Finally, members of the mainstream media are tiring of lavishing too much attention on John Edwards' hair. It appears they've latched on to a new topic of concern for American voters.
Hillary Clinton's cleavage.
Yes, our attorney general appears to have lied (multiple times) under oath to Congress, our surge in Iraq gives every sign of futility, our president and vice president continue to push to further abuse executive power, genocide beats on in Darfur, residents displaced by Katrina are all but forgotten, our healthcare system is broken, and our national security is being defended by a "gut feeling."
While we're used to the journalistically brain-dead Sunday morning discourse that passes as news each week, Tim Russert's "Meet the Breast" roundtable debate today may have broken new ground.
In case you don't already know, the following topic was inspired by Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan's July 20 article "Hillary Clinton's Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory," in which Givhan referred to Clinton's "cleavage on display" during a recent Senate floor speech. Givhan also described the experience as "unnerving" and said, "But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!" (Unfortunately for Givhan, Clinton decided to leave her chastity belt back in Chappaqua that day.)
Here are host Tim Russert, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood and NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell discussing this serious news story (to see it to believe it, here's video):
RUSSERT: I want to give Gene Robinson equal time for barber shops.
EUGUNE ROBINSON (Washington Post columnist): Well, I'll take equal time for barber shops. I think [Sen.] Barack Obama [D-IL] needs to find some barbershops in New Hampshire to visit. And, you know, you won't have a lot of hair left if he gets it cut there many, many times. It's pretty short right now. I also -- let me jump in and offer a word in defense of Robin Givhan, the Washington Post columnist who wrote the cleavage column. As her former boss, you know, you either cover fashion or you don't. And I think it's legitimate to argue that you shouldn't worry about fashion, but, you know, it's the way we present ourselves to the world, to others. We make decisions every morning on what we put on and how -- what sort of image we want to project. And unfortunately in our society, women are scrutinized in a way that men aren't. I mean, what did John Edwards wear at the YouTube debate? What did Barack Obama wear?
MITCHELL: Eugene, arguably, if you look at the Senate floor any day of the week, if you look at the floor of the House of Commons when a new cabinet minister was speaking, who had a far more low-cut neckline, this was so marginal. This was like microscopic evidence --
HARWOOD: I'm going to defend that column too.
MITCHELL: --of inappropriate attire.
HARWOOD: I'm going to defend that column too. When you look at the calculation that goes into everything that Hillary Clinton does, for her to argue that she was not aware of what she was communicating by her dress is like Barry Bonds saying he thought he was rubbing down with flaxseed oil, OK?
MITCHELL: Sometimes a blouse is just a blouse.
Yes, Andrea, sometimes a blouse is just a blouse. And sometimes - actually, all too often - the Beltway pundits in Washington unwittingly reveal why they are such frequent targets of derision and genuine criticism.
Like an old Imus in the Morning show (on which Russert and Mitchell were recurring guests) no one questioned the inanity and offensiveness of the discussion. It was chuckles all around. While Harwood's observation is obviously the most absurd and asinine statement of the bunch, everyone at that table is complicit because not one of them had the courage and integrity to say, "Hey, can we talk about something that matters?" or even a less confrontational but soul-protecting, "I'll take a pass on this one, thank you."
Moreover, Mitchell's reaction to the discussion is an apt distillation of the twisted priorities in much of our mainstream media: it's not the stupidity of the topic or the patriarchical and puritanical overtones that Mitchell responds to; rather, it's that Hillary actually showed only "microscopic evidence of inappropriate attire."
That's the kind of attention to detail we can count on from NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent.
Throw in Don Imus muttering a barely veiled lesbian reference about Hillary, and his former sidekick Bernard McGuirk barking, "She's a dyke," and it's like Imus never left.
Thanks, Tim. Now all you're missing is the cowboy hat.