Friday, June 29, 2012

"The Newsroom"'s Charlie Skinner may not be afraid of dumb people, but the WaPo's credo seems to be: "Hey, dumb people buy papers too!"


"I'm too old to be governed by fear of dumb people."
-- ACN news-division chief Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston),
in the first episode of HBO's The Newsroom

by Ken

I don't mean to do anything as grandiose as a "review" of the new Aaron Sorkin-written series The Newsroom, despite my enthusiasm for the trailer that HBO put up a couple of months ago. I get the impression that people were lying in wait for the show, which made me a little nervous about watching the first episode, first shown last Sunday, but I finally did, and I thought it was terrific.

For now, I bring it up mostly because of Sorkin's wonderful capture of the present state of dumbness we're living in. For example, I scribbled down that line I've put up above. And I went to the trouble of transcribing the meditation on America's lost greatness by cable news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) which comes after Will has been cornered into admitting -- as the take-no-position member of an otherewise ideologically polarized televised panel on TV news -- that he doesn't actually believe this is the greatest country in the world. (That was in the clip I already posted here; see the link above.)

Sorkin has explained that his original script didn't include the scene of Will's on-air meltdown; it was merely referred to in the scene that takes place three weeks later. It was one of the executive producers, Scott Rudin, who suggested that he have a shot at writing that scene. And here's what comes tumbling out of Will once he's had a chance to collect himself a little:
We used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, we struck down laws, for moral reasons. We waged war on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed; we cared about our neighbors; we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chests. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world's greatest artists and the world's greatest economy. We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn't belittle it. It didn't make us feel inferior. We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn't scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. Enough?

I think it's important to note that this outpouring, as written by Sorkin and performed by Daniels, isn't a political tract. Sorkin writes people, and Daniels understands wondefully that this is Will scrambling to get control of a situation in which he's already blurted out a bunch of stuff he's been sitting on in the years since he finally accepted the conventional wisdom of his profession, that it's impossible to produce a news broadcast that's simultaneously (a) the most accurate and best understood representation of the news you can manage and (b) commercially viable.

Let's listen again to just this bit:

"We aspired to intelligence, we didn't belittle it. It didn't make us feel inferior. . . . We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed."

I can't help connecting this to a couple of recent cries for help I encountered -- both, by coincidence, on

I. "[Obama] is a phony and a liar despite all the propaganda
spewing from the white house. You leftists are pathetic."

In a recent WaPo "In the Loop" column, wrote admiringly about his WaPo colleague Dave Maraniss's much-talked-about new book Barack Obama: The Story ("An Obama book the Obamas should read"): "your typical Maraniss book: beautifully written, meticulously researched, a serious effort to understand a complex character."
The goofy political canards of the "Muslim Kenyan" -- so much fun for the fringe for a while -- melt away as Maraniss talks to a teacher at the Catholic elementary school that Obama attended in Indonesia. The "birther" silliness evaporates as he talks to folks who were in Honolulu when Obama was born.

Al goes on to cite Maraniss's correction of "many tales in the president's best-selling memoir, Dreams From My Father" (which Maraniss describes, not as "fiction," but as "literature"). and of "the family lore about his stepfather's dad being killed in Indonesia.

Al ventures:
Obama's dope-smoking days, the constant search for where he fit in, the aloofness, the wariness -- all are explored. His years in school in Hawaii, it would appear, may be the most useful for understanding Obama's approach to dealing with people and situations.

And near the top of the slate of reader comments, has been brandishing this one from johnst893:
NUTS. He is a phony and a liar despite all the propaganda spewing from the white house. You leftists are pathetic.

I think it's important to step back and reflect that this outburst, which is far from narrowly held among the citizenry, is "independent of accuracy," to borrow the outrageous political-science euphemism I was horrified to encounter recently. It is in fact based on absolutely nothing that can be observed in the real world. And yet, shamefully, it has been tolerated and even encouraged by lying scum occupying the rightward half of our political spectrum.

II. "In short, Obama has made a difference during
the Arab Spring mostly by not making a difference."

At least that's only a reader comment. I was already stewing over a column written by the Post's deputy editorial page editor, Jackson Diehl, "Is Obama to blame for the Arab Spring’s failures?" In case you're wondering, I'll spare you having to read this pile of imbecilic, lying puke, and break the news that the answer is a resounding YES!!!

Apparently, you can't slip anything past this genius. He has looked up and discovered: "Today the badly misnamed 'Arab Spring”'is beginning to look like an epic mess." As if everyone with a working brain didn't foresee pretty much this exact outcome.

But because our Jackson is both an imbecile and an ideological hooligan, it's apparently all news to him. And so he's been running around to breathlessly pump "experts" to find out what went wrong. "Predictably," he writes, "the answers have been widely varying, and often contradictory. But there are two points of consensus: Of course the United States and its president had an influence on how things turned out; and, for the most part, it was a negative one."

Which already means that he's chosen his "experts" imbecilically, because anyone who actually looked at the situation with a working brain could have seen that while the downsides forecast by all those partisan observers were all correct, none of the upsides had a lick of a chance of taking hold. And you would think the lamebrain would be able to see this from the diametrically conflicting nature of the opinions he has gathered. But no.
Taken together, these disparate comments actually add up to a coherent critique. Obama’s biggest failing in the Arab Spring is not that he chose the wrong side; it is that he has waffled back and forth. He has been consistently indecisive, irresolute and reluctant to act. As a result he has alienated both regimes and revolutionaries, and squandered U.S. leverage.

This is arrant nonsense. And it's no wonder that it leads to one of the stupidest pieces of drivel I've ever read:
In short, Obama has made a difference during the Arab Spring mostly by not making a difference. By failing to decisively use U.S. aid, diplomatic influence and military power to support the removal of dictators and the beginning of democratic transformation, he has helped tip the balance toward the old regimes -- or chaos. No, the mess is not his fault. But he deserves a share of the blame.

But of course there was no point at which the U.S. had any leverage to prevent an outcome of either the survival of the old regimes or chaos. Every action we could have taken would have produced a reaction that would have sped the path to one or the other of those outcomes. It's only because our Jackson went in with an answer to his question of whether it was Obama's fault that he is able to miss this. Well, that and the fact that he apparently doesn't know a frigging thing about the Middle East or the Arab world. He's just a brain-dead thug for hire.

Which brings us to the question of why a supposedly reputable newspaper would be hiring him in any capacity, let alone as deputy editorial page editor and a columnist specializing in foreign affairs. I think it's safe to say that, unlike The Newsroom's Charlie Skinner, the Post is by no means "too old to be governed by fear of dumb people." Apparently at the Post they're not only afraid of dumb people, they worship them.

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