On how my neighbor Salena Zito maligns half of America and probably makes stuff up

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 7.26.54 AMWe at the Comet used to refer to ourselves in the royal “we” and enjoyed attacking deserving local targets in plain terms — politicians, journalists, even other bloggers. It was awesome!

Eventually we began encountering most of our subjects in real life, where things can get socially uncomfortable, and, hypothetically, costly in terms of opportunity. For what “good” is notoriety if you’re notable for hurting other peoples’ feelings and reputations? Isn’t slamming people on the Internet only a winning proposition for those still confined to “Mom’s basement”?

Besides, we’re all only Pittsburghers, after all. We should take each others’ sides no matter what.

And isn’t politics a trite and nerdy thing to actually get upset over, anyway?

Demand is booming for all sorts of political products, and everyone deserves to be able to pay the mortgage. Don’t hate the player, hate the game; show you understand that “game” by slapping backs and handing out participation trophies.

On the Internet in particular, anger itself has become a signifier of defeat, and happiness a badge of general fitness and status. “U mad, bro?” And don’t positive people live longer?

The thing is, blogging in a black fury sure did get results sometimes. And it’s difficult to write something unique and interesting about politics without crushing somebody’s ego. We might struggle mightily to couch things in perfect care and compassion, but dancing between eggshells is so exhausting that sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it to write anything at all. It feels like we’re living in a world made of cardboard. And if we’re being truly honest, isn’t there an enormous amount to hate in this world?

All of which is throat-clearing before further exploring my reaction to Salena Zito’s latest column in the Tribune-Review. She sweetly invited me to e-mail her my concerns, but we think it may be more productive and fun to hash it out right here.

Her argument opens like so:

Dodging raindrops and balancing bottled water and a bunch of power bars under one arm, a young man returned to his car at a Sheetz gas pump along old U.S. 40 in this western Maryland town, sandwiched between Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The local public radio station blared through the open car door, reporting on the letter to Iran from 47 Senate Republicans. Adjusting his seat, he said to a traveling companion: “Good for them.”

“Wait, who?” his friend asked.

“The guys who sent the letter to Iran, that Cotton guy,” he replied. “For all we know, the president will issue an executive order and give Iran whatever they want.”

Then he shut the car’s door and drove east toward the U.S. 522 overpass.

An Obama-Biden sticker was plastered to his rear bumper. (Trib, Salena Zito)

Prior to this, it had never occurred to us how often Zito allows unnamed or only-first-named people to voice her theses.

Do I have any proof that there really was no such public-radio-blaring, once-proud Obama-backing, swing-region voter who succinctly criticized the President about the very two things Salena needed to write about this week, loudly enough to overhear, right next to her own gas pump? Nope, nothing but conjecture.

There are certainly more than enough details in her tale to suggest this was a really real moment which really happened, though — raindrops, water bottles, powerbars, Sheetz, US 40, US 522, overpasses — we practically feel like we must have been there!

So we could be wrong. Why are we mad enough to risk being wrong?

Because this isn’t about Zito being more conservative than we, or liking Obama any less. It isn’t about the Senate Republicans’ letter, regional stability, war, peace or treason.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 10.49.05 AMThis is about Zito having the gall for the 400th week in a row to tell me that my feelings and perspective are elitist, Beltway-insidery and somehow not representative, whereas her attitudes (and those of the “increasingly alienated moderate Democrats” she perpetually manufactures) are Main Street, salt-of-the-earth and somehow invisibly in the majority.

It’s a slimy, chauvinist argument, it’s utter nonsense, it’s her very favorite, and it has nothing to do with plotting a wise course for the nation. Since she’s smart enough to realize this, it suggests that she also wouldn’t be above making up unverifiable stories about how Democrats are getting fed up with the Democrats.

Firstly, there are liberal “Beltway insiders” and there are conservative Beltway insiders. There is a reflexively pro-Obama echo chamber, and a reflexively anti-Obama echo chamber. There are liberal elites and there are conservative elites.

In fact [and I forget where I heard this, but somewhere I read that] Republicans are generally actually the preferred party of the very, very, very rich and elite.

But that’s not my point. I enjoy wrestling with conservatives on matters of policy. I watch Fox News far more often than the alternatives, because it’s more constructive to be challenged than to nod along with the choir. I’ve even developed a thin conservative streak, when it comes to education or certain regulations.

Some time around January of 2000, I learned that our nation is almost supernaturally polarized, stably divided between a left and a right, and that the two halves experience life very differently. It has been borne out in every single election since then, nationally, across the state and regionally. It’s a fundamental law of nature already.

To insist constantly that things are really otherwise — that there is an essential, vast but ineffable rightward American majority, or that the left’s leaders are always relatively more out-of-step with both the center and its own base — is just rude. It’s schtick. It merits ridicule.

