Part 4—A celebrified Planet Bullshit: “My fellow Americans, the state of the union is fatuous—celebrified, sad!”
The president didn’t say it.
It certainly would have been true if he had! Consider a rarely discussed historical fact:
As many others have reported, John Kennedy was elected president in November 1960. In his iconic book about that campaign, Theodore White described the scene as Kennedy announced that he would be running.
You can read the description on page 58. Senator Kennedy announced he was running on January 2—January 2 of 1960, the same year as the election!
In those days, we managed to run a full election in the space of ten months. Eight cycles later, Bill Clinton announced his candidacy in October 1991. There were just thirteen months left.
This brings us to the state of the culture as Obama delivered this week’s address.
The year was 2014, though just barely. The next presidential election was 34 months away.
Despite these facts, the Washington Post would lead its front page two days later with a poll about that future election. And the hopeless New York Times had already published its magazine story, Planet Hillary, with its pitiful magazine cover.
The piece was based on a startling new theme—the Clintons know quite a few people. It was the issue of a peculiar decision—the decision to assign a reporter to a Candidate Clinton beat long before there actually was such a candidate.
Amy Chozick’s endless report actually ran 5600 words, not counting its many celestial charts. Essentially, those charts included the names of everyone the Clintons have ever known, plus a few more they probably haven’t.
Our big newspapers still haven’t adopted the practice of printing names in bold, at least the first time they’re mentioned. But Chozick’s piece represented a cross between the roll of names in Genesis and the celebrificated culture of People magazine.
Name after name spilled forth from the piece, a piece about someone who isn’t yet running. From Huma back to Adam and Eve, everyone was there.
How inane was this endless piece? If you were able to stay awake, we’re told you could even read the two-paragraph passage offered below.
It concerned the writing of thank-you notes and the practice of icing out people who get charged with 51 crimes:
CHOZICK (1/26/14): [O]ne theory about why they have amassed such a wide network over the years is that, unlike political dynasties such as the Bushes or the Kennedys, they did not come from money. They learned how to keep aides loyal the old-fashioned way, by doing the kinds of thoughtful things that anyone who has worked with the Clintons for any amount of time will tell you about: countless handwritten thank-you notes, remembering staff-member birthdays and letting them bask in their reflected glory...If we’re reading that passage correctly, Chozick reports that the Clintons tend to “ice out” former aides who get indicted on 51 counts of smuggling contraband, including a box cutter and a knife, into state and/or federal prisons.
Still, even back in the Arkansas days, the Clintons knew how to ice out some of their more complicated friends. One recent Thursday morning, I stopped by the Little Rock apartment of Betsey Wright, just across the Interstate from the Clinton library on a leafy street lined with well-kept clapboard houses with wide porches and upholstered furniture out front. Around the corner is a Holiday Inn with a restaurant called Camp David (“a hidden treasure with a culinary style surely fit for both presidents and first ladies”; kids eat free). Wright, considered a mastermind behind Clinton’s rise in Arkansas, was among the first in a long line of surrogate family members. She headed rapid response (or what she called “bimbo eruptions”) in the 1992 election and was immortalized by Kathy Bates in the film adaptation of “Primary Colors.” After not joining Clinton’s White House staff, Wright became a lobbyist and eventually returned home and began advocating for prisoners’ rights. In 2009, though, she was arrested on 51 charges of smuggling contraband, including a box cutter and a knife and tattoo needles that were hidden in a bag of Doritos, on a visit to death row. She pleaded not guilty (and, later, no contest to lesser charges) and was released on probation. She did not respond to my many attempts to contact her, including in-person pleas to friends and a note left on her front porch.
People who have known the Clintons the longest have all sorts of theories about how one of the country’s most brilliant political minds could have ended up arrested with a bag of Doritos...
Or something—the point never quite comes clear. And by the way:
George Bush the elder, who did come from money, has always been famous for his own “countless handwritten thank-you notes.” This practice by Bush was so well-known that it even made Fashion & Style in the Times in 2007.
“According to many, George H. W. Bush’s career was advanced by his strong habit of sending thank-you notes—an act ingrained by his mother, no doubt,” the Times writer mused that day. Bush “personified good sportsmanship and drizzled thank-you notes,” Jacob Weisberg wrote the next year. He described the writing of those notes as one of Bush’s “preppie folkways.”
