Another Reason for the Decline of Newspapers

Alessandra Stanley, TV critic for the New York Times, knows how to string words together. They form sentences which express her ideas reasonably well.

Sadly, Ms. Stanley demonstrates in her recent column about Fred Thompson’s all-but-certain entry into the race for president that it’s far more enjoyable for readers when ideas thus expressed are the product of actual thought.

First, her characterization of Thompson as an “actor” is hardly accurate. Yes, he can act, but he was an attorney and a politician first. He became an actor when the producers of a movie about a Tennessee political scandal found they couldn’t find anyone who could play Thompson better than Thompson.

Eighteen years passed between Thompson’s admittance to the State Bar of Tennessee and his first professional acting gig. During that time, he served as an assistant U.S. Attorney, campaign manager for Sen. Howard Baker, and co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. Thompson is credited with coming up with the immortal question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

And let’s not forget his eight years in the United States Senate. Fred Thompson started in politics, and he has far more experience in the political realm than Ronald Reagan had when he launched his first bid for the presidency.

That’s apparently beyond the ken of Ms. Stanley, whose grasp of history extends back about five years, or to the time Fred Thompson left the Senate and joined the cast of Law and Order. Consider her analysis of Thompson’s chances for president:

Mr. Thompson may see himself as a commander in chief, but Hollywood has preferred to cast him as a senior White House aide or adviser. He played a White House chief of staff in the 1993 film “In the Line of Fire,” and the director of central intelligence in the 1987 thriller “No Way Out.” He wasn’t picked to play a president until 2005, in the HBO film “Last Best Chance,” which was more of a public-service film made with support from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and other foundations.

Right. Maybe the cable news networks have overlooked a potent analytical tool. A poll of Hollywood casting agents could help them handicap the Democratic race, too.

Once candidates declare, their pasts are scoured for personal, often embarrassing details. Mr. Thompson has not only his own bachelor days in Washington; voters may also hold him accountable for Arthur’s past.

That stately, Southern gentleman has a few peccadilloes of his own. On one episode, he confided to Jack that he once dressed up in a clown suit to serenade a girl who loved opera with snatches from Pagliacci. “She laughed, then she slammed the door in my face,” Arthur says ruefully. “My point is, guys do goofy things for girls whether they want them to or not.”

What? Does Stanley honestly believe voters are too stupid to tell the difference between TV characters and the actors who play them?

There is more, much more, but you get the idea. All in all, her piece is worth reading to illustrate a point: TV writers should write about TV, not politics. Not even when a sometime actor returns to politics.

And newspaper editors should remember that insulting the intelligence of their readers is bad for circulation.


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