One of the Washington Post’s tricks of concealed bias is the phrase, “critics say.” Which translated means: we here at the Washington Post want to make an editorial point on the front page, but since that’s not quite kosher professionally we’ll find some “critics” or “experts” to make our point for us. Last Saturday’s Post provided a classic example of this practice in a piece smearing the memory of Pope John Paul II: “Catholic dissidents Call for Openness; John Paul Silenced Many, Critics Say.”
But whatever bias the Washington Post conceals in such practiced formulations on the front page percolates up more visibly through larger cracks in its other sections. In search of an outlet the paper’s bias can usually flow through a large opening in the Post’s Style section.
Take the Post’s frank horror at John Bolton, President Bush’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations. While its front page has been regularly doing a variation of the “Bolton is a jerk, some critics say” story, these mincing efforts hadn’t really sated the Post’s reporters’ disgust for the man. It fell to fashion writer Robin Givhan, battle-tested after savaging Dick Cheney for wearing a “drab” parka at an Auschwitz ceremony in January, to compress their loathing for Bolton into a critique of his physical looks, attire, and appearance.
“Bolton’s Hair: No Brush With Greatness,” ran the headline of Givhan’s piece last Friday. She didn’t like Bolton’s “thick, dull slab of hair” that he hadn’t bothered to coordinate with his “snow-colored mustache.” She dug up a photo of him from the 1970s in which his hair looked presentable, unlike now when it looks “as if he’d stepped from the shower and shaken his hair dry in the manner of an Afghan hound.”
“The fulsome silhouette of the mustache makes for a particularly dreary distraction,” she wrote. And it made him “look mean,” a quality she can’t stand in others. Nor did Givhan like his too-tight shirt, and inadequately knotted tie: “Not slightly crooked or just a hint off-center but looking like [sic] it had been knotted in the dark. The tie itself was an uninspired dark red with bright yellow stripes.” If the pacific Barbara Boxer wants to take Bolton to anger management, lady Robin Givhan would like to take him to finishing school. After all, his hair was “so poorly cut, it bordered on rude,” another quality she simply won’t stand for in herself or others.
We should mark here with sadness that another cherished liberal attitude has bitten the dust. Remember liberalism’s reverence for slobs and contempt for squares? (That Bolton looked presentable in 1970 would have been counted as a demerit by the left at that time.) Liberals once had so much respect for slobs they imitated them. For a time it was evidence of honesty and integrity to go to great lengths to dress like them. Unruly locks, and disconcerting facial hair, were points of pride, obvious proofs of authenticity. And how could anyone except a member of the pitiless establishment be so insensitive and superficial as to judge the content of a man’s character by the color of his tie?
All gone. Since any stick will do in a fight, the left just can’t afford to let past attitudes close off avenues of attack. Indeed, the more pre-rational and infantile liberalism becomes — throwing pies at conservatives and the like — the more attacking appearance will become sport on the left. If a conservative has a beard, point it out and belittle it. If he is looking obese, by all means mock him. The same juvenile impulse that once inspired liberals to dress down as slobs now inspires them to assume the role of high school snobs.
Though Givhan’s article might have been a little too catty for even an unofficial high school newspaper in, say, Beverly Hills. Saying as Givhan does that Bolton’s mustache looks as if it “should be attached to geek glasses and a rubber nose” would have given gossipy youth editors pause. On the other hand, perhaps Givhan is gifted with the power of looking into the soul of public figures and detecting the malice driving their fashion choices. She sensed Dick Cheney’s disregard for the deceased of Auschwitz in the self-regarding, heavy parka he wore at the January event marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of that camp.
He was, she wrote, “dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower… Some might argue that Cheney was the only attendee with the smarts to dress for the cold and snowy weather. But sometimes, out of respect for the occasion, one must endure a little discomfort.” Some critics might say that this was a cheap shot at a vice president with a well-known heart condition.
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