The Breakfast Table

Not Our Finest Hour

Dear Susan,

Since I get up three hours earlier than you do, perhaps I could save you some time reading this morning’s papers: Don’t. When they’re not boring (e.g., explaining what a hedge fund is), they’re depressing (e.g., hinting how we will all follow hedge funds down to the pit of a new global Great Depression). When they’re not depressing, they’re about Monicagate, about which we are all required by good taste and peer pressure to feign complete lack of interest rooted in disgust.

What you should read is “Our Finest Hour,” by my National Journal colleague Bill Powers, who is perhaps the best media critic in the country. His piece this week is relatively light fare, collecting some of the most precious gems in the diadem of bad journalism (and bad law, and bad politics, and funny journalism) in the context of you-know-who-gate. Among my favorites are the striking prevalence of Nazi metaphors, which Powers collects under the subhead, “Adolph ‘R Us.” From MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann: “It finally dawned on me that the person Ken Starr has reminded me–reminded me of facially–all this time, was Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses.” (The next day, amid protests, Olbermann added a classically Clintonesque non-apology to people “who thought I was comparing Starr to Himmler and insulting Starr” or “demeaning the terrible importance of the Holocaust”; he explained that “I meant only what I said: facially, the two men look vaguely alike.”) From a news report quoting H. Ross Perot: ” ‘Watch my lips, the president is mentally and emotionally unstable… .’ Are there any other world leaders who had these mental defects? ‘Yes,’ he said, citing Hitler, Stalin, [Saddam] Hussein and [Fidel] Castro.”

From William Ginsberg, Monica’s first lawyer: “I’m the most famous person in the world.” From a headline in the Seattle Times: “Seattle Woman Looks Back Proudly on Her Internship–She Met President Clinton Only Once, She Says.” From former Time magazine journalist Nina Burleigh: “I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.” Even Powers’ (and my) editor, Michael Kelly–who I should say is the finest, most judicious, and most sensitive editor I know, and a particular expert in the new field of “healing journalism”–gets dissed, for writing on Aug. 5 that we should disbelieve polls suggesting “that the public would be forgiving.” I’m grateful that Powers apparently overlooked my own storehouse of not-quite-prophetic predictions.

You should read the whole thing. By the way, if you want to subscribe to National Journal, it’s a mere $1,047 a year–less than $25 for each weekly issue! And if you’re too stingy to pay our usual bargain rates, maybe I can get you a deal.

As one who kind of likes the idea of humanely efficient (or efficiently humane) “third way” between mean-old-trickle-down-free-market-economics and failed-utopian-socialist-nostrums, I was deflated to read Charles Krauthammer’s typically trenchant op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post explaining why we Third-Wayers (including President Clinton, Britain’s Tony Blair, Germany’s new chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, etc.) are a bunch of BS: “It is the sound of the Left moving right but stopping 0.2 percent shy.” I hate it when he does that. (For Slate’s Explainer’s take on the Third Way in history, click here .)

So much for Third Way. Back to the Third World Expectation. By the way, a 14-year-old I know named Sarah got the lead part in her school’s production of “Peter Pan.” It’s a singing part, featuring “I won’t grow up–I don’t want to wear a tie,” etc. Now that’s good news.

Best, Stuart