Adam Clymer Blows His Moment

There are few things more gratifying to a reporter than to have a politician call you an “asshole,” particularly if the epithet comes unattached to any coherent explanation of what you did to deserve it. Sputtering, inchoate rage–yes, that’s the kind of response that a journalist likes to elicit from the powerful people he writes about. So Chatterbox figured Adam Clymer would be walking on air after an open mike caught George W. Bush’s comment to Dick Cheney at a Labor Day appearance in Naperville, Ill.: “There’s Adam Clymer–major-league asshole from the New York Times.” (“Oh yeah,” Cheney replied sycophantically. “He is, big time.” Click here for the expurgated video.)

But according to the Associated Press, Clymer is not walking on air. Clymer told the AP, “I’m disappointed in the governor’s language.”

Chatterbox is disappointed in Clymer’s language, which is as pompous and insincere as anything he can ever recall hearing from a politician. It just isn’t possible that Clymer is “disappointed in” Dubya’s outburst. “Thrilled by” seems much more likely. In addition to enhancing Clymer’s luster at the New York Times, it will surely help Clymer sell copies of his Edward Kennedy biography, due out this month in paperback. “Angered by” is also, Chatterbox supposes, a possibility–there are bound to be some people who just don’t like being called names, no matter how good it makes them look. “Indifferent to” would represent the journalistic ideal, only occasionally lived up to–Clymer would be a genuine hero to the profession if he truly didn’t care what Bush said about him. Though it’s hard to say you’re indifferent to something and sound like you really mean it. True indifference would be failing to comment at all on Dubya’s outburst–a course the Times probably wishes Clymer had taken, since it didn’t quote Clymer in its own account of the incident. (Unlike those in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times, the Times report refrained from printing the word, “asshole”; instead, it said Bush “used an obscenity.” Which raises the question: How newsworthy can Bush’s use of this “obscenity” be if the word can be published in other family newspapers?)

Clymer’s “I’m disappointed” line, in fact, disproves Dubya’s  remark. In Chatterbox’s book, anyone who’d launch such a schoolmarmish riposte is at best a minor-league asshole.