Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 2004/ 28 Elul, 5764
Media's Shut Out: Baseball and Politics Don't Mix
Perhaps this is a minority view, but I resent the media's pathetic attempt to mix politics and baseball in the final weeks of 2004's presidential election. Never mind that the latter is a game, a delightful diversion from reality, but ultimately nothing more than that. As a Red Sox fan I eagerly await the showdown between Boston and the Bronx Forfeits this weekend and next, and hope that Bronson Arroyo, the blond, shaggy-haired Sox pitcher who appeared in cornrows last week, will take on the Yanks' El Duque, who might be 60 but has shocked even Joe Torre with his Ponce de Leon imitation. And another nasty fight between the two teams would make for excellent television, especially if A-Rod (a $2000 contributor to President Bush's campaign, by the way) and Jason Varitek bark at each other.
Yet the narrative provided by journalists, liberals and conservatives alike, is that the Red Sox are a substitute for Democrats, the Yankees filling in for the GOP. Bill Whalen, writing for The Weekly Standard's Sept. 8 website, says "One thing we do know is that the two baseball rivals will settle their differences well before [Bush and Kerry]… Odds are the two candidates won't engage in a bench-clearing brawl, as did the two baseball teams on the afternoon before Kerry visited Fenway Park. Then again, the presidential stakes aren't as high."
Whether that's mere condescension or a deadline-induced attempt at humor, it's stupid. Just like CNN employee/Kerry adviser Paul Begala's comment to reporters that Whalen noted: "You've got to be a Democrat to love the Red Sox, because they're the workingman's team. [Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez, with their respective annual salaries of $20 and $17.5 million, will be on food stamps any day now.] They're in there every year. You know, the Yankees are like General Motors… like Halliburton, and the Red Sox are like the rest of America."
Begala, of course, along with fellow Crossfire host and Kerry cheerleader James Carville, are not "like the rest of America," with their top-bracket incomes. And here's a thought: the now-beleaguered Bob Shrum, the Savile Row-suited "brain" of the Kerry campaign, according to The New Yorker's ancient Ken Auletta, might do his boss the following favor. Considering that Kerry is trying to connect with "real" Americans who may or may not know the difference between a salad and fish fork, the multimillionaire Shrum could let it be known that he's working pro bono for the campaign, instead of raking in enormous sums when his firm's campaign commercials for the Democratic candidate run on television non-stop in 14 states.
Even Tina Brown, the middle-aged former self-proclaimed arbiter of "buzz," who's now about as relevant as James McGreevey, filched the baseball metaphor for her Sept. 9 Washington Post column, a lament about Kerry's current woes. "Does Bush have winner's luck?" she asks. "Just as Kerry launches his fall offensive with Cannonball Carville and other Clinton vets onboard, the wonder boy himself goes under the knife. One of the best campaigners in political history is suddenly benched."
Actually, Clinton has no rival as a brilliant candidate, at least in the past 50 years, combining mock empathy with honey-laced demagoguery, but Brown doesn't address the pertinent question of whether the former president actually wants Kerry, a campaigner who makes Michael Bloomberg seem charismatic, to win, since his machine would be frozen out of power until at least 2012.
No matter: She concludes "Democrats may have to make do for now with a winning metaphor. If the long-suffering Boston Red Sox beat the swaggering New York Yankees this month that could be really, really good. It would show that even winner's luck can run out."
One wouldn't expect British-born Brown to have mastered the intricacies of baseball, but on the assumption she reads New York's newspapers, she'd know that the Yanks at least recently are hardly "swaggering," as demonstrated by George Steinbrenner's attempt to get a freebie win from the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays since the team was delayed in getting to Yankee Stadium because they felt looking after their families and homes in the wake of Hurricane Frances was more important than a baseball game.
Frankly, I don't think the likes of Tina Brown and her Hollywood celebrity friends really care one way or another who wins the election. Yes, they're nominal Democrats, but the campaign is just another form of entertainment, and it sure would be swell to attend those Kerry inaugural balls. On the other hand, holier-than-thou journalists really do have a stake in the results at least from a psychic view, as opposed to monetary and the recriminations against the Massachusetts senator's are right now dominating both print and electronic media even more than Dan Rather's questionable future at CBS.
