washingtonpost.com
Post Magazine: Cruel and Unusual Punishment
An Experiment in Media Saturation

Gene Weingarten, Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 24, 2008 12:00 PM

What happens when a normalcy-challenged columnist shuts himself in a room with six TVs, two radios and a laptop, and challenges himself with surviving a 24-hour bath in the dark waters of political punditry?

Washington Post staff writer Gene Weingarten was online Monday, March 24, at Noon ET to discuss his Washington Post Magazine cover story, 'Cruel and Unusual Punishment.'

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washingtonpost.com: Good afternoon.

Before we begin, I need to reveal one critical, overwhelming fact that didn't make it into my piece; it is in one sense insignificant, but from the standpoint of semiotics, it is breathtaking.

This fact pertains to Michael Savage, the highly successful radio talk show host whose tooth-gnashing tirades against liberalism transcend political partisanship to qualify in any lexicon as hate speech. This is the man who seriously contends, for one small example, that all liberals and progressives are closeted sexual deviants who might molest your child. (His Web site today asks if Obama is "a Marxist mole.") Part of all this is cynical shtick, of course, crafted to appeal to the vast legions of the silly, the ignorant and the childishly embittered; Savage has become the bottom feeder in an already turd-heavy aquarium soup. But part appears to reflect Mr. Savage's poisonous worldview.

Okay, here comes the key fact, revealed below.

It turns out that Michael Savage's surname is invented, chosen, no doubt, to support his self-image as a bad boy, a Harley-ridin', feral purveyor of nasty brutish necessary truths. A wild man radio guy! A stud. Here is the name he was born with:

"Michael Weiner."

Okay, then.

I want to thank all of you who have pointed out that I am even uglier than you imagined, and in particular, the woman reader who asked if there was any Internet technology available by which she could be digitally re-issued the virtual panties she has flung at me in the past. (For those of you who are not regular readers of my Tuesday chats, trust me, this makes sense, and it is not good.)

The e-mail on this story so far has run about 60-40 positive. Among the negatives are those who said they felt bored or patronized, and those who are themselves bloggers or pundits or tireless devotees of the same, and who seemed to feel I was trashing their little world. I was. Among the positives was one letter I will cherish, not only because it was intelligently analytical and complimentary and self-aware, but because the letter writer's name is a delightful aptonym. Aptonyms are names that are uncannily descriptive of what a person does. This letter writer, who is a frequent Democrat-strategy pundit-yapper on O'Reilly, Beck, CNN, and ABCNews.com, is named "Liz Chadderdon."

I am proud to report that as of chat time, the term "pundustry" -- which did not exist online on Friday -- now returns 250 Googlehits. As predicted.

Okay, let's go.

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Omaha, Neb.: I really enjoyed and appreciated your story. (Part of me wondered if it was assigned to you as "penance" for the confidentiality snafu on your last story.) So here's my question: the genie is out of the bottle, what in the world can be done to redress the situation? It seems that no news outlet can afford to NOT to broadcast punditry 24-7. The radio station you called...in that 20 seconds, almost their entire audience would've switched to another station. So what are our options for improving at least _some_ of the available discourse?

Gene Weingarten: Very good point, about the dead air.

I think you are absolutely correct. There is nothing to be done about this, because the hunger for this is out there. And there is nothing wrong with the hunger being sated, except:

It all feeds on itself; people are fighting for more distinctive voices, meaning more extreme and hysterical voices, meaning discourse becomes argument which becomes yelling. It's beyond simple partisanship. It's what Jon Stewart was talking about when he went on Crossfire and spanked Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, asking them to stop "hurting America." And it killed Crossfire! But Jon can't visit all those shows, seriatum.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, and no. No penance. Tragically, this story was my idea.

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Gene Weingarten: Hey, you know what bothered me? Someone must look into this and report back.

Our copy desk changed "douchebag" to "douche bag." That can't be right, can it? I need a more definitive ruling.

