Iowa watch: Frank Bruni is getting bored!


The audible sighs of reporters: You know you’re getting the press corps’ most fatuous work when they start a piece with snide critiques about a candidate’s background music.

That’s how Bruni starts today, writing about Mitt Romney. Before long, he’s serving his readers this wonderful, world-class pap:
BRUNI (1/3/12): Every aspect of his campaign seems intricately sculptured to circumstance, an elastic response to some qualm a voter might have.


The attention to atmospherics is extraordinary. In Atlantic, Iowa, he notably bypassed the Pizza Ranch, a Christian-affiliated chain that his rivals have visited. Why? His watchful aides had determined that one of its founders did prison time for sexually abusing employees, as A.G. Sulzberger and Michael Barbaro reported in The Times.

So no pepperoni for Mitt. Instead he hit a different restaurant down the road. Its name? The Family Table.
What has Bruni so concerned? Romney spoke at The Family Table, not at the Pizza Ranch! And no, you can’t get dumber than this—though Bruni will constantly try.

Just consider his deep concern about Romney’s fatuous speeches.

You read that right—even Bruni has noticed the fact that Romney has gone a bit soft on the trail this past week. But as he complains, note the familiar play the fatuous columnist offers:
BRUNI: Is he really conservative? Moderate? To watch him deliver his gauzy stump speech is to behold a beautifully framed, impeccably coiffed blur: a vague shimmer of presidential-looking light that means everything and nothing.

The takeaway from the speech? Romney good. America great. Obama bad. America in trouble.

He doesn’t delve into the soporific specifics pouring out of Rick Santorum, who wouldn’t know a sound bite if it ripped off his sweater vest. So you can fill in the blanks as you like.
Did you spot the familiar construct there? Romney isn’t specific enough—but Santorum is too specific! Soporifically so!

Warning! Out on the stump, Candidate Santorum has been committing a cardinal sin. He has begun to bore the press corps. In Sunday’s Washington Post, Jason Horowitz spilled the beans about this emerging problem:
HOROWITZ (1/1/12): Ms. Powers clapped vigorously as Santorum talked about "the crossroads of American civilization" and asserted that "I know life begins at conception." As the event plodded on, her husband grew less interested, preferring to text friends as Santorum responded to short questions with long answers. After he spoke for an hour, audible sighs emanated from reporters in the room and a waitress adjusted the thermostat, which read 83 degrees. Santorum, standing before a lighted fireplace, kept talking and, at the one-hour 22-minute mark, he took the last question of the evening.
This is a very familiar trope, in which reporters express their pique with hopefuls who “keep talking.” Our incomparable archives are full of examples. During the 2000 New Hampshire primary, the “press corps” routinely complained about the way Candidate Gore would stay to answer every question from every last Granite State citizen. Remember when President Clinton’s State of the Union Address went on way too long?

Until the polling was done, that is, which showed that the public loved it.

Citizens tend to like it when candidates speak. Reporters want to return to their hotels, where they get drunk with their colleagues.


  1. I KNEW Santorum's "sweater vests" were going to become a New York Times reporter/pundit fixation, and lo and behold, look at today's paper. Jeremy Parker (any relation to the addled young elitist Ashley Parker?) pens an entire, mindless column about...Rick Santorum's sweater vests! It's entitled "Sleeveless and V-Necked, Santorum’s Sweaters Are Turning Heads".

    Here's a question. Does anyone ever ask Bruni, Dowd, etc., what they think their jobs are and why they get so bored, annoyed, conniptioned, peeved, vexed, and on and on when they're supposed to be listening to the candidates and reporting what their policies and plans are, rather than slobbering, as Bruni does, over stagecraft and Mitt Romney's hair? (He sounds like a fanboy or fangirl, really.) Does anyone ever press these people on what "journalism" is? Or do they get a pass because they're writing "opinion" pieces?

    This morning I heard former GOP advisor Michael Goldfarb of Cambridge University make the great point that journalism today is so gutted that there is no reportage on the lives of the vast majority of Americans, whether in Iowa or anywhere else. Yet we do hear about Babby Krents and anguished millionaire parents who can't get their children into Dalton, and so forth. It's no way to run the fourth estate, unless you want it to be as useless as possible, but then maybe that's the plan.

  2. Absolutely. You know, I can get really tired of reading students papers (one of the main reasons teachers finally retire!). But because I feel committed to reading and commenting on their papers thoroughly and helpfully, I do so, even when I'm not feeling motivated by interest in my students or what they're writing. It's my duty, my professional obligation, my job. I figure plumbers get tired of fixing leaks and installing showers or toilets, that accountants get tired of sorting entries and entering subcodes, that ditch-diggers get tired of shovels and ditches. But most people persist in doing their jobs well anyway. Would be nice if editors and reporters, especially those with plum assignments like presidential primary campaigns, felt the same sense of responsibility.

  3. On reporters' laziness and ineptitude:

  4. Good link mch


    the author is David Sirota.