Still Bob, after all these years.

There’s been a tragedy in Libya, and even if there hadn’t been, we would certainly have better things to talk about today than Bob Greene. But talk about him I must.

Thanks to our own Bob (not Greene) for tipping me to this Robert Feder piece catching up with the former Chicago Tribune columnist on the 10-year anniversary of his fall from grace, which my longest-staying readers will recall as a red-circled date around this blog, too.

The firing of Bob Greene was the first post* here that made a splash outside of my little readership, which had formerly numbered in the tens, or maybe the fives. The experience of being an overnight blog sensation was simultaneously exhilarating and disorienting, but I ended up writing my essay for the Knight-Wallace Fellowship on that incident, and I got that gig, so I guess I owe Bob Greene something. But having just read Feder, I think it still needs to be said: Ten years later, Bob still sucks.

In fact, I think that was the point of the blog that day: Who cares if he diddled a teenager? Fire him for being a lousy columnist.

It’s taken a long, long time, but I’ve come to accept that I am a minority voice in the career of Greene. There are plenty of people, people whose opinion I respect, who don’t think he sucks. There’s Feder himself, speaking of Greene’s current venue,

He doesn’t write about abused children anymore (as he did to excess in his final years at the Tribune), but he often returns to other familiar themes with the confidence and grace of an old pro. Reading him again reminded me why he once was a role model for many of us who came after him at Medill.

And there’s Eric Zorn, from whom I expected something more than this:

I had mixed feelings about Greene — he was, he is, an incredibly gifted observer, canny reporter and smooth writer.

With all due respect to Eric, who is all those things: No.

I’m just going to choose the most recent Greene column from his CNN home page. Headline: In Ohio, candidates are salesmen trying to close the deal. Writers generally don’t write their own headlines, but that is vintage Greene. Candidates are selling something? You don’t say! Wow, I never thought of it that way.

And sure enough, that’s it: It opens with a little bit of finger-on-the-pulse reporting, a woman who lives near a presidential speaking venue inconvenienced when she’s expecting a delivery of furniture. The truck can’t get through the crowded street. Not named. Nut graf:

Ohio is getting plenty of visits from the candidates. During the time I was in the middle of Ohio this summer, Paul Ryan was in the area twice, Mitt Romney was there at least once, and on this early afternoon Obama had made his way to Capital. Scenes like this repeat every four years; there are days in highly contested states when something seems almost amiss if you don’t encounter a motorcade or a police escort.

Followed by:

They are traveling salesmen, the candidates are; they hit the road bearing their products — the products being themselves. And although presidential and vice presidential candidates are the most celebrated politicians in the land, they become not so different from the thousands of other sales reps who lug their sample cases across America every work week of the year.

Love that writerly sentence inversion! Impressed, I am not. It helps usher in the tritest observation possible, that politicians are actually? When you think about it? Trying to sell you something. Wow. That’s heavy.

It goes on. We never hear from the furniture woman again, but we do hear from Arthur Miller, although I think this big finish really pegs the needle:

In less than nine weeks, two of the four men crisscrossing the nation — Obama, Romney, Ryan, Joe Biden — are going to find out that they failed to make the sale after all, and two of the men are going to find out that they have successfully culminated the transaction. The nervous uncertainty of that is what can make their high-level pursuit at times feel utterly life-sized.

Arthur Miller, in that same play in which he introduced Willy Loman to the world, understood the compulsion behind all of this quite well:

“A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.”

Or, as John Cougar Mellencamp put it more concisely: And there’s winners, and there’s losers, but that ain’t no big deal.

So let’s move on. Feder singled out the remembrance he did of Jeffrey Zaslow, the Wall Street Journal reporter and author who died last winter. Greene “recalled heroically” his more-talented colleague, Feder wrote, so let’s see what that was all about.

The good news: Better. Greene clearly liked and respected Zazz, but once again, faced with the task of finding one original thing to say about him, came up short. His lead:

“What # are you at?”

The brief e-mail arrived late on the morning of January 24. I keep looking at it.

It was from Jeff Zaslow. We first became friends more than 25 years ago. We got together as often as we could when we found ourselves in the same town, usually for long, laughter-filled dinners; Jeff, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, in recent years became the author of multiple big bestselling books, most of them on inspirational themes.

“What # are you at?”

I guess we’ve all experienced the disorientation of losing a loved one suddenly, of having to clean an office or a closet, thinking this was his, but where is he? This box of ashes, this corpse — I talked to him three days ago. Where did he go? Most of us, however, wouldn’t find a totally mundane, four-word-one-syllable email worthy of not only being the first words in our tribute to our friend, but something to repeat. What planet you on, Bob? Planet Bob, where he’s been doing this stuff for years.

It goes on, and yes, it gets better, but as always, the conclusion drawn is mundane. I’ll save you the trouble. You know why Zaslow was a success? Because he worked so hard. You’re welcome.