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Washington, D.C.: When you conclude that no, there cannot be 20 seconds of silence on the radio, what happened? Did the radio announcers acknowledge your text? Did you consider that the radio announcers would never let 20 seconds of dead air on the radio for fear of losing listeners?

Gene Weingarten: They never responded, period. It was as though I had not written in.

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Outfox, Maine: You should have demanded more of a say in the photo editing. It also looks as if the photo-shoot was staged, because it is hard to believe that you would dress in any but the most comfortable clothes to carry out this exercise in political endurance.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, I found it a little difficult, from the photos used, to see what it was like to be me during those 24 hours.

Here is an outtake that shows it better. (Liz, please link.) The photo is by the excellent freelancer Aleksey Tolchinsky.

washingtonpost.com: In the studio

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Durham, N.C.: I notice your bow tie was essentially a clip-on. How does it happen that a straight-razor-shaving, stick-shift-driving person such as yourself doesn't know how to tie a bow tie?!

Gene Weingarten: I would never wear a bow tie except with a tux, ever. So I have no need to master this particular technology. But thanks for asking.

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Washington, D.C.: What was your turnaround time for this article? Regular readers of your chat know you had a cover story axed not so long ago -- was this something that was put together just to make sure you had a story in on time?

Gene Weingarten: In a sense, yes. Tom The Butcher and I wanted to get a quick cover story; that was part of the thinking here.

Turnaround time was about two weeks. There wasn't much additional reporting that needed to be done.

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Alexandria, Va.: Gene:

Great article yesterday. The only thing that would have made it better is if they had run a cover photo of you hanging on a cross made of televisions dying for our sins. But I guess The Post editors are a little too smart to court that kind of trouble (although it would have been great to read the letters to the editor for a few weeks).

Gene Weingarten: You know, I think the "for our sins" headline was inadvertently linked to Easter. We do these things many weeks in advance, and are not always planning brilliantly. No one has complained! Yet!

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Okay, I know, b -- UT: Gene, you know we (heart) you, but you might want to lay off the photos of you shoeless and with your shirt coming out. I realize that this reveals that we're shallow and it's just a physical attraction, but really now! Looking like an unmade bed is one thing, but -- sheesh!

Gene Weingarten: Honey, I do not look appreciably better all tucked in.

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Befuddled: I don't understand how anyone could survive watching that crap for more than an hour. You are a braver soul than me. (By the way, how did you balance the laptop when you took a whiz?)

I have pretty much given up on TV news, with the exception of the BBC News America, since they hold punditry down to a minimum. The only pundits I can tolerate are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Gene Weingarten: And of course, they're not really pundits.

Urinals have a flat-top surface.

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Arlington, Va.: As the day wore on, you became more and more partisan.

You never said it explicitly, but seems like you think that the pundustry is tearing us apart.

Even as the technology behind media evolves, the conversation devolves.

Gene Weingarten: As the day wore on, I became more and more cranky.

And cranky spurs pointless partisanships. You want to hurt someone.

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Arlington, Va.: Gene, you made the decision to sit in a room for 24 hours and sit through a nonstop talking-head blabfest. Suppose your editor had ordered you to undergo that torture and, for whatever reason, you weren't allowed to refuse the assignment. Do you think it would have been harder to find humor in the situation, and even more difficult to write about it?

Gene Weingarten: If I had been ordered to do this, it would have been easier, because I could have added indignation to my emotions. I had only myself to blame for this.

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Good moments?: Were there any good moments, when a pundit actually said something that struck you as a good point, a decent thought, instead of more hot air?

Gene Weingarten: Tom The Butcher asked me the same question when I was done. He asked me if anything I had heard had changed my opinion about anything.

No.

The whole thing was painful, including the writing. The only joy I got was hiding a secret, nasty, double-entendred luffa sponge joke in there, about Bill O'Reilly, and in coming up with the expression "a tempest in a crock pot." And then even this small joy was dashed when I discovered the expression had already been used four times on the Web.

