Part 3—The empress’s very old clothes: On an individual basis, Frank Bruni may be the world’s nicest person. We have no idea.
As a journalist—especially as a political journalist—he has long been a rather bad joke.
It started in the fall of 1999. For reasons we’ve never seen explained, the inexperienced youngish scribe was assigned to cover Candidate Bush for the New York Times.
Quickly, the fawning appeared. In September of that year, Bruni wrote a fawning, 1800-word profile of the candidate’s “almost preposterously charmed quest for the Republican Presidential nomination.”
The reporter started by praising Bush’s preposterously charmed footwear.
“When Gov. George W. Bush of Texas first hit the Presidential campaign trail in June, he wore monogrammed cowboy boots, the perfect accessory for his folksy affability and casual self-assurance,” Bruni wrote at the start of his preposterously silly report.
“But when he visited New Hampshire early last week, he was shod in a pair of conservative, shiny black loafers that seemed to reflect more than the pants cuffs above them.”
What did those shiny loafers “seem to reflect?” To answer that question, just click here. Prepare for preposterous fawning!
By late November, Bruni was setting world records in two journalistic categories—inanity of observation and unfettered fawning to power. By now, Bush’s large lead in the New Hampshire polls was almost gone. But so what? On page one of the New York Times, “Panchito” started like this:
BRUNI (11/27/99): As George W. Bush loped through the headquarters of the Timberland Company here, he might have been any candidate in the hunt for votes, any pol on the path toward the presidency. He tirelessly shook hands, dutifully took questions and let a multitude of promises bloom.Three years later, this “Jack LaLanne” would lead the U.S. to war with Iraq. This might suggest the need for a more serious approach to the coverage of White House campaigns.
But there was something different about Governor Bush's approach, something jazzier and jauntier. It came out in the way he praised a 20-year-old man for his "articulate" remarks, then appended the high-minded compliment with a surprising term of endearment.
"Dude," Mr. Bush called his new acquaintance.
It emerged again when Mr. Bush crossed paths with an elderly employee, and she told him that he had her support.
"I'll seal it with a kiss!" Mr. Bush proposed and, wearing a vaguely naughty expression, swooped down on the captive seamstress.
Mr. Bush's arm curled tight around the shoulders of other voters; he arched his eyebrows and threw coquettish grins and conspiratorial glances their way. It was campaigning as facial calisthenics, and Mr. Bush was its Jack LaLanne.
Bruni was utterly clownish that day in November 1999. According to his front-page report, Candidate Bush was “physically expansive and verbally irreverent, folksy and feisty, a politician more playful than most of his peers.”
The fawning continued through the piece, which ended with this observation by Bruni: “With every wink, hug and bit of effortless banter, he projects a spirit as mirthful as many voters would undoubtedly like their futures to be.”
Two months later, Bush lost New Hampshire to John McCain in a 19-point blow-out. Bruni’s powers of observation had perhaps been too jazzy and jaunty that day.
Bruni maintained his ridiculous conduct right through November 2000. At the crucial first debate between Bush and Gore, he thought Bush was doing so poorly that he later remembered “thinking that Bush was in the process of losing the presidency.”
That’s what Bruni remembered later. But he didn’t remember or say this until 2002, when he published a book about the Bush campaign. In real time, he wrote a piece in the Times in which he mocked Gore’s performance at the crucial debate!
In even a slightly rational world, dissembling and clowning of this type would get a person run out of the journalism game. At the New York Times, extended clowning of this type qualifies the artist in question to write a twice-weekly column.
In 2002, Ann Coulter cited Bruni as one of the “long-suffering friends who give me ideas” in the acknowledgments section of her ludicrous book, Slander. In 2011, Bruni was unveiled as a twice-weekly columnist for the New York Times.
Back in 1999, did Frank Bruni actually think that Bush’s shiny black loafers seemed to reflect more than the pants cuffs above them? Everything is possible!
That said, it’s very hard to believe that Bruni wrote last Sunday’s column in good faith—the column in which he said he’s confused by Candidate Clinton’s use of the rather common term, “everyday Americans.”
It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t know who that term refers to. It’s hard to believe that he really thinks that voters may find it off-putting.
It’s easier to believe that Bruni was starting the latest charade, in which very strange people at very large news orgs pretend to discuss our endless White House campaigns.
