Sunday, February 18, 2007

This is fucking journalism.

In light of the nearly-two-year-long feeding frenzy that is the 2008 US presidential election campaign (it's begun already, by the way), Matt Taibbi's book chronicling his experience on the 2004 campaign trail, Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season, might just save your sanity by giving you desperately-needed perspective on the whole ridiculous shit-show. (If you've been anywhere near me in the last week or so, I've been gushing about this book to you. I apologize for the extra dose of Taibbi.)

The following passage was so good I had to reproduce it. It's in the chapter when he pits one journalist against another in a competition called "Wimblehack 2004" — basically, the crappiest journalist wins. (Bob Novak, who Jon Stewart has cheerfully nicknamed "Douchebag of Liberty", lost in Round 2 to Cal Thomas of the Chicago Tribune.) The excerpt was in a third-round match between Howard Fineman of Newsweek vs. Jill Zuckman, also of the aforementioned Tribune. Enjoy.

In his MSNBC "Web Exclusive Commentary" after the third debate, Howard Fineman made the observation — an observation widely commented upon in the broadcast media in subsequent days — that there were "no laughs but gasps" in the press room when Kerry brought up Dick Cheney's daughter in response to a question about whether homosexuals are born or made.

Now, I've been in filing rooms with that same crowd of campaign journalists Fineman is talking about. I can report that the campaign press will gasp at a lot of things: empty buffet trays, poor hotel accommodations (the cut-rate motel choices of the Dean campaign elicited astonishment among some regulars), the face of Dennis Kucinich, the presence of alternative media, the platform of Ralph Nader.

About the only time the national political press doesn't gasp is when the illiterate president of the United States stands up and for two fucking consecutive years says that we have to invade Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from attacking us with "weapons of mass destruction."

Then, they don't gasp. Then they stiffen up in their seats like altar boys and say, "Really? No shit, Mr. President? Call on me, Mr. President! I'll ask you how your faith guides you in this difficult time! How long should we let the inspections drag on, Mr. President? What about those goddamned French, Mr. President?"

The press room gasps at things like the Kerry lesbian-baiting ploy because it's the kind of vicious celebrity twaddle they're sensitive to, twaddle they consider themselves experts and authorities on. If someone makes what they consider a "mistake" on that turf, they dive on it like pigs converging on a watermelon rind. But if a politician drives the country off a cliff, they sit on their hands, waiting for Zogby and the Brookings Institution to give them their gasping cues. A gasp in the press room is as meaningless as a standing ovation at an Amway convention.

Damn yeah!

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