BEHIND THE CURTAIN CONTINUED: Pet groomers and Chanel's cruise show oh my!


Part 4—Where does inanity come from:
It's one of the day's "noteworthy facts" at today's New York Times. Readers acquire this noteworthy fact in today's Of Interest section:
Of Interest
"Faster throws are less accurate, according to a new study by Harvard and Yale."
People, watch that space! You'll likely acquire that noteworthy fact nowhere else on the planet!

Faster throws are less accurate! These too are noteworthy facts, or so it says in today's hard-copy Times:
"The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the job category that includes pet groomers will grow 11 percent through the year 2023, faster than the average growth for the economy as a whole."

"For Chanel's 2018 cruise show, the fashion house built a set based on the Parthenon as well as the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion. It took 50 craftspeople three weeks of construction, and nine days of assembly, to complete."
According to the reimagined page A3 in today's New York Times, those are just some of the noteworthy facts found in this morning's paper!

Who has selected these noteworthy facts? The noteworthy fact about "faster throws" seems to have come from a Zen master playing 16-dimensional haiku.

Who selected the other facts? Has Forrest Gump signed on at the Times? Were they nurtured by Chance the gardener?

Presumably, we all can spot another noteworthy fact. The reinvention of pages A2 and A3 represents a deliberate dumbing down of the New York Times' hard-copy editions—part of a process which has been underway for a large number of years.

You might see it as part of a process which started with the paper's surrender to "Creeping Dowdism." An historian could track it to that.

On this morning's page A3, the inanity is general. In the daily Spotlight feature, the "additional reportage and repartee" concerns a highly important topic—"the art and culture of the disco movement." Meanwhile, today's Here to Help feature is headlined exactly like this:
Here to Help
An unnamed author tries to help us answer that seminal question. "There is no one right way to organize a desk," we're helpfully told in the body of the report. But soon, we're offered this subsection, courtesy of Julie Morgenstern, "a time management expert:"
Are the piles on your desk the same ones that were there three weeks ago, or are they moving? As long as they're not stagnant, you're probably doing O.K. with your clutter, Ms. Morgenstern says.
It's amazing the way a problem dissolves when an expert is brought in to help!

In the past few days, a number of major journalists have explicitly asked if President Trump is suffering from dementia. We'd say that's a clear possibility.

That said: to the extent that dementia may be part of our current Trumpism, it must be said that the syndrome surfaced in the culture of the mainstream press corps long before Trump came along.

On its new pages A2 and A3, the New York Times is making a fairly clear statement. Rather clearly, the paper believes that a substantial chunk of its readers are in the grip of this syndrome too.

On these reimagined pages, we're being dumbed down to the ground. But the sheer inanity put on display has been part of upper-end press culture for a large number of years.

Yesterday, to cite one example, we saw the Washington Post's Philip Rucker return to the vexing matter of Al Gore's revealing beard. Gore grew the beard in 2001; sixteen years later, it still haunts press corps sleep. At the time, it led the multimillionaire Chris Matthews to tell his pal, the brilliant Don Imus, that Gore "doesn't even seem American" because of the troubling beard.

For the record, it wasn't just the troubling beard that haunted Matthews back then. Two years earlier, he was counting the buttons on Gore's troubling suit jackets (three) and explaining that they stamped Candidate Gore as "today's man-woman."

Then too, there was Mary McGrory.

A few weeks before Matthews began counting buttons, Candidate Gore and Candidate Bradley staged their first Democratic debate. They spoke at length about health care, a topic the mainstream and liberal press corps still refuse to discuss. (You may not know what we mean.)

Gore and Bradley spoke at length about their ideas for health care. On CNN's Capital Gang, the National Review's Kate O'Beirne, (recently deceased) praised them for the breadth of their knowledge.

At the Washington Post, things were different. Pulitzer prize-winning Mary McGrory discussed the debate in her column a few days later. She had nothing to say about health care at all. Instead, she insulted Post readers like this:
MCGRORY (10/31/99): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.

Was it part of his reinvention strategy? Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—"I am not a well-dressed man." It is hard to imagine that he thought to ingratiate himself with the nation's earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station. Maybe it was the first step in shedding his Prince Albert image.
McGrory had nothing to say about the discussion of health care. (She herself had excellent health care, of course.) Instead, she insulted Gore, and her readers' intelligence, by offering bullshit like that. That very same day, it was reported that Naomi Wolf was advising the Gore campaign. There followed a solid month of ugly press corps dementia, an ugly jihad heavily laced with misogynistic appeals.

