Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jon Meacham

Liberal Lamentations and the Book of Job

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

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Where Are the Smart Liberals?

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine. Read More

So who does Job remind you of? I bet you didn’t think of Barack Obama. But that’s what pops into Jon Meacham’s mind, as Rick noted, prompting many of us to wonder how Newsweek lasted as long as it did. It was Newsweek‘s Evan Thomas who first proclaimed Obama a “sort of God,” so I suppose this tale is the modern version of Paradise Lost.

Has Obama lost his family? Become destitute? No, he’s just not popular anymore. Meacham explains:

Outside politics, President Obama thinks of himself less as a professor or community organizer and more as a writer — a man who observes reality, interprets it internally, and then recasts it on the page in his own voice and through his own eyes. And he is a reader of serious books.

Given that, he might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him.

Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one:

Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me,
when he shined his lamp over my head. …

But the Lord withdraws his protection, inflicting pain and death and misery on Job, who cries:

Terror rolls over me, pursues my path like the wind. …
At night my limbs are pierced, and my sinews know no rest.
With great power he seizes my garment, grabs hold of me at the collar.
He hurls me into the muck, and I become like dust and ashes.

God is having none of it. He will not be questioned by a mortal, even a mortal whom he once loved and who has honored him. Fairly snarling, the Lord taunts Job from a whirlwind: “Where were you when I founded earth? / Tell, if you know understanding.”

If you think about it (stop before you get a headache), this is utter nonsense. Obama has not been tested or punished to measure his faith in God. He’s being evaluated by voters for a shoddy two years. The entire point of the Job story is that Job had done nothing to deserve his fate, so far as mortals can imagine.

This brings me to another point. What’s happened to liberal intellectuals these days? It seems they’ve fallen down on the job and ceased to be serious people. I mean, comparing Obama to Job is downright embarrassing. Does the Gray Lady have no standards?

Another case in point: there apparently is a new film out about Fran Lebowitz directed by Martin Scorsese. The problem is that while liberal New Yorkers imagine her to be the quintessential left-leaning intellectual (actually, they don’t need the modifier since, by definition, are intellectuals share their worldview), she hasn’t written anything of note for years, and the sum total of her “contribution” to the intellectual and cultural life of the nation’s greatest city is a string of one-liners. Even this reviewer is somewhat put off:

Except for a children’s book and a series of wise Vanity Fair articles in the 1990s (which were really just well-edited conversations between Lebowitz and an editor on broad subjects such as race and money), Lebowitz hasn’t produced much. Instead, she’s a study in brilliant coasting, which can’t be as fun as it seems. For all its many laughs, “Public Speaking” carries a necessary undercurrent of the morose.

“No one has wasted time the way I have,” Lebowitz tells Scorsese’s camera in her usual rat-a-tat delivery, a voice coarsened by years of smoking. “[I am] the outstanding waster of time of my generation. It was 1979, I looked up, it was 2007.”

Instead of writing, Lebowitz spends her time talking about American society and culture — either through paid appearances on the lecture circuit or from her usual booth at the Waverly Inn, a dimly-lit, exclusively small West Village restaurant co-owned by her friend Graydon Carter, who edits Vanity Fair.

Talking, she says, is all she ever wanted to do.

You really can’t make this stuff up. And one wonders, is this thin gruel of cultural poses and condescension all the left has to offer anymore?

There’s much more: New York is too expensive to be interesting anymore. Tourists are “herds of hillbillies.” Gay men, who so dazzled Lebowitz with their highbrow tastes in the 1970s, have let her down by working so diligently to get married and join the army. And revenge is a wonderful thing: “I absolutely believe in revenge. People always say revenge is a dish best served cold. No. It’s good any time you can get it.”

She is asked: Is there such a thing as being born lucky? Yes, she replies: “Any white, gentile, straight man who is not president of the United States, failed. That’s what a big piece of luck that is, okay?”

Not exactly John Kenneth Galbraith. Or even Dorothy Parker.

The trouble liberals face in maintaining their intellectual chops is that they operate in a world of knowing glances, incomplete sentences, and shared cultural references. Conformity is seen as a sign of intellectual prowess. And you need not write anything intelligible, let alone intellectually compelling, to qualify as a liberal public intellectual.

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Who Would Bid on a Flop?

