Part 4—Anthropologist Leibovich speaks: In this morning’s Washington Post, the famous newspaper’s jihadic obsession burns on.
It’s true that Philip Rucker, the cub reporter, has been exiled to page A3 today. But on that page, he is given 1358 words, and a photograph, to extend his “Ahab watch” concerning those grotesque and obscene speaking fees, the sign of a sick society.
Today, Rucker considers the unseemly amounts Hillary Clinton has received, or will receive, for speeches at eight universities. He highlights “outrage” from student leaders about these very large fees, before semi-explaining, in paragraph 9, that these youngsters’ complaints are based on inaccurate information.
The humor is saved for paragraph 11. In a comical but familiar twist, the youngster from Yale types this:
RUCKER (7/3/14): Clinton’s six-figure campus speaking fees could become a political liability for her in the 2016 campaign given that President Obama and other Democrats have made college affordability a central plank of the party’s agenda. Student debt is a signature issue for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whom some liberals would like to see challenge Clinton in a primary. It is also something Clinton has talked about.“Clinton’s speaking fees could become a political liability in the 2016 campaign!” As Rucker conveys this obvious fact, he fails to mention a second obvious point:
He and the Post have been working hard to make that come to pass!
This is standard insider press corps behavior, of course. We've been noting this for the past fifteen years:
When the insider press corps stages a jihad against Politician X, they will always remove themselves from the story.
They will pretend that the jihad in question is coming from the pol’s “political opponents.” Or they’ll pretend that it’s coming from nowhere! That’s the stance Rucker adopts today. Gene Robinson adopted the same familiar stance when he discussed this sudden jihad in Tuesday’s Washington Post.
Robinson framed the sudden political problem as an issue between Clinton and the voters. Because he’s paid to keep his trap shut, he failed to note the world’s most obvious fact—the role of his employers and colleagues in creating this latest jihad.
The Robinsons will never tell you the obvious truth about their own guild. As usual, career liberals are sitting in pure/perfect silence this week as this latest jihad unfolds.
They’re paid to keep their pretty traps shut. And that’s what they’re going to do!
You won’t hear about the Post’s jihad from Drum or Dionne or Chait or Maddow. If you’re the type who plays for pay, such things simply aren’t discussed—not in the case of the War Against Gore, not in the case of this jihad.
What kinds of people behave in these ways? Last year, in his best-selling book This Town, the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich provided some basic answers.
Leibovich is a long-time member of the insider press corps. He wrote for the Washington Post until 2006, at which point he moved to the Times.
In his very witty book, he behaved like an anthropologist—an anthropologist within.
To be clear, Leibovich wrote about Washington’s politicians and about Washington’s press corps. That said, he painted a familiar profile of these intertwined groups, fleshing out “the not-terribly-new assumption that This Town imposes on its actors a reflex toward devious and opportunistic behavior” (page 362).
According to David Carr, that’s exactly the kind of conduct the late Michael Hastings saw around him when he worked for Newsweek during the run-up to war in Iraq. In our view, that devious conduct has been on display as the Post has constructed its new jihad, an amazing 29 months in advance of the next White House campaign.
What kinds of people behave in these ways? Consider a portrait Leibovich paints, near the end of This Town, about two gods of the Washington Post.
It’s December 2012. Ben Bradlee and his wife, Sally Quinn, are throwing a party, dubbed “The Last Party,” at their Georgetown home.
Welcome to Occupy Georgetown, the kind of preserve where magpies decide that the Clintons have too much wealth:
LEIBOVICH (page 354): As it turned out, The Last Party was not meant as any special tribute to ben, at least officially. Rather, it was meant as a play on the end of the world—which, according to the Mayan calendar, was scheduled for the next day or so...Whatever the occasion, it’s always a thrill to score the invite to Ben and Sally’s: a landmark house, once owned by Robert Todd Lincoln (Abe’s son), whose grounds occupy nearly an entire block. Portraits of Ben’s ancestors, Josiah and Lucy Bradlee, hang in the foyer, while a mingling local royalty mosey through, sipping drinks. (Is “ColinPowellJimLehrerAndreaMitchell” one word?)As far as we know, Quinn and Bradlee have not taken part in the current jihad. We hope they never will.
This morning, the high lady Collins joins in, with an entry in one of the columns she throws together when she lacks a real column.
We’ll have to guess that the Battleship Dowd will soon open fire on Clinton’s wealth. Unless she has moved, she’ll do so from the Georgetown house our darling JFK once owned. Even there, she’s trumped by Ben and Sally, who own Tad’s block-long home.
In such wealth-drenched settings, people inclined toward “devious” conduct may find themselves reaching a Group Decision: the Clintons have too much wealth! On staff, there’s always some ambitious young fellow from Yale who’s willing to serve as top spear-chucker, once Diane Sawyer (net worth, $80 million) has expressed the guild’s heartfelt concern about the Clintons’ cash.
The celebrity press corps is drenched in wealth. For that reason, it may seem strange to see them pushing this concern about Clinton’s wealth.
