What would a Martian say about the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza!

MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2012

Would they call him the rational animal: Due to the prominence of the Trayvon Martin case, we’re going to suspend our examination of the ancient claim that we humans are the rational animal.

That said, what would an apocryphal visitor from Mars say about Chris Cillizza?

Last Friday, we offered a post about this truly ridiculous column—a column which represents the Standard Thinking of our Establishment Press Corps. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/23/12.

In his column, Cillizza discussed some of the silly stories the press corps has used, down through the years, to define major White House contenders. The crackpot “logic” of this guild was there for all to see.

Why does the guild adopt these ridiculous tales about our presidential contenders? They’ve been playing the game this way for the past forty years.

Why do they behave this way? And what would a Martian think?

On Sunday, David Corn explained why they do it. He appeared on Reliable Sources, where he was asked to discuss last week’s frenzy about Etch a Sketch.

“Was the media frenzy over this Etch a Sketch business a little over-done?” Howard Kurtz asked. Eventually, Corn gave the standard response about the guild’s ongoing culture:
KURTZ (3/25/12): The Etch a Sketch—the stock in the Etch a Sketch company tripled [last week]. I still can't believe that! And the problem here is that this gaffe, mistake, bad choice of toy, played into the media narrative of Romney's candidacy.

CORN: Yes. Well, at least he didn't call him Mr. Potato Head. Maybe that's next.

I mean, much of journalism is really about shorthand. Reporters spend all day covering long speeches and following this, we go to congressional hearings, we go to press conferences, and it's all about distilling that down in a way that consumers can sort of observe what journalists and others think are the top priorities.
Why did they tell us that Muskie wept? Why did they tell us that Bush the Elder looked at his watch? Why did they pimp all that crap about Gore?

Corn put it the nicest possible way. But this is what he was actually saying:

It’s all about distilling things down so that voters can be told what we journalists think of the candidates.

In Cillizza’s column, we can see how absurd these famous stories have sometimes been. But these tales have defined presidential politics since the day Muskie wept—although we were finally told, some fifteen years later, that he may not have wept at all!

Candidate Muskie may not have wept! But as David Broder explained, that famous claim distilled things down into a very important shorthand. The claim “distilled” a judgment concerning Muskie—a judgment which had been reached, in private, by the insider press.

Twenty-five years later, did Al Gore say he inspired Love Story? Well actually, no—he didn't. The same explanation is obvious, starting with the Frank Rich column which introduced this destructive shorthand.

What would visitors from Mars say about Chris Cillizza’s column? Would “rational animal” come to mind? Or would they throw back their heads and laugh at us, as Homer’s gods always did?

The Cillizzas have been pimping this bullshit for decades. Every major American “elite” has agreed not to notice or tell.


  1. Part of the reporters' "shorthand" seems to be the Dowd approach of mis-representing a statement to make it sound ridiculous. Commenter stuart_zechmanMar in the prior thread showed that Paul Krugman had exaggerated the terms of Stand Your Ground laws to make them sound ridiculous, rather than simply controversial.

    Another example comes from the Melinda Henneberger article that Bob quoted the other day. Henneberger mocked Romney for, in her words, claiming that he insists that, "President Obama travels the planet apologizing." In fact, Romneys' actual accusation was that when Mr. Obama traveled to foreign countries early in his term, he apologized for the US. Henneberger supported her point with a link to a New York Times op-ed, but the that op-ed merely aruged that it's OK for a President to apologize. The op-ed conceded that on this tour Obama had expressed regret and remorse for various actions this country had taken, such as overthrowing Mossadegh and dragging its feet on climate change. Expressing regret and remorse for bad actions is the dictionary definnition of apologizing.

    1. DinC,

      It is amazing how often you take Bob's lessons and apply them only when they help the Republican side. You cannot see the forest for the trees.

  2. It’s all about distilling things down so that voters can be told what we journalists think of the candidates.


    All-caps intended.