Howard Kurtz looks at the bidders for Newsweek:

One is Newsmax, a conservative Web site and monthly favored by Sarah Palin and founded by Christopher Ruddy, who once investigated conspiracy theories that Clinton administration officials Vince Foster and Ron Brown were murdered. Another is Thane Ritchie, an Illinois hedge-fund manager and Ross Perot fan who is angling to start a new political party. The third is OpenGate Capital, a private equity firm that two years ago bought TV Guide for $1. It’s hard to imagine any of them supporting Newsweek as a vibrant weekly that could compete with Time.

Ummm, it’s really not vibrant, and it apparently isn’t competitive with Time now, so what could these or any new owner do? But Newsweek says it has lots of other bidders. Tons, I am sure. Nevertheless, it seems there is anger among the staffers, who are aggrieved that “Editor Jon Meacham erred badly by transforming the newsweekly into an upscale, left-leaning opinion magazine.” But Meacham kept telling us it was news! Oh my, quite startling to learn this was all a flim-flam, and a grossly unsuccessful one at that.

Kurtz then opines:

On one level, the situation is a paradox. Here you have a magazine loaded with talent — from the Pulitzer-winning Meacham (who is pursuing his own bid to buy the magazine) to such media stars as Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, Mike Isikoff, Evan Thomas, Fareed Zakaria and Robert Samuelson — and few seem willing to bet on its financial future. That amounts to a no-confidence vote not just on the category of newsweeklies, which have long been squeezed between daily papers and in-depth monthlies, but on print journalism itself. The lucrative properties these days are digital, and Newsweek’s Web site has long been a flop, both creatively and commercially.

Oh, puleez. With the exception of Samuelson, these are predictable liberals parroting the anti-Israel, pro-Obama, anti-conservative line. It isn’t a vote of no confidence in the concept of a weekly — it’s a vote of no confidence in this product and those people. Whoever buys it, if anyone does, would do well to scrap the dreary liberal perspective, fire most of the current crew, and figure out something a lot of people actually want to read. I can tell you it’s not “a sort of a God” Thomas or Zakaria’s noxious views on Israel.

Howard Kurtz looks at the bidders for Newsweek:

One is Newsmax, a conservative Web site and monthly favored by Sarah Palin and founded by Christopher Ruddy, who once investigated conspiracy theories that Clinton administration officials Vince Foster and Ron Brown were murdered. Another is Thane Ritchie, an Illinois hedge-fund manager and Ross Perot fan who is angling to start a new political party. The third is OpenGate Capital, a private equity firm that two years ago bought TV Guide for $1. It’s hard to imagine any of them supporting Newsweek as a vibrant weekly that could compete with Time.

Ummm, it’s really not vibrant, and it apparently isn’t competitive with Time now, so what could these or any new owner do? But Newsweek says it has lots of other bidders. Tons, I am sure. Nevertheless, it seems there is anger among the staffers, who are aggrieved that “Editor Jon Meacham erred badly by transforming the newsweekly into an upscale, left-leaning opinion magazine.” But Meacham kept telling us it was news! Oh my, quite startling to learn this was all a flim-flam, and a grossly unsuccessful one at that.

Kurtz then opines:

On one level, the situation is a paradox. Here you have a magazine loaded with talent — from the Pulitzer-winning Meacham (who is pursuing his own bid to buy the magazine) to such media stars as Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, Mike Isikoff, Evan Thomas, Fareed Zakaria and Robert Samuelson — and few seem willing to bet on its financial future. That amounts to a no-confidence vote not just on the category of newsweeklies, which have long been squeezed between daily papers and in-depth monthlies, but on print journalism itself. The lucrative properties these days are digital, and Newsweek’s Web site has long been a flop, both creatively and commercially.

Oh, puleez. With the exception of Samuelson, these are predictable liberals parroting the anti-Israel, pro-Obama, anti-conservative line. It isn’t a vote of no confidence in the concept of a weekly — it’s a vote of no confidence in this product and those people. Whoever buys it, if anyone does, would do well to scrap the dreary liberal perspective, fire most of the current crew, and figure out something a lot of people actually want to read. I can tell you it’s not “a sort of a God” Thomas or Zakaria’s noxious views on Israel.