I said before that the first rule of writing is to tell the truth. So here it is: Greene is a hack, Albom is a hack, but Nall is a hack, too. Was a hack. Writing a newspaper column quickly becomes a grind, no matter how hard you work at it, no matter how brilliant you are. I wrote many, many shitty columns. I, too, tried to spin grand life lessons from trite observations. It is so hard to do it well, to not suck on a daily basis, sparkle occasionally and shine often enough that people want to keep reading you. The best you can hope for is a snappy prose style that will lift even your stupidest material on an ethereal soap bubble of wonder. That’s Jon Carroll’s secret, but even he fails, and fails often. On the other hand, one column as good as this can make up for a decade of failures. I think I read that column every day for about a year when I was miserable at my job, like a prayer. (Bonus: One of my editors also worked for the Mr. Stern Carroll disliked so. Said Stern wasn’t so bad. Lesson: Never let reporting get in the way of a great column.)

I’d like to point out that Carroll’s is an example of how to write about a death that affected you profoundly. Note that the lesson at its center is no less pat than the one in Greene’s. And yet, look how much better.

I guess, finally, what bugs me about Greene, about Albom, about all the other hacks out there phoning it in, is how they don’t seem to get it. They have the best jobs in the world, and they don’t feel any obligation to get better, to get smarter, to be anything other than crowd pleasers of the easiest audience outside of a cruise ship.

Zorn, despite that early stumble into praise, gets it exactly right at the end:

All writers have their private lives, of course, but columnists, in particular, at least ought to be genuine. Greene, however, always seemed to be channeling a character called “Bob Greene,” behind which the real person hid.

…the one book he hasn’t written — either doesn’t want to write or is perhaps incapable of writing — is a brutally candid account of his phenomenal rise, long cruise at altitude, devastating crash and painful period of recovery (tragically, his wife died of a respiratory illness four months after he left the Tribune).

A book by Bob Greene, in other words, and not by “Bob Greene.” It would be the capstone and perhaps spark the revival of a remarkable career.

Yep. It’s one I’d read. I don’t expect to ever do so.

* I’d link to the post, but it’s gone into the ether. I know I have it saved on a CD-ROM backup somewhere, but I’m not going diving for it now.

Posted at 12:22 am in Media |

70 responses to “Still Bob, after all these years.”

  1. del said on September 13, 2012 at 2:17 am

    Enjoyed the Jon Carroll piece. Reminds me of the Bukowski poem I may have mentioned before, “The Laughing Heart,” which begins with the great verse: “Your life is your life, don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.”

    Here’s Tom Waits reciting it:

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  2. Dexter Friend said on September 13, 2012 at 2:40 am

    I believe today’s replies will be plentiful and nasty, so I just want to weigh in on how much joy I have gotten from many columnists over the years. Royko moved over from the Sun-Times when Murdoch bought it, and began a Page Three column at the Trib. Royko made his real bones by ripping Richard J. Daley to shreds in the book, “Boss”, and by the time he arrived at the Trib he wrote on topics like the lakefront ribfest, slow-pitch 16 inch softball, the Billy Goat Tavern, Slots Grobnik, his alter-ego, how he felt after he was beaten and robbed inside his building lobby, his frustration with his beloved Chicago Cubs, how he would handle a lotto win—much more, most of it rather mundane, but Royko could fine-tune a column like no other and make it must-reading every day. Royko bumped Bill Granger to Page Six but Granger was also great, writing about his bar conversations with the regulars, about his little son, his pick-up truck which he sold and then bought back the “Daddy Truck” as the behest of his son…his love of Old Style…he too could start a column about seemingly dull everyday activities and build to a finish and leave the reader hungry for the next column a couple days later. Bill Stokes wrote of outdoor activity and sometimes mentioned something he recalled from the Korean War…so many other great writers I now miss, like Jim Fitzgerald of the Detroit Freep, who once wrote a column of an armed robbery he witnessed from a window of the Free Press building. Bob Talbert of the Freep entertained us with his goings-on-about-town columns, and his trips to The Thumb for fish festivals, and his love of blasting tunes in his convertible with the top down.

    Other columnists I enjoyed over the years were Neal Shine’s Sunday masterpieces in the Freep, nance’s friend Michael Heaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer as he told us all about Rock & Roll culture, Ben Smith of the FW Journal-Gazette sports department, and one Nancy Nall of the FW News-Sentinel, who made buying the paper on her column days a must. nance, your columns were not shitty on any days that I recall. I even found your columns on Aboite Township entertaining, and I was never in that league. I guess my whole point of writing these praises is to say that for those of us who led and still lead routine lives , it’s uplifting to have a gifted writer string some words together for us to show us humor and another angle from which to view life .
    And I never made it to the ribfests that Royko wrote of, but I feel as if I was there. Many other columnists made me feel that way also.
    Here’s a link to a recent Michael Heaton column; it’s about ice cream flavors. Not an earth-shaking topic, but just plain fun.

