’s events were closed.
Readers kept hearing about the “sesame-seared salmon and pistachio mousse” served at Gore’s heinous events. They rarely heard about Bush’s events at all, and were told just once, in passing, that his events were closed.
Anyone with an ounce of sense would have seen the political strategy in this pseudo-reporting. For a fuller account of this gruesome conduct, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/15/06, with a link to this earlier post from 2002.
For a real-time report, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/29/00. Did you know we’ve been there from the start?
Is the White House withholding its wines to avoid this type of misconduct? We don’t have the slightest idea. But that absurd report by Talev starts to answer the basic question found at the start of this post.
How sharp—how “smart”—is the insider press corps? Again and again, they seem so preternaturally unimpressive that their conduct challenges basic notions about human capability dating to Aristotle.
This Sunday, the Outlook section of the Washington Post printed extensive excerpts from a lecture given by Ben Bradlee in January 1997. To review that lecture, click here.
As far as we know, Bradlee was every bit as fine a person as his friends and his colleagues all say. But how sharp was Bradlee’s lecture that night?
Tomorrow, we’ll finish our answer to that question. This will lead us to the important topic we couldn’t quite get to this week:
It will lead us to decades of silly, destructive tales about our White House campaigns. Those silly tales have already changed the history of our nation and world. Our press corps will peddle such silly tales until they’re forced to stop.
Tomorrow: Lies and the iconic journalists who accuse lying liars of telling them