Winners & Sinners

Kaiser on Goldberger, Cohen, Greenwald, Wolff, and more

Winner: Paul Goldberger, for a beautiful meditation in The New Yorker on the baseball stadiums just completed for the New York Yankees and the New York Mets—“the first time that two major-league stadiums have opened in the same city at the same time.” Goldberger combines a refined aesthetic sense with a broad knowledge of baseball trivia. Which produces a series of lovely aperçus like this one: “True, the identity of the Mets—whose colors combine the blue of the Dodgers and the orange of the Giants—has thrived on a magpie element, but there’s something a bit dishonest about naming the rotunda for Jackie Robinson, who never wore a Mets uniform. A pastiche of the Dodgers’ former field in Brooklyn pasted onto the façade of a different team’s twenty-first-century ballpark in Queens is less a historical tribute than it is an act of make-believe.”

Sinner: Richard Cohen, for a ridiculous column in The Washington Post, attacking Jon Stewart’s attack on Jim Cramer. Cohen is certain that no one—and certainly no CNBC employee—could possibly  have figured out that  it was a bad idea for the banks to leverage their assets at a rate of 35 to 1 on a wager as rock-solid as a housing bubble and the worthless derivatives spawned by it. And then there is this piece of definitive evidence that no one could have known that anything was amiss: Cohen, a “cautious investor,” was himself a proud owner of AIG stock.

Winner: Frank Rich, for correctly identifying all the reasons  why the news of the AIG bonuses produced such a tidal wave of fury, including this one: Americans “know that the corporate bosses who may yet lay them off have sometimes been as obscenely overcompensated for failure as Wall Street’s bonus babies.” 

Unlike Cohen, Rich also understands why Stewart v. Cramer was such a powerful TV moment:

What made Jon Stewart’s takedown of Jim Cramer resonate was less his specific brief against CNBC’s cheerleading for bad stocks than his larger indictment of the gaping economic inequality that defined the bubble. As Stewart said, there were “two markets”—the long-term market that Americans earnestly thought would sustain their 401(k)’s, and the fast-moving, short-term “real market” in the back room where high-rolling insiders wagered “giant piles of money” and brought down everyone with them.

Winner: John Lahr, for a superb review in The New Yorker which gets everything right about Broadway’s most exciting revival in decades: “West Side Story (at the Palace, under the sure-handed direction of Arthur Laurents, who wrote the musical’s original book) is so exciting it makes you ache with pleasure.”

Sinner: The irrepressible Marty Peretz , for an absurd attack on Jim Lehrer for making the estimable Juan Cole a guest on the NewsHour. Peretz improbably identifies the most relentlessly middle-of-the-road/center-right program on television as the place “where the liberal pabulum is certified.” 

Peretz is unhappy (1) because Cole is not an unblinking Israeli apologist, (2) because (although he speaks fluent Arabic) Cole can’t possibly understand the war in Iraq, because he hasn’t visited the country since the war began, and (3) unlike Marty, Juan still hasn’t figured out what a magnificent idea it was to spend a trillion dollars on a war which still hasn’t ended, and so far has killed more than  4,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

In his retort, Cole points out that Marty knew all along how wonderfully this was going to work out for the whole region. This is what Peretz wrote in the fall of 2002:

The road to Jerusalem more likely leads through Baghdad than the reverse. Once the Palestinians see that the United States will no longer tolerate their hero Saddam Hussein, depressed though they may be, they may also come finally to grasp that Israel is here to stay and that accommodating to this reality is the one thing that can bring them the generous peace they require.

To which Cole replies, “How you could get more wrong than that, I’m not sure.”

Winner: The New York Times editorial page, for another in its long series of brilliant torture editorials. This one carefully assesses all that is good and all that is disappointing so far in the Obama administration’s policies on “terrorism, prisoners, the rule of law and government secrecy.”

Winner: Glenn Greenwald, for a laugh-out-loud dissection of this throwaway observation from FCP’s favorite media critic, Howard Kurtz: “there’s such a built-in adversarial relationship between the press and the pols that spending a couple of evenings in a kind of light-hearted cease-fire doesn’t strike me as a terrible thing.” To obliterate this observation, Greenwald gathers evidence from all over, including the wit and wisdom of Howard Kurtz, as reproduced in the pages of The Washington Post.

Sinner: Michael Wolff. The only thing worse than “press critic” Michael Wolff writing about the media is Michael Wolff writing about politics. Assuming his favorite posture of contemptuous envy, Wolff wrote not one but two idiotic attacks on the president.

Wolff apparently thinks it makes him sound hip to use the vocabulary of an under-educated fifteen-year-old girl, so his writing is sprinkled with words like “sheesh” and “shit.” This apparently qualifies him to make incisive judgements like this one: “The true secret of the power of language is in quickness”—and “Barack Obama can’t keep up.”

Every time FCP mentions Wolff, it produces bafflement among its loyal readers. They invariably point out that every semi-sentient person already  knows that Wolff is a fool. So why belabor the point?

They are probably right about that.

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Charles Kaiser is a former media critic for Newsweek and the author of three books, most recently The Cost of Courage, about one family in the French Resistance.