Posted on | October 11, 2012 | 22 Comments
When Bob Tyrrell told me about this on the phone, I was astonished: Evidently, James Pogue is a person with literary pretensions who once worked as a fact-checker for the New Yorker. In order to support his literary pretensions — he’s “writing a novel,” as are, inter alia, about nine thousand unpublished lawyers who dream of becoming the next John Grisham — Pogue managed to con somebody at Vice magazine into an assignment to cover the presidential campaign.
Pogue showed up a couple of weeks ago at a Romney-Ryan rally at the Dayton Airport in Vandalia, Ohio, an event I also covered (see the Sept. 25 blog posts ”ROMNEY-RYAN AT DAYTON AIRPORT” and “SCENES FROM ROMNEY-RYAN RALLY,” as well as my Sept. 26 American Spectator column, “Spiking the Ball Early?“). While awaiting the start of the rally, I was inside the “press filing” pen and wandered over to the edge of the pen to smoke a cigarette, talking briefly with Byron York of the Washington Examiner, who was standing outside the pen.
This utterly routine encounter — Byron is ubiquitous on the campaign trail, and I’m always standing around smoking outside campaign events — got “reported” by Pogue at Vice, thus:
In the crowd section, leaning on the fence of the press corral, was a man in a Filson jacket who looked in person so much like Jonathan Franzen that I had visions of a scoop:
“NOVELIST TRAILS ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: MOTIVES UNCLEAR”
But this man was actually Byron York, the conservative writer, occasional Fox News talker, and sort of multi-purpose representative of those post-Buckley elitist conservatives who still exist in America. Smoking and speaking quietly with York from inside the corral was a man wearing an outback hat and jeans so long he’d had to roll them up to avoid walking on the hems. This man was Robert Emmett Tyrell, the founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator, a magazine whose diminished state might be taken as representative of the fates of those Yorkite conservatives. I came over and offered to buy a cigarette from him. York looked disgusted. Tyrell looked amused. He introduced himself and said he didn’t need my money. I said hello to York and he refused my handshake and walked away. . . .
York wandered away. Tyrell took down my name and said he’d google me.
Writers who don’t do this sort of thing for a living, who go out and lark it for a while as political journalists, tend to come to events like this and focus on the mechanics of the event, to touch a bit on the crowd, and to write a great deal about the other journalists. Everyone does it, from Hunter Thompson to David Foster Wallace, and it’s always seemed to me to be a bit of a cheap trick, on the reasoning that a smart guy with the freedom of a big word count ought to be able to come and draw political lessons from the same material the newspaper writers work with. Now I get it. There’s nearly nothing else to talk about. . . .
And who are these reporters who produce the optics? They’re an astonishingly slovenly group. Tyrell turned out to have been one of three men, out of maybe 15 of us, whose pants were so ill-fitting that he had to roll up the legs to avoid the mud. There were uncountable pairs of square-toed loafers; cheap pinstripe suits. We could be on a used car lot in Bucharest. The Romney aids dress the same way. It wasn’t that they’d been on the trail and their wardrobes were bare and dirty, that much seemed pretty clear. They just didn’t know how to dress. . . .
And then we had Romney. Tyrell leapt up on the fence to get a view, and the iPhones went up, and the women behind us began a chant again, “Rom-ney, Rom-ney” and this time the crowd joined in. . . .
Well, how much more wrong could you possibly get it? To begin with, R. Emmett Tyrrell spells his surname with two R’s, and I’m not him, and Tyrrell doesn’t smoke. Exactly how on earth Pogue made this ridiculous mistake, I don’t know. Tyrrell is a dashingly handsome fellow who I am certain is grateful he looks nothing like me.
Furthermore, to classify Byron York among “post-Buckley elitist conservatives” is absurd: He’s a splendidly down-to-earth guy, and no self-respecting “elitist” would ever talk to me. Nor, I think, do post-Buckley elitists spend much time hanging out with Bob Tyrrell. I vaguely recall giving Pogue a cigarette and refusing his offer to pay for it, a courtesy from a fellow nicotine addict who has more than once had to bum a smoke after forgetting to bring along a spare pack. (For some reason, campaign events are almost never held in the vicinity of convenience stores, and once you get inside the security perimeter, you want to stay there, or else you’ll be forced to go through the metal detectors again when you come back.)
