THE IRON LAWS OF DISCUSSING ELITES: Remember the first rule of Fight Club!


Interlude—Who is Chris Hayes: Christopher Hayes seems completely sincere. But then again, so did Tim Russert.

Hayes is young—just 33. He brings a puppy-dog air to the cable set and to his somewhat peculiar new book. In his enthusiam, he sometimes seems to be shaking his head with a favorite chew toy, sometimes with sloppy results.

Hayes seems completely sincere. In the acknowledgments of his new book, he captures the air MSNBC is promoting as it sells its young new cable elite to the liberal world:
HAYES (page 241): Throughout the development of the book, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with friends and colleagues about its main themes. And these conversations inform every page of the work. Our crew in DC comprised an intellectually vibrant and loving community during our time there...
By "crew," he seems to mean friends, not co-workers. Hayes names nine names from this loving community, before moving on to thank Ezra Klein, who apparently played no part in the lovin’. Soon, though, he’s back on the peace and love trail, thanking “the Hunter crew [his high school friends], who I’ve known since adolescence and look forward to growing old with.”

Hayes has been “blessed with talented and industrious research assistants”—seven are named—and with a “kind and fastidious” fact-checker. His agent is “fiercely loyal.” He goes on about his parents and his aunts and uncles, and even about his in-laws, who “have been endlessly supportive, providing me with everything from child care to wise career advice.”

“Every day,” Hayes’ brother Luke “faces the grueling, indispensable work of citizenship with grace, humor, cheer and passion.” There’s nothing additional to explain this rather odd declaration.

Regarding Hayes’ wife, let’s just say that her “depthless compassion, kindness, strength and openness have taught [Hayes] how to be a better person.” Before we learn that, Hayes lets us know how great she really is.

Is that the theme song to “Friends” we’re hearing? In theory, it’s rejuvenating when a new generation is merged into a sclerotic elite—and make no mistake, Hayes is now part of the failing elite known as the upper-end “press corps.”

We're not sure Hayes knows that. At the heart of his book, he sometimes seems to be wringing his hands about the fact that he attended a meritocratic Manhattan high school—a high school specifically designed to train a rising elite.

That said, Hayes seems to have endured the trauma of attending Hunter College High School, then Brown. In his acknowledgements, he thanks Lawrence Lessig for being “gracious enough to invite me into the fold of the Edmund J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard, where I spent a year as a nonresident fellow.” As it turns out, “the imaginative and generous scholars to whom” Hayes was exposed during that sojourn “had a huge influence on the direction the book took.”

Given the bags of air which blow through this book, that may not speak well of the Center.

There’s nothing wrong with being a nonresident fellow at the Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, of course. There’s nothing wrong with that unless there is—and one thing can certainly lead to another! In his book, we see Hayes at Davos in 2011, where “your first instinct is to feel a bit of satisfaction that you are one of the elect few chosen to hobnob with the most powerful people on earth.” Only later does it strike you, Hayes says, that you haven’t yet reached the top:

“This constant envy is the dominant experience of the Davos conference, an obsessive looking over the shoulder instilled by the participants’ knowledge that the reality of fractal inequality means there are infinite receding layers of networking happening that one doesn’t even know about.”

Fractal inequality!

There’s nothing wrong with going to Davos, unless in some way there is. In Hayes’ acknowledgements, he says this about the corporate player who gave him his greatest job yet:

“At MSNBC, Phil Griffin has enough faith in me to entrust me with four hours a week on his network, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

At 33, serving as host of his own cable show is the best job Hayes ever had! Last weekend, Hayes returned the favor to Griffin, offering an absurd remark to TPM about the lunacy of the idea that MSNBC could be drifting in the direction of Fox in some minor way or other.

Did Hayes believe the odd thing he said? We don’t know, but TPM did. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/12.)