Wait, one more thing. I felt I had reached something of a valuable insight when I explained the fundamental difference betweeen Limbaugh and O'Reilly:

The peril of listening to Limbaugh and O'Reilly at the same time is that you tend to compare them, and these are dangerous waters for an unapologetic, unreconstructed New Deal liberal like me. The comparison makes you actually LIKE Rush. He's funny; O'Reilly is not. Limbaugh teases and baits his political adversaries; O'Reilly sneers and snarls at them. Limbaugh is mock-heroic; O'Reilly is self-righteous. So, when Limbaugh speculates that the Democrats in the House committee went after Roger Clemens because liberals hate cherished American institutions such as churches, the Boy Scouts and baseball, you know he's sorta kidding. When O'Reilly says liberals who oppose torture of prisoners just don't care how many people will die in a terrorist attack, you know he's as serious as an aneurysm.

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Dogtown, Ark.:"Pundustry" is an excellent neologism. How do you differentiate it from the "punditocracy"? Which is doing more good and/or harm to public discourse, and why?

Gene Weingarten: Well, punditocracy is much more elegant. It suggests they are some sort of aristocracy, which is not true. They are more like "The Aristocrats." Haha.

No, pundustry tells it like it is. It's an industry. They're doing it for the money.

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Oh We, LL: Pundustry.com is taken--we could've been rich!!

Gene Weingarten: It was taken by one of us! Someone nailed the website within a few hours of my story appearing. He wrote in on the "comments" section to report his coup.

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New Haven, Conn.: Hi Gene - welcome back. I trust you are detoxifying with the appropriate amounts of fresh air, sunshine and puppies.

I am a lobbyist. And I hate having to get into a cab, after sitting through hours and hours of meetings and posturing, only to be subject to the rants of the pundits, courtesy of my driver. All I want are a few moments of silence before my next meeting, conference call, etc. Is it appropriate to tip according to choice of pundit?

Also, I hate the 24 hour news cycle because, if you watch or listen for any length of time, it's not news - it is the same story over and over again. Delivered with no new facts or analysis but each time with the same breathless urgency. Hate it.

Gene Weingarten: You know, I have actually found that a surprising percentage of cab drivers tune to NPR. I think it's because of the increased chances that they might hear a story pertaining to their country of origin.

Has anyone else noticed this?

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Takoma, Washington, D.C.: I can't help feeling that "pundustry" should be spelled (and pronounced) "pundistry." Was there a discussion on this important issue? Were copy editors involved?

Gene Weingarten: Pundistry is TERRIBLE.

That is simply a misprecision of "punditry." It does not capture the notion of an industry.

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DB: Webster's has it as two words. All hail your copy desk.

Gene Weingarten: Grr.

But it looks all wrong. It denudes it of its power.

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Arlington, Va.: For those who have not met Gene in person -- when I saw those photos in this week's magazine, what first struck me was how flattering they were. Really, they make Gene look more handsome than he actually is. And the tux doesn't hurt, either.

Plus, you still haven't heard his voice. Gene may have a face for radio, but he's got a voice for print.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Virginia: Well played, good sir. I thought you did a fine job of balancing perspectives. I laughed out loud but hurt inside for your sacrifice.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Bethesda, Md.: Did you have the opportunity to listen to Air America on radio?

Gene Weingarten: No, I couldn't get it in my dungeon.

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Oxon Hill, Md.: Why do you think there does not seem to be any room in the opinion space for calm and reasoned opinions, or genuine debates? Why in the bloviasphere do conservatives say every liberal is a child molester, and liberals say every conservative is Hitler?

A friend of mine said that because political talk radio evolved from sports talk radio, political talk radio inherited the same spirit of "I'm a true fan and you're an idiot!" Is there something to this? How can we change or improve things?

And thank you for suffering for our sins.

Gene Weingarten: You're welcome.

I think I might have just answered this, but your point about sportstalk is interesting. For many, many years, discourse on sports radio and chat-room yammer, to my observation, has followed the "sucks-rules" paradigm. Everything either "sucks" or "rules."

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Washington, D.C.:"As the day wore on, I became more and more cranky.

