Supplemental: NBC News loves the children of fame!

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23, 2014

Chelsea’s circle of friends: Early this morning, we noticed two quick items in the news:

Maureen Dowd is lounging somewhere en vacance. Bill Clinton is in Australia, speaking at an AIDS conference.

One of the two is said to be “wantonly acquisitive,” quite possibly out of touch. Can you guess which one it is?

Whatever! As the press corps has blown up its latest jihad about the Clintons, we’ve remembered what happened in 2000, after two years of this sort of thing.

The liberal world has been very lazy about such matters in the past. If we might quote from Barney Fife, we think liberals ought to learn to nip these things in the bud.

With that in mind, we’ll offer one more reaction to part of the recent jihad about Chelsea Clinton. Dowd expressed the complaint in her recent overblown column, the one where she didn’t luv Bill:
DOWD (7/13/14): If [Chelsea Clinton] really wants to be altruistic, let her contribute the money to some independent charity not designed to burnish the Clinton name as her mother ramps up to return to the White House and as she herself drops a handkerchief about getting into politics.

Or let her speak for free. After all, she is in effect going to candidate school. No need to get paid for it, too.

There was disgust over Politico's revelation that before she switched to a month-to-month contract, Chelsea was getting wildly overpaid at $600,000 annually—or over $25,000 per minute on air—for a nepotistic job as a soft-focus correspondent for NBC News.
According to the Clinton Foundation, most of Chelsea Clinton’s speeches actually are for free. Dowd forgot to include that.

Dowd seems to have advice for others concerning every part of their lives. Today, we’ll focus on the part of that passage dealing with NBC News.

“There was disgust over Politico's revelation?” Dowd forgets to say where this disgust occurred.

That said, Chelsea Clinton has been making decent pocket change if Politico’s report was accurate. We don’t know why NBC would have paid her that much, or why they would have hired her at all.

But then, NBC News seems to enjoy hiring children of fame. Let’s take a look at the record.

For what it’s worth, Clinton is one of three presidential offspring employed by NBC News. Jenna Bush is still a special correspondent for NBC's Today Show and a contributor to NBC Nightly News. Ron Reagan is still an MSNBC contributor.

Children of candidates get hired too! Meghan McCain was an MSNBC contributor for a while. Since last summer, Abby Huntsman has been the token not-that-conservative conservative on The Cycle, MSNBC’s 3 PM daily program.

A further guess:

If Ronan Farrow had been Ronan Sinatra, NBC would have hired him even sooner. In the mornings, Mika Brzezinski is carrying a well-known last name too.

Also, Willie Geist Jr.! And what about Luke Russert? Remember Maria Shriver?

We don’t know why NBC News does so much famous-name hiring. Some of the current people seem perfectly competent. Some of them, possibly not.

Nor do we know how much money these other children of fame get paid. Do you?

But ever since Chairman Welch established that comical Nantucket Irish Catholic Circle, NBC News has been involved in various species of odd hiring.

By established rules of the guild, you’re not supposed to notice or discuss such things. Except when a narrative starts blowing up, almost nobody does.


NEW KIDS ON THE LAWN: And the culture they're choosing to join!

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23, 2014

Interlude—Worst works of the past generation: Journalism’s “worst generation” is hobbling off the stage.

As the various Sam-and-Cokies depart, they are largely being replaced by bright young 20-somethings from Harvard, Princeton and Yale. Sometimes, the big new orgs are willing to slum. They’ll hire a youngster from Brown.

For ourselves, we’re constantly struck by the horrible work these “new kids on the lawn” are producing. Given their stardom at the finest schools, we’re often struck by their lack of technical skill.

Beyond that, we’re struck by their lack of “fierce independence”—by the ease with which they assume established roles within their establishment news orgs. More on that impulse below.

In fairness, these young achievers came of age during a terrible time for journalism. Their elders have left them a terrible legacy—and this is the only type of national journalism these rather unimpressive young people have ever known.

How awful was the journalism of the new kids’ youth? As the press corps works to create its latest theme about the rapacious and out-of-touch Clintons, we’ve been thinking about two incidents from the years when these same demonic themes were transferred to Candidate Gore.

How bad was the work of the “worst generation?” Consider two examples involving iconic stars of this group:

Mary McGrory on health care: For many years, the late Mary McGrory was a pillar of the establishment insider press—a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist at the Washington Post.

She was perceived as a liberal. According to the leading authority on her life, McGrory had been “on Richard Nixon's enemies list for writing ‘daily hate Nixon articles.’”

By the late 1990s, McGrory’s hate had perhaps been transferred to the Clintons, even to Bill Clinton's chosen successor. This may explain the peculiar column in which she reviewed the first Democratic debate of Campaign 2000.

Candidates Gore and Bradley debated at Dartmouth on October 27, 1999. According to three major journalists, 300 members of the press corps hissed and jeered everything Gore said as they watched on TV screens in an adjacent press room.

(Over the course of the next month, this astonishing conduct was described by Salon’s Jake Tapper, by the Hotline’s Howard Mortman and by Time magazine’s Eric Pooley.)

During this debate, Gore and Bradley battled at length about their respective health care proposals. In this debate, health care emerged as the major policy difference between the dueling Democrats.

On CNN, Kate O’Beirne, a leading conservative, praised the erudition of the two candidates. “Both were completely conversant on the issues, impressively so,” O’Beirne correctly said.

O’Beirne thought the pair were impressive. But this is the way McGrory began her column in that Sunday’s Post:
MCGRORY (10/31/99): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.

