January 13, 2005

I Agree With (Gulp!) Mr. Insufferable

I am a somewhat indefatigable critic of the man who has earned my epithet, "insufferable," the New York Times's Frank Rich.

Rich recently held forth on the Armstrong Williams débacle and the coverage of same on the late CNN shout-fest, "Crossfire."
But there is nothing if not honor among bloviators. "On the left," as they say at "Crossfire," Paul Begala, a Democratic political consultant, offered condemnations of the Bush administration but had only soft questions and plaudits for Mr. Williams. Three times in scarcely as many minutes Mr. Begala congratulated his guest for being "a stand-up guy" simply for appearing in the show's purportedly hostile but entirely friendly confines. When Mr. Williams apologized for having crossed "some ethical lines," that was enough to earn Mr. Begala's benediction: "God bless you for that."

"On the right" was the columnist Robert Novak, who "in the interests of full disclosure" told the audience he is a "personal friend" of Mr. Williams, whom he "greatly" admires as "one of the foremost voices for conservatism in America." Needless to say, Mr. Novak didn't have any tough questions, either, but we should pause a moment to analyze this "Crossfire" co-host's disingenuous use of the term "full disclosure."
Rich buries the CBS scandal and the derelictions of the Times with a swift, mumbled aide, before going on to point out that "Crossfire" interviewed Williams, pelting him with marshmallows. He goes on to remark on other alleged conflicts of interest that don't amount to as much as he seems to think.

As much as it pains me, Frank is right on his basic point. Secret federal subsidies to journalists, even journalists of opinion, are shameful. The fact that Williams probably took the money to say things he would have said anyway does not exonerate him. If she takes money in exchange for sexual favors, a woman is no less a whore if she would have given it away for free.

And if Williams was wrong, the government was doubly wrong to pay secretly for an endorsement of a program. This is corruption worthy of Mexico's Partido Revolucionário Institucional or PRI. The fact that a Republican administraion is responsible doesn't make the events less shameful.

Even if he neglects the CBS scandal, Frank's fisking of "Crossfire" was righteous, and his indignation at the Williams débacle is righteous and justified. To their credit, plenty of conservative bloggers, notably Michelle Malkin, shared the indignation. Liberal candor about CBS was far rarer.

Sigh! Agreeing with Frank Rich was the right thing to do, but it sure ain't as much fun as lambasting him for his frequent museum-piece blue-state rants. I have no fear, though, that he'll take a glass of water and lapse into his usuable fiskable leftist self soon enough.

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