Part 2—Carol Leifer's joke: In the past few days, we've found ourselves thinking about Carol Leifer's joke.
In our view, it wasn't one of her better jokes, but it did score with audiences. We're going back to the 1980s, when Carol—according to the leading authority on her life—was well on her way to her total of 25 Letterman spots.
Carol was a very nice person and a very successful comedian. We refer to her joke about throwing the ball for the dog—rather, about pretending to do so.
The protagonist of Carol's joke would pretend to throw the ball, then skillfully hide it. He or she would howl with laughter when the dog raced off, in complete confusion. We've been thinking about the punchline, which went something like this:
How far down the evolutionary scale do we have to go to find someone we can feel superior to?
We'll guess that Carol's wording was tighter. But we've been thinking of that joke—and of Tim Russert's interview.
The interview to which we refer took place in 1999. Four years later, writing for Slate, Jack Shafer said Russert got beaten:
SHAFER (7/2/03): One-time grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and permanent white-supremacist nut job David Duke beat Russert badly in March 1999, when he appeared on Meet the Press during his Louisiana campaign for a seat in the House of Representatives. Unable to stick it to Duke with his time-proven techniques, Russert sputtered, steamed, and almost boiled over.In real time, other pundits didn't think that Russert had been beaten that day. In his selection of a guest, he'd gone all the way down the scale to Duke, who he proceeded to savage, pound, assail and slam for his abhorrent views.
When we think of that interview, we think of Leifer's joke. If we recall correctly, Russert was widely praised by other pundits for the way he'd defeated Duke. But then, Russert was always widely praised, no matter what he did.
(Not necessarily his fault! Based on our own few interactions with Russert, he too was a very nice person.)
It isn't hard to pretend to throw a ball and get your dog confused. Similarly, it isn't hard to find the shortcomings in the worldview of someone like Duke, former top dog of the Klan.
Within the American context, it's amazingly easy to spot the flaws in his histories of 1) the Ku Klux Klan and 2) the German Third Reich. It's so easy to spot these flaws that even our pundits can do it.
This has led to several days of active "virtue signalling" on the part of this hardy band. As they take turns assuring us that they disapprove of Klansmen and Nazis, they also take turns assailing Donald J. Trump for the fact that he maybe, possibly, pretty much just perhaps doesn't feel the same way.
Our many pundits have stood in line to engage in this "virtue signalling." We aren't real impressed by their noble displays.
How far down the scale do you have to go to get to Donald J. Trump? It isn't hard to find the tiny small imperceptible flaws within the conduct of his life. But then, something else isn't hard to find:
It isn't hard to find the disgrace in the way our reporters and pundits, and their corporate owners, agreed to go easy on Trump, and make money off Trump, pretty much every step of the way.
The people who signal their virtue today rolled over and died in real time. There was lots of money to make from interviewing Candidate Trump—and from failing to make him angry, guaranteeing that he would come back for many future guest spots.
For these reasons, the reporters, pundits and TV stars largely rolled over and died. Why had this peculiar fellow made himself king of the birthers starting in 2011? Despite their signals of virtue today, these hustlers agreed not to ask.
In this and a hundred other ways, they helped smooth Trump's way to the Oval.
(Other ways? When Comey launched his first attack in July 2016, he was praised for two nights on the Maddow Show, then never mentioned again. When Trump's main birther enabler, Greta Van Susteren, got hired at MSNBC, a certain major cable star told her fans that they should watch Greta's new show because of her journalist greatness. She even said that she and Greta were regular drinking pals! Meanwhile, Susan Rice is still under the bus from 2012, when Benghazi scripts were being created, in part thanks to the total silence from These Corporate Liberals Today. The people who played the game this way are signalling virtue today.)
Today, these people are signalling virtue. They've found a message so simple and pleasing that even they can repeat it.
That said, we think you should be very unhappy with all this easy group virtue. You don't have to be very high on the scale to see that Nazis and Klansmen are perhaps a bit less than ideal. When our "thought leaders" signal their virtue this way, we're all very low on the scale.
In this, our main report for the week, we'd planned to engage in a largely technical venture. Tomorrow, we'll start to follow through with some of what we'd planned, but events in Charlottesville have taken a bit of precedence.
That said, the virtue signaling has been general in our press corps this week. And uh-oh! Aside from the Nazis and the Klansmen, no one is taking it on the chin quite like these (white) millennials today.
These millennials today! Last week, an analysis piece for the Washington Post appeared beneath this eye-catching headline:
Think millennials are woke? A new poll suggests some are still sleeping on racism.Just this once, we'll be honest. As we reviewed the results of the survey in question, we didn't see any way to determine whether some, many, all or even a few millennials are still sleeping on racism, whatever that might turn out to mean.
That headline grabbed eyeballs, but it didn't seem smart. Then this morning, Bam! Here, readers—have another:
White millennials are just as racist as their grandparentsThat headline appears above a new column by Catherine Rampell in that same Washington Post. These millennials today! They got hammered again!
We can't say that today's headline captures the overall gist of Rampell's column. That said, she does cite a survey, late in her piece, which is alleged to say something like that. Tomorrow, we'll examine what "survey says."
For today, we'll only say this: someone at the Washington Post seems to like eye-catching headlines. Those headlines excite our tired blood, and they may seem to signal virtue.
Those headlines may suggest moral greatness. But again and again in the past few days, we've had the feeling that we are observing a great deal more signal than virtue.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the survey Rampell cites. Thursday, we'll plan to return to the starting point we defined in yesterday's award-winning post.
Tomorrow: The professors posed a question. Did their question make sense?