Incidentally, when Tyrrell first told me about this Pogue article and mentioned Byron York, I was confused as to which Romney-Ryan event he was referring to: At a Ryan event in Lima the day before, I’d run out of batteries for my camera and been forced to bum a couple of AAs from York, for exactly the reasons I’d described in reference to the cigarettes: If you go outside the perimeter once the candidate is on the scene, the Secret Service probably won’t let you back inside, media credential or no media credential — “Just following orders, mein herr.”
As to the length of my jeans: My thrifty wife bought me a new pair of jeans a few months back — found them on clearance somewhere and couldn’t resist the bargain — and it was also she who packed my suitcase for the Ohio trip. My wardrobe was chosen hastily at the Dayton hotel where I was staying, as I hurried to get ready to go to the airport rally. Frankly, I don’t give much thought to fashion when I’m on the campaign trail, or anywhere else for that matter. Back when I was young and single, I was quite stylish, with a wardrobe that included shirts by Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Cardin, and ties by Alexander Julian, but no longer give a damn about impressing anybody with my fashion sense, even if I could afford to be such a fop.
Well, what the hell, huh? Rolled-up jeans are the New Black!
Also: The “leapt up on a fence” is wrong. What I did was climb the steps to the camera riser, and the reason was not just “to get a view,” but rather to get photographs, like this one giving the readers some sense of the size of the crowd. See, the polls had Romney down by 10 points in Ohio, and all the pundits were writing him off as doomed, which made the turnout at the Dayton airport on a drizzly day — 4,000 people — kind of newsworthy, certainly more newsworthy than whatever fashion statement I was making with my rolled-up jeans.
This is what makes James Pogue’s reference to Hunter S. Thompson so stupidly offensive: Yes, if you “don’t do this sort of thing for a living,” it is perfectly natural to report on the mechanics of the campaign, including the habits of the press corps — and I do that, too. Why? Because so many of the reporters are caught up in the Daily Horse-Race Narrative of the campaign that they almost never report the size of the crowd, the weather, or the other interesting little details of the carnival-like atmosphere that surrounds a presidential campaign.
Understand that I’m not competing with Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times to provide the Page One inverted-pyramid Definitive Account of the campaign. No, my coveraage here and at the American Spectator is a sort of colorful “news feature” version of the story, and even though I sometimes actually break news in the process, there’s no point chasing the Drudge link because, frankly, we don’t have enough server capacity to handle that kind of traffic.
The day after “Super Tuesday,” I attempted to explain my concept of what I’m doing in a post: “Memo From the National Affairs Desk: ‘Committing Acts of Journalism’.”
Does it make sense as a business model? Is there a market demand for this product? I do OK. I don’t usually run too late on deadline, and I at least try to get basic facts right, whereas literary pretender James Pogue makes a complete fool of himself.
With more than a week to write his account of the Sept. 25 Vandalia rally, which didn’t appear on the Vice.com site until Oct. 5, Pogue got the facts hilariously wrong and, in doing so, destroyed whatever flimsy claim to journalistic integrity he might have thrown behind his assertion that, at this rally, “there was a fat little man in a windbreaker” selling anti-Obama stickers with a racist theme.
Damn you to hell, James Pogue.
Go find some other some other profession to disgrace.
UPDATE: Ladd Ehlinger spots an error by Pogue that should have been obvious to anyone who’s ever been within range of my voice, which is usually about a quarter-mile:
— Film Ladd (@FilmLadd) October 11, 2012
“Speaking quietly,” me? LOL.
BTW, I just saw that Paul Ryan will be heading back to Ohio on Saturday. Whether I make that trip or not, I’ve got to get back on the campaign trail pretty soon, so please hit the freaking tip jar.