Help Us, William Safire! You're Our Only Hope!


It's always a struggle to keep your eyes from glazing over when reading Peggy Noonan, but I managed to make it to the end of her new column for The Wall Street Journal. She leads by declaring the late William Safire "one of the great ones, the Elders," and then explains herself:

Who are The Elders? They set the standards. They hand down the lore. They're the oldest and wisest. By proceeding through the world each day with dignity and humanity, they show the young what it is that should be emulated. They're the tribal chieftains. This role has probably existed since caveman days, because people need guidance and encouragement, they need to be heartened by examples of endurance. They need to be inspired.

We are in a generational shift in the media, and new Elders are rising. They're running the networks and newspapers, they own the Web sites, they anchor the shows. What is their job?

It's to do what the Elders have always done, but now more than ever.

Wake up, she's getting to the point:

Fox News

You know the current media environment. You think I'm about to say, "Boy, what's said on cable, radio and the Internet now is really harmful and dangerous." And you're right, and it is….

Two examples from just the past week. A few days ago, I was sent a link to a screed by MSNBC's left-wing anchorman Ed Schultz, in which he explained opposition to the president's health-care reform. "The Republicans lie. They want to see you dead. They'd rather make money off your dead corpse. They kind of like it when that woman has cancer and they don't have anything for us." Next, a link to the syndicated show of right-wing radio talker Alex Jones, on the subject of the U.S. military, whose security efforts at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh show them to be agents and lackeys of the New World Order. "They are complete enemies of America….Our military's been taken over….This is the end of our country." Later, "They'd love to kill 10,000 Americans," and, "The republic is falling right now."

This, increasingly, is the sound of our political conversation.

I'm going to interrupt right here to point out that Alex Jones is a part of the mainstream "political conversation" today in roughly the same way that Billy James Hargis was in the '60s. That is, not at all.

I see it this way. There are roughly 300 million people in America. Let's say 1% of them, only 1 in 100, are composed of those who might fairly be called emotionally unstable—the mentally ill, those who have limited or no ability to govern their actions, those who act out, as they say, physically or violently. That's three million people.

Let's say a third of them are regularly exposed to political media rants from right or left. That's a million people.

What effect might "they want to see you dead" and "the Republic is falling right now" have on their minds?

I was once in a small joust with Roger Ailes about violence on television. I was worried about it. He responded, I paraphrase: But there's comedy all over TV, and I don't see people breaking out in jokes and laughter on the streets. True, I said, but depictions of violence are different. Violent images excite the unstable. Violent words do, too.

There are social scientists who would dispute that.

This is why, I think, so many people — I include, literally, every person I know, from all walks of life, and all ages — are worried that our elected leaders are not safe, that this overheated era will end in some violent act or acts.

Stop reading this and ask whoever's nearby, "Do you find yourself worrying about President Obama's safety?" I do not think you are going to get, "No."

I went upstairs and asked my wife, who's a Democrat. She said, "No, why?"

I'm going to stop quoting long chunks of the column, partly out of mercy for my readers and partly because I'm starting to feel like a heckler. I just think it's remarkable (though not unprecedented) that Noonan can switch so easily from denouncing other media figures' apocalyptic rhetoric to spouting apocalyptic rhetoric of her own. How easy would it be to turn her own arguments against her? ("Stop reading this and ask whoever's nearby, 'Do you find yourself worrying about Glenn Beck's safety?'") The novelty of her article is that she explicitly ties her fears of a pending catastrophe to a yearning for a strong hand to "rescue America from the precipice" and "lead through this polarized time." The strong hand of…media "Elders." Like William Safire. And, um, "Walter Cronkite, Bob Novak, Don Hewitt, Irving Kristol." Yeah, she included Novak. I guess she never saw him on Crossfire.

NEXT: Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em at a Gas Station

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  1. “I went upstairs and asked my wife, who’s a Democrat.”

    I feel sorry for you.

  2. Glaze over? Like hell!

    I totally would. That makes her prose easy to read.

    1. Peggs puts MILFhood back in the respectability column?

  3. Q: Do you find yourself worrying about President Obama’s safety?

    A: No, he carries a revolver.

  4. I do worry about Glenn Beck’s safety — from himself. I just know the guy’s going to self-immolate. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but he’s going to self-immolate. I think that’s why O’Reilly and Smith and the other ones are keeping a low profile these days.

    1. Like Dennis Green at a press conference after his team blew a game.

    2. “Those Democrats in Congress? They were who we thought they were. THEY WERE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE! That’s why we played the damn game! You wanna crown ’em, then go ahead and crown their asses! They were who we thought they were, and we let ’em off the hook!”

    3. literal self-immolation?

  5. Tim Cavanaugh,

    Having never watched Glenn Beck (where did he come from exactly?) what is it about him that so many find appealing? I say this with the cynical caveat that when large groups of people find anyone appealing it scares the hell out of me.

  6. Way to set a crappy example Elder Walker and Elder Cavanaugh.
    [I love using morman talk]

  7. Forget Noonan’s argument. This is what I can’t get my head around:

    Let’s say 1% of them, only 1 in 100, are composed of those who might fairly be called emotionally unstable

    One percent are composed? WTH? I sure hope that was some overheated copy-editor and not Peggy.

  8. Geez, I fell asleep before I finished this post. Did it strain to be cute in a wink-wink sort of way like most of Walker’s agitprop pieces?

    1. Wow, I hope you’re being ironic referring derisively to someone else as “straining to be cute”.

      1. I have to admit I’m kind of curious about how much self-awareness goes into Edward’s trolling. Did he think it would be funny to adopt the mask of a propaganda-spouting ideologue who suffers from severe confirmation bias and strains to be cute, and then accuse Reason writers of writing propaganda, exhibiting confirmation bias, and straining to be cute? Or is it all just projection? The guy has more or less admitted in the past that he just posts here to get a rise out of people, so who knows how self-conscious his persona is.

