Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Family Values

We will spare you the many posts on health care that McArdle is churning out between wedding errands since most of them consist of McArdle throwing sand or yelling "look over there!" and running away. The post on credit card debt is not a travesty but ignores the drawbacks to negotiation. There is one interesting post, however.

My ever-so-clever fiance illustrates why glossy mags should not do profiles of government officials: they have no idea what the hell they're talking about. In most cases, this doesn't matter, because celebrities don't have any idea, either; you can't actually screw up, say, Barbra Streisand's hazy and whimsical notions about foreign policy, or Jenny McCarthy's atrocious opinions on immunology. Unfortunately, the CBO and the OMB do have a kind of logic, twisted though it may be, so it's an excellent place for reporters to go badly astray: [snipped quote].

(McArdle believes that if she announces a conflict of interest it is somehow cancelled out, and she need never mention it again.)

Her link is very helpful because it lets us better understand McArdle's new milieu--the world of tea baggers and their friends. P. Suderman takes pen in hand to complain that journalists make mistakes in their work. I hope to heaven that he does not cast his loving eyes upon the work of his wife-to-be, because he might find himself utterly disillusioned. But perhaps we worry unnecessarily; P. Suderman's biggest concern might not be error, for he mainly frets that Obama officials are being presented as cool, a quality he obviously envies and desires.

I typically like Esquire, but John Richardson's current profile of former CBO-chief and current Office of Management and Budget head Peter Orszag shows just how desperately major media outlets are trying to make government look and seem cool in the Obama era.

It seems Republicans have always complained that liberals are considered cool and conservatives are not. I can remember complaints that the media loved Clinton because he played a saxophone and had lots of hair, while dull Bush the Elder was so out of touch that he'd never seen a bar code scanner. Conservatives thought Bush was cool and insist Palin is cool as well because they are anti-intellectual, but priding yourself on keeping Granny and GrandPop's moral values, clothing and cultural tastes is not and never has been cool, and deep down inside they know it perfectly well. Since P. Suderman makes his living by pretending to be intellectual, he does not even have the anti-elite option.

It's a fill-in-the-blanks, Washington-specific variation on Esquire's signature celebrity puff piece: You couldn't quite substitute Orszag for Angelina Jolie—the subject of Ron Rosenbaum's "worst celebrity profile ever written"—but it's the same basic idea. There's almost no new content (the one interesting factoid is that Orszag seems to have supported a much smaller stimulus package), and the primary aim isn't to deliver information or insight, but to put a sheen of glossy cool on the subject. At one point, Richardson takes readers on a tour of OMB's offices and breathlessly recites headlines from the resumes of the agency's top officials—Harvard! Yale! Clinton White House! Oxford! Harvard again!—as if to say, hey, reader, you should be impressed.

Well, I'm not, especially since Richardson gets one of his few significant attempts at substance flat wrong. The piece begins in July, with its hero receiving bad news: Current CBO chief Doug Elmendorf tells Congress that health care reform will not bend the cost curve—in direct opposition to what Orszag has repeatedly said. At the end of the piece, however, all is resolved. October rolls around and the CBO decided that health care reform will "bend the cost-curve," and that it "will save the government at least $81 billion over ten years, maybe more."

Only one problem with that last bit: CBO never said any of it.

[blah blah blah increase in spending blah CBO]

In other words, Orszag never actually got the particular piece of good news the piece claims he did. But maybe it doesn't matter now that he's got the fact-challenged puffery of Esquire hacks on his side.

That'll show all those cool kids in the student lounge, who threw popcorn at the P. Suderman Tribe as they left their Young Republicans committee meeting. The tribesmen in his comments are less interested in P. Suderman's painful self-contemplation and more interested in obscene photo captioning, keeping alive the libertarian tradition of perpetual adolescence.


Clever Pseudonym said...

Megan complaining about journalists who don't know what the hell they are talking about...I don't think I've ever encountered a writer so utterly lacking in even the remotest sense of self-awareness.

Susan of Texas said...

It's a gift-she does it effortlessly.