the kicker

The Washington Post‘s Priorities, Beer Goggles Edition

July 31, 2009

By my count, the people mocked in the latest episode of “Mouthpiece Theater”–the Washington Post Web series starring Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza, in which the pair, billing themselves as “two of the biggest maws in Washington” and smirking like teenagers who’ve just stolen some Schnapps from their parents’ liquor cabinet, loosen their ties, don chintzy smoking jackets, and generally deride recent political events–include, in order of appearance:

– Barack Obama
– Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
– James Crowley
– David Vitter
– Chip Pickering
– Mark Sanford
– “the entire Republican Congressional leadership team”
– Jeff Sessions
– John Cornyn
– Dennis Kucinich
– Henry Waxman
– Robert Byrd
– Rahm Emanuel
– Hillary Clinton
– the citizens of the United Kingdom
– the citizens of France
– the citizens of Russia
– the citizens of the People’s Republic of China
– the citizens of Canada
– Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
– the Pope

– automakers
– Sarah Palin
– swine flu victims

No joke. And I mean that literally: “Ménage à Stella Artois” manages to be both glibly insulting and extraordinarily un-funny. Milbank and Cillizza, through a series of (bad) puns that use the colorful names of microbrewed beers to poke fun at people in the news (swine flu victims should drink…Isolation Ale! Ha!), suggest, among many other things, that “the entire Republican Congressional leadership team” should drink Satan Red/Devil’s Brew/Fallen Angel/Evil Eye/Hell Bier (get it? because they’re demonic, I guess?). Oh, and that the Secretary of State should drink…Mad Bitch.


One wonders how much of the Post staff’s time and resources were devoted to researching, writing, staging, shooting, and editing such an extraordinarily value-free contribution to the annals of political commentary. Milbank and Cillizza are no Stewart/Colbert–they’re not even Letterman/O’Brien–not only because they’re simply not as funny, but because their status as (ostensibly) reporters means that they owe us more than lame-puns-for-the-sake-of-lame-puns, as per the typical humor of late-night TV. “Two of the biggest maws in Washington”–judging from the impish grins they maintain throughout the video and from their general teehee! look what we’re getting away with! tone (oh, and from the fact that their video closes with TotBMiW taking swigs of Jackass Oatmeal Stout)–seem, actually, to understand this. They seem to understand, in other words, that “Mouthpiece Theater,” in its spectacular lack of substance, represents a kind of journalistic subversion.

But, in that, the pair are victims of irony rather than purveyors of it. Yesterday’s “Beer Summit”–and, in particular, the media’s treatment of the event as alternately epic and ironic (as in, for example, dubbing the thing the “Beer Summit” in the first place), is certainly ripe for criticism. The video in question could have been–relatively–trenchant, along the lines of the “suds summit” column Milbank published in today’s Post. It could have been, given the participants, witty/revealing/justified. Instead, “Ménage à Stella Artois” simply mocks itself. And in that, it mocks by extension:

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– Dana Milbank
– Chris Cillizza
– the staff of The Washington Post who are not Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza
– the audience of The Washington Post
– all of us, generally.

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.