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RE: Newsweek Squeak

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Newsweek Squeak

Last year, Newsweek redesigned itself with an eye toward failure. Literally. The newsmagazine was getting itself out of the newsmagazine business and pursuing a higher-end market through a combination of news analysis and opinion. The idea behind the magazine’s redesign was to hasten its contraction from a circulation over 2 million to one around 1 million, while simultaneously raising the cover price. This was not, in and of itself, a silly idea. What Newsweek and its editor Jon Meacham were acknowledging is that the 2 million circulation was illusory, and that the actual readership of the magazine, with people renewing their subscriptions year after year or buying it on the newsstand week after week, was half the size.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Last year, Newsweek redesigned itself with an eye toward failure. Literally. The newsmagazine was getting itself out of the newsmagazine business and pursuing a higher-end market through a combination of news analysis and opinion. The idea behind the magazine’s redesign was to hasten its contraction from a circulation over 2 million to one around 1 million, while simultaneously raising the cover price. This was not, in and of itself, a silly idea. What Newsweek and its editor Jon Meacham were acknowledging is that the 2 million circulation was illusory, and that the actual readership of the magazine, with people renewing their subscriptions year after year or buying it on the newsstand week after week, was half the size.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Newsweek Gushes

Senator McCain’s long-time adviser Mark Salter has penned an outstanding letter to Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, responding to that magazine’s paean to Senator Obama.

Few people are fortunate enough to receive the kind of love and tenderness we find in the Newsweek story. It is especially notable for two things. The first is that Obama is portrayed as a near-mythic figure. He possesses “almost preternatural equanimity.” He has “a light touch in the office, and he can laugh off adversity.” He makes jokes at his own expense. He’s not a screamer but he is an encourager. He wants “steady, calm, focused leadership;” his desire is to “keep out grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters” speak up at meetings. Obama even allows his aides to take naps after pulling a series of all-nighters–including putting his hand on their shoulder when asking them to nap. We read from his aides that he “does not get rattled” and he possesses “grace under fire.” He’s the “alpha male” who “doesn’t micromanage.” No word yet on whether he walks on water or if he can feed the hungry multitudes. But it’s still early in the campaign.

The second thing we learn is that St. Barack must prepare himself for “the coming mud war” led by those oh-so-mean Republicans. McCain’s aides, we learn, include some veterans of “past Republican attack campaigns.” Bringing up Obama’s past associations with Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko and William Ayers is “aiming low.” And of course Floyd Brown and David Bossie, “two of the most experienced attack artists,” warrant two full paragraphs in the story. There is no word on whether Democrats or their 527 groups have, in any campaign, at any time, said or done anything in the least bit problematic. They are, apparently, as pure as the new-driven snow.

The deeper purpose of the article is obvious enough: to tether Republicans to the most toxic elements in their party and de-legitimize in advance criticisms of Obama. Newsweek is attempting to make sure every criticism is viewed through the prism of the GOP’s allegedly ugly motives. So if people make an issue of Obama’s long and intimate relationship with Reverend Wright, it’s taken as evidence of race-baiting.

Newsweek’s cover story is more than evidence that the magazine has cast its lot with Obama. In fact, the deep emotional investment some reporters have in him is beyond anything we have seen since, perhaps, Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign. It’s worth recalling, then, that the Washington Post reporter covering the Kennedy campaign, Richard Harwood, asked to be taken off the beat just before the California primary because he found himself unable to write objectively about Bobby Kennedy. What an admirable and rare thing to find these days.

It’s fine to be impressed with Barack Obama and find him an appealing figure. It’s even fine to decide that electing him is important, even essential, for our republic to survive and flourish. But when reporters reach that point, it’s time to follow the Harwood example. Beyond that, Newsweek’s effort to use its pages as palm branches for Obama while simultaneously discrediting Republicans is an example of why the MSM finds itself in such a bad way these days. The good news is that the claim of objectivity has been cast aside. Newsweek is now operating as a de facto wing of the Obama campaign. It should be, and it will be, seen as such.

Senator McCain’s long-time adviser Mark Salter has penned an outstanding letter to Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, responding to that magazine’s paean to Senator Obama.

