(updated below - updated again)
I've had book-related commitments today which ended up being more consuming than I anticipated, so I may be unable to post much today. I did, however, want to point quickly to a few noteworthy items.
I'm not one who subscribes to the view that our Beltway culture is so irredeemably vapid and broken that the entire political system is doomed, but those who do believe that were bequeathed several new gifts today for use in support of that claim, including:
(1) This article by The New York Times' Adam Nagourney, in which he recounts the central role he and the Times played in the "John-Edwards-Loves-His-Hair-Like-a-Sissy" story, by publishing anonymous "Breck Girl" smears back in 2004. The smears were from what Nagourney back then called "Bush associates" (but which he today describes as people at "senior levels of the Bush political operation"). That article granted anonymity to "Bush associates" to call Edwards a girl and to say that John Kerry "looks French."
For some entirely indiscernible reason, it appears that Nagourney woke up recently and was hit with the realization that maybe one of the reasons why such petty and vacuous stories dominate our political discourse is because he and his esteemed colleagues at The New York Times eagerly offer themselves up as instruments for disseminating such personal smears. Announces Nagourney, as though he has discovered some sort of complex, previously unknown Truth:
Our story may have had the result of not only previewing what the Bush campaign intended to do, but, by introducing such memorably biting characterizations into the political dialogue, helping it.
Really? So if the New York Times uncritically publishes petty, anonymous personal smear quotes about Democratic candidates in its front page section without printing any response or critical analysis of any kind, that actually has the effect of helping to introduce such smears into our political discourse? Apparently, it took Nagourney three years to discover that novel journalistic insight.
Most amazingly of all, Nagourney still is incapable of making the connection between his stories with the "Edwards-is-a-Girl" theme and the comments last month from Ann Coulter that everyone -- just everyone -- agreed were so very, very wrong. Other than the fact that Coulter used a prohibited word and Nagourney (and Maureen Dowd and The Politico and on and on and on) did not, the stories are precisely the same -- both in design and in effect.
(2) Every time I write about the media here, Paul Rosenberg notes in comments that he refers to the national press and its various hangers-on and appendages as "Versailles". Could he possibly ask for any more vivid evidence than these accounts of the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner last night and the accompanying after-parties? That is the Beltway culture stripped to its decadent, self-loving, vainglorious core.
The dominant political story today in our press is focused on what Sheryl Crow and Laurie David said at one of the parties. These journalists and political operatives excitedly invite Hollywood celebrities to their parties so they can feel celebrated and glamorous, and then spend the next day condescendingly mocking the celebrities they invited and spent all night eagerly fondling, all in order to feel superior and elevated above the muck ("ha, ha -- as though Sheryl Crow (whom we invited and chased around hoping to speak with) knows anything about global warming or other Important Political Things! Ha ha!"). Whenever you feel bewildered at the state of our political affairs, just keep those pages bookmarked and look at the pictures and all will be clear again.
(3) Michael Ledeen of the American Institute is one of the most respected "scholars" on Iran among the warmongering neoconservative sect. Today, Ledeen reports on an attempt to "blow up the US embassy in Kyrgyzstan" and remarks about the would-be terrorist: "I think this guy is working for Harry Reid." Claims that Reid is a Traitor are all the rage in similar circles today.
The bright spot for Reid is that if you're going to commit treason, it's at least nice if you have a lot of company:
That is the latest Traitor Count from Rasumussen Reports, the favorite polling company of Bush followers.
(4) Digby asks an excellent question about Howard Kurtz, The National Enquirer, "press standards" and George Bush which is highly unlikely to prompt any answers from those whose conduct is in question (although you can ask Kurtz about this at the weekly chat he has tomorrow, at 12 noon, where he can also be asked his reaction to the exciting news that his most cherished right-wing blogosphere CNN guests Found The WMDs this weekend).
(5) Being subjected to reports of the White House Correspondents' Dinner provides a vivid reminder of just how piercing and subversive Stephen Colbert's speech was at last year's dinner (transcript is here). At their most prized event, he basically appeared and -- in the most unrelenting and merciless manner possible -- described exactly what they are and what they do. It really was one of the most superb political speeches of the Bush presidency.
Here is one passage that I was reminded of this week:
As excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president's side, and the vice president's side.
But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished.
Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.
But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home.
Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know -- fiction!
Compare Colbert's description of the function of our national press corps with the explanation this week from Boston Globe editor Martin Baron as to why the Globe's Charlie Savage won a Pulitzer Prize: "What Charlie does and the reason he won this richly deserved Pulitzer is because he covered what the White House does, not just what it says."
In essence, Baron pointed out that Savage won a Pulitzer because (unlike most political journalists) he actually goes beyond what Colbert described as the proper role of journalists ("you people of the press type those decisions down"). In retrospect, Colbert's speech was far more literal than satirical. It only seemed satirical because the reality of what he was describing is so absurd.
The only thing more entertaining -- and more revealing -- than the Colbert speech itself was all of the confused, petulant and angry reactions from Beltway journalists, explaining how it was so unfunny and so inappropriate because of how disrespectful it was to the defenseless Leader (and, more importantly, to the royal court's press corps).
(6) In the event that the link above did not provide enough, there are many more photographs of the majestic event from last night here. Be forewarned: some of these photographs are quite graphic.