No more 'nice guys' please
Look, I want to be liked. I'm as loath to attack a nice or good-looking person as the next guy.
But when it comes to profiles of those who guard our safety, it'd be nice if largely superficial footnotes, like the fact that a candidate for this or that is a nice or good-looking person, could be kept to a minimum.
I'm not asking that we ignore personality -- even looks -- just that reporters remain vigilant; that they remember (warning: mis-interpretable Nazi analogy ahead...) that Goebbels loved his children, that Stalin was a super duper uncle and that Jeffrey Dahmer was a charmer. All interesting facts to be sure, but nobody would dare ignore the counterbalance of their public lives.
The latest instance concerns Lester Crawford, Bush's FDA commissioner who retired rather suddenly on Friday. The AP calls him an "affable veterinarian" and "embattled". Now please, the effect of this kind of description is "nice old man getting ripped to shreds by partisan politicians" instead of Bush hack who attacked a whistleblower during the Vioxx fiasco as his agency failed to protect Americans from a killer far more prolific than bin Laden.
Before that came the fawning descriptions of John Roberts, destined for a decades-long stint as the most powerful judge on Earth. GOP pollster David Hill noted, in an article titled 'Superhottie' Roberts looks like a winner: "That Judge Roberts is attractive seems undeniable. Virtually every profile piece on him makes some reference to his being 'handsome' or 'good-looking.'"
I shudder to think what the descriptions of the next FEMA or FDA head will look like. Will he or she be "totally rad" or "sorta hot"? The next Supreme Court nominee may well be a woman. Will we get her measurements or be informed that when nobody's looking she feeds stray dogs?
And yes, sure, these are probably all good people in some sense. Some are even good-looking. And yes, complex and nuanced portraits are a welcome breath of fresh air. But getting all hot and heavy with the neighborly descriptions while treading lightly on the consequences of a person's actions is not nuance, it's, well, something else. Something that can be dangerous.
A commenter on a Washington Post thread had this to say about a discussion being sullied by questions over Brown the man (I'll say my amen now):
I work at FEMA - yes we have been gutted since 2000. Yes Brown was a nice guy but pledged the Bush loyalty oath and would not admit FEMA is a hollow shell of its former self. DHS picked us clean. Our successful programs no longer exist or have atrophied into inefficient and ineffective jokes. DHS gave us the "Terry Shiavo" treatment to put it bluntly. Our ranks are filled with inexperienced politicos (let's hope they are packing their bags), temporary term employees, and many many contractors. They do not have a committment to FEMA's old motto - "people helping people." Our former good relations with the State and local governments are ruined. The States and locals followed the money - can't blame them - and the major interface now with the States and locals are with DHS Office of Domestic Preparedness - a 100% terrorism focus.