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  3. ROGirl said on September 13, 2012 at 6:01 am

    I have a vague memory of Bob Greene on a publicity blitz for some banal book he wrote (something about cheeseburgers?) and he told the exact same anecdote multiple times in different TV interviews, with the same expression in his voice (to convey warmth and sincerity) and hesitations in his speech (to convey pathos and relatibility). He performed like a pro.

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  4. Deborah said on September 13, 2012 at 7:23 am

    I’m sure I’ve said this here before whenever the topic comes up, I used to be a big Bob Greene fan. Bought all of his books, recommended them to friends. Then my life changed drastically, I hardly ever thought of Greene, I have no idea what happened to my copies of those books. When I started reading this blog I was reminded of all that and it made me realize how little I knew then (know now) about writing. That’s what I love most about this place, hearing from all of you writers talk about your trade.

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  5. beb said on September 13, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Some days I comment here and some days the whole concept of organizing a thought into a comment seems like too much trouble. So I have to express my awe at people who can write every day, often to deadline, and find something different to say each day. Even the crap artists are doing something I couldn’t do. So my hats off to even the worst of them.

    Of course I don’t read the crap artists but I admire their ability to write on command.

    And I come here every day because I don’t believe Nancy is a crap artist.

    And in other news…. Is it just me or can we say that following his comments on the troubles in Egypt and Libya, can we saw that Mitt Romney’s viability as a candidate is over?

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  6. alex said on September 13, 2012 at 8:50 am

    I think Obama said it best yesterday: Romney shoots before he aims.

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  7. LAMary said on September 13, 2012 at 9:00 am

    “They are traveling salesmen, the candidates are;”

    Sounds like something Yoda would say.

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  8. Julie Robinson said on September 13, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Vintage Nall: tugging at our heartstrings yesterday without veering into sentimentality; on-target snark today; then bringing it back around to a personal, thoughtful, admission. It’s why we’re here.

    beb, I wish you were right, but I’m sure Faux News will find a way to spin this latest Romney faux pas.

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  9. MarkH said on September 13, 2012 at 9:34 am

    So, I’ve been coming here ten years now? Happy Anniversary to me. RE posting at nn.c: beb, you nailed it @5. You, too, Julie.

    I have a lengthy post that will take time so will be back later. We had a wild fire here starting last Saturday that is now being cleaned up. No injuries, losss of life or property, but an interesting journo-related conundrum as a result. Have a great day, all.

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  10. Connie said on September 13, 2012 at 10:00 am

    My reaction is the same as MarkH’. I’ve been coming here ten years now. Glad to have known you all for so long.

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  11. Bitter Scribe said on September 13, 2012 at 10:12 am

    For me, the quintessential Bob Greene column, experience, whatever you want to call it, was when he wrote about some famous singer’s scion (Nancy Sinatra, or someone like that) who was performing somewhere in Chicago. Greene penned a column about how sad, lonely, dreary, etc. this person’s life and career were compared to Dad’s, and as proof, he cited the half-full venue.

    Well, it turns out that Greene was there for all of 15 minutes before the show started. He left before it played…to a sold-out, raucous house. When the club manager protested after the column ran that Greene should have stuck around and seen for himself how the performance went, Greene allegedly replied that he “didn’t want to wait.”

    The person writing about this (Neil Steinberg?) had the perfect closer: “That kind of waiting is called ‘reporting,’ Bob. Sometimes it takes longer than 15 minutes.”

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  12. Peter said on September 13, 2012 at 10:13 am

    First off, has it only been ten years? I got to tell you, I thought I was checking in on this site before 9/11, but I did come here because of Bob, so who knows, maybe it has been only ten years.

    I’m not too surprised over Feder’s and Zorn’s observations. Nothing against them, but it’s similar to reactions when Jay Mariotti finally FINALLY got booted from the Sun-Times: many of his fellow columnists, who now had the chance to finally drill him a new one, just couldn’t do it. Perhaps they didn’t want to pile on. Perhaps they had class. Or sympathy.

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  13. Bill Eichenberger said on September 13, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Flann O’Brien called his column for the Irish Times “Cruiskeen Lawn,” which translates into full or brimming/small jug, which I think is the perfect description of Nancy’s blog entries, small vessels full to over-flowing. Or the perfect description of any great newspaper column. O’Brien, who wrote for the Times under the pen name Myles na gCopaleen, wrote screamingly funny bits about books, plays, Irish society, Irish stereotypes, etc. He was passionately opposed to fair pay for authors on the grounds that it would lead to “an even heavier deluge of unpardonable ‘poetry,’ more articles entitled ‘Big John: A Sketch,’ and a premium on mediocrity in general.” Maybe Bob Greene would have chosen a different profession had column writing not proved to lucrative? And we all would have been spared.

    Anyway, gotta love a man who wrote:

    When things go wrong and will not come right,
    Though you do the best you can,
    When life looks black as the hour of night –
    A pint of plain is your only man.

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  14. basset said on September 13, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Gotta love the Father of Bluegrass, too… Bill Monroe would have been 101 today.

