Pierre Tristam/Candide's Notebooks, April 17, 2006
It’s not quite clear what effect the Washington Post’s David Finkel was going for in his profile of My Left Wing’s Maryscott O’Connor other than some facile and condescending irony at the expense of someone, and something—namely, the blogosphere—he does not understand. Fair enough: it’s a universe out there. It takes a while to familiarize yourself with the thing, let alone skirt understanding. What’s clearer is that Finkel didn’t bother putting in any semi-curious reporter’s time into his story. It reeks of the quickie, of the shallow, of the smart-alecky by-line for its own sake, rather than for the sake of a piece worthy of a newspaper doing its best to transcend the provincial.
Three quick examples.
First, the amateurish reliance on blog comments. It’s one thing when a Salon blogger makes the mistake of judging an entire cross-section of the blogosphere by quoting from blog comments. As often as not Salon can slink to college-paper standards, in perspective if not in style. It’s quite another when the Washington Post falls in the same trap. So Finkel sat at his computer for a little while, skimmed a few scummy bits, cribbed them pour épater ses lecteurs bourgeois, and got himself seven or eight inches’ worth of padding for his article. Cheap trick.
Second, he writes: “ ‘Laura Bush Talks; No One Gives a [expletive],’ someone who calls himself the Rude Pundit writes on his Web site,” someone Finkel calls “Loud, crass and instantaneous.” Someone who calls himself the Rude Pundit? Does Finkel call himself a reporter? A minute’s search would have revealed the inimitable Rude Pundit to be Lee Papa, English prof and stand-up comedian, profiled by the New York Times’ Margo Jefferson not too long ago. Jefferson called him “a tornado of a writer.” I call him the Bush years’ Rabelais. For Finkel to sum him up as merely “loud, crass and instantaneous” betrays the mirror in Finkel’s oblivious prose, to say nothing of his laziness. A page 1 article in the Post presumes better homework on its writer’s part.
Third, after asking allegedly a “most substantive” question (“Do the hundreds of thousands of daily visitors to Daily Kos […] accomplish anything other than talking among themselves? […] what about the heart and soul of Daily Kos, the other visitors, whose presence extends no further than what they read and write on the site?”) Finkel includes the Smirking Chimp to his little hall of supposed echo chambers. But Smirking Chimp is, like Common Dreams, primarily a daily compendium of the often-best, often-mainstream liberal commentary making it onto the nation’s OpEd pages, the Washington Post’s among them. Its only blog is its founder’s, though Smirking Chimp opens its pages to readers’ comments. Did Finkel not bother even give the site a brief read? Seemingly not.
So just a few paragraphs into the piece I’m already mistrustful of its credibility, making me unlikely to see honesty in Finkel’s attempts at irony (Maryscott O’Connor “agonized over low wages for overseas workers every time she bought a $40 leather purse”) or, by the time he finally gets to O’Connor’s agonizing Vietnam genealogy, to see more than a cheap shot in his premature use of the word “agonized,” given the word’s more fitting place in the last fifth of the article. Oddly enough Finkel manages a whack of irony at his own article’s expense: Tracing O’Connor’s evolution, he writes about her conventionally activist past. “Then,” he notes, “George W. Bush was elected. Then came 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, the Patriot Act, secret prisons, domestic eavesdropping, the revamping of the Supreme Court, and the thought ‘It has come to the point where the worst people on Earth are running the Earth.’ And now, ‘I have become one of those people with all the bumper stickers on their car,’ she says. ‘I am this close to being one of those muttering people pushing a cart.’”
But given Finkel’s own Kafkaesque list of disgraces and scandals heaped on the country by the Bush junta since 9/11, aren’t those still pretending to float above it all, condescendingly and, by implication, indifferently, the risible ones? Isn’t Finkel the risible one for reflecting that very attitude in his approach? The Post has, compliments of the likes of Dana Priest (but not, alas, Bob Woodward, the Bush administration’s flicker in chief), broken a few of those scandals. But the tone of Finkel’s article suggests that to respond with outrage is shrill. It’s juvenile. It’s what bloggers do, but not, rest assured, what serious readers of serious newspapers need concern themselves with. And we wonder why criticism of the establishment, which includes the alleged opposition, seems so marginalized, why rage is so often the exasperated alternative, and why sloppy, lazy submission to the conventional is the easiest alternative for those too smug and self-absorbed, too deluded, to give a fuck. Finkel may speak for them. Good thing he doesn’t speak for the likes of Maryscott O’Connor.