No Comment — October 12, 2007, 8:36 am

WaPo’s Continuing Editorial Slide

The New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg, in a recent Radar interview, reveals that when it comes to national politics, he turns not to the Washington Post or New York Times, but to Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo.

TPM feels like home; ideologically and politically it’s a perfect fit for me. I can rely on it to draw my attention to anything that’s of major interest to me in the world of public affairs.

I agree with Rick about a lot of things, and this among them. TPM is at the top of the blogosphere in several niches, and one of them is quickly identifying and highlighting significant breaking news stories—with a welcome bit of attitude. The consensus among political junkies today is still that the Washington Post takes the honors in key coverage of essential news, especially national security matters. The New York Times is a close competitor, but still doesn’t quite match the Pincus, Priest, and Gellman team.

But what about the editorial page? Here the situation is more than just turned around. The Times editorial page is superb, running a mile ahead of the paper as a whole and far outdistancing its national and global competition. And this is where the Post falls on its face. It’s not just mediocre–it’s an embarrassment. And on this point, Hertzberg hits the nail squarely on the head:

The Post’s editorial page has been pathetic. Really pathetic. There are still a few twitches left in it—every once in a while it takes on some egregious violation of civil liberties—but for the most part it’s just pitiful.

And looking over the Post’s opinion field, in addition to the generally turgid editorials, there’s fierce competition for the position of most pathetic by-lined opinion writer. Certainly my recent favorite has been David Broder, the man whose intellectual incontinence is the topic of cocktail party chatter across Washington. Indeed, it’s hard to think of the last time Broder penned a column which was even intellectually coherent. My colleague Ken Silverstein and I have reached an accord: we now give one another fair warning about who’s going to dissect the latest Broder effluvium. Ken does a great take-down of the current column here.

But more recently, David Ignatius has been giving Broder stiff competition. Ignatius’s writings often read like some sort of off-the-shelf hackery from a K Street PR shop. And this week he embarrassed himself with a truly absurd piece on Barack Obama. In his column, Ignatius tells us that Barack Obama is a bit too tightly wound to be a good president. Here’s a key graf:

Obama is certainly charismatic, so much so that people often describe him as a rock star on the campaign trail. But he’s more Paul McCartney than Mick Jagger–so cool and self-conscious that it’s hard to imagine him saying, ‘let it bleed.’ He may be the smartest candidate in either party this year, and also the most visionary. But traveling with him, you get the sense that he’s tight as a tick. He’s Mr. Cool, holding himself back, wary of letting audiences see either his passion or his vulnerability.

Tom Grieve at Salon noticed that Ignatius’s column tells us loads about Ignatius, but very little about Obama. He notes that just two months ago, this is how Ignatius was rating the Illinois senator:

Obama has indisputable star power. Travel with him on the campaign trail and you see the high-voltage connection he can establish with people. When he walks through a hotel lobby or jumps out of his motorcade in shirtsleeves to greet an impromptu crowd, the persona is closer to a rock star than a typical politician. And for all the loose talk about whether Obama is ‘black enough,’ I saw many dozens of African Americans here crowd around him with obvious pride and passion.

Grieve concludes:

The challenge for Obama, as Ignatius described it in August: Can he translate his “charisma” into a “serious political movement”? The challenge for Obama, as Ignatius describes it now: Can he loosen up enough to “ignite voters and win the Democratic nomination”?

Has Obama changed, or has Ignatius? We wouldn’t presume to answer that question, but we will note this: The columnist’s new theory turns heavily on two pieces of evidence — the tone of Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, and the way in which the candidate delivered a speech in Iowa City. The book came out in 2006, and Obama delivered that Iowa City speech in May, three months before Ignatius wrote the first of his two columns.

The question might be phrased differently: is Ignatius engaged in analysis or hackery?

And finally we come to the man who surely claims the prize as WaPo’s most pathetic shill, Howard Kurtz. He masquerades as a media critic; in fact, he’s a media buffoon. But beyond that, Kurtz is one of the dumbest figures in print or on the airwaves. That all came home brilliantly last night as Kurtz made his appearance on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. I was amazed both with Stewart and Kurtz. Together with his staff, Stewart delivered a satirically brilliant introduction, with videos, which effectively eviscerated Kurtz’s core message about the war and its packaging. Stewart also delivered a series of precise, well thought-through questions to which Kurtz gave a series of non-responses. And on point after point, Stewart challenged Kurtz’s facile and false conclusions. Kurtz was hung up to dry, and he didn’t even understand what was happening. In my mind it comes down to Broder, Ignatius, and Kurtz–and I’m giving top honors to Howard: the man who’s done the most to destroy WaPo’s reputation in the arena of opinion.

Catch Kurtz on the Daily Show here.

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