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  15. Deborah said on September 13, 2012 at 11:34 am

    I know I told this story here before but I can’t help myself, so telling it again… I was doing research on bluegrass music while prepping for the design of a timeline exhibit for the Labrot & Graham Woodford Reserve bourbon vistors center in Kentucky when I happened to call a Bluegrass Music society of some kind, I forget what the name of it was. It was the exact day Monroe died, and probably just minutes after it was announced. The person on the phone could barely speak, she was weeping. I had to call back later to get any info.

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  16. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Flann O’Brien also wrote some of the funniest novels ever put to paper. The Dalkey Archive, At Swim Two Birds, The Third Policeman, which contains the following brilliant lines:

    Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular, and by nature it is interminable, repetitive, and nearly unbearable. (The Third Policeman).

    The continual cracking of your feet on the road makes a certain quantity of road come up into you. (The Third Policeman).

    This is what O’Brien said of his own work (re The Dalkey Archive):

    The book is not meant to be a novel or anything of the kind but a study in derision, various writers with their styles, and sundry modes, attitudes and cults being the rats in the cage.” Among the targets of O’Brien’s derision are religiosity, intellectual abstractions, J. W. Dunne’s and Albert Einstein’s views on time and relativity, and the lives and works of Saint Augustine and James Joyce, both of whom have speaking parts in the novel. Bewildering? Yes, but as O’Brien insists, “a measure of bewilderment is part of the job of literature. (from Amazon website)

    This guy was a funnier writer than Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh, and JP Donleavy, and funnier than Lucky Jim or The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B is fracking uproarious.Maybe not funnier than The Loved One, with Aimee Thanatogenos wagging her tail in heaven, but what is?

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  17. alex said on September 13, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Bitter Scribe, what sucks is that Paige Wiser — a much better writer than Bob Greene as far as I’m concerned — got fired from the Sun-Times for the same offense. She reported on a concert that she didn’t attend in its entirety, but to her credit she at least suffered through the first three-fourths of it.

    Amazing to realize that the Bob Greene affair was ten years ago already. And what a community NN.C has shaped up to be. And we picked up a bunch more people again when Nance busted Tim Goeglein for plagiarism. That had to be five or six years ago already. My, my.

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  18. coozledad said on September 13, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Good analysis of the motives driving the Egyptian military, the “protesters”, and the people behind Romney who would reinstate “the clash of cultures” as a substitute for realistic policy:
    It’s apparent that Republicans see an advantage in rattling the bigots’ cages, and why not? They viewed the September 11th attacks as an opportunity to resuscitate Bush’s failing image as a strongman, and with the help of the DC Press corps, succeeded.
    We’ll see just how long David Gregory et. al can keep themselves from abandoning their jobs as reporters and interpreters of complex data and commence to sucking some bigot dick.

    The Wall Street Journal editorial page is already whoring themselves out.

    EDIT: And the New York Times does a volte face:

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  19. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 11:56 am

    The thing about yessterday’s Romneypalooza is that he managed to not get anything at all right. The embassy statement was in no way an apology, and it was issued before either embassy was breached. And the callousness of Willard’s statement in the wake of the Ambassador’s death is astounding, even for this tone-deaf boob.

    In the eend, it wouldn’t be surprising if the bastard Daniel Pipes is involved.

    That ice cream column Dexter linked is a hoot.

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  20. Jeff Borden said on September 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    The most egregious bullshit this toupee-wearing phony ever perpetrated was his horseshit book about Michael Jordan, “Hang Time.” Bobby Boy took on the persona of the world weary journalist, beaten down by the vicissitudes of life and looking somewhere, anywhere, for succor. Lo and behold, there was this basketball star named Michael Jordan. Huzzah!

    Greene wrote this trash in the early ’90s, when Jordan had been lighting up Chicago Stadium since 1985. The Bulls already had won two consecutive NBA titles. Yet Bobby Boy acted as if he had stumbled upon this singular athlete all by himself.

    It was beyond nauseating. I’m sorry for what happened to his wife, but for all the medocrity this son of Bexley has unleashed into the universe, fuck him.

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  21. brian stouder said on September 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    The ice cream article Dexter linked was good; and it illuminates today’s discussion. It’s about a common thing, and still entertaining and fresh.

    I think that’s the key; not that the goal of a daily columnist should be technical brilliance, but instead ready accessibility, mixed with new stuff (or- some interesting thing most readers won’t know) – and/or a chuckle.

    To paraphrase Patrick Swayzee – on this score, no one puts Nancy in a corner!

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  22. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    That damned liberal press:

    Has it dawned on Willard that he went out on a limb with only $Palin and the buffoon John Kyl for company?

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  23. Michael Dixon said on September 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    The Carroll piece is amazing, and I wish so many of my younger peers would read it, as a lesson in declarative writing, but I digress. I believe that Nancy is a little harsh on Zorn. Though it starts as a bit of a puff piece it quickly gets preachy, and who wouldn’t considering the subject matter. I just wonder if this might be a generational shift, Zorn being at least one, maybe more, generation younger than the others at issue here.

