Supplemental: Award-winning series postponed!

MONDAY, JULY 21, 2014

The Houses of Journalist County: Do Bill and Hillary Clinton have too much cash? Too many fancy houses?

Last month, these questions arose, prompted by a Q-and-A involving Diane Sawyer. During a thoroughly pointless interview with Hillary Clinton, the famous broadcaster popped these questions:
SAWYER (6/9/14): Tonight Hillary Clinton, 66 years old, lives on a schedule almost as taxing as a campaign tour. She and her husband, thanks to some big spenders, including Wall Street companies, are no longer the couple struggling for money. Reportedly, they can charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches.

It has been reported you've made $5 million making speeches. The president's made more than $100 million.


SAWYER: But do you think Americans can understand five times the median income in this country for one speech?
You could see that Diane was really concerned.

In the course of her answers, Clinton said that she and Bill Clinton “came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.”

The statement was accurate. But a two-word phrase (“dead broke”) was quickly extracted, and the pundits are still having their fun.

Was anything “wrong” with those questions? Not necessarily, no.

In truth, those questions had nothing to do with the subject of the book Clinton had just published. Beyond that, Clinton wasn’t a candidate in the presidential campaign which didn’t yet exist at that point (and still doesn’t).

For ourselves, we always find it odd when super-wealthy people like Sawyer ask questions like those, in which she seems to speak for the sensibilities of us “Americans.”

That said, there’s no reason why a wealthy journalist can’t stage a sensible discussion of a politician’s personal wealth. In our view, Sawyer’s questions didn’t produce that type of discussion. In theory, though, they could have.

For ourselves, we don’t think much of Sawyer’s work. On balance, we think she’s one of the obvious problems with modern American “journalism.”

Those questions by Sawyer led to shrieks about the Clintons’ massive wealth, including the troubling wealth represented by their two houses (plural!). But then, journalists have been clucking over the houses of various candidates dating to Campaign 2000.

These conversations have often been marked by apparent bad faith on the part of the press. In our view, the familiar bad faith started up again in the past month.

At one point, we became curious about Sawyer’s various cribs. Through a set of coincidences, we also stumbled onto the houses of Jacob Weisberg, who had started an extended critique of journalist wealth in 1986, when he was still a senior at Yale.

This led to our award-winning series “The Houses of Journalist County.” We had planned to start the series today, but we’re going to postpone for a few weeks as our research continues.

In this series, we want to explore the discussion which began with this 1986 piece by Weisberg in The New Republic. We also want to show you some of The Houses of Journalist County—the houses in which our leading journalists lounge as they help us see the troubling aspects of politicians’ homes.

In our view, this story often turns out to be humorous. For example, where does Sawyer find shelter with her husband, Mike Nichols?

Our research on that point continues. At present, though, these seem to be two of The Houses of Journalist County:
The Houses of Journalist County
On Martha’s Vineyard: Chip Chop, the 17-acre estate purchased for $5.3 million in 1995
On Fifth Avenue, New York: Penthouse purchased from Robert Redford for $11-12 million in 2002
Compare those perfectly sensible cribs to the deeply troubling Houses of Out-of-Touch County:
The Houses of Out-of-Touch County
In Chappaqua: White Dutch farmhouse purchased for $1.7 million in 1999
In Washington: Brick Georgian purchased for $2.85 million in 2001
In theory, wealthy journalists could conduct a serious discussion about the personal wealth of pols. But that isn’t what tends to happen in our journalistic culture.

Our view? When you start researching the wealth of our journalistic elite, you begin to realize something quite basic: Given the basics of human nature, serious journalism will never emerge from such rarefied aeries.

What will emerge is a whole lot of spin about various targeted pols. Also, silly piddle in which wealthy TV stars try to persuade us, the rubes, that they're really just like us.

The late Tim Russert turned this act of self-abnegation into an art form; he wrote books about his working-class boyhood in Buffalo from his $6.7 million summer home on Nantucket, where he hung with Jack Welch. On the way up, Brian Williams always mentioned the way he loves NASCAR.

They want us to see that they’re just like us! In that vein, here's the extremely wealthy Sawyer, seeming to play the same comical game in a recent profile in USA Today:
PUENTE (1/8/14): "Mike would say I'm the world's best sandwich-maker, which I believe I truly am," she says, adding that meatloaf sandwich is her specialty.

"I keep trying to perfect my mother's meatloaf recipe," she says. "I've always wanted to throw a party where everyone comes with their mother's meatloaf. Everybody could evoke their mother's memory through her meatloaf."
We’d have to say that’s the all-time classic. We’re surprised she didn’t say she makes mashed potato sandwiches, the kind Blondie used to make for Dagwood.

According to Sawyer, she has always dreamed of “throwing a party where everyone comes with their mother's meatloaf.” We couldn’t help wondering—what do you suppose has kept her from realizing this dream?

Phenomenally wealthy “journalists” offer vignettes like that to make us think they’re just like us. At orgs like USA Today, other members of the guild type these stories up.

