Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

January 18, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

IMN AWARD OF THE WEEK....I know that highlighting idiotic media narratives is Bob Somerby's beat, not mine, but Howard Fineman's latest in Newsweek has to be seen to be believed. If I were writing a parody of the genre, I wouldn't change a word.

And a note to Fineman: please don't try to make up for this by writing a companion piece about the Republican primary field. It won't be any better just because you're taking on people I don't like.

Kevin Drum 6:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Like, Kevin, you are -so- that nerdy kid who writes for the yearbook.

Posted by: gussie on January 18, 2007 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

This is clownish punditry at its finest. It is sad that people get paid for saying the silliest thing that pops into their head and others pass it off as the wisdom of the elder statesmen.

Posted by: Mike on January 18, 2007 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Howard Fineman is incapable of writing without metaphor. He hasn't a single thing to say about the thing itself, and only by displacing the topic into a simpler, stupider realm of analysis can he proceed.

Posted by: dj moonbat on January 18, 2007 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Presidential elections are high school writ large, of course." Of course, when Howard Fineman and his clownish cohort are doing the writing. The lack of self-awareness is awe-inspiring.

Posted by: bobbo on January 18, 2007 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Uh.....no.

Posted by: Bob M on January 18, 2007 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

I started to plow through Fineman's article but I hardly got through his first paragraph before I started choking on his hackery. I've read so many hack articles in the past decade that I no longer have any tolerance for such nonsense. His first paragraph set the tone and told me that there was to be butchery to follow. No thanks, I have better things to do with my time.

Posted by: Taobhan on January 18, 2007 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. It's every bit as embarrassing as you said. Worse, in fact. And to think I doubted you...

Posted by: Bill Camarda on January 18, 2007 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

i guess this is what newsweek editors think newsweek readers consider 'irreverent wit.' it would not be entertaining even in the dentist's office.

your pal,
blake

Posted by: blake on January 18, 2007 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

Fineman has made the occasional astute comments on the evening round of talk shows, but I agree that this publication was a rough read, and I quickly soured on the banality.

Posted by: consider wisely always on January 18, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

If Maureen Dowd had written this--and she will--you'd have thought it was genius.

Posted by: gilly on January 18, 2007 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Is this Fineman's attempt at being catty, like Maureen Dowd?

Poodle skirts?

Posted by: Old Hat on January 18, 2007 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

Multiple Choice:

Fineman's punditry is:
(a) shallow and trite
(b) poorly written
(c) inaccurate
(d) all of the above

Um, I'll go with (d).

Posted by: Wendy on January 18, 2007 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't we treat media "analysts" the same way NCLB treats teachers, and rate them "poorly qualified" if they don't have at least an undergraduate degree in their supposed field (and, no, "law" and "politics" aren't the same field, even if many politicians are lawyers, and law is ultimately the output of politics.)

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2007 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Wow.

Not even a perfunctory effort at seriousness before going for the "what were they like in high school" stupidity?

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on January 18, 2007 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Gussie: Please. I wrote for the school newspaper. I never would have hung out with all those yearbook weirdoes.....

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 18, 2007 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Somerby should have a field day with this one, as Fineman is breaking the code of silence and truthfully describing how journalists and pundits see national politics - as one big Student Council election. That's how wew wound up with the wanna-be jock and cowboy over the Smart Guy in 2000.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on January 18, 2007 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

Please -- PLEASE! -- don't let Howard Fineman and Maureen Dowd conceive a child together.

Posted by: CJColucci on January 18, 2007 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK
Not even a perfunctory effort at seriousness before going for the "what were they like in high school" stupidity?

On Countdown with Keith Olbermann earlier this week (yesterday or the day before), Fineman, who also wears the hat of MSNBC "political analyst", said straight out that national elections aren't about issues or substance, they are popularity contests, student council elections writ large.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Asinine, yes, but rather accurate.

Posted by: RM on January 18, 2007 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

I saw Fineman on Olbermann last night, discussing the Escalation and Democratic counterproposals: Every thing was a "wedge issue", "primary politics", "positioning for '08", not one word on how many more people are going to be killed and mutilated by Chimpy's decisions. I kept waiting for Olberman to point it out and was, in every sense of the word, disappointed.

Posted by: Jim on January 18, 2007 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: Fineman ... said straight out that national elections aren't about issues or substance, they are popularity contests, student council elections writ large

Unfortunately that's more true than not. Some people's failure to accept this explains much of the hostility to the article. People assume it's a metaphor - it's not.

Posted by: alex on January 18, 2007 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

What enrages me is that Fineman writes about Presidential elections being like high school popularity contests as if it were inevitable, rather than the product of our beloved Mainstream Media treating them that way.

Perhaps if he used his writing skills and considerable platform to discuss the Presidential election as a matter of, y'know, serious importance the public might treat it that way as well.

But we'll never know as long the Finemans of the world continue to get away with writing drivel.

Posted by: Greg VA on January 18, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Note Fineman’s last sentence, the one he had so carefully built up to:

Sometimes—and this is the worst fate—they get laughed at silently.

This is the goal of your standard asshole: insinuate that somebody you do not like is someone who is a little odd, a little too ambitious, and just not quite a “normal” human being that you can trust. And, most of all, they deserve our smirking high-school-snob giggles.

Right on Kevin, for Fineman is the one to laugh at here. He is the one being “sooo high school”.

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on January 18, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Fineman is too shallow and off-point to need any comment. If anyone reads this and thinks it has any validity in today's political debate, they need a brain adjustment.

The questions are: How did this get past the editors? And why?

Posted by: notthere on January 18, 2007 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

Newsweek sucks worse then TNR.

Finemans gross paristian opinion, Makes you wonder what is wrong the *ucking editors. It's bono fide garbage that converts Newsweek to rag status.

Posted by: Cheryl on January 18, 2007 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK
Unfortunately that's more true than not.

Its not so much that its not true in the end (though I don't think its true in the shallow sense that Fineman presents it, there is certainly a gap between politics and policy, but Fineman doesn't even cover the politics in any kind of depth), as that what keeps them shallow and not about issues is, in a large part, is that people like Fineman who provide superficial analysis and who are incapable of understanding anything more complex than that being "political analysts" for major news outlets, and most of what people see of campaigns is prefiltered through that lens.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2007 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK
Perhaps if he used his writing skills and considerable platform to discuss the Presidential election as a matter of, y'know, serious importance the public might treat it that way as well.

The thing is, writing skills and a considerable platform—both of which Fineman clearly has—aren't enough for that, you actually have to understand the underlying politics, too. I'm not so sure Fineman does on any more than a superficial level; he's competent enough as a political reporter, but reporting and analysis are two different tasks.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 18, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

shorter cmdicely: Fineman is part of the problem, not the solution.

Yeah, I agree.

Posted by: alex on January 18, 2007 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

Fineman's writing has been driving me crazy for years, but I actually thought this was kinda fun. Can we not be dead serious all the time? Yes, this kind of cheap metaphorical writing can't help someone like Hillary (I confess: OK by me), but if you're Obama it's hard to read this without sending a silent thank you to Fineman.

Ultimately, it all has to be put into context. If Fineman only writes about Democrats in this juvenile, if occasionally entertaining way, and about Republicans in words soaked with gravitas, well, that will certainly reveal something about him. But as a one-off, all I can say is, loosen up, everyone!

Posted by: santamonicamr on January 18, 2007 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

... and yet I have long felt that people's reactions to certain political figures is based on who they remind them of from their teens. I can't think of any other explanation of the sheer level of vitriol aimed at Hilary, or the inexplicable affection many people claimed to feel for Bush.

Personally, I don't want a President I'd feel comfortable having a beer with. I want a President who intimidates me with the sheer force of their intellect. Alas, not much chance of that happening these days.

The Prairie Angel

Posted by: Arachnae on January 18, 2007 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

If Maureen Dowd had written this--and she will--you'd have thought it was genius.

I don't remember Kevin ever taking MoDo seriously, let alone regarding her a genius.

