At the risk of agreeing (slightly) with Alec Baldwin, he actually may have been onto something, but given his own raging anger at stewardesses, Starbucks baristas, his former fellow MSNBC employees, the Blogosphere, Henry Hyde, and anybody who’s ever looked at him funny, he’s not quite the right messenger. But at the 25 minute mark in a recent “GLOP” podcast (Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long and John Podhoretz) at Ricochet, the infinitely more genial Rob Long and John Podhoretz pointed out the flip-over that’s occurred in the way that show business and politics are covered by the media.
First, Podhoretz mentioned that in the 1930s and ‘40s, Hollywood benefited from being on the opposite coast from New York, then as now the central hub of American news. News traveled much slower, and Hollywood agents could hand out press releases about their stars, stage publicity photos, and carefully control their image. The studios also employed “fixers” such as the MGM duo of Howard Strickling and Eddie Mannix, who helped tamp down damaging stories concerning stars through a variety of generally unsavory methods.
There was no Blogosphere and Twitter, which Baldwin has used so effectively to shoot himself in the foot. And there weren’t paparazzi at every corner photographing stars pumping gas, coming out of gyms, or drunk at bars, and engaging in non-Hays Office-approved activities in general. As Rob Long noted, and he’s right, today, Hollywood stars and fashion models are covered far more brutally than people with real power — politicians — are in Washington:
What’s interesting is that the adversarial relationship with press right now in Hollywood – not the press so much, but the tabloid-y, TMZ-style press is pretty strong. It’s a weird world – you go out to dinner here, and you walk out of dinner and there are dudes standing on the curb, or sometimes in cars across the street with giant telephoto lenses, and it’s weird. You get a sense of how strangely adversarial that relationship must be. And you’re right – back in the old days, it was very cozy, and in fact the press felt like another arm of the studios. But you want to talk about politics – you go to Washington DC right now, and it’s the other way around. It’s like the old Hollywood press when they’re writing about this president – it’s fawning, and controlled, and the big studio, which is the White House, sort of lets them know what they’re supposed to say, and keeps all the bad news away.
Plus the media view themselves in as loving terms as Hollywood celebrities once did. As we noted yesterday, Ronan Farrow is about to receive “the Walter Cronkite Award” after hosting his MSNBC show — ostensibly a news and opinion show — for three days. Today Ace links to a recent post by Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, headlined sarcastically, “American journalism, brimming with once-in-a-generation talent”:
The Post announced the hiring of the New York Times’ Catherine Rampell and called her “one of the smartest, most original journalists of her generation.” Uh-oh — she may have to compete with Politico’s Todd Purdum, who at the time of his hiring was “one of the most perceptive reporters and elegant stylists of his generation.” Politico is full of generational leaders, too, as Editor-in-Chief John Harris said of “Playbook” author Mike Allen: “One of the most exceptional journalists of his generation.” (Allen has a more humble view of himself as “one of Washington’s top journalists.“). Politico Magazine editor Susan Glasser was feted upon her hiring last year as “among the most respected thinkers and editors of her generation.” As opposed to Steve Coll, who was hailed as “one of the most experienced and respected journalists of his generation” upon being selected as dean of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Coll has written a great deal about the war on terrorism, so he’s doubtless familiar with the work of Gregory Johnsen, who, upon his selection as a BuzzFeed Michael Hastings fellow, was celebrated as “one of his generation’s wisest and most original voices on national security.” Both Coll and Johnsen, in turn, would be familiar with the work of John Pomfret, who over a quarter-century, per a Post memo, became ”one of the great foreign correspondents of his generation.”
Much more after the page break, including cameos from Monty Python’s Eric Idle, and Ted Nugent.
There’s not much difference between the tone of what Wemple described above to Eric Idle’s oily performance in the early 1970s Monty Python episode that mocked the British film industry awards and the show business inclination around the world to refer to everyone in the industry as “a wonderful human being – truly a humanitarian beloved by all, just a lovely, super, super person and we’re all grateful for his marvelous contributions,” etc:
In the 1920s, H.L. Mencken wrote, “It is the prime function of a really first-rate newspaper to serve as a sort of permanent opposition in politics,” a notion that’s long since evaporated, as the New York Times and, to an only slightly lesser extent, the Washington Post effectively distribute press releases for the DNC and the Obama White House. See also Dave Weigel of Slate, and formerly of the Post, serving as a 21st century studio system fixer via his breezy dismissal of Democrat congressional candidate Alex Sink’s foot-in-mouth gaffe in which she said without immigrants — read: illegal immigrants — “where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping?” Or the nightly news on CBSABCNBC ignoring the spectacular gaffe yesterday by Harry Reid, their fellow Democrat, that “there’s plenty of [Obamacare] horror stories being told. All of them are untrue.”
These days, if a rival news agency goes against the marching orders of the studio, sorry the White House, then they are cast out – they are not of The Body, to borrow one of James Lileks’ favorite Star Trek references. In the Ricochet podcast quoted above, after Rob Long pointed out the similarity between the White House press corps and show business reportage of the 1930s, Jonah Goldberg mentioned how NBC refused to name Alana Goodman or the Washington Free Beacon after their scoop on Hillary Clinton’s archives.
Washington is generally referred to as “show business for ugly people,” and as John McCain once quipped, “Hollywood is a Washington for the simpleminded.” But at some point, the DC press simply became, as Glenn Reynolds likes to call them, Democrat operatives with bylines.
Will journalists ever return to raking the muck in DC as aggressively as TMZ and other showbiz outlets cover Hollywood? Sure they will — just as soon as Republicans recapture the Senate and, especially, the White House.
Related: At Commentary, Peter Wehner writes:
I’ll be interested to see if the elite media devote a fraction of the coverage or demonstrate near the outrage at Mr. Reid as they did at Ted Nugent — and whether they press other Democrats to defend or distance themselves from Reid’s calumny. After all, Ted Nugent is a rock musician, not a U.S. senator.
No — the Nuge is both a Republican and a show business figure. That means that he receives twice the level of scrutiny by the media as any Democrat politician.