Granted, these are very bad people, a point on which the anthropologists Hastings and Leibovich seem to agree. That said, why would they wage this improbable war against the Clintons?
On page 3 of his book, Leibovich may have given a partial answer. He describes the scene as the Clintons arrive at the memorial service for the late Tim Russert in June 2008.
Over a period of many years, Russert had been the most influential journalist in Washington. Right at the start of his anthropological work, Leibovich offers a strange observation:
LEIBOVICH (page 3): [T]rue to her stoic and gritty precedent, Hillary is keeping her smile affixed like hardened gum and sending out powerful “Stay away from this vehicle” vibes. Ignoring the vibes, an eager producer for MSNBC’s Countdown beelines toward her, introduces herself to the Almighty, and prepares to launch a Hail Mary “ask” about whether the senator might possibly want to come on Countdown that night.Say what? The Clintons’ believed—believed correctly—that Tim Russert despised them?
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Clinton responds to the eager producer, while the smile stays tight and she keeps right on walking. Hillary has a memorial service to attend: the memorial service of a man she and her husband plainly despised and who they believed (rightly) despised them right back.
Leibovich dropped this bombshell on page 3, the better to be completely ignored by the rest of the guild. As we noted on Tuesday, you aren’t allowed to mention the fact that very large chunks of the Washington press corps have been conducting wars against the Clintons, and against Candidate Gore, ever since the New York Times initiated its bungled, front-page Whitewater reporting in January 1992.
If you live within the guild, you aren’t supposed to say such things—it simply isn't allowed! You aren’t supposed to raise the suggestion of any such animus, certainly not at the very top of the guild’s very wealthy pig-pile.
As an anthropologist must, Leibovich revealed a raft of tribal secrets and rites. Still describing the Russert memorial service, he eventually went there again:
LEIBOVICH (page 29): Russert was a longtime Clinton nemesis dating to Russert’s former patron, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had been chairman of the Senate Finance Committee during the Clinton years. Moynihan felt slighted that the Clintons did not seek his collaboration on their ill-fated health-care bill in 1993. The Clintons always believed Russert was much tougher on Hillary than on her opponents. They are convinced Russert disliked then and were not wrong. He thought the Clintons were “phonies,” he told many people privately. And the Monica thing—in the OVAL OFFICE!!! Jesus, don’t get him started.Is this analysis accurate? We can’t necessarily tell you.
We can tell you this—such assertions cannot be discussed! Part of the fun of the Leibovich book involved the way insider reviewers avoided these early bombshells concerning the Lion King, Russert.
You’re not allowed to discuss the possibility that the press corps’ major insiders had or have a jones against the Clintons! Meanwhile, speaking of phonies, you’re also not supposed to talk about this:
LEIBOVICH (page 20): Tim liked his seat in the corporate boardroom and his large home in Nantucket, “The House That Jack Built,” as the sign outside identified the Nantucket house—Jack being Jack Welch, the longtime CEO of NBC’s corporate parent, General Electric. Russert and Brokaw attended Ronald Reagan’s funeral as guests, and then walked outside the Washington National Cathedral to anchor the coverage for NBC.Anthropologists say such things. No “journalist” will ever discuss them!
Tim lived in the sweet spot of the big, lucrative revolving door between money, media and politics. He also died there.
It isn’t just Maureen Dowd, living in Dear Jack’s Georgetown home. It isn’t just Bradlee and Quinn, living in Tad’s block-long estate.
It isn’t just the former crown prince of Merrywood. It isn’t just the oleaginous Sawyer, net worth $80 million.
According to Leibovich, Russert was also “liv[ing] in the sweet spot of the big, lucrative revolving door between money, media and politics.” Russert, the mayor of the insider press!
Russert's summer home on Nantucket was valued at $6.7 million, far more than what the Clintons paid for their two homes combined. If Leibovich is right, Russert jokingly called it “The House That Jack Built,” referring to the conservative Republican near-billionaire who made him rich and famous.
It was also thanks to Welch’s astounding largesse that Chris Matthews was able to buy his own Nantucket summer home for $4.4 million. That was after he waged his two-year war against Gore while seeing his salary quintupled.
Kevin Drum won’t talk about this. Dionne’s and Robinson’s lips are sealed. The children at Salon are quiet. They’re dreaming of Candidate Warren, as their hapless, unprincipled elders once dreamed of Candidate Bradley, giving us President Bush.
The guild which is thrilled to visit these homes is waging a jihad on Clinton. A cub has enlisted as top speak-chucker. Darling Rachel (salary, $7 million) won't say the first freaking word.
Neither will “The Puppy,” Chris Hayes. Lawrence O’Donnell? Don’t ask!
As good liberals, we know our own role in this tribal rite. We gulp this ridiculous Kool-Aid down, as we did in the War Against Gore.
Will Rucker make it to Ben and Sally’s? Michael Hastings’ “conniving” colleagues are fairly sure no one will ask.
Still coming: The anthropologists Fallows and White