Spare Ribs

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Memo to Ana Marie Cox: FLEE FROM HYPNOTOAD!

I don't really want to do a second day on John McCain's fucking awful barbecue rib performance. But for one thing, all the stories reported his dry rub as one third salt, one third pepper, and one third garlic powder. That's nasty. And boring. But mostly nasty. If McCain is going to get a free media ride for his barbecue, is it too much to ask that it be good barbecue? This just goes to further my new theory.

John McCain is Hypnotoad.

Think about it. Jon Stewart, on Monday, lets slip that he thinks Obama, Clinton, and McCain will all be healing, uniting forces no matter which of them is elected President. Jon Stewart is not usually stupid. Reporters think that a spice rub McDonalds wouldn't use on the McRib is tasty and comforting. Reporters are not usually... OK, reporters usually have tongues. And Ana Marie Cox seems to actually believe her defense of attending the Great McCain Cookoff is a defense. And Cox isn't normally... THAT stupid.

Cox is the woman who parlayed her early political blog work as Wonkette into a gig at Time Magazine, or at least Time Magazine online, where, at the Swampland group blog, she's known nationally as The One Who's Not As Dumb As Joe Klein. Anyway, she spent a lot of time on Tuesday defending it. And while the "he's not the nominee yet" excuse from yesterday still takes top prize in the bullshitoff, Cox's rationalization gymnastics earn her a solid silver. She starts off with an assurance:

"First of all, neither Time nor McCain paid my way to Sedona or for my stay while I was there." - I don't think anyone really thought McCain was paying for reporters to attend his shindig, but that's good to know, I guess. Whether Time paid or not is completely irrelevant. In fact, I'd be more comfortable if Time HAD paid. If it had been a mandatory assignment. At least then you couldn't blame a reporter for showing up, just for what they did afterwards.

"I'd been avoiding posting on this because I know that a certain segment of our readership will use it as an opportunity to decry coziness, McCain personally, me personally, the MSM generally or maybe even barbecue for that matter." Um, Ana? Those are what we call WARNING SIGNS. It WAS cozy, McCain did throw the party, you and the mainstream media DID show up, and the barbecue sounded like shit. The event provided the opportunity for criticism, because the event was worthy of criticism. Which you clearly knew at least on a subconscious level.

"I'll spare you a write-up of the event because most of those that did write pieces covered it as if they all got the same pool report, hitting all the same items...". Which anyone presumably qualified to be a political reporter should have known, and therefore not played along with to the greatest extent possible. Which is not what happened.

"I think of socializing as part of the larger project: I get to know people and then can then write about them with more depth, and it means that when I do write something critical about them, I take EXTRA care to get it right... I'm willing to lose a friend over something I write but I'd like to know it was worth it." The implication here is that she's taking John McCain, Republican candidate for president, at his word when he says he's holding a barbecue at his ranch so he and the press can just get to know each other better. And, extrapolating, that the sweatshirt with the picture of his family was chosen because, oh, it was at the top of the pile when he got there. And that his motorcade swung by the Costco on the way to the house to pick up the ribs. I'm not sure if there's a MAXIMUM cynicism political reporters can have to be effective, but I sure as fuck know there's a minimum, and I know how far below the minimum this falls.

In a similar vein: "This is not a great analogy, but think of this way: If someone was writing a profile of Steve Jobs, and he invited you over for dinner, a smart reporter would jump at the chance to see their subject in a relaxed atmosphere, in an environment completely unlike where he's typically interviewed."

Yeah, um, look. I took journalism in college too. So I'm familiar with this strategy in principle. But you're right about one thing. It's not a great analogy, because a stage-managed fake barbecue with a gaggle of your fellow reporters is so far from the one-on-one "relaxed atmosphere" you're alluding to it's fucking ridiculous. So when you reassure us that:

"I promise you, if McCain had bitten the head off of a live chicken, or done anything else notable or stupid or controversial. I'd report it. EVERYONE WOULD." Really? Is that the journalistic standard we're shooting for? "We'll eat his food and smile and joke around with him, but the instant he performs a disgusting sideshow trick, well, the gloves will be coming off!" The American political press, constantly on alert in case something completely beyond the pale happens to take place while they're having lunch.

I shouldn't even have to say this, but politics is a never-ending game of image management. Doubly so for John McCain, who relies on his image the way Dorian Gray relied on a painting in the attic. Anything you "learn" about John McCain at a three-hour barbecue on his ranch will be things John McCain wants, nay, NEEDS you to learn. And if you think being a willing participant in that is acceptable journalism, you're either stupid, lying, or in thrall to the power of Hypnotoad.