Politics & Policy

Racism, Xenophobia, & Zahn

A look at what happened while I was gone.

It’s 2:30 in the morning. Or maybe it’s 5:30 or 11:30. I can’t really tell, since my brain is in a minimum of three time zones. Currently, I’m in a typically typical Best Western in a town technically called Tukwila, Washington. Though from what I can tell, the locals call it “that spot near the airport around the mall.”

Anyway, just about the only reason — other than our lack of inexhaustible funding, and a craving for American coffee — that we could have wanted our honeymoon to end was that we missed Cosmo the Wonderdog. Indeed, that’s why I am here in historic Tukwila. In a few hours I’m picking up notorious D.O.G. from one of a number of lovely women I can now call my sisters-in-law (I now have four sisters-in-law and four brothers-in-law, which seems like a healthy number to me if someone’s looking to rumble).

If you’re curious, the wedding was a huge hit, and the honeymoon was wonderful. About three days into the trip, we decided to tear up our itinerary and drive to Paris, and eventually take the Chunnel choo-choo to London instead of lounging on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Historians with nothing better to do will debate whether this was the right decision, but we had a great time.

While I am sure some of you would prefer to hear how much fun we had shouting things like “Wiener Schnitzel!” and “Der sauerkraut is gut!” so we could watch all the French waiters drop their trays of Pernod and duck under the tables, I’m more interested in talking about what’s been going on back here (also, we had such a nice time in Paris, it would seem ungracious).

It may seem like nothing happened back home over the last few weeks, but that’s not how it seemed to us.

For example, there was this absurd conference on Racism, Xenophobia, and Related Terms Third World Countries Use to Shake Down Nations with Indoor Plumbing. Don’t let your international-relations professor or the clerk with facial jewelry at your nearby coffee bar-cum-bookshop fool you. This was not a big story in “enlightened” Europe. I was in four countries just before, during, and immediately after the conference, and it was rarely on the front pages or prominent in the news broadcasts (Yeah, yeah, I know I don’t speak German or French or Italian. But even I can figure out that the lead news stories were about World Cup qualifiers, and Afghan refugees sneaking onto trains bound for London, or trying to get into Australia.).

CNN International — consistently the worst news broadcast in the English language, and vastly more biased than our domestic version (stop laughing, I’m serious) — served as the official press agency for the conference. Without getting into too many details, from the promos to the news copy to the premise of nearly every question asked, it was taken as a given that the U.N. conference was an heroic effort to save the world from “hate.”

Yeah, I know that this is precisely what Mary Robinson and her cohorts think, but wouldn’t it be nice if the world’s preeminent international news network could get enough critical distance from this international convention of cookie pushers and nongovernmental grifters to at least avoid calling its coverage “Facing Hate”?

Speaking of interesting TV news, I love this story about CNN snatching Paula Zahn from Fox News. I haven’t read too much about it, but the second I heard I hatched a theory.

Here it is. We all know that CNN has been ripping off Fox like a Chinese retailer of Britney Spears CDs for months. This only makes sense. Ratings-wise, if the two networks were in prison, CNN would be giving Fox all of the cupcakes on its lunch tray. So it’s no surprise that someone at CNN said, “Maybe we should steal some talent from FNC.”

But of course, Brit Hume, Tony Snow, and O’Reilly were non-starters, for obvious reasons: They have better gigs at FNC than they could get at CNN, and they wouldn’t leave anyway, because Fox is the place to be. More importantly, the rank and file at CNN wouldn’t want such “partisan” philistines in their ranks. Having Brit Hume decide coverage for Inside Politics would be akin to sparking up a Mongolian barbecue at Lutèce. The fare might be better, but some things just aren’t done.

So, in some early meeting or meetings, some gitchy-goo liberal producer or talking head probably said, “We can’t have someone like Sean Hannity at our network.” At the mere mention of Hannity’s name, some Columbia School of Journalism grad probably crushed his styrofoam coffee cup, he shuddered so hard.

But Aha!, someone said, there’s Paula Zahn. “I’ve played tennis with her,” another CSJ grad whispered to a colleague, nodding enthusiastically.

A perfectly nice, competent, and certainly very pretty woman, Zahn was nevertheless always out of place at Fox. She’s one of those interviewers — I’ve been on her show several times — who invoke Newsweek as if it were a hard-hitting and unconventional news source. When the New York Times “settles” an issue, she considers it settled. That’s why Zahn’s ratings were always a lagging, rather than a leading, indicator of Fox’s overall success.

This doesn’t make her a bad TV host. It simply makes her a conventional one, which is precisely why she was so palatable to the internal hordes at CNN. The original mission was to steal someone from Fox News who could offer something CNN doesn’t have — an understanding that you can have a different nose for news than the New York Times or Time magazine, and still be credible, professional, and good — but instead, they got the one prominent person at Fox who would fit right in at CNN editorial meetings. This is often how bureaucracies work: by agreeing to a shake-up in principle but then doing everything they can to pad the room so that nothing actually gets shaken.

Speaking of shake-ups, a far more unfortunate development is Andrew Sullivan’s departure from the TRB column at The New Republic. Sullivan and I don’t agree on everything, but Lord knows his TRB columns made that magazine a more interesting place. (By the way, when I say “Lord knows,” does that mean I’m claiming that God reads The New Republic? I guess he must since he’s all knowing, but it’s still troubling for some reason.)

Apparently, Peter Beinart, the editor of the increasingly liberal — but improving — New Republic, wanted the TRB space for himself (If you aren’t interested in TRB arcana, you’re better off. If you are, “TRB” doesn’t stand for anything as far as anyone knows, though some say it’s BRT backwards. Well, actually everyone says that, because it is BRT backwards. But BRT is also the name of a subway in New York, and some people say that’s relevant. So the plot thickens without getting any more interesting.).

I can’t blame Beinart for wanting the column for himself, though sacking Sullivan before his contract was out seems like bad form. In any case, Beinart will have to be very good for the magazine not to be worse without Sullivan’s weekly column.

Speaking of a column’s absence making things worse, I can find no evidence that this was the case here at NRO during my honeymoon. I really want to thank the whole gang at the NRO home office for doing such a wonderful job while I was gone. In fact, they kinda did too good a job. Makes me look as dispensable as Paula Zahn.

Anyway, I had a huge pile of stuff I wanted to get to for my return column, but alas, I’m running low on space, time, and neurons. The jet lag is kicking in so hard, I couldn’t be more weary if I were rereading a Bob Herbert column.

But I do have some items left on the agenda. I don’t know if I have any readers left, but if you’re still there, you might remember that I promised many adventures on my return trip cross-country. Well, my enthusiasm for lots of detours and oddball adventures is pretty low at the moment. I’ve been traveling for a while, and I feel like I should go home to my new wife before she’s tempted to become my ex-wife. That said, who knows what the road holds for me. I haven’t even figured out my return route yet, and may just wing it.

Also, I need to apologize for the lack of the promised pictures at the end of my westward road trip. I actually took a pile of pics, but there was a technological, logistical, and theological snafu back at the home office, and I was in no condition or position to crack the whip. This is what I looked like at the end of the ride. Hopefully I will be able to take more pics on the way back — and I’ll get back to you on the many requests for pictures of the wedding. It all depends how easy it will be to airbrush out my belly.


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