Brow Beat

A Perfect Twitter Parody of Terrible Political Punditry

The first tweet from @TheFixPoints was designed to perplex. Chris Cillizza, whose Washington Post micro-site The Fix has become the capital of a small media empire, tweeted news that Newark Mayor Cory Booker would not run for president in 2016. (This was when Booker was running for a U.S. Senate seat, which made the speculation somewhat more ridiculous.) @TheFixPoints retweeted this with one of the odd, anachronistic phrases that Cillizza has more or less patented.

Two tweets later, Cillizza retweeted the parody account. Nearly three months later, @TheFixPoints is still tweeting, deriding conventional wisdom by deriding Cillizza and the Twitter stream he inhabits. He does obvious analysis delivered with the authority of insight.

He parodies D.C.’s culture of self-congratulation.

He does pop culture references that make little sense.

He judges the success of stories on whether flaks are buzzing about them.

And he masterfully mocks the toothless “winner and loser of the minute” version of punditry.

Cillizza is able to laugh at this. “I am flattered by it!” he said via email. “As someone who likes to make fun of myself, I can admire someone else who also likes to make fun of me.” Doing so has been popular enough for @TheFixPoints to launch a partner account, @Ron_Fournimeh, which envisions the former AP correspondent and current National Journal pundit into a scold whose answer to literally every problem is for someone to lead. “Funny stuff,” said the real Ron Fournier.

It is funny, but it’s also smoked out a (very fixable) problem with the ever-expanding universe of political coverage. Yes, the central government has devolved into a parody of itself. But the media hasn’t helped. The focus on who’s #Winning at any particular nanosecond hardly ever illuminates what’s being fought over. The calls on politicians to Lead, without considering the structural impediments to that, don’t tell anyone why a bill can’t pass. I agreed to keep @TheFixPoints’s identity secret, and the tweeter agreed to an email interview.

Slate: What made you want to start this account? Was there a particular Fix tweet/column that got you off the couch, so to speak?

@TheFixPoints: I don’t think there was a single impetus. Cillizza is on MSNBC every day and he tweets constantly, so there’s always been a wealth of material and I’ve been pretty familiar with his shtick for a long time. I just figured that I could pull off a convincing Cillizza. My friends and I get a kick out of him, so I thought the account would be fun.

Slate: Do you think The Fix’s style of analysis is Bad for America? Maybe that’s a bit much, but you know what I mean—does it make political reporting worse?

@TheFixPoints: I don’t think it’s very illuminating. I realize this point been made many times, but covering politics like sports just sucks. And I think that’s the approach that Cillizza takes to his job.

Actually, I think he really views himself as the political Bill Simmons. I think he’s taken a lot of branding cues from Simmons. Simmons is “The Sports Guy,” Cillizza is “The Fix.” Simmons refers to his wife as “The Sports Gal,” Cillizza’s other half is “Mrs. Fix.” Simmons has all sorts of terms and themes that he revisits—I think there’s even a glossary out there providing definitions for them all—and he’s popularized them, his readers have adopted them. It’s pretty clear that Cillizza is trying to do the same (see: “Call your office!”). Look at that piece he wrote this week comparing Ra’s al Ghul’s philosophy to the GOP, or the one that used The Big Lebowski to explain the debt ceiling. That stuff is straight out of the Simmons playbook.

I suppose Cillizza’s defenders might say that his style is attractive to those who aren’t up on politics, that he makes complex ideas accessible. But I’ve never been left with the impression that he has more than a cursory understanding of the stuff he covers. So, actually, I was probably unfair to Simmons, who I think is more knowledgeable about sports than Cillizza is about politics.

Cillizza really is just a stenographer. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I know he probably thinks there’s a lot of honor in never, ever taking a stance on anything—unless maybe it’s supported by polling data—but at this point all he’s doing is relaying what Nancy Pelosi said and what John Boehner said, and that’s that. Nothing more. Sure, he might include some empirical evidence that makes it pretty obvious who’s right and who’s wrong, but the empirical evidence is always presented as “what X side cites” or “how X sees it.” I guess I think readers can see for themselves what Nancy Pelosi said and what John Boehner said. They go to a “political analyst” to receive some actual insight.

Slate: How do you put yourself in The Fix mindset?

@TheFixPoints: He has these go-to phrases that are very easy to mimic, and very fertile for satire. I do think I’m pretty good at identifying verbal crutches and speech patterns. I think that’s why @ron_fournimeh has had such a big immediate response.

Slate: When did you decide to branch into Fournier parody?

@TheFixPoints: I think the timing was just really ripe for a Fournier parody because he’s descended into self-parody with the “leadership” trope. And then there’s the annoying self-importance that typifies all of those centrist pundits, as if they’re the only sensible voices in the press. The column he wrote the day after the debt deal passed was probably the last straw.

Slate: But do you regularly read the Fix?

@TheFixPoints: I follow him on Twitter, and read his columns from time to time. He’s a ubiquitous presence in political media, so you really can’t avoid him. And I need the material to keep @TheFixPoints authentic and fresh, of course.

Slate: And how much have you interacted with him?

@TheFixPoints: I tweet at him from @TheFixPoints from time to time, and occasionally he engages. He’s been a good sport about it all and seems like a very affable guy. So many of these talking heads are deplorable, but Cillizza is at least cheery and good-natured. He obviously loves politics. Maybe just a bit too much.