As I mentioned the other day, there’s a certain irony to the fact that Al Gore is out touring behind a book about the decline of reasoned public dialogue, since his emergence on the public scene inevitably elicits paroxysms of the shallowest, bitchiest, most vacuous commentary of which our punditariat is capable — and that’s saying something.
Today brings examples so telling they hurt. I mean literally hurt. You’ve been warned.
Start with this dazzlingly obtuse column by Slate’s Jack Shafer, who misses Gore’s point so fundamentally one can only gape. Shafer seems to think, based on … well, god knows … that Gore wants the media to report less about celebrities. That’s it — that’s the sum total of Gore’s 250-page book. Shafer points out that celebrities are covered in celebrity media, whereas the serious media covers serious stuff. So what’s Gore’s problem?
Of course, part of Gore’s point is that the “serious” media has reduced serious matters to footnotes and focused instead on trivialities like, I don’t know, whether a presidential candidate wears earth tones or sighs too much.
The crowning irony in Shafer’s feat of un-self-awareness is this: “Maureen Dowd showcases Gore’s critique in her New York Times column today.”
But of course, Dowd doesn’t “showcase Gore’s critique.” Instead, she uses Gore’s critique as a thin excuse to indulge in her usual vapid snark. She mentions Gore’s weight no less than four times in her 800 word column. The only time she even comes within spitting distance of “his critique” is a catty aside that, like, if Gore really isn’t running, then the book is just, like, a bunch of scolding.
Yes, Gore is scolding. He’s scolding people like Shafer and Dowd, who have reduced political reporting in this country to the level of Peretz Hilton, only less funny.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with writing about fashion or gossip per se. The problem is when major news organizations (and their would-be internet equivalents) think fashion writing and gossip constitute political writing. In the 2000 campaign it was the lead reporters and columnists of America’s elite newspapers, not just gossip columnists, who were writing about Gore’s suits, his sighing, the salaries of (only his female) consultants, and so on. One would think that two terms of George Bush would remind our newspapers that making elections turn on junior-high-school trivia has consequences that are anything but trivial, but given Maureen Dowd’s disgraceful ongoing presence on the NYT’s op-ed pages sharing her insights about John Edwards‘s haircuts, Judith Steinberg‘s troubling lack of makeup, and Al Gore’s waistline, one can hardly be optimistic.
And finally, damn, this picture makes me jealous.