Supplemental: Silliness never sleeps!


The New York Times kicks off the same old year:
At the nation's dumbest newspaper, the silliness never sleeps.

Today, the nation starts its allegedly "new" year. But at the top of the New York Times front page, the silliness announces itself through these silly-bill, hard-copy headlines:
Punch Lines Versus Polish On Iowa Trail
An Informal Christie and a Lofty Rubio
"Punch Lines Versus Polish?" Screaming, the analysts recalled Newsweek's headline from Campaign 1996: "Saxophone Vs. Sacrifice."

Below that headline, Newsweek compared Candidate Dole's masterful service in World War II to President Clinton louche demeanor in high school. More on that journalistic monster below. For now, let's consider the Times' latest masterwork.

This morning's "Punch Lines Versus Polish" report was written by Michael Barbaro. Fresh from his 2011 front-page profile of Candidate Romney's hair stylist, America's silliest boy started today's piece as shown below.

In this way, our most fatuous newspaper started the country's new year:
BARBARO (1/1/16): It was the same question, on the same topic, asked on the same day to two different candidates: How, as president, would you hold down the crushing cost of a college education?

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey gave an operatic, eight-minute answer in which he derided rock-climbing walls as an extravagant campus fad, disclosed in minute detail his children’s tuition bill for the year ($120,500), poked fun at his weight and imagined a hypothetical showdown in which he told his 19-year-old daughter she could not return to the University of Notre Dame because of the price tag.


At a campaign stop 70 miles away, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida gave an answer half as long. Mr. Rubio efficiently, almost mechanically, ticked through his three-point plan to allow students to use work experience for class credit (in his words, “competency-based learning”), let private investors pay for tuition and make colleges divulge which majors yield the best-paying jobs. He concluded with a dark assessment of liberal arts colleges as “indoctrination camps” protected by the political left “because all their friends work there.”

As the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination enters a crucial stretch, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Christie, two political thoroughbreds who are among their generation’s most naturally gifted politicians, are circling each other in Iowa and New Hampshire, determined to use the intimate, grip-and-grin style of town hall meetings to persuade voters to support them.
Long story short: The "punch lines" came from Candidate Christie, the "polish" from Rubio.

As he continued, Barbaro revealed he had conducted "a close-in study of their approach over 48 hours" in Iowa. According to Barbaro, his close-in study has "reveal[ed] the strikingly different styles of the rivals."

In short, this report—which appears at the top of page one—is another entertaining description of two candidates' "style." Adding to the entertainment, we're quickly told that the two candidates have "traded unexpectedly stinging insults over the past few days."

In fact, the "stinging insults" in question turn out to be thoroughly standard campaign fare. But so what? As he continues, America's silliest boy is letting us feel that We Are There.

We also get some key statistics:
BARBARO: Mr. Christie’s town-hall-style meetings here are stripped-down, unfussy affairs, so determinedly casual that his staff picks coffeehouses, bowling alleys and even bars as sites. (Bars are inexpensive, staff members say, and the setting all but guarantees a crowd.) He uses no stage or barriers, just a microphone and a bottle of water with the label ripped off. He plops himself down in the middle of the room and wanders into the crowd and plays for laughs at almost every turn: The audience at a cafe here broke into laughter 21 times.

Mr. Rubio’s events are much more meticulously planned,
so formal that cloth-covered fencing is set up around the perimeter of the room. (Aides said it made the young lawmaker seem more presidential.) He speaks the entire time atop a raised platform, flanked by enormous red-white-and-blue campaign posters lit by spotlights. Polished applause lines tumble from his mouth: In Clinton, Iowa, the crowd interrupted him at least 15 times with bursts of clapping.
Our silly boy is providing us with the facts. Candidate Christie's audience broke into laughter 21 times. By way of contrast, Candidate Rubio's crowd produced 15 bursts of applause! It was punch lines versus polish!

Our silliest lad keeps this up for 1439 words today. Along with his riveting text, two large photographs show the two candidates speaking. Truth to tell, we never really learn very much about their plans to combat the rise in college costs, or if they have any such plans at all.

Instead, we get bullshit like this:
BARBARO: Mr. Rubio favors lofty, patriotic, high-minded narration to make his points; Mr. Christie relies on emotional, sometimes borscht-belt-style storytelling that can drag his events to two hours, twice as long as Mr. Rubio’s.

Asked about the funding shortfall for Social Security, Mr. Christie zeroed in on a few older women in a cafe, walking up to them and delivering his proposal to raise the retirement age with a side of marital humor. Male life expectancy, he said, has risen to 79, closing in on 83 for women. “That four-year vacation you were hoping for at the end of your life from us, you may not get it,” Mr. Christie told them as laughs erupted across the room. “We may be hanging with you the entire trip.”


Voters seem highly attuned to the stagecraft (or lack of it) in the candidates’ dueling town halls. In Clinton, in the northeast corner of the state, about a dozen people were left standing at a Rubio event despite ample space in the room: Using an old campaign trick, his staff had subdivided a large banquet hall to create the illusion of a packed room, but that also meant there was insufficient seating.

