Media

Last Night: A Must-Read Book Review and a Book by Someone You Shouldn’t Read

Our new series looks at how campaign 2016 is playing on TV and other media.

Last Night: A Must-Read Book Review and a Book You Shouldn't Read

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Another installment in our ongoing effort to monitor how politics is covered on prime-time television (and, occasionally, other major media).

 

Compulsory Reading

Orchids to New York Times’ book critic, Michiko Kakutani. Years from now, should Donald Trump lose, astute historians will cite her review of Volker Ullrich’s new Hitler biography as one of the most effective (and chilling) eviscerations of Trump — a masterpiece. And she doesn’t even mention his name. Instead, she gives a point-by-point dissection, via Ullrich, of how Hitler, whom she says was once described by a German magazine editor as a “half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool” and a “big mouth” came to power.

Purple orchids

Orchids (Photo: Ramesh NG [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

She writes of his “manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks” that “raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity”; of his “bottomless mendacity” and of one editor’s description of Mein Kampf as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts”; of his “big, theatrical rallies staged with spectacular elements borrowed from the circus,” and of, in Ullrich’s words, his adapting his speeches “to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners”; of his messianism and promise to “lead Germany to a new era of national greatness”; of his “repeated mantra-like phrases” which were primarily “accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future”; and of his “cultural pessimism.” Kakutani, echoing Ullmer, writes that Hitler was not inevitable, that he could have been stopped, that his opponents were naïve in underestimating him, even as he benefited from an “’erosion of the political center’ and a growing resentment of the elites.”

If there is any column that should be compulsory reading in our terrifying campaign season, this should be it. We keep telling ourselves “it can’t happen here,” even though it is.
 

Unreadable

Onions to Maureen Dowd. Several weeks back, when I mentioned to a friend one Dowd column that was especially cruel to Hillary Clinton — unlike all her other columns, which are just routinely cruel — he looked startled. “You mean, Maureen Dowd is still writing a column?” I know Dowd has lost her juice and seems as gone as Judge Crater. She was once The Times’ golden girl, the model to which every reporter aspired. Acerbic, snarky, mean, nihilistic and squarely focused on herself and her voice, she was a one-woman wrecking crew — both of her subjects and her profession. If you really want to know what might have encouraged Jayson Blair to fabricate, you have only to look at the way The Times seemed to salaam to Dowd, who, even before she became a columnist, had abandoned The Times’ cool reportorial voice to call attention to herself. Showboating was seen as career advancement.

Sliced red onions

Onions (Photo: Darwin Bell [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Now Dowd is out hawking a book, and she appeared on the PBS NewsHour last night, where she played a journalistic version of Amy in Gone Girl. Dowd couldn’t have been sweeter. She said she used to be too ga-ga for Hillary Clinton and Obama as well — whom, you may remember, she used to ridicule as Obambi, and whose masculinity she regularly challenged, just as she had challenged Al Gore’s before him. Some love! (Dowd seems to have a problem with men, in case you never picked up on it.) Dowd is pernicious. She is an embodiment of all that is wrong with political journalism. She is all attitude, no intellect or heart. But she may be the perfect Boswell for Trump. It takes an empty narcissist to know an empty narcissist — that is, if anyone reads her anymore.

Neal Gabler

Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, TIME magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today‘s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

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