    2. Edward, kill yourself.

    3. Jump! Jump! Jump!

  9. depictions of violence are different.

    “They scare me.”

  10. partly because I’m starting to feel like a heckler.

    *just in case*


  11. <blink>Shut the fuck up, Edward.</blink>

    1. You have brought shame upon your ancestors yet again, Warty.

  12. She leads by declaring the late William Safire “one of the great ones, the Elders,”

    OMG!!! Safire was one of the Elder Gods!!!

    1. I thought They couldn’t die?

      1. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh William Safire R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

      2. In his house at R’lyeh dead William Safire waits dreaming…

  13. Your comment form contains errors

    Fuck you, server squirrel!

    You can’t edit my idiosyncraticisms, you bushytailed little busybody.

  14. Is that screenshot FoxNews shot a recent picture? ‘Cuz if it is that chick is smokin’ for being almost 60. I’ve never seen a photo of her aside from the WSJ black and white etching thing. But looking at that picture I would totally, totally bang her.

    1. You don’t want to be in the vicinity when that face lift breaks loose.


  15. I think Glenn Beck might be the most entertaining man on television. You see Ann Coulter or Keith Olbermann delivering their spiels and you get the sense they’re a chef serving up a dish they’ve cooked 100 times a day for the last 10 years.

    Glenn Beck, on the other hand, has this fevered look in his eyes like he truly believes he’s onto something really big here and he’s upset that he can’t speak fast enough to get all of it out as soon as possible.

    If it’s a shtick it’s brilliant, and if it isn’t, that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. As far as content it’s actually more libertarian than most of the big named guys, but that’s damning with faint praise and the message gets lost in the mania pretty quickly.

    I think he’d be a barrel of laughs to go drinking with, if he does in fact drink.

    1. He’s a Mormon, so I assume he doesn’t. But I know what you mean.

    2. You’ve never seen/heard him sob about being a former alcoholic? Christ, that man cries more than a pre-teen girl.

  16. @ Billy!

    Oh, Billy!. Elder porn?

    1. What? What’s wrong with that? I have a friend who often finds older women hawt.

      1. Oh, Art…messing up my joke. Harumph.

        FWIW, I’d hit Cuddy in a heartbeat. But, she’s a rare and exotic beast, rarely seen in nature.

        1. Damn, sorry, I missed the set-up. But then again, Hit&Run; is like an obscure reference Olympics.

          Speaking of Olympics, where’s ChicagoTom?

          1. And I agree with you about Cuddy.

  17. I caught a few of Beck’s “AAAAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGHH!!! Teh MurderousRadicalIslamFascists is comin’ ta git ussssssss!” performances.

    Fuck him.

    But it might be entertaining to see him have a brain embolism on live teevee.

  18. What is it with some people’s unyielding reverence toward age and the automatic assumption that with it comes wisdom? Is it so devastating to one’s fragile worldview to accept that a substantial number of people might leave this realm just as stupid as they were coming into it?

    1. I should add that I am not counting Safire among them. That was just a general statement in reference to Noonan’s fixation with these mythical “Elders”.

    1. I didn’t realize he had a Baltimore connection. You should interview him for SMILE, HON…

  19. JW: I honestly didn’t know myself until a conversation with a friend last week. I’m not quite sure what his qualifications are for anything beyond being a morning-drive man – but I have to admit, the phony theme-park gag is kind of funny.

  20. Yeah, the internetz need a strong pimp hand.
    Who has the soul to provide it?

  21. But there’s comedy all over TV, and I don’t see people breaking out in jokes and laughter on the streets

    Good one, Roger Ailes. Hadn’t heard that one before.

  22. The reason I worry about Obama’s safety is that if anything happened to him, we would never hear the frickin’ end of it. It would be like JFK, MLK, Lincoln, and the Crucifiction all added together. The paeans and lectures about our collective guilt would be endless. The economy would grind to a halt, because half the streets in America would be renamed Obama Street and people would be getting lost all the time.

    1. Not to mention the frightening words “President Biden.”

      1. Absolutely. The most reasonable explanation I have heard of Obama’s VP selection, and it has been over a year now, is assassination insurance.

  23. Notice that only the ED is capitalized in “the ED show”. That would imply that “ED” is an acronym. Hmmmm…I wonder whay ED stands for?

  24. Bill Safire was a douche

    end of story

  25. “William Safire. And, um, “Walter Cronkite, Bob Novak, Don Hewitt, Irving Kristol.”

    Not a one of them fit to shine H. L. Mencken’s shoes.


  26. William Safire. And, um, “Walter Cronkite, Bob Novak, Don Hewitt, Irving Kristol.

    All of whom, in addition to Noonan, had one thing in common: they all believed in the “top-down” approach of handing down the Official Version Of The Truth to the awaiting masses…

  27. has this fevered look in his eyes like he truly believes he’s onto something really big here and he’s upset that he can’t speak fast enough to get all of it out as soon as possible.

    If it’s a shtick it’s brilliant, and if it isn’t, that doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

    Really? It strikes me as either amphetamine induced blather or just straight up delusional narcissism. He’s like that idiot in your office who has an informed opinion on everything and can’t be made to shut up about anything. Facts notwithstanding.

    I only give him props for figuring out how to get rich producing such offal.

  28. Sorry, dude, disagree with her politics if you’d like, but you’re just wrong about her writing. She writes very well, better than a lot of her critics!

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