April 23, 2007

"The event was disgraceful, so lame and mediocre that it is beyond parody."

That's Christopher Hitchens on why he walked out of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner:
“It is impossible to decide which is more offensive: the president fawning over the press or the press fawning over the president. It expresses everything that the public means when they talk about inside-the-Beltway and access journalism.”

Mr. Hitchens didn’t storm out of the city. He stormed back to his house, where he co-hosted (along with fellow Vanity Fair contributor Todd Purdum and former Clinton aide Dee Dee Myers) the magazine’s post-dinner party, a much sought-after ticket.

Mr. Hitchens, a one-time pariah for his support of the Iraq invasion and his savaging of Mother Teresa, still serves as something of a social arbiter in Washington. And following the strange-bedfellows theme, Paul Wolfowitz, the embattled World Bank president, was chatting amiably in a roomful of journalists at Mr. Hitchens’ home.
Living like that, how do you stay outraged and sharp enough to know when other people are being lame and mediocre? So he's a "social arbiter," eh? Looking at him on TV, you'd think he was a social pariah. Funny how things are.


Invisible Man said...

Personally, I think Hitchens was just upset over the cash bar.

Mark Daniels said...

Hitchens is a strange, if brilliant, person who delights in being the contrarian. While recognizing how smart he is, I've never much cared for his punditry. To me, he's Alice Roosevelt Longworth with a brain: lots of acid, memorably rendered.

You ask, "Living like that, how do you stay outraged and sharp enough to know when other people are being lame and mediocre?" In one sense, it strikes me as an inherently odd question, Ann. Don't we want those who hold diverse views to socialize and get along? It's this people contact that can help government surmount wifty philosophical differences and, hopefully, allow government to actually get things done.

As to social contacts between what the PoliSci people call ADMs, administrative decisionmakers, and reporters and pundits, I'm not terribly concerned that anyone is automatically compromised by them. Better that these folks see one another up close than that, like those of us who don't live in Washington, they're mysteries to one another. There's enough contentiousness between pols and the media without increasing it by erecting some sort of wall between them.

I say all of this even knowing how easy it is for people from one or either group to be co-opted. But honestly, what should someone like Hitchens do? Take a vow never to socialize with "the enemy"?

But, your question does make sense in another way. Part of the problem is Hitchens' inflated rhetoric. He speaks so dismissively of a media that he says fawns all over the holders of power and then, hosts a party devoted to fawning all over the holders of power.

It's usually said that a politician can get away with anything but being hypocrite. Does the same adage apply to pundits?

Mark Daniels

Invisible Man said...

Hitchens is a brilliantly acidic person who will surprise you with views that in all don't provide a consistent picture but do challenge conventional wisdom. And I have to say that watching him tear in to people, as I witnessed on Bill Maher a few months ago, can be a pleasure.

As to the hypocrisy of pundits, they seem to live in an ethereal realm that is not based on our rules. Take for instance a guy like Bill Kristol, who has been so hideously wrong on so many subjects but yet has NO problems impeaching the credibility of just about anyone. In the real world, when you are consistently wrong you pay a price but in punditry your acclaim just seems to grow. I believe that this was the point of the whole "Friedman's" 3 month window jokes. Pundits can flip-flop and change positions on any topic and no one seems to notice or maybe just care.

sonicfrog said...

Laurence O'Donnell is another guy who constantly twists facts to his own purpose. Here is the latest example.is his latest.

I'm a big fan of Hitchens. Anyone who can so deftly tick off both the left and right is OK in my book. He's a thorn in the side to everyone, yet manages to attract those very same people to hang with him at parties. He's the modern, smarter, un-gay version of Truman Capote. So full of sass, he's probably even better when he hits the sauce.

My favorite Hitch quote, from last years election, on the prospect of George Allen losing his race to Jim Web(b) in Virginia:

"I... think it would be very nice for Mr. Allen in Virginia to lose. He needs to relax and find something else to do in his life."

But the best line about the electorate, said without cracking a hint of smile, in the classic dry, droll, English, self evident manner:

"By all means, stupid people should be represented, but not by stupid people."

Ruth Anne Adams said...

What? No "lameness" tag?

Laura Reynolds said...

There is no doubt such things are idiotic and exercises in self congratulations. Just like the endless entertainment award programs complete with fashion commentary, etc. etc.

I too like that Hitchens can piss anybody off but he is an intellectual giant compared to maany of his contemporaries.

Laura Reynolds said...

"many" I bet he types better than me as well

Troy said...

I still remember Hitchens on the old HBO Dennis Miller show coming out on stage with a high ball in one hand and a cigarette in the other and "glow" about him. I liked that -- what was common -- at least the cig is defiant nowadays.

Troy said...

and he's right -- it was lame. It always is. Colbert was lame because he was pseudo-brave in his beating up of a President who has too much class and cannot really adequately respond to his insult. I'd like to see Colbert say the same things in a face-to-face meeting with no cameras. Rich Little was nice in a combination Catskills/Branson, Mo. He was just blue enough to give a taste of the old days and just family-friendly enough for the giant tour busses filled with Quacker Factory wearing blue hairs to smile politely.


Nigel Kearney said...

Hitchens can be rude, even childish. But when he speaks, people listen. He's the Simon Cowell of political journalism.

Ernie Fazio said...

I wonder whether the Hitchens advocates were pre-9/11 fans or post-9/11 fans. About Wolfowitz being at a party he hosted, whew. That would not have happened pre-9/11.

And how about that "dead man walking?" Where do you stand, l'Althouse? Wolfowitz needs to have his gal transferred, so he gets her a job at State where she receives more than Condie. But before then, he got Dougie Feith to assign her to a contractor who would give her a real nice consulting fee to go abroad. The third strike is that at State she has non-escort status that is never given to non-citizens expecially those who are assigned from international organizations rather than their country.

As a final aside, do many other commenters have to re-apply each time they blog?

George M. Spencer said...

Wonder what Hitchens would have said if Bob Hope or Jack Benny had been doing the stand-up?

They probably would have been 'lame' because they wouldn't have used four-letter words or gratuitously insulted their host, the President.

Revenant said...

Hitchens is intelligent and a good writer, but consistency has never been his strong point.

I'm fully willing to believe that the event was lame and mediocre, though.

Unknown said...

I watched it and it was what you would expect. Bush made a terrible entertainment decision by deciding to say the evening was too somber for humor, and thus he would just introduce Rich Little. I can't imagine that kind of setup leading to success.

It was corny to be sure, but if you're not offended or bothered by corniness and wanted to laugh it was fine. Certainly not offensive, especially since an evening like that seems made to let down the usual combativeness.

I think Hitchens just wanted the spotlight on him, and made a grand, unneeded, unprovoked gesture. I'll even bet he planned walking out on the evening weeks ago.

Personally, I found Little to be funnier than Cobert, and not just because Little was less offensive.

For me it was a nice change. Using the evening to attack the President may have been chic at some point but now it's lazy humor, and became lazy humor roundabout 1996. Nice to see someone at least trying to get out of that bad habit, even if not entirely successfully.

sonicfrog said...

It's my understanding Hitch and Wolf are longtime friends, but I could be wrong.