“I’m surprised they didn’t use this whole room,” said Laurie Kuehl, a 72-year-old woman who arrived after all the seats were filled.
Are the voters highly attuned to the candidates' stagecraft? Barbaro isn't willing to say. But that's sure how it seems!

By the way, is there a "funding shortfall for Social Security?" And if there is, how serious is the shortfall?

Silly boys like Barbaro will never, ever go there! His "news report" from Muscatine is in fact an entertainment feature. It appears at the top of the Times' front page, kicking off our latest "same old" year.

Let's review:

We got the key statistic on Candidate Christie's laugh breaks. We also got the key statistic on Candidate Rubio's bursts of applause.

But what will happen to federal deficits under Candidate Trump's formal budget proposal? As we noted on Wednesday, those statistics have never appeared in the New York Times! As it pretends to provide campaign coverage, the New York Times, our smartest newspaper, is pure piddle all the way down.

Newsweek in 1996: "Saxophone vs. Sacrifice?" Back in March 1996, what did that alliterative headline mean?

Alas! The headline sat above a piece by Joe Klein. The report compared the moral greatness of Candidate Dole's "greatest generation" to the moral squishiness of President Clinton's affluent, spoiled "baby boomers."

The photos to which the headline referred were journalistic porn. One photo showed the pudgy, spoiled President Clinton at age 16 in his high school band uniform. The other photo showed Candidate Dole in his World War II military garb.

We can't find the photos on line, but you can read the article here. It's horrible, terrible work. (Nothing in Klein's text refers to the headline, which makes no sense in the absence of the photos.)

To this day, the analysts writhe when they recall that entertaining old headline. This morning, at the start of a very old year, they were triggered by a similar headline at the top of the Times front page.

No safe space can protect us from this upper-class post-journalism! This morning's headline and pseudo-news report help define the Potemkin "national discourse" which has long undermined our world.

(For the record, the young Bob Dole was a draft-avoider too. Even during World War II, he stayed out as long as he could, preferring life as a student-athlete at the University of Kansas. We wouldn't and don't criticize him for that. We'll only note that press corps scripting kept you from learning such facts.)


  1. In an ideal world, the campaigns would be used to tell the voters how good a job a candidate is likely to do: His/her positions, likely appointees, likely policies, experience, qualifications, intellectual, management, and moral qualities, extent of knowledge and expertise, etc. In the real world, of course, the candidates campaign on whatever works. Mostly slinging mud.

    In an ideal world, the media would focus on all the items we voters could use to judge a candidate. Instead, the media mostly focus on the campaign itself. What a waste!

    1. That's because the "liberal media" is right-wing.

  2. There's nothing wrong with the stories outlined above as long as they're not the only stories we're getting. I don't know if reporters are getting lazier or if press handlers are getting more skilled, but there seems to be a more concerted effort these days in controlling the "MSM" and going over their heads through other media. In that sense, Nixon died for the sins of future politicians. Had he known what today's political hack learned through his mistakes, there would have been no Watergate.

    As a grudging admirer of the Clintons (I fear Hitchens may be closer to the truth about the than I'd like to think), I have to say his avoidance of military service was definitely "slick" and required going back on what became to many his dubious word of honor. I don't know what Dole did to avoid the draft, but I would have to know more of the particulars before equating the two situations. Throughout the 76 election it was clear Dole harbored bitterness over losing the use of his right arm, dismissing WWII as just another "Democrat war." I wonder how many members of the "greatest generation" have similar feelings about their adventures.

    Speaking of today's silly stories, I'm reminded of some of the "New Journalism" stories I was treated to. Returning to 1976, I particularly remember a story by Norman Mailer on his visit to Jimmy Carter in Plains, GA. What struck me about the account was how much I learned about -- Norman Mailer. Fortunately, Mailer was a writer with an exquisite style which alone made the piece worth reading, even if I had to turn to more mundane workaday ink-stained wretches for information about this strange Southern Democrat, vaguely, barely left-of-center candidate professing born-again evangelical Christi-inanity despite having the brain of a nuclear physicist.

    1. I can answer a couple of those questions for you, because I know quite a few WWII veterans as well as Vietnam era veterans. You can also look at statistics -- the number who enlisted voluntarily after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the number whose home countries (Italy, Hungary, Austria, France) were occupied, the number who understood what Hitler was and why he needed to be stopped. They knew why they were fighting, the country supported their efforts on the home front, and they returned to considerable personal problems but with a shared experience.

      In contrast, more Vietnam vets were drafted rather than enlisting. Their efforts were not shared at home expect by military families, and they returned to a country that felt the war was a mistake. They are bitter because their lives were interrupted (and even ruined) by something they could not avoid.

      Clinton did not dodge the draft. He was classified 1A and had a lottery number but his number was not called up. It was pure luck. Bush did dodge the draft. Dole was affected by changing rules about who was exempt at different points in the progress of the war.

