Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » June 2005 » Shamelessly Funnie...

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06/07/2005: Shamelessly Funnie...

Whiskey Bar has a Funnie “swipe” at David Brooks over the "Watergate" and "Deep Throat" revelations in this piece Young Bobos in Paradise.

”Several people, including Brad DeLong, have taken swipes at this column by David Brooks (who increasingly resembles the stupendously clueless "Arfy" of Catch-22)….”

Click on the “more” button to read further.

”Life Lessons From Watergate

The most interesting part of this Deep Throat business is Bob Woodward's description, in Thursday's Washington Post, of the state he was in when he met Mark Felt. He had graduated from Yale and was finishing a tour in the Navy, but he had no idea of what he wanted to do with his life. He was plagued by "angst and a sense of drift," and stricken by "considerable anxiety."

He began networking. "I had a college classmate who was going to clerk for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, and I made an effort to develop a friendship with that classmate." Then he chanced upon Felt, an established figure in the world he somehow hoped to enter. He peppered him with questions. "Since he wasn't saying much about himself, I turned it into a career-counseling session," Woodward writes. "I was deferential, but I must have seemed very needy."

Bob Woodward, in other words, was in the midst of the starting-gate frenzy.

I'll skip through the Boboian blah blah to get to his main point (such as it is) which is that Woodward -- and by implication Berstein, although Brooks knows better than to spoil his thesis by dragging in such an glaring contradiction -- were products of the same shallow, self-referential yuppie media culture that has given us such pundits as, oh, say, David Brooks.

Watergate has become a modern Horatio Alger story, a real-life fairy tale, an inspiring ode for mediacentric college types - about the two young men who found exciting and challenging jobs, who slew the dragon, who became rich and famous by doing good and who were played by Redford and Hoffman in the movie version.

And so, according to Brooks, we now have thousands of ambitious young writers out there trying to climb the same greased poll:

Entering the world of the Higher Shamelessness, they begin networking like mad, cultivating the fine art of false modesty and calculated friendships. The most nakedly ambitious - the blogging Junior Lippmanns - rarely win in the long run, but that doesn't mean you can't mass e-mail your essays for obscure online sites with little "Thought you might be interested" notes.

They create informal mutual promotion societies, weighing who will be the crucial members of their cohort, engaging in the dangerous game of lateral kissing up, hunting for the spouse who will look handsomely supportive during some future confirmation hearing, nurturing a dislike for the person who will be the chief rival when the New Yorker editing job opens up in 2027.

Now even for Brooks, this an exceedingly pointless and stupid argument. Not because such people don't exist (although these days they're much more likely to be gunning for a National Review editorship instead of a job at the New Yorker) but because they have absolutely nothing to do -- and certainly don't aspire to have anything to do -- with the kind of journalism that gave us the Watergate story.

By trying to shoehorn his own contempt (self contempt?) for today's aspiring "mediocentric" yuppies into the Mark Felt coming out party, Brooks has told us a hell of a lot more than we need to know about the Boboian worldview, but absolutely nothing interesting about Watergate, journalism or even today's flaccid "news" media.

Woodward and Berstein weren't wannabe pundits or young bow-tied interns on the make. They were a couple of metro desk reporters who happened to get assigned to the political story of the half century when it was still just a routine cops-and-courts item. They didn't get their tips at Georgetown dinner parties, didn't spend their time lobbying Fox News producers to get on Hannity & Colmes and certainly didn't "e-mail essays for obscure online sites" to pompous fatheads like Brooks. They covered Watergate the way street reporters were supposed to cover a story -- by running down leads, camping out on people's doorsteps and fitting little bits of information together one piece at a time.

If Bobo had taken just a little time to background his story (you know, the kind of stuff street reporters do) he might have recognized that Bernstein was a longhaired newsroom oddball who delighted in outraging (not stroking) his editors, while Woodward, for all his Ivy League credentials and efforts to chat up guys like Mark Felt, was just another newsroom rookie whose pre-Watergate hot stories had included such scoops as interviewing construction workers on the Metro.

In other words, these guys hit the big time in SPITE of the Washington media caste system, not because of it. They sunk their teeth into Richard Nixon's ankle and refused to let go, to the point where Bradlee had to keep them on the story, instead of turning it over to the political reporters on the national desk -- who almost certainly would have let the story die, or withered under the assault of the White House dobermans. Woodward and Berstein had nothing to lose, and the Post, which had a lot to lose, backed them up -- something almost inconceivable today.

The real significance of the Mark Felt/Deep Throat story for American journalism is that it highlights the vast change in the media culture since 1972 -- not that it shows how today's bright young things are trying to climb the same career ladder that took Woodstein to the top. What spineless career crawler in his right mind would take that kind of risk today?

The shit-for-brains media culture that Brooks finds so amusing is one of the trends that has helped DESTROY investigative reporting, or at least, driven it to the fringes of mainstream respectability. Only in Bobo's deluded world could they be seen as two examples of the same thing.”

Karen on 06.07.05 @ 06:36 AM CST

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