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump is suffering from dementia? Unfortunately, it is.

That said, a form of dementia has been on display within our upper-end press corps for years. Unfortunately the Drums and Chaits have never told us rubes about it, presumably for the obvious reasons. For that reason, our liberal rank and file has failed to stage a resistance.

The New York Times' reimagined A2 and A3 are part of this growing inanity. At the upper end of the press corps guild, this aspect of Trumpism had acquired wide purchase long before Trump came along.

What explains the sheer inanity to which our upper-class "journalists" are drawn? We'll suggest you think of Bob Woodward's most famous saying, and of his subsequent conduct:

"Follow the money," we'd say.

Alas, failed Woodward! He stands as an object lesson in the culture of the modern press, where massive wealth and massive fame may come to those who suitably perform.

Let's assume that Woodward's work was beyond reproach at the start. By 1996, he had descended to the point where he was willing to peddle an otherwise unsellable book on the thoroughly enjoyable premise that first lady Hillary Clinton had been conducting "seances" in the White House.

Don't get us wrong! Woodward didn't explicitly say in his book that Clinton had ginned up a seance. He just let the publisher float this idea as the catchy "hook" for his otherwise unsellable book, and the bullshit exploded from there.

This was a scam, a con, a play designed to shovel in money. As it later turned out, the original "source" for Woodward's claim had been a young woman named Barbara Feinman, now Barbara Feinman Todd. She wrote her own book just this year, bringing this story back around.

Who is Barbara Feinman Todd? To see the soul of your upper-end press, we'll suggest that you spend an hour watching her interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-Span's Q-and-A program at the start of the year. You'll see her describe the various types of unseemly behavior in which she engaged at Woodward's direction. You'll see her tell her overwrought, ridiculous story about Bob Kerrey and the dead birds.

(Just a guess: Lamb thought the story was utterly weird when he encountered it in Feinman's book. He decided to draw her out.)

Uh-oh! When money and fame are there for the taking, the wrong sorts of people may find themselves drawn to the flame. With that obvious thought in mind, just how much money and fame are mixed up in modern press culture?

Did you read about the way Sally Quinn just put her summer home on the market for a cool $20 million? Not that there's anything wrong with it! But because Quinn was married to the late Ben Bradlee, that too is a Watergate wage.

The possibility of massive wealth and fame are sloshing around in our modern "press corps." This attracts the wrong people to the game. It also tends to fry the brains of those who are involved.

As Hemingway noted: when "the rich" arrive on the scene, inanity is likely to follow. Inanity has lay at the soul of the upper-end "press" ever since Kathrine Boo issued her quickly disappeared warning about that advance of Dowdism.

The Dionnes and the Alters failed to speak up. The Riches were at the heart of the fail. Our own liberal rank and file has shown no sign of being able to spot the growing reliance on The Dumb.

We pride ourselves on being bright. In truth, we're nothing like that at all.

Marie Antoinette had wealth and fame. "Let them eat cake," she's famously said to have said.

The upper-end press has found wealth and fame too. As the start of the inanity's spread, the late Michael Kelly decided to go to the ball.

Kelly was a childhood friend of the aforementioned Dowd. In a recent Editorial Observer, the New York Times' Elizabeth Williamson recalled the first of his gifts to upper-end press corps culture:
WILLIAMSON (4/28/17): The first {White House Correspondents' Dinner] was in 1921, when all 50 attendees were journalists—all white men. They ate at the Arlington Hotel near the White House, enjoyed a satirical piano singalong and ''such fun as the Prohibition era afforded,'' as one participant said then. The first president to attend this Rotary Club-style knees-up was Calvin Coolidge, in 1924...In 1962, John F. Kennedy, nudged by Helen Thomas, alpha female of the press corps, refused to attend unless women were at last admitted.

The dinner took its star turn in 1987, when Michael Kelly, then a Baltimore Sun reporter, ''pulled off the social coup of the year,'' according to The Los Angeles Times, by escorting Fawn Hall, ''the mysterious and beautiful secretary [who] has barely uttered two words to reporters since she was granted immunity in the investigation of the Iran-contra arms scandal.'' In 1988 his date was Donna Rice, whose relationship with Gary Hart wrecked his presidential bid.

