Pundits in the limelight

Political consultants make for better copy than the candidates; one writer's Brontk-inspired hell; enough with the "enough with 'Star Wars'" stories!

Topics: Dick Morris, George W. Bush, Star Wars, Jane Eyre,

Dallas Observer, May 13-19

“The Nerd Behind the Throne” by Miriam Rozen

Ever since Dick Morris’ toe-sucking antics stole the front pages from an otherwise eventless Democratic National Convention in 1996 and Mary Matalin and James Carville elbowed their candidates out of the spotlight, journalists have been catching on to a very postmodern principal: the machine that cranks out the Political Spam is much more interesting than the Political Spam itself. Miriam Rozen takes this concept and runs with it in her excellent profile of Karl Rove, who managed George W. Bush’s two successful gubernatorial races and is taking a strong role in his bid for the presidency.

Bush’s Dick Morris is a nerdy, middle-class guy who, unlike his candidate, has had to work his way up the political ladder. Rove is paid to simultaneously sedate the press, reel in the cashola and win the hearts and votes of the American people. It’s a strange job: He knows what it takes to win an election, but doesn’t possess that quality himself.

Rozen does more than just profile one political consultant: she offers pointed, skeptical commentary on the businesslike m.o. of the modern-day presidential campaign and the apathy of journalists who are content to regurgitate every consultant-orchestrated soundbite.

The bad news is, stories about the brilliant lives of political consultants still do little to illuminate the Big Issues Affecting us All, such as: Did George W. Bush once stand on a table in a topless bar, masturbating onto a crucifix with a vial of coke dangling from each nostril, or did he not? (Note to George’s lawyers: I made that up). But if campaigns were about issues, Rove would be munching on raw cabbage outside the unemployment office. The hope is that in taking apart the machine, we can better understand the evolved, though not necessarily improved, state of our democracy. Rozen’s article is a good start.

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The Stranger (Seattle), May 12-18

“Into Gothic Air” by D. Travers Scott

The “Sick Fuck of the Week” Award goes to D. Travers Scott, who holed him or herself up in a house on an island for three weeks and read every novel ever written by the three sisters Brontk. The only fate I can think of worse than this would be to be a Brontk sister. To Scott’s credit, the final report on this sick and twisted experiment is far more amusing — and brief — than the experience must have been. We’re spared the horror and left with delightful nuggets like this one: “Today I learned that Haworth is the town where the Brontks lived — it’s also the name of my next book’s publishing company. Strange coincidence; a supernatural air grows thick around me.” And this summary of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontk (of whom that delightful reader’s compendium, “Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia,” writes, “It is possible that neither of (her) books would be remembered today if she were not the sister of Charlotte and Emily”): “A smart woman makes a stupid choice. She learns; her choice gets stupider and eventually kills himself. To keep men from turning into stupid choices, you should make them fags. 2,498 pages.” I feel compelled to add that this article is published in conjunction with a 15-hour “Jane Eyre” celebration that includes a madwoman-in-the-attic screaming contest. Yaaaa!

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Village Voice, May 12-18

“The Force Will Always Be With Us” by J. Hoberman

First things first: It is George Lucas’ job to hype his own movie; all filmmakers do it for films of all budgets, audience and scale. So if critics want to snark about how goddam over-hyped “Episode I — The Phantom Menace” is, then they can start by quelling their own impulse to ramble on about it for page after boring-ass page. Aside from the trailers, I’ve seen little advertising devoted to this movie — but, oh sweet Jesus, take a look at your local newsstand or Web site. Editors are hyping “Phantom Menace”; Lucas is just responding to their requests for interviews.

That said, J. Hoberman’s piece on the much-anticipated, sure-to-sink-”Titanic” blockbuster-to-be is hype. Contrarian hype, but hype nonetheless. Yes, “Star Wars” was a big movie; it impacted culture; it changed movies; it made a few little boys wet their pants. It is not a religion. And the new movie? I’ve seen it. It’s not bad, but I do think it’s a little, well, over-hyped.

“Rebel Without a Smoke” by Donna Ladd

A recent Eddie Bauer ad features a famous photo of James Dean, only with the cigarette Photoshopped out (funny, nobody ever thinks to remove his sports car). Donna Ladd reports on the debate over whether it’s wrong to alter historic images. What this debate and Ladd’s article miss is the bigger question: Would Dean want to be peddling T-shirts for Eddie Bauer? Did Einstein really Think Different? Did Fred Astair truly prefer a Hoover? Then again, perhaps it’s too late to be asking.