Newsweek, in its Sept. 20 edition, nearly endorses Kerry in its "Conventional Wisdom" section. Bush gets an "up" arrow, with the caption reading, "Surging. Every week the focus is on Vietnam, he doesn't have to defend his record as president." Underscoring that bald nod to Kerry is this unusual direction to readers: "Reminder: The direction of arrows doesn't reflect Newsweek's views, but our gauge of the chattering classes' assessment of who had a good week." It's obvious that Newsweek's editors, pundits and reporters didn't have a good week condolences to Evan Thomas, Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter but at least the magazine made it clear it's almost as biased as The New York Times.
Those keeping score of the Times' consecutive Bush digs a streak longer than Cal Ripken Jr.'s and Lou Gehrig's combined might've noticed this dilly on Sept. 9 about the hurricanes that ravaged part of Florida in the last month. David Sanger's article headlined "Need Ice? Cereal? The Bush Brothers Are on the Way!" was and I apologize for the repetition, but even Timothy Leary couldn't make this up another dispatch dictated by one of DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe's flacks. Sanger sarcastically notes that President Bush's trip to Fort Pierce wasn't political as if previous presidents haven't traveled to disaster areas, save Bill Clinton after the '93 World Trade Center bombing and then lowers the boom on Jeb Bush, the state's governor.
"[The president's] brother Jeb, who skipped the Republican National Convention in New York last week so that he would not seem inattentive to Florida's troubles, was at the president's side all day." Does anyone honestly believe that if Michigan, say, was torn apart by a natural disaster before Kerry's convention in July, Sanger would've questioned Gov. Jennifer Granholm's motives if she attended to her constituents rather than enjoy the junket in Boston?
By contrast, The Washington Post (hardly in the tank for Bush), ran a story about the President's visit to Florida the same day as Sanger, with this headline: "Bush Back in Florida to Visit Areas Ravaged by Hurricane Frances."
Elitism is a character trait apparently more valued at the Times than an Ivy League education, as reporter Elisabeth Bumiller (who undoubtedly could converse fluently with Kerry on the subject of vintage port wines) proves with almost every editorial-masked-as-news-story she files. I particularly relished Bumiller's Sept. 13 article about Bush's enthusiasm for election campaigns. She begins: "George W. Bush says he enjoys being president. But judging from his performance on the stump over the last few weeks, he enjoys campaigning for president even more."
I guess this makes Bush one of a kind, unless you remember other politicians whom Bumiller doesn't mention like Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, John and Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Teddy Roosevelt and John McCain. And the correspondent, allegedly impartial, quotes exactly two insiders about Bush's campaign appearances: former Clinton aides Begala and Rep. Rahm Emanuel.
But, as Andrew Sullivan (who, to no one's surprise, last week proved he's a one-issue gay marriage voter, said he will not "endorse" Bush this year) might say, here's the "money" quote. Bumiller: "In Washington, Mr. Bush delivers serious speeches, tangles with the press and can appear stolid, defensive and halting. But on the campaign trail, where the invited crowds are kept friendly because opponents are sometimes arrested for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts or dragged from events by their hair, there is a different President Bush. He is looser and livelier, a former Andover cheerleader who has learned how to rouse the crowd in the argot of ordinary America."
Once again, a mention of "ordinary America," where the rubes even Democrats! presumably can't define the word "argot."
Bumiller and Maureen Dowd may be lunch buddies, but the latter, a Hollywood hag whose words are enveloped by pop culture references, doesn't give off the same noxious upper-crust aroma so common among her Times colleagues. Instead, she bathes in the "argot" of movies. Dowd's Sept. 12 column was especially rich, and I'm not referring to her tired theme of the Bush family as the Corleones of politics. Parts of the op-ed were pretty funny, if you discount the outrageous claim that Bush and Cheney, preoccupied by the "vanity" war in Iraq, have made the United States a likely target for a Beslan-like tragedy.
Apparently worried that Kerry will lose, Dowd is getting in her shots at the Democrat now, while he's still in the news. She writes: "[T]he White House has cleverly co-opted the imagery of Westerns, leaving Mr. Kerry to star in a far less successful movie genre: the Eastern… [I]n Easterns, the heroes have windy, nuanced dialogue, delivered with a lockjaw in mansions on Beacon Hill and on windsurfing expeditions off Nantucket. In Easterns, the effete heroes get upset when the wrong kind of people join their Boston clubs, and quibble, in the style of the "late George Apley," about the rules when suit jackets must be worn."
That Maureen! Damn, she can be a funny chick.
And for the record, my five bucks say the Yanks win the A.L. East comfortably, taking four of six from the Sox, although none by forfeit.
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2002, Russ Smith