The Current State of Op Ed Writing or Things that Belong in a Hello Kitty Diary

comtorwhkwriter-1-1Okay, so I was torn between using Hello Kitty Diary and Hello Kitty Litter Box in the title of this thread because I am so tired of seeing hacks get money and column space in what used to be the world’s great papers.   Let’s face it!  My cats’ litter box is a better use of a newspaper that’s filled with the inane ramblings of the likes of Ross Douthat, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, George F. Will, and  well, you get my drift. There were op ed writers with whom I disagreed but whose arguments, evidence, and writing style made for compelling reading and arguments.  The group that’s left to us now should still be doing penmanship exercises in second grade.

So, obviously I was inspired to write this.  I use the world ‘inspired’ loosely because it was more like I was influenced by the painful awareness of cats screeching in the alley looking for attention from other heat-seeking cats.  The primary source of screeching came from MoDo today who Charlie Pierce promptly diced and sliced in “In Which MoDo Loses A Fight With James Madison” in his Esquire  blog

 Maureen Dowd has fashioned herself another Chronic Ward of a newspaper column today on her now-regular theme of what a wimpety-wimp-wimp Barry Obama is, and why she never should have let him take her to prom instead of the hunky Andrew Shepherd from The American President who, while admittedly fictional, never would take this guff from actual human beings like John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Louie Gohmert, to which latter we give the benefit of a considerable doubt on this score. From the available evidence (again), and for all the relevance her insights have on what’s actually going on in American politics, Dowd once again seems to be writing from an assisted-living facility on the far side of a world Beyond The Planet Of The Ultra-Vixens. First of all, she, along with Jonathan Karl, seems to be overly concerned with the condition of the president’s “juice,” which she seems to feel is less fortified with essential vitamins and iron than the juice of a president should be. And, somewhere in the Beyond, Freud gives up the business entirely and opens a cigar store.

Pierce offers this more succinct explanation.

Look, I make the same criticism of the president from time to time, but mine is based on what I believe is the obvious empirical fact that the Republican party has gone insane and that the president has been painfully slow in coming to realize that he is dealing with lunatics. I don’t find this “professorial” or “high-minded.” I just find it wrong. But, then again, I don’t measure politics by the inseam, either.

What is it about reality that most of the op ed writers don’t appear to get these days? Well, I stumbled across an equally good take down and explanation over at NY magazine written by Jonathan Chait called “David Brooks and the Role of Opinion Journalism”. David Brooks is the nearly the best example of an op ed writer that is a waste of good reading time.  He has the dial set to 11 for vacuity nearly every day.

Brooks likes to veer frequently from the beaten path of topicality. He wants us to associate this habit with intellectual honesty. But why should we? One could just as easily think of it as an evasive tactic designed to spare him from confronting the uncomfortable pathologies of his own side.

Brooks goes further, smuggling into his schema notions not merely unrelated to but actually at odds with intellectual honesty. The detached writer, he argues, “sees politics as a competition between partial truths.” Well, yes, sometimes it is. On the other hand, sometimes politics is not a competition between partial truths. If you’re committed a priori to always seeing politics as a competition between partial truths, you will render yourself unable to accurately describe the times when it’s not and find yourself writing things that are provably untrue. Writing things that are provably untrue — rather than, say, being irritating — ought to be the central thing to avoid.

It’s a shame Brooks has done such an injustice to the topic, since the question of standards for opinion journalism is a pretty important and underexplored one. Straight news reporters tend to lump opinion writing of all forms into the same bin — punditry, essays, agitprop — and to therefore shy away from holding it to any defined standard. (This is why, for instance, the Washington Post blithely lets George Will misstate facts about climate science on its op-ed page.)

So, I would like to say that the standard for op ed “journalism” is there is no honor among thieves, but given their platform, it’s hard to just write off hello_kitty_diary_resize99.99% of them as hapless hacks and ignore them. Chait actually offers up some common sense advice on how to make an argument instead of publishing your dreamy-eyed Potomac platitudes.  Most of them are common sense like don’t set up and attack straw men and avoid reflexive equivocation and black-and-white moralism.  These last two are staples of op ed pages today.  Douthat is a lousy writer who specializes in his own specious form of black-and-white moralism to the point that I wonder if he ever leaves his house or was actually weaned by his mother.  This glib last bit from Chait sums up the state of op ed writing today for me.  I’ve edited it to what it should be.

If you’re going to write a guide to opinion writing that’s completely self-aggrandizing, you should probably own up to it.

