WE THE WALKING DEAD: A very slow walk on the New York Times side!


Part 3—Also on Meet the Press: It happened yesterday morning. We sat there minding our own business, reading the New York Times.

In fairness, the byline belonged to Ashley Parker. That should have served as a warning.

Parker had written a front-page report about John Boehner’s role in the debt limit crisis. She had chosen a colorful theme for her piece:

In the last few weeks, Boehner has been “herding cats” as he tries to deal with his fractious Republican caucus. The framework appeared in the headline of the report, on the front page of the Times.

Eventually, Parker would offer the kibble of human interest which has become her stock in trade. Earlier, though, her fatuous writing brought us right out of our chairs.

The presentation appeared early on, right after the reference to herding cats. In this passage, Parker explains the way Boehner proposed a plan this Tuesday “that had a little bit for everyone” in his Republican caucus:
PARKER (10/16/13): Mr. Boehner initially tried to unite his conference around a plan that had a little bit for everyone. For his hard-line conservative members, Mr. Boehner’s proposal would have eliminated government contributions for the purchase of health insurance on the new exchanges for lawmakers, White House officials and their staffs, as well as forbidden the Treasury Department to use “extraordinary measures” to extend its borrowing capabilities. For his more moderate members, Mr. Boehner offered a simple appeal—his plan would have reopened the government through Dec. 15, and extended the nation’s borrowing authority through Feb. 7.

But conservatives and their advocacy groups balked, and Mr. Boehner was forced to set his plan aside.
We shielded the text from the analysts’ eyes. It was barely 6 AM. We didn’t want them upset.

Leave it to Parker to come up with a passage like that! According to Parker, Boehner had proposed a plan “that had a little bit for” for each part of his caucus.

To please the hardline conservatives, the plan would have cut the compensation of a range of federal employees, apparently including House members themselves. It also would have hamstrung the Treasury Department in its attempt to deal with the GOP's next refusal to raise the debt limit.

That second point was potentially significant, though Parker didn’t attempt to explain it or anything else she was writing. Meanwhile, her account of Boehner’s proposal differed somewhat from this companion front-page report, though Jonathan Weisman’s account of the proposal was a bit on the fuzzy side.

At any rate, that’s what conservatives would have gotten from Boehner’s initial proposal. What would moderates have gotten? As a sop to moderates, the federal government would have been allowed to function! And we wouldn’t create an international crisis by refusing to raise the debt limit—at least not until February 7, when Treasury would have its hands tied in trying to stave off default.

We were struck by the familiar nature of this presentation. Parker was penning a silly-bill version of “on the one hand, on the other,” the sort of thing that has come to be known as “false equivalence.”

In truth, moderates were offered nothing in the proposal as Parker described it, except an agreement to avoid international chaos. By way of contrast, conservatives would be getting actual changes in the way the government functions.

We were struck by the fatuity of Parker’s parallel construction. But Parker was simply engaged in business as usual. She was involved in the imitation of life, the work of the walking dead.

As we’ve noted in the past, Parker is one of the emptiest beings shambling forth from the New York Times building. Her background as Maureen Dowd’s “research assistant” makes her especially easy to mark as one of the walking dead.

But the telltale signs of death-in-life are quite routine in the Times. Indeed, on this morning, it happens again! Gail Collins starts her latest column like this:
COLLINS (10/17/13): Well, um, yippee.

Wow. Congress has decided it won’t trigger a global financial crisis out of pure pique. Can’t get any better than that.

Plus, the government is going to be funded until after the holidays. Halloween is going to be so terrific.

Important Halloween note: When you’re thinking about party costumes, forget going as Senator Ted Cruz. Everybody will be going as Ted Cruz. (Consider going as Representative Ted Yoho. You would need a name tag, but “Ted Yoho” would be so worth it.)
Ted Yoho’s name sounds funny! This is the third recent column in which Collins has recorded this valuable point. This follows eight columns in which she has noted that Butch Otter’s name sounds funny too.

Many readers of the Times aren’t able to see this as walking death. It seems to them that they are receiving “humor” from Collins.

