Thursday, August 09, 2007

Empty-Calories News

The New York Times is too dignified for silly-season journalism, August fluff when the world slows down. But this year, especially from Washington, there is a lot of fact-free fare.

The other day, there was “Competitors, Once Collegial, Now Seem Cool,” about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Today we get “First Father: Tough Times on Sidelines,” 31 paragraphs of empty-calories reporting about Bush 41 and Bush 43.

Based on “interviews with a broad range of people close to both presidents,” the piece reveals that the elder Bush “finds it tough to watch his son get criticized from the sidelines.”

From a combination of rehash, such as Bob Woodward’s anecdote about Dubya consulting only a “higher father” before invading Iraq, and dribble from new interviewees, that criticism of the elder Bush’s son “wears on his heart and soul,” we get the equivalent of what editors used to call a “thumbsucker,” a rumination devoid of news.

That used to be the province of columnists and commentators but now is disguised as reporting--and tenuous reporting at that. The Hillary-Barack scoop had to be followed by a correction of one of its few anecdotes: that “after the State of the Union address, Mrs. Clinton took a circuitous route past Mr. Obama not to avoid him, but to accommodate a television producer.”

As the old “Front Page” crowd used to say, this stuff is dynamite.

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