Was it part of his reinvention strategy? Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—"I am not a well-dressed man." It is hard to imagine that he thought to ingratiate himself with the nation's earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station.
As the column continued, so did the insults. And good lord! As McGrory started her next column, she was still talking about Gore’s wardrobe, including that troubling three-button brown suit:
MCGRORY (11/4/99): The debate coaches they chose for their encounter at Dartmouth tell you pretty much all you need to know about their campaigns. Vice President Al Gore picked a feminist philosopher, an erstwhile columnist for trendy George magazine named Naomi Wolf. Former senator Bill Bradley chose the Democrats' legendary horse-whisperer, David Burke, onetime staff sage for Teddy Kennedy and later news chief for two networks.

In a recent George column, Wolf wrote that Gore "should let his defenses down and let his inner oddness out." That might have been what he was doing when he took his painful public search for himself on stage. We're told she was responsible for his distracting new suit, a three-button brown affair that caused much nostalgia for navy-blue serge.
In fact, no one ever said that Wolf was responsible for Gore’s “distracting new suit.” Plainly, the suit had greatly distracted McGrory, if no one else.

New Hampshire Democrats scored the debate a draw. O’Beirne, the editor of National Review, praised the erudition of the two candidates.

McGrory? She never bothered explaining the facts about the two health proposals. Inside the mainstream establishment press, a different type of disease had taken hold.

This is the kind of journalism which was in vogue when today’s 20-somethings were young. You’d almost think that fiery young people would want to push back against this kind of thing from their elders.

We see few signs of any such fight from today’s “new kids on the lawn.” That said, let’s consider another part of the legacy they have inherited:

Mark Shields and the execution: Eight months later, in June 2000, the mother of all capital punishment cases crossed the desk of Governor/Candidate Bush.

In those eight months, the mainstream press had staged a series of scam-ridden jihads against Candidate Gore. They had taken turns pretending that it was Gore who introduced Willie Horton to the American people. Most recently, they had pounded Gore when he dared oppose Candidate Bush’s high-profile proposal to partially privatize Social Security.

Now, though, a horrible capital punishment case had crossed the governor’s desk. It concerned the pending execution of Gary Graham, a convicted murderer.

Uh-oh! The court case in which Graham had been convicted had been a Texas classic. There was essentially no evidence convicting Graham of the crime, and he had been “defended” by one of the worst of the sleeping, drunken, “public-interest” lawyers for which the Texas system was famous.

But so what? In June 2000, on the day of Graham’s scheduled execution, Governor Bush held a press avail, at which he said he was sure that Graham was guilty as charged. On that basis, Bush had decided not to delay the execution or challenge the (very shaky) verdict.

How did the press corps treat this case—a case which had received world-wide attention? One day after Graham’s execution, Jim Lehrer asked Mark Shields about the case—and Shields praised Bush for the way he had acted.

Shields was a major figure in the insider mainstream press. We still regard this disgraceful exchange as one of the most remarkable moments in modern press corps history:
LEHRER (6/23/00): Now on to other matters. Governor Bush, the capital punishment issue—is that going to dog him from now on?

SHIELDS: Well, Jim, this is a perfect example. It’s an important issue, don't get me wrong. But a perfect example and sort of the quiet time of a campaign, when folks who have a cause—and the cause obviously being the abolition of capital punishment, a growing cause in the country—grab an opportunity to make this into a media event, which was done in Texas, put it on the spotlight, put him on the spotlight. That was intended. But I think the cause is to get this as a full-fledged debate. I think they did.

I thought, as somebody who has mentioned on this broadcast, that George W. Bush— The doubts voters have about him is that he fills the chair, whether he’s big enough, whether he really has the heft to be president. I thought this was probably the finest moment of his campaign as he explained his position. He did it as, outside of a press conference, in a suit and tie, with appropriately serious words and manner. And I thought ironically that it worked for him politically without being overly analytical.
Bush never explained the basis on which he said he knew that Graham was guilty as charged. In a press avail on his plane, it seems that no one asked him to do so.

Years later, it became painfully apparent that no serious review had ever accompanied any of these Texas executions. But in that exchange, you see the framework which emerged from the mainstream press in the wake of this very high-profile case.

In an astonishing comment, Shields said that Bush’s statement about the pending execution “was probably the finest moment of his campaign.”

What was so great about Bush’s statement, in which he didn’t explain his confidence in the (very shaky) Graham verdict? Incredibly, Shields said that Bush had worn “a suit and tie” when he made his statement. Beyond that, he had delivered his remarks “with appropriately serious words and manner.”

Years later, it became clear that no serious review of the Graham case had ever been conducted. But so what? During Campaign 2000, Shields was thrilled by the fact that Bush wore a tie that day and didn’t crack any jokes.

This continues to strike us as one of the most remarkable moments in modern press corps history. And make no mistake—Shields was working from a script which prevailed elsewhere in the press.

As Lehrer continued his segment this night,
he turned to conservative Paul Gigot. Like Shields, Gigot praised Bush for his “sober demeanor” during his announcement, for the fact that Bush had “sounded like Mark said, like a grown-up.”

Shields and Gigot were hardly alone in this approach to Bush’s decision. On the June 23 Washington Week program, Richard Berke of the New York Times gave voice to the same sorts of judgment.

“I was really struck watching Bush on TV yesterday when he talked about this at a press conference,” Berke said. “He was very sober about talking about this case, and it was quite a contrast to his past comments about death penalty cases where he was accused of being rather cavalier about the death penalty.”

No jokes this time from Bush!

