SILLIEST TALES OF THE MSM: Salty language and other folks’ lies!


Part 3—How smart is the Washington press corps:
How sharp—if you must, how “smart”—is the mainstream Washington press corps?

Quite often we think, not real smart. Again and again, the men and women within that guild just don’t seem especially sharp.

Many people have a hard time coming to terms with that assessment, which may seem counterintuitive. Let’s start with a trivial example.

In this morning’s Washington Post, Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein share their recollections of the late Ben Bradlee, who died last week at 93.

Bradlee had an enormously important career at the Washington Post. He’s widely revered at the Post, as far as we know for good reason.

Bradlee was an impressive person. This is the way Woodward and Bernstein begin their portrait:
WOODWARD AND BERNSTEIN (10/29/14): Four decades ago, Ben Bradlee told us his general theory of newspapering and life: “Nose down, ass up and moving steadily forward into the future.”

He understood the past and its importance, but he was utterly liberated from it. The past was history to learn from. And he refused to let himself be emotionally encumbered by it or deterred by either the lows or the highs.

The military analogy, so often a cliche, holds in his case: a great general, calm in battle, with the love and affection of his troops, of whom he was as protective as he was aggressive in sending them on their mission.

He was an original of his own creation, different from everybody else in his newsroom—different in temperament, different in outlook, and different even in his physicality and his language (a mix of high-church English and the locution of a savvy sailor). He transformed not only The Washington Post but also the nature and priorities of journalism itself.
Their overall theme, as with everyone else, is Bradlee’s reverence for the truth. But before they begin exploring that theme, they entertain us with their reference to Bradlee’s salty language.

Woodward and Bernstein presented this point in just their fourth paragraph. Ditto for David Carr, who recalled in last Thursday’s New York Times that Bradlee “swore like a sailor.”

Gene Robinson held off until paragraph 7 in yesterday’s Washington Post. At that point, he recalled Bradlee’s “blue language.”

As we’ve long noted, our journalists are only happy when they all say the same things. In the current matter, we’ve been struck by the somewhat childish way they’ve all run to Bradlee’s blue streak.

We assume the portrait is accurate—that Bradlee did swear like a sailor. This strikes us as a somewhat silly trait, though plainly the trait didn’t “matter.”

That said, we’ve been struck by the way our mainstream memoirists all run to that salty language. They seem to think the salty language is entertaining for us the rubes, even perhaps that it was secretly cool.

Over the years, we’ve been struck, again and again, by how unimpressive our journalists are. We’ve been struck by their love for silly stories designed to prove some important point, by their low intellectual standards, by their general lack of analytical skill.

By their lack of seriousness.

These people are famous, and they’re seen on TV. Many went to the finest schools, the much honored Bradlee among them.

For these reasons, people may find it hard to believe that our journalists just aren’t especially sharp. Prevailing press criticism is drenched in claims of ideological bias. You’ll rarely see a critic say that our journalists aren’t especially sharp, that they don’t seem especially serious.

In our view, our journalists don’t seem real sharp on a fairly regular basis. We had that reaction on Sunday morning when we read the lengthy excerpts from a lecture Bradlee once gave.

The excerpts appeared in the Washington Post, leading the Outlook section. They were drawn from The Press-Enterprise Lecture, which Bradlee delivered at Cal-Riverside in January 1997.

As far as we know, Bradlee was an impressive man who always did his job as he saw it. That said, we were struck by the fact that this lecture just wasn’t real sharp, even though it’s being held up as a tribute to press corps culture.

Yesterday, we noted one problem with the address. In his lecture, Bradlee seemed to say that every segment of society was engaged by that time in “a lot of spinning and a lot of lying”—every segment except his own, which was seeking the truth.

We’re giving Bradlee a pass on that framework, although it doesn’t seem hugely insightful. As we noted yesterday, our Grandfather Rufus did much the same thing in an earlier lecture, in February 1880.

Bradlee offered the world’s oldest framework that night: the other sectors are corrupt, my sector is truthful and honest. Beyond that, we were struck by the murky way he dealt with the very concept of “lying,” and by the highly promiscuous way he threw the charge of lying around.