Posted by: ahab on January 18, 2007 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

What enrages me is that Fineman writes about Presidential elections being like high school popularity contests as if it were inevitable, rather than the product of our beloved Mainstream Media treating them that way.

Perhaps if he used his writing skills and considerable platform to discuss the Presidential election as a matter of, y'know, serious importance the public might treat it that way as well.

Greg in VA nails it 100%. Perfectly said.

Posted by: Old Hat on January 18, 2007 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

"Perhaps if he used his writing skills and considerable platform to discuss the Presidential election as a matter of, y'know, serious importance the public might treat it that way as well."

The public in general treats politics far more seriously than the pundits do, as we see anytime they open up the Presidential debates to citizens or, as was the case when Clinton was President, hold citzen townhalls. Citizens never ask the idiotic questions that pundits ask. Anyone who's forgotten this has been listening to fuckwads like Howard Fineman too long. And I say this as someone with a pretty low regard for the average American voter. But compared to chuckleheads like Fineman, they are Edward R. Murrow.

One of the main roles of modern journalism, I believe, is precisely to drain politics of meaning, in order to keep people from having kind of interest or undertanding of the forces that shape their destinies. With the Bush Regime, this process reached its nadir. At least I hope it's the nadir.

Posted by: Potato Head on January 18, 2007 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

reporting and analysis are two different tasks

That’s for sure. And picking up on an earlier point, it’s a shame that political reporters seem to seldom get around to studying government and/or politics in a serious fashion. Many of them do not have a good understanding of the nuts and bolts of our governmental institutions or even our political processes.

Of course, in this case Fineman’s problem goes beyond lack of analytical skills. He is actually taking a really nasty shot at Hillary Clinton. He dislikes her personally.

Remember how George Will used to harp on Al Gore and the laugh factor? You know, “he invented the internet, ha ha”.

Lee Atwater wanted to make Michael Dukakis a laughing stock.

Remember that screwball Kerry wind surfing? What a laugh.

Remember Jimmy Carter and the killer rabbit? Hardy har har.

It just standard high school (and sleazy Republican) fare. The opponent is a little fruity. Crank up the laugh track and play the video.

Posted by: little ole jim from red country on January 18, 2007 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

I slogged through his whole trite mess, and although I can't believe it was intended as parody the final sentence really makes it nothing more. He actually finishes the piece with these words:

Sometimes they are cheered. Sometimes they are booed. Sometimes—and this is the worst fate—they get laughed at silently.

Does he really have no clue that with a piece like this it is he more than anyone else who is being laughed at silently.

Posted by: MSR on January 18, 2007 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

Bizarre. He essentially read this out loud on Imus this morning. This is the second time I've heard a guy on the radio do this. Do they really only have one idea a week?

Posted by: jayackroyd on January 18, 2007 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Does he actually get paid for that? Jesus, I'm in the wrong business.

Posted by: Otto Man on January 18, 2007 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

If Maureen Dowd had written this--and she will--you'd have thought it was genius.

This sort of catty but sophomoric garbage is the reason I don't as a rule bother to read Maureen Dowd, even though I've paid for a Times Select subscription so I can read Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman.

These people, I think, would rather report on American politics as if it were the election for high school class president. That way they can write whatever they damned well please, in a completely fact-free environment. It can be all about how one acts, what one wears, one's body language, rather than Iraq, Medicare, NSA wiretapping, habeas corpus, or something else that would require them to know stuff.

They've got the perfect racket: they can be big-shot reporters on the national politics beat without having to do the work that should go with the job.

It is because of people like Fineman and Dowd and Howard Kurtz that I go to the blogs if I want to read about politics.

Posted by: RT on January 18, 2007 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

I always laugh at Fineman out loud!

Posted by: R.L. on January 18, 2007 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

It is pretty sophomoric.

But it's also fun to see how Fineman's accuracy stung the lefties, Kevin included.

Posted by: sportsfan79 on January 18, 2007 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

Modern punditry might be over.

Fineman is lucky there were no web comments available on msnbc.com, unlike 'swampland' or wapo where their idiot columnists are regularly slammed.

These guys are hanging on by their fingernails, soon corporate media will realize it's not selling and make an adjustment. It'll probably be offensive in a different way, and of course manage to serve the same interests, but a change is a comin'...

Posted by: mike on January 18, 2007 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

The wife and I were trying to decide which newsweekly to go with this year. Looks like it'll be Time.

Posted by: TR on January 18, 2007 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

Fineman continues the fine DC punditry tradition of ignoring legitimate threats to our Democracy by Republicans to mock responsible folks with juvenile name-calling.

Sure, Bush is unfit, incurious, spoiled and corrupt, but Al Gore never said he invented the Internet! Nor did he say he inspired Love Story! Kerry never told a joke about our troops' mental capacity! "Obama" is not spelled like "Osama"!

Can we entrust the WH to people who let the Press lie about them like this?

The fact that someone as corrupt and incompetent as Bush can continue to garner such sycophancy after such a proven track record of failure shows real savvy!

Posted by: Memekiller on January 18, 2007 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

Heathers-- Why do the media always prove us right?

Heathers. But he cribbed half of his column from Election, the movie with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. He gets paid thousands per week for this. Seriously.

This column probably put more money in the bank than most people cleaning shit out of toilets make in 6 months.

They then wonder why people cleaning said toilets are bitching about things like health care, and heat, and things that are taken care of for them.

I am going to make a safe assumption that Fineman earns a minimum of $250k a year. It's probably a low ball figure. $4,800 a week. A minimum wage worker at $5.15 cleaning urinals would have to work 40 hours a week, for 23 weeks, to earn what Fineman was paid for this column.

Posted by: trifecta on January 18, 2007 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

Fineman's accuracy? Stung? Hardly.

Of all the things that Fineman could have written about in a news magazine...instead he chooses to write an unimaginative puff piece...

So I emailed Newsweek at webeditors@newsweek.com and livingpolitics@yahoo.com:

This is commentary from a news magazine? This reads like something out of Glamour or Cosmo...Next time you see Fineman, please tell him to stop phoning it in. What's next? What Hillary's shoes tell us about her politics? Suggestions for a John Edwards pre-primary makeover?
Reading that 'commentary' is 3 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

*shudders and reaches for the whiskey*

Posted by: grape_crush on January 18, 2007 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

Fineman was on Rachel Maddow (I believe In October) and she was talking to him about how the mainstream media bends over backwards to help the GOP with their framing of the Democratic party (aren't together, have no ideas, etc...) and he basically admitted that as a Republican he and others like him have to do whatever it takes to win (I WISH I WOULD HAVE KEPT THE PODCAST or could remember the date...not sure why Maddow let his admission slip by.)

Posted by: Shawn Fassett on January 18, 2007 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Total vacuity, yes.

But I must confess to laughing at this:

They have a good chance in ’08 to oust the fading prep/jock/ROTC/Up With People alliance.

That's such a wonderful metaphor for Bush and Co. that it almost makes up for the rest of the column.

Posted by: PCash on January 18, 2007 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

...But as a one-off, all I can say is, loosen up, everyone!

Posted by: santamonicamr on January 18, 2007 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

Gosh! I am just so sorry! I can't.

If you are an insulated, semi-rich, secure, fe/male and not affected by the attitude that lies behind this propaganda, yeah, loosen up. Laugh it off.

For the minority of some scale affected by this rant, this is political drivewl that has a catch with some people.

Grow up and get a conscience.

Posted by: notthere on January 18, 2007 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

jayackroyd asks: Do they really only have one idea a week?

In a good week, sure.

Posted by: dj moonbat on January 18, 2007 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

If I were smarter - and no, I'm not that smart - I'd write a parody blog of Kevin Drum's site.

Posted by: Frequency Kenneth on January 18, 2007 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

I noticed 95 readers had rated the article 1.5 on a scale of 1-5 : they were generous.

Posted by: opit on January 18, 2007 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

It's Fineman attempting to be Maureen Dowd, and failing miserably.

Geez, I hate to be crude about this, but it reads like he scribbled it while taking his morning eh, dump.

Posted by: kimster on January 18, 2007 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

There is a place to post comments under the article. Blogswarm the bastard!

