"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
I want to return to the video clip of the jovial and dismissive discussion of the U.S. attorneys scandal on yesterday’s Chris Matthews Show (embedded below). In one sense, this clip is completely typical of how our national media thinks and talks about political matters. But there just is something about this particular discussion and the giggling, vapid participants that is extra vivid and instructive on a visceral level.
Whatever one thinks of how convincing the available evidence is thus far, nobody who has an even basic understanding of how our government functions could dispute that the accusations in this scandal are extremely serious. Presumably, even those incapable of ingesting the danger of having U.S. attorneys fired due to their refusal to launch partisan-motivated prosecutions (or stifle prosecutions for partisan reasons) at least understand that it is highly disturbing and simply intolerable for the Attorney General of the U.S. — the head of our Justice Department — to lie repeatedly about what happened, including to Congress, and to have done so with the obvious assent and (at the very least) implicit cooperation of the White House. Even the most vapid media stars should be able to understand that.
And yet so many of them do not. They continue to defend the administration by insisting that even if the accusations are correct, there was no real wrongdoing here. Add Fred Hiatt to that list, as he defends the Bush administration’s prosecutor firings in his Washington Post Editorial today by insisting that Gonzales appears “to have tried to cover up something that, as far as we yet know, didn’t need covering. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president . . . .”
Just as was true for their virtually unanimous insistence that there was no wrongdoing worth investigating in the Plame case — including the serial lying and obstruction of justice from the Vice President’s top aide, one of the most powerful people in the White House — they also see nothing wrong whatsoever with serial lying and corruption by the Attorney General in this case.
Think about this: there are only two instances in the last six years where real investigations occurred in any of the Bush scandals — this U.S. attorneys scandal (because Democrats now have subpoena power) and the Plame case (due to the fluke of two Republican DOJ officials with integrity, James Comey and Patrick Fitzgerald). And in both cases, it was revealed conclusively that top Bush officials — at the highest levels of the government — repeatedly and deliberately lied about what they did. Isn’t that pattern obviously extremely disturbing? And imagine what would be revealed had there been real investigations — journalistic or Congressional — of all the other scandals that ended up dying an inconsequential death due to neglect and suppression.
Beltway media stars really aren’t bothered by any of this in the slightest. It’s how their world works. Initially, they even refused to talk about the story at all, insisting that there was nothing worth seeing here, and were all but forced into writing about it as a result of the tenacious coverage in the blogosphere, led by TPM’s Josh Marshall. Their instinct is to lash out at anyone who suggests real wrongdoing on the part of the Republican political machinery that has ruled their town for so long.
They respect and admire the Republicans who wield power in Washington — media elites particularly love Karl Rove (Mark Halperin to Hugh Hewitt: “we say in the book about Karl Rove, who I respect and enjoy . . . I enjoy his company . . . Maybe he did the things he’s accused of, but to have this guy’s image portrayed and defined by things that are accusations that are unproven, we say in the book is really outrageous”). They admire and love Rove because he is the embodiment of the political power which they worship — and they are angered by the notion that these figures who rule their world, a world which lavishly rewards them, should be accused of real wrongdoing, let alone threatened with subpoenas and prosecution and imprisonment. Fun and playful political tussles are fine, but anything truly disruptive or threatening is despised by them and considered out of bounds.
These are not journalists who want to uncover government corruption or act in an adversarial capacity to check government power. Rather, these are members of the royal court who are grateful to the King and his minions for granting them their status. What they want more than anything is to protect and preserve the system that has so rewarded them — with status and money and fame and access and comfort. They’re the ludicrous clowns who entertain the public by belittling any facts which demonstrate pervasive corruption and deceit at the highest levels of our government, and who completely degrade the public discourse with their petty, pompous, shallow, vapid chatter that transforms every important political matter into a stupid gossipy joke.
Here are several of our media elites from our nation’s most influential journalistic outlets — including from Time, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, and NBC News — all sitting around on the Chris Matthews Show giggling for three and a half minutes straight about the silly U.S. attorneys scandal. The whole thing is just a fun game for them, and it’s absurd to them that anyone could take things like this seriously.