Back to the alleged conversation at Sheetz: apparently, Zito has some additional relevant information regarding it. She can relay it here in a comment, or on Twitter if it fits. If she can defend that, and can diagnose how I really am delusionally aloof from the majority of our Democrat-weary country, then we can be better friends.

21 thoughts on “On how my neighbor Salena Zito maligns half of America and probably makes stuff up

  1. Brian Tucker-Hill

    I’ve been to many a Sheetz in my time. It would be difficult to overhear a conversation inside another car, even with the door open, under the best of circumstances, because there tends to be a lot of ambient noise. Add in rain and a “blaring” radio, and it would be even more difficult. They’d basically have to be making a point of shouting loud enough so that someone outside the car at some distance could also hear what they were saying.

    But who knows–maybe Zito has supernatural hearing powers. More importantly, this whole style of argument is pointless. If you look hard enough, you can find someone willing to SAY any sort of idiotic thing you can imagine. That doesn’t make what they are saying true, and it doesn’t make what they are saying representative, and indeed the very fact that you are looking around for someone to say what you want to hear makes it less likely to be either true or representative.

    So basically, relying on this sort of anecdote is like an admission that confirmation bias is ruling your thinking on the subject at hand.

  2. McArdle

    I would have assumed she made it up. Beyond the unlikely aspects (who would put a water bottle and power bars under their arm coming out of a gas station? You might if you have to get your key out of your pocket and unlock your car, but this guy had a buddy in the car. It was already unlocked. And who on earth “blares” public radio? Maybe Public Enemy, but not public radio), it is just not credible that she could have reliably heard what the guys were saying in the car in the situation she describes unless she was in the backseat, and maybe not even then. Then again, I assume all of these little exemplary vignettes by all opinion columnists who use them regularly are mostly, if not entirely, fictional. That’s just kind of how these things are done, I have tended to assume.

    1. bramr101 Post author

      “That’s just kind of how these things are done.” If so, that’s just plain wrong. By that logic I would have done much better to start this piece by telling my readers:

      I was walking on the North Side yesterday afternoon, and saw four young city beat reporters setting down their notebooks to eat Primanti’s outside for lunch. One of them asked, “Did you read our colleague Salena Zito’s latest cynically made-up slop? It’s so embarrassing working here; this is why I tell my family I write for Clickhole.” Shockingly, one of them then brought out a syringe of heroin and passed it around, “To numb the shame before we go back inside.”

      1. Jerry

        Devil’s advocate — Maybe Zito *was* the traveling companion, and that’s how she heard all this? But of course, that suggests the possibility that the dispirited young Democrat is maybe not very representative of mainstream Democrats if he’s traveling interstate with a right-wing columnist. In any case, the piece is still full of dog-whistle insinuations that Real Americans side with Tom Cotton and Iran against the US President.

        And yes, I just threw in my own dog-whistle insinuation that Tom Cotton sides with Iran against America. But I’m a dork commenting on the internet, not a columnist.

      2. bramr101 Post author

        On the substance of the issue, Cotton’s letter to Iran conveying that the diplomacy underway is meaningless, only makes strategic sense if you’re convinced that a war against Iran is necessary, inevitable, desirable and really about 12 years overdue.

        That’s an interesting idea, that Salena’s source was a friend or Trib colleague. But the implication of her presentation is that regular Democrats in that tri-state area have frustration with Obama coming out of their ears so hard it’s spilling out all over the highway.

      3. Jerry

        Huh — I have to admit, I did not have any clue what was in that letter. I just assumed it was Republicans appealing directly to foreign governments to embarrass the President again. I should follow national news more closely, but it’s too depressing, mostly because there seems to be nothing left but political theater.

      4. bramr101 Post author

        Actually Jerry, you’re right, it was kind of that too. I suppose some of those Senators could actually want diplomacy with Iran to work, just thanks to some different President.

  3. Le Butee

    I just heard a quote on the radio about hating some else: It’s like drinking poison and thinking the other person will die. But, as they also say, hope springs eternal, so gimme another cup of that hemlock, Crito!

    Just for fun, here’s an email exchange that I had with Ms. Zito back in 2008. I think there was a phone call from her in between my first and second email, but what’s below paints a clear enough picture. She thought I “hated” her because I asked to be taken off her email list, and she considered herself a down the middle journalist, politically speaking, and if anything, she felt she was accused more of being too liberal than too conservative. I subsequently learned that she asked various Trib reporters to send her email blasts to their contact lists, so it was an opt-out product by design, akin to the Trib throwing free papers on people’s lawns.

    On Sun, Jun 8, 2008 at 4:33 PM, ______ wrote:

    Dear Ms. Zito –

    Please don’t email me anything ever again.

    Thank you,

    From: ______________
    Sent: Mon 6/9/2008 7:53 AM
    To: Salena Zito

    When I get unsolicited email I unsubscribe or ask the sender not to send anymore. And how could I know that Andy asked you to send it? It’s a battle keeping the inbox under control. I’m sure you understand.