Not only should you own up to it, you should stop pretending it’s anything else but self-aggrandizing twaddle. I’m tired of seeing endless self-pleasuring in high circulation papers. I am so not into that!!!

But, I see this as the main stay of today’s opinion writers.  It is always about them and never about their topic, the actual good of the country or an idea, or the greater search for truth.  WAPO and NYT excel at  placing free range WATBs on their op pages who only engage in self-aggrandizing and who never see the world outside the thunderdomes of Manhattan and the DC beltway.  Most of them are so comfortably snuggled into their socio-economic status they probably couldn’t tell a homeless person from a fireplug.

Thankfully, there are now blogs and there are blogger/writers like Pierce and Chait or I would be one very depressed Kat who would consider reading Romance Novels or Pop! Star Magazine in lieu of David Brooks or Maureen Dowd. They are all about on the same level of intellectual discourse and reality. And for that, the NYT put up a paywall and WAPO wants to still think of itself as the paper of investigative journalism. Douthat belongs on the pages of Catholic Voice or maybe some nice rag promoting the return of The Inquisition.  None of these folks are the serious human beings they presume themselves to be.

Here kitty, kitty!!!  I just changed your litter box and its nicely lined!!!

The “Incompetence Crisis”

rassie-pollAll last year,  ALL  I heard was how experience didn’t matter.  I heard that being ‘ready on day one’  was a meaningless campaign slogan.  I was told that what mattered was perceived good judgment, intelligence, and speaking skills.  I remember watching the first Democratic Debates and thinking, this guy isn’t ready to be dogcatcher, let alone President. There were no wonky answers on economics or foreign policy.  There was never a show of any detailed plan.  There was always just a nice speech read from a teleprompter with a preacher’s patois, incredible (somewhat contradictory) promises, and messages that could have come from a motivational seminar instead of a political campaign.  I never got on the bandwagon.

I finally found a home over here in the Pumasphere with people of similar thought after being treated like a scourge by other sites (blog or MSM) that had gone over to the hope side.  I’ve been getting used to my role as pariah. I was thinking I’d have to live with it for at least a year.  I figured I’d start getting the you were so right calls sometime in the fall.

Boy, was I wrong!

I figured that because of my experience during the early calls for the Iraq war.  I was the one saying “Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11.  Iraq is a different agenda.  Iraq is a bad idea.”   I actually had some one get up in a restaurant to tell me what a lousy, unpatriotic American I was that didn’t deserve to live in the US. I became a the scourge of all true American patriots.  I’ve been thinking that my 9/11 protest was just a character building experience that would serve me well during the Obama fascination period and that it would probably take a few years of, yet again, being a scourge to all true American patriots before the worm would turn.  Luckily, I found a other like minded out in the Pumasphere so I don’t have to be quite alone as I was with my opinion on the Iraq Invasion.

I think I can honestly speak for a number of us around here.  We didn’t expect to be proven so right so quickly.  At least I didn’t. I was hoping that maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as my gut and head had deduced.  So many of my friends said, he’s not Dubya, so he’s got to be better, you’ll see.   After all, we’d get rid of a lot of really evil signing statements that restrict women’s reproductive choices, the right of all people to love and marry whom they wish, and we’d move ahead on science again.  I’ve said this before, but nearly any democrat would have done any of those things–including Joe Lieberman. Lieberman is one of those folks that I consider marginally a democrat, but even he would have done those things if he were POTUS.  We certainly wouldn’t see any nasty supreme court appointments either.  These were marginal hopes and small changes that I could cling to while knowing that eventually, I would be proven right.  I just didn’t even imagine it would wind up quite like this, quite so fast.

So, if I haven’t made myself clear here, Rush Limbaugh and Governor Jindal may be cheering for a failure.  I’m not in that camp at all.  I’ve just been quietly sitting here telling myself that with all the beautiful things written into the constitution as well as the resiliency of the American people, that perhaps it won’t be quite as bad as I thought it would be.   After all, we survived the incompetency of George Bush and the lunacy of Dick Cheney. Things can’t fall apart that fast!

Boy, was I wrong!

Pumas are the new Cassandras.  Our warnings, unheeded, demonized, and marginalized, are now the stuff of MSM op ed pieces.  I’d like to point you to a few that are searing Obama with legitimate criticisms.   I would think they came from one of the edgier Puma sites but they don’t.  One is from CNN. The other from the UK’s Prospect.  I also have two from the NY Times.  These comments are simply alarming.

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