      It is odd and politically expedient that Dole labeled the war as a Democrat war. Republicans were more likely to support Hitler before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, but no one was opposed to the war expect Quakers once American soil was bombed. Conservatives objected to FDR's support for Britain in Europe. They didn't object to fighting to protect the country once war was declared on us by the Axis powers (Germany and Italy declared war on the US when Japan bombed us).

      Rewriting history in order to make wars seem like Democratic boondoggles is dishonest. There are enough lies being told without that.

      The problems of Vietnam were compounded with Iraq I & II. Then, young people who joined the reserves in order to get their education paid for and learn job skills were suddenly mobilized and sent into combat, often multiple times, with their end of active service extended indefinitely and no support at home. Those stories are heart-breaking, especially the moms who were sent overseas without anyone to take care of their kids, spending a year or two separated from them. All to get college tuition (before the war was declared). That was all on Bush I & II.

    2. Sorry for typo: expect should be except.

    3. War in general is evil. WWII is a partial exception because the consequences of Nazi victory would have been so horrible. Dodging the draft then was questionable.

      The wars in Vietnam and Iraq were unnecessary and therefore criminal. Avoiding service then was good.

    4. You seem to be suggesting that Bush avoiding service was good because the Vietnam war was bad. I disagree. There were honorable ways of avoiding service and dishonorable ways. Bush could have been a conscientious objector or sought deferment or gone to Canada. Instead he enlisted in a domestic unit (pulling strings) then failed to perform his duties, even going AWOL at one point. Nothing about the Vietnam war justifies that.

  3. NYT may not be covering Trump's tax plan, but here's what Doug McKelway said about it Sunday when he sat in for Chris Wallace on Fox Sunday on 12/27: "You say [Trump] ran or runs a canny campaign, but I’m reminded, as you said that, of Winston Churchill's quote that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. His campaign has been devoid of substance, with the exception of his tax plan, which was legitimate, and I think fairly, widely praised."

    Oof, Doug!

    1. Fox is always saying stupid stuff. Another way to interpret this is that Trump is no smarter than the average voter -- not that he isn't bothering to explain anything because the average voter wouldn't get it.

  4. Nice blog, Your work is great and i like you and hopping for some more nice posts. Continue writing such a nice blog.

  5. Totally sick of this blog.

  6. Wish to point out that Rubio's answer to the college cost question made no sense. How is railing about liberal "indoctrination camps" a policy about college costs? Does Rubio think that nobody currently publishes statistics on hiring and salaries of college graduates by college and by degree? What does "private investment" mean in this case? It is a slogan as vacuous as the Republican plan to fix medical insurance by allowing insurers to sell "across state lines."

    In short, writing "... Mr. Rubio efficiently, almost mechanically, ticked through his three-point plan..." is pure hogwash. Rubio "ticked through" his repertoire of conservative feel-good (or feel-outraged) stories, every bit as much as Christie does.

    But in order to notice that, you have to listen to what the candidate says.

    1. Why would private investors pay for some student's tuition? Is Rubio thinking of modern day indentured servitude, where the student would owe so many years of work to the private investor that supported him? Or, maybe a structure akin to the sale of shares of a lawsuit. E.g., the student could sell, say, 10% of his first 5 years' earnings to a private investor in exchange for tuition money? Or, is this link what Rubio has in mind?

      Hopefully none of the above. I'm with Anon 3:26. I think it's just a vacuous slogan.

    2. It is common for medical employers to pay the student loans of new doctors they hire. It is also common for law firms to do that. They do it as an inducement during hiring, to get good graduates to work for their businesses. He may be thinking about that.

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  8. Glorious be to Dr. Bob for proving trivial coverage of campaigns has been around 20 years. If Al Gore had taken the initiative in creating the internet sooner, Bob might be able to give examples of banal press from even the time of the glorious gatekeepers.

    I am glad, however, to know what a silly, silly, silly man that Nick Barbaro is. The silliest, silliest ever. Kudos to Dr. Bob for puncturing this silliness for us all to see.

    1. You missed the point of his post. It is that the press is busy creating its own narratives woven from trivia, instead of covering the issues voters need to know about in order to vote intelligently.

      The press isn't supposed to make stuff up. The punchline versus polish hook distorts whatever the candidates did talk about and it focuses on process instead of substance.

      You should care about this. If you go back far enough, the press used to print candidate speeches verbatim so that voters could assess candidate statements and positions themselves. Now it is all fluff and voters have less to use in making their important decisions. You may think this is politics as usual. It isn't. We can do better -- our participatory democracy depends on it.

      You deride Somerby for caring. It reveals what an empty person you are (at best) and what an evil person you are (if subverting democracy is somehow a job or a partisan cause for you). You should be ashamed of yourself.

    2. You are so silly @ 1:16. I have nothing but praise for Dr. Bob.

    3. That's why you call him Dr. Bob, I suppose.

    4. Dr. Bob have exposed silliness but alas also journalistic monsters and journalistic porn.

      I have witness what is called horrible, terrible work thanks to Dr. Bob. I saw his post while browsing and I comment and tell you what I am passing through with no doubt because what I saw about him was enough to believe.
      Plus he knows all about draft avoidance.

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