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  24. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Well, here is some very good news.

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  25. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Well, that’s something we can agree on Danny.

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  26. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    So you are finally right for once! 🙂

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  27. Joe K said on September 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm
    Interesting take. Gm and Chrysler are still in trouble
    Pilot Joe

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  28. brian stouder said on September 13, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Well, “in trouble” beats “out of existence”, I’d say

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  29. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    They are making money right now, but more because the economy is rebounding than because they have fixed their flaws.

    I’ve been reading Steve Chapman columns a long time, and it must have made him throw up to type that. And he cites the Heritage Foundation as his source. The guy is pretty much a doctrinaire libertarian, that won’t admit to anything good from either Repblicans or Democrats.

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  30. Joe K said on September 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm
    Daughter the college graduate sent me this. I almost pooped reading it.
    Pilot Joe

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  31. Heather said on September 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Joe, I saw that yesterday and was appalled–just as I was appalled when my family was out to lunch at a very busy restaurant and my sister, who really should know better, was seriously entertaining the thought of changing her son’s diaper at the table (as the bathroom didn’t have a changing station, but it did have a counter) before I let her know that was unacceptable.

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  32. mark said on September 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Romney should have kept his mouth shut about the embassy violence (and should have advisors that know that). But there is no real dispute about the inappropriateness of the tweets going out of our embassy in Egypt. A very reliable source is reporting that State specifically instructed that the offending tweets NOT be released, and the instructins were ignored by a PO who’s career prospects are now likely a little less bright.

    While the politicians come and go, and do exercise considerable influence during their time in power, most of the major departents of government are filled with smart, career employees, who continue doing their jobs appropriately regardless of who occupies the White House.

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  33. Bob (not Greene) said on September 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    I, too, found this joint via Bob Greene way back in 2002, but was a lurker only until about a year ago or so. Found Jon Carroll through Nancy that way, and he became one of my faves even if I tire of the cat and grandkid columns. The one linked to today was great. Makes me want to quit my job. Well, every day makes me want to quit my job, but I’m not a kid anymore. Reckless leaps are for the young.

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  34. Chris from Iowa said on September 13, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I see things like that Deadspin article and it just further convinces me we are at the beginning of the decline of a great civilization. In fact, we may be well beyond the beginning of the slide.

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  35. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    From Mark’s posted article:

    “People at the highest levels both at the State Department and at the White House were not happy with the way the statement went down. There was a lot of anger both about the process and the content,” the official said. “Frankly, people here did not understand it. The statement was just tone deaf. It didn’t provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about ‘continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.'”

    As they say, Twitter is a loaded gun. This debacle makes that much less euphemistic. I am still wondering if this is going to affect the election. It’s certainly a dangerous time, politically speaking, for both candidates. Lots of opportunities for mistakes.

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  36. brian stouder said on September 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Danny, agreed about the ‘dangerous times for both candidates’ – which I suppose is always true. Since President Obama is president – anything that happens immediately lands on his desk; and since Mitt Romney has at least a credible chance at winning the presidency in 7+ weeks, anything that happens in the meanwhile lands on his “virtual” desktop, too.

    But I will say that Mitt’s itch to snap-up any bad thing that happens overseas, and instantly lay blame on the president, is unseemly, unmanly, and fundamentally un-American.

    I heard the head Flying Monkey of the rightwing airwaves – Uncle oxy-Rush – state plainly that the murder of the US ambassador to Libya was entirely Obama’s fault; his only remaining doubt is whether the president is hopelessly incompetent, or flatly treasonous.

    If this is a proper response to the murder of a US amabassador and three other Americans – a ‘new normal’, then what should we think of a president who (for example) ignored warnings – even from his most trusted advisors – only to be ‘surprised’ by the explosion of a truck-bomb and the deaths of 141 United States Marines?

    (“Lots of opportunites for mistakes”, indeed)

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  37. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Brian, Byron York said that Romney’s campaign may have decided that addressing a foreign policy issue (hastily) would somehow balance out Romney’s domestic-economy-heavy convention speech where he apparently failed to even mention the troops in Afghanistan.

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  38. Sherri said on September 13, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Let’s go back to the original statement:

    The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

    Can someone tell me what’s offensive about that statement?

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  39. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Mark, Willard was spouting exactly what Bolton was telling him, like he was Mortimer Snerd and Bolton was Edgar Bergen with his hand up Willard’s ass.

    According to the Guardian, today is Roald Dahl day:

    What about the embassy tweet that RMoney criticized is alleged to have been offensive? I what manner was anything from either embassy offensive? Tat’s a crock o’ shit.

    A prospective President with no FP credentials has a major league problem when the guy he chooses to school him is a sociopath like John Bolton, the worst of the PNAC gang, and that is saying a lot. Mittens’s other go to foreign policy guy is the murderer Elliot Abrams. Between those two psychos and Bork, Romney has shown very poor judgement in advisers. I guess Daniel Pipes wasn’t available.