Posted by: gonefishiing on January 18, 2007 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

Fineman is that guy in high school you outed himself by getting caught slipping the Transfer Student a love letter.

Posted by: Disputo on January 18, 2007 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

you = who

(It's getting late.)

Posted by: Disputo on January 18, 2007 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

Howard is gay. He obviously wants to bone John Edwards in the ass. Move along, nothing to see here....

Posted by: Joe Bob Briggs on January 18, 2007 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

When are the pundits going to focus on real problems? I am sick to death of horse race puff pieces.

In case you haven't noticed Howard, people are dying, and our future is being spent on an optional war. We are screwed if we leave Iraq and we are screwed if we stay. Most importantly,we are being lead by the dumbest bunch of arrogant incompetents ever to be socially promoted into power.

I don't know about anybody else, but the next time I vote for President, whether I would have voted for my candidate for student body president will be completely irrelevant. A student body president has very limited responsibilites. Mostly he or she presides over meetings under the supervision of an adult. As we learned when the last guy was selected, there are no grown ups if we don't elect one. That's what I will be looking for--a grown up.

Howard, get a grip. The 2008 Presidental election is still 2 years away. Right now it is small potatoes in the scheme of things.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 18, 2007 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

Btw, showing that he can out-Fineman Fineman, Markos Moulitsas has a post up devoted to Obama's high school year book picture.

You know that the Dems are in ascendancy when the media begins to undermine them with silly crap like this.

Posted by: Disputo on January 18, 2007 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if Fineman even remembers what it was like to be a journalist?

Posted by: Marc on January 18, 2007 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Fineman's the one who wrote that Commander Bunnypants was "like Shane defending his familiy" before Iraq War 2. All you need to know about Fineman.

Posted by: Something Polish on January 18, 2007 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

Can we not be dead serious all the time?

Tell that to the families of the soldiers killed in Iraq.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano on January 18, 2007 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

Watching the Republicans reminds me of my future in Hell.

Giuliani is like Incubus, going from wife to wife faster than most of us can get a date.

Rice is like Lilith, never bothering to have children just her way of saving the time it takes to bear children and then kill them.

McCain is like Set, ruling over Arizona like Set ruled the desert with an oddly shaped head.

Romney is like Lucifer, a former reasonable force for good who has fallen into hatred in his attempt to rule the world.

Gingrich is like Baal, somebody who was worshipped by a bunch of ignorant people a long time ago but is no longer taken seriously.

Posted by: reino on January 18, 2007 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

New troops start shipping out from Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.

Go.

'Cause stupid said so...

Go flush your lives down an Iraqi toilet

'Cause stupid said so...

Go get your face blown off, and murder someone in revenge

'Cause stupid said so...

Go Muddle up the Middle East young man

'Cause stupid said so...

He is your Commander.
Your Dear Leader.
Your Decider.

Stupid says go...
So go.

Posted by: Elitist? Damn straight. on January 18, 2007 at 11:35 PM | PERMALINK

A monkey in a suit with a typewriter... or Howard Fineman.

I'd much rather have read what the monkey had to say.

Posted by: Apollo 13 on January 18, 2007 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

I'm genuinely embarrassed for Howard Fineman, an otherwise fine journalist from whom I've clearly come to expect better than this juvenile claptrap.

Actually, I'm being unfair to by characterizing this op-ed as "juvenile", because I've certainly read more insightful and thoughtful commentaries from high school journalists that Mr. Fineman's latest offering.

But at the same time, I'm perplexed that Newsweek editors would even consent to publish this. Where were they and what were they doing when they reviewed this piece? My guess is Signature's, doing Cuervo shots.

The kindest thing I can say for Fineman is that the man clearly phoned in his performance this week.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 18, 2007 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

The same reason people put magnets on their scrota to cure anemia is the same reason people read Fineman.

Posted by: InvadeIranForChrist on January 19, 2007 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

The comments that were posted earlier are now gone and the article is now rated at half-a-star or "1 by 151 users."

Posted by: Apollo 13 on January 19, 2007 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

The Time-Warner Corp. is laying off several hundred staffers and "journalists". The LA Times' parent company is disappointed with the bids it's got for some of its newspapers (inluding the LAT? I don't remember). The WaPo has had substantial layoffs recently. Newsweek, if I remember correctly, is owned by the WaPo's parent company.

All these media giants are going through their death thrashes. In their desperation and cluelessness, they've evidently decided to follow the marketing geniuses who consistently say, take the dive -- only steeper this time! More fluff! More "irreverance"! (Gotta get the young folks to read!) Trouble is, there's no shortage of crap in the newstands. Why the fuck should I read "Newsweek" when it's not so very different from "People"?

So take heart. Clowns like Fineman and Mallaby and Friedman and Dowd are quickly nearing their eclipse.

Posted by: sglover on January 19, 2007 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

Fineman is a joke and should be fired...how could anyone be so clueless as a serious political reporter?

Posted by: Jimm on January 19, 2007 at 3:03 AM | PERMALINK

The wife and I were trying to decide which newsweekly to go with this year. Looks like it'll be Time.

TR, that's like saying you're trying to figure out which church to go to, and choosing the Jehovah's Witnesses over the Mormons. If you must have a news magazine on your table, look a bit farther afield. Time is an abominable rag. I've got one word for you: Krauthammer.

Oh, did I inadvertently offend someone's deeply held religious beliefs? Gee, how politically incorrect of me.

Posted by: President Lindsay on January 19, 2007 at 3:56 AM | PERMALINK

Alright, I'm going to post this before reading the comments, and then I'll enjoy seeing whether or not other people have had this reaction.

Kevin, you wonderfully fair person, you -- relax. It's a goof piece. Did you read MoDon't four years ago on Howard Dean's *wife*? *That's* below-the-belt opinion journalism; Fineman's piece is one of those fanciful/ridiculous analogies that these people write because they've got a year and a half's worth of space to fill on the presidential race. You bugged by the syndrome -- then figure out a way to make us more like Britain, where the campaign season is restricted to six weeks.

I thought the analogy was clever, actually -- and I had the same reaction as Fineman at Edwards' grandstanding condemnation of senators for not cutting troop funding. I mean, gods bless the Cabbage Patch Kid for all his good work on poverty awareness and all -- but he's a gadfly; he's been running for president nonstop since '04 and politician-bashing is the easiest thing in the world for a guy in that position.

As for Obama being the Mysterious Kewl Kid -- I thought that was a little forced. Fineman was aiming for imagery from his generation, and a middle-class highschool of that era doubtless wouldn't have had that role filled by a black person competing with Miss Hillary. That's why Kewl Kid was Hawaiian via Indonesia -- and that was a jarring note. Best you can do in scenes from an American Graffitti highschool is make the weirdo MacKenzie Phillips character a Wolfman Jack fan ...

Obama bugs me. I got his new book for Christmas and got halfway through it, then stopped. Earnestness on stilts; uggh. He bugs me because what he says is so content-less; I usually can't stand the one guy in every primary who gets up on high horse about civility -- gimme a Screamin' Dean every time. It bugs me doubly because his voting record in the Illinois state senate is ultra-liberal -- nay, 60s *paleo*-liberal; he's a poster boy for being on the "wrong side" of every wingnut cultural issue. He's against gun control, for publicly-funded abortions, for "criminal's rights." I *dig* this stuff, personally. But jesus -- don't sport a record like that and then make your media bones early in the campaign as Mr. Bipartisanship. *Somebody* is going to have to what Gephardt did at the urging of Bob Shrum in '88 to Paul Simon (recounted in Richard Ben Cramer's essential What It Takes) and "kill Bambi."

Either that, or Obama has got to come clean about his record and run as an unabashed liberal -- *before* he gets defined. Seriously. Kerry thought he could innoculate himself against his antiwar past instead of embracing it. The history there isn't kind.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 5:16 AM | PERMALINK

Also, for the record, let me state that I agreed with theAmericanist (and Globe) on an earlier thread about the proposal to cap the troop levels retroactively to Jan 1, as Hil and Dodd are proposing.