And cranky spurs pointless partisanships. You want to hurt someone."

This statement explains so much about punditry.

BTW, this chat is going to throw my whole week off.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.

Why?

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Philadelphia, Pa.: You have literally been sent to the end of our country, in Alaska, and now kept in a roomful of media blasting for 24 hours straight. What tortures are you thinking of doing to yourself in the future?

Gene Weingarten: All that's left is castration without anesthesia.

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Arlington, Va.: If Clinton gives a speech about economic policy, the pundits ask which voter groups it helps. If Obama gives a major speech on race, the pundits ask whether it helps his polls.

We're reaching an absurd point where the news media is so obsessed with the horserace and strategy, if you want to know what the candidates' actual policies are, you can't watch the TV news anymore.

At some point, I have to believe this pendulum needs to swing back towards reporting the news rather than constantly reporting the meta story of how the news affects the campaign.

Gene Weingarten: The problem is that we are on a 24-7 news cycle. You can't just keep reporting the news. At nine a.m, we are told Richardson backs Obama.

In the old days, that was the day's news.

Now at 11 a.m. we need speculation on whether this endorsement will help with Hispanics.

By 1, we need to know how the endorsement happened, and to speculate on whether this means Richardson is a lock for veep.

By 3, it's time to examine that Hispanic voting block, and figure out if it is monolithic, or whether this endorsement will have only a limited effect on the constituency.

By 5 this is old news. The real speculation is whether Hillary has lost her hold on party regulars to a degree that she could have lost control of Richardson, and does that mean she is slipping with the all-important superdelegates?

By 8 at night, someone starts realizing Gore is the only major player still without an endorsement....

See?

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Ithaca, N.Y.: Gene,

I agree with you that the pundocracy is a damaging thing to us as a society, especially the right wing crazy type pundits. Combine this with the declining fortunes of traditional newspaper journalism, and I'm concerned. We as a society have found ways to limit exposure to other things that we like but are bad for us - for example, rules against smoking in public places or banning trans fats. Don't you then think that this is an appropriate course of action here? Place FCC rules limiting the airwave access of the "pundit" class to reduce society's exposure to the "bad for us" stuff and appoint a jounalism accreditation board who would allow exceptions and promote the consumption of "good for us" stuff. This should be pretty simple, right? I mean, we know what's bad for us - O'Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, the New York Post? And we know what's good for us - NPR, PBS, Paul Krugman, Noam Chomsky, the New York Times and the Washington Post?

I'm sure the people who are addicted to all that "bad for us" stuff will feel a lot better when the folks in the know make life easier for them by taking that temptation away from them.

Gene Weingarten: I'm actually concerned about what happens to our newsgathering abilities if newspapers go belly up. Though bloggers hate to be reminded of this, the blogosphere is remarkably dependent on the printed word for its initial information.

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All that's left is castration without anesthesia.: I thought you've been married for a long time.

Gene Weingarten: Heh.

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Washington, D.C.: Has anyone ever pointed out that Michael Savage reeks of sexual repression? He is obsessed with "sexual deviance" and "perversion" -- he can't stop talking about it! And apparently he used to hang out with Allen Ginsberg and other Beat poets in the '70s. Hmm...

Gene Weingarten: It's true! He hung with a very gay crowd years ago.

BUT I AM NOT SUGGESTING ANYTHING ABOUT MR. SAVAGE.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Gene,

Does Howie Kurtz gets paid enough for what he does?

Gene Weingarten: No, he does not. And I do not know what he gets paid.

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Washington, D.C.: At what point can anybody say they have an opinion worth listening to and how much of all conversation is really just noise?

Gene Weingarten: I like Mr. Obama's opinions.

Actually, I like Mr. Limbaugh's opinions, too.

I suggest liberals listen to Limbaugh from time to time. He's funny, and when we're weak on an issue, he gets us good.

O'Reilly is just a mean 'ol hypocrite.

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Air America: If you really wanted to listen to Air America, you could have gone for an online feed of it. I'm surprised that you aren't getting deluged with complaints about not listening to not just Air America, but other liberal radio.

