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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Savvy Fools

by digby

Jay Rosen is the preeminent analyst of the press during the Bush administration and today's piece about the media's relationship with Karl Rove is typically insightful. He describes a group of insiders who are so taken with their own "savviness" that they end up admiring those who are best able to manipulate them --- the Kewl Kid thesis with footnotes:

Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness—that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political—is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain.

What is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Everyone knows that the press admires an unprincipled winner. (Of a piece with its fixation on the horse race.) Josh Green, a reporter for the Atlantic Monthly who actually took the time to understand Karl Rove’s career, totaled up his winnings in a 2004 article (“Karl Rove in a Corner,” subscribers only.)

The opposite of "savviness" in this context is something terribly, terribly uncool: the dreaded earnestness. What could be more terrible than people who actually believe in things or have silly idealistic notions about making something better? Yuck.

This is never as true as during a campaign, when every speech, every gesture is "interpreted" by the kewl kids as having some sort of calculated meaning. You'll recall this recent example of extremely savvy, savviness on the part of the Wall Street Journal's John Harwood:

HARWOOD: I'm going to defend that [cleavage] column too. When you look at the calculation that goes into everything that Hillary Clinton does, for her to argue that she was not aware of what she was communicating by her dress is like Barry Bonds saying he thought he was rubbing down with flaxseed oil, OK?

That's so savvy it's scary.

The savvy kewl kidz always have at least one blind spot, a candidate whom they just looove, no matter what he stands for. Perhaps they see it as a further function of their savviness that they can see the perfection no one else does in their object of desire, I don't know. What I do know is that they always seem to find one straight-talking regular Republican guy who they just love to pieces:

Here we have the press corps latest crush:

A final thought: The political press is absolutely head over heels for Huckabee. (There were high-fives all around when it became clear he'd finish second.) He's a genuinely endearing guy who can banter with the best of them--watching him with reporters brings to mind the old black and white footage of Babe Ruth jawboning with sportswriters. When you add that to the political media's general affinity for underdogs, you can see how Huckabee's about to enjoy some serious media afterglow, which will only further boost his profile.

Update: A couple of commenters have asked about the high-fiving I describe when the press corps realized Huckabee had taken second. I'd intended this to be hyperbolic, but now that I read it again maybe the hyperbole isn't so obvious.

Anyway, the point was just that there was much rejoicing among the press over Huckabee's showing. I talked to four or five other reporters about Huckabee yesterday. All of them were down when it looked like he might not make it out of Ames. These same people were pretty giddy once the results came in. (I'd love to name names, but nothing good would come of that for any of us...)

That's nice to know, isn't it? It's a good thing that reporters are blogging these days or we wouldn't. I wouldn't count on that continuing, however. We already can't be told specifically which reporters are "giddy" about Huckabee's win because "nothing good will come of it." I suspect the Kewl Kidz Klub is going to pull the plug on this sort of loose lips reporting. Nothing good can come of it.

The corollary to the secret savvy crush on the funny, regular Republican guy, of course, is the secret loathing of the allegedly phony, effeminate Democratic guy:

There is a difference in the political reality: fairly or unfairly, a healthy chunk of the national political press corps doesn't like John Edwards.

Fairly or unfairly, there's also a difference in narrative timing: when the first quarter ended, the press was trying to bury Edwards.

I won't even mention the guy whose name starts with G and ends with "ore."

Again, these so-called reporters have their own agenda, which they don't bother to share with the public because they are "objective." Except of course, they're not, as these little anecdotes prove.

I agree with Rosen that the issue isn't necessarily political bias, at least in terms of preferred policies. It's this insidery, know-it-all, savviness that leads them time and again to be taken in by certain leadership archetypes that are based on adolescent notions about "real" and "cool" and "nerd." They may think it's "savvy" but it's really an unevolved freshman dorm room cynicism that's transparently manipulable by smart political operators. They just aren't savvy enough to know that.

Update: Eric Boehlert writes about the fact that the mainstream media are uninterested in "gaffes" when they come from a Republican candidate, citing Mitt Romney's humdinger about how his five strapping sons are serving their country equally with soldiers in Iraq by stumping for him in Iowa. (Read the whole breakdown of how the press handled that --- even I didn't know they were this obviously biased.)

Boehlert writes that despite heavy coverage on both right and left blogs:

The morning after Romney's blunder, The Boston Globe, Newsday, the Chicago Tribune, and the Orlando Sentinel ran brief, 100-200-word items about it. USA Today included just a couple of sentences about the gaffe at the bottom of a longer Romney campaign report.

Incredibly, those were the only major American newspapers in the country to touch on the story in real time. I have a hard time imagining the same deafening silence would have met Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) or John Edwards if they had made such dismissive and condescending remarks as suggesting their children served their country not by serving in the military, but by working the rope line on their parents' campaigns.

Keep in mind that Romney was crisscrossing Iowa for the entire week, which meant reporters had opportunities to ask the candidate follow-up questions about his controversial remarks prior to the Iowa straw poll. From what I can determine, no journalist did that for days.

The issue, though, clearly struck a nerve with voters who, three times in three days, pressed Romney about his sons not serving in the military. Still, journalists descending into Iowa last week by the plane-load to cover the straw vote couldn't have cared less.

Voters aren't savvy enough to know that Romney's wealthy, privileged, country club elitism doesn't mean anything.

Besides, the press approves of Mitt (he has shoulders you could land as 747 on!) and so he will not only not be subjected to endless puerile little anecdotes that mean nothing, they won't even ask him if he really believes that his sons are "serving" by writing their little blog and appearing at campaign rallies.

And one more thing: They rely totally awesome GOP henchman to spoon feed them all that hilarious dirt on those Democratic homos.