Today the event lasts a televised five hours, its red carpet worn bare by a Star Wars bar of celebrities and politicos, media brass, corporate advertisers and lobbyists who foot the $3,000 per-table bill. Inviting a topical, incongruous or offensive guest scores more bragging rights than winning one of the journalism awards.
If you click, you can catch a photo of Greta Van Susteren, Rachel's great pal, posing with Kim Kardashian!

At any rate, so cool! First he escorted Fawn Hall, and after that Donna Rice! By the late 1900s, he was one of the leading Clinton-Gore haters and dissemblers. When he got himself killed in Iraq, one young journalist recalled the great parties at the big giant house he had scored.

Quinn's summer home may score $20 million. If we "follow money" like that, history says that sheer inanity is almost certain to follow.

And so today, the New York Times is working to dumb our world down. It's been working this angle, rather successfully, for the past number of years. People are dead all over the world because our press corps had gamboled and played. Donald Trump seems slightly crazy today. Our journalists beat him to it.

Along the way, someone must pay the bills! Did you see the recent full-page ads for this great offer from the New York Times travel auxiliary?

People, listen up! You can jet around the world for a mere $135,000! You won't see the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion. But Nicholas Kristof will be on hand to tell you about Easter Island!

Go ahead—click that link! The advertisement says the trip will take you "behind the headlines." We would say that the ad itself takes you behind a curtain.

The contemporary upper-end "press corps" is steeped in this big-money culture. Conservatives are actually told about this silly ridiculous nonsense. Over Here, within our own tents, we just flounder along.

Watergate built a bunch of large homes. It also led to the gross inanity which has long typified upper-end press culture.

We liberals have never staged a resistance. Tomorrow, the final insult.

Tomorrow: David Leonhardt's magic hour. The three faces of Rachel's TV


  1. All media have been dumbed down because they are consumed while multi-tasking. No one simply reads the newspaper any more. They do it while doing any number of other things simultaneously.

    We cannot attend to two things at once, so we must shift attention back and forth between multiple tasks while multi-tasking. Each time, you need to reorient to what you were doing in each task, find your place in order to continue. That has a big cost when trying to follow a complex argument or plot line, or pick up where you left off in dialog. It makes reading anything lengthy or complicated very difficult.

    So, TV shows that are hard to follow do not get renewed. Everything is now on the order of soap opera writing, where it is repetitive, easy to pick up in midstream, short and attention grabbing, easy to absorb. Because people don't pay sufficient attention to grasp anything else these days. If you don't write like that, people will avoid you.

    So graphic novels, reality TV, and easy entry, easy exit compendiums of bits and pieces of news are successful and no one reads literature any more, because they haven't been trained in how to sustain attention, and they don't know enough to shut off their cell phones while trying to read.

    Teachers are noticing that students don't actually read textbooks any more. They skim. That's what they do to all media. And how much can you grasp while skimming? Superficialities.

    So Somerby is attacking the wrong target. The culprit here is digital multi-tasking and a culture that assaults the senses in order to attract attention that is constantly shifting from one thing to another.

    It doesn't matter what any one snippet says because the reader will have moved on.

  2. Is there any industry where the people at the top don't make a lot of money?

    Do the people at the top actually determine the content of the paper on a daily basis? How much do they, and not market forces (appeal to a designated customer base or demographic), determine slant or content?

    I would be interested in this theme if Somerby were to tell us how much the rank and file writers at papers like the Times earn. Are they corrupted by too much wealth too? Somerby hints that some of them come from elite colleges, but do all of them? What percentage?

    Now that it costs a lot to live in Manhattan and the demographics of that city, which is the NY Times audience, should they be blamed if they slant their content toward the people who live there? Isn't this kind of like blaming the businesses that serve Beverly Hills and other rich enclaves for catering to the wealthy?

    What exactly is Somerby's point?

  3. The film, Idiocracy, seems more and more prescient.

  4. Brian Lamb had Amy Chozick on Q & A too.

    Where is she now anyhow, on the metro desk in Poughkeepsie?

  5. How did Barbara Feinman find out about the "seance"? She was ghostwriting Hillary's "It Takes a Village".

  6. Gore, Gore, Gore, Gore, Gore!

    Yay,Yay,Yay,Yay, Yay, Yay!


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