Predictably, this approach to Bush’s performance had surfaced first in Frank Bruni’s reporting. On June 21, the Timesman began to script his colleagues about the upcoming execution.

According to Bruni, Bush’s “challenge” in dealing with the Graham case would be “to demonstrate, through the tone of his voice and the set of his jaw, that he feels the full weight of his responsibility. And it is to show, through his bearing and his choice of words, that he comes by his steadfast position in support of the death penalty after extensive soul-searching and careful thought.”

Bruni took this same approach on Friday morning, June 23. “When the moment of Mr. Graham’s execution finally arrived, Mr. Bush did not merely issue a written statement but spoke to a crowd of reporters in a solemn voice that contradicted his often light-hearted nature,” he wrote. “His facial expression and his words matched his tone.”

That said, was it true? Had Bush actually “come by his decisions after extensive soul-searching?” Did he have a substantial basis for the judgment he expressed?

In subsequent days, Bruni failed to ask Bush how he had reached his judgment about the Graham case, given its extremely lean set of facts. For years, lawyers had slept in Texas courtrooms. Now, reporters were sleeping on Bush’s plane—and pundits made repellent statements on our most august “news” programs.

This is the world in which today’s replacement journalists came of age. In a slightly different world, you’d almost expect this next generation to rebel against this repellent misconduct from their elders, in which towering figures like McGrory and Shields talked about nothing but clothes.

We see few signs of any such fight in the young people who are serving as “the new kids on the lawn.” Briefly, let’s return to yesterday’s example:

In the past week, Catherine Rampell wrote two columns about the attacks on the personal wealth of the Clintons. A new jihad was blowing up, as occurred again and again in the case of Candidate Gore.

Rampell is Princeton class of 07. We’ve seen one reference in which she’s described as Princeton Phi Beta Kappa.

On the surface, Rampell is “first in her class.” But on the merits, her columns on this subject were embarrassing groaners. And sure enough! As her first column ended, this “new kid” came down exactly where her establishment owners are:
RAMPELL (7/15/04): If there is any objection I have to [Chelsea] Clinton's speaking gigs, it's not the size of her paycheck. It's the possibility that her hosts and employers are hiring her in order to buy influence with a possible future president (Clinton Mere), an aspect of Chelsea Clinton's lucrative speaking career that for some reason has not been emphasized in most media reports. This possibility is particularly troubling given the family's resistance during the 2008 primaries to releasing information about donations to the Clinton Foundation, where Clinton's speaking fees reportedly go. When it comes to the Clintons, exposure is easy to come by; transparency, less so.
That highlighted passage is striking. According to the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton hadn’t banked a single dollar from her “lucrative speaking career.” The fees in question have all been donated to the Clinton Foundation.

Nor has she spoken to the types of corporate groups which might seek corrupt deals with a future president. According to the news report from which Rampell was working, Chelsea Clinton has spoken to such groups as The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach. Like her overwrought employers, Rampell was now expressing shadowy fears about the future favors such groups might seek to extract.

These new kids don’t seem inclined to push back against the journalistic culture they’ve inherited.

They came of age during a time of disgraceful, corrupt mainstream journalism. But so what? Everyone in the liberal world has agreed that this era can’t be discussed. Even after four years at Princeton, an unimpressive youngster like Rampell may not even realize what sort of culture she’s buying.

Tomorrow: More work from the new kids on the lawn

We think of Willa Cather: We’ve thought of Willa Cather and My Antonia as we’ve perused Rampell’s work.

In a brilliant passage from her famous autobiographical novel, Cather described her contempt for the native-born Black Hawk boys who saw the vibrant beauty of the community’s immigrant girls, but were too weak and too conventional to act on their own desires.

From late 19th century Nebraska, we offer one short excerpt:
CATHER: The Black Hawk boys looked forward to marrying Black Hawk girls, and living in a brand-new little house with best chairs that must not be sat upon, and hand-painted china that must not be used. But sometimes a young fellow would look up from his ledger, or out through the grating of his father's bank, and let his eyes follow Lena Lingard, as she passed the window with her slow, undulating walk, or Tiny Soderball, tripping by in her short skirt and striped stockings.

The country girls were considered a menace to the social order. Their beauty shone out too boldly against a conventional background. But anxious mothers need have felt no alarm. They mistook the mettle of their sons. The respect for respectability was stronger than any desire in Black Hawk youth.
That full passage is well worth reading. Cather details her contempt for the Black Hawk boys, whose “respect for respectability” kept them from acting on their attraction to the vibrant immigrant girls.

Cather almost seems to be describing our own “new kids on the lawn.” In the case of mainstream hires like Rampell, they’ll utter a few tiny unconventional peeps, then rush back to the tortured narratives favored by their employers.

Cather: “So that was what they were like, I thought, these white-handed, high-collared clerks and bookkeepers!”

We recommend the entire chapter from which these clips are drawn.

Supplemental: “Bill Clinton repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which led to The Great Recession!”

TUESDAY, JULY 22, 2014

And now, for the rest of the script: It’s a bit like New England weather! If you don’t like Maureen Dowd’s view, you can just wait a while.

On Sunday, July 13, Bill Clinton was letting his only child be drawn into “the rapacious, gaping maw of Clinton Inc.”

“The Clintons keep acting as though all they care about is selfless public service,” the irate columnist thundered. “So why does it keep coming back to gross money grabs?”

The Clinton Foundation was “wasteful and disorganized,” Dowd said. As she closed, she said that Bill and Hillary Clinton “need to protect their daughter...from their wanton acquisitiveness.”