Few people are fortunate enough to receive the kind of love and tenderness we find in the Newsweek story. It is especially notable for two things. The first is that Obama is portrayed as a near-mythic figure. He possesses “almost preternatural equanimity.” He has “a light touch in the office, and he can laugh off adversity.” He makes jokes at his own expense. He’s not a screamer but he is an encourager. He wants “steady, calm, focused leadership;” his desire is to “keep out grandstanders and make sure the quiet dissenters” speak up at meetings. Obama even allows his aides to take naps after pulling a series of all-nighters–including putting his hand on their shoulder when asking them to nap. We read from his aides that he “does not get rattled” and he possesses “grace under fire.” He’s the “alpha male” who “doesn’t micromanage.” No word yet on whether he walks on water or if he can feed the hungry multitudes. But it’s still early in the campaign.

The second thing we learn is that St. Barack must prepare himself for “the coming mud war” led by those oh-so-mean Republicans. McCain’s aides, we learn, include some veterans of “past Republican attack campaigns.” Bringing up Obama’s past associations with Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko and William Ayers is “aiming low.” And of course Floyd Brown and David Bossie, “two of the most experienced attack artists,” warrant two full paragraphs in the story. There is no word on whether Democrats or their 527 groups have, in any campaign, at any time, said or done anything in the least bit problematic. They are, apparently, as pure as the new-driven snow.

The deeper purpose of the article is obvious enough: to tether Republicans to the most toxic elements in their party and de-legitimize in advance criticisms of Obama. Newsweek is attempting to make sure every criticism is viewed through the prism of the GOP’s allegedly ugly motives. So if people make an issue of Obama’s long and intimate relationship with Reverend Wright, it’s taken as evidence of race-baiting.

Newsweek’s cover story is more than evidence that the magazine has cast its lot with Obama. In fact, the deep emotional investment some reporters have in him is beyond anything we have seen since, perhaps, Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign. It’s worth recalling, then, that the Washington Post reporter covering the Kennedy campaign, Richard Harwood, asked to be taken off the beat just before the California primary because he found himself unable to write objectively about Bobby Kennedy. What an admirable and rare thing to find these days.

It’s fine to be impressed with Barack Obama and find him an appealing figure. It’s even fine to decide that electing him is important, even essential, for our republic to survive and flourish. But when reporters reach that point, it’s time to follow the Harwood example. Beyond that, Newsweek’s effort to use its pages as palm branches for Obama while simultaneously discrediting Republicans is an example of why the MSM finds itself in such a bad way these days. The good news is that the claim of objectivity has been cast aside. Newsweek is now operating as a de facto wing of the Obama campaign. It should be, and it will be, seen as such.

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Tim Russert’s Annoying Hillary Interview: A Case Study in Media Irrelevance

For more than a decade, Tim Russert has been celebrated for his highly confrontational, “gotcha” interviews on Meet the Press. But yesterday’s morning’s interview with Hillary Clinton provides ample evidence that he is among the most superficial and irritating members of the elite Washington press corps.

Whatever you may think of the Democrats, it is impossible to deny that the current race is a fascinating contest pitting core factions of the Democratic base against each other: African Americans versus working-class women, traditional liberals versus New Democrats. But what does Russert do with his exclusive hour with Clinton? He falls back on the sophomoric “oppo research” questions that his staff gleefully gins up, which tell us nothing about the state of the race or the candidate.

He starts by quoting a foolish Bob Herbert column that implausibly tries to paint the Clintons as racist. He follows up with some more ambush clips from African-Americans upset about Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” line regarding Obama’s shifting position on Iraq or Hillary’s line about the importance of Lyndon Johnson in passing the Civil Rights Act. To her credit, Hillary responds to Russert by calling this stuff “an unfair and unwarranted attempt to misinterpret and mischaracterize what I’ve said.”

But Russert, never a good listener, continues to take her words out of context. First he misrepresents an interview Clinton did with Newsweek: “In Newsweek, you gave an interview to Jon Meacham, and you talked about the personal narrative that candidates develop. You seem to compare Barack Obama to, you say, demagogues like Huey Long.” What she said was this: “I have always been a little suspicious, to be honest, with a personal narrative.…There were some of the demagogues, Huey Long and others. For their time, they were unbelievable communicators and they gave people such a feeling of, on the one hand, hitting back against the forces that had undermined their futures or, on the other hand, that it was going to be automatically better if we elected that person I have always been suspicious of that.” This is actually one of the more interesting intelligent things Hillary Clinton has ever said.

