SUMMER JOKES AND WHISPERS: These 5-year-old children today!


Part 1—Also, Mika's first book:
These 5-year-old children today!

We base our remark on a recent conversation with one such observer. The previous evening, her 11-year-old sister had spotted a porcupine, or something like one, on the back lawn of the sprawling, southern Maine home her grandparents had rented for the week.

The next morning, the subject arose again. This exchange ensued:
11-YEAR OLD GREAT NIECE: [Mentions her close encounter]

UNNAMED MEDIA WATCHER: I'd like to be with you the next time you spot it. Let's go back there tonight!

[Skillfully turns to 5-year-old]

You may not know this, but I'm often described as "the porcupine whisperer."

5-YEAR-OLD GREAT NIECE (almost pityingly): We can tell you're joking, Uncle [Name Withheld].
Whatever happened to truthful hyperbole? These 5-year-old children today have taken dead aim on the practice!

We spent our summer vacation engaged in such thoughtful discussions. Also, we read All Things at Once, Mika Brzezinski's first book.

You may not have known that Mika has written any books. All in all, they haven't produced much discussion.

Basically, she has written three books, starting with All Things at Once, her 2010 childhood-to-present day memoir. After that, she wrote a book about her neurotic inability to demand the level of pay she so richly deserves, followed by another book about her lifelong compulsive eating behaviors.

Upon our return from Maine, we learned that Mika has recently inked a deal to produce three more books. We had decided to read her first book after the Joe-and-Mika profile grew in the past month, a reaction to the pair's engagement and to the release of Joe's first EP, the one with the songs about so-called bad girls.

Based on a skim, years ago, of Mika's second book, we assumed that All Things at Once book would be somewhat interesting. In truth, the book was fascinating, in an array of ways.

Full disclosure: we've never liked Mika as a pundit. More accurately, she strikes us as one of the worst of our many pundits and analysts—as someone whose basic temperament poorly suits her to the task.

That doesn't mean that she's a bad person. It doesn't mean that she may not be good at something else.

But we've never shared the favorable view with which James Srodes started his review of Mika's book in the Washington Times. We say that because we agreed with virtually everything else he said in his generally unfavorable review, which started like this:
SRODES (1/29/10): At the outset, please know that I like the television personality Mika Brzezinski and am a regular viewer of the wake-up chatter show she co-hosts—“Morning Joe”—with former Congressman Joe Scarborough and their cast of jolly cronies. Mika’s program persona is that of the serious one of the team, the one who reads the hard-news bulletins and who regularly has to damp down the flights of craziness that the faux-folksy Mr. Scarborough lapses into. You get the feeling you would like to work with Mika, to be her next-door neighbor.

Except maybe you wouldn’t. The Mika Brzezinski portrayed by Mika Brzezinski in this memoir is a person almost totally consumed by ambition,
but with a startling naivete about the real world of work. That personality is also layered with numerous sub-strata, including an incredible sense of entitlement, deep-rooted insecurity and compulsive behavior patterns that have led to poor career choices along the way.
Oof. We're not sure that we perceived an "incredible sense of entitlement" in All Things at Once. But as we read Brzezinski's book, we were struck by the other traits Srodes described, including some he notes later in his review.

Please note—we aren't citing this review because it's from a conservative publication. Very few newspapers reviewed All Things at Once. The only other review we find is this short, perfunctory effort from the New York Times.

We're citing Srodes' review because his reactions to the book uncannily matched our own. That said, we were struck by one other trait Srodes doesn't mention, except glancingly:

There's no nice way to say this. But we were struck by the fact that the book often seems weirdly dumb.

What makes us say that? Consider what Mika tells us about her second stint at CBS News, which started in early September 2001, when Mika was 34.

Did we mention the fact that Mika was 34 years old at this point? That she had been working in broadcast news since she graduated from college?

That she had already served one stint at CBS News, followed by a two-year stint at MSNBC, during which she covered the Bush v. Gore maelstrom in Florida? That she was 34 years of age when we're told this occurred?
BRZEZINSKI (page 146): I loved my new little office. I loved that I was back in mid-town Manhattan, after trudging out to the MSNBC headquarters next to a strip mall in Secaucus for the past two years. Those first few days back at CBS, I got into the habit of coming in early, trying to read all the newspapers and soak up as much as I could. I did this on the advice of my new colleague Byron Pitts, one of the network's top correspondents. Byron said, "Come in early and be the first to get the story." That was his thing, and I thought it made good sense, so I made it my thing, too.
Say what? At age 34, Brzezinski began "trying to read all the newspapers" on the advice of a top correspondent? At age 34, after thirteen years in the news business?

