The journalists can't help it: When it comes to promoting "moral equivalence," the journalists just can't help it.
Just consider the headlines which sit atop a featured piece in this morning's Washington Post. We refer to David Weigel's lengthy piece about the opening of the new season of the famously tedious TV program, Saturday Night Live.
Weigel's lengthy piece dominates the front page of the paper's Style section, the only section anybody ever actually reads. It sits beneath a large double headline. Rather plainly, those headlines promote a "moral equivalence" between Candidates Clinton and Trump:
This year; [sic] is it still a laughing matter?Especially within the context of the current election, any dope can understand what that headline implies. We have the two worst candidates in history! The pressure is on to sketch Clinton and Trump in the harsh way they deserve!
As Saturday Night Live starts again, the pressure's on to sketch Trump and Clinton in starker terms
It's classic "moral equivalence." It also baldly misstates the entire thrust of Weigel's intriguing piece.
(At present, we can offer no link. See below.)
Weigel's piece does not report that the pressure is on to paint Clinton and Trump in starker terms. Weigel reports that the pressure is on to paint Trump in starker terms—to stop normalizing Trump while demonizing Clinton, as the program is alleged to have done last year.
Whatever you think of Clinton or Trump; whatever you think of the program's past work; that is the pressure Weigel describes in his 1500-word piece. But how typical! As a familiar warm liquid began to run down his leg or her leg, some editor placed a headline atop the piece which completely reversed its content.
Whatever you think of the program's past work, Weigel describes complaints about an alleged double standard in its profiles of Clinton and Trump. He reports that advocates of Candidate Trump and Candidate Sanders thought last year's profiles of those candidates were helpful to their campaigns. He reports that Clinton supporters thought Kate McKinnon's portrait of Candidate Clinton took things a whole different way.
Whatever you think of this program's past work, that's the claim which Weigel discusses. Whoever wrote the headlines either 1) doesn't know how to read or 2) is unable to get through the day without the requisite dose of fresh-squeezed "moral equivalence."
For ourselves, we think Saturday Night Live is a low-IQ blight on the political culture—a low-IQ blight which occasionally produces a skillful, entertaining impression of some political figure. When that happens, the success of the impression flows from the performance skills of some individual performer.
Having said that, beware! Just because those featured performers are skilled, that doesn't mean that they have insightful political perceptions, or any such perceptions at all. At least on the surface, this point seems most clear in Weigel's account of his interview with McKinnon.
Midway through his essay, Weigel quotes Bernie Sanders himself. Sanders says that Larry David's ballyhooed, utterly pointless impression of Sanders "was a positive in the campaign, absolutely," last year.
Weigel continues from there. We can give you a link down below:
WEIGEL (10/1/16): McKinnon's Clinton, a breakout character, was less of an obvious boon to the campaign. A typical sketch had her promising anything that voters wanted, with a rictus and wild eyes. "Aren't we such a fun, approachable dynasty?" she asked in an early sketch about a "spontaneous"-looking campaign video. In last season's finale, she and "Sanders" shared a drink at a bar over how the primary was "so rigged"—an impression that continues to cost Clinton votes from her left.Could McKinnon's portrait of Clinton actually effect the campaign? In principle, yes, it plainly could. In practice, there will almost surely be no way to tell.
McKinnon, who thanked Clinton in her Emmy victory speech, told the New York Times' Maureen Dowd in 2015 that Clinton was "a brilliant intellectual, a crusader for things I care deeply about." Asked about the idea that her impression could swing the election, McKinnon called it "the worst thing I could ever imagine," and described the impression as a joke more at society's expense than the candidate's.
"If you had a man saying the same things, that would not qualify as a comedic character, and I think that's deeply problematic and speaks more about our culture than it does about her," McKinnon said. "She's a staunch, passionate lady, and in our culture, unfortunately, there's something funny about that. There shouldn't be anything funny about that, but that tickles us for some reason. So that's what I've been working with, and her zeal is what I find delightful about her."
McKinnon isn't the only comedian with regrets that the election has been framed as a choice between a relatable buffoon and a power-hungry dynast...
That said, McKinnon—at least as presented by Weigel—shows little sign of understanding the way this dynamic might work. (For what it's worth, it seems clear that SNL's sketches after the first Bush-Gore debate did affect the subsequent conduct of the Gore campaign.)
At least as presented by Weigel, McKinnon offers a lofty, overthought analysis of what the public's reaction to her portrait "really" means. It "speaks more about our culture than it does about [Clinton]," she loftily, thoughtfully says.
It's society's fault, McKinnon says, at least as presented by Weigel. Meanwhile, the image of McKinnon discussing these topics with Maureen Dowd creates an image which will be hard to get out of our analysts' heads.
In terms of its politics, SNL has been an extremely low-IQ show almost every step of the way. In our view, writer-for-life Jim Downey is a very decent guy—you can see us jousting with him in this C-Span videotape—but his politics could hardly be more simple-minded.
At one point, Weigel says this: "Other comedy shows might get didactic; Saturday Night Live aims to mirror and parody what voters already know."
Translation: SNL aims to mirrow what voters think they know. The program deals in the dumbest forms of conventional wisdom, an obvious fact which Weigel was too professionally cautious to say.
(Similarly, there is no sign that Weigel challenged McKinnon about her airy analysis of the possible problem he is discussing. Translation: McKinnon is a major star. Weigel's a mid-level journalist.)
Could SNL effect the election? Actually, yes—it could. In his lengthy, high-profile essay, Weigel discusses an intriguing criticism which has been aimed at the low-IQ network show.
Some headline writer came along. As a journalist, he just couldn't help it.
Many Post readers will scan those headlines. Many, many fewer people will read the Weigel report.
Our kingdom for a link: At we post, Weigel's essay can't be found on the Post's web site. It's the lengthy, featured piece in this morning's Style section, the only section anyone reads. But it doesn't seem to be available to anyone but Post subscribers.
Does anyone have the slightest idea how this newspaper works?
BREAKING! The missing link: Using Google, we found this link. If you go to the Post's web site, there is no sign that this intriguing essay even exists.
On-line, the headline reflects what the article says. In this morning's hard-copy Post, the very prominent double headline turns the piece on its head.
Does anyone have any idea how this newspaper works?