How sharp was Bradlee that night? Not especially sharp! At the start of the lengthy excerpts in the Post, he complained that many people were “spinning the truth, shaping it to some preconceived version of a story that is supposed to be somehow better than the truth, omitting details that could be embarrassing.”

Without any question, that claim was accurate. Still:

Shaping the facts to a “preconceived version of a story that is supposed to be somehow better than the truth?” Earlier this year, Bill Clinton referred to that very practice, describing it as the use of a “storyline.”

Bradlee and Clinton described the same practice—but Clinton said the mainstream press corps is constantly engaged in that practice. That possibility didn’t intrude on Bradlee’s lecture that night—and Bradlee was quite promiscuous in his ascription of “lies” to everyone else.

As far as we know, Ben Bradlee always did his job in the way he saw it. We’d say he wasn’t especially sharp that night.

By the time he delivered that lecture, his own press corps had created and advanced a wide range of very silly stories, especially in their coverage of White House campaigns.

By now, those silly stories have plainly changed the world’s history. In our view, liberals need to understand those silly stories better.

Bradlee didn’t seem to know that this culture had invaded his own guild. In our view, he wasn’t real sharp that night.

Tomorrow, more detail on why we say that.

Tomorrow: Highly promiscuous charges

Capehart succumbs rather early: This morning, in an on-line post, Jonathan Capehart succumbed to the mandate in just his third paragraph.

“He said exactly what he thought and did so with the bluest language possible,” Capehart writes.

A bit later, Capehart adds this second point:

“I didn’t know Bradlee at all.”


  1. I was concerned that good journos were being seduced and cul-de-sac-ed into Omidyar's Trojan Horse, but then Marcy Wheeler escaped. Now Matt Taibbi has departed showing their own intelligence and perspective. Good on 'em.

  2. And yet when Bernstein quoted John Mitchell saying, "Katie Graham's gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's published!" Bradlee cut the word "her tit" because the WaPo is a family newspaper (it had a wonderful comics page in those days).

    Or did he just change it to "her boob" -- as a possible reference to himself.

    1. I was always curious about that quote. I would have though it more likely that Mitchell would characterize Graham's tit as big and fat rather than the wringer.
      But I didn't know Graham at all. Mitchell neither.

    2. It was wrong when Mitchell said it and it doesn't get any better when you guys repeat it.

  3. Bradlee saved his most salty speech for when he was in the company of JFK and Jackie. Here is a 1960 photo of Bradlee with his arm around Jackie Kennedy. Good thing JFK and Ben were buddies of the same political ideology. Imagine the front page WaPo stories about Fiddle & Faddle in the White House pool if Ben ever got pissed off at Jack.

    1. cicero, of course, knew Bradlee and the Kennedy's better than Capehart.

    2. The point is that Bradlee socialized with a sitting POTUS and then felt he could remain neutral when it came to what stories would appear in WaPo about JFK. In actuality, Bradlee acted as JFK's PR flunky rather than as the hard-hitting editor he became when Nixon was in office.

      BTW: You read for yourself Bradlee using his high sodium language in the link I posted .

    3. cicero -- you have just summarized one of Somerby's main complaints about the press in general. It hobnobs too much with the people it is supposed to be covering and making highly paid celebrities of media figures exacerbates this problem.

  4. How sharp—if you must, how “smart”—is theOTB?

    Quite often we think, not real smart. Again and again, the OTB just don’t seem especially sharp.

    Many a BOBfan has a hard time coming to terms with that assessment, which may seem counterintuitive. Let’s start with a trivial example.

    In this morning’s Howler Post, Bob repeats things from several recent posts about the late Ben Bradlee, who died last week at 93.

    As we’ve long noted, our BOB is... only happy when repeating the same things. In the current matter, we’ve been struck by the somewhat childish way has chided others for "leaving things out" when covering others.

    In yesterday's post, BOB chided Rachel Maddow for showing part of what Rep. Issa said about getting Ebola on a bus, but leaving out the part where the ebola sufferer throws up on you. The day before he attacked Piereson and Riley for quoting research by Stanford’s Sean Reardon from 2011 because they left out something Reardon wrote in 2013.

    Then today BOB took a trivial shot at one of his favorite targets:

    BOB: Capehart succumbs rather early: This morning, in an on-line post, Jonathan Capehart succumbed to the mandate in just his third paragraph.

