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Rush the Scoop to Howie

One interesting aspect of the emerging right-wing rebellion against conservative maverick John McCain is how it gets spun in the pages of the Washington Post.

The panic in the ranks of the right is evident. On the eve of what amounts to America’s first national presidential primary, Christian right leader Reverend James Dobson repudiated McCain for the heretical observation that two people of the same sex might have a loving commitment ceremony, according to Colorado Confidential. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh denounced McCain for perpetrating the dirty trick of eliciting an endorsement from Bob Dole, the World War II vet turned Viagra flak who once carried the Republican standard in battle against the Clintons.

The notion that Dobson and Limbaugh have sway over, or insight into, the behavior of any significant sector of the American electorate is, of course, factually dubious. Over the past six months, Dobson proudly took every opportunity to snub Mike Huckabee, the overwhelming favorite of average Christian conservative. Limbaugh, the portly recovering pill addict and millionaire who favors the upward redistribution of wealth, has drifted uneasily into the camp of the wealthiest (and possibly the wierdest) candidate in the race, George Romney.

So how did Limbaugh sell the story of his mugging of Dole? He rushed it to my former colleague at the Washington Post, that post-modern presidential power broker, Howard Kurtz. Here’s how Howie broke the news.

“By the way, Rushclarified a comment he made to me that has gotten a lot of pickup.”

What matter more than the tedious details of Limbaugh’s unpersuasive smear are the eroding standards of the Washington Post newsroom.

Note Howie’s first-name chumminess with “Rush,” the subject of his ostensibly “objective” news coverage. And who can miss his self-referential (some would say reverential) nod to his own Internet popularity? The chances that a Washington Post editor will chastise Howie for these deviations are basically minimal.

This is not hypocrisy nor conspiracy. Howie Kurtz is an indisputably nice guy and a hard-working reporter. This is how the conventional wisdom gets constructed: in bipartisan backscratching. Kurtz spreads Limbaugh’s blarney. Limbaugh ratifies Kurtz’s importance as an interlocutor. Rush absurdly denounces the Post for being “liberal.” Kurtz, almost as absurdly, denies that reporters are liberal. And so the dead trees of 15th Street prop up the dead wood of talk radio.

Whether either of these gentlemen has any insight as to what is actually happening among Americans who live outside the infotainment bubble is an open question.

Around the Post newsroom, Kurtz is legendary for his staggering productivity and his banal insights. I recall editing a piece by Howie in January 1998. It was a breathless tale, told by right-wing amateurs on this thing called the Internet, about an older man, a younger woman and a cigar. If true, Howie announced breathlessly, President Clinton was sure to be quickly forced from office.

“I doubt it, “ I said. “Do you think most people will care?” Howie eyed me warily. I edited out the line. He complained but complied.

The ability to embody the conventional wisdom right up until the moment it has been refuted is what makes Howie so valuable to his friend Rush.

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