Briefly he asked a few “what if” questions about the surge in Iraq, but as soon as Clinton offered a substantive answer, Russert simply retreated to his research file, trying to find some contradictory posture in her vote for the Iraq war she cast more than 5 years ago. Russert put up a video clip from 2002. Then he quoted a New York Times story from the same year. Later in the hour it was  aclip of Bill Clinton from 15 years ago defending his lack of Washington experience as a way of trying to embarrass Hillary on her criticism of Obama’s inexperience.

The sheer smarminess of all this is profoundly irritating. The hour-long interview gave us no new insight into Clinton or the current race. It was intended only to highlight the ability of Russert’s team to run a few Nexis searches. At one point, Russert had nerve to cite an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showing Obama beating Clinton – this from the same Tim Russert who, only a week ago, was intoxicated by all the worthless NBC polls showing Obama winning in New Hampshire.

Russert is lazy because he is still using the tired technique of reading old, embarrassing quotes to politicians that seemed like a novel approach when he started doing it — in 1991. He displays absolutely no interest in current politics, other than the urge to expose politicians (tee-hee) as flip-floppers. He is a case study of why the mainstream media has become so irrelevant to serious political conversation.

 

For more than a decade, Tim Russert has been celebrated for his highly confrontational, “gotcha” interviews on Meet the Press. But yesterday’s morning’s interview with Hillary Clinton provides ample evidence that he is among the most superficial and irritating members of the elite Washington press corps.

Whatever you may think of the Democrats, it is impossible to deny that the current race is a fascinating contest pitting core factions of the Democratic base against each other: African Americans versus working-class women, traditional liberals versus New Democrats. But what does Russert do with his exclusive hour with Clinton? He falls back on the sophomoric “oppo research” questions that his staff gleefully gins up, which tell us nothing about the state of the race or the candidate.

He starts by quoting a foolish Bob Herbert column that implausibly tries to paint the Clintons as racist. He follows up with some more ambush clips from African-Americans upset about Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” line regarding Obama’s shifting position on Iraq or Hillary’s line about the importance of Lyndon Johnson in passing the Civil Rights Act. To her credit, Hillary responds to Russert by calling this stuff “an unfair and unwarranted attempt to misinterpret and mischaracterize what I’ve said.”

But Russert, never a good listener, continues to take her words out of context. First he misrepresents an interview Clinton did with Newsweek: “In Newsweek, you gave an interview to Jon Meacham, and you talked about the personal narrative that candidates develop. You seem to compare Barack Obama to, you say, demagogues like Huey Long.” What she said was this: “I have always been a little suspicious, to be honest, with a personal narrative.…There were some of the demagogues, Huey Long and others. For their time, they were unbelievable communicators and they gave people such a feeling of, on the one hand, hitting back against the forces that had undermined their futures or, on the other hand, that it was going to be automatically better if we elected that person I have always been suspicious of that.” This is actually one of the more interesting intelligent things Hillary Clinton has ever said.

Briefly he asked a few “what if” questions about the surge in Iraq, but as soon as Clinton offered a substantive answer, Russert simply retreated to his research file, trying to find some contradictory posture in her vote for the Iraq war she cast more than 5 years ago. Russert put up a video clip from 2002. Then he quoted a New York Times story from the same year. Later in the hour it was  aclip of Bill Clinton from 15 years ago defending his lack of Washington experience as a way of trying to embarrass Hillary on her criticism of Obama’s inexperience.

The sheer smarminess of all this is profoundly irritating. The hour-long interview gave us no new insight into Clinton or the current race. It was intended only to highlight the ability of Russert’s team to run a few Nexis searches. At one point, Russert had nerve to cite an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showing Obama beating Clinton – this from the same Tim Russert who, only a week ago, was intoxicated by all the worthless NBC polls showing Obama winning in New Hampshire.

Russert is lazy because he is still using the tired technique of reading old, embarrassing quotes to politicians that seemed like a novel approach when he started doing it — in 1991. He displays absolutely no interest in current politics, other than the urge to expose politicians (tee-hee) as flip-floppers. He is a case study of why the mainstream media has become so irrelevant to serious political conversation.

 

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Sally Quinn: Gee, There’s This Thing Called Religion!

Newsweek and the Washington Post are celebrating the first anniversary of their joint website, “On Faith,” which is billed as “A Conversation on Religion with Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn.” And therein hangs a tale.