In fairness to Bruni, everybody loves a charade at newspapers like the Times! On Sunday, Bruni seemed to be starting the latest procession—but so did columnist Maureen Dowd, who has been visibly crazy for a very long time now.
In the high-profile Sunday Review, Bruni pretended that he was “confused” by Clinton’s use of a very familiar term. By way of contrast, Dowd returned to her craziest theme, in which she complains that Democratic women behave like men while Democratic men behave like women.
Dowd never stops pushing this lunatic theme. On Sunday, she pimped it again, extending the inveterate Clinton/Gore hatred she will maintain until stopped.
At the start of the passages shown below, Dowd is pretending to discuss Campaign 2008. The “feminized man” to whom she refers is, of course, Barack Obama.
When we the people tolerate this type of charade, we play an active role in our nation’s rolling demise. We enable the nation’s dismantling:
DOWD (4/19/15): Hillary saw the foolishness of acting like a masculine woman defending the Iraq invasion after she fell behind to a feminized man denouncing it.This craziness follows several decades of same. During those decades, Dowd repeatedly bashed Candidate Obama as a “diffident debutante” while trashing Candidate Edwards as “the Breck Girl.”
Hillary always overcorrects. Now she has zagged too far in the opposite direction, presenting herself as a sweet, docile granny in a Scooby van, so self-effacing she made only a cameo in her own gauzy, demographically pandering presidential campaign announcement video and mentioned no issues on her campaign’s website.
In her Iowa round tables, she acted as though she were following dating tips from 1950s advice columnists to women trying to “trap” a husband: listen a lot, nod a lot, widen your eyes, and act fascinated with everything that’s said. A clip posted on her campaign Facebook page showed her sharing the story of the day her granddaughter was born with some Iowa voters, basking in estrogen as she emoted about the need for longer paid leave for new mothers: “You’ve got to bond with your baby. You’ve got to learn how to take care of the baby.”
She and her fresh team of No-Drama ex-Obama advisers think that this humility tour will move her past the hilarious caricature by Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live” of Hillary as a manipulative, clawing robot who has coveted the role as leader of the free world for decades. But isn’t there a more authentic way for Hillary to campaign as a woman—something between an overdose of testosterone and an overdose of estrogen, something between Macho Man and Humble Granny?
She said Candidate Gore was “so feminized he’s practically lactating.” Her attacks on the wives and daughters of male Democrats attained its high (or low) point wither her poisonous attacks on the clothing, make-up and horrible hair of Candidate Dean’s doctor-lady wife.
Candidate Obama’s wife was a bit of a bossy black b-word. And then, there were the many months of gender-crazed attacks on Candidate Clinton in 2007 and 2008.
In June 2008, the public editor of the Times savaged Dowd for this poisonous, lunatic conduct—for “the relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on Clinton.”
To read Clark Hoyt’s column, click here.
Hoyt spoke truth to lunatic power that day. That said, our favorite, highly-paid “liberal journalists” refuse to follow suit.
Maureen Dowd is a power within the business. Maddow and Hayes will never discuss her poisonous, lunatic conduct.
At some point, the charades of people like Bruni and Dowd constitute a basic challenge to us, the people. Like the famous child who famously noted his emperor’s famous lack of clothes, we are issued a basic challenge:
Are we able to see and describe what is right there before us?
Maddow isn’t going to help. Hayes will avert his gaze, as will Eugene and E.J. and Lawrence and Chris and the rest of the many charadists.
Joan Walsh isn’t going to help. Even Digby seems to lack the willingness to speak.
We the people are on our own. At some point, we must answer some basic questions:
Are we able to see the conduct of the Brunis and the Dowds for what it so plainly is? Are we able to see how faux it is? That it constitutes a charade?
Many of us aren’t able to see that. Like the citizens in that famous old story, we can’t see past the glare of authority. Thanks to the shine of Bruni’s loafers, we can’t see Dowd’s lack of clothes.
Here’s the more encouraging news:
In comments, more and more New York Times readers have been complaining about this gong-show charade. The rest of us need to stop looking to people like Rachel and Joan. We need to pattern ourselves on those commenters’ conduct.
On Friday, we’ll show you what some commenters said in response to Sunday’s two-headed charade. Tomorrow, we’ll explore an uglier story.
We’ll try to help you understand the depth of the current charade. We’ll show you what the august David Leonhardt chose to disappear.
Tomorrow: The thing you can never be told