03/25/2007 08:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Imperial Doubtfulness and the Paper of Record

"His hair is slicked back in a way that accentuates the new fullness of his face. At the hotel, Mr. Gore's perma-smile folded his narrow eyes into slits as he milled his way into a ballroom. Afterward, he accepted his customary standing ovation, slipped out a back door and into the back of a Lincoln Town Car, looking almost presidential."

The above quote from a front page New York Times article on Al Gore's trip to Congress last week possibly might hold a small bit of interest to students of the Times. It's got a familiar whiff about it: There's something nicely cynical in its elegant Timesian construction. After all, it's authors, Mark Leibovich and Patrick Healy (it takes two to be cunty sometimes), manage to make fun of both the weight and the man's mission in one smooth little dispatch, which is always a good trick.

Never mind that Gore's having a sort of astonishing second act, never mind that he's probably right on just about - oh -- ALL of it when it comes to the catastrophe of the planet. The little quote above reminded me of something that I think happens to Times writers after around age forty-three: Right around the time when you first need glasses, if you work at the Times it seems you begin to also to be in terrible danger of developing an almost predictably Waughian allergy to earnestness. Anyone else notice this? Where the hell does it come from? It's almost as though Times writers become sort of Ox-Bridgeians manqué, striving for and attaining a kind of low level acid imperial doubtfulness. (Exceptions perhaps being Messrs. Rich, Krugman, and Herbert on the op-ed pages).

In its political coverage, the arrogance of working for an entity roughly the size and temperament of the State Department seems to result in writers catching a disease wherein humility and introspection vanishes and is replaced by the calcified arrogance of the long-term commentator. Who is used to the audience, and who loves the job they landed ("Mom, I'm working at the Times!").

This, of course, is the AGE of the commentator, this is the golden age of the opinionated with access. I am not immune, and am showing off even as I type, which is actually why I so seldom post on the venerable Huffington Post, but that's another story and Groucho Marx has written it before and you know what I mean (clubs, members, etc.).

Anyway. The good journalists at the Times with their Burberry Trench Coats and their remarkably similar tortoise shell glasses (and hearts) should maybe remember when being bitchy and supercilious and ever-so-clever that they were at the cutting edge of a gang who had a "perma-smile" on their collective faces as they gave this wretched, wretched administration a free pass on September 11, 2001 which has yet to be entirely revoked. The paper of record is usually, in this, the first decade of the 21st century, the paper of abdication and tone-deafness. Instead of writing about Gore's fat face, these guys should be thinking of other stuff, but that would require soul, which anybody can tell you, is to be smirked at once you've made it to Page 1 "above the fold."