Missin' It

by digby

Atrios mentioned this unusually obtuse Jack Shafer article in Slate in which he writes that Gore's critique of the media is all about Britney Spears:

Al Gore and Thomas L. Friedman have co-discovered what ails our country. It's national inattention to the most important issues.

Gore blamed the obsession with celebrity culture for the republic's poor condition earlier this week on Good Morning America. Talking to Diane Sawyer, he accused both the people and the press of focusing on "Britney and K-Fed and Anna Nicole Smith and all this stuff, meanwhile, very quietly, our country has been making some very serious mistakes that could be avoided if we the people, including the news media, are involved in a full and vigorous discussion of what our choices are."


Gore is right to fault celebrity news for blotting out coverage of climate change, health care, immigration, and international relations in such policy journals as People, Star, In Touch, and US Weekly and on such public-affairs programs as Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, and E! News. But a more generous definition of the press—one that includes daily newspapers, weekly magazines, general-interest TV news, and the Web—would find Gore's argument lacking. By my back-of-the envelope estimate, your average big-city daily carries more news about immigration (or other significant issue du jour) in one day than it does about every celebrity on the planet in a full week.

He went on to cleverly suggest that Gore should actually take issue with sports because far more people read the sports page. This is, of course, silly, as Atrios pointed out, and a dreadful misreading of Gore's specific critique, which is about the trivialization and tabloidization of the news media, and more specifically the trivialization of political news.

So, when Shafer wrote this, I could hardly believe it:

Maureen Dowd showcases Gore's critique in her New York Times column today.

In case you missed it, here's what Modo wrote:

It’s no wonder Al Gore is a little touchy about his weight, what with everyone trying to read his fat cells like tea leaves to see if he’s going to run.

He was so determined to make his new book look weighty, in the this-treatise-belongs-on-the-shelf-between-Plato-and-Cato sense, rather than the double-chin-isn’t-quite-gone-yet sense, that he did something practically unheard of for a politician: He didn’t plaster his picture on the front.

“The Assault on Reason” looks more like the Beatles’ White Album than a screed against the tinny Texan who didn’t get as many votes in 2000.

The Goracle does concede a small author’s picture on the inside back flap, a chiseled profile that screams Profile in Courage and that also screams Really Old Picture. Indeed, if you read the small print next to the wallet-sized photo of Thin Gore looking out prophetically into the distance, it says it’s from his White House years.


Diane was not so easily put off as he turned up his nose at the horse race and the vast wasteland of TV, and bored in for the big question: “Donna Brazile, your former campaign manager, has said, ‘If he drops 25 to 30 pounds, he’s running.’ Lost any weight?”

Laughing obligingly, he replied: “I think, you know, millions of Americans are in the same struggle I am on that one. But look, listen to your questions. And you know, if the horse race, the cosmetic parts of this — and look, that’s all understandable and natural. But while we’re focused on, you know, Britney and KFed and Anna Nicole Smith and all this stuff, meanwhile, very quietly, our country has been making some very serious mistakes that could be avoided if we the people, including the news media, are involved in a full and vigorous discussion of what our choices are.”


Mr. Traub said that, as he followed the ex-vice president around, the Goracle was “eating like a maniac: I watched him inhale the clam dip at a reception like a man who doesn’t know when his next meal will be coming.”


Doug Brinkley, the presidential historian, said that even though the fashion now is for fit candidates, after the Civil War, there was a series of overweight presidents. “It showed you had a zest for life,” he said. (The excess baggage may make Bill Clinton and Bill Richardson look roguish, but unfortunately, too many cheeseburgers and ice cream sundaes make Mr. Gore look puffy and waxy.) “Maybe,” Mr. Brinkley suggested, “Gore can sit in Tennessee and do it via high-definition satellite — like McKinley, just eat and sit."

I would have thought that when Shafer said her column "showcased" Gore's critique, he meant that her snide, bitchy superficial approach to politics is exactly what Gore was talking about. But he didn't. Shafer's article concentrates entirely on the mistaken idea that Gore is complaining that the media aren't covering politics enough, which is only a very small part of the argument. His main complaint is that the news media insist on being shallow, gossipy little twits like their Queen Bee, Maureen Dowd, and she has rarely "showcased" her toxic brand of political commentary more obviously than she did in that column.

Maureen Dowd says she "speaks truth to power," which she does. She tells them exactly what the puerile DC insiders really think of the people they know and cover and the country in which they live. According to the world of Modo, Democrats are all fat, gay bimbos in one way or the other and Republicans are rich, macho cartoons. (Now which of those stupid, facile stereotypes work to the advantage of those who are characterized that way and which ones work against them?)

That is what Gore is talking about -- turning political coverage into gossip columns and treating the whole universe of news as an opportunity to demonstrate how cynically superior the commentator is to the useless schlubs all over the country who actually give a damn. It isn't just on the op-ed pages or on the gasbag shows. It's obviously a social norm that filters into the news pages and affects editorial choices. Watching Modo's little cabal whisper and giggle about whether the Clintons are "doin' it" and pointing and jeering at Gore scarfing the clam dip is like being at a perpetual eighth grade slumber party with the meanest girls in the world. It makes mature adults want to reach for the bourbon and hide out in the garage.