Monday, August 24, 2009

"The flattery that you're 'connected' can bring out the late Bob Novak in anyone"

That quote is from a very interesting, if dispiriting, piece from Harry Shearer on how the Obama White House isn't doing enough for New Orleans.
I say I might try one more time to reach out to Axelrod himself. "Don't bother with Rahm Emanuel or Axelrod," he advised. Why? "Their only interest in all of this is destroying Bobby" -- a reference to the state's fast-talking Republican governor and possible 2012 Presidential candidate Bobby Jindal.

"You mean, the same way that the Bush crowd only cared about destroying Kathleen Blanco?" I asked. His smile was part-rueful, part-"It's never too late to get wise, bud".

On Sunday, six days before the fourth anniversary of the catastrophe that almost drowned New Orleans, President Obama gave an "exclusive" interview to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. If you want to hear it for yourself, go here. Along the way, he dropped a little message: Janet Woodka's office would be allowed to expire at the end of next month.

Experiment officially over. To be clear, I'm not upset I wasn't treated like a celebrity or given ego-satisfying access. Frankly, the inside game creeps me out, the flattery that you're "connected" can bring out the late Bob Novak in anyone. I'm just angry that New Orleans, which did not bring about its own disaster, is watching a second consecutive president trash his glib promises to "rebuild it better".

Not exactly heartwarming stuff. But that bit about access says a lot.

See, Tom Ridge revealed a little while ago that the Department of Homeland Security had been manipulating its "terrorism level" system for political ends. That's caused a firestorm of controversy, because a lot of us had been shouting from the rooftops about how that was happening, and were either ignored or mocked for being "Bush haters". Vindication! Surely, now, the media would relent!

Not so much. No, here's how Marc Ambinder, proud avatar of the Washington consensus reacted:

Journalists, including myself, were very skeptical when anti-Bush liberals insisted that what Ridge now says is true, was true. We were wrong. Our skepticism about the activists' conclusions was warranted because these folks based their assumption on gut hatred for President Bush, and not on any evaluation of the raw intelligence.
This bought him a withering response from the people who had called it. All of them asked "why is it that journalists are so willing to make the ridiculous 'right for the wrong reasons' argument about their opponents and defend themselves as 'wrong for the right reasons'"? Even people who are reasonably progressive fall into this trap. Glenn says it's about access, and certainly that's a part of it.

But I think the quote from Shearer above has a role to play too. People are never quite sure whether they're right or wrong. You define "right" and "wrong" within a social environment. But journalists want to be listened to. They want to be 'connected'. They want to be, well, popular. Even if you're quite cognizant of all this, you can still be affected by it. If you're surrounded by people who manifestly know more about the issues than you do—the lot of any Washington journalist these days—then why not defer to them? They're "connected". You're "connected". You're part of their tribe. They're part of your tribe. That is what's important. Not "right" or "wrong"; that's just a matter of opinion.

(You don't even have to be a bad person. Shearer is a great man. He's fighting for a great cause. But even he is tempted to trade on his celebrity to gain inside access.)

So people like Krugman and Greenwald aren't being attacked because they were right, any more than they were being attacked for being wrong. Those things are irrelevant. They're being attacked because their arguments signify that they are Other. They aren't part of your little family. They aren't connected. Like the "gamma girls" that Media Whores Online wrote about so long ago, they don't even necessarily want to be. So they're fair game, and people like Ambinder will call them names in order to show just how loyal they are.

Even when they apologize, though, as Ambinder eventually did, the bits that aren't rescinded still show what's going on:
And yet -- we, too, weren't privy to the intelligence. Information asymmetry is always going to exist, and, living as we do in a Democratic system, most journalists are going to give the government the benefit of some doubt, even having learned lessons about giving the government that benefit.
This is just ridiculous. As Paul Krugman pointed out, he had every reason to doubt the Bush administration's pronouncements. In fact, he had very little reason to defer to them. But defer he does, because he is surrounded by "experts" that he's evidently too ignorant to question, in a community he desperately, desperately wants to belong to.

When he apologizes for that, I'll pay attention.

Edit: You should observe the latest apology, and what follows it. He's not really sorry for his description of the left. He's sorry he got caught out on it, and about "using the wrong words", as if there were right ones to express that ridiculous train of thought.

But look at this:

Both Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler have written posts eviscerating me for contending that Bush-hatred, not anything else, drove skepticism among liberals about the terrorist threat warnings. They've both written good posts, really; lawyerly, passionate and persuasive, over the top, at times, but they've given me a lot to think about. (One post is better than the other, but I won't say which one.)

They haven't changed my mind, but they've certainly modified my conclusion. I didn't spend enough time thinking about what I wanted to say. Incidentally, if I am a symbol of everything that is wrong in journalism, then I suggest they are both giving me WAY too much credit.
The bolded bit is mine, and it raises a simple question. Why, in an apology of all things, does Ambinder think that he's in any position to determine what is a "good" post and what isn't? He's apologizing for being a terrible writer! Why would a terrible writers think he gets to play judge and jury on the works of good writers like Greenwald and Wheeler!

Because he thinks of them as Outsiders, thinks of himself as an Insider, and believes that it's the Insiders that get to judge. That's why his "apology" is utterly meaningless. He'll talk about the past failings of "journalists", seeking safety in numbers and in the passage of time. And he'll admit to saying what he thinks badly. But he's never, ever going to admit that he came to the wrong conclusion. That might threaten his status.

As for that following post... look at this snippet:

The White House seems to have a back-up strategy and is openly embracing budget reconciliation. What Jay Rosen calls the Church of the Savvy -- that is, us media elite types -- say that reconciliation isn't possible, likely, or feasible.
Oh, Ambinder wants so badly to be one of the "savvy elites". Look beyond the watery veneer of irony, and you actually see the desperation there. He wants it so bad he can practically taste it. He wants it so bad that we can taste it.

I don't buy that Ambinder's sorry for a damned thing. He won't change his thoughts, won't change his actions, and has already gone back to the standard fare of vaguely-hidden shots at Those Filthy Hippies who said his Washington buddies were full of it.

Fear not, O Republican Elites. Robert Novak may be gone, but clearly a bumper crop of Douchebags For Liberty are jostling to take his place.

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