Mugger Cleans House

05.6.2005 | Russ Smith | Media Affairs

My conscience is clean when it comes to consuming celebrity journalism, whether it’s Michael Jackson (no idea what’s going on), movie-star romances (not interested), the cold-footed bride or anything to do with Britain’s royal family. Nonetheless, I waste too much time tracking both mainstream and obscure stories on the internet, when it’d be smarter to shut the damn computer off and read a spy novel. Let a billion blogs flourish and bring financial rewards to those hosting them, but the political climate of self-congratulation, added to the ceaseless stream of bile, is getting too rich for my blood.

One of my favorite websites, linked via the now respectable Drudge Report, is Lucianne Goldberg’s indispensable compendium of articles published from all over the world; but it’s easy to get lost in the weeds just for the sheer volume. For example, last Saturday I came across a piece from The American Thinker—a generally thoughtful online journal—that was so sanctimonious I nearly had a charitable thought about the off-screen career of Tim Robbins. The essay’s author, Steve Feinstein, described his evening out on April 21 at the conservative Media Research Center’s annual “Dishonors Awards” bash, an event that featured the insufferable, to the delight of attendees, Cal Thomas and Ann Coulter.

I can’t read Coulter anymore. The all-Democrats-are-losers shtick is so patronizing, so shrill, that it’s diminished the smart commentary she produced before notoriety and the lecture circuit beckoned. Coulter’s columns are now a collection of shrieks, putting her in the undesirable company of Maureen Dowd, Rush Limbaugh and Paul Krugman as media divas to avoid. That said, it was fun to see morals guru Eric Alterman lash out at Time, on his website, for running a cover story on Coulter. That produced a call from Alterman’s correspondents to cancel all TimeWarner publications, as a protest against the newsweekly becoming a cog in the imaginary conservative-dominated communications industry. Alterman was particularly aggrieved because Jim Kelly, editor of Time, is a friend of his.)

The MRC does a fine job in meticulously pointing out the elite media’s liberal bias—and did so long before others jumped on that bandwagon—and if founder/president Brent Bozell is demagogic when railing about the dangers of video games, television and movies, on electoral politics he’s on the right side. Still, it does dampen one’s enthusiasm for the organization when reading about Feinstein’s fairy tale come true. He describes the gala at the “posh” JW Marriott in D.C.: “It was a first-rate affair, run with flair and class. During the cocktail hours it was an open bar, not a cash bar, yet there was absolutely no evidence of anyone taking advantage and loading up. [He must be near-sighted.] This was a dignified and respectful crowd, obviously there to enjoy themselves, but fully aware of proper public decorum and appropriate behavior. How refreshing. (And conservative.)”

Feinstein was dazzled by former Sen. Zell Miller and The Washington Times’ Bill Sammon (an excellent reporter who’d be well-advised to change venues, since the Times is still tainted by its Moonie connections), but said he was even more “impressed” with the “regular” people he met, the “true stars of this country.” Maybe this fellow, a frequent contributor to The American Thinker, is simply naïve, but his essay was just as condescending as when The New York Times regularly refers to “ordinary Americans” who are getting bamboozled by the Bush administration.

I didn’t watch the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on C-SPAN, but it was hard to avoid the rapturous reception Laura Bush received on the tube for her prepared jokes about the president. Like the First Lady, I also don’t tune into Desperate Housewives, and so seeing the jabs about Bush going to bed at 9 p.m., making her and Lynne Cheney “desperate housewives” didn’t even register on the chuckle-meter with me. But it certainly bust the gut of Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, who wrote on May 2 that Mrs. Bush’s routine was politically important. “She brought down a very tough house, and she humanized her husband, whose sagging poll numbers are no match for her own,” Bumiller speculated.

Right. The herd of reporters attending the dinner, the equivalent of the prom, is a really “tough house.” Sure, a majority of them voted for Kerry and misrepresent on a daily basis Bush’s agenda, but in the end they’re all part of the same Beltway club. Bush is viewed as sufficiently “human” that he was reelected; upholding the silly tradition of political roasts, conducted by and for a sliver of the population, has no bearing on politics. It does raise hypocrisy in Washington another notch, if that’s possible, when even showboat Chuck Schumer tells Bumiller that the First Lady’s routine “knocked everybody’s socks off.” He added, “It’s not going to make everybody say, ‘We’re for Social Security privatization now.’ But around the edges, it helps.”

How, Sen. Chuck, does it “help”? Are you going to look “around the edges” and change your mind on John Bolton’s nomination as ambassador to the U.N.? Maybe decide that Bush’s judicial selections deserve a fair simple majority vote instead of a filibuster?


There are few magazines I respect more than The National Review, whose roster of writers includes Rich Lowry, Jay Nordlinger, Rick Brookhiser, Kate O’Beirne and Bryon York, a lineup that’s surpassed only by The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. And NR’s daily website is usually filled with interesting debate, but its streaming “The Corner” can get tiresome with all the plugs for NR meet-and-greets with fans, subscription pitches and insider jokes.

In recent weeks there’s been a full-on campaign for readers to attend an “exclusive night” in Atlanta on May 5, where for $500 attendees can mingle with the staff luminaries at a two-hour seminar on “hot topics of the day,” enjoy a “revelrous” cocktail party and then “a delightful private dinner with the editors.” The money raised, we’re assured, will be spent on upgrading the magazine’s website and continuing operations, since political publications almost never turn a profit. Isn’t this really, really tacky? It’s one thing for a blogger—even Josh Marshall, who believes he’s keeping the honor of FDR intact by flogging Bush’s Social Security reform plan—to ask for donations. I’ve contributed to several, including one that’s dogmatically liberal and still regards Teddy Kennedy as an upstanding citizen.

But National Review has no need for such NPR-like solicitations. The magazine probably does run in the red, but surely the editors—not to mention founder William F. Buckley Jr.—know scads of ideologically sympathetic men and women who could take turns each year in collectively kicking in a million bucks to keep the publication afloat. The same goes for The Nation, by the way, which still prospects for small donations, even when its circulation has soared during the Bush years, and similarly has access to big, George Soros/Barbra Streisand-like dough.

I have no truck with Vanity Fair cultural critic James Wolcott’s political views, but his April 29 blog entry about the NR fundraiser was a deserved kick in the ass. Wolcott wrote: “I look forward to the digital pix from ‘Atlantafest’ that they’ll no doubt post on the [NRO] site next week showing Jonah [Goldberg] and [John Derbyshire] with their arms flung around two Hooters waitresses who are doing their best to bury their shame and smile.”

That’s Wolcott’s preternatural mean streak showing, but he’s got this one pegged perfectly.

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