Part 1—Terrified in Columbus: Two days before Election Day, we read the Sunday Review.
We were struck by what we encountered there.
The Sunday Review is one of the New York Times' highest weekly platforms. It's the Sunday section which includes the editorials and the opinion columns. It also includes a range of essays and opinion pieces which help define the intellectual functioning of a feckless, unskilled elite.
What did we encounter when we read the Sunday Review? On its front page, we encountered its featured piece, this 1250-word opinion column by the award-winning Maureen Dowd.
This essay, the Sunday Review's featured piece, was a vintage effort by Dowd. It started with a tightly crafted piece of "moral equivalence" concerning Clinton and Trump.
This initial feint led to a final judgment in which, inevitably, Candidate Clinton turned out to be a worse bet than Trump. As it turned out in this column by Dowd, Candidate Trump may not be the person he's pretended to be on the trail!
As we'll note in more detail tomorrow, Dowd's column was a classic gong show—a vintage example of the "Dowdism" Katherine Boo warned about in 1992. It shared the front page with this essay by Jill Filipovic, a youngish journalist who, like the even younger scribe to whose work she links, seems to possess one analytical skill—the ability to fashion images of Us and Them from any data she's handed.
On page 2 of the Sunday Review, we encountered a standard cringeworthy headline: "Schools That Work." For decades, journalists have piled predictable rubble under headlines like that.
Yesterday's skill-free journalist was the Times' award-winning David Leonhardt. As the week proceeds, we'll examine his work.
On page 3 of the Sunday Review, Frank Bruni's column appeared. Arriving on the scene more than twenty years late, the fellow who praised George Bush's shoes shared an important discovery.
Bruni is terrified by much that he's seen and heard this year. Recently, he encountered The Crazy. Live and direct from Columbus, Ohio, this was the start of the column:
BRUNI (11/6/16): Why This Election Terrifies MeWhy is Bruni terrified? Roughly 22 years later, he has discovered The Crazy.
Election Day will redeem and settle nothing, not this time around. No matter who declares victory, tens of millions of Americans will be convinced—truly convinced—that the outcome isn’t legitimate because untoward forces intervened. Whether balloons fall on Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, there will be bolder divisions in America than there were at the start of it all and even less faith in the country’s most important institutions.
The person taking office will do so not on a wave of hope but amid tides of disgust, against fierce currents of resistance. Tell me how she or he moves forward. Tell me how America does.
After I typed that last sentence, I paused for a sip of coffee and randomly tuned in to the conversation at a nearby table in the lobby of my Hampton Inn. A primly dressed, neatly groomed woman in her early 60s (I’m guessing) was complaining about election coverage: what an incomplete picture the media paints; how uninformed most voters are. If she herself weren’t so alert to a full range of facts, she said, she would never have examined a list posted on a relative’s Facebook page.
It named people connected to the Clintons “who died suspicious deaths,” she told her companions. “It sounds absurd to us, because we can’t imagine things like that going on, but we can’t dismiss it. There’s too much evidence.” They nodded raptly.
That's Bruni's full treatment of the conversation he overheard. He never specifically says what we should think about that woman's remarks.
Presumably, we're supposed to think that her remarks are insane. We're supposed to think that those remarks are an emanation of The Crazy from the people he later calls "Trump's angry troops."
Don't get Bruni wrong! Out of deference to the god Equivalence, he lists examples of apparent corruption on the part of the DNC and Bill and Hillary Clinton. But he focuses on the angry Trump troops—in this extended passage, for instance:
BRUNI: The America on display in this election isn’t a fair or ethical place.Just for the record, there were misogynists on the scene when Clinton ran for president in 2007 and 2008. Journalists didn't mention them much, perhaps because several were high-ranking players within the mainstream press corps.
And it seethes with hate. Trump has certainly shown us that. His incendiary words and unconscionable silences gave a green light to bad actors who existed before him but were never so encouraged: the anti-Semites who harassed Jewish journalists on Twitter; the white nationalists who threatened to intimidate minorities at the polls; the misogynists who hurled unprintable slurs at Clinton.
Last weekend a man who was getting a head start on Halloween attended a University of Wisconsin football game in a costume that depicted Barack Obama with a noose around his neck. That’s the kind of depravity we seem to be witnessing more of since Trump came down his gilded escalator and began ranting about Mexican rapists.
He has modeled contempt for civilized norms and even the rule of law, endorsing violence against protesters, expressing admiration for a Russian autocrat, pledging a clampdown on the press, suggesting that Second Amendment enthusiasts might want to take a shot at Clinton, and promising to throw her in jail.
I’m not terrified that he’ll win, because I’m stubbornly confident that Americans aren’t that far gone. But I’m terrified by how lost we nonetheless are, by how little clear direction we have.
(According to the Times' public editor, one such player was Dowd!)
That said, there have been quite a few "bad actors" on the scene this year, like that fellow in Wisconsin. This is especially true if we seek them out, as we love to do, perhaps creating the impression that, as Bruni puts it, "we seem to be seeing more of them" in this deeply ridiculous year.
Bruni is certainly right on one score; we are terribly lost as a culture. That said, yesterday's Sunday Review struck us as a deeply ridiculous publication. For today, we'll focus on Bruni's experience at his modest hotel.
Bruni overheard a version of The Crazy at that Columbus hotel. That said, the version of The Crazy he overheard has been around, and has been destroying the nation's brain cells, since 1994, when Jerry Falwell, a major figure, began peddling it all around.
A Nexis search shows that the Times almost wholly ignored The Crazy back then. By the end of the 1990s, Gennifer Flowers was peddling this version of The Crazy on two major "cable news" programs. As she did, Bruni's guild was hailing her as someone who, the pundits now knew, had been telling the truth all along.
(Before long, Kathleen Willey began selling this form of The Crazy too; the Clintons had even murdered her husband! Even as it reintroduced Flowers and Willey this year, the New York Times refused to mention such prior "bad acting." This deference to craziness helps explain the conversation Bruni heard.)
Major players have been selling The Crazy for many years. Yesterday, Bruni arrived at the scene of one such crime 22 years too late.
In this morning's Times, Jim Rutenberg specifically hails Bruni's catch in an astonishing essay about the spread of "fake news." The Times has been spreading fake news for decades. But today, Rutenberg praises the Times as the type of org which can make all the fake news stop!
When we read the Sunday Review, we surveyed a journalistic elite which seems to possess almost no skills. In a word, Filipovic's essay struck us as hapless. Leonhardt's struck us as worse.
We'll review those pieces as the week proceeds. They paint a portrait of a major elite which possesses almost no recognizable journalistic / intellectual skills. But good God! How the tires screech as the Times keeps arriving at the scenes of various crimes!
Since Labor Day, Paul Krugman keeps alluding to the way the mainstream press corps treated Candidate Gore. What he's saying is perfectly accurate, but he's arriving seventeen years too late. In all honesty, most of his readers have no idea what he's talking about.
Yesterday, Bruni went Krugman several years better. He reported something he overheard roughly 22 years too late.
For ourselves, we began building this site in 1997. We'd heard that version of The Crazy, and quite a few more, way too many times, even by that ancient date.
Who wouldn't have known where The Crazy could lead? How many names do you want?
Tomorrow: We read the first page of the Sunday Review