It's the first, measured step to a withdrawl that can be concretely done (instead of symbolically in a resolution) without jeopardizing the funding of the troops already there.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 5:25 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, I have to admit that I thought it was rather funny. Stupid, shallow, trivial, yes, but clever in its own snotty cheap shot entertainment way. It's kind of true even, in a way. Hillary was the best student in the class. She would be fussed if other brainiac students--the new kid in town, like Obama, or the handsome captain of the debate team, like Edwards--were giving her a run for the money!

What this article doesn't mention is that in this particular traumatized high school class, the captain of the football team just got expelled for using drugs and killing six kids in a car crash. His best buddies were thrown in jail for theft, and their parents are trying to buy off a district attorney who thinks the boys might have raped some cheerleaders.

"News"? No.

Is Fineman really a Republican? Interesting! The trick is to have the right narrative frame, and how interesting, how very interesting that the conservatives seem to be trying out the frame of Dems as "goodie-two-shoes" HS or childish (a novel variation on the Dems as "wild-eyed-crazies." )

Over on BAGnewsNotes, recent threads have discussed ways in which MSM image have been casting Nancy Pelosi and Barrack Obama as children.

Republicans are always reactionary, and I am fascinated to see how they parrot back Democratic criticisms. We've been saying for years how we want "the adults" back in charge. So, post-Nov 2006, suddenly the conservatives are trying to portray the Dems as children.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 19, 2007 at 5:25 AM | PERMALINK

PTate:

Interesting comments as always. The "childish" meme may be developing for Edwards and Obama because both of them are notoriously lacking in executive experience -- and to an extent, that underlying criticism is fair ball -- even if the way the conservatives are attempting to frame it is, as usual, mean-spirited by concretizing the metaphor.

Fineman's rap against Hil, though, was the reverse -- that she's "too adult," the 11th grader who's the "only adult" in the class, the one with the "responsibility gene." And who are the ones snickering?

It did, of course, serve to obscure the fact that Hil's troop proposal was the most concrete thing to come out of the Democrats and deserves serious consideration as a matter of policy. It's perfectly legit to get pissed off at how Fineman's piece completely deflects from that.

Beyond this, some of the objections here remind me a little of people who are inclined to blame Grand Theft Auto on highschool violence. Sure there's a relationship there but it's complex; if the crap wasn't attractive, there wouldn't be a market for it. It's like blaming producers for the existence of Britney Spears. There's a dumbing-down effect from commodifying art and opinion, but the real blame belongs to systemic factors bigger than Newsweek or Fineman.

The signal factor driving all this useless puff-piece journalism is a state-by-state primary process that arose before mass media and instant communication. If we changed the system to allow for regional or even a national primary, we could radically shorten the campaign season and thus have less reason to focus on all these idiot existential identity issues. That system doesn't even work as intended, because it allowed W to sneak by -- glaring character flaws and all. As it stands, the national media just have too much time to kill ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 6:18 AM | PERMALINK

Fineman's inane yet haughty writing reminds me of why I don't subscribe to Newsweek.

Why can't Newsweek be the one laying 300 people off, Fineman among them?

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 19, 2007 at 6:20 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with the criticism from Kevin and posters. I have little doubt that the Reps will be treated worse. It's silly to compare Hillary to a high school girl. But, it's more damaging to write about Bush as if he were and idiot and treat Cheney like Satan.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 19, 2007 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

Would that be damaging to Cheney or to Satan?

Posted by: reino on January 19, 2007 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

blame Grand Theft Auto on highschool violece = blame highschool violence on Grand Theft Auto

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

It's not Shakespeare, but the hostility is misplaced. It's based on the assumption that we should judge these candidates' Iraq plans strictly on their substantive merits. That's laudable in some wonky way, but the candidates themselves made the announcements more with symbolism in mind, than substance. Can the success of that symbolism, or its failure, not be judged?

I think this snarky analysis (politics trumping policy) is most true of Sen. Windvane, but then I might think the same of the others if their track records were equally long.

Posted by: ch on January 19, 2007 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

The National Press Club should sponsor a No Pundit Left Behind (NPLB) program, with regular testing and clear achievement benchmarks for MSM commentators.

Either MSM pundits measure up or they get sent back to the suburbs to cover zoning hearings.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 19, 2007 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

What enrages me is that Fineman writes about Presidential elections being like high school popularity contests as if it were inevitable, rather than the product of our beloved Mainstream Media treating them that way.

Word.

Posted by: Gregory on January 19, 2007 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Why can't we just dismiss the Fineman article for what it is - meaningless prose. If this article appeals to anybody than they probably share Fineman's sarcastic and dimwitted view of U.S. Presidential elections. And if they already possess this view than anything you or I or Kevin writes is not going to change this perception.

Now about those Newsweek editors who allowed such poorly thought out garbage to be placed in their magazine ...

Posted by: ny patriot on January 19, 2007 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

It's silly to compare Hillary to a high school girl. But, it's more damaging to write about Bush as if he were and idiot and treat Cheney like Satan.

Objection: Assertion not in evidence. Hillary Clinton is obviously not a high school girl.

("ex-liberal" also, of course, dishoenstly pretends that the media has -- or, rather, had, before American public opinion overwhelmingly woke up to Bush's incompetence -- an axe to grind against Bush, as opposed to a dysfunctional crush. But then, lying by omission seems to be one of "ex-liberal"'s favorite tactics.)

Posted by: Gregory on January 19, 2007 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

The "childish" meme may be developing for Edwards and Obama because both of them are notoriously lacking in executive experience

As opposed to Hillary, whose "executive" experience is sleeping with one. (As an Edwards backer, I'm thrilled just to see him included. So many of the MSM have already whittled it down to a Hillary-Barack race.)

Perhaps if he used his writing skills and considerable platform to discuss the Presidential election as a matter of, y'know, serious importance the public might treat it that way as well.

Unfortunately, it's giving the people what they want -- that's what sells, even if the people are wrong.

Posted by: Vincent on January 19, 2007 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

"I agree with the criticism from Kevin and posters. I have little doubt that the Reps will be treated worse."

Welcome to America, Borat. Apparently you've been living somewhere without coverage of our politics for the last thirty years.

Posted by: brewmn on January 19, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK
There's a dumbing-down effect from commodifying art and opinion, but the real blame belongs to systemic factors bigger than Newsweek or Fineman.

"Systemic factors" are nothing but an aggregate of individual actions. "Bigger than Newsweek or Fineman"? Sure, no one has said Newsweek or Fineman is the sole cause, just that Fineman (who is, as relates to the problem, himself "bigger than Newsweek" since he's, in addition to being Newsweek's lead Political Correspondent also a leading "political analyst" for NBC and MSNBC.)

No one here is saying that Fineman alone is the problem. Your response to the criticism seems to me to be a great big strawman. Although, given the extreme consolidation of the media (which is why the same superficial Fineman pap is what people get on TV from both a broadcast and cable outlet, in print in Newseek, on the Web, and through various radio outlets), I wouldn't say Fineman is a small part of the problem, either.

Are all elections in some sense "popularity contests"? Sure. Are there some ways in which any election has parallels to a high school student body election? Sure. Is it even remotely accurate to say that US Presidential elections can fairly be reduced to nothing more than that and understood? No.

And maybe if there was an expectation that to be a leading political "analyst" for a major media outlet (much less a whole slew of major outlets in different media) you had to have either some education or some substantial experience in practical politics that would give anyone confidence that you understood the underlying processes rather than just plenty of experience as a reporter of immediate events, well, maybe there would be a chance of the electorate being a little bit better able to understand what's going on, rather than being fed useless crap like this.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 19, 2007 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

i 86ed newsweak several years ago, and only pick it up to read in a waiting room, or if i'm at the gym and need something to read while on the bike. it's really an awful piece of work, and represents quite well the shallowness of those who write for it, as well as most of its subscription base.

Posted by: trrwv on January 19, 2007 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

The only problem witht this post is that it drives traffic to the article, which Newsweek likes. Kevin -- quote a bit from it so the rest of us don't have to go there at all!

