Part 1—A whole lot of skimming and leafing: According to his column in yesterday's New York Times, Ross Douthat spent some time this past week catching up with old friends. But first, a bit of background information:
A tax bill may be passing through Congress. Ranking military figures are describing their concern about the possibility that Donald J. Trump could employ this nation's nuclear weapons in an impulsive way.
Charges swirl as an important Senate election draws near in Alabama. Vladimir Putin may own the sitting American president. Climate change is on its way to devouring the earth.
It's not like nothing is occuring in the world right now! But here's the way the New York Times' earnest young quasi-conservative decided to spend his time last week:
DOUTHAT (11/19/17): I spent this week reading about the lost world of the 1990s. I skimmed the Starr Report. I leafed through books by George Stephanopoulos and Joe Klein and Michael Isikoff. I dug into Troopergate and Whitewater and other first-term scandals. I reacquainted myself with Gennifer Flowers and Webb Hubbell, James Riady and Marc Rich.For ourselves, we often have a hard time following Douthat's trains of thought. The earnest young fellow managed to emerge from four years at Harvard (class of 2002) with his moralistic Catholic values intact.
We're not saying there's anything "wrong" with those values, or that a person shouldn't hold them. We're just saying that, in Douthat's hands, these values often lead to chains of reasoning which we find hard to follow.
(According to the leading authority on his life, "As an adolescent, Douthat converted to Pentecostalism and then, with the rest of his family, to Catholicism." That's all fine with us, but these peregrinations seem to have led to abstruse chains of moral reasoning which often seem murky to us. Before matriculating at Harvard, he prepped at Hamden Hall.)
In fairness, there was nothing about yesterday's column which was hard to follow. Like everyone else in the upper-end pundit corps, Douthat spent his time last week catching up with old friends—with old friends from "the lost world of the 1990s," even from years before that.
Inevitably, the first name he mentioned was Gennifer Flowers! Truly, these people are mad.
Might we offer a discourse on method? Based on the paragraph we've posted, it sounds like Douthat performed a lot of "skimming" and "leafing" as he caught up with these old friends last week.
Soon, he was presenting the type of journalistic judgment such skimming and leafing will typically produce. We highlight one laughable statement:
DOUTHAT: The sexual misconduct was the heart of things, but everything connected to Clinton's priapism was bad...Question:
Something like Troopergate, for instance, in which Arkansas state troopers claimed to have served as Clinton's panderers and been offered jobs to buy their silence, is often recalled as just a right-wing hit job. But if you read The Los Angeles Times's reporting on the allegations (which included phone records confirming the troopers' account of a mistress Clinton was seeing during his presidential transition) and Stephanopoulos's portrayal of Clinton's behavior in the White House when the story broke, the story seems like it was probably mostly true.
After his week of skimming and leafing, does our anti-priapist actually know if those troopers' various stories were true?
We've highlighted only one statement from that passage, the statement we think is most salient. According to Douthat, his perfervid week of skimming and leafing allowed him to make this assessment:
"The story seems like it was probably mostly true."
How's that for journalistic precision? In a hard-hitting, nine-word statement, three different qualifiers appear—three qualifiers, some thirty years after the (alleged) fact.
In fact, there were an array of conflicting claims from an array of troopers. Even as he ignores this fact, does Douthat claim that the troopers' "story" was true?
Well actually no, he doesn't! He is only able to say that the story seems to be true. Except he doesn't say that either!
Actually, he says the story seems to be mostly true—except he hasn't even reached that shaky assessment. According to Douthat, it actually seems like the story is probably mostly true. That means it may be mostly false! Indeed, does this worried young fellow actually know that "the story" is true at all?
The story seems like it was probably mostly true! Who on earth would spend a week constructing such claims—constructing such claims about events which no longer matter, assuming they ever did?
Citizens, don't even ask! That nine-word sentence is the fruit of Douthat's week of leafing and skimming—his week of leafing and skimming concerning events which are alleged to have happened starting in 1988, to cite the particular matter to which he refers in that passage.
We refer to Douthat's worried claim that Bill Clinton, when governor of Arkansas, had "a mistress" with whom he was still in contact in late 1992, in the weeks after being elected president. It seems to trouble this earnest young boy to think that such a thing could have happened. That said, we note the way he still prefers to lard this story with the air of mystery which has always excited the prurient and the deviant among us.
We say that for a reason. If Douthat had dropped his skimming and leafing—if instead he'd read a dozen pages of a well-known, relatively recent book—he could have considered an authoritative-sounding report about that particular matter. We refer to Carl Bernstein's 2007 book, A Woman In Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, which describes the alleged relationship in question 1) with the air of prurience stripped away, and 2) in appropriate detail, including the name of the woman in question.
We'll skim that part of Bernstein's book tomorrow. For today, we'll think about what Douthat has done, along with virtually everyone else in the clan of peeping Toms into which he has gained admittance.
Uh-oh! The alleged affair to which Douthat refers was an alleged affair between two consenting adults. Also, between two people of the same age.
No teenagers were involved. There was no issue of consent. And the woman said to be involved wasn't a public employee.
In short, all the worrisome factors which let these people rummage through underwear drawers are absent in this alleged matter. But here is Douthat, worrying hard about an alleged extramarital affair—an affair which Bernstein describes as a serious love affair.
Long ago and far away, this is the sort of thing the peeping Toms tried to use to get Bill Clinton eliminated. Five years before, in 1987, the peeping Toms had eliminated Gary Hart on this very same basis.
At that time, the peepers had literally hid in the bushes to catch Hart in the deeply unseemly act! They then began calling around to the college roommates of other candidates, asking if worrisome people like Candidate Gore had ever smoked marijuana when they were teenagers.
(Today, they pretend to worry about teenagers. Back then, they tried to exploit them!)
In the passage we've posted above, Douthat is worrying about an alleged consensual love affair which is said to have started in 1988. Thirty years later, he leafed and skimmed the Los Angeles Times, thrilled again, as all prurients are, by the deeply troubling conduct.
He spent a week doing this, thirty years later! What kinds of people engage in these tasks, are so steeped in prurience? We're sorry to tell you that these same people are sometimes so intellectually bankrupt that, thirty years later, they produce assessments like this:
"The story seems like it was probably mostly true."
Go ahead—laugh out loud! It's a hedge against tearing your hair, once you start accepting the truth about the beings to whom you're inseparably tied.
("Fastened to a dying animal!" We quote what Yeats once thoughtfully said about a related problem.)
The story seems like it was probably mostly true! Where the fark do these people come from? In what sense and to what extent are they actually "people" at all?
Tomorrow: Sailing toward the Byzantium of Dowd, Goldberg and Hayes