Who is Chris Hayes? We have no idea! But make no mistake: MSNBC is big business, and Hayes is part of the press corps elite, an elite which largely gets disappeared in his sincere new book. Hayes spends page after page telling us about the effects of outsized compensation on major league baseball players. He barely mentions the effects of such pay on his colleagues and friends within the press corps, the people he surely knows best.

Unfortunately, the mainstream press is a very important elite. It has failed us very badly in the past few decades. But we think you know the first rule of Fight Club. It may be that Hayes knows it too.

Christopher Hayes seems completely sincere—but then again, so did Russert. (In most ways, we'll assume that Russert was sincere.) In the time of Russert and Brian Williams, NBC News built its endless promotions around the idea that its major stars were just humble men of the people:

Russert was just a Buffalo kid. Williams was once a volunteer firefighter, plus he always loved Nascar.

A very different promotional play is under way on behalf of NBC’s new young elite. As NBC sells its idealistic cubs, it is stressing several themes—it’s stressing the theme of youth and sincerity, and it’s stressing the theme of brainpower. As it markets Maddow, Harris-Perry and Hayes, MSNBC flatters its audience by telling the oldest liberal tale: Our team is smarter than theirs is.

Hayes’ book fits into that sell, though it’s nowhere near as smart as it seems, and it may be somewhat slippery to boot. On the other hand, it does mention fractal inequality.

Before we started reading the book, we made a helpful suggestion: Hayes should tell us his salary, we suggested. he should tell us the salaries of those above him on the MSNBC chart. In large part, Hayes’ book concerns the destructive role played by great wealth within our elites; it would be nice to know how much he is being paid as he says the kinds of things he said to TPM last week. Meanwhile, as Hayes discusses our broken elites in his book, a funny thing occur:

The role of vast pay within his elite completely disappears. In fact, the failures of that major elite are hard to find in his book.

Baseball players are thoroughly frisked. Big major journalists aren’t!

In his column about Hayes’ book, David Brooks avoided the role played by wealth and greed within our horrible, failing elites. Is it our imagination, or does Hayes—completely sincere as he is—do some things very much like that?

Tomorrow—part 3: “Social distance”

Friday: Nothing to look at! Move on!


  1. "Regarding Hayes’ wife, let’s just say that her “depthless compassion, kindness, strength and openness have taught [Hayes] how to be a better person.” Before we learn that, Hayes lets us know how great she really is."

    Well, that's very precious, really.

    I'm thinking perhaps they don't pay Hayes enough...

    1. By all means, let's get really snarky about a young man expressing love for his wife. Boy, doesn't that show what a pseudo-intellectual snob he really is!

    2. Actually, it's more indicative of how the ever-so-earnest (and sincere...and genuinely nice guy...) may have hoisted his incredibly high-salaried self on his own petard.

      As long as he's saying the right things...Hayes may not have to account for that fact in some circles...however, we know he will with Bob...

    3. Cecelia, could you repeat that in English?

      I have no idea what you are trying to say.

    4. Sure!

      Eager and earnest naife riffs on high dollar industries other than his own...

      Remains unquestioned as long as he keeps it to usual suspects.

      (No word over three syllables-- yer welcome...)

    5. Well, Cecelia, here's my take.

      After 14 years of one-man blogging, Somerby is still one-man blogging while guys like Josh Marshall have lapped him 100 times over. And that just drives Bob nuts.

      And you of course are so happy to have someone else do your thinking for you that you full well agree when Bob's self-loathing reduces himself to ridiculing a lovely comment that one of his hated pundits says about his wife.

      After all, Bob is never, ever wrong, is he? Such a thought might cause you to evaluate and think for yourself.

      But then again, it is all those other, stupid cattle eating the sweet hay thrown by their masters. Certainly not the Bob Somerby Fan Club.

    6. Always first to impugn others' intelligence, our ever-ready Bob-hater. Thanks dude!

      Keep keeping it real, douchebag!

      (PS don't forget to remember that claiming you've been called stupid is a major part of your schtick -- Here I'll help you: you're a moron.)