That was Sunday, July 13. Seven days later—it was now Sunday, July 20—Dowd composed a silly love letter to the same Bill Clinton. Her piece was based on a two-point jump in Clinton’s approval rating, achieved over seven years.

We were struck by the change in the columnist’s apparent viewpoint. We were also struck by a recurrent theme which appeared in the comments to her column.

We refer to complaints about the way Bill Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall. This has become a familiar, scripted complaint from the left. The complaint popped up several dozen times in the comments to Dowd’s love letter.

A few examples:

COMMENTER FROM MAINE: That all sounds very nice and warm, Maureen. More milk-and-cookies myth-making around bedtime. Clinton did well and does have a Teflon personality. But conveniently, we all seem to forget that Clinton repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which led to The Great Recession...

COMMENTER FROM MASSACHUSETTS: I don't share in this taste. I think about DOMA and the repeal of Glass Steagall and all those scandals besides the Lewinsky one. I see Bill Clinton as having specific strengths, I don't find the whole package appealing.

COMMENTER FROM NEW YORK CITY: Revisionist history is wonderful. In our fantasy Clinton didn't dismantle Glass-Steagall, didn't pass NAFTA, didn't sign DOMA. He was such as nice cuddly guy. We are idiots and we deserve what we get.

COMMENTER FROM WEST OF THE GWB: And while the stock market soared, the irrational exuberance did not end well, especially after Bubba took care of his Wall Street backers by eliminating Glass-Steagall and deregulating derivatives trading.

COMMENTER FROM NEW YORK: Maureen leaves out the big one: the New Democrat cozying up to corporations and banks, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, deregulation, repeal of Glass-Steagall, leading directly to all the excesses and banking crimes and the real estate bubble and crash. The actual main cause of the Great Recession was, yes, folks, Bill Clinton.

COMMENTER FROM FLORIDA: I believe he lit the fuse and got out of town. As a globalist (NAFTA) he is as responsible for our state today as his successor. Teaming up with Gingrich and Gramm to repeal Glass-Steagall lit the fuse of our downfall. These were the greatest policy failures of the last half-century.

COMMENTER FROM OHIO: Does Bill Clinton really get a pass for NAFTA, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and the prohibition of regulating financial derivatives? These were positives for corporatism and negatives for the 99% and for real, stable, and sustainable economic growth.

NEW JERSEY: People have short memories. Clinton was surely a master politician...But he single-handedly ended the influence of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in the Congress—welfare reform, Glass-Siegel ended, NAFTA...
Inevitably, it was left to a professor to wax most eloquent on this topic. The professor (of Arabic) wrote from Colgate:
COMMENTER FROM NEW YORK: [H]istory may not be as generous or as forgiving to former President Clinton as it may appear now.

And this may not be because of the “women, the cheesy behavior, the fund-raising excesses, the self-pity, the adolescent narcissism, the impeachment, the charges of racially tinged insults against Obama in 2008.” Nor is it because of Hillary. It is because of two decisions, one domestic and the other international.

The domestic decision is the agreement former President Clinton made with congressional Republicans during his administration, which set the stage for the passage of one of the most sweeping and destructive banking deregulation bill in American history: The lifting of all restraints on the operation of the giant monopolies within the financial system, which led to the devastating economic crisis of 2008.
Some commenters seemed to think that Clinton has repealed Glass-Steagall all by himself. Others said he had joined with congressional Republicans—Newt and them—to accomplish this task.

Like you, like these commenters, we aren’t experts on the repeal of Glass-Steagall. To see Paul Krugman seem to say that this didn’t produce “the 2008 implosion of Wall Street,” you can just click here.

We aren’t experts on this topic. We do have a bit of expertise concerning the growth of scripted overstatement as the basic building-block of the American discourse.

Because we’re skeptics concerning script, even when it comes from the left, we decided to look up the vote which repealed Glass-Steagall.

Bill Clinton didn’t do it all by himself! Nor did he do it with Newt alone. The vote in the Senate was 90-8. The vote among Senate Democrats was 38-7 in favor of repeal.

We don’t know why people voted the way they did. But these are some of the famous Dems who voted to repeal Glass-Steagall:

Senator Kennedy
Senator Biden
Senator Harry Reid
Senator John Kerry
Senator Daschle
Senator Byrd
Senator Durbin
Senator Leahy
Senator John Edwards
Senator Murray
Senator Wyden
Senator Levin
Senator Sarbanes

Seven Democrats voted no; they were joined by Senator Shelby, the Alabama Republican. But a wide array of major Democrats voted in favor of repeal, including Ted Kennedy.

Why did people vote as they did? We have no idea.

But the claim that Bill Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall is blowing up as an easily-memorized, all-purpose “progressive” script.

The story seems a bit more complex. As we keep becoming more like them, we thought you might want to know that.

NEW KIDS ON THE LAWN: The mice who aren’t inclined to roar!

TUESDAY, JULY 22, 2014

Part 2—Rampell on the ramparts: Over at the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell is one of the so-called “new kids on the lawn.”

We’ll advise readers not to be fooled. First, a bit of background:

All across the mainstream press corps, an older generation of Sam-and-Cokies is finally leaving the stage.

They came of age during the era which gave rise to the TV political talk show. Arguably, they have been the worst generation, a possibility we’ll explore a bit more tomorrow.

All over the press corps, these mastodons are being replaced by younger, more attractive practitioners. At news orgs like the Washington Post, there seems to be a preference that such practitioners come from the finest schools.

