ELITE DELUSIONS: The Times panders on!

MONDAY, JULY 30, 2012

Part 1—Sophisticated reader alert: Arthur Brisbane has been rather mush-mouthed as the New York Times’ public editor.

Yesterday, Brisbane wrote his most illuminating column. It was also his most delusional.

Brisbane had spoken with Richard Stevenson, politics editor of the Times. In the wake of that discussion, Brisbane described the current White House campaign and the role the Times should play in covering the ongoing nonsense.

Can we talk? By light years, this is the dumbest White House campaign of the modern era. After describing this grisly state of affairs, Brisbane says the manifest dumbness creates “an acute problem” for the Times.

How should the New York Times respond to the dumbness? As he answered, Brisbane was showing clear signs of delusion:
BRISBANE (7/29/12): By the Times’s own account, a campaign that should be offering voters clear choices on substance has devolved instead into an exercise in attacks and rapid-response counterattacks.

This presents an acute problem for The Times, which many people look to for coverage on substantive issues. If there is a news organization with the muscle to force substance back into this presidential contest, it is The Times. Does it have the will to make that happen?
Already, Brisbane was turning delusional. Two questions:

Do people still look to the New York Times “for coverage on substantive issues” during White House campaigns?

It’s always possible—everything is. But we can’t imagine why.

Second question: Does the New York Times have the will to “force substance back into this” campaign? In our view, only a delusional person would ask.

In fact, the New York Times has played a leading role in the disintegration of our political culture over the past five or six White House campaigns. This time around, the campaign coverage by the Times has perhaps been the dumbest yet.

What was the Times’ top campaign story two days before Brisbane’s piece appeared? Lizette Alvarez did a photo-festooned “news report” on the state of strip clubs in Tampa! The GOP will hold its convention there! Inquiring readers needed to know if the strippers look like Sarah Palin!

(See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/28/12. Prepare to weep for the failing republic and for its empty “elites.”)

For the past five or six White House campaigns, New York Times has rather plainly been the problem much more than the cure. But within the world of our lofty elites, such things are never said.

Rotting elites never announce the fact that they are rotting. This pattern held as Brisbane described his conversations with several experts from elite institutions.

If Brisbane’s account can be trusted, these experts said they hoped the Times will keep things lofty this year.

“The Times is one of a handful of news outlets that can still be looked to to dig into issues, to scrub the background of candidates, to stray beyond the dialogue of the moment,'' Tom Rosenstiel allegedly said, speaking on behalf of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Up at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Joshua Benton reportedly said something similar.

Question: At this late date, why would anyone expect the New York Times to dig into major issues? Whatever the answer might be, Brisbane soon explained what Stevenson thinks about his newspaper’s challenge.

Only 98 days are left in this dumbest of all modern White House campaigns. How will the New York Times use this time? As he offered his view, Stevenson ticked off the basic delusions which are still used to prop up the Times—and the whole sorry liberal world:
BRISBANE: I asked Mr. Stevenson, the political editor, to provide his perspective on the choices The Times faces in covering the election.

''I don't have a problem with high-frequency” coverage, he told me. ''I guess the question is: Is it worth it in terms of news value? I think we ought to be guided, especially in coverage of politics, by: Are you really adding value for a sophisticated New York Times reader?''

He added, ''I hesitate to say that we don't want to play in that lane at all because I think being up to date and relevant and insidery is not a bad thing, but not at the cost of high-value, high-impact journalism.''

Yet, as he observed, every four years the candidates have a way of defining downward the substance of the debate, reducing important issues to bumper-sticker rhetoric—a process that works against The Times's higher journalistic ambitions.
There’s nothing wrong with being “relevant and insidery,” Stevenson incoherently said. But the Times should be about something more, he loftily added.

All the basic delusions are there--or should we say, All the basic cons? This includes the claim that the collapse in our political culture is the fault of the candidates alone, not of the press corps too. It includes the plainly delusional claim that the New York Times has “higher journalistic ambitions.”

But the mother of all these delusions may have come in the second paragraph we have posted. As liberal elites so typically do, Brisbane and Stevenson laid it on thick, fawning to New York Times readers.

Is it true? Does the New York Times boast a cadre of “sophisticated readers?” Signs of that cadre disappeared long ago, but the press corps panders on and the obvious truth can’t be said.

Tomorrow: What would a sophisticated reader think of the Times?


  1. I don't think there's a sophisticated anyone in the country anymore.

    We're all about sound-bites, and gaffs, and stereotypes, and heartless irony.

    No wonder political mavens now comprise personality disordered con-artist and tyrants.

  2. Thanks for holding up the mirror, Mr Somerby.

    We...I...need it.

  3. We all know that the candidate that spends the most money wins the election.

    We all know it's the other guy that mindlessly votes for the candidate that spends the most money, because WE make reasoned, well informed decisions based on facts proven by exhaustive research.

    Now, if we could only stop the other guy from voting...