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  40. Bitter Scribe said on September 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Romney basically slapped the Cairo embassy personnel in the face and called them cowards. Trying to be General Patton, I guess. Why doesn’t drop in on our embassy in Yemen, which I understand is now under attack, and show them how it’s done?

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  41. mark said on September 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm


    The article I linked to gives some explanation of the purported State Dept concerns with the statement. These issues are kinda nuanced and off-the-cuff- “tweeting” is probably a bad idea. Embassy Cairo deleted some of their own tweets even before Romney made this an issue. At one point, there was a kinda silly gave and take with a fellow tweeter- like the issue became personal with the guy at the embassy.

    In any event, if the tweets were ill-considered, it’s not a mistake you can hang on Obama- his administration got blind-sided by a rogue tweeter.

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  42. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Sherri, the biggest problem I have with the statement is it’s tone of overarching concern for Muslims’ “religious feelings” juxtaposed against it’s seeming sacrifice of the defense of free speech. It gives legitimacy to the violent reactions we constantly see in the “Islamic Street” from, as Hitchens put it, Islamic “Rage-Boy.” — almost as if Lara Logan deserved getting brutalized and sexually assaulted in the streets of Cairo.

    Frankly, I understand the embassy workers in a potentially dangerous situation wanting to try appeasement, but when you contrast this statement to the fact that 1st amendment rights are held so sacrosanct in the U.S. that even if Christians are regularly lampooned and ridiculed in the media and the creators of South Park currently have a comedy play called, “The Book of Mormon,” it’s all good. I guarantee those South Park guys would never create a corollary play called, “The Book of Mohammed,” and we all know that newspapers and other media outlets are bending over backwards to self-police to the point where they won’t even show a cartoon image of Mohammed. Even the Obama administration capitulated a bit and labeled the Ft. Hood shooting “workplace violence.”

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  43. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Chris Stevens, the murdered ambassador was a pretty amazing man:

    And how anybody can have found something offensive in the statements from the Cairo embassy is fracking beyond me. That is some bullshit spin trying to let Wilard off the hook, and it won’t fly. He made a complete ass of himself.

    Actually, the soole saving grace for Windsock is that Priebus made an even bigger fool of himself than Mitt-wit did. GOPers would probably take Michael Steele back to get rid of Reince. Damn, what a flaming dickhead.

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  44. brian stouder said on September 13, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Sometimes Nancy posts a photo and challenges her humble readers to study it, and see what the details and fine points tell us.

    I think the photographic image of Willard ‘Mitt’ Romney that heads up the article at this link

    conveys more than the words in the article can possibly ever convey.

    For one thing, I predict that after Romney’s November defeat, people will look back at the oddly defaced-flag pin on his lapel (and Ryan’s, too) as a latter day “Dewy’s mustache” – a stylistic mistake; a clinker that also serves as a metaphor for an out-of-step candidate)

    Even the guy’s tie bugs me. Is the design broken safety pins? Snapped off symbols of feminism? Flaming PacMen?

    And, not to be unfair, but the tight-lips and hooded eyes do make me think ‘vulture capitalist’…or in this case, given the murdered US ambassador, simply “vulture”

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  45. coozledad said on September 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Shorter “man with American flag protruding from ass”.

    If we was to hate on someone like we wanted
    people would go all mean on us.
    Not like them Islams.
    They get all kind of special treatment
    Just cause they sittin’ on that erl.

    When you think about it
    us White Christians can find
    somethin’ to be ruined about
    near ever day.
    Don’t even have to try hard.

    And ain’t nobody give us a sandwich
    or let us smack no-one on the head, ever.

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  46. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Coming from someone who’s ruined about something near ever’ day, that’s pretty rich.

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  47. Sherri said on September 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Mark, Danny: Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. There’s more to the first amendment than free speech.

    And when people start protesting the building of an LDS church because of the Book of Mormon, then we can talk about the moral equivalence involved.

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  48. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Deliberate acts intended to rile Muslim fundamentalists are criminal behavior, not free speech. The free speech argument went out the window when Daniel Pipes and his racist pal Flemming Rose published the cartoons. Assholes knew they were shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater and did it on purpose.

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  49. Deborah said on September 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    I have one word for the parents of the toilet training kids in the picture on Deadspin: devolution.

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  50. coozledad said on September 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Spoken in the voice of Ole Irenaeus Wieroed:

    All day I hear the noise of wingnuts
    making moan.
    Sad as the beagle when going forth alone
    to confuse his excreta
    for a Nylabone.

