This Week in the Mayonnaise Clinic: Help! I Can't Stop Hate-Reading the Wall Street Journal.
Plus: Grading Karine Jean-Pierre, and my own life decisions.
It’s mayo time! Let’s open the jar.
I get the Wall Street Journal through work, and the news coverage is great. As someone who works in medicine, I particularly enjoy reading their pharmaceutical and health business coverage. However, I recently became addicted to hate-reading their op-ed page. For example, last week there was a column revisiting conservative complaints about mainstream media, which was pretty banal until it took a dark turn toward the end by expressing hope for the media because the current crop of reporters and editors are all going to die someday. Do you have any advice on how to avoid hate-reading bad media? And if so, can you please copy the WSJ editorial board so they stop wishing for everyone's deaths? Thank you!
The column Mark references, by Holman Jenkins, is neither the worst nor the best thing I’ve read in WSJ Opinion lately. The column actually has a pretty good central premise — to the extent politics has become a joke lately, the voters are often in on the joke — and it makes fair points about excessive media credulity about the more outlandish Russiagate claims (like the much-discussed ‘pee tape.’) It also engages in special pleading about Special Counsel John Durham — Durham was engaged in a criminal investigation, but Jenkins doesn’t think it’s fair to evaluate his probe based on its prosecutorial results — and it ends with that strange line Mark cites, expressing optimism that the media will someday get better because all the currently existing reporters and editors will die.1 In addition to being morbid, this is bad analysis: The newer generations of journalists coming are more left-biased than the ones on their way to retirement and death, so when Jenkins ponders the sands of time and how we are all inevitably mortal, he should be expecting the media to get worse (from his perspective) not better.
My advice to you, Mark, if you don’t like the WSJ opinion page, is not to read it.
I realize that sounds flippant. You already know you don’t want to read it, but you’re reading it anyway, so this behavior is somewhat compulsive. You might try breaking the cycle of compulsion with greater mindfulness: Pause before you read any article and ask, “Why am I reading this?” If you don’t have a good answer to the question, stop.
I’d also assign you this article by Eitan Hersh, a political scientist who works on the concept of “political hobbyism,” which is the phenomenon of people consuming political media and engaging in political argument not for any practical or activist purpose but simply because they enjoy it. Hobbies don’t need to be useful, and if you enjoy arguing about politics with strangers on the internet or reading columns that make you mad, you can have at it. But some people engage in political hobbyism out of a misplaced sense of obligation. They mistakenly believe their “efforts” help their preferred candidates win; or they think it is a civic duty to express how mad they are about the opposition all the time, regardless of any effect on outcomes.
If you have any of those feelings, I urge you to let them go. Nobody benefits from you reading the worst right-wing columns on the WSJ opinion page.
Can you help me understand why the White House and Karine Jean-Pierre have had such a difficult time just admitting Biden made a mistake when he was trying to find the late Rep. Jackie Walorski at a recent event? Her insistence on stating that what Biden did was very normal makes it more of an issue than if they just said he made a mistake. Can you also give a review of Jean-Pierre as Press Secretary? She has improved in recent weeks but still seems way over her head and unable to deflect/handle difficult questions.
For those who missed this story: Jackie Walorski, a Republican congresswoman from Indiana, died in a car accident in August. Last week, at a White House event on nutrition initiatives, Biden sought to recognize her for her bipartisan work on hunger policy — and unfortunately, he did so by asking whether she was in the room, having apparently forgotten that she had died.
Later that day, at a White House press briefing, Jean-Pierre turned in a performance reminiscent of those we saw in the Trump administration, in which she refused to acknowledge the president had forgotten or made a mistake. One odd thing about Jean-Pierre’s stonewalling is that the president himself has been gracious and apologetic about the matter, even spending half an hour with Walorski’s family earlier this week, during which he apologized for his gaffe.
I assume Jean-Pierre didn’t want to say the president had forgotten because she expected the president’s critics would “seize” on that as evidence that he is declining mentally. But it seems to me that the political problem (to the extent there is one — people seem to have moved on from this story, and most voters surely had no idea who Jackie Walorski was, let alone that she was dead) arises from the president making an obvious error that was broadcast on television, not from whether his press secretary acknowledges the thing we all saw happen with our own eyes.2 And in general, I just think it’s a mistake for a spokesperson to engage in obvious BS — it annoys reporters, it makes the spokesperson look dishonest and it undermines their credibility the next time they have to talk about something that isn’t on video.
As for Jean-Pierre’s broader performance, I guess I give her a C+? I honestly think the press secretary job is less important than a lot of people make it out to be, and that press secretaries (including Jean-Pierre) get blamed for bad messaging when the key problem is simply that the message to be gotten out isn’t good.
Consider, for example, Jean-Pierre’s rambling answer last month to a simple question: How will the Inflation Reduction Act reduce inflation?
This question was likely to come up and Jean-Pierre should have been more prepared with facts and figures to answer it. She missed a few obvious arguments she could have made, such as that the law will fight inflation by “making corporations pay their fair share” and “empowering the IRS to make sure rich people actually pay the taxes they owe.” She should also have said the law will make energy more abundant and therefore reduce costs.
But even if she had been ready with those talking points, they wouldn’t have helped her answer the obvious follow-up question she received: Most of the law’s inflation-fighting provisions don’t take effect for a few years, so how will it fight inflation now? The reason Jean-Pierre couldn’t give a good answer to that question is that there isn’t one. To the extent the law does push inflation down, it probably won’t start doing so until about 2027. That’s not her fault — you’d have to take it up with the people who wrote the law.
Besides “Calm Down,” I feel like part of your shtick is that you make great choices in life and can advise others on how to make great choices in their own lives. But do you yourself have any flaws that you can identify about yourself? Are you self-conscious about anything? Are there topics on which you wish you were more conversant?
You really know how to write a flattering question, Alex. Keep it up.