Rampell, Princeton class of 07, is a visible part of this youth movement. She is now a twice-weekly columnist on the Post’s op-ed page.

Unlike the columns of some elders, Rampell’s pieces typically appear in the hard-copy Post. Her latest effort appears there this morning.

We’d call it a good example of a giant waste of time.

Rampell’s point of view today is extremely soft. No stylistic skill is on display—but then, why would someone of such tender years have developed a columnist’s writing skills?

To extend a famous phrase from Michael Kinsley, Rampell writes like a young person trying to sound like an older person’s idea of a young person. That said, there’s one thing you’ll never get from the Washington Post’s youth brigade:

These kids will not put up a fight. When the Post visits the finest schools, they know how to locate the trimmers.

It’s odd to think that the youngest columnists are the ones with the fewest teeth. As she starts, this is the way Rampell tiptoes into the discussion about the Clintons’ troubling speaking fees:
RAMPELL (7/22/14): Is it hypocritical for a really, really rich person to object to rising inequality?

I’ve been thinking about this in light of the derision the Clintons are facing for charging six-figure speaking fees while pontificating about income polarization and the plight of the poor.
Have the Clintons been getting derided for “charging six-figure speaking fees while pontificating about...the plight of the poor?” We’d have to say, that pretty much isn’t the discussion we’ve been seeing.

Example:

Right in the midst of this jihad—a jihad which has plainly been led by Rampell’s own Post—Hillary Clinton announced an initiative designed to help the nation’s low-income children. It was part of the Clinton’s Foundation’s “Too Small to Fail” program.

We’ve seen no one deriding Clinton for pontificating this way while accepting large speaking fees. We’ve seen no one say it was hypocritical for Clinton to mount this initiative.

In fact, almost no one in the mainstream press corps mentioned this announcement at all. The fact that Clinton was discussing the needs of poor children wasn’t mentioned in the hard-copy Post. Her announcement rated two paragraphs in the New York Times, at the very end of a wider news report.

In today’s column, Rampell doesn’t seem to be discussing the jihad of the past six weeks. In that discussion, the Clintons have been attacked for their “rapacious” conduct, for their “wanton acquisitiveness.” In the process, a string of extremely wealthy journalists have worried that we Americans might see Hillary Clinton as “out of touch.”

Rampell largely bypasses this discussion in today’s column. As she continues, she defines a somewhat different discussion—a long-running discussion which has been critiqued about a million times by now.

She also offers an odd assessment of Paul Krugman’s rapacity. This just isn’t good work:
RAMPELL (continuing directly): Other high-income, high-net-worth figures have been similarly mocked for expressing concerns about a growing income and wealth imbalance that benefited them. Among the targeted upper-crusters are Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, who said in a recent interview that “too much of the [gross domestic product] over the last generation has gone to too few of the people”; Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, who has advocated higher tax rates on high-earners such as himself and consistently decried rising inequality; and Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist and New York Times columnist who will soon receive $25,000 a month from an institute that studies income inequality.

These economic elites aren’t alone in balking at rising inequality. A rare survey of 1 percenters found that nearly two-thirds believe “differences in income in America are too large,” according to research...
If Rampell has any expertise, it is supposed to lie in the realm of economics. This March, she came to the Post from the New York Times, where she had been writing the Economix blog.

Given this background, it’s slightly odd to see her link Krugman to Buffett and Blankfein on the basis of his new job at CUNY, which will pay him $225,000 per year. Does that make Krugman an “upper-cruster” in the Buffett class?

(Note: It’s a nine-month contract.)

$225,000 would certainly be a mountain of money to us! But within the American context, it doesn’t even place Krugman anywhere near the one percent, let alone in the class of people like Buffett and Blankfein.

This is lazy construction by Rampell. But as is true with many of these so-called “New Kids on the Lawn,” her technical work is often amazingly weak.

As she continues, Rampell discusses a tired old charge—the claim that people like Buffett are “hypocritical” when they advocate policy changes which would harm their own high-income position.

As everyone knows, that is an utterly silly charge. We’ve seen it refuted a million times by various writers on line, always in more convincing fashion than Rampell is able to muster.

Meanwhile, readers must tolerate Rampell’s latest insistence on cramming Kim Kardashian (and even Snooki) into this discussion. Perhaps that’s designed to makes her prose read “young.”

Rampell has now devoted two columns to the jihad concerning the speaking fees of Chelsea Clinton and her better-known parents. Today’s column strikes us as hopelessly fuzzy and largely off-point.

In last week’s effort, Rampell wasted inordinate amounts of time on the appearance fees of Kardashian and Snooki. In the process, she failed to detail the basic facts about Chelsea Clinton’s appearances.

We’re sorry for showing you this:
RAMPELL (7/15/14): Likewise, upon learning that Clinton Fille pulls in $75,000 per speaking engagement, the New York Times's Maureen Dowd asked, "Why on earth is she worth that much money? Why, given her dabbling in management consulting, hedge-funding and coattail-riding, is an hour of her time valued at an amount that most Americans her age don't make in a year?"

To which my reaction is: Since when do you need talent or skills to be a well-paid celebrity?

Lest there be any confusion, most compensation—but especially compensation that's accompanied by a flock of flashbulbs—is determined not by some intrinsic measure of worldly achievement or moral worth but by what the market will bear.

Witness famous-for-being-famous reality star Kim Kardashian.