So it goes in these pastures of plenty. When the Clintons write thank-you notes, it’s because they didn’t come from money. When George Bush Senior writes such notes, it’s because he did.
(You could spend an entire day reading about Bush’s thank-you notes. Just click here, then continue clicking. At Amazon, you can buy one such handwritten note for $460.)
The fatuity of Chozick’s jump-the-gun piece is captured in those minor points, just two of a million such offerings. That said, fatuous celebrification is the marker of the way we now discuss, or fail to discuss, national policy and politics.
The children love this piddle, or at least they pretend. After Chozick’s piece appeared, we saw MSNBC’s Alex Wagner gushing about its high interest level. And in the wake of that new Post poll, Chris Matthews continued the cable practice he has invented, in which an hour is killed every day pretending to discuss the likely outcome of elections which can barely be seen over the curve of the earth.
How worthless is this faux journalistic culture? Starting in the fall of 2010, Lawrence O’Donnell burned many hours assuring viewers that Tim Pawlenty was sure to become the Republican nominee in 2012.
Due to various insuperable problems, no other Republican could be nominated, O’Donnell repeatedly said. Here's Lawrence in March 2011, though a million such statements exist: “The official position of the show is that Tim Pawlenty is the only viable candidate...My prediction is he will get the nomination and he will lose.”
Lawrence kept this up for months. Having stirred exactly no interest, Pawlenty quit the race in mid-August, long before the first GOP primary. But then, sic semper pseudo-discussion, with which our seven-figure stars now kill our valuable time.
The fact that Chozick’s piece ever appeared is an unfortunate sign of the times. The magazine cover wrought by the Times is one more unfortunate marker.
The cover art for the worthless piece was absurdly unflattering. To our eye, it made Clinton look like a bloated, hairless person undergoing chemotherapy, a deeply difficult process.
Others had other reactions, which they voiced in comments at various places. We had to agree with thrust found here:
COMMENTER FROM NEW YORK CITY: For heaven's sake, please remove the distasteful, poorly executed graphic. It's cruel to Hillary (cruel to the readers!) and vaguely misogynistic. How could this have been approved all the way to publication? What is happening with the Times? The Friday crossword is now easy, there's snark everywhere, and now this. To top it off, the article seems like gossipy fluff to me—there's no there there. Is it me? I'm worried.Some of those points could perhaps be disputed. But it’s certainly true that the snark won’t quit and that there’s no there there.
So many people denounced the cover art that the public editor waded in before the newspaper hit the streets. Most sadly, she linked to an earlier post, noting that “the magazine’s Sixth Floor blog has already responded with how the cover came to be.”
How did the cover come to be? Design director Arem Duplesis started his expo like this:
DUPLESSIS (1/23/14): When we created the cover of this Sunday’s magazine to accompany Amy Chozick’s article about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s influence on the various people within her political universe, the immediate idea that came to mind was Clinton’s face embedded on a planet, similar to the man-in-the-moon image from the 1902 silent film “Le Voyage Dans la Lune.”Precisely! Who wouldn’t have thought of Le Voyage Dans la Lune? As it turned out, the depiction of Trump in Golf Digest ended up winning the day.
It just so happened that the illustrator Jesse Lenz visited the office to show us his portfolio a few weeks earlier. His depiction of Donald Trump in Golf Digest was memorable and made us think that Lenz might be the perfect choice to do an illustration for this article.
(In that depiction, which appears as part of Duplessis’ post, Trump’s hair is portrayed in the form of a sand trap. Somehow, this inspired the Times to portray Clinton without any hair at all!)
Duplessis’ post inspired its own comments. “This is a good study into how a merely bad idea turns into full-blown idiocy,” one judgmental reader opined.
The New York Times, a social club, is spilling with fatuous people. They’re overpaid and under-aware. No matter what the civics books say, they aren’t super-honest or smart.
They want to talk about famous people, preferably for years at a time. If Marie Antoinette could be with us today, the New York Times would likely serve as her more royal version of Us.
When People magazine appeared on the scene, it was widely regarded as fatuous. Today, overpaid swells at the Times and on cable live by its very dim lights.
“The state of the union is low-IQ, sad.” There was no way Obama could say it!
Had he said it, would he not have been right? We refer to the state of the union among the folk who fashion our lack of a discourse.