This morning, one commenter links the new favored theme—the name “Ted Yoho” sounds very funny!—to the earlier number-one theme, in which Mitt Romney strapped Seamus to the roof of his car. In earlier eras, such readers were protected from the endless distractions which will emerge from the walking dead, in that the walking dead weren’t allowed in the press corps.

No longer! As this column continues in our hard-copy Times, we hit a truly ridiculous passage in which Collins snarks about some quoted remarks from Marco Rubio. The passage is so journalistically foolish that we had planned to post it.

Mercifully, the embarrassing passage has been removed from the column as it appears on-line. We’ll let the passage rest in peace as we move right along.

In the last week, Kevin Drum has offered several posts in which he explains the various topics creating confusion everywhere else in the press corps. For one example, click to this: The Debt Ceiling Explained in 10 Short Sentences.

Very few things ever get explained within our celebrity press corps. The Times is full of the walking dead. Meanwhile, on our most storied news program, last Sunday’s shambling eventually produced the remarks we show you below.

Here's what happens:

Kathleen Parker and David Gregory play the card in which everything must be perfectly equal on both sides. Harold Ford plays that familiar card too—but he also engages in the practice in which a dead-in-life pundit with nothing to say kills a large amount of time by reciting a string of disjointed facts without making any clear point.

This is undisguised death-in-life, the fruit of the walking dead:
PARKER (10/13/13): Even on The Hill, I mean, Republicans and Democrats are equally frustrated and equally disgusted with not only one another, not the opposite party, necessarily, but even among themselves.

And one of the strangest things, as we watch all of this, is it seems to me that the two protagonists, Speaker Boehner and the president, are essentially being driven by other parties. And it’s sort of sad and tragic in a way, that they each know what the other needs and seem willing to have provided that at a certain point. I think we’re well past that point now. But the president is being driven apparently by Senator Reid. And for poor John Boehner—I always precede his name with “poor”—poor John Boehner is faced with this Tea Party insurrection.

And so it’s almost as though there is no one who can kind of take control of what’s come apart. And everybody seems to want to and they don’t know how.

GREGORY: Yeah, but I raised this point before and I raise it a second time just to keep, you know—

Because, as Chuck said, the Republicans have taken such a beating on this, Harold. But you know, the president knew this was coming as well. And he didn’t have to face reelection again. So is there a certain aspect of this where he says, “Look, not only am I going to protect a future president from having to deal with these kinds of demands, but I can also do some real damage to Republicans here if they appear to be intransigent and have a strategy to shut down Obamacare,” which doesn’t have support?

FORD: What’s becoming increasingly clear— And you asked that question of the two Senators: “Could you blame, would each of you be willing to blame the other side 100 percent?” And it was interesting to hear their answer.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that the president is going to probably have to engage in a little give and take. There are two issues here:

One, you have whether or not we raise the debt ceiling. You have a proposal to raise it for six weeks, a proposal to raise it till the end of January, and you have a third one where you want to take it to the end of the year.

Second, to open the government, you’ve got a group that wants to push it out till the end of January and another group that wants to push it out for a few months later.

When we look back, we’re going to wonder how on Earth could the president and others not come to some agreement when you have plausible, attainable kind of goals in front of us.

Two, the economy is ready to take off. You saw last week the market exploded. The biggest gain, single gain in the day of the year once it looked like a deal was within reach.

Last week, reports demonstrated that America is now the number one energy producer in the world, about to overtake Russia in natural gas, oil and other petroleum products, which means more jobs, more high-paying jobs.

Americans want to work. They want to get beyond this moment. It seems for those who are outside of this, and I’m not as close to Washington as I was before, that a deal is within reach.

And to Kathleen’s point, it appears that there are forces—Tea Party on one side, perhaps real progressives and liberals on the other—that are stopping us from actually doing, each side taking a small step and conceding a little bit, Boehner conceding a little bit with Republicans on some spending and President Obama conceding with Democrats around whether it’s Obamacare or perhaps some spending cuts.
To watch the shambling, just click this. But that’s a grotesque imitation of life, the pitiful walk of the dead.