Kardashian vastly out-earns Clinton and more accomplished public figures such as Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. The new Mrs. Kanye West charges $100,000 per appearance, according to the fine celebrity journalists at OK! Magazine, and at those gigs no one even expects her to deliver prepared remarks on eradicating waterborne illnesses or racial tensions. (In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if her contracts explicitly forbid such pontification.) On some occasions, Kardashian has commanded as much as $500,000, her reported payout for attending the recent Vienna Opera Ball. It's not clear what talents Kardashian possesses that make her "worth" $500,000 per appearance, except maybe a talent for identifying people willing to pay her $500,000 per appearance.

It's more than that, of course. Hollywood celebrities like Kardashian—and political personalities like Clinton or Sarah Palin—can command big appearance fees because the organizations hiring them derive some value from the appearance, too.

Several years ago, I did a back-of- the-envelope calculation to determine why nightclubs might be paying "Jersey Shore" starlet Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi the head-scratchingly high fee of $25,000 merely to drink, dance and socialize for a few hours. It turned out that once you took into account the extra revenue streams that Snooki's name brought in - from cover charges, bottle service and publicity in glossy magazines—her attendance might actually have been worth several multiples of what she charged clubs.

The exact numbers probably no longer hold up today, since in recent years Snooki's star, if not her tan, has faded. But the same principles apply to other celebrities and political scions getting big bucks for appearances on TV and red-carpet events.

After all, having a brand name like Chelsea Clinton keynote your conference or college lecture series can attract better attendance, bigger donations and more press coverage.
Has Chelsea Clinton ever keynoted a college lecture series? We know of no such reporting.

Flights of fancy to the side, Rampell took a peculiar approach in this column. Rather than report the fact that several philanthropic organizations had detailed the way that Chelsea Clinton is a draw, she went on and on about the star power of Kardashian and Snooki.

As she wasted everyone’s time in this manner, Rampell failed to mention basic facts about Chelsea Clinton’s speaking appearances. And she ended her column with her heart in her throat.

It all comes out the same in the end! This is the way the obedient child closed her wandering column:
RAMPELL: If there is any objection I have to Clinton's speaking gigs, it's not the size of her paycheck. It's the possibility that her hosts and employers are hiring her in order to buy influence with a possible future president (Clinton Mere), an aspect of Chelsea Clinton's lucrative speaking career that for some reason has not been emphasized in most media reports. This possibility is particularly troubling given the family's resistance during the 2008 primaries to releasing information about donations to the Clinton Foundation, where Clinton's speaking fees reportedly go. When it comes to the Clintons, exposure is easy to come by; transparency, less so.
According to the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton hasn’t kept a single dollar from her “lucrative speaking career.” According to the Clinton Foundation, most of her speeches are given for free, a fact Rampell didn’t cite.

According to the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton only speaks to do-gooder groups, another fact that got cast aside so we could learn more about the past economix of Snooki.

Rampell did report that Chelsea Clinton donates all her speaking fees. Question: Did you even realize that Rampell said that?

Rampell’s statement is buried inside her discussion of her fear that Chelsea Clinton’s fees are being paid to drive future corrupt bargains. What tricks might The Jewish Federation have up its sleeve? Rampell is concerned!

All across the mainstream press, the so-called “worst generation” is hobbling toward the door. At news orgs like the Washington Post, they are being replaced by obedient younger models who arrive from the finest schools with a sorry collection of skills and a genuine lack of fight.

These safe young replacements seem inclined to say the same sorts of things the worst generation has always said. On-line, their headshots suggest the dawning of a new day.

In the process, an older regime continues to motor along.

Tomorrow: The new kids at partisan orgs

Supplemental: Award-winning series postponed!

MONDAY, JULY 21, 2014

The Houses of Journalist County: Do Bill and Hillary Clinton have too much cash? Too many fancy houses?

Last month, these questions arose, prompted by a Q-and-A involving Diane Sawyer. During a thoroughly pointless interview with Hillary Clinton, the famous broadcaster popped these questions:
SAWYER (6/9/14): Tonight Hillary Clinton, 66 years old, lives on a schedule almost as taxing as a campaign tour. She and her husband, thanks to some big spenders, including Wall Street companies, are no longer the couple struggling for money. Reportedly, they can charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches.

It has been reported you've made $5 million making speeches. The president's made more than $100 million.

[...]

SAWYER: But do you think Americans can understand five times the median income in this country for one speech?
You could see that Diane was really concerned.

In the course of her answers, Clinton said that she and Bill Clinton “came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.”

The statement was accurate. But a two-word phrase (“dead broke”) was quickly extracted, and the pundits are still having their fun.

Was anything “wrong” with those questions? Not necessarily, no.

In truth, those questions had nothing to do with the subject of the book Clinton had just published. Beyond that, Clinton wasn’t a candidate in the presidential campaign which didn’t yet exist at that point (and still doesn’t).

For ourselves, we always find it odd when super-wealthy people like Sawyer ask questions like those, in which she seems to speak for the sensibilities of us “Americans.”

That said, there’s no reason why a wealthy journalist can’t stage a sensible discussion of a politician’s personal wealth. In our view, Sawyer’s questions didn’t produce that type of discussion. In theory, though, they could have.

For ourselves, we don’t think much of Sawyer’s work. On balance, we think she’s one of the obvious problems with modern American “journalism.”

Those questions by Sawyer led to shrieks about the Clintons’ massive wealth, including the troubling wealth represented by their two houses (plural!). But then, journalists have been clucking over the houses of various candidates dating to Campaign 2000.

These conversations have often been marked by apparent bad faith on the part of the press. In our view, the familiar bad faith started up again in the past month.