I have heard your voice on radio, and I'll paraphrase a comment you made: If there's Air America and they can't even get me to listen to it, they must really be doing something wrong.

Gene Weingarten: I tried the online feed; honestly, I couldn't get it. Something was wrong with the fee or my computer.

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Arlington, Va.: If the copydesk was such a stickler for "douche bag," why wasn't luffa spelled "loofah"?

Gene Weingarten: Because our style is luffa.

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Text: Gene, your text message was probably too long for them to receive. Most texts can only be 160 or so characters. Some phones will split them up into multiple texts, but many won't. Even if they say they will, they'll only send the first 160 characters.

Gene Weingarten: Possibly, but I sent it in two or three feeds.

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Washington, D.C.: Douchebag is DEFINITELY one word.

Gene Weingarten: I know! I don't see how anyone can contest this!

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Washington, D.C.: Looking at the photo you linked to, you appear to be using a Mac laptop. Glad to know you left the dark side!

washingtonpost.com: Ohhhh no. Gene uses some kind of PC hoopty running Vista.

Gene Weingarten: Yep. A Vaio. And just for the record, Vista SUCKS.

Someone needs to tell me what rules.

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Winchester, Va.: Did you feel a need to purge your system from toxins after listening to all those talking and unfeeling jerks who call themselves news analysts? I recommend a dose of cod liver oil warmed on a towel and placed over your heart for at least 20 min. You will smell the awful toxins leave your body. One more question. Will Lou Dobbs go down as one of the biggest racist since Lester Maddox?

Gene Weingarten: Lou is an interesting phenomenon. I love his show. I watch it all the time. I think it's hilarious.

Lou is a self-righteous blustering blowhard. His manufactured outrage is simply adorable. I wouldn't call him a racist, though. He loves calling himself an "independent populist," and I'm happy to stick with that, so long as we all understand it means a "self-righteous xenophobe."

Liz, can you link to a column I did about 8 months ago about Lou Dobbs?

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, ( Post Magazine, June 17, 2007)

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Caffei, NE: Gene, how did you manage to stay awake? I'd start hallucinating at 3 a.m. when my circadian rhythm hit bottom.

Gene Weingarten: You know what? You stay awake if it is your job to stay awake.

I had Aleksey with me for most of the night. The presence of a Russian helps, somehow.

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The Future: A world without newspapers is one in which media propagandists rule... very little original reporting, much regurgitating of official government reports, a lot more bloviating... raging ignorance all around.

Weep for the day.

Gene Weingarten: I know. That is exactly my fear.

Before the right can slam the liberal media for exposing Watergate, someone needs to expose Watergate.

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Leesburg, Va.: Gene, or should I call you Col. Weingarten?:

Not since "Heart of Darkness" has there been such a fluid journey into the depths of a man's fleeting sanity in pursuit of truth.

I especially enjoyed how you started with an open mind and then progressed to hopeless one-sidedness before reaching your final, transcendent state as a raving lunitic who trusted no one and ranted incoherently.

I think you missed a golden opportunity by not holding your weekly washingtonpost.com chat immediately following this 24-hour immersion. That truly would have been something.

In short, Gene, well done. I only expected the ending would be different. Perhaps something like: "The horror, the horror."

Gene Weingarten: Actually, that would have been funny! You see the problem, though. I would have been talking about a story that hadn't been written, and no one had read.

Okay, maybe that WOULDN'T have been a problem.

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New York, N.Y.:"I mean, we know what's bad for us - O'Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, the New York Post? And we know what's good for us - NPR, PBS, Paul Krugman, Noam Chomsky, the New York Times and the Washington Post?"

Hey Ithaca, who died and made you Big Bro? Aren't I allowed to decide for myself? Shouldn't I be allowed to read and hear what I want without you telling me what's good or bad for me? Your idea smacks of 'Free speech for me, but not for thee.'