    Also, I don’t agree with your political views, the little that I’ve been exposed to them, and I get a lot of political email, so I was surprised to get a message from you and wanted to head off further “junk” mail. I certainly don’t “hate” you, I just don’t want to get email from you.

    I’ll get in touch with Andy, thanks for sending the article on his behalf (although I’m not sure why he would ask you to send it, since you weren’t an author, he and Luis have email accounts, and there didn’t appear to be any urgent reason for me to get the article the day it was published), and again, please don’t email me anymore.

    Thank you,

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Salena Zito
    Date: Mon, Jun 9, 2008 at 8:10 AM
    To: _________

    It is part of what I do, to send out stories from the paper.
    My political views? Well, I don’t have any, in that I am “for” anyone. I am a reporter and an analyst, and I have worked in a former life for both republicans and democrats. If anything I am accused of being liberal, but since you apparently have read my stuff and made an assumption of what my political views are, you must be a republican.
    I get that a lot working for a paper that has a conservative editorial page, fair enough.
    Really nice emailing you, I already told Andy and Luis of your reaction and you have been taken off of their list.
    And you will not be emailed anymore.
    Enjoy the gorgeous day!


    1. bramr101 Post author

      Yup, the “I’m not an anything, I have no labels” claim is bizarre.

      Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and editorial page columnist. She has also reported on Pennsylvania politics for The Weekly Standard. A board member of the Center for Media & Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, Salena Zito honed her skills working on the campaigns of George H.W. Bush, Senator Rick Santorum, Bush2000, Bush-Cheney 2004 served on the senate staff of U.S. Senator Arlen Specter. Salena Zito has interviewed one on one Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director General Hayden, Homeland Security Director Chertoff, Attorney General Gonzales and First Lady Laura Bush. (Townhall)

      And she’s bashing Democrats every week in the Trib. If that’s not a “conservative”, I don’t know what is. Can anyone recall her ever having defended a left-ish position or individual, even in a specific context or instance?

    1. MH

      I caught up. I don’t think we should invade Iran or invade Israel. Doing so would mean more people in the military. That would mean more people would get health care through the government and I’m informed that makes the Constitution cry.

      1. bramr101 Post author

        While it’s true that we provide health care for military on active duty, health care for veterans is just an urban legend.

  4. Anonymous

    Do you think that if she realized that this style of journalism was created by Truman Capote, she would stop?

  5. Ted Shepherd

    This column of Salena Zito is the first of her work I have read. I was not familiar with her prior work or political associations. In reading this one column, I had the impression that she was simply reporting the facts about some people, “elitists” if you will, not understanding Trump’s appeal to other people, rubes or rube supporters like me. If one of you has the patience and good-will, would you please point out where in Zito’s article she shows a political bias? I understand that maybe I didn’t notice her taking sides, just as a shark does find the ocean salty. Still, if you would care to enlighten me . . .

    1. LEJ

      Hey Mike. I followed Salena Zito for a while after the election, initially thinking it proved her right, but the more of her stuff I read, the more I felt like this post had the right read on things after all. It’s true that she called the election correctly, but in 2008 and 2012 she also predicted a populist REAL AMERICA wave for John McCain and Mitt Romney using the same arguments. And she’s been pretty quick to jump on some really dubious or later-disproved stories that make Democrats look bad.

      I do think her kind of perspective is much-needed. But her delivery in particular is definitely in the service of a specific political message, and I think some of the criticisms in this article are worth keeping in mind.

  6. Toby Black

    With the huge advantage of 20/20 post-election hindsight, Ms. Zito homers while Mr. Reichbaum whiffs:

    “This is about Zito having the gall for the 400th week in a row to tell me that my feelings and perspective are elitist, Beltway-insidery and somehow not representative, whereas her attitudes (and those of the “increasingly alienated moderate Democrats” she perpetually manufactures) are Main Street, salt-of-the-earth and somehow invisibly in the majority.

    It’s a slimy, chauvinist argument, it’s utter nonsense … ”

    Zito 1
    Reichbaum 0

    Cheer up, Mr. Reichbaum. All is not lost. After all, the Cubs just won the Series!

  7. Jane

    Meh. I find her work absurdly biased. She wrote an opinion article about what was wrong with the Women’s March in D.C. and didn’t interview any of the women marching. See http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/23/opinions/women-why-march-zito-opinion/ I know she was in D.C. at the time as she was covering the inauguration of Trump for CNN. This article did however prominently feature the following absurd tweet from Michael Flynn Jr (son of General Flynn and a Pizzagate conspiracy theorist).

    “”What victory? Women already have equal rights, and YES equal pay in this country. What MORE do you want? Free mani/pedis? #WomensMarch.”

    She’s a right-wing hack who got way too much credit for that seriously/literally quote about Trump which is now proving to be untrue.


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