WHO ARE THESE GUYS: They’re bored and depressed!


Part 3—Who is Mark Leibovich: Why do our journalists get so annoyed when major pols talk about substance?

In a rational world, this reaction would make little sense. And yet, our journalists have been reacting this way at least since Bill Clinton took office. Last week, they keened and wailed and tore their hair when Clinton spoke for (gasp!) 48 minutes at the Democratic Convention.

His substance was great, Ruth Marcus said. But why did he make us listen to so much of it?

Why do our journalists react in this very strange way? We can’t exactly tell you. But if we had to take a guess, we would cite a recent piece by Mark Leibovich in the New York Times Sunday magazine.

Leibovich has been writing about politics for more than a decade. Back then, he wrote for the Washington Post. Today, he writes for the Times magazine.

Three Sundays ago, he shared his angst. We join his 4800-word complete waste of time in progress:
LEIBOVICH (6/2/12): This spring, for the first time since I started writing about politics a decade ago, I found myself completely depressed by a campaign. ''How am I ever going to get through it?'' is not the question you want to be asking yourself as you enter what are supposed to be the pinnacle few months of your profession.

But that's what I was doing to an alarming degree. Maybe it had to do with how bad off the country felt and how outmatched our politicians were by the severity of our problems and how obvious it was that the proverbial ''tone'' of Washington wouldn't change no matter who won. Or maybe it was because my daughters were getting older and starting to tune in more. When I drop them off at school, I sometimes watch them stare wondrously at the vice president's motorcade as it sirens past en route to the White House. It is a moment of fascination and reverence and one of the cool things about raising a family in what is otherwise the most disappointing city in America. I had also just been through a rough winter in which my 11-year-old suffered a head injury that brought some terrifying and unexplained side effects that incapacitated her for months. There's something about wondering whether your kid will ever be able to go back to school and live a normal life that makes a steady ingestion of super-PAC poison, talking-point Novocain and fund-raising spam a little harder to take.
Who knows? Maybe Leibovich should take some time off to tend to his daughter—or to himself. Having said that, we would also say this:

It’s hardly shocking if Leibovich is depressed by the state of the current campaign. Judging from the work he presents, he brings an empty, upper-class mind to the task of discussing our politics. He shows no sign of having any real interest in the real outcomes of our debates.

He doesn’t seem to care about much (except perhaps his daughter’s health). He has a very high platform from which he could speak.

But he seems to have nothing to say.

Lack of purpose will often result in the depression Leibovich claims—though it’s hard to take the claims he makes in this long, worthless piece seriously.

His piece was entitled, “Feel the Loathing on the Campaign Trail.” As such, it’s supposed to be some sort of homage to Hunter Thompson, who wrote the famous “Fear and Loathing...” way back in 72.

But do you believe the things this scribe says? As Leibovich starts his endless piece, he asks us to believe this:
LEIBOVICH: Sometime early last May, I began to have this goofy notion, which turned into a daydream and eventually became a recurring fantasy. It went like this: One morning, I would wake up to the news that the previous evening, with no advance warning to the media, Mitt and Ann Romney stopped by the White House at the invitation of Barack and Michelle Obama. No one was certain what happened while they were there or what they talked about or how it came together, though eventually some details would trickle out. The couples told funny stories from the campaign trail and shared pictures of their families. Mitt drank lemonade, and Michelle led a moonlit tour of her garden. Everyone ate hot dogs loaded with toppings, which inspired a cable christening of the ''Sauerkraut Summit.''
Do you believe a word of that? Do you believe that, sometime last May, Leibovich began to have a goofy notion which became a recurring fantasy? Do you believe that Leibovich had or has a recurring fantasy in which the Romneys go to the White House to enjoy a Sauerkraut Summit?