Our view? It's odd to think that this could have happened when Brzezinski was 34. It's amazing to think that, at age 42, she put this anecdote into her book, apparently failing to see how strange this story would sound.

That said, the book is full of anecdotes and episodes which are remarkably strange. This includes anecdotes from Mika's personal life which she self-deprecatingly identifies as strange, without seeming to realize that they sound remarkably strange.

Srodes makes a point of saying that the book is "readable" and "well-written." (He attributes this to the book's high-level co-writer.) That was our observation too, on a line-by-line basis.

As an easy-reader, summer page-turner, the book is quite well written. But the book is clogged with puzzling episodes and strange deductions—and with highly unflattering portraits of the people in broadcast news.

How horrible are those people? In the passage shown below, Mika explains what happened during her second stint at CBS when she was told, by the head of CBS News, that she should meet with Jeff Fager "to discuss the possibility of doing some work for him."

At the time, Fager was executive producer of 60 Minutes. Mika says she didn't know this, and she says she asked a bunch of colleagues who this fellow was.

This is her account of what happened as a result. We were struck by the behavior she attributes to her colleagues, and by the peculiar way she seems to view the journalist's "professional skill set:"
BRZEZINSKI (page 162): Naturally, it got around that I didn't know who Jeff Fager was. It also got around that I was meeting with him—another mistake of my own doing. The buzz began to spiral out of control:

Mika is meeting with Fager?
Who did she sleep with to get that meeting?
She thinks she's so great, she pretends not to even know who Jeff Fager is!

My naivete set in motion the nonsense that plagues every newsroom: the petty gossip and back-stabbing, the speculation and intrigue. We're reporters, after all, so our antennae are always up and out, listening for a good story. We invariably turn our professional skill sets on ourselves and our colleagues.
("Who did she sleep with?" Good God! Also, deeply sad, whether it was said or not.)

A few pages later, Brzezinski describes another episode of poisonous, anti-Mika whispering. More specifically, she describes "a whole lot of finger wagging and head shaking and interoffice rumor mongering that would in many ways mark my second tenure at CBS News."

Later, she describes the way she was shunned by her colleagues when her standing at CBS seemed to be sliding. All in all, her colleagues seem to be horrible people.

Mika doesn't name the whisperers or explain how she knows that the rumor-mongering occurred. That said, we were struck by two things in the passage we've posted above:

We were struck by her ugly portrait of the people who bring you the news every night. In fairness, this portrait of the people at CBS may or may not be accurate.

What can't be disputed is Mika's weird portrait of the "professional skill sets" of the modern journalist. In the passage posted above, she seems to say that gossip, back-stabbing and speculation are all part of this "professional skill set."

Presumably, that isn't what she would say she meant, but it's what she clumsily said. In truth, she makes such weird, tone-deaf remarks all through her peculiar book.

Mika has struck us, for many years, as the weirdest of all our pundits. Of all our pundits, she seems least suited, by nature of temperament, to this particular task.

There's no nice way to say what follows, but it has also seemed to us that she isn't especially sharp by the standards of modern punditry. In part, that may stem from the "deep-rooted insecurity and compulsive behavior patterns" to which Srodes refers.

Deep-rooted insecurities and compulsions are, of course, always regrettable. If someone's afflicted in some such ways, that doesn't mean that he or she's a bad person.

On the other hand, it may help make the person in question a fairly lousy pundit and analyst. In many ways, Brzezinski's book might make a person wonder about our world of professional news, in which a person like the author could rise to a point of such prominence.

Do the gods on Olympus laugh at the "professional skill sets" of our upper-end journalists?

We're going to guess that they do. In the reports which follow this week, we plan to review some points we haven't been able to get to in recent weeks. As a spoiler, we'll say this:

Again and again, the professional skill sets of our prominent journalists are perhaps a bit less than impressive. For what it's worth, this can even seem to be true of our corporate liberal journalists, who tell us the stories we like!

All week long, we'll examine those professional skill sets. In this, the age of Donald J. Trump, the weakness of these skill sets has helped create a dangerous situation, perhaps an existential crisis.

These 5-year-old children today! They won't believe a thing you say!