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New Times L.A., May 13-19

“Return of the Teenager” by Glen Gaslin

Glen Gaslin supplies the world with another long-winded piece on teen culture, with all the requisite references to “Dawson’s Creek,” Teen People and the queen of bland blondness, Reese Witherspoon. While Gaslin is an entertaining writer and his commentary on what the writers and producers of hit television shows are saying about teenagers today is more pithy than most of this sort, who the hell cares? Even Gaslin himself admits that little of what he’s writing about has any long-term, cultural significance. Of course, it’s better than those op-ed screeds about teen outcasts listening to Marilyn Manson while polishing their semi-automatic handguns. I suppose well-written pop culture think pieces clobber simpleminded punditry any old day. Still, I think our man in L.A. should take a cue from our friend in Dallas, Miriam Rozen: deconstruct, baby. From what post-pubescent minds are these entertainment products spawned? And why? The teenagers love the deconstruction, man. It sells! And teens, they’re big these days, in case you hadn’t heard. Really big.

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Phoenix New Times, May 12-18

“Mystery Men” by Serene Dominic

Speaking of teen pop culture, perhaps like me you’ve been wondering whatever happened to the boppin’ harmonic duo the Everly Brothers. Or perhaps not. But I’ve always loved the guys, and Serene Dominic’s fun where-are-they-now piece is as sad and interesting as any I’ve read. “Wake up, little Susie! Wake up!”

Seattle Weekly, May 12-18

Solid as an ’88 Sable by Rick Anderson

Local story, national angle, nicely done. Rick Anderson reports on the less-than-stellar performance of Boeing’s Apache helicopters in Kosovo. Long story short: They are crashing and burning, and that’s just on the practice runs. Is this why Milosevic has that happy, Newt-like grin all the time?

“TiVolution” by Larry Sarchin

For the longest time, Internet companies were stealing all their metaphors from the world of TV. Remember channels, anyone? The interesting thing about Larry Sarchin’s article on the latest in computer/boob-tube technology is not the gadgets themselves, but statements like this one from Jim Plant, marketing director for a technology company called Replay: “It’s like Yahoo! for your TV … It’s a portal for television.” I think I’ll go link to another channel now …


When they’re not selling classified ads for bondage or listing performances by bar bands, alternative weeklies are pursuing the lefty spin on the local news. This is what they exist for; it’s what they’re good at. Below are stories to make your heart bleed and ache with deep yearning to make a difference.

The Boston Phoenix, May 13-19

Clinton’s Mexican narco-pals by Al Giordano

Quick! Somebody alert Project Censored! This story was not covered by the news media! Oh, wait, it’s being covered now, and it’s actually quite good. Al Giordano writes about how President Clinton’s visit to Mexico in February was hosted by a coke trafficker and not a single American journalist typed one word about it, even though it was headline news throughout the summit. Of course, even if they had, would anybody care?

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Willamette Week, May 12-18

“A Night at the Races” by Mac Montandon

OK. Mac Montandon’s article is a fun and peppy piece on all the colorful characters that go to greyhound races. But it is preceded by an ominous disclosure: “According to People for Animal Rights, as many as 20,000 dogs die each year in the greyhound-racing industry.” Not just any old dogs, either: beautiful, sleek animals who are pushed to their physical limits and rewarded with more cruelty while their owners get fat. There are organizations working now to save these dogs, rescuing them from the tracks and putting them up for adoption.

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Salt Lake City Weekly, May 13-19

“Kids on the Street” by Leslie Reynolds

It’s the kind of story they dole out Society of Professional Journalists awards for every year: a real, heartbreaking account of homeless teens — teens are big! huge! — told by a passionate journalist, usually female. I’m not saying it’s not an important issue. It is. And this piece is a fine example of how to write these stories. But every time I read this story, I have to roll my eyes, just a little.

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San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 12-18

“Crossing the Line” by Arturo Perez, as told to Don Ray

I don’t think I’ve seen any other story like this. It’s a first-person account by someone who crossed the U.S. border from Mexico. I’ve read accounts by journalists who’ve gone along with groups of immigrants; I’ve read interviews with those who’ve crossed and hadn’t made it. But this account is unshaped by an outsider’s point of view, save for whatever editing was necessary to make it publishable. “As told to” stories are easy to do, and enrich content, but generally don’t run because journalists like to see their bylines attached to their “take.” And alas, stories like this one are seldom told.

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L.A. Weekly, May 14-20

“Unsocial Studies” by Erin J. Aubry

This article is not the “Greek tragedy,” that “can only be described in epic terms” that writer (and sometime Salon contributor) Erin J. Aubry describes it as (Sheesh!). But it is a powerful and provocative look at the explosion of racial tensions at one L.A. high school. Aubry writes from the perspective of the not-so-open-minded observer whose ideas about the good guys and the bad guys get mangled as she investigates charges that two teachers are racists.

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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