Gene Weingarten: No. You're wrong. Go away.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene,

I don't want to rescind any undies that I may have previously flung, but I think I might be placing them gingerly on the floor from now on. Could you maybe convince Tom the Butcher to assign you to do an undercover story on a weight loss program? After seeing the photos, I'm a little worried about you, darlin'. I need my humor fix for a good long while!

washingtonpost.com: Listen -- he's not in need of a weight loss program. What he does need is someone to take him shopping and introduce him to the concept of having clothes tailored. That jacket is several sizes too big for him and the shirt (at least the neck) several sizes too small.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

And yeah, Liz is right. I'm not actually fat. I just have jowls. I weigh 175 and I am five ten.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WOULD ADDRESS THIS ONLINE? I AM A GOD OF SELF ABASEMENT.

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Washington, D.C.: Even if douchebag is not one word, that's just the way it needs to be spelled for dramatic emphasis. You wouldn't break up m-----f---er, you wouldn't break up a--hole, and most people even go with sonuvab-tch. You can't contest this and editors need to recognize it.

Gene Weingarten: This is exactly the point.

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Re: Douchebag: The feminine hygiene product may be a douche bag, but the guy wearing the pink polo shirt with the popped collar is a douchebag.

Gene Weingarten: We are getting Liz very nervous here. Not that this has to stop or anything.

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Arlington, Va.: So, was the photo at the urinal staged, or were you actually in the act?

Gene Weingarten: In the act.

We don't stage pictures.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Michael Savage: Okay, I agree with you. But doesn't it strike you as a little eerie that on Valentine's Day, the very day Savage said all liberals are deviant, Eliot Spitzer's hooker woke up at the Mayflower?

Gene Weingarten: True enough.

But Savage wouldn't have defined that as deviant. He was literally talking about child molestation. All. Liberals. Pedophiles.

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Bethesda, Md.: Whenever someone picks on O'Reilly he likes to have them on his show to berate them and scream in their faces. If he invites you on his show after this piece, will you go?

Gene Weingarten: I'm actually hoping Savage invites me. I might do that.

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Fairfax County, Va.: I am so sorry that what started out as a whimsical project was so obviously unpleasant for you. It reminded me of the Mythbusters episode about mind control (Chinese water torture, etc.) that got way too intense for all the happy-go-lucky science-geek types on that show.

One thing that occurred to me after reading your article was a presentation I was given years ago about TV infomercials. They are apparently written, filmed, etc., with the idea that viewers may happen upon them at any random point and will stay, at maximum, about 10 minutes, bur likely less. So this explains why they are so disturbing to watch in their entirety, never progressing forward, constantly repeating, appearing to assume that viewers have an insatiable appetite for certain facts but are unable to comprehend and recall them for more than a moment or two. It's because they are not meant to be viewed that way.

I know you ran into both sleep deprivation and right-wing demagoguery in your adventure, but maybe this informercial effect of nonrational repetitiveness, designed more for occasional "samplers" than steady viewers, explains part of what was so awful about the experience as well.

Gene Weingarten: The infomercial analogy is perfect. It's very similar.

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Vienna, Va.: Gene, Did you hear any of the right wingnuts bash Stewart and Colbert? I tend to think that the wingnuts are very, very afraid of those two.

Gene Weingarten: Very shrewd question.

I think Colbert and Stewart are the most influential political voices right now. And I think they are untouchable by the right.

I hope they are helping to raise a generation of kids who are skeptical of the raging right. Actually, I think the Bush administration has helped this along, too.

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15th Street NW: Sorry, Gene. That was a horribly self-indulgent, obnoxious piece. You need a good editor, or a least a little humility.

Gene Weingarten: And this is possibly a Post writer!

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Anonymous: "Tom The Butcher asked me the same question when I was done. He asked me if anything I had heard had changed my opinion about anything. No."

Do you think this is true for most people? They listen to reaffirm what they already believe or they listen to hear the rants of what the idiots (translated: other side) believes.

But more personally, how often have you had your opinion changed on anything in the past year? Say, ketchup on hot dogs?