  4. To start with the obvious: "The New York Times is has clearly devolved into a rag hardly worth considering. Back tomorrow with more on the The New York Times!!"
    If you agree, and I do, that the infotainment age is a significant part of the general dumbing down of all things, then it should really surprise that the old Grey Lady has from time to time donned a lampshade to keep the party going? Howell Rains is unquestionably one of the real scoundrels of Clinton time. But should we really be surprised by any of this?
    The Howler's shocked reaction to the strip club story is prissy, and it's mind reading of the kind he used to disparage in reporters. Was it included to provide what might be a relevant glimpse into the nature of things in Tampa? Nah, it could only be those liberal eggheads are after poor, poor Sarah again!
    Much more important is TDH DEEPLY dubious contention that this has been the worst campaign coverage ever. This throws quite a bit of doubt on the things he has written about 2000, to say the least. Has their been wholesale misquoting of poor Mitt? As the TDH has admitted, they haven't really misrepresented the awfulness of his programs; but rather, in his view, played up the wrong things. Is that the same as Love Story, or Earth Tones, or WORSE? The Daily Howler would seem to say it is.
    Romney, of course, could seize control of his message and go over the heads of the Press Corps. Yes, this is in his power, it's exactly how Bill Clinton kept from being impeached. But TDH hasn't even attempted to argue the Mitt was misused in his hapless stumbling in London, Romney refuses to talk about some issues, has wildly flip flopped on others. Poor Mitt, it's only that they are out to get him.
    As to Obama, he's playing the game as it is now played: tough TV Ads. It seems to be working, we shall see. It's rough going for the "above it all" crowd (see CeceliaMe), but if he finds this worse than The Swiftboating of Kerry, I'd have to say that TDH seems to be fighting to retain it's brand, at the expense of the credibility with which some of the import work that's been done here in the past is viewed.

    1. It wasn't "worst campaign coverage ever." It was "worst campaign ever."

      You're our Emily Litella, Greg.

    2. "worst"/"dumbest"

    3. Howler loving Anon, you seem a formidable knave/fool combination, and here you excel from either viewpoint. The blog is about critiquing political writers, so it's safe to say that's what TDH is talking about when he says "campaign." OR...you raise an interesting possibility, followed up on by CeceliaMe.... are MSNBC and The New York Times really responsible for the stupidity of Mitt Romney's vision for The US? That is a far cry from what he was saying in the days of Gore, when he was rightfully incensed over the utter misrepresentation of Gore's campaign.
      When Political writers have said "we like a close campaign," the Daily Howler has blanched from such manipulation. Is he now saying it's The New York Times's job to make The Romney campaign SMARTER? And if that IS what the Daily Howler meant, has the Romney campaign REALLY brought down the standards of the gang who gave us Joe The Plummer? How would they do their job in making the Obama campaign smarter, other than uniformly applauding any mention of The Bain looting?
      It's possible that the Press insisting on what the candidates talk about rather than what they say is a big reason people hate the press. At any rate, weather you are talking about how it was covered or the campaigns themselves, to say this one is the dumbest is quite a stretch.

    4. Since I wrote before Anonymous I have no idea how I "followed" up on him.

      Do you really think that Somerby is arguing that the media should be making the candidates "look smarter", rather than asserting that it should be making the public smarter as to what the candidates believe.

      Candidates like nothing better than to be unchallenged in those things, and the media is glad to cooperate in that by focusing all the attention on sideshows.

      As stubbornly superfluous a point as it is, I now see that you'd well to keep harping on how Somerby is overwrought in his superlatives as your means of having something ....to criticize. God knows you're an absolute dolt in your other interpretations.

    5. Greg,
      Your clueless ramblings are mind boggling.
      Please, go away.

      Horace Feathers

    6. He said it's the dumbest campaign.

      Maybe, Greg, you feel he hasn't shown that -- but you've done nothing to refute it.

      Your 12:54 was based on a complete misunderstanding. If you had some integrity, you'd retract it.

      At 7:37 you add nothing at all, except to make a new misunderstanding. It's not about making the campaign smarter. It's about the press failure to show how stupid it is. And yes, that failure does imply a collusion in keeping it stupid.

      When there are misrepresentations (as there have been) we'll expect Somerby to point them out (as he has done).

      If you have anything coherent to say about the topic of this post, yet another example of feigned but functional self-criticism from our "best" newspaper -- well, go ahead and say it.

  5. And I had just made clear that I'm not "above it all".

    I'm NOT shocked...nay...shocked...that you read comments as carefully as you read the blog offering.

    The point was that the candidates are quite content to allow the campaigns to be as informative as a troll on a blog board, and the media makes excuses for cooperating.

    I realize that your all-purpose argument is that there's nothing to see here...."Move along, folks"...(or more accurately--how dare a liberal have a blog that isn't the equivalent of Crooks and Liars, because anything less is tantamount to abetting the enemy) but don't you think that's it's time that you came up with something more thoughtful and compelling?

  6. The Times again illustrates Bob's point with a lenghy article about how Romney vacations. It's based on the dubious hook: "You can tell a lot about a person by the way he vacations." http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/travel/2018777854_webromneyvacation29.html

    When I was hiring people, it never occurred to me to judge job candidates on how they vacationed. I naively focused on their experience, accomplishments, education, technical ability, intelligence, integrity, recommendations, etc.

  7. Did you check to see if their nails were clean and their shoes shined?

    I did when I hired.

    Of course, I was hiring auto mechanics, and dirty nails and scuffed shoes were an indication of someone that spent more time working than preening.

    I'm just yanking your chain, David.