Meacham is the managing editor of Newsweek and perhaps the only serious student of religion among the top editors in the mainstream media. Quinn is another story. She became famous first for a disastrous stint as the co-host of a morning news show in the 1970s and then as the star snark writer of profiles during the heyday of the Washington Post’s Style section in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After that she wrote several trashy bestsellers about D.C. life.

I tell you all this because Sally Quinn has written a post on the website on the occasion of its first anniversary that is one of the most dumbfounding documents I have ever read. It is like Augustine’s Confessions, if Augustine’s Confessions had been written by a combination of Helen Gurley Brown and Britney Spears.

You really have to read the whole thing to get the full flavor, but I will here provide you with some choice excerpts:

When we started this I knew practically nothing about religion or the internet. I was not a believer (Jon Meacham is an Episcopalian, a practicing Christian) so I felt secure that I had his experience and knowledge to give us the grounding we needed. Even so it was such an unlikely subject for me to get involved with that even my husband was in shock. My friends still report people sidling up to them at cocktail parties and saying, “What’s with Sally and this religion thing?”

When you really think about it though, it’s not all that surprising. I’m a journalist. I always want to know everything about everything. Curiosity is a driving force with me. In fact I remember when I was eleven, meeting this really cute guy whose mother brought him over to our house one day. I began asking him questions about himself and he finally turned to me and said, “Gee, you’re nosy. ”I was devastated. I had been genuinely interested and wanted to know more about him….

Ultimately each of us is searching for some kind of meaning. Whether we are Christians or Jews or Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists or Wiccans or Atheists or whatever, we are all looking for a way to understand why we are here and to find our own happiness and contentment.

When I announced to Jon several years ago that I was an atheist he challenged me. He said I should not define myself negatively, for one thing, and that if I was really serious about not believing in God that I should at least have some knowledge about what it was I didn’t believe in. At that point I was completely illiterate on the subject, having been disdainful and contemptuous of religion all of my life. But I took what he said to heart and began to read some of the books he suggested. Once again my curiosity got the best of me.

All I can say is that I was shocked and embarrassed at how little I knew, and ultimately ashamed of myself for proclaiming myself an atheist when I really didn’t know what I was talking about.

I also began to realize that so many people in this world who call themselves religious were just like me. They not only knew nothing or little about their own faith but were just as close minded and hostile to other religions as I was to all religion.

The more I read the more I wanted to read and the more obsessed I became with the subject.

Finally in March I took a trip around the world to study the Great Faiths. It was a private tour and we started in Rome. From there we went to Jerusalem in Israel and Bethlehem in Palestine, Kyoto, Japan; Chengdu, China; Lhasa, Tibet; Varanasi, New Delhi and Amritsar in India; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Cairo, Egypt; Armenia; and Istanbul, Turkey. When I told my friend, “On Faith” panelist and religion scholar Elaine Pagels, about the trip she asked how long I had spent. “Three weeks ‘”I replied. “But,” she said in astonishment, “you can’t do that trip in less than three years!.” She was right, actually….

What for me, was the most enlightening thing about my trip was how similar the basic tenets of all religions are. There are some scholars who might argue that point but I felt that ultimately, if you take away all of the evil that has been done in the name of religion (and that’s what I had concentrated on most of my life) you will find that exhortation by Confucius, “What you do not wish for youself, do not do to others,” is really the basis of most world religions. It is the practices and interpretations of that where the faiths diverge.

The trip bolstered my belief in what Jon and I were doing. I felt even more strongly that it was vitally important for people of all faiths and no faiths to understand each other and that we must do everything we could do to foster that understanding….

This country was founded on the concept of separation of church and state. There is a huge difference between understanding and respecting the faiths of others and trying to impose your faith on others. The more we understand about other faiths, I believe, the less likely we will be to try to coerce others into believing as we do.

That is our goal.

Remember: This is the woman who is the co-editor of a religion website co-managed by one of the nation’s two most important newspapers and one of the nation’s two most important magazines. Neither organization, it’s safe to say, would allow a person as gleefully ignorant and simultaneously archly portentous as Quinn to co-host a site about, oh, sports with the level of knowledge and interest she possessed before taking on “On Faith.” And who, after a year’s thin study, feels herself competent to speak with surpassingly confident banality about the differences and commonalities of the world’s major religions.

Newsweek and the Washington Post are celebrating the first anniversary of their joint website, “On Faith,” which is billed as “A Conversation on Religion with Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn.” And therein hangs a tale.