Posted by: halle on January 19, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

Chris, honestly, that was one of the most pointless, dyspeptic rants
I've ever seen you write. Straw man? Chris -- you and I *agree* on the
fundamental cause of Fineman-ism: a ridiculously drawn-out primary
season where journalists have to bend over backwards to find things to
say about the field a flippin' *year* before the first contests. You
have strenously argued for a regional and / or a national primary day,
which would take a great deal of the steam out of horserace coverage.

You should also note that I'm one of the few people in this thread to
actually mention some of the underlying *issues* in Fineman's piece --
namely Hillary's proposal to cap troop levels and Edwards' (IMHO)
empty response to that.

Look, I'm an amateur composer and a Frank Zappa freak. I have been
ranting about how the music industry proscribes the limits of popular
taste since I was 15 years old. But it's not *one guy's* fault that
people think of politics in such superficial terms (some wag once said
that politics was Hollywood for ugly people) -- any more than it's
BMG's or Sony America's fault that Americans can't dance to any music
that isn't in 4/4 or 3/4 time. I used to think it *was*, though --
when I was a kid. I used to have a nifty conspiracy theory all
concocted about the music industry makes piles by systempatically
keeply people away from Captain Beefheart and Stravinsky.

Then I grew up a little bit. I still love Captain Beefheart and
Stravinsky -- but I'm just a little less insufferable to have a
conversation with about musical taste than I was back in those days.

People think that politics is, on one level, a popularity contest --
and they will naturally reference the memories of times when
popularity contests where huge deals, like back in highschool. To
imply that Fineman's piece *precludes* other types of more serious
political analysis is the true straw man in this picture.

And who gets their serious political information from *Newsweek*
anyway, for crying out loud? Fineman's silly, vapid piece should be a
matter of personal taste, end of story.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

systempatically keeply = systematically keeping

Speaking of, you know, dyspeptic rants :(

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

And who gets their serious political information from *Newsweek*
anyway, for crying out loud? Fineman's silly, vapid piece should be a
matter of personal taste, end of story.

This is the problem with our side of the political spectrum. Lots of folks get their information from pieces exactly like this. Liberals/progressives dismiss this kind of juvenile political reporting at their peril. While posters at blogs such as this know that this might be a fluff piece, the vast majority of voters in this country are not reading sites like this. Dismissing reporting columns like this gets you Presidents like Bush. Bob Somerby is the authority on this.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano on January 19, 2007 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of Bob Somerby, note that today's Daily Howler makes the same point I did about the dumbness of Jim Lehrer's question to Bush about "sacrifice."

It's good to know that some fair-minded liberals sometimes see things the same way I do.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 19, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK
Chris -- you and I *agree* on the fundamental cause of Fineman-ism:

No, we don't.

a ridiculously drawn-out primary season where journalists have to bend over backwards to find things to say about the field a flippin' *year* before the first contests.

You may believe that's the cause, but I've certainly never said it is and I don't see what justification you could have for claiming I agreed with you.

I think the fundamental cause of "Fineman-ism" is that "political analyst" is seen too often as the pinnacle of the "political reporter" career path rather than an independent career path with qualifications appropriate to analyzing and contextualizing political events, rather than merely reporting or trivializing them. Shortening the primary season might reduce the effect horserace coverage based on the results of some primaries effect other primaries (which, in its own way, is quite important), but does nothing to address the fundamental emptiness of political "analysis" in much of the mainstream media.

But it's not *one guy's* fault that people think of politics in such superficial terms

Again, the same strawman. No one has said it is Fineman's sole fault that people think of politics in shallow terms.

any more than it's BMG's or Sony America's fault that Americans can't dance to any music that isn't in 4/4 or 3/4 time.

I don't think that's true, much less BMG or Sony America's fault, but I'd also suggest that there isn't much of analogy, here, even if the contention the analogy was to illustrate wasn't an irrelevant strawman to start with.

People think that politics is, on one level, a popularity contest

Which is completely valid, true, and irrelevant. There is a difference between observing that "people think that politics is, on one level, a popularity contest", or even observing "politics is, on one level, a popularity contest", and claiming that Presidential politics are nothing but superficial popularity contests in the mode of student council elections, as Fineman has in a variety of media over the last week or so. When that's what passes for political "analysis" from the leading political "analyst" for several major outlets in different media, its destructive.

To imply that Fineman's piece *precludes* other types of more serious political analysis is the true straw man in this picture.

There's a finite amount of space in the major media for political analysis. That much of it is taken up by Fineman and his equivalents does, indeed, preclude widespread public awareness of more serious analysis.

And who gets their serious political information from *Newsweek* anyway, for crying out loud?

Fineman's crap isn't limited to Newseek: between Newsweek, MSNBC, NBC, and the other outlets on which Fineman's been spewing variations on this theme, I suspect it covers where a sizable fraction of the public gets their political information.

Of course, its largely not serious political information, but that's the problem.

Fineman's silly, vapid piece should be a matter of personal taste, end of story.

In a sense, that's true, as what Fineman provides is nothing but entertainment with a political flavor. OTOH, Newsweek, MSNBC, NBC, et al. don't bill him as a "political entertainer", but a "Senior Political Correspondent" (Newsweek), and a "Political Analyst" (the rest). His silly, vapid "analysis" is a large part of what passes for "analysis" that is supposed to contextualize political events in Newsweek, MSNBC, and NBC.


Posted by: cmdicely on January 19, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Bob, my old blog pal...

Do you really not agree that it was this kind of caricature perpetuation by the elite pundit class that was one of the key factors that kept Gore out of the White House?

Do you not agree that having people like Fineman calling Republican candidates names like "Straight Talker" and "America's Mayor" vs. calling Dems names like "Miss Perfect" and "Crazy" helps create conventional wisdom -- and ultimately plays a role in the outcome of elections?

Posted by: Vermonter on January 19, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1 wrote: who gets their serious political information from *Newsweek*
anyway?

Sadly, Bob, the majority of voters make their political choices based on the way candidates are portrayed in Newsweek and similar mass media outlets.

And who could blame them when the critiques by Somerby and others are completely absent from most mainstream discussions.

Posted by: Vermonter on January 19, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

He IS right about one thing: "Presidential elections are high school writ large, of course..."

How else to explain the Little Idiot winning elections, twice. His previous experience? In government, being the fourth most powerful person in Texas. In business, failing repeatedly only to be buoyed up by Daddy's friends.

Obviously, the only reason he won the first election was that he seemed like a nice guy, a guy you would want to have a beer with, and the other guy seemed like a wonk.

The second time, because name calling worked.

Ronnie Reagan, another guy who won by being likeable as opposed to knowledgeable.

That said, I agree that this is to some degree a problem of the MSM not treating presidential politics as a matter of serious national interest. It seems to me they focus on issues more in lesser contests. I remember the so-called liberal Margaret Carlsen chortling about the MSM going after "stuffy" Al Gore because it was "fun."

And I'm not holding my breath waiting for Fineman to characterize the Publican'ts in a similarly denigrating way.

Posted by: Cal Gal on January 19, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, it is a insipid, superficial column, but the United States Senate is overwhelmingly an insipid, superficial, institution, which can be observed nearly every time a U.S. Senator appears on television and radio. What is the likely result when a insipid, superficial, journalist writes a column about people serving in an insipid, superficial institution?

Posted by: Will Allen on January 19, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Cal Gal, Bush also won the first time (insert obligatory Florida/Supreme Court rant here) because Gore ran an inept camapaign. It shouldn't have even been close, and Gore was just plain lousy during the campaign.

Posted by: Will Allen on January 19, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

>> a ridiculously drawn-out primary season where journalists
>> have to bend over backwards to find things to say about
>> the field a flippin' *year* before the first contests.

> You may believe that's the cause, but I've certainly
> never said it is and I don't see what justification
> you could have for claiming I agreed with you.

Well forgive me for assuming that you'd share my underlying analysis
of what drives shallow coverage of our overly long election seasons,
but you certainly have, quite adamantly, argued to shorten election
seasons -- even going as far as to advocate a single primary day.