At one point, we became curious about Sawyer’s various cribs. Through a set of coincidences, we also stumbled onto the houses of Jacob Weisberg, who had started an extended critique of journalist wealth in 1986, when he was still a senior at Yale.

This led to our award-winning series “The Houses of Journalist County.” We had planned to start the series today, but we’re going to postpone for a few weeks as our research continues.

In this series, we want to explore the discussion which began with this 1986 piece by Weisberg in The New Republic. We also want to show you some of The Houses of Journalist County—the houses in which our leading journalists lounge as they help us see the troubling aspects of politicians’ homes.

In our view, this story often turns out to be humorous. For example, where does Sawyer find shelter with her husband, Mike Nichols?

Our research on that point continues. At present, though, these seem to be two of The Houses of Journalist County:
The Houses of Journalist County
On Martha’s Vineyard: Chip Chop, the 17-acre estate purchased for $5.3 million in 1995
On Fifth Avenue, New York: Penthouse purchased from Robert Redford for $11-12 million in 2002
Compare those perfectly sensible cribs to the deeply troubling Houses of Out-of-Touch County:
The Houses of Out-of-Touch County
In Chappaqua: White Dutch farmhouse purchased for $1.7 million in 1999
In Washington: Brick Georgian purchased for $2.85 million in 2001
In theory, wealthy journalists could conduct a serious discussion about the personal wealth of pols. But that isn’t what tends to happen in our journalistic culture.

Our view? When you start researching the wealth of our journalistic elite, you begin to realize something quite basic: Given the basics of human nature, serious journalism will never emerge from such rarefied aeries.

What will emerge is a whole lot of spin about various targeted pols. Also, silly piddle in which wealthy TV stars try to persuade us, the rubes, that they're really just like us.

The late Tim Russert turned this act of self-abnegation into an art form; he wrote books about his working-class boyhood in Buffalo from his $6.7 million summer home on Nantucket, where he hung with Jack Welch. On the way up, Brian Williams always mentioned the way he loves NASCAR.

They want us to see that they’re just like us! In that vein, here's the extremely wealthy Sawyer, seeming to play the same comical game in a recent profile in USA Today:
PUENTE (1/8/14): "Mike would say I'm the world's best sandwich-maker, which I believe I truly am," she says, adding that meatloaf sandwich is her specialty.

"I keep trying to perfect my mother's meatloaf recipe," she says. "I've always wanted to throw a party where everyone comes with their mother's meatloaf. Everybody could evoke their mother's memory through her meatloaf."
We’d have to say that’s the all-time classic. We’re surprised she didn’t say she makes mashed potato sandwiches, the kind Blondie used to make for Dagwood.

According to Sawyer, she has always dreamed of “throwing a party where everyone comes with their mother's meatloaf.” We couldn’t help wondering—what do you suppose has kept her from realizing this dream?

Phenomenally wealthy “journalists” offer vignettes like that to make us think they’re just like us. At orgs like USA Today, other members of the guild type these stories up.

Our award-winning series, “The Houses of Journalist County,” won’t appear for another few weeks. That said:

Back in 1986, Weisberg started a discussion which could have been quite worthwhile. For that reason, the discussion never took off.

Today, he lives in The Houses of Journalist County. We’d say it shows in his work.

NEW KIDS ON THE LAWN: The intellectual legacy!

MONDAY, JULY 21, 2014

Part 1—What Dowd leaves behind: The generation of pundits now leaving the stage leaves behind a truly appalling intellectual legacy.

They’re the gang who invented “invented the Internet.” Before that, they invented the Whitewater “scandal.”

(They gave that famous name—Whitewater—to a whole political era. To this day, can you explain what Bill Clinton is or was alleged to have done wrong?)

Their technical incompetence is a thing to behold. Beyond that, they’ve been in thrall to big-money interests for as long as they’ve been in control.

Why do we Americans pay the staggering fees we pay for health care? Our pundits and journalists have sworn an oath that they will never tell us.

What do national test scores actually show? Our pundits have no earthly idea. Beyond that, they plainly don’t care.

(“What do national test scores show?” If we might borrow some language from Wittgenstein: No such thing is in question here, only how insider elites want the story told. See Philosophical Investigations, passage 1.)

Can we talk tom turkey just for a Manhattan moment?

If our engineers built bridges the way our journalists construct their stories, all our cars would be sitting in the nation’s rivers and bays. There wouldn’t be a bridge left standing. The word “bridge” would have disappeared from the language, due to its lack of use.

A large number of well-known people have played leading roles in the invention of this crackpot intellectual culture—a crackpot culture that is never discussed by The New Kids on the Lawn, the youngsters who are now replacing the wheezing old Sam-and-Cokies.

The new kids arrive with their hands in the till. They inherit, and have agreed to extend, a laughable intellectual culture.

(No one laughs at this laughable culture because we the people have come to accept so many of its bogus tales.)

A large number of people have played leading roles in the invention of this intellectual culture. Few have played a larger role than Maureen Dowd, whose latest example of weird behavior was on display in yesterday’s New York Times.

In a slightly rational world, yesterday’s column by Dowd really wouldn’t be possible. It’s a silly love letter to President Clinton, the rapacious fellow Dowd dumbly and dishonestly savaged exactly one Sunday before.

Except for the consistent dumbness, it’s hard to believe that these Sunday columns were written about (or by) the same person. We were amazed by how few commenters to Dowd’s new column noted her weird change in mood.

The love letter begins with a silly premise, and with disguised faint praise:
DOWD (7/20/14): At 67, he continues to be, as Anna Quindlen once wrote, like one of those inflatable toys with sand weighting the bottom—you knock him over and he pops back up.