    “He said exactly what he thought and did so with the bluest language possible,” Capehart writes.

    A bit later, Capehart adds this second point:

    “I didn’t know Bradlee at all.”

    Of course, BOB left out the beginning of Capehart's piece, where he describes a lunch he had with Bradlee and Walter Pincus, their brief encounters in the hall, or the fact he attended parties at Bradlee's home (you remember the House don't you, BOBfans?). But what else did BOB leave out?

    In fact, using words which might sound familiar to BOBfans, you could describe BOB's work like this:

    BOB doctored the text....., making it look like Capehart had made a completely ridiculous statement.... Please note what has been amputated from Issa's actual statement.

    "I didn’t know Bradlee at all. Not the way Pincus or Eugene Robinson or so many others who actually worked with him did.

    That BOB. How sharp—if you must, how “honest”—is the OTB?"

    1. OMB, we failed to completely amputate Issa's name, making it possible for smart BOBfans to know we were plagiarizing from BOB. Motherf*^#ing s%*t! We can't believe how lazy, stupid, and journalist-like we have become. We think we will go throw up on ourselves, or at least join Meredith and the mop on the back porch of the posh house and have a good cry.

    2. KZ recently has chided BOB and BOBfans about a very special Rachel Maddow show coming up. When he told us was that BOB was serving a completely ridiculous statement, a couple of them freaked out. They said it was ILLEGAL???!!!

      According to the Howler website, it says that it is legal...but dang it if I can't find anywhere else that can confirm the legality of plagiarizing from BOB in CA...or the US!

      (you remember the cutting and pasting don't you, BOBfans?)

    3. Interesting @ 2:51. Interesting.

    4. I think the word you are looking for is incoherent, not interesting.

      KZ, again you can only read in the most literal way, focusing on triviality. You don't need the paragraphs where Capehart describes his casual acquaintance with Bradlee to understand what he means when he says he didn't know him. When someone uses clichés to eulogize someone who has just died, it is obvious to all that the speaker did not really know the deceased. That may be the problem for the rest of the people quoted as well. To say something beyond the script, you would have to know the man more intimately or think more deeply about what you do know.

      KZ, no one wants you here. Your pathetic responses to your own comments are just embarrassing. Go away.

    5. Go away @ 3:34. Why do you think Bob left out the second sentence?

    6. Because it was unnecessary and irrelevant to his point. Others knew Bradlee better. Of course they did. Since you missed his point entirely, it is understandable you wouldn't understand his editing decision. You think leaving anything out is a crime, but when you quote, you always leave something out because you are excerpting, not repeating the whole of what was said. You quote what is needed for your purposes. You don't understand (or don't like) Somerby's purposes, so you carp about his quoting.

      We are all tired of reading your garbage. Go away.

    7. Anonymous @ 3:34 sounds like the one who defended Bob against the excessivem literalism of KZ just yesterday by writing:

      "Somerby is not saying that ad wasn't an ad -- he is asking whether the ad was an actual ad."

    8. @ 3:52 "Because it was necessary or it would have ruined his point." FIFY

      Since you missed ZKoD's point or can't refute it, perhaps you should simply quit while you are behind but still within sight.

      If you like Somerby's general theme, you shouldn't defend him when he does the same thing he faults in others. Deleting the sentence changed the meaning.

    9. If you think KZ has a point, we have nothing to talk about.

    10. Anonymous October 29, 2014 at 6:56 PM (edited)

      Don't confuse me with facts.


    11. 3:19 -thanks KZ.

  5. The mainstream media lies. This is a big deal. Bob lies too you claim? It's important to you that Bob lies just like the mainstream media? We're still left with a lying, inept press core. Your point is that Bob is just like them? Bob is a liar just like media he criticizes? It seems a bit daft when one compares the scope and influence of each.

    1. Some might argue that Bob lies, so when he claims the mainstream media lies it makes his argument a bit less credible. And perhaps that explains why his scope and influence is what it is.

      But that may be a bit difficult for Bobfollowers to grasp.
      You, the people, are dumb.

    2. Calling someone a liar requires evidence. Nothing presented here by schizophrenic idiots like KZ constitutes proof that Somerby has told any lies. Calling people here dumb changes nothing about that.