Vanity Fair's James Woolcott nails it


If the Washington press corps are the lap dogs, and the rest of the mainstream press are the nap dogs, the ranks of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are the yap dogs; the attack poodles in James Wolcott’s hilarious evisceration of US right wing media.

According to the longtime
Vanity Fair contributor, the attack poodles really came into their own after September 11, when the US press as a whole "unplugged and warehoused its bullshit detectors…becoming an accessory to the Bush agenda, its amplifier." Any voices of dissent, or even sober caution, were deemed un-American or even treasonous. By the time of the buildup to Gulf War 2, there was no place in the mainstream media "for pink-pantied appeasers in the steel cage death match between George (Texas Executioner) Bush and Sam (Butcher of Baghdad) Hussein."

You may recall the recent media dustups between Fox News and Canadian news sources like
The Globe and Mail, which had the temerity to question the "fair and balanced" tag of Rupert Murdoch’s US-based broadcast network. In response, Fox witheringly described Globe television reviewer John Doyle as a "Canadian intellectual." Now there’s an insult!

In his columns Doyle endorsed the idea that the Canadian cable airwaves should be opened up to Fox, in the belief that Canadians will find it hilarious, ridiculous fun. And while Wolcott doesn’t address the Canadian angle in his book, the Vanity Fair contributor gives us every reason to be very, very, afraid of exposing ourselves to this broadcast equivalent of toxic sludge. We already have some US attack poodles in our midst – Dennis Miller, Robert Novak and his colleagues on CNN – but Fox represents the real deal, the slavering radical right hounds from hell.

Led by the apoplectic boyo Bill O’ Reilly, Fox News is "building better morons the American way," says the author. Whether this is by design or default, Wolcott notes a study that determined how Americans’ global misperceptions vary significantly depending on their news source. Those who got most of their news from Fox had significantly distorted ideas of reality, including the belief by a significant fraction of the viewing audience that Saddam not only had weapons of mass destruction, but used them on coalition forces.

There are some nice rewards for being a good doggie, accepting your biscuits from the White House and aiming your doodie on the papers of the supposedly liberal press. Wolcott notes that attack poodles "identify less with society’s underdogs and more with the top dogs, being the top rovers of their own green pasture." They hang out with lobbyists, consultants, media executives, political aides and millionaire citizens.

Whose interests are they more likely to share, which cultural values are they going to endorse? Not likely those of channel-surfing Larry and Louise Lunchbucket. It’s more likely the poodles will sniff butts and beg for treats at the black tie affairs of the military-industrial-entertainment cocktail circuit, lapping up the "slow status ballet of supertanker egos and fixed grins, each party a Tom Wolfe novella."

Each chapter of Wolcott’s hilariously scabrous prose offers a quick biographical sketch of some of the most prominent among the attack poodles. Anne Coulter is the "Paris Hilton of post-modern politics, an elongated zero, a white hot sex symbol symbolizing nothing." Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame as a CIA agent in his syndicated column, "has long been a favourite Republican garbage chute." Fox’s Sean Hannity "is an ideal mouthpiece for Fox News because he’s the simulacrum of Fox News’ ideal viewer: the middle-aged white man with the refillable, flip top head who’s told what to think and repeats what he’s been told in a brash voice, convinced he thunk it up himself." Canadian pundit David Frum, comes in for a well-deserved verbal beating: "Perhaps no speechwriter in the analysis of the profession has done as much destruction to rational discourse and international comity than this little wiggler, who history will rue as the author of the infamous phrase ‘axis of evil’ in Bush’s 2002 state of the union address."

The author offers a priceless deconstruction of CNN’s Dennis Miller, the comic-turned-jingoist formerly with Saturday Night Live. "His esoteric references are marbled into chunks of red meat flooding out to incite the worst prejudices and dumbest instincts of the studio audience, which whoops and hollers as if it were at a hootenanny. Hack your way through the hip convolutions and the sentiment that escapes is Kurtz’s dying plea in Heart of Darkness, ‘exterminate all the brutes!’ "

Dennis Miller’s tragedy is that in his slavish endorsement of a bomb-dropping, cross-crazed president, he’s tied his fortunes with those of Bush. "You can almost feel some cheap sympathy for him, had he not been so giddy at the prospect of playing court jester for a court of blood."

Although this is a book about the radical right kennel, Wolcott plays no favourites on the media’s political spectrum. He hears the "pigeon coos of upscale liberalism" on National Public Radio, "where the women sound as if they they’re making a clay pot on the turntable and the men sound as if they’ve gotten in touch with their feminine sides and can’t leave it alone." But the book is far more than a collection of cleverly worded jabs and parries. There’s a fierce moral intelligence clicking away behind Wolcott’s prose. He even honours the behaviour of the few poodles who stray off obedience school grounds, such as Lou Dobbs’ bulldog CNN reporting on corporate outsourcing of US jobs to Third World countries.

Attack Poodles was released before the November election, so its dark jollity takes on an ever-somber hue in retrospect of Bush’s win. The world changed last November as much as it did on 9-11. Let’s hope Wolcott’s book doesn’t end up on the Homeland Security’s list of outlawed unembedded journalism.

Geoff Olson