Our award-winning series, “The Houses of Journalist County,” won’t appear for another few weeks. That said:

Back in 1986, Weisberg started a discussion which could have been quite worthwhile. For that reason, the discussion never took off.

Today, he lives in The Houses of Journalist County. We’d say it shows in his work.


  1. Yesterday, I watched a preview of Ken Burns' documentary on the three most famous Roosevelts. Between them, Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt had six or seven houses. Journalists of the day didn't seem to care much. Lucky for us.

    1. @ 11:55 I responded to you but placed it below as a separate comment. My regrets for this.

    2. That's sort of the point about T.R., F.D.R., and Eleanor, the rare are not in great supply.

      (Also in specific reference to Franklin Roosevelt:

      "His enemies excoriated him as a communist and damned him for disregarding property rights and violating the canons of the capitalist marketplace," Brands explains. "The wealthy denounced him for having betrayed the class of his birth. Time magazine devoted a lead article to the ‘burning bitterness’ the better-off felt for Roosevelt."

      As critics branded the New Deal as a step toward Communism, Roosevelt and his administration blasted the naysayers as narrow-minded agents of greed.

      "Communism is merely a convenient bugaboo," Interior Secretary Harold Ickes said. "It is the Fascist-minded men of America who are the real enemies of our institutions through their solidarity and their ability and willingness to turn the wealth of America against the welfare of America."

      CMike- Been hearing much like that Ickes quote coming from Brian Williams or anyone else in the Main $tream Media lately?)

    3. "That said, there’s no reason why a wealthy journalist can’t stage a sensible discussion of a politician’s personal wealth." Bob Somerby

      "It tires me to talk to rich men." Teddy Roosevelt

    4. RNC Talking PointsJuly 22, 2014 at 12:12 AM

      For our money, Maureen Dowd’s new column is an open appeal to bigotry.

      Let’s discuss that problem tomorrow. For today, this is the way her disgraceful column starts:

      DOWD (3/18/12): Trust Mitt Romney to be on top of the latest trend of the superrich: the trophy basement.

      On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported on the new fashion to look low-key on the outside while digging deep for opulence—carving out subterranean spaces for Turkish baths, Italianate spas, movie theaters, skateboarding ramps, squash courts, discos and golf-simulation centers.

    5. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen turned 34 on Sunday. She shared a photo of herself blowing out candles on a cake with twin sister Patricia.

      “Thank you to everyone for the love and birthday wishes. I feel so blessed. #grateful”

      She didn’t say who else might be with her (hubby Tom Brady? The kids?), or even where she is exactly. But she’s happy to be there. On Thursay, she shared a photo with the caption: “Finally on vacation!”

      It’s well-deserved time off.

      After, all Forbes recently noted that the last 12 months have been the most lucrative of Bundchen’s career. She landed at No. 56 on the mag’s 2014 Celebrity 100 list.

      Thanks to endorsement deals with H&M, Chanel, Carolina Herrera and Louis Vitton, the star pocketed $47 million this past year.

      That paycheck breaks down to $128,000 per day.

  2. I saw Ken Burns on TV once. This is how he was reviewed:

    "Sorry. Liberal interests were not represented by this know-nothing seeker of corporate funds, who should have been dragged off by the lobe of his ear and made to stand in a corner.....

    Dearest darlings, it takes big (corporate) bucks to make those PBS films!"

  3. In the course of her answers, Clinton said that she and Bill Clinton “came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.”

    "In the course of" ??????

  4. "I'm down to me last 100,000 pounds." -- John Lennon, dead broke rock star, in a mid-60s press conference.

  5. "Was anything “wrong” with those questions? Not necessarily, no."

    But there was only one question and it was never answered.

    The thing that was wrong was a statement given in response to no question having been asked.

    So dear Howler readers here is a chance to show off what you think?

    Do you think Americans can understand five times the median income in this country for one speech?

    1. Yeah, it's called the free market. Speech fees are one of the few compensations still determined by demand. That's what has these so-called journalists so ticked. They're not as hot a ticket.

    2. Lots and lots of bling around but no, I don't think Americans have a good understanding of the difference between median and mean income for starters nor their implications for household income nor what earning more than the median lifetime income in a year, let alone the mean income in a year, does for ones outlook.

      As for people making five times the median income for one speech, I think Americans understand there are people making these huge scores and all too accepting that that's the way the world works. Not sure "next time" ever came but I thought this would have been a good jumping off point for a discussion of these matters:

      [QUOTE]>>>>> SINGER: An ingenious illustration buttresses the entitlement theory. [The theory that you’re “entitled” to keep holdings you’ve acquired by legitimate means.] We start by supposing that holdings are distributed in accordance with some patterned conception of justice—let's say the conception of equality, so that everyone has exactly equal holdings. Now suppose that several basketball teams would like to have Wilt Chamberlain playing for them. He signs a special contract with one, stipulating that he gets twenty-five cents from the price of every home game ticket. The fans are happy to pay the surcharge; the excitement of seeing Chamberlain play is worth it to them. One million people attend during the season, so that Chamberlain winds up with $250,000, far more than anyone else in the society [circa 1970].