And what is most notable is that they express outrage at one part, and one part only, of this whole story — namely, they are furious over the fact that the foolish, unfair Democrats would even dare to try to force Karl Rove to testify. Why, firing U.S. attorneys and lying to Congress and the country about it is all fair game, but that – trying to get Rove to answer questions — is really beyond the pale. Just watch how the people who have done so much damage to our country think and behave:
Really, is it any wonder at all that our government is so fundamentally corrupt and broken when we have a press like this? Why wouldn’t top government officials lie continuously when our national press corps finds such lying to be such a source of merriment and humor, and can summon the energy only to attack, mock and condemn those who find the lying objectionable, rather than the liars themselves?
And given that these are the people who are supposed to perform the function of checking government power and uncovering government corruption, is it really any wonder that the administration has felt comfortable engaging in six years worth of systematic lawbreaking? These media stars would never investigate any of it, because they don’t think it’s a problem, and if it ends up being exposed, they will belittle and mock any objections to the lawbreaking, defend the administration, and distract everyone from the issues raised. They obscure the consequences of corruption revelations with gossipy and giggly speculation about who is helped or hurt politically.
The same thing happened when it was revealed that the President was eavesdropping on the conversations of Americans in secret and without obtaining judicial warrants — conduct which is a felony in this country and, worse still, revealed a broader theory whereby the administration believes it has the power to break the law. The national media could hardly have cared less about any of the profound implications of those revelations, but instead focused obsessively on laughing about how the Democrats could not object to the lawbreaking because to do so would make them look “weak” in fighting the Terrorists. They warned against investigations and echoed Karl Rove’s talking points endlessly by insisting that Americans supported “eavesdropping on Terrorists.”
The overriding goal of most of our national media elites is to preserve the prevailing Republican power system that rules Washington because of how beneficial that system is to them. As a result, they admire and want to protect those who rule that system, and thus reflexively view scandals which entail accusations of true corruption by our political leaders — and especially unpleasant formal investigations and threats of criminal prosecution — as frivolous and inherently false and unfair.
They will always lash out at those who prosecute the scandal but defend as unfair victims those who are accused of the wrongdoing. Look at how angry Time‘s Richard Stengel is about the Democrats’ desire to make Rove testify: “I am so uninterested in the Democrats wanting Karl Rove because it is so bad for them” (emphasis in original). What if Rove really engaged in serious wrongdoing? Stengel, like virtually all of his Beltway media colleagues, really couldn’t care less.
Journalists are supposed to be, by definition, eager for investigations of government misconduct. That is supposed to be their purpose, embedded in their DNA. Yet virtually across the board, the prevailing Beltway conventional wisdom has become that — as always — investigations are “bad for Democrats,” that Americans don’t want their Leaders investigated, that it’s all a terrible distraction from the oh-so-important business of legislating.
On what do these media stars base these constant, emphatic claims about what Americans want and don’t want? On nothing other than their own personal desires, which they cowardly and misleadingly attribute to what “Americans believe,” even though such claims are baseless and false.
In the last election, anger over Republican corruption played a major role in why Americans threw Republicans out of power:
By a wide margin, Americans who voted Tuesday in the midterm election say they disapprove of the war in Iraq. But when asked which issue was extremely important to their vote, more voters said corruption and ethics in government than any other issue, including the war, according to national exit polls.
And as I recall (though cannot yet find, but will add as an update), polls before the election also demonstrated that clear majorities of Americans wanted more oversight and checks on the administration. Claims that “Americans don’t want investigations” are just false and reflective of nothing other than their own desire to defend the administration.
These Beltway media figures are not only completely vapid, shallow, and devoid of any objective other than to defend government leaders, but they are completely out of touch with the “Americans” whom they constantly invoke as props in order to depict their own biases and beliefs as being shared by the American mainstream.
In virtually every instance over the last six years — from realizing that the country was misled into the invasion of Iraq to realizing that administration claims of success there were false to opposing the pardon of Lewis Libby by a wide margin — Americans end up realizing the truth long before the national press comes close to it.
While our media stars continue to defend the administration, Americans have come to realize on their own just how profoundly inept and corrupt this President is. The President’s real “base” — his most loyal followers — are not red state Republicans, but instead, are Norah O’Donnell and Gloria Borger and the stable of media elite feeding at the Republican power trough, boundlessly worshipful of those who fill it, and eager to defend them at all costs.
UPDATE: I have posted replies to various responses to this post — including this response from Ana Marie Cox — in a new post, which is here. The new post also contains updated and more specific polling data demonstrating just how false were the claims made by these pundits on The Chris Matthews Show about the views of Americans concerning investigations — both in general and specifically as applied to this scandal.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)