CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright ) 1997 // May 23, 1997
Jacking in from the "Media Elite Eat To the Beat" Port:
Washington -- Howard Fineman, Newsweek's chief political correspondent goes to Washington (state) and comes away... well, with a few tired and shop worn anecdotes in an article published in last Sundays Washington Post Outlook section.
The piece, "Gates Crasher: I Infiltrated (the other) Washington" (catchy, no?? I doubt it was Fineman's original...) starts with a stale tale about how he is able to woo his way into the smooze-fest that Microsoft Mogul Bill Gates held in Seattle a couple of weeks ago in which he invited a select group of some 100 CEOs voted "the most likely to spend another billion or so on my software" to come and try not to be sleepless in Seattle.
Now, I don't want to get off on a tangent here, but Ive been to Seattle and fercrissake its no wonder they drink so much fucking caffeine out there: the place is proverbial "sleepy little town" with a gland problem.
Back to Fineman and Seattle. Why a good journalist like Fineman would want to be anywhere near this billionaire's dog and pony show is beyond me. Maybe the "news hook" for Fineman was that Vice President Al Gore was going to be making a cameo appearance and since Fineman covers politics, well, hell, it was a stretch but the plane fare would probably pass muster with the Newsweek bean counters. And if nothing else, it gave Fineman a chance to chat up that most famous East Coast media elite refugee, Michael Kinsley, who now runs _Slate_ magazine.
Small aside: Fineman and Kinsley did hang together. In fact, Kinsley treated Fineman to a real Seattle pilgrimage: A tour of the first "Starbucks" coffee shop. However, Fineman damn near caused a riot when he eschewed the half-caff, double decaf, whole milk, medium foam Cappuccino that Kinsley ordered and asked for "Sanka."
Now any hack journalist could have told Fineman the Gates-fest would be nothing more than a corporate blow job in which "vision" was a thinly veiled Microsoft infomerical where "smooze and snooze" were the complete faire of the day. I mean, if you've heard one Gates speech you have, literally, heard them all. And if you've heard one Gore speech on technology, well, you've heard nothing at all and only learned that his speech writer is competent enough to string buzzwords together in the right order.
You see, the great untold truth of Washington (the right-coast Washington) is that Gore is a techno-midget, except for the policy end of things and even then, he can give you only about 17.3 seconds of really hard core discussion before he lapses into rhetoric... ah, but I digress...
So, Fineman tells us in his article that "what I saw on my tour is simply put: Their Washington is as crucial to the future of government as ours, and each place has to learn the folkways of the other."
This is the "kindler, gentler" approach to "the Internet will ruin Democracy" blather pushed onto the scene by Cokie and Steve Roberts a month or so ago.
"The info-tech buccaneers are accumulating vast power, and not just in pure cash terms," Fineman writes. "Their business could put the capital out of its misery by facilitating the rise of a wired 'direct democracy' that makes the political class redundant," he writes.
Oh, please... here were go again. An inside the beltway political journalist discovers the potential of the Net and starts predicting the downfall of democracy and Washington and... well, it'll be on Newsweek's cover in a just a few issues, I'm sure...
"I say, 'Godspeed' to a force that can rattle the ossified power structures of Washington, including the media one that I belong to," Fineman writes. You see, it's Ever So Hip to take potshots at yourself and your own class... I know, I've been doing this for years myself, so my skills are well-honed and I can spot this clever journalistic chicanery in a nanosecond.
The story, Fineman says, "for want of a better term is DDD: digital direct democracy. Even now, voters with modems (and the time to use them) have access to most of the information that representatives do." WRONG, but hell, thanks for playing Mr. Fineman, don't let the 33.6 bps modem slap you on the ass as you slide into the bitstream.
The truth, of course, is that Washington (the "real" Washington) is all-too-adept at keeping information under lock and key, printed on paper, distributed only to those that are deemed to hold the power.. and this includes lobbyists and the assorted foreign Chinese national, but it sure as hell doesn't mean "voters with modems."