      In Nozick’s “ingenious” rumination, therefore, we are asked to imagine the following: Everyone starts out equal, by decree, in accordance with someone’s notion of justice. But because people want to see him play, Wilt soon has far more than anyone else! What’s “ingenious” about this “illustration?” As he continues, Singer semi-explains it:

      SINGER (continuing directly): The transactions between Chamberlain and his fans have upset the original, hypothetically just, pattern of holdings; but, Nozick asks, is the new distribution unjust, and if so, why? Can it be a source of injustice that a million people chose to spend twenty-five cents on seeing Chamberlain play, rather than on candy bars or magazines?

      Since they chose to spend it in this way, knowing that it would go to Chamberlain, surely they can have no just claim against the man they have made rich. As for those citizens who did not attend the games, their holdings are entirely unaffected by the transactions between Chamberlain and his fans. If these third parties had no just claim against the holdings of the transacting parties before the payments took place, how can the transfer give them a just claim to part of what was transferred? Yet that is precisely what those who accept taxation for redistributive purposes must believe.

      In general, Nozick says, no patterned principle of justice can prevail without continuous interference in people's lives. A socialist society would, as he puts it, have to "forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults."

      There’s more about Wilt in Singer’s review, though not much. Meanwhile, however “ingenious” this illustration may be, it has indeed become “famous,” at least in philosophical circles. But should it be famous? Is it really ingenious? Or is this famous illustration perhaps “ingenious” in the same way Nozick’s style was “accessible?” Perhaps we’ve tipped our hand a bit as we look ahead to our next rumination.

      Should this illustration be famous? We’ll try to answer that question next time. But here’s an even better question: Does this illustration help us see why our discourse has become such a joke—even with “thinkers,” “logicians” and “political philosophers” like its inventor around?<<<<<[END QUOTE]

    3. That should have read: let alone the mean lifetime income in a year

    4. I noticed most of these speeches are set up by people who book the speakers using somebody else's money.

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    6. It was a strikingly empty non-response.

  6. Hey deadrat! I came back for the damn tour and it has been postponed again. Next time I'll book one of those cruises on Carnival.

  7. I'm concerned that all this prattling on about rich journalists will lead too many young people into what they falsely believe is a lucrative career choice that will invariably land them a $6 million manse on Nantucket and other trappings of the 1% life.

    Universities are also complicit in this. Year after year, they draw countless students to programs promising to prepare them for glamorous careers in fields where the jobs are minuscule compared to the number of graduates seeking them. Same with other idiot majors like Creative Writing and, I don't know, Drama. A few dead-end, low-pay jobs, and these kids are ready to kick themselves saying, "I should have majoried in something hard but practical."

    But universities don't give refunds. "Sorry, suckers," says the man in the mortarboard. "But you would have been too dumb for engineering or computer science anyway."

  8. Great work in exposing the fraud that is Maria Puente, Bob!

    1. Sadly, even taking on an aging reporter covering "celebrity"
      lifestyle stories, Bob has his facts wrong. The interview of Sawyer took place in Ladies Home Journal and was written by someone else. Puente and USA Today were just summarizing the LHJ cover story for their readers.

  9. A celebrity journalist crib review. Yes, please!

    It's not enough though. There should also be accompanying MoDoian psychoanalysis on what crib decor indicates about the inner working of these high profile journos.

    1. For $ 30 K I will gladly show up at the college of your choice to discuss the Daddy issues of journalists. I used to charge more but the price was driven down by deadrat's focus on the Daddy issues of TDH commenters. And to make things worse, Bob won't stand up for us.

  10. How much does a journalist have to be worth to be "phenomenally wealthy?

    Five times the annual median income of Amercans?

    1. Never mind trying to explain this phenomenon; just go with it.

      George is "the world's most eligible infant," as Vanity Fair put it about their August cover star. His fashion sensibility is selling out baby goods everywhere, according to bloggers who track him (those Petit Bateau denim overalls he wore to the museum? All gone).

  11. I doubt that this nonsense about Hillary's speaking fees will hurt her. First of all, few people are paying attention this early. Second, being wealthy isn't a sin in the minds of voters. E.g. we loved JFK. Third, it keeps the subject of Hilary's foreign policy out of the news. That policy may have looked OK real time, but we are now seeing areas where it didn't work.

    1. Look at how the world has gone to hell since she stopped being Secretary of state!

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  12. Well, the press has spent a couple of days inventing history of the Reagan response to the Soviet downing of a Korean airliner, illnesses brought to our borders by Obama, and "secret" tapes of our Secretary of State selling out our Israeli allies.

    And all we get from the savior of liberal values and our intellectual culture is left over meat loaf sandwiches from USA Today and a link to an almost thirty year old article from a Yale youngster too wet behind the ears to even be called a cub?

    Well at least we have been free of those damn vile trolls. And what a difference it has made.