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Brian Williams Nominates Peggy Noonan for a Pulitzer Prize

Glenn Greenwald

One of the greatest benefits of the proliferation of blogging is that its unedited, less restrained format tends to unmask people. Unbenownst to most of the world, NBC News anchor Brian Williams maintains a blog, and his one entry from yesterday reveals more about him than all of the profiles and cover stories combined.

Williams -- in a rant that would make Rush Limbaugh proud -- devotes his first six paragraphs to bashing the New York Times (h/t ck). He begins by taking note of the superb Op-Ed by Elizabeth Edwards in this Sunday's NYT "bemoaning the lack of serious, in-depth coverage of the political race" (headline: "Bowling 1, Health Care 0") -- in which Edwards, to the apparent chagrin of Brian Williams, highlights how our establishment media's election coverage is obsessed with empty trivialities at the expense of substantive coverage. Williams snidely noted that "the New York Times Sunday (and weekday) circulation is down" and then spent multiple paragraphs mocking the Sunday edition's articles ("it's tough to figure out exactly what readers the paper is speaking to, or seeking"). But after that, the NBC anchor pronounced:

On the other hand, one sparkling piece of journalism (which touched on a lot of themes frequent readers of this space will recognize) was by Peggy Noonan in this weekend's Wall Street Journal. Curl up with this one and give it the quality time it deserves. I'll say it again: Peggy is doing the work of her career and must be considered an early favorite for next cycle's Pulitzer for commentary.

Let's take a look at the specific Noonan WSJ column that Williams -- a leading figure in America's Liberal Media -- singled out as an example of brilliant and inspiring commentary. Written before the latest media outbreak of Jeremiah-Wright-Fever, it features such insightful, innovative gems as this:

Main thought. Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama's problem. America is Mr. Obama's problem. He has been tagged as a snooty lefty, as the glamorous, ambivalent candidate from Men's Vogue, the candidate who loves America because of the great progress it has made in terms of racial fairness. Fine, good. But has he ever gotten misty-eyed over . . . the Wright Brothers and what kind of country allowed them to go off on their own and change everything? How about D-Day, or George Washington, or Henry Ford, or the losers and brigands who flocked to Sutter's Mill, who pushed their way west because there was gold in them thar hills? There's gold in that history.

John McCain carries it in his bones. Mr. McCain learned it in school, in the Naval Academy, and, literally, at grandpa's knee. Mrs. Clinton learned at least its importance in her long slog through Arkansas, circa 1977-92.

Mr. Obama? What does he think about all that history? Which is another way of saying: What does he think of America? That's why people talk about the flag pin absent from the lapel. They wonder if it means something. Not that the presence of the pin proves love of country -- any cynic can wear a pin, and many cynics do. But what about Obama and America? Who would have taught him to love it, and what did he learn was loveable, and what does he think about it all?

Another challenge. Snooty lefties get angry when you ask them to talk about these things. They get resentful. Who are you to question my patriotism? But no one is questioning his patriotism, they're questioning its content, its fullness. Gate 14 has a right to hear this. They'd lean forward to hear.

"Gate 14" refers to The People -- the Regular Folk -- Noonan studied like zoo animals the last time she was in an airport ("Gate 14 is small-town America, a mix, a group of people of all classes and races brought together and living in close proximity until the plane is called"). Now she knows what they think. She speaks for them, of course. And what they want to know is whether Barack Obama loves America.

How trite, inane, and McCarthyite is this dreary right-wing pablum -- even for Peggy Noonan? One can barely begin to count the ways (to note just one, FDL's Blue Texan observed the oddity, to put it generously, of Noonan demanding to know whether Obama cries Patriotism Tears when he thinks of Henry Ford, of all people). But Brian Williams, leading news anchor in The Liberal Media, found that specific commentary and the insipid right-wing polemicist who spawned it to be "sparkling," worthy of a Pulitzer, something you should "curl up with" and "give it the quality time it deserves."

Elizabeth Edwards' Op-Ed critiquing our media's vapidity prompts multiple paragraphs of trite NYT bashing. Peggy Noonan's insistence that Barack Obama's love of America is in question among the Gate 14 crowd (in contrast to the Ultimate Patriot John McCain) -- a column that is dumb and disgusting in exactly equal measure -- prompts a Pulitzer nomination from our leading News Anchor and deep praise. That's because we have a Liberal Media.


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UPDATE: As several commenters both here and at Williams' own blog have pointed out, it's hardly surprising that Williams would be bashing the Sunday NYT given that, just two weeks ago, it was that paper's edition which revealed that Williams' network continuously fed government propaganda to its viewers by repeatedly featuring the Pentagon's and defense industry's pre-programmed, controlled retired Generals and presenting them as "independent" military analysts.

Williams has been a central part of the media blackout of that story. Not only did NBC News refuses to comment on the story, but Williams himself has not even mentioned it once, nor has anyone on his entire network (including, with the exception of a brief reference from Keith Olbermann, MSNBC). So his viewers have absolutely no idea that a major expose revealed that the sources used by NBC News were anything other than what they were presented to be -- omissions so glaring that it even prompted angry condemnation yesterday from Howard Kurtz.

Yet Williams, while failing even to acknowledge that story which implicates the core integrity of his network, instead bashes the Sunday NYT which exposed it and touts Peggy Noonan for a Pulitzer for her banal, malicious meanderings over Barack Obama's lapel pin. It's ironic how Williams began by subtly dismissing Elizabeth Edwards' critique of our sorry political media only to then proceed to exemplify her core critique perfectly.

UPDATE II: It's particularly odd that Williams would snidely employ the right-wing weapon of "circulation decline" to bash the NYT in light of this:

Network evening newscasts collectively lose about a million viewers a year. (This year they've lost 1.2 million, helped along by the writers strike.) Revenue is going down in lockstep: the three network evening newscasts reap about $100 million in ad revenue apiece, but are declining at about 2% a year.

And this:

The combined average audience for the big-three evening newscasts in 1980 was about 53 million viewers. By the fall of 2006, when Couric was getting ready to make the jump from NBC's "Today" show, the three national evening newscasts had a combined audience of about 27 million viewers.

How's that for a trend line? The evening newscasts lost about half of their audience over 26 years. They lost viewers at a rate of 1 million a year, and they're still losing them. Last week, according to numbers Nielsen released Tuesday, the combined audience was 21.5 million.

Few institutions have lost as much popularity and credibility over the years as network news programs. Those don't really seem to be metrics that Brian Williams ought to be touting to bash media outlets which expose the corruption of his network.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.


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