Fineman continues in breathless prose about how "soon enough they'll be able to voice their verdicts on issues of the day, in real time." He's talking here about how DDD can lead to the citizenry taking control of the legislative process by raining in their "votes" on issues, presumably changing the course of a vote in the House or Senate... hell, maybe DDD can even weigh in and break one of those infamous Senate filibusters. "It could be a popular idea," deadpans Fineman, noting there could be a "powerful lobby for DDD."
Except for one, small CRUCIAL "dddetail": people with modems, who participate online, are as likely to think with one mind and speak with one voice and the new so-called government of Zaire's Laurent Kabila.
Fineman eventually gets around to writing what he knows. "You can't reinvent the politics out of government, and the Beltway Bureaucracy is the most durable human edifice since the Ming dynasty." Amen, brother... hear the thunder roll...
But all too quickly, Fineman lapses into babble and surprisingly unfounded babble. Gates has "given chunks of money, hard and soft, to both parties." I suppose Fineman wasn't talking about the last election cycle. Because according to the FEC, as sliced and diced at the excellent "show me the money" site maintained by Tony Raymond Gates personally gave only $5,400 to candidates and another $10,000 to his company's own Political Action Committee. Now my pencil may not be as sharp as Finemans, but I figure that $15,400 in donations from the Richest Man in the World equates to the crumbs left in his dog's dish, but not "chunks" of money.
Gates gave NO soft money of his own; however, Microsoft the company gave a total of $77,000, which it spread between Dems and the GOP. That's peanuts. Especially when you consider that Steve Jobs ponied up $150,000 of his own money (which he gave to the Dems.)
Fineman relates how Gates introduces Gore to the 100 CEOs in attendance: "He's one of the first policy makers to understand technology and information. I have drawn on his wisdom often." Now, Gates is really much more hip than I thought, because if he made this statement--with a straight face--the man had to be high; or Gates is cracking under all the pressure of being the world's richest man. Taking advise and wisdom on technology from Gore is to take navigation lessons from the skipper of the Titanic.
Fineman notes that if Gore has any wisdom to offer his buddy these days, "it should be this: Loosen up. The way NOT to make friends in Washington is to be aloof, mysterious, inaccessible. Also, don't move too quickly. The speed of change might frighten the natives."
Indeed, it does. Fineman then notes the laughable column that Cokie and Steve Roberts co-authored... you remember, the one about how the Net is all things dangerous and will, if left unabated, surely bring down "representative democracy" we know it.
Fineman goes on to say that the Roberts' rant "produced more flames than an oil field in Abu Dhabi." And then he quotes from my MSNBC Column on the Roberts article: "The hysterical tone of the column is astounding," wrote cyberpundit Brock N. Meeks. "This sort of journalistic tripe is poison and yet, at the same time, grist for the mill among the twisted jackals who make up Congress and who, it seems, have no qualms about using the Internet as a personal whipping post whenever it suits their fancy." (Odd, but I could have sworn I wrote: "twisted craven jackels...")
Then Fineman wraps up: "Let the record reflect that Meeks works for MSNBC, one of whose owners is--you guessed it--a man named Gates, from the other Washington."
The inference, of course, is that I've been turned into a fuck chimp for Bill Gates. That I'm suddenly Gates personal attack dog in D.C. Small Problem, Howie: I don't work for Gates, never met him and dont particular care to. Yes, at MSNBC we take Microsofts money and then curse the software they make us use to produce the news.
If Fineman really thinks Gates has me on a short leash, then my worst fears have been realized: He has fallen of the wagon and has resumed that nasty Lucky Charms binge/purge routine. Trust me; this is not a pretty sight.
Fineman is probably, at this minute, writhing in pain, coughing up blood and having nostalgic thoughts about his college frat parties.
I'm very concerned...
I'll call the authorities... any minute now. Honest.