Tomorrow: As found in books

A note on counting: As you may have noted, Ford had some trouble counting to two. In fairness, that can occur in extemporaneous speech.


  1. Bob, you've got absolutely no clue about what just happened, do you?

    Now I understand why you spent the last two weeks on Amanda Ripley.

    1. Anon @ 11:11

      Perchance you are the same anon to whoim I earlier replied with this:

      We know, we know. You think Somerby's overdoing it with Amanda Ripley’s ballyhooed new book, The Smartest Kids in the World.

      We understand the complaint! But Ripley’s book is a remarkable text, a Rosetta Stone which helps us see the nature of modern “journalistic” practice.

      If you cannot see the connection between the Walking Dead, the Fabulous Ripley and her Fantastic Finns, and the conflagration of Butch Otters and Ted Yoho's you will probably be conned into a life of tribal hate by the rube runners.

    2. Well, you certainly have all the jargon of the tribe down. Now put what you just said in your own words instead of Somerby's.

      And excuse me for caring far more about the shutdown of federal government and the near collapse of the global economy than about Ripley's "ballyhooed" new book.

    3. Anon @ 12:25, if I offended you I apologize. Like the greatest accomplisher of the last century I pity and love you. That is why I expressed understanding to begin with.

      I would use my own words but Somerby always says it best. But I think your protests are misdirected. There has been plenty of shutdown coverage here.

      Somerby showed how Salon falsely tried to blame the shutdown on bad journalism.

      Somerby showed how Drum got captured by the tribalists during the shut down battle. Who could forget: "Why shouldn’t you fund the cancer treatments, if that is the only thing the GOP lets you do?"

      And finally he told us Kristof got things right.

      Plus there was all those posts about the bad coverage of the effect of not lifing the debt ceiling.

      It's a big world beyond the beltway. Our classrooms are threatened by false thrilling tales that are made more thrilling through embellishment.

    4. Please explain, anon 11:11

    5. Anon12:56pm, so what do you find off-base and superfluous about TDH suggesting that Meet the Press indulged in a soulless Madison Avenue PR firm style false equivalence-argument in discussing the actions of both political parties during the shut-down?

  2. bob somerby: "But Parker was simply engaged in business as usual. She was involved in the imitation of life, the work of the walking dead."

    >>> not the work of the "walking dead". she very likely wasnt speaking her own mind at all. she was doing the work of her employer, which is a tool of the the very alive and superactivated moneyed interests.

  3. Very few people listen as closely as Bob listens but what they hear is "Crisis!" "Default!" In other words, hell in a hand basket. It makes them very anxious, hence the Tea Party and they become more anxious when the outcome is more debt. The news media is entirely responsible for stirring up these terrible, terrible Tea Party people. (Any honest person would rather have them in the neighborhood than those Obama voting Walmart "shoppers" who cleared the shelves in those Louisiana stores when they thought their food stamp cards were unlimited and then left the huge mess when the system came back on line.)

  4. OMB (Great News for OPEN Government Fans)

    We will probably never get an explanation of the debt ceiling implications beyond those of the once held captive Kevin Drum....BUT

    The pitifully explained government shutdown is over!

    That means the NCES database is back open. Piles of PISA, tons of TIMMS, pieces of PIRL and a pot of Gold Standard scores at the end of the rainbow for analysts and leprechauns alike.

    The effort to reveal Ripley for the con artist she is, launched on September 23, 2013 but stalled by somebody or other, can resume once more.

    Happy days are here again.


  5. I'm curious as to whether or not Anonymous Oct 17 @ 11:11 knows what happened regarding the debt ceiling shenanigans and deal.

    If so, perhaps he'll enlighten us.

    1. Certainly. Yes I do both know and understand what happened.

  6. Bob is obviously not an expert on comedy. Repeated running jokes and tag lines, often based on funny names or personal characteristics (like obesity), are staples. The highly-paid writers on late-night talk shows put this stuff in all the time; just mentioning certain names seems to throw audiences into paroxysms. Check out Letterman's monologue, for example.