Thursday, January 03, 2008

Missing the Point

Perhaps being deliberately obtuse so as not to be caught me-tooing a current mini-wave of the blogonistas, Jack Shafer takes the opposite tack and berates the leading cats of the herd for picking on poor ol' Billy Kristol.

Pundits are wrong sometimes and right others. Pundits shouldn't lose or win gigs on the basis of how many of their predictions come true but whether they write interesting copy. Kristol—love him or hate him—writes interesting copy.

Yes, and if the Times wishes to descend into the print version of talk-radio carnydom, this is certainly one way to do it. What I have read of Kristol's schtick strikes me less as "interesting" and more as pointedly, even needlessly combative. That he has occasionally locked spurs with fellow ideological banty roosters like Newt Gingrich is of little relevance, except that it illustrates that both men live (and are employed) by their ability and desire to antagonize. The problem is not Kristol's consistent wrongness, in and of itself -- it's that he doesn't give a shit about being right or wrong, not only because there's no consequences, but also because it doesn't even seem to occur to him. In a sensible profession, this would likely be a disqualifying characteristic.

Where most other people were wrong on Iraq in terms of degree, Kristol has been wrong by design, unrepentantly so; for him, it was to be merely the prelude to an overhaul of the most ancient settled region on the planet. Societies have thrived and perished there for nine thousand years, but they're going to unfuck themselves in a generation or two because Billy Kristol says so. Shafer's right that it's an "interesting" gambit, to be sure, but what it isn't is competent, logical analysis, which is at least nominally the game of the major-league columnist.

But then major-league papers like the Times and WaPo have their own institutional instincts to follow, the way the government does no matter which face adorns its official stationery. It is the crucible in which acceptable mainstream opinions are contoured and refined, to bamboozle the less sensible into going along with the right riff, and to disempower the more rational set of readers by desensitizing them to cheap tricks and rhetorical flummery, getting them to chase sophist phantoms or (better yet) to give up altogether in frustration.

It would be much simpler if newspapers rededicated themselves to harder news stories and more rigorous opinion writing, instead of coughing up this or that hack to serve as an emotional tampon for a dissociative niche of sob sisters. Whom, exactly, would fall into Kristol's niche? Embittered dead-enders who, rather than simply admit that they fucked up and they're willing to at least meet the rest of the planet halfway, prefer to double down because they meant to do this shit. Is there some hidden ontological quest in catering to such a group, or is it an elaborate practical joke?

What other reason could there be, ferchrissakes, for off-brand legacy dimwits like Kristol and Pantload to always find work, to get cush gigs at flagship newspapers, to peddle their flatulent jabber to the repulsed and the indifferent and the irrational, not even bothering any longer to conceal their nonsense with even the appearance of an innovative idea or thought? Why do the keepers o' the First Amendment flame prattle on so nervously about the pernicious gubmint threats to their profession, when they prove so willing to give ample and frequent space to some of their most vicious detractors? Maybe that's part of the shakedown this crew uses, the "prove you're not liberal traitors by giving us jobs" move. You know the Moonie Times doesn't fall for that shit.


thedevilzone said...

Jesus fuck, what a moron. If I want to read something "interesting", I'll pick up a fucking work of fiction. When it comes to punditry, I'd prefer people who have proven that they know what the fuck they're talking about, especially concerning subjects I have neither the time nor means of researching myself. How radical a concept is that? I thought all non-retarded people would feel the same way.

Marius said...

He's not the only dumbass at Slate. In fact, most of that bunch strike me a cheap, silly contrarians devoid of ideas who think third-rate sophistries would pass for original intelligence. Probably that's why a hack like Shafer could say, with a straight face, that a columnist is supposed to be "interesting." That's the business they think they're in collectively at that glam rag. No wonder they've become known for manufacturing preposterous shit wrapped in counterintuitive headlines--like, "How the next stock market crash will make you a millionaire," "A hundred bucks a gallon for oil will make everybody smarter," and "Actually, your flaccid penis is the key to future strength and a richer sex life."

That's when they're not complete witless fucks, like Kaus.