Sorry, but no—we don’t believe that. Nor do we believe that this represents straight talk:
LEIBOVICH (continuing directly): I knew this would never happen. It was dumb, naïve, unsophisticated and frankly out of character for me, someone with little patience for the Kabuki pleasantries of politics. It wasn't immediately clear what drove the fantasy—a desire for less free-floating hostility in the campaign, I suppose, but that seemed too easy. Whatever the case, I was yearning for something that felt big, or at least different, even if it was just a social visit. Something that messed with what the political know-it-alls refer to as the Narrative.
We don’t believe that either. That passage takes us right to the passage we quoted at the start of this post—the passage in which Leibovich claims that he feels completely depressed by the current campaign.

In fairness, there’s a lot to be depressed about in the current campaign—in the current state of our politics and our political journalism. A bit later on in his unlikely piece, Leibovich seems to show that he understands this fact.

Quite correctly, he refers to our current politics as “a giant inanity machine.” But look where this gloomy thought takes him:
LEIBOVICH: I am as cynical as any political reporter. And perhaps my recent craving for uplift was a sublimation of my own anger at being a small cog in a giant inanity machine. But I write and read and talk about politics because beneath that cynicism I understand that the stakes are high. On top of which, oddly, the job also keeps me patriotic, a byproduct of seeing—as I did at a Romney event in Ohio in July—things like a Korean War veteran in a wheelchair removing his insignia cap and struggling to his feet to salute the flag during the national anthem. (Immediately after which, I looked down at my BlackBerry to learn that the Democratic National Committee had just released a new ad ridiculing Ann Romney's dressage horse.)

But what's been completely missing this year has been, for lack of a better word, joy. Yes, it's always kind of fun to follow Joe Biden around and wait to hear what will come out of his mouth next, and who knows what Paul Ryan has hidden under his oversize jacket. But the principals don't seem to be experiencing much joy as they go through their market-tested paces. A kind of faux-ness permeates everything this year in a way that it hasn't been quite so consuming in the past. The effect has been anesthetizing and made it difficult to take any of the day's supposed gaffes, game-changers and false umbrages seriously. The campaigns appeared locked in a paradigm of terrified superpowers' spending blindly on redundant warfare. How many times do they have to blow up Vladivostok?
Leibovich says he knows that the stakes are high. But just like that, he’s back in the faux, complaining that the campaign lacks joy.

This campaign lacks many things; joy is the least of its shortfalls. Because our politics really is an inanity machine, the current campaign lacks clarity. It lacks serious, well-defined issues.

As a journalist with a major platform, Leibovich could, in theory, do something about those shortfalls. But no sooner has he noted the inanity of our discourse than he is living off it again, making references to Joe Biden’s gaffes and Paul Ryan’s oversized coat.

Those themes are the basic stuff of that inanity machine! Leibovich complains that the DNC wastes our time on Ann Romney’s horse. He then quickly wastes our time on two other standard distractions.

Go ahead! Read this long, painfully pointless piece, in which a major political journalist pretends to be wander the countryside, looking for joy in the current campaign. The piece is as fake as a twelve-dollar bill. And it’s written by someone who, in theory, could have been using his oodles of space to write about something worthwhile.

But Leibovich has never been about worthwhile reporting—about things that actually matter. Long ago and far away, he started a long, snarky piece for the Washington Post like this:
LEIBOVICH (6/2/02): Teresa Heinz is getting up a full head of rage while her husband, Sen. John Kerry, fidgets.

They are in the living room of their Georgetown home, where Heinz has lived ever since her late first husband, John Heinz, came to Washington in 1971 as a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. In the front entrance, the first things a visitor sees are two framed photos of Teresa Heinz cuddled with tall, smiling men with big heads of brown hair: In one is John Kerry, in the other John Heinz.

She still calls John Heinz "my husband" and doesn't always correct herself—"my late husband”—even when Kerry is around. She still wears the blue sapphire engagement ring that Heinz gave her.