> I think the fundamental cause of "Fineman-ism" is that "political
> analyst" is seen too often as the pinnacle of the "political
> reporter" career path rather than an independent career path with
> qualifications appropriate to analyzing and contextualizing
> political events, rather than merely reporting or trivializing them.

"Seen?" By whom? Forget what he's labelled as; what
intelligent person could believe the guy's anything more
than an opinion journalist whose beat happens to be
politics? Does anybody call MoDo a "senior political
analyst?" Fineman pulled a MoDo in that piece.

If it's a case of mislabelling, okay then. Point taken. I just don't
see hoardes of sheeple passively equating that piece with "analysis."

> Shortening the primary season might reduce the effect horserace
> coverage based on the results of some primaries effect other
> primaries (which, in its own way, is quite important),

Exactly ...

> but does nothing to address the fundamental emptiness
> of political "analysis" in much of the mainstream media.

Because it's a point that can't, properly speaking, be addressed as
long as the MSM exists in a market-driven economy. It's like howling
at the moon; Newsweek wouldn't publish drivel like that if they didn't
think (and have the demographic research to prove) there was a market
for it. It would literally be an easier struggle -- as near-
impossible as it would be -- to radically change our primary system
than to somehow reverse the dynamics which create Howard Finemans.

>> But it's not *one guy's* fault that people think of politics in
>> such superficial terms

> Again, the same strawman. No one has said it is Fineman's
> sole fault that people think of politics in shallow terms.

That was a retardedly rhetorical claim; I withdraw it. Mea culpa.

>> any more than it's BMG's or Sony America's fault that Americans
>> can't dance to any music that isn't in 4/4 or 3/4 time.

> I don't think that's true,

2/4, 2/2, 6/8 or 12/8 don't count :) I mean symmetrical meter.

You evidently haven't been out dancing in awhile. America isn't
Bulgaria (unfortunately); depite the college DJ fascination every
so often with rock music that pings around in odd meter (Rush,
System of a Down, etc.), you're not going to hear it in dance music.

If you contend I'm wrong, you're going to have to cite chapter
and verse: What music? What venue? What time signatures?

> much less BMG or Sony America's fault, but I'd also
> suggest that there isn't much of analogy, here, even
> if the contention the analogy was to illustrate
> wasn't an irrelevant strawman to start with.

The analogy, far from a strawman, is extremely significant, and I'm
going to spend a little time here to walk you through it. It depends,
of course, on one's views of politics, which can be very like one's
views of music or art. One can take the view that politics, as well
as music, is simply a market. The very fact that something's popular
ratifies its worth. Britney Spears and Madonna sell scads of CDs;
George Bush gets elected, all's right with the world. Or one can
take the view that politics has a proscriptive dimension, that policy
decisions or election results can be objectively awful despite their
support -- just like one can believe in a deeper meaning of musical
aesthetics. In this analysis, something's amiss when Bush is elected
and has sold a war on Iraq, or when Britney rockets to the Top 10.

Obviously, politics is more serious than music, but there are people,
a lot of them musicians and composers, who take music very seriously
and believe in the potential of art. The vapidity of Top 10 is not,
for them, merely a case of the major labels "giving people what they
want." The major labels have a vested interest in dumbing down tastes
so people don't start demanding anything more sophisticated. Sounds
like a conspiracy theory -- but read interviews with Allan Holdsworth,
Bill Bruford, Dave Stewart, Ralph Towner, Fred Frith, Frank Zappa --
any musician who exists on the knife-ege between popular forms and
more sophisticated types of music. Their views are very like what
I'm hearing from you and others about the way Fineman writ large
100s of times in the MSM tends to dumb down political discourse.

Ironically enough, while I have a goodly degree of sympathy for this
POV regarding music -- I have much less patience with it for politics.
I guess maybe because music and art are idealistic realms where The
Perfect is attainable, whereas politics is the dirty ol' grind of
competing interests and The Perfect can be an enemy of progress ...

>> People think that politics is, on one level, a popularity contest

> Which is completely valid, true, and irrelevant.

Newsweek apparently thought it was relevant enough to
publish Fineman's column. "Oops, I did it again ... "

> There is a difference between observing that "people think
> that politics is, on one level, a popularity contest", or even
> observing "politics is, on one level, a popularity contest",
> and claiming that Presidential politics are nothing but superficial
> popularity contests in the mode of student council elections,
> as Fineman has in a variety of media over the last week or so.

Is that *really* what Fineman is saying? I read him as saying more
like *election coverage* this early in a campaign is like reporting
on a popularity contest, because so much of what's significant
is as of yet not on the table, so we're left with the mystique.

In spite of himself, it was as much a critique of his
breathless peers in the press, is the way I read it.

> When that's what passes for political "analysis" from
> the leading political "analyst" for several major
> outlets in different media, its destructive.

Just the way pounding 4/4 rhythm tracks at mm 120 are destructive,
because, over time, they condition people to require them.

>> To imply that Fineman's piece *precludes* other types of more
>> serious political analysis is the true straw man in this picture.

> There's a finite amount of space in the major media for
> political analysis. That much of it is taken up by Fineman
> and his equivalents does, indeed, preclude widespread
> public awareness of more serious analysis.

Just as Frank Zappa has argued relentlessly through his career that
the mind-numbing sameness of commercial pop music on a structural
level makes it extremely difficult for music like his, which stretches
structural boundaries in rhythm, harmony, melody and song form to
receive a fair hearing. And while I think there's something to
this argument -- I don't think it's quite a slam dunk, either.

>> And who gets their serious political information
>> from *Newsweek* anyway, for crying out loud?

> Fineman's crap isn't limited to Newseek: between Newsweek,
> MSNBC, NBC, and the other outlets on which Fineman's been
> spewing variations on this theme, I suspect it covers where a
> sizable fraction of the public gets their political information.

But they're obviously *tuning in* to it. The audience is paying
the piper. It comes down to the grand old theme of assuming elitism
in the press, which the right wing gained huge market share by tarring
the left with it. Somebody's tired; they come home from work and flip
on the boob tube. And there's Howard Fineman talking about cafeteria
food fights and Hillary Clinton. Let's just be careful not to bash
this person for not having the energy to pick up the NYT instead ...

> Of course, its largely not serious political
> information, but that's the problem.

I honestly don't think that many people were fooled by this latest
kick. Again -- there's nothing to friggin' write about this early.

>> Fineman's silly, vapid piece should be a
>> matter of personal taste, end of story.

> In a sense, that's true, as what Fineman provides is nothing but
> entertainment with a political flavor. OTOH, Newsweek, MSNBC, NBC,
> et al. don't bill him as a "political entertainer", but a "Senior
> Political Correspondent" (Newsweek), and a "Political Analyst" (the
> rest). His silly, vapid "analysis" is a large part of what passes
> for "analysis" that is supposed to contextualize political events
> in Newsweek, MSNBC, and NBC.

And I would contend that the problem *underneath* this, is that it's
just way too early to write anything meaningful about the candidates
or their positions with all this posturing going on and a few of the
major candidates not even declared yet. Fineman ran into a shit-storm
because people who tend to pay any attention at all to presidential
elections this early (I hadn't tuned into the campaign at all until
I fell in love with Howard Dean in late August of '03) tend to be
political animals who get their news from decidedly other places
than the MSM. Once again, I think Fineman was more like riffing
on the usual breathless and controversy-crazed press coverage than
claiming that presidential politics is just highschool by other means.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Vermonter:

Vermonter, yo ! My friggin' email's not working, else I'd drop you a line. Lemme try to s'plain a little more, just cuz you showed up ...

I think I agree with Cal Gal here. People obviously tend to treat politics in a very superficial matter -- the whole "guy I'd like to have a beer with" routine, the "America's Mayor" crapola assigned to a creep who was previously known for philandering and an abysmal relationship with the press, any number of examples literally fly off our fingers.