  2. "Is it our imagination, or does Hayes—completely sincere as he is—do some things very much like that?"

    No Bob, it's not your imagination.

    But still... We must insist you stop saying these mean things about Chris Hayes.

    We love him!!!!!

    1. "Mean things"?

      The only thing Somerby is saying... asking.. is why doesn't Hayes ask the same questions about his own industry.

      THAT is too MEAN for you?

    2. The comment to which you're replying seems to be of the "preempt the trollery" sort, and not a sincere argument for loyal --tribal, perhaps-- support of Chris Hayes, CeceliaMc.

    3. THUS the very reckoning question":

      "Is THAT too mean for you..."

  3. So the innocent, fresh-faced kid goes to Davos (presumably on the Safra Foundation Center's dime) and feels conflicted. On the one hand he's in awe of the sheer wonderfulness and power of the other attendees, and on the other, he's a tad envious because he cannot even comprehend the depth and breadth of the deals they're making. Does he think about the thousands of lesser mortals who might be - in the future - very negatively affected by these totally awesome people and their money-centered deals?
    I don't know.
    So let me get this straight. This guy's the liberal?

  4. By the way, if Somerby thinks a book should be written exposing the journalistic elites, why doesn't he write one himself? After all, that's a subject he knows a great deal about, isn't it?

    Oh, I forgot. He's still working on his book about the 2000 election. The one that the world has been eagerly awaiting.

  5. Here's my favorite Chris Hayes head scratcher which was elicited by a journalist from another class:

    AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about climate change and how this fits into this picture. The 2012 drought disaster is now the largest in half a century, among the 10 largest of the past century, according to a report released Monday by the National Climatic Data Center. That’s just one bit of information. The forest fires in Colorado, the drenching rain in Florida—

    CHRIS HAYES: The record highs.

    AMY GOODMAN: —the incredible heat wave this country is experiencing—how does that fit in with the elites?

    CHRIS HAYES: So, it fits in in this way. I mean, my big concern—I think climate change is the biggest problem. It’s the biggest challenge we face. And it’s also a place where our inaction is the most dramatic, in some senses. People barely even give it lip service in the conversation in Washington, D.C., anymore. I mean, it’s just essentially evaporated from the conversation.

    The problem with climate change that’s distinct in some ways is that it requires a certain level of mediation to take seriously. If you live in Youngstown, Ohio, which has a massively high unemployment rate, you don’t need anyone to tell you that unemployment is a problem in Youngstown, Ohio, because you see the empty stores, you see the people out of work, you know them, you are them, they’re in your family.

    If you’re in a neighborhood that has incredibly high crime rates, you don’t need anyone to tell you that high crime is a problem. You, yourself, have been victim. People you know have been victim.

    Climate works in a different way. We are not, as human beings, equipped to just perceive what is essentially an imperceptible gradual rise in global average temperature.

    AMY GOODMAN: But people are experiencing extreme weather.


    AMY GOODMAN: And if the networks would simply, as they flash the words "extreme weather," "severe weather" —

    CHRIS HAYES: Right, sure.

    AMY GOODMAN: —also flash the words "climate change," we would know pretty darn fast, like the rest of the world.

    CHRIS HAYES: That’s right. But that’s—again, that’s a mediation question, right? We need people to be putting the dots together, right, to say this is part of it. Now, I think that when you have this distrust—when you have distrust of science, for instance—when you have distrust of elites in general, it’s a harder case to make. What I think is happening now for the first time—and Bill McKibben made this point on my show, and I thought it was kind of an interesting one, which is, look, the weather—the wolf is at the door. The weather is freaking out.

    We no longer have to worry about mediation or even persuading people. It’s real. He basically has this perspective, which I’ve become more and more persuaded by, which is that the climate disaster, as it unfolds before us, is going to do the convincing that 10 or 15 years of the press or, you know, scientists have failed to do.

    Or? Say what... hasn't this really been an example of scientists being vindicated... like totally? The press on the other hand, there's no "or" to it.

