Jack Shafer, "Will Marcus Brauchli Please Grow A Spine? The editor grovels before the paper's critics in the Mad Bitch controversy". August 6
TO those of you who try to limit your experience to the grown-up world of emotional stability and functional literacy, the Mad Bitch Controversy may come as news, as may the fact that Dana Milbank is still gainfully employed, is considered in some parts to be a journalist, that the Washington Post is still, apparently, published and, still apparently, employs editors, and that any and all of the above are still engaged in something other than Twittering every minute or so.
What seems to've happened is that someone at The Post Group (Motto: Why Didn't We Sell Out To Conrad Black, Again?) caught Milbank's Nattering Nabob of Beltway Insider Conventional Wisdom and Smirky Teacher's Pet routine on Olbermann and decided he was doing comedy. Intentional comedy. (We marvel, again, that anyone who ever flips through four, or four-hundred-and-four, teevee channels, shops for groceries, or walks into a Home Depot can ever imagine that Free Enterprise is a model to be copied.)
So someone somewhere decided this was just the ticket to cash in on this Youth Tube thing, and roped in Chris "Kid, You Got A Great Voice For Mime" Cillizza for the younger, sexier vibe. And the thing was universally panned, or would have been if anyone in the universe paid attention to any of this. (I'm not linking. You finding it is not going to be my responsibility.)
And so last week the Wheeler and Woolsey of Professional Journalism (I'm resisting the urge to swipe Andy Kindler's pocket review of that three-week Bette Midler sitcom: "It's great. If you miss Vaudeville.") came to churn the fertile fields of--gee, what else?--The Beer Summit, the fecund goddess shaping the political humor of a generation even as we speak. And their comedy take--get this!--was to match other political figures with their choice of beverage. Hilarity ensued (sample, so you don't have to: "Mark Sanford would sip a XXX porter." "Sarah Palin: Arctic Devil". Oh my aching sides!)
And during the course of the thing--the windup to the boffo first round, in fact, and yes, that means they went on--showed a picture of the current Secretary of State while suggesting they "wouldn't tell us who got the bottle of Mad Bitch". Outrage ensued, as people who saw it, or--as is considerably more likely, people who heard about it--contacted the Post to complain. Then Controversy--or, to be precise, "Controversy", according to the people whose stock in trade used to be news and now is celebrity gossip, spearheaded by those fellow "journalists" who think "journalists" should never be held accountable for anything--ensued, as the Post pulled the plug.
(Leave us mention, here, that even I am too close to adulthood and emotional stability to have followed the thing, let alone backtracked to catch up. I endured less than thirty seconds of the first one which somebody embedded at the time, and I made it all the way through the last one by telling myself I had, after all, lived through the Reagan administration, plus both Bushes. So I do not know whether the Controversy included the more egregious mention of former Mississippi Congressman Chip Pickering, being sued for divorce by his wife--a story which is apparently of importance to our nation's political press corps on the grounds that it involves adultery--with the suggestion he order a Bitter Woman From Hell.)
This prompts Shafer to ask, more in sadness than in sense, "Won't someone think of the Perpetually Juvenile?"
Has it really come to the point that you can't call the secretary of state of the most powerful nation on earth a mad bitch in a comedy segment without people becoming unhinged and managing editors running for the exits?
You tell me: has it really come to the point where name-checking self-consciously-scabrous ale names is considered comedy? Oh, and Physician, Heal Thyself, and Good Luck with no fuckin' head:
Are they funny? I'm not really a fan of Milbank and Cillizza's brand of humor. But to put a finer point on it, I'm actually not a fan of any kind of humor. The very essence of humor is aggression. The point of most jokes is to inflict psychological suffering and pain—to transgress and make someone the butt. This is why I've declared my journalism, my office, my home, and the subway line I commute to work on absolutely comedy free.
I think you left out an "intentional" there.
Of course, Milbank and Cillizza were working in a comedy-free zone too, so far as I can tell. It isn't really an excuse, and we're not going to spend time discussing color theory with Stevie Wonder there (or, similarly but more apropos, philosophy with Ayn Rand). I'm not sure who, after his seventeenth birthday, thinks all humor is aggression. But our first question, I'm thinking, should be why Post political writers were attempting to engage in it anyway. It sure couldn't have been because the first one killed in Dress. (Our second question would be how they failed so miserably, followed by why they continued in spite of the results). And why, Mr. Libertarian, should you expect the Post to continue funding its own black eye, not that a black eye is really such a concern for a stinking corpse?
But then, it's really All About Hillary isn't it?
