Drum versus dumb: The way the upper-end press corps reasons!


David Gregory knows how to count: Three cheers for Slate’s Dave Weigel, who has done a highly unusual thing.

But first:

Even as Kevin Drum’s detailed report was breaking every rule in the book, Maureen Dowd was helping us see the actual way the upper-end “press corps” reasons. (For yesterday’s award-winning post about Drum, go ahead—just click this.)

Dowd was discussing a serious topic—the need for full inclusion of women at all levels of government. But as she started, she gave us a taste of what was to come:
DOWD (1/13/13): President Obama ran promoting women’s issues.

But how about promoting some women?

With the old white boys’ club rearing its hoary head in the White House of the first black president, the historian Michael Beschloss recalled the days when the distaff was deemed biologically unsuited for the manly discourse of politics. He tweeted: “1/12/1915, U.S. House refused women voting rights. One Congressman: ‘Their ankles are beautiful...but they are not interested in the state.’ ”
According to Dowd, “the old white boys’ club” has been “rearing its hoary head in the White House.”

Needless to say, that’s a serious charge—or at least it sounds like one. But before we could see the facts behind the charge, Beschloss was there to help us recall what someone said in 1915.

That’s part of the way the “press corps” “reasons.” Before long, Dowd was showing us more:
DOWD: It’s passing strange that Obama, carried to a second term by women, blacks and Latinos, chooses to give away the plummiest Cabinet and White House jobs to white dudes.

If there’s one thing white men have never had a problem with in this clubby, white marble enclave of Washington, it’s getting pulled up the ladder by other men. (New York magazine claims that of late, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has a better record of appointing top women than Obama does.)

Last week, The New York Times ran a startling photo, released by the White House, of the president in the Oval Office surrounded by 10 male advisers (nine white and one black). Valerie Jarrett was there, but was obscured by a white guy (though a bit of leg and “beautiful ankle” did show).
How did Dowd know that “the old white boys’ club” was “rearing its hoary head in the White House?” In this passage, she cited three pieces of evidence. This included a typically silly claim from New York magazine and the evidence of one “startling” photo—one photo, out of the three hundred million photos the White House routinely releases.

One photo had been displeasing! But that one photo, out of three hundred million, had driven a front-page report in the New York Times about Obama’s troubling Cabinet choices, in which the plummiest jobs were going to white dudes. Dowd seemed to have three such posts in mind, although she never quite got around to defining her terrain:

Secretary of State: John Kerry
Secretary of Defense: Chuck Hagel
Secretary of the Treasury: Jack Lew

In fact, all three nominees are white men. These appointments had Dowd reeling—and recalling untoward remarks from President Wilson’s first term.

Is Obama a captive of the old white boys’ club? In fact, his first term cabinet-level "posse" was a bit of a rainbow. Sticking to some of the plummiest, most masculine posts, the New York Times could also run a photo which looks something like this:
One other possible photo, out of the three hundred million:
Secretary of State: Hillary Clinton, white woman
Secretary of Defense: Robert Gates, white man
Attorney General: Eric Holder, black man
Secretary of the Treasury: Timothy Geithner, white man
UN representative: Susan Rice, black woman
Secretary of Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano, white woman
In this photo, the white men have only two of six posts! Why does Obama hate white men?

There are at least eight million photos in the Naked City. Many such photos, even those taken today, would show a large number of people at cabinet level who are not old white men.

But the Times had found a photo which offended the eye. In response, our greatest newspaper set Annie Lowrey to work on a troubling front-page report.

High-ranking people like Dowd took the excitement from there. And sure enough! By the time David Gregory described the photo on Meet the Press, even more white men were in it!
GREGORY (1/13/13): Corey Booker, part of this fight, part of this nomination process has been—done almost nothing but attract criticism. There is an issue of diversity in the Cabinet, as well, and the tale of the images that have been presented, the New York Times image that was about a story about the lack of diversity among the president’s senior team. We’ll put that picture up that showed during the debt fight, all white men surrounding him, Valerie Jarrett apparently not visible there because Dan Pfeiffer is standing in front of her.
You can see that David Gregory really cares about this. In Gregory’s “tale of the images that have been presented,” that one black man was no longer present! It was all white men surrounding Obama, not nine out of ten as Dowd had described.

Valerie Jarrett? Being “apparently not visible,” she wasn’t surrounding Obama!

We don’t know what got into Drum when he wrote that serious, detailed report about that serious topic. But this is the actual way your actual press corps “reasons.” In the current case, the actual question resolves to this: Should a president be expected to present full diversity even in a handful of new appointments? Few serious people could seriously think that such a requirement makes much sense, especially in the most crucial of all governmental appointments. Surely there, a president will want to pick the person he or she regards as most qualified.

But your modern “press corps” doesn’t reason that way. In this case, they engaged in some truly ridiculous reasoning. They selected a photo which all the data show to be unrepresentative. Then they began to screech and wail.

Gregory performed the inevitable last step, sewing the fourth button on.

This brings us back to Weigel, who did a very unusual thing. Good God! He actually criticized Dowd by name, even putting her name in a headline at Slate! And Weigel noted one last part of this general nonsense: Dowd was one of the people who trashed Susan Rice, the person Obama was apparently planning to appoint to that plummy State post.

Now, Dowd is wailing that Barry Obama just won’t appoint any women! He refuses to cultivate their careers, refuses to bring them along.

In our view, Weigel pulled one punch. He failed to note the incompetent, post-journalistic way people like Dowd set about trashing Rice, making her an untouchable. But he did what journalists never do—he criticized this powerful icon, this laziest and most influential of all the “press corps” hacks.

They found a photo they didn’t like—a photo which isn’t representative. From there, the story wrote itself.

Gregory wiped the black guy out of the photo, explained why the black woman doesn’t count.


  1. "the historian Michael Beschloss recalled the days when the distaff was deemed biologically unsuited for the manly discourse of politics. He tweeted: '1/12/1915, U.S. House refused women voting rights. One Congressman: ‘Their ankles are beautiful...but they are not interested in the state.’' "

    Is Beschloss correct? Did some congressman really say this in 1915? It strikes me as a very strange statement, even for 100 years ago. As an ardent heterosexual man I've never given much thought to the aesthetics of women's ankles -- but maybe that's just me!

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