Gene Weingarten: I have reluctantly come to believe that there might be some merit in dark chocolate. I don't see it, but I acknowledge there might be some.

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Would Fling Panties, Was I Wearing 'em: For the love of God...people are really being harsh on you, Gene. You're adorable, which encroaches on "hot" due to the humor factor.

You do need a tailor.

Gene Weingarten: The tux was a hand me down. I make no apologies for it.

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Leesburg Again: No, we understand you couldn't have told us WHY you were a raging lunatic had you done this such that it ended at noon on a Tuesday. That would have been even funnier.

Gene Weingarten: True, true.

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Potomac, Md.: Excellent article, Gene. I'd appreciate some further thoughts on Keith Olbermann's "special comment" on Bush and the FISA bill. I suspect both of us are in the same boat on this issue: opposed to the bill in principle but cognizant that Congressional pandering to corporations and nose-thumbing at the rule of law happens pretty much constantly. But I appreciate Olbermann's ability to work up outrage over a genuinely outrageous issue (as opposed to a campaign-manufactured "outrage" prompt), whereas it seems to just irk you. Now that you've recovered from your ordeal, have your feelings on his tirade changed?

Gene Weingarten: No, we are not in the same boat. You are sunk in partisanship, and therefore adrift, unable to tweeze reason from hype. It's not your fault.

I found Olbermann just as over the top and outrageous as most of the right wingers. There is no excuse for taking what is essentially a matter of political disagreement over an issue that is, on some level, debatable, and start talking about fascism, the Alien and Sedition Acts, and slavery.

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Washington, D.C.: I appreciated the part of your piece on Keith Olbermann. I used to be a great fan of his show, but it has continued to devolve into the kind of ranting to which it was meant to be an antidote. Step back from the dark side, Keith!

Gene Weingarten: He has no shame.

AND it has helped his ratings.

Which underscores that...

He has no shame.

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Anonymous: You think YOU had it bad....I watched the 3 minute video of your experience in its entirety. Talk about boring!

Gene Weingarten: I thought that video was startling in its stupefying nothingness. It reminded me of Warhol's Empire State Building movie, which consisted entirely of watching the shadows change for 24 hours.

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Rush vs. Savage, O'Reilly, Olbermann: As a moderate liberal who is ready to admit I listen to Rush often, I was so glad you recognized that his commentary and humor are often of the "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" variety. When he skewers the left, he often takes on liberal sanctimony and sanctimony is the enemy of humor.

But one thing Rush does not do is make fun of fawning callers who say the most outrageous things.

O'Reilly has a progam that deals less with the issue of the day and more about himself. I could not believe when he had that body language expert analyze his interview with Stephen Colbert---a guy playing a character that mocks him. How self unaware can you be?

Olbermann often goes beyond reporting and is just mean sometimes.

Michael Savage has lost all marbles but I listen to him for the same reason people stop at car accidents.

Gene Weingarten: But you know what? Savage is stupid. I didn't hear a single good line from him all night. He's got a PhD in something called ethnonutrition, or some such thing.

He's a brute and a dope.

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Chicago, Ill.: Of the pundits you watched, who do you was playing a character they created for purposes of TV? Who do you think is most authentic on TV? I always got the impression O'Reilly was playing a character he thought would get high ratings, which is cynical in a different way.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, definitely Coulter. I don't buy her shtick at all.

I did a column with Coulter some years ago. She's kind of sweet.

Liz, can you link to it?

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Wing nut: I'm sorry, but a previous poster used the term "wingnut" and I must correct this misspelling. "Wingnut" is actually spelled "wing nut" as in this definition of the product available in any hardware store -- Wing nut: A nut with two side protrusions that allow it to be turned by hand.

What a douche bag.

washingtonpost.com: Enough.

Gene Weingarten: But this is funny!

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Fairfax, Va.: Is today's discussion your only online appearance this week? Or will you be on again at Noon tomorrow?

washingtonpost.com: Chatological Humor, ( Tuesday, March 25)

Gene Weingarten: Yep, tomoro. I am a machine.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: Zach Wamp is my congressman. He was elected to Congress as part of the Gingrich revolution. His campaign slogan was "Wamp Congress."