  6. Look, Anonymous, being Cassandra is a full-time gig. Bob is doing the thankless work of holding his own side accountable. As a scientist, I respect the intellectual rigor of his analysis; as a world-weary wise-ass, I relish the acid commentary that salts the grim news he bears.

    Chris Hayes blabby sincerity and orotund style are minor quibbles; intellectual sloppiness is not. Personally, I think Hayes' gushings do merit some mild scorn- Bob gets it right, I think. But Hayes' failure to examine his media brethren is indefensible- and Bob gets that right, too.

    I, too, am often tempted to turn away from yet another gloomy update on the latest failures by progressives, liberals- decent people everywhere, really- to speak honestly, loudly, and compellingly about these truly parlous times. But for too many of us, Bob's column is a necessary reminder that, for too long, we were incredibly naive and indefensibly smug about the true state of affairs in this country. Apparently, it's a lesson that can't be repeated too often. Even now, as we watch the moral bankruptcy so keenly observed in our adversaries slowly infect and consume "our side"- the latest iteration of the decades-long process Bob has been cataloguing- your reaction is to complain about Bob's manners!?

    Finally, re: your snark about Bob's book on Campaign 2000- In this new world of instant amnesia, it's not enough to gripe about the MSM's moral corruption and intellectual vacuity during the 2000 election and beyond. Someone has to actually marshall the facts and tell the story. Sorry it doesn't fit into your schedule, Anonymous, but the fact that the world is NOT waiting for it is exactly the reason Bob's book is so necessary. Judging by what our childish world "eagerly awaits"- the newest iteration of electronic gadgetry, the latest "game-changing" campaign gaffe, the biggest "scoop" offered by the gelded darlings of the press- Bob's insistent and exhaustive thoroughness is a badge of honor. Or so it seems to me.

    1. That's a very generous take on Bob's "work," but I have a different one.

      It's much easier to sit home alone and blog about others not doing the heavy lifting than to do the heavy lifting yourself.

      Bob's inability, after 12 years, to even finish his book on Campaign 2000, pretty much demonstrates, at least to me, that he is incapable of doing the heavy lifting, so he demands that others do it.

      You know what? Maybe Hayes set out to write a different book than the one Bob thinks he should have written. Heaven forbid! We can't have that now, can we?

      And of course, we can also point to Rachel Maddow's rather important book detailing how the legislative has methodically ceded war-making power to the executive. How dare she not write about the "media elites" role in all this!

      Now if Bob wants to continue to joust against the "media elite" windmills of his mind, well and good.

      But does he even realize how silly he is when he puts the chattering cable TV class into that bushel basket, then proclaim, day after day, that THEY are the real problem?

  7. A man thanks his wife for her support and inspiration. He even gushes a bit. Let's get snarky.

    Very low.

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  9. I found the article a little hard to totally grasp?

    The writing style seems to make too much use of obscure references (e.g. to Hayes sincerity or lack thereof) and obtuse points about Hayes family history.

    What kind of professional writer resorts to such Palin-like word salads as the following:

    "An elite which largely gets disappeared in his sincere new book."

    "There’s nothing wrong with that unless there is—and one thing can certainly lead to another!"

    "There’s nothing wrong with going to Davos, unless in some way there is."

    1. "An elite which largely gets disappeared in his sincere new book."

      Well, that one is the key to the whole criticism. And it's hardly obscure, obtuse, or a world salad.

      The media elite, which Hayes knows better than he knows any other is virtually invisible in his critique of elites.

      Some people here would like to pretend that's a silly criticism of Hayes. It's a fundamental one.

      Why is he essentially giving a pass to an influential elite he knows well?

  10. I Have been reading bob for almost 10 years
    He may be acidic but as we watch our side fail again and again, he is right!
    I am not as articulate as humanmum but I agree with everything he said
    Also anonymous or someone like him has been making ad hominium attacks agains bob for years.
    stop and address the issues bob raises for once.
    Also if your going to attack use your real name