Then too, we have the professional skill sets of our most famous journalists. Sacred Homer suggests that these sets may be a joke of the gods.

We think we can tell that the gods are joking! Few people seem to agree.

Tomorrow: Privilege and loathing


  1. Today's post, in which Somerby discovers he agrees with a conservative perspective. Where will his journey of self-discovery lead?

    Five year old children are literal because their frontal lobes are underdeveloped. It is not a virtue.

    1. You are too serious. Lighten up a little, smile occasionally. You might lose your gloomy persona.

    2. Sorry, but whatever this 12:23 comment is, it is definitely not "too serious."

      "I believe I can dismiss Somerby's analysis by observing that he agreed with someone you should disrespect" is the epitome of poor argumentation.

      Although children have many virtues, their rational skills are indeed not often the best. But they are certainly equal to the work presented by Anonymous of 12:23.

    3. ""I believe I can dismiss Somerby's analysis by observing that he agreed with someone you should disrespect" is the epitome of poor argumentation."

      12:23 presented no such argument; however, Bob wants us to think Mika's "professional skill sets" phrase was referencing "petty gossip and back-stabbing, the speculation and intrigue", but clearly Mika was referencing "our antennae are always up and out, listening for a good story" and there is nothing weird about it. Bob says it "can't be disputed".

      12:23 makes another good observation about parents conflating their offspring's obnoxious behavior with virtue. With that story Bob weirdly seems to be saying "aw, give Uncle Trump a break."

    4. With that story and many previous.

  2. Later, she describes the way she was shunned by her colleagues when her standing at CBS seemed to be sliding. All in all, her colleagues seem to be horrible people.

    Not surprising, really. Our newsmedia is filth, so it's not much of a stretch to think that it is comprised mainly of individual pieces of filth. I mean, jews run the thing. Whaddya expect? Read a book about someone's experiences in Hollywood. You'll get the same general impression.

    1. Wow, should be proud of attracting filth, er I mean, commenters like these. Is the Daily Howler now clickbait for the Neo-Nazis?

  3. Same as with Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr, eh? Will you ever criticize anyone but Democrats for God's sake?

  4. You continue to waste time on the details of the pathetic crew of the Magnus Media Monopoly Plutocratus rather than on the diabolical qualities of its captain(owners). This dreadnought was built to sink democracy and enthrone plutocracy, Bob. They must be stopped.

  5. Bob Somerby: I am saddened and disappointed at your drive-by analysis of Mika Brzezinski’s “naivete” [as Srodes put it] or “dumbness” [as you put it].

    My own mother was a brilliant botanical geneticist in the lab, and lost outside it when forced to deal with the academic politics that sometimes inescapably demand attention: who were these people, and what did they want? — she had never until then needed or cared to know; her focus had been too narrowly on her own work. It was precisely a lack of wider ambitions that had kept her from broader awareness.

    And the odd thing is, one reasonable suspicion a person might have, of something like Asperger’s (a high-functioning autism-spectrum disorder), couldn’t be further from the truth: anyone she met in person, she was fascinated by, wanted to know all about, asked their life story, would be late getting to appointments in order to go on learning about them. Those abstract boxes up the bureaucratic chart, however, held no such interest for her. She was always awkward at navigating such systems.

    So Mika Brzezinski seems strangely familiar to me.

  6. I fail to see how raising money on behalf of a global foundation that addresses health problems among the poor is in any sense influence peddling or corruption, especially when no access to public officials has ever been demonstrated with the Clintons. If money and status are all they care about, why are they spending so much of it helping others?

  7. "why are they spending so much of it helping others?"

    Ha-ha, good one. Thanks for the laughs, anon.

  8. Mao are you laughing because you dispute the claim? It is an odd and inaccurate response.

  9. Mao,
    8 GOP-led official (and dozens more unofficial) investigations of Clinton, and the worst thing they could fund was she might be sloppy with her email. Based on that info alone, it's hard to argue HRC is not the least corrupt major party Presidential nominee in at least 50 years.

  10. I don't give a damn about emails or any other establishment 'investigations'.

    However, wouldn't describe destruction of hard drives with a hammer as 'sloppy'. If anything, it suggests a great deal of care and deliberation in the evidence-destroying business...

  11. Mao Cheng Ji, your memory is faulty. Nothing was said about Clinton hard drives being destroyed with a hammer. Cell phones, yes, in order to help prevent such phone-hacking (phreaking) incidents as has occurred to other Secretaries of State like John Kerry....

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