Hillary Clinton should consider herself fortunate. At least Milbank and Cillizza didn't call her a "congenital liar," as William Safire did in a 1996 New York Times column.
Right, in which he trumpeted, as incontrovertible Proof: 1) the fact that she made some money on a futures trade while being simultaneously a woman and the wife of a future President; 2) Travelgate, which she engineered because the Right said she did, and which someone someday may yet explain where the Fucking Scandal was, but which, in the interim, should always be followed by And So What? and, 3) RoseLawfirmgate in which, oh yes, she turned out to be telling the truth. And even at that may we point out, in the interest of advancing Reading Comprehension, that Safir(e) 1) did so not on Open Mic Night at The Cracker Factory, but as part of his main line of work, writing increasingly feeble justifications for his own shameful crypto-Nazi history, and that he 2) ostensibly backed it up with evidence, though in reality he did neither. Not to mention that all this is 1996-Brand Outrage, now superseded by several orders of Bush magnitude. And 3) that, so far as we know, and we ain't gonna know any further, Secretary Clinton herself did not complain to the Post that she'd been wronged, or, we hope, waste any of her and our time on it.
Other people did, and rightly so, just as people (I, for one) objected to David Shuster's "pimped out her daughter". It's beyond insulting to hear that It Was Just Comedy, Lighten Up routine, same as it was to hear the Everybody Talks Like That defense of that prostitution charge, despite the fact that it was delivered in the wake of The Only Known Incidence Of A Politician's Progeny Hitting The Campaign Trail. (That, Mr. Shafer, is attempted humor.) Bitch, applied to a woman, is offensive; I don't know where you grew up to think otherwise. And hiding behind "all comedy is offensive" doesn't cut it. It wasn't a Jack E. Leonard routine. The point of the "humor" wasn't offense, it was--so far as we can infer any point at all--matching Insider CW with Brand Names. "Rahm Emanuel, Badass Ale" doesn't offend, unless you're offended that major punditological posts go to people who think rearranging PR flackery counts as Thought. "Hillary Clinton, Bitch", and, especially, I think, "Leisha Pickering, Bitter Woman From Hell" though, do. All the more so because it's a couple of lazy white guys who experience no consequences, expect none, and think issuing non-apology apologies is the worst they'll ever face.
But just one piece on the matter wasn't sufficient for Shafer, who was still itching 48 hours later and should have Consulted his Physician:
Rather than bowing to the protesters, Brauchli should have stood up for the offensive duo behind "Mouthpiece Theater," Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza. I wished he'd cribbed from something Eugene Robinson wrote in 2001, when he headed Style. Robinson, currently a Post columnist, sent these remarks to the ombudsman following a mass freak-out by readers over some now-forgotten offensive article: Robinson wrote (paid):
I do not want my writers, especially my critics, to think that they have to be temperate in their views. I want them to take chances, lots of chances; I want them to push the envelope every day and in every way. That's the only way that a section like Style can remain fresh, innovative, surprising. And yes, sometimes exasperating. Of course I want Style's writers to be fair, accurate, authoritative. But the last thing I want is for them to pull a punch or take the safe-but-boring route because they are worried that they'll get publicly raked over the coals. That's a recipe for a dull section, and Style should never be dull.
So what, exactly, was fresh or innovative about two white male jackasses calling Hillary Clinton bitchy? (I know what was surprising about it, that they were clueless enough to do so and keep their regular jobs.)
And what, exactly, was supposed to be funny about the 4 billionth retread of that "gag"? (Okay, sure, What was funny about any of the rest of it?) I think Robinson's full of shit; I think that's just a facile defense of sloppy reporting made by someone who'd been burned. I think it's vital to understand the difference between Heat and Light, especially if you want to pretend you can interpret them for the rest of us. But even if he were right it has nothing whatsoever to do with what Milbank and Cillizza were up to, an ill, ill, ill-advised vanity project that seems to've exposed their weaknesses to a segment of the public that hadn't noticed before.
Grow a spine, Marcus Brauchli? Please. News coverage has been caving in to outside pressure since Safir(e) was working for Nixon, and has been shaped now by two generations of apologizing for its "Librul" bias. We're beyond all this. If you wanna do comedy, do comedy. Especially Milbank, whose career would only benefit from his sinking immediately from view. This stuff ought to insult other journalists most of all.
One more thing, Mr. Wonder: aggressive comedy takes balls. We do not mean nature had to physically equip you with a pair. We do mean that it will never, ever, be accomplished by anyone whose nuts shrivel up at the mere thought of a powerful woman. It's a joke we like to think you could appreciate even without a sense of humor.