    The thick winds, the heavy winds
    are leading where it goes
    It smells apples and oranges
    with its blunted nose

    All day, all night I hear them snuffling for that

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  51. Dexter Friend said on September 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Perhaps many of you would think that I, after reading the Jon Carroll piece, would reflect on the deaths of my comrades who died in Vietnam and had all their plans terminated by military circumstances, but when I think of young deaths, it saddens me just as much to think about how many friends and buddies and buddy-girls died from the drug invasion of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was always a shock when word began spreading as to how another kid got some heroin and of course vomited and choked to death . It happened several times to kids I knew, and to their brothers and cousins. A helluva lot of my friends were busted for weed, usually by marauding anti-drug police on a mission. For years their lives were dominated by court and lawyer appearances and appointments and by working all the overtime they could get to pay for the legal fees.
    Just sayin’, you know…we lost more than a few friends over all the years to car wrecks that if happened today, almost all those dead folks could have just walked away from, due to air bags and all the modern safety features. Oh well….
    The whole concept of living free as a bird, flitting from job-to-job, finding one’s self ,is always tied to the availability of your next step-job as you seek the perfect place to work. It’s just a helluva gamble.
    My old, old pal Bert Wolfe, who would be 120 years old if alive, always told me “…don’t give up what you have until you have something better already lined up…”

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  52. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Deliberate acts intended to rile Muslim fundamentalists are criminal behavior, not free speech.

    Umm, michaelj, that’s kinda like saying that the woman wearing provocative clothing incited the rape.

    And Sherri, et al. Some reports are suggesting that the attacks were planned well in advance and coordinated and that the “movie” which no one ever heard about was just a convenient excuse for Muslim Rage-Boy to get his 9/11 celebration on.

    My, some of you guys seem to be going all Taliban on us with your newly found ethics with regard religious insensitivity. Poetry-man above must be trying out for the part of Cat Stevens.

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  53. Connie said on September 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I saw two interesting political yard signs today. The first said “Christians for Obama” with the usual Obama red white and blue O on it.

    Not too much later I saw a white sign with a giraffe shaped red white and blue logo adorning it and the words “Stop Fighting – Start Fixing” and the website address. Which appears to be a partisan that wants to fix how Washington has been working.

    I was coming back from ordering new glasses. After vision insurance they cost $85, mostly due to the extra cost of making my very thick lenses a little thinner.

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  54. Sherri said on September 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Danny, you’re not going to win much sympathy complaining about ridicule of Christians in the media when you turn around and use terms like “Muslim Rage-Boy.”

    I never said that the movie was the impetus for the attack. I merely asked what was so offensive about the statement.

    The attacks were wrong. The movie was offensive. The statement, issued before the attacks, not so obviously offensive to me.

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  55. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Sorry Danny, that’s bullshit. It’s nothing like that at all. The film trailer that caused the trouble was made in the USA and has been floating around since July. It was recently dubbed in Arabic and introduced on the net in the middle east. What wouldd you say was the intention. Apparently, there is no actual movie to go along with it. The only conceivable intention behind the thing was to cause exactly the sort of unrest it eventually stirred up. For your analogy to be eveen remotely close to valid, the person killed would have been the vile POS that produced the provocation, not a good man like Stevens.You can tell yourself whatever you want, but RMoney and Ryan fucked up bigtime on this, and anybody with a functioning cerebral cortex and cerebellum is well aware of it. His ole da is probably laughing at him in heaven. Maybe he should try brainwashing.

    The origins of this filth are American, tied to fundagelical and militia movements. Funny thing is, they don’t like LDS any more than they like Muslims, aside from the lily-white part about Mormons. From Juan Cole’s discussion of the situation:

    The group behind the film, in other words, managed to evoke all the classic themes of anti-Semitism as a way of disguising the Coptic and evangelical network out of which the ‘film’ came. When they weren’t busy picketing Mormons and defaming Muslims they were trying to get Jews killed for their own smears of Islam!

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  56. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    The embassy statements were cut and dried disapproval of bigoted shit and not remotely offensive in any way. This is a Romney FUBAR and there is no explaining his way out of it. Pal around with Bolton, you end up thinking like a psychopath. Not only was Willard’s behavior “unpresidential” it was barely human. Did it once dawn on him that Stevens was a brave and patriotic American doing an incredibly difficult job, and that he had a family and people that loved him.

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  57. alex said on September 13, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Sherri, the biggest problem I have with the statement is it’s tone of overarching concern for Muslims’ “religious feelings” juxtaposed against it’s seeming sacrifice of the defense of free speech. It gives legitimacy to the violent reactions we constantly see in the “Islamic Street” from, as Hitchens put it, Islamic “Rage-Boy.” — almost as if Lara Logan deserved getting brutalized and sexually assaulted in the streets of Cairo.

    Danny, you really think they should have been defending hate speech? Because that’s what the filmmaker’s exercise of free speech amounts to in this instance. I don’t think you can conflate it with the Mormon play on Broadway or the fun that’s poked at some of Christianity’s crazier elements. I suspect you think that Muslims’ religious feelings count for nothing and that Christians are the only people whose feelings matter and that this should be our government’s official attitude. Let’s send in the National Guard to that commie front called Macy’s and end this War on Christmas right now.