Meacham is the managing editor of Newsweek and perhaps the only serious student of religion among the top editors in the mainstream media. Quinn is another story. She became famous first for a disastrous stint as the co-host of a morning news show in the 1970s and then as the star snark writer of profiles during the heyday of the Washington Post’s Style section in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After that she wrote several trashy bestsellers about D.C. life.

I tell you all this because Sally Quinn has written a post on the website on the occasion of its first anniversary that is one of the most dumbfounding documents I have ever read. It is like Augustine’s Confessions, if Augustine’s Confessions had been written by a combination of Helen Gurley Brown and Britney Spears.

You really have to read the whole thing to get the full flavor, but I will here provide you with some choice excerpts:

When we started this I knew practically nothing about religion or the internet. I was not a believer (Jon Meacham is an Episcopalian, a practicing Christian) so I felt secure that I had his experience and knowledge to give us the grounding we needed. Even so it was such an unlikely subject for me to get involved with that even my husband was in shock. My friends still report people sidling up to them at cocktail parties and saying, “What’s with Sally and this religion thing?”

When you really think about it though, it’s not all that surprising. I’m a journalist. I always want to know everything about everything. Curiosity is a driving force with me. In fact I remember when I was eleven, meeting this really cute guy whose mother brought him over to our house one day. I began asking him questions about himself and he finally turned to me and said, “Gee, you’re nosy. ”I was devastated. I had been genuinely interested and wanted to know more about him….

Ultimately each of us is searching for some kind of meaning. Whether we are Christians or Jews or Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists or Wiccans or Atheists or whatever, we are all looking for a way to understand why we are here and to find our own happiness and contentment.

When I announced to Jon several years ago that I was an atheist he challenged me. He said I should not define myself negatively, for one thing, and that if I was really serious about not believing in God that I should at least have some knowledge about what it was I didn’t believe in. At that point I was completely illiterate on the subject, having been disdainful and contemptuous of religion all of my life. But I took what he said to heart and began to read some of the books he suggested. Once again my curiosity got the best of me.

All I can say is that I was shocked and embarrassed at how little I knew, and ultimately ashamed of myself for proclaiming myself an atheist when I really didn’t know what I was talking about.

I also began to realize that so many people in this world who call themselves religious were just like me. They not only knew nothing or little about their own faith but were just as close minded and hostile to other religions as I was to all religion.

The more I read the more I wanted to read and the more obsessed I became with the subject.

Finally in March I took a trip around the world to study the Great Faiths. It was a private tour and we started in Rome. From there we went to Jerusalem in Israel and Bethlehem in Palestine, Kyoto, Japan; Chengdu, China; Lhasa, Tibet; Varanasi, New Delhi and Amritsar in India; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Cairo, Egypt; Armenia; and Istanbul, Turkey. When I told my friend, “On Faith” panelist and religion scholar Elaine Pagels, about the trip she asked how long I had spent. “Three weeks ‘”I replied. “But,” she said in astonishment, “you can’t do that trip in less than three years!.” She was right, actually….

What for me, was the most enlightening thing about my trip was how similar the basic tenets of all religions are. There are some scholars who might argue that point but I felt that ultimately, if you take away all of the evil that has been done in the name of religion (and that’s what I had concentrated on most of my life) you will find that exhortation by Confucius, “What you do not wish for youself, do not do to others,” is really the basis of most world religions. It is the practices and interpretations of that where the faiths diverge.

The trip bolstered my belief in what Jon and I were doing. I felt even more strongly that it was vitally important for people of all faiths and no faiths to understand each other and that we must do everything we could do to foster that understanding….

This country was founded on the concept of separation of church and state. There is a huge difference between understanding and respecting the faiths of others and trying to impose your faith on others. The more we understand about other faiths, I believe, the less likely we will be to try to coerce others into believing as we do.

That is our goal.

Remember: This is the woman who is the co-editor of a religion website co-managed by one of the nation’s two most important newspapers and one of the nation’s two most important magazines. Neither organization, it’s safe to say, would allow a person as gleefully ignorant and simultaneously archly portentous as Quinn to co-host a site about, oh, sports with the level of knowledge and interest she possessed before taking on “On Faith.” And who, after a year’s thin study, feels herself competent to speak with surpassingly confident banality about the differences and commonalities of the world’s major religions.

Read Less