I am now sure that, as long as he is in Congress, whenever I see him speak I will be looking for his ear mark. Thanks a lot.

Gene Weingarten: I like "Wamp Congress."

You know, I was grasping at straws by the time I identified his ear mark. His ear is fairly normal... just a bit of an extra ridge. Enough for me.

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washingtonpost.com: Gene vs. Ann Coulter: Below the Beltway, ( Dec. 28, 2003)

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Washington, D.C.: Years ago, when I was a reported at a small newspaper, I had a similar idea: watch TV all night long, changing channels at will, and buy everything you can find that is advertised with a 1-800 number. Get all the stuff delivered to the newspaper and write a story about it. What do you think?

Gene Weingarten: A very good idea. The story would have to be about the products more than the experience of watching.

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Rule of Law: This might be better suited to a Tuesday chat, but someone else brought up the rule of law, so: am I wrong in reaching a point where my number one criterion for a President is respect for the rule of law? That's the main reason I'm for Obama at the moment--Hillary is just too willing to do what's expedient, so I could quite easily see her heading down the path (although not going as far) as Bush/Cheney in terms of abusing the law to do what she happens to think is right. (I suspect I'd probably agree with her definition of right more than I do w/Bush/Cheney's, but that's begging the question.)

Gene Weingarten: You seem to be confusing me with someone who still has opinions.

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Olney, Md.: Rush Limbaugh always says it takes a while to get him. And that "mainstream media types" never "get" him. But you actually figured it out. He just states his opinions, which are almost always only about politics and the motivations behind what goes on, and he is always using humor to entertain his audience. If he weren't fun or interesting, he wouldn't be on 3 hours 5 days a week, in every town in the country. As many NPR lovers hate to admit, he did the hard way, one station at a time. You may not remember but his first station in Washington was on the 1,000-watt station at 1050 on the dial in Silver Spring, long before it was Federal News Radio.

Gene Weingarten: I agree with everything except the analysis of his audience. Savage gets a huge audience, too, and he has nothing to say.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: I'm an extreme liberal, and I watch Fox news and their associated commentators. Simply, I want to know what the opposition is saying. And they have changed my views. I used to think conservatives were misguided. Now I think they're evil.

Gene Weingarten: I continue to believe that far right wing conservatives are either intelligent, rich people protecting their self interest, or poor, misguided, deluded fools who have been conned by the first group into working against their best interests.

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Cleveland, Ohio: Media folks now seem to be "experts"; they are often the ones being interviewed (e.g., The Today Show interviews reporters from CNBC, CNN interviews Post reporters). Since when did reporters become experts?

Gene Weingarten: Uh, well. I think I'd rather hear from a reporter than an academic. In general. Depends on the reporter, and the academic. But if you force me to choose, I've just chosen.

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Arlington, Va.: I see you have a grease stain on the space bar on your computer. Gross.

Gene Weingarten: My computer keyboard is a mess. My kids rag me for it. There is grease all over, and I don't know why. I don't hit the computer after popcorn or anything.

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McLean, Va.: If you get on Savage's show will you call him a weiner?

Gene Weingarten: No.

But I have a plan.

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Fairfax, Va.: So if the people you text messaged happen to send you a question in tomorrow's chat, and you don't run it, does that mean you've blown them off?

Gene Weingarten: Understand something: I asked them to do something I strongly suspected they would not do. Dead air is a major league no-no on the radio. It would have been great if they did, though.

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Prince William, Va.: As part of the small conservative minority among your minions, I appreciated the distinctions you drew between Limbaugh and O'Reilly. Is there someone like Rush from your end of the spectrum that you would recommend to us right wingers, and someone like O'Reilly that we should feel free to ignore?

Gene Weingarten: I'd totally ignore Olbermann.

Sure, listen to Randi Rhodes.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, I think I'm starting to repeat myself, so I'm gonna head out now. Thank you all, and I will see many of you tomorrow.

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