Kathleen Parker, "Frayed Thread in a Free Society". March 15
HONESTLY, I have no idea how I came to be staring at a Kathleen Parker column. Three days ago I did something foolhardy: I taunted the mucus gods in print, telling Scott how wisely I'd foiled this cold my Poor Wife gave me ten days ago by the vigilant application of zinc and vitamin C. I remember falling into a fitful sleep sometime after that; I remember dreaming that Thomas Pynchon and Marcel Proust were chasing me across some endless lake of stuff so viscous you could run on it, and how they were dressed in matching sailor suits. I woke up a few hours later to find some impudency had arranged for a large batch of Jell-O to set inside my head while it was tilted 23º to stabbard; once I'd gotten to my feet I found I had to walk with my head nearly on my right shoulder while keeping my left eye closed to prevent vertigo. I say "walk", but it more closely resembled the pathetic rightward lurchings of a grounded bird. This proved, of course, to be nothing but an airy prelude to the following 72 hours, which were notable because with every fresh 12 the thing would transform itself into something qualitatively worse than the previous half-day, a process which frankly, by the 36 hour mark, I could not imagine continuing without a replay of that scene from Alien. And about 1:30 this AM I woke up, walked into the kitchen and felt normal. Sick, but normally sick. (What is that "normal" we return to, that feeling Like Ourselves? It's just sort of a flick, and you don't know, your understand that you're normal. Some satisfying snap and everything is back in place again. And then slowly back again to that place were feeling normal isn't nearly good enough.)
Occupational hazard, for a teacher, but my Poor Wife was just at the homestretch of two straight years of not coming home with a Science Fair's worth of accidentally-spilled microbial growth experiments, and then the last days of February got her. And that means it's the first really full-blown mucus shedder I can remember having around Larry the OCD cat. Do not tell me that "all cats have OCD". I've had cats for over forty years. Larry is an order of magnitude beyond the average cat OCD, and one of his best? favorite? obsessions is anything small, especially if handled by people first. There is no piece of jetsam around here that, should you leave it on a table, or counter, rather than under a latch he cannot operate or a weight he can't budge, you mayn't lose for days, even months, before discovering where Larry was when he dropped it. Location of said object is of absolutely no consequence to him. There is no shelf he cannot reach, no awkwardness or precariousness he won't face, and certainly no such place as one "where Larry's been trained not to go" (!). (Fortunately, Larry has no interest in human foods at all, excepting what might be found on an egg skillet not immediately stashed in the dishwasher, or the occasional biscuit or cracker if he can get one. We also seem to have a working agreement about the south wall shelves, which are crammed with various mementos of my Poor Wife's carnival career and would require a fairly energetic leap to manage. These he leaves alone, so far, and excepting my wife's large collection of Mardi-Gras beads, which sort of spill over the top shelf to the west, which he can reach by extending himself full length while standing on the center speaker over the teevee. In exchange Larry gets to knock stuff off the mantle on the north wall, no matter how many times he's threatened with death for doing so. Larry laughs at death.) So you're on your deathbed, and great gobs of mucus are coming out of you like 19th century stage ectoplasm, and your cat is walking up to you and stealing your used kleenex, helping himself to the wadded up wrapper of New! Ricola elderberry, or just picking up a whole fresh lozenge, and walking out with it. Or just eats it right there. Not just the lozenge. The paper, the kleenex, whatever. Unless, of course, you pry your corpse off the mattress and try to prevent it.
As I was saying, I found myself staring at Kathleen Parker without knowing how I came to be there, a woman I cannot recall ever having read unless someone else had already made fun of it. The conditions which would change that, Parker becoming a writer, say, or branching out from wingnut talking points that weren't already trite by the time five other Townhall columnists rung them out ahead of her, are almost unbelievably remote. Parker has a running "feud" with the Limbaugh "wing" of the party dating to her anti-Palin comments during the Late Sadness. Whenever I run into these "Who thought this was marketing genius?" moments in the GOP I try to remind myself that Branson, MO, is practically recession-proof. Ms Parker--we were nearly at the point of reminding you, anyway--has been a columnist since 1987, or, so far as we can tell, about two drudging weeks after she first went to work for the Osceola County Times & Shopper. This means she not only lived through, but presumably covered, in a stop-at-nothing-to-get-the-story style, the latter days of Reagan, Bush/ Quayle, Bob Dole/ Jack Kemp (comparatively the "What're You Poindexters Doin' Here?" team), and Bush/ Cheney, and she didn't speak up before Sarah Palin? Why does every last blessed one of those little Republican issuelets come down to one of these Encyclopedia Brown moments? But the drinking glass was found on the nightstand! The answer, I think, can be found in Branson, MO: Parker, like the rest of her ilk, has too long dealt with an audience so easily amused any spectacle still as boldly white as an old Andy WIlliams Christmas special. She's a fourth-rate hack mysteriously making first-rate money, and she's spent twenty years being outraged by Bill Clinton's dick, Al Gore's makeup, Elian Gonzalez' repatriation, Travelgate, Vandalgate, Kerningate, all the way to Hillary's plan to give every illegal immigrant a drivers' license, a reconditioned Hummer, and a carton of smokes, and Barack Obama's Muslim lapels, depending on what was called for that minute. Yet she imagines that you and I imagine she was writing nought but unvarnished truth, that each morning's paper was a tabla rasa when it hit her hands, which she converted into pearls for the masses down below, and that her Palin column wasn't just the case of a vacuous careerist jumping off the McCain/Palin shipwreck, the better to, what? get invited back to Matthews? Noonan did it more believably, and first, but then she didn't know it was being broadcast and she took it all back the instant she realized it had. But I read the thing like you would a six-month old People at the dentist's, and I'll be damned if she didn't go from 0-60 on the crazy scale in three paragraphettes:
The biggest challenge facing America's struggling newspaper industry may not be the high cost of newsprint or lost ad revenues, but ignorance stoked by drive-by punditry.