As Hillary stumbles and President Obama slumps, Bill Clinton keeps getting more popular.

The women, the cheesy behavior, the fund-raising excesses, the self-pity, the adolescent narcissism, the impeachment, the charges of racially tinged insults against Obama in 2008, the foundation dishabille—all that percussive drama has faded to a mellow saxophone riff for many Americans.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg center poll showed that Clinton was, by a long shot, the most admired president of the last quarter-century. A new YouGov poll finds that among the last eight elected presidents, Clinton is regarded as the most intelligent and W. the least.
For the meaning of “dishabille,” you can just click here. With your remediation achieved, you can continue reading:

Does Bill Clinton “keep getting more popular?” Not exactly, no.

Below, we’ll review Dowd’s attempt to work with statistics. For now, consider the well-disguised faint praise.

According to Dowd, Clinton is “the most admired president of the last quarter-century.” She fails to mention that there are only four such people—and one of them is the sitting president, who is still involved in partisan warfare.

There are only three such former presidents. In effect, Dowd is marveling at the fact that Clinton polled more favorably than either of the Bushes. In that competition, Clinton is the lump of potato in a very thin stew.

As she continues, Dowd performs a bit of mind-reading. After that, she goes to the heart of the silly claim around which she builds a whole column:
DOWD (continuing directly): (Clinton and W. both should have been more aggressive in catching Osama. But certainly, if Clinton had been president post-9/11, there would have been no phony invasion of Iraq, and Katrina would have elicited more empathy.)

A Washington Post/ABC News poll in May found Bill’s approval ratings rebounding to the highest they had been since early in his presidency.

Even some who used to mock his lip-biting have decided that warmth, even if it’s fake at times, beats real chilliness.
Presumably, “real chilliness” is a jibe at Obama (or at Hillary Clinton), although there’s no way to tell. But there you see this column’s basic premise:

Two months ago, a Post/ABC poll found Bill Clinton’s approval ratings “rebounding to the highest they had been since early in his presidency.”

The statement is technically accurate. The poll showed Clinton’s approval rating at 63 percent. That’s the highest measured by the Post-ABC poll in Clinton’s post-presidency.

That said, this was only the seventh time the Post had polled Clinton’s popularity over that fourteen-year span. Four of those surveys were taken during the highly partisan 2008 primary campaign, when Clinton’s popularity among battling Democrats took a significant hit.

Does Bill Clinton “keep getting more popular?” Maybe! In January 2007, the Post/ABC poll had him at 61 percent. As such, Dowd built her love letter around a two-point gain in approval over a seven-year span.

Margin of error, anyone? Nor did Dowd bother consulting other polls, some of which have tracked this topic with much greater regularity. That would have been hard work!

In this one survey, Bill Clinton has gone from 61 percent all the way to 63! On that basis, Dowd is soon asking why he is “burning brighter now, when the spotlight should be on his successor and his wife?” She’s speculating about the reasons “we” have taken him from 61 all the way to 63!

Let’s be clear. For a partisan political figure, Bill Clinton does get darn good ratings! If a pollster asked our view, we’d go with “approval” too.

In even a slightly rational world, that couldn’t explain this sudden love letter about the former president. But we don’t live in a rational world. We live in a world whose intellectual horizons have been constructed, over the years, by powder-puff piffle like this:
DOWD: Except for L.B.J. and Nixon, ex-presidents tend to grow more popular. Yet Bill Clinton, wandering the global stage as a former president who may return to the White House as the husband of a president, plays a unique role in American history. (Newly released Clinton library documents revealed that Bill, believing it punchier, preferred to use “America” and “Americans” in speeches rather than “the United States” and “people of the United States.”)
The highlighted passage could only be pimped as a “revelation” in the brain-dead, utterly fatuous world Maureen Dowd has worked to create. Today, that brain-dead intellectual culture is being inherited by The New Kids on the Lawn.

At its statistical heart, yesterday’s column was silly. That said, the most striking thing about this column isn’t its utter silliness. It’s the manic turn its author took in the seven days since her last Sunday column appeared.

Does memory still play any role in the American discourse? Last Sunday’s overstated, dishonest column concerned “the rapacious, gaping maw of Clinton, Inc.,” the hellhole into which Chelsea Clinton has supposedly been drawn, thanks to the grasping conduct of her rapacious parents.

Was that previous Sunday column about the same Bill Clinton? “The Clintons keep acting as though all they care about is selfless public service,” Dowd angrily complained that day, exactly one week ago. “So why does it keep coming back to gross money grabs?”

“They need to protect their daughter again, this time from their wanton acquisitiveness,” she wrote as she closed that Sunday piece. At length, she had suggested the possibility of corrupt conduct by the rapacious Clintons.

One week later, that poisonous, largely dishonest piece was replaced by a brainless love letter to the head of the clan. The previous column’s insinuations and insults were reduced to a single word:

The Clinton Foundation is “dishabille!” Aside from that, the eternal dumbness of a spotless mind was emitting sweetness and light.

Dowd’s generation is leaving the stage. Several leading figures now type their columns from Michael Bloomberg’s retirement home for aging narrative-drivers.

They leave behind an astonishing intellectual culture. That culture is defined by its utter fatuity, and by its rank dishonesty in service to preferred story lines.

No one did more than Maureen Dowd to create this intellectual culture. All week, we’ll look at the work now being done by The New Kids on the Lawn.

Tomorrow: Never trust anyone under 30!