    I don’t think the statement lends legitimacy to violence in the streets, as you assert. It was in fact meant to diffuse it. However it’s very difficult to explain to angry people in an undemocratic nation that our government’s tolerance of odious expression is not the same thing as our government condoning it.

    Poor baby. People poke fun at evangelicals. Well, do you know what they do to nonbelievers like me? I don’t even have a place at the table and you have cultural hegemony so I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for Christians when they occasionally get dissed. It’s why I think it’s rather funny to hear them whine about how oppressed and put-upon they are.

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  58. coozledad said on September 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Why, this must be “Cravat” Stephens now:

    I’m being followed by a Bush shadow
    Bush shadow Bush shadow
    Running and screaming from a Bush shadow
    Bush shadow Bush shadow
    And if the bankers shit the bed
    Shit the foot
    Shit the head
    Yes if the bankers shit the bed, oh if
    It’s cause negroes don’t work no more.
    If my Swiss accounts run dry
    I’ll have to fire some old Swiss guy
    And to the Caymans I will fly – As if!
    I’ll never lose no cash
    Yes, I’m being followed by a Bush shadow
    Bush shadow Bush shadow
    Running and screaming from a Bush shadow
    Bush shadow Bush shadow

    And if I win I’ll hire Doug Feith
    I’ll make him towel boy for life
    He’ll scoop the horseshit for my wife, oh then
    we’ll invade Iraq again.

    Did it take long to find me
    a geek who looks like Dutch?
    Would I kick me a cripple
    And beat him with his crutch?


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  59. MichaelG said on September 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Count me as another Greene guy. Been here ten years now! Sure went fast.

    Who’s michaelj?

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  60. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    MichaelG, michaelj is Prospero. At another time he was caliban.

    And as I was discussing above with Brian, it does seem that Romney’s statement was not only hasty, but a stupidly misguided attempt to get some Foreign Policy mojo going for his campaign. A very bad play to be sure.

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  61. Sherri said on September 13, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Chris Whittle, of Channel One infamy, has built a for-profit private school in New York for the jet-set:

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  62. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Danny, you really think they should have been defending hate speech? Because that’s what the filmmaker’s exercise of free speech amounts to in this instance. I don’t think you can conflate it with the Mormon play on Broadway or the fun that’s poked at some of Christianity’s crazier elements. I suspect you think that Muslims’ religious feelings count for nothing and that Christians are the only people whose feelings matter and that this should be our government’s official attitude. Let’s send in the National Guard to that commie front called Macy’s and end this War on Christmas right now.

    Alex, you misunderstand. And consequently, we now find ourselves hand-wringing over a film that no one knows about that was probably only used as a guise for the violence that ensued. Hey, perhaps Derrick could set “four dead at the embassy” to the tune of Neil Young’s “Ohio” and we could all be happy again.

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  63. Prospero said on September 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Freedom of speech is not absolute, and claiming it is to try to excuse Willards big SNAFU is lame as hell and can only damage legitimate free speech.

    It’s about time for Rush’s ECT:

    And Bachman is in trouble:

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  64. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Freedom of speech is not absolute, and claiming it is to try to excuse Willards big SNAFU is lame as hell and can only damage legitimate free speech.

    Um and thrashing about and pummeling a straw-man argument that no one was making on this forum is lame as hell too. Reading comprehension is your friend!

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  65. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Brian, per our discussion above, this story has fast and dangerous legs.

    From TFA:

    According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and “lockdown”, under which movement is severely restricted

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  66. alex said on September 13, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Diffuse. Defuse. My inner proofreader’s asleep on the job. Damn I hate getting old.

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  67. Danny said on September 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Alex, although this free speech thing is a sidebar to what is really going on, I found these two articles from opposite sides. Tell me what you think if you get the chance.



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  68. alex said on September 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    What I think is that Romney jumped on an opportunity to further the disingenuous Republican narrative that Obama kisses other nations’ asses and is a pussy when he should be a swaggering asshole who insults and offends them like his predecessor. That’s American exceptionalism, by God. (I see exceptionalism is underlined in red on my computer—I guess something Sarah Palin pulled out of her hoo-ha in 2008 is too new to make Merriam-Webster yet.)

    As for Saletan and Ace, they’re wanking at each other and shooting blanks. Neither impresses me. Sure they have intellects. I’d rather read the work of people who put theirs to use.

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  69. Tim said on September 13, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    I agree with Alex’s analyis except for this: the Republicans’ statements about Obama are not disingenuous. They’re part of a continuing, intentional campaign to paint him as not just wrong or misguided but as foreign, subversive, anti-Christian, anti-white, etc. Romney’s statement is just part of that campaign.
    If Nancy ever was a hack, she’s certainly not now. Her work is refreshing, and it’s attracted fascinating commenters.

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  70. Bitter Scribe said on September 13, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    It seems like Romney is sticking to his guns on this. Let’s see whether that hurts or helps him.

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