Now -- we as lefties can look for scapegoats for this, sure. It's the MSM and their profit-oriented priorities, etc. At the end of the day, though, that disempowers us. We're not going to make the MSM go away, or somehow change the priorities of outlets like Newsweek. Do they create the syndrome -- or are they merely reporting on it. If "objective journalism" is substantially a myth -- is journalism supposed to be advocacy?

If it's supposed to be advocacy, it's hard to see precisely what the toxicity was in what Fineman's piece was advocating. He seemed to be boosting Obama, taking the obligatory shot at Hillary (while slyly implying that Hillary-bashing has a jealousy component, just like all that prom queen hatred), and made a fair criticism of the vacuity of Edwards bashing the elected politicians who actually have to make policy. Are these observations really so off-the-wall?

But yeah, he was channelling MoDo so hard you could almost watch his hair turning auburn ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK
2/4, 2/2, 6/8 or 12/8 don't count :) I mean symmetrical meter.

Ah, well, if that's all you meant, I may not necessarily positively agree, but I won't disagree either.


The analogy, far from a strawman, is extremely significant, and I'm
going to spend a little time here to walk you through it. It depends, of course, on one's views of politics, which can be very like one's views of music or art.

Er, no. While political theater is certainly a form of art for which people have different tastes, descriptive politics, what Fineman is accused of doing a bad job of, is to a large degree an empirical social science, or at least the application of the results of such a science to new facts. Now, that doesn't mean that different people can't come to different conclusions, but differences in views are more than just artistic differences.

Obviously, politics is more serious than music, but there are people, a lot of them musicians and composers, who take music very seriously and believe in the potential of art. The vapidity of Top 10 is not, for them, merely a case of the major labels "giving people what they want." The major labels have a vested interest in dumbing down tastes so people don't start demanding anything more sophisticated.

There is a certain degree of truth in that which can be seen more clearly outside of music in the realm of TV in the rise of reality TV. Reality TV did not become a major force merely because the shows were popular, networks did a lot of work to make them popular at a time when labor disputes with writers and other talent unions were flaring, as a way of ensuring themselves a way to make money with out relying as much on the labor of the troublesome organized groups of talent.

Work to make the easy popular redounds to the benefit of the media oligopolies, because it for the same price extracted from the market (whether its music buying fans or TV advertisers) more of the rewards can be kept by capital and less goes to labor.


Is that *really* what Fineman is saying?

Yes, it is. In fact, in his appearance on Countdown making the same characterizations as he does in the web piece, he was even more explicit that Presidential primaries are not about substance but are instead popularity contests.


I read him as saying more like *election coverage* this early in a campaign is like reporting on a popularity contest, because so much of what's significant is as of yet not on the table, so we're left with the mystique.

I don't read it that way, but if I did, I'd be complaining about how instead of contextualizing political events of significance like the recent moves regarding Iraq and/or the announcements for '08, "political analysts" that have more training, experience, and interest in being media analysts skip right past political analysis to talk about themselves (that is, the media coverage.)

But they're obviously *tuning in* to it.

Its not like the political analysis provided by news broadcasts are a large or predictable portion of the broadcast, so, really, are they in any meaningful sense that reflects choice? I don't think so.

It comes down to the grand old theme of assuming elitism in the press, which the right wing gained huge market share by tarring the left with it.

I'm not sure at all what you mean by this sentence, particularly by "assuming elitism in the press". If you mean that the complaint made against Fineman boils down to saying that the press should serve elite interests serving the general public, well, no, its quite the opposite.

Somebody's tired; they come home from work and flip on the boob tube.

Sure. Let's call them "me".

And there's Howard Fineman talking about cafeteria food fights and Hillary Clinton.

Been there, done that.

Let's just be careful not to bash this person for not having the energy to pick up the NYT instead ...

I'm not bashing that person ("me"). I'm bashing MSNBC for not hiring a competent political analyst if they are going to bill someone as a "political analyst for MSNBC", unless, of course they go the route of The Daily Show and start billing themselves as "fake news".


And I would contend that the problem *underneath* this, is that it's just way too early to write anything meaningful about the candidates or their positions with all this posturing going on and a few of the major candidates not even declared yet.

There is certainly plenty going on right now of public interest for a competent political analyst to dig into and contextualize for the interested public. If there is nothing meaningful to say about the '08 candidates, there is no need to waste the limited space dedicated to political analysis in the mainstream media with repetitive meaningless drivel about the '08 prospects, rather than meaningful commentary about current politics.


Posted by: cmdicely on January 19, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Again -- there's nothing to friggin' write about this early.

First of all, that isn't true. Candidates have records and public statements which can be analyzed.

Second of all, if it were true then who would be culpable? Who made the choice to write on a subject about which there is allegedly nothing to write?

Third of all... isn't that deja vu all over again? I can think of no commenter on this blog who so perfectly meets the description of promiscuously writing about nothing in particular.

Posted by: obscure on January 19, 2007 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

obscure:

Chris and I are having an intelligent conversation on this, strongly disagreeing without resorting to ad-hom.

Speaking of, you know, thoroughly gratuitous commentary.

Stow it, thanks.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

obscure:

>> Again -- there's nothing to friggin' write about this early.

> First of all, that isn't true. Candidates have records and public
> statements which can be analyzed.

There's nothing to friggin' write about this early that would
count as part of the usual drama-laced duel of personalities and
positions that the American public has learned to associate with
presidential election coverage. Otherwise, there's lots of good
stuff out there, of course. The AP just has a very informative
wire piece on Obama's legislative record in the Illinois senate.

One of the *problems*, though -- and I tried to make this point to
Chris -- is that there's *too much* to "analyze." There's a decided
overreliance on pundits, thinking like pundits and superficial pseudo-
analysis (put Fineman's piece in that category, if you'd like) which
is driven by a profit-motivated press who has 12 months to fill before
the first primary. How did we wind up with John Kerry as the nominee
last time? Because people, thinking like pundits, decided he was more
"electable" than the alternatives. Why? Because they heard sermons
on electability from the likes of Mark Shields for a year and a half.

> Second of all, if it were true then who would be culpable?
> Who made the choice to write on a subject about which there
> is allegedly nothing to write?

The MSM is in a box this early out in election coverage. They need
to sex it up, make it exciting -- but it's too early yet for there to
be any real drama. You'll note that the only real point Fineman made
was that it's easy for Edwards to criticize senators because he's not
an elected official. This isn't exactly news -- but there you have
it. So, in the interest of trying to write something "clever," he
comes up with this primary-politics-is-like-student-council-elections
and then channels MoDo at her most catty. Why? Because the people
who read Newsweek aren't exactly hardcore political junkies and they
might find it, umm, entertaining and clever. And that's all Newsweek's
interested in, because right now there's nothing else to write about.

If the election season were vastly truncated with, say, a national
primary, you'd see much less of this problem, because there would be
much less "dead air" for the MSM to to fill in the political season.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Good lord, how much did he get paid to write this?

Posted by: Chris O. on January 19, 2007 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK
If the election season were vastly truncated with, say, a national primary, you'd see much less of this problem, because there would be much less "dead air" for the MSM to to fill in the political season.

Au contraire, in that case there'd be more, not less, "dead air". The MSM goes from covering one election to covering the next as soon as the previous one ends. They do this not because of the actual election schedule, but despite the long gaps between elections. With less time in which there was actual campaign drama, there would be more time where political "analysts" in the MSM who prefer covering electoral horseraces even if there isn't any racing going on at the moment would have a longer stretch of time where they would have to invent meaningless, empty electoral drivel instead of doing the harder work of actually analyzing the more substantial political events that are happening at the time, and presenting them in a way understandable and useful to the viewing public.

I'd like to see a unified primary, but I don't imagine that it would do anything to improve coverage of political affairs in the MSM.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 19, 2007 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

>> 2/4, 2/2, 6/8 or 12/8 don't count :) I mean symmetrical meter.

> Ah, well, if that's all you meant, I may not necessarily
> positively agree, but I won't disagree either.