But John Heinz's enduring presence in Teresa's life is best revealed when someone slights his memory. Which, at least indirectly, is why she and Kerry are now in mid-bicker.
Hiss! Hiss-spit! Hiss-spit! Mee-ow! This profile ate 4800 words. In Washington’s fatuous inner circle, it created a whole lot of buzz.

Here’s the reason:

By June 2002, it was time to start the stupid shit about Kerry and his hopelessly bitchy wife, who was also much too rich. The mainstream “press corps” had devoted ten years to poking its long nose all around in the underwear drawer of the Clintons’ marriage.

Kerry was going to run in 04! Darlings! Let’s chat about him!

That was the garbage this scribe was presenting as his nation was moving toward war with Iraq. Today, he pictures himself dropping his daughter off at her school as emblems of power screech by on the street. Frankly, we wondered what neighborhood Leibovich lives is; how much money he is paid by the Times; and what school his daughter attends.

We wondered about his class status.

Why have our journalists spent twenty years complaining when pols give those boring speeches? We can’t answer that question, but we’ll offer a guess:

They possess boring upper-class heads. They simply don’t care about too many things. They have theirs, and they'd like to have yours.

They don't care about folks who aren't like them.

Throughout history, upper-class courtiers have always been boring and bored—and depressed. Today, this famous old syndrome is seen all through our upper-end “press corps.”

Tomorrow: Back to school with Gail Collins


  1. Here's hoping you cover the NYT, MSNBC LIES surrounding Romney's statement. Romney clearly referred to Obama's apology as the "first reaction" the outbreak of protests, not to the death(s), only one of which had been reported at the time of the statement Tues. night. It required a willful misreading of the content of the statement, an agenda driven lie, to report Romney said Obama's first response to the death(s) was apology.

    1. You're babbling a bit.

      Are you saying the press (especially NYT and MSNBC, but maybe NOT other press organs?) have lied about Romney because they claimed:

      A) Romney said that the first thing Obama did in response to this/these death(s) was to apologize,

      when, really, according to you:

      B) Romney said that the first thing Obama did in response to the outbreak of protests was to apologize

      -- is that it?

      Make some citations, please.

  2. Below is the timeline showing the attacks on the Embassy/Consulate took place at 1:49, 5:39, followed by the state dept. issuing a statement at 6:30 that its (9/11) apology (for an American who made a film) stands, followed by a 7:15 report of one death. Romney's later statement was an expression of outrage over the attacks and death, followed by "It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

  3. Timeline

  4. TPM also denies the first response to the attacks is to apologize, when the state department affirmed its apology after both locations were under siege. Its second response was to scrub all references to the apologies.

  5. Now deleted tweet from 6:30 pm reaffirming Obama administration decision to earlier that day (that day being 9/11) appease muslim extremists with a condemnation of an American exercising his right of free expression. "This morning's condemnation still stands"


  6. TPM also takes issue with the fact that Romney decided to issue his statement on 9/11 while the attacks were ongoing, but took no issue with the fact that the original apology was issued on 9/11, and the reaffirmation of the apology was issued while the attacks were ongoing, possibly in the midst of the murders as the first reports only 45 minutes apart.

    According to TPM the story isn't that the Obama administration was apologizing as Americans were being murdered, but that Romney noted it.

  7. So you *don't* have, say, the New York Times doing what you claimed they did?

  8. All you have is tendentious crap like "to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."

  9. And more tendentious crap like "Obama administration decision" and "the Obama administration was apologizing."

    1. Is it you are indignant about this so-called apology? And about criticism over Romney's dealing with this? This is idiotic on so many levels.

      AC in/MA

  10. You should probably take a clue from the semi-sane branch of the right-wing foreign policy establishment, which is running from Romney like he's radioactive.

  11. Your "apology" apologized for nothing.

    Your "Obama administration" was, rather than the President or his office, some embassy official(s) very concerned to defuse a dangerous situation.

    You look like an idiot, much as the heroic Romney.

    This in contrast, seems much saner:

    "an embassy that is being threatened by major protests releases a press release saying that the film that had disturbed so many Muslims around the world wasn’t representative of what Americans believe about Islam, in an effort to cool the situation down. ... my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they're in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office."

  12. The NYT accused Romney of a distortion since "the violence occurred hours after the embassy statement." False, the NOW DELETED embassy reiteration occurred during the violence, perhaps during the murders. In the editorial, they again ignore the NOW DELETED apology. Nut on dog Gail Collins went after Romney for launching an attack on extremists and their apologists (Obama) instead of wondering why the Obama administration was apologizing to extremists for Americans. On 9/11.



    1. There aren't going to be any sane people "wondering why the Obama administration was apologizing to extremists."

      Why not?

      Because there never was any "apology."

    2. Apology

      A regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure (such as the offense of an American exercising his right to produce a critical spoof of a religion)

      A formal justification or defense (such as justifying extremist murderers reacting to an American exercising his freedom)

      a verbal or written expression of regret or contrition for a fault or failing

    3. And there was *no* expression of regret for anything America did. Just a condemnation of the actions of a couple of asshole provocateurs.

      No "we're sorry." Because "we" didn't do a bad thing.

      And there was no justification or defense of extremist murderers. They got condemned too.

      And there was certainly no contrition.

      Put it this way:

      I hope you never need to apologize for anything you've done -- because you obviously have no idea what an apology for doing something would look like.

  13. cowardly Obama statement passing the buck hours after they were forced (by Romney) to distance themselves from their own statements and soften the shameful apology they offered extremists. Twice. On 9/11.

  14. To be fair they had to figure out how they were going to try to avoid responsibility for their apology, while trying to learn the status of Egypt after Obama declared they were not an ally. No doubt a staffer misinformed him.

  15. Quote the "apology," douchebag.

  16. They're all over the place

    "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."

    "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others."

    In March 2012: President Barack Obama’s chief political adviser, David Axelrod, is still booked to appear on Maher’s cable show in the next few weeks.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney waved away growing criticism today, saying “we cannot be the arbitrator of every statement that anybody makes in the policy and political arenas.”

    1. Isn't Maher a famous denigrator of religious beliefs of others?

    2. Yeah, but only Christians, so it's cool.

    3. As long as Obama only apologizes to murderous extremists, it's all good

    4. I'm assuming there is one anonymous who is in a self righteous lather abut the so-called apology. This was a statement by embassy people (and on top of that, omigod, a tweet!) whie the embassy was being threatenened and was a reasonable thing to come out with. It's bizarre to say this is the equivalent of Obama and his administration saying it. Romney and the far right warmongers are vile.


  17. Thanks for the partial quote, finally.

    Yeah, that wasn't an apology at all.

    That was a condemnation.

    Hint: when I say that you are saying something awful, I'm not "apologizing" for your speech. I'm using my speech to condemn your stupidity.

    1. If you're an American administration speaking for the US and condemning (to violent extremists) an American citizen who is doing something completely legal, you are apologizing. You are also making apologies on behalf of the violent murderous extremists by pointing to an American's perfectly legal exercise of his rights as a "cause" of the violence.

    2. However you want to spin this, apology or whatever, what you miss is that the Embassy in Cairo did NOT "sympathize" with the murderers in Libya, and extend that into saying the president "sympathized" with murderers.

    3. We disagree on whether calling out the filmmaker and film, knowing the film is the latest pretext to slaughter Americans, amounts to "sympathy" for their position that the film justifies violence.

    4. It wasn't an apology but it stunk of appeasement. "those guys you're angry at? We hate them too! Don't hurt us!" The State Department has specifically disavowed those words and had refused to approve them.

    5. "it stunk of appeasement"

      I'm sure the family members of those in the embassies would agree with you ABL -- Wait, no they wouldn't. They'd think "Shut up, you little know-nothing sh!t!"

      "My tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they're in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of" your mom's basement.

  18. The fact that people are still arguing about the apology or not apology or the timeline of these tweets IS EXACTLY THE KIND OF STUPID STUFF THAT RUINS THE DISCOURSE. Between that and being led around by "Sam Becile", there seems to be very little time to find out - I don't know - what actually went on!

    It used to be that we could count on this stuff in the election year. NOW we have to deal with it every year, since the horse race starts four years earlier than it should.

    The question to the Romney backers I guess is what would you have an embassy do to calm down angry protesters in other countries, fueled by a rumor (a report actually, since the video was broadcast or mentioned on an Egyptian cable TV program; although it was also mentioned in a sermon by the Grand Mufti of Cairo, it would appear that the protest was called for by a religious TV show host) that an inflammatory film has been produced by your government.

    My guess is that you'd you'd send out a message to let people know that your government actually didn't make that film and that it doesn't engage in making such films. (WHICH IS TRUE! THE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T ACTUALLY MAKE FILMS LIKE THAT).

    But whatever. Who's this Ben Becile? Oh and isn't the film of poor quality...blah blah blah. Who tweeted what when and who politicized it first. blah blah.

  19. Interesting that Bob's readers have begun the discourse on a major topic before Bob does.

    I guess Bob has to wait until he can find something that MSNBC or NY Times says about this that isn't exactly the way he wanted it said before he'll comment.

    1. Who gives a s***? Why don't you start your own blog? The whole conversation has been off topic from the start. What makes you think Bob even wants to address an issue that has nothing to do with his post? Wow, you're SO ahead of (some imaginary) curve...

    2. "I guess Bob has to wait until he can find something that MSNBC or NY Times says about this that isn't exactly the way he wanted it said before he'll comment."

      I've heard the same point from you many, many times before, Anon. It's getting really old. And it shows you don't really get the concept of media criticism.

    3. I kinda wish Somerby would go back to "media criticism" which I define as more than criticizing the evening shows on MSNBC or the op-ed page of the NYT.

      Surely he's got some defense of Romney in the way the "media" has been ganging up on him for saying the president "sympathizes" with those who murder members of our diplomatic corps.

  20. Whoa!,

    Does anyone else feel a little Deja Vu, like Trayvon Martin all over again?

    At least we are getting some links this time.

  21. My guess is that you'd you'd send out a message to let people know that your government actually didn't make that film and that it doesn't engage in making such films. (WHICH IS TRUE! THE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T ACTUALLY MAKE FILMS LIKE THAT).

    The problem with that is that there will ALWAYS be this kind of offensive media produced by Americans. It is our right.

    A crazed extremist doesn't CARE to investigate whether it's the government making the film or not. Egyptian president called for the US to prosecute the filmmaker. They don't CARE if it's a private citizen.

    By apologizing or acknowledging that the film is the (LATEST) excuse for a crazed mob to attack Americans, the US suggests they "have a point." They don't.

    Just as we don't negotiate with terrorists no matter how critical the situation, it's never a sound policy to blame Americans exercising their freedoms for the murderous actions of religious extremists.

    Even less so in the midst of attacks, when the second statement came down.

    Even less than that, on SEPTEMBER 11. That the statement was released on that day was stunningly inappropriate if not provocative.

    1. Let me guess, compassionate liberal?

    2. "It's never a sound policy to blame Americans exercising their freedoms for the murderous actions of religious extremists."

      What about the murderous actions of American or Israeli religious extremists? That okay too?

  22. Shorter Leibovich: "One morning I woke up with my hand down my pajama pants . . . "

  23. "it's never a sound policy to blame Americans exercising their freedoms for the murderous actions of religious extremists."

    You're so very wrong.

    It's ALWAYS a good policy to denounce hatred based on religion, which is what this "film" was.

    Denouncing hatred against Muslims is no more an "apology" than denouncing anti-Semitism is. The fact that the hatred is by a private citizen doesn't make it special and free from criticism.

    You and Romney are made for each other: get a room and crawl back into his ass.

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