Yes, Dittoheads, you heard it right.
Drive-by pundits, to spin off of Rush Limbaugh's "drive-by media," are non-journalists who have been demonizing the media the past 20 years or so and who blame the current news crisis on bias.
Now, that's sixty-five words, and maybe it's just that I'm not used to a Parker column, but my impression by this point was that if she could keep this up another 181 she had a chance to out-Gettysburg Honest Abe.
Look at the thing: not just a standing start, but a cold one: a phone-in Unkempt Bloggers Destroy Journalism, Plus Leave Empty Bottles Lying Around, And Won't They Ever Be Sorry When We're Gone tree killer if there ever was one, helmed by the Mistress of the Wingnut Phone-in. And yet in a few simple sentences she's reminded you of her Limbaugh feud bona fides, fobbed off the crisis in print journalism onto ignoramuses and a few "too liberal" editorial pages, so swiftly that we barely notice she's turned that same twenty-year stretch with the GOP on its head as she passed, apparently relegating the whole Librul Media business, except a few!, including her own liturgical claims of bias over the years, to wherever this stuff is supposed to go when it becomes inoperative or inconvenient. Then she screeches to a halt, coughs once, and that "blame the current crisis on bias"cloud sorta settles over everything.
Whoa, golly, I know you're way ahead of me; the woman blaming drive-by punditry has spent twenty years as a pundit with a) no discernible qualification for being elevated to the post and b) no evidence since that she deserves it. But walk a few more steps with me.
There is surely room for media criticism, and a few bad actors in recent years have badly frayed public trust. And, yes, some newspapers are more liberal than their readership and do a lousy job of concealing it.
But the greater truth is that newspaper reporters, editors and institutions are responsible for the boots-on-the-ground grub work that produces the news stories and performs the government watchdog role so crucial to a democratic republic.
Now, wasn't that worth it? Twenty years sweatin' in the coal mines of modern journalism, and Ms Parker still can't manage, apparently, to sense any presence at all to her Left, yet another common affliction among the wingnut pundit class that, should it appear as a physical symptom and not just a writerly tic, would have it under the care of a pathologist and a neurologist with no time lost. I know plenty of people on the Left who accuse mainstream journalism of of a more profound bias than the Right ever did, and who do so with better examples than Rathergate and hi-gain mushroom cloud manipulations, and yet none of them argue that "bias" is causing Inevitable Worldwide Journalist Extinction. They're pretty much aware that pro-status quo mass-market journalism has been a source of rich and varied fortunes over the past thirty-five years; they just think it was short-sighted to abandon all responsibility to the truth in exchange. The Librul Bias business has been going on for over forty years now. It's supposed to just now be taking hold?
I mean, kee-rist, you've just proven your strawman argument by demolishing another strawman which, until quite recently, had been living above your garage, eating at your own expense, for the past twenty years.
She can't sustain, of course; before too many more words we're on what appears to be the Courtesy Trolley to the Great Hall of the Animatronic Harvard Business School Seminar Speakers, before we head around the corner to view the Tomb of the Unfairly Criticized Journalist. Then maybe one of those waffle-cone things. Better snacks! Maybe that'll bring the Daily back. In the meantime, I can't really say much for having the worst representatives of second-generation "conservative" sinecures, coming from their modern birthplace, the Washington Post, which cannily managed to hire George Eff Will between his National Review gig and his appointment to the Presidential Debate Integrity Commission, out defending in public the idea that real journalists are a ethically superior to all those toughs who've been calling them bad names.