Agree or not is irrelevant; it's an entirely empirical question.
Either contemporary dance music can be in odd meter -- or it can't.
And sadly enough, a half-century after Dave Brubeck's modest little
ditty Take Five, it can't, at least not in American musical
culture. Brave New World predicted that we'd all be doing
five-steps together at the local community centre after a rousing
game of Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy, but -- like government-enforced
loveless couplings with different delightfully "pneumatic" partners
every night -- these things somehow didn't come to pass. Darn :(

>> The analogy, far from a strawman, is extremely significant, and
>> I'm going to spend a little time here to walk you through it. It
>> depends, of course, on one's views of politics, which can be very
>> like one's views of music or art.

> Er, no. While political theater is certainly a form of art for which
> people have different tastes, descriptive politics, what Fineman is
> accused of doing a bad job of, is to a large degree an empirical
> social science, or at least the application of the results of such a
> science to new facts. Now, that doesn't mean that different people
> can't come to different conclusions, but differences in views are
> more than just artistic differences.

Well, I did try to keep that short 'n' sweet, because I do love to
go on about music, but apparently I didn't make my point so lemme try
again. First, there's a strain of music criticism that's actually
quite empirical -- usually more with rock and especially pop critics.
The idea is that if something is popular, it's your job as a critic
to explain why it's so; personal taste really isn't the point. There's
no foundation in this kind of criticism that could support, say, a
broad-brush critique of hip-hop or techno. To a classical, jazz or
a "rockist" critic with an aesthetic agenda -- of course there is,
because, first off, hip-hop and techno dispense with musicians ...

Now, a "political analyst" like Fineman could say, hey, it's not
my job to say anything normative about politics, but merely to
describe the way people view it, right or wrong. You can certainly
question where he gets his data, but it's not out of the ballpark
for a guy like that to argue that many if not most people tend to
view presidential primary politics as a species of popularity contest.

>> The major labels have a vested interest in dumbing down tastes
>> so people don't start demanding anything more sophisticated.

> There is a certain degree of truth in that which
> can be seen more clearly outside of music in
> the realm of TV in the rise of reality TV.

Well, I don't watch much TV, but I'm glad I made the point. Nothing
illustrated this better for me than watching the entire economics
of the music industry change by the late 70s ... I could write at
length about it and I have, but here I'll just take the agreement :)

>> Is that *really* what Fineman is saying?

> Yes, it is. In fact, in his appearance on Countdown making
> the same characterizations as he does in the web piece, he
> was even more explicit that Presidential primaries are not
> about substance but are instead popularity contests.

Well okay, I could see donning my Devil's Advocate chapeau
and arguing this position. How is presidential primary politics
*not* like a popularity contest? Why, for example, was John Kerry
nominated -- when he produced such signal discomfort in such a
large slice of the primary electorate? It was because everyone
thought he'd be the most popular -- the most "electable" --
rather than going with their own gut instincts.

This penchant for strategic voting -- "Forget my values as a Democrat;
I'm gonna vote for the person who the other guy would like" -- is an
important facet of the sociology of primaries and needs discussion.

>> But they're obviously *tuning in* to it.

> Its not like the political analysis provided by news broadcasts are
> a large or predictable portion of the broadcast, so, really, are
> they in any meaningful sense that reflects choice? I don't think so.

Well, I think this is wrong; everything in the MSM gets vetted
in some way for its ability to hold an audience; if Olbermann's
ratings cratered, he'd be cancelled just like any other program.

>> It comes down to the grand old theme of assuming elitism
>> in the press, which the right wing gained huge market
>> share by tarring the left with it.

> I'm not sure at all what you mean by this sentence, particularly
> by "assuming elitism in the press". If you mean that the
> complaint made against Fineman boils down to saying that
> the press should serve elite interests serving the
> general public, well, no, its quite the opposite.

It means that the press should be serving spinach and tofu,
not a Hungry Man(tm) dinner. You can certainly make the
argument that spinach and tofu serves the general public
better than the Hungry Man(tm) dinner because it provides all
the proper nutrients and good fiber besides -- but if the general
public has a hankerin' to gnaw on a breaded chicken drumstick,
Joe G.P. is gonna be tempted ta cawl yew 'n EE-LEET-EST :)

>> Let's just be careful not to bash this person for not
>> having the energy to pick up the NYT instead ...

> I'm not bashing that person ("me"). I'm bashing MSNBC for not hiring
> a competent political analyst if they are going to bill someone as a
> "political analyst for MSNBC", unless, of course they go the route
> of The Daily Show and start billing themselves as "fake news".

I dunno, Chris, I just don't see Fineman's analysis -- silly as it was
-- as all that off-the-wall. I think people *do* tend to see primary
politics as a popularity contest and Hillary as Prom Queen curve-
wrecker (and the ambivalence that produces) and Obama as Mysterious
Kewl Kid (and the ambivalence that produces) is ... okay, trite as
hell. And Fineman fell in love with it, which is sort of grotesque.

But, sadly enough, this is the way people tend to think of politics.
I'm just wondering how fair it is to expect Newsweek and/or MSNBC
to break the mold here and insist on something with more depth --
when it's difficult enough to manufacture "depth" this early in
the season, because there's just no real action in the race yet.

Maybe it just boils down to a matter of taste in the end after all.

>> And I would contend that the problem *underneath* this, is that
>> it's just way too early to write anything meaningful about the
>> candidates or their positions with all this posturing going on
>> and a few of the major candidates not even declared yet.

> There is certainly plenty going on right now of public interest
> for a competent political analyst to dig into and contextualize
> for the interested public.

Is there? Hillary made a proposal to cap troop levels. John
Edwards dissed it. Hillary shot back that she's "cursed with
the responsibility gene." What *else* could you say about this?

> If there is nothing meaningful to say about the '08 candidates,
> there is no need to waste the limited space dedicated to political
> analysis in the mainstream media with repetitive meaningless
> drivel about the '08 prospects, rather than meaningful
> commentary about current politics.

Well I tend to agree with this, which is why I've traditionally tuned
into the primary race much later than now. In '03, I was on the NYT
forums arguing about the war, blissfully unaware of all the jockeying
until Howard Dean caught my eye. But repetitive meaningless drivel
is what the MSM does best. A pushback of politically aware blog
readers is kind of pointless, because we're already up on the issues
and candidates in a much more sophisticated way. The voter who might
be made cynical by taking Finemanesque analysis to heart is not
somebody you or I can reach until it's voter ID time months from now.

I mean, it's fun to feel *superior* and all ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

That's an interesting point. If we somehow managed to radically change our primary structure and define the campaign season as, say, two months max -- would the MSM have reason to stop obsessing about the presidential race for all that intervening time?

I'd like to think it would be an improvement ... but maybe you're right. People are very obsessed about who gets to be president, so they'll doubtless still be a market for all that idle speculation ...

If that's the case, though, then there's *no way* to improve this state of affairs short of maybe nationalizing the media a la the BBC ... and that's depressing.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 19, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

Quit the blather: Earlier you saw that our boys and girls in Iraq were instructed to kill anyone coming at a "check point", which resulted in the murder of mothers and relatives dying for the act of going to hospital delivery rooms in the middle of the night.
Now look at the UK Independent's website! Bush, Cheney and their bloody-handed contractors are BABY KILLERS!!
We must take them down.

Posted by: babaloo on January 19, 2007 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

Shucks

Posted by: Casper The Ghost on January 20, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Ahhh, but if Howard Fineman makes you reach for the ipecac, here's what the Paper of Record, in a fresh Week in Review piece, sez the presidential race is *really* all about:

The Baby Boomers vs Generation X

*rolling eyes*

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 20, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

> Fineman [is] competent enough as a political reporter

Sure, because he fulfils this role quite well:

> One of the main roles of modern journalism [...]
> is precisely to drain politics of meaning, in order to
> keep people from having kind of interest or understanding
> of the forces that shape their destinies."

In this sense one can speak of Fineman's competence.

And as for:

> The wife and I were trying to decide which newsweekly
> to go with this year. Looks like it'll be Time.

For pity's sake ... Please realize that the wife and you don't have
to keep choosing between Newsweek and Time; just as you don't
have to keep choosing between syphilis and gonorrhea.

Posted by: Cervantes on January 21, 2007 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly