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Daily Howler: A graphic in the Washington Post shows us how Iowa worked
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ABOUT THAT GRAPHIC! A graphic in the Washington Post shows us how Iowa worked: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JANUARY 4, 2008

HAIL TO THE VICTORS: Obama was superb last night. So were the other Dems. OK, maybe not Edwards.

Meanwhile, God seems to have punished a certain cable ranter. He seems to have let smartsexyhandsomeauthentic Fred Thompson nudge past straight-talking straight-shooter John McCain, thereby spoiling a well-scripted tale. McCain won by coming in third!

ABOUT THAT GRAPHIC: A fascinating graphic in the Washington Post helps us review the road to last night’s Iowa caucuses. Sorry—we can’t find the graphic on-line. (It’s on page A12 of our hard-copy paper. Why does the Post do this?)

“Democrats: A Tighter Horse Race,” says the headline on this graphic. Starting in mid-March, the graphic shows polling results for the three major Dems leading to last night’s caucuses. Beneath the graph of the polling numbers, the Post has positioned nine different events—events which presumably played key roles in the Iowa race.

This graphic helps us ponder the way our nation currently does its politics. Let’s consider three of the nine events the Post includes in this graphic:

First event—April 15: Cover the eyes of the children and pets. The Post lists only nine events from the ten-month race for Iowa. Sadly, this is one of them:

April 15: FEC reports show Edwards got multiple $400 haircuts.

Good God. The inanity of this fraternal order never fails to amaze. In today’s New York Times, David Brooks correctly writes this: “[W]e have a crisis of authority in this country. People have lost faith in their leaders’ ability to respond to problems.” Brooks is right—and the Post’s citation shows that the breakdown in what Brooks calls our “leadership class” extends deep into the broken soul of his own fatuous cohort.

The Post cites nine events from this race. Edwards’ hair care is one of them.

Second event—September 28: The Post graphic shows Clinton leading in Iowa in a poll from early October. But this event appears in late September:

September 28: Clinton votes to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.

There is little doubt that Clinton’s vote played a key role in the Iowa race. (This is one of only three substantive events included in the Post graphic.) The Post considers this event to have been quite significant—but how thoroughly did the paper explore it? On October 25, the Post published this competent overview by Dan Balz; in it, Balz cites some of the complexities surrounding this vote. He notes that eight Dems who opposed the 2002 war resolution voted with Clinton on this measure—including Dick Durbin, Obama’s key senate supporter. He says, “Obama's opposition is unique among the Democratic candidates because he is on record supporting the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization;” he devotes two more sentences to an adviser’s explanation of Obama’s position. But we can find no other reports in the Post devoted to this matter’s complexities. According to the Post, this was one of only three substantive events affecting Iowa—and the Post seems to have given it little real coverage beyond Balz’s overview piece. Never mind what you think about that vote: How much more do you need to know about the way the Post now does politics?

Third event—October 30: In early October, the Post graphic shows Clinton ahead in the Iowa polls. By early November, it shows her trailing. What follows is the one event from the Post graphic which lies between these two polls:

October 30: Clinton flubs a question on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants in an MSNBC debate.

In our view, there is no doubt that this “flubbed answer” was the key event of the Iowa campaign. But here again, we confront the mystery which virtually defines the Dem race to this point. How could a single “flubbed answer” (a 30-second answer at that) on so insignificant a question have played so key a role in this campaign? At THE HOWLER, we’ve answered that question before. In our view, this event captures the role the “press corps” has played in our electoral politics of the past fifteen years. (Once the press corps has reached a group judgment, they contrive some silly event which they use to “prove” their point. Al Gore said he inspired Love Story!) But there the puzzling matter stands, unexplained, in this morning’s graphic.

Last night’s outcome makes it likely that the Democratic nominee will be Obama. This raises a basic question about the future of presidential politics:

If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee, how will his campaign be covered by the mindless fraternal order we still describe as the “mainstream press corps?” By now, it’s abundantly clear how a Candidate Clinton’s campaign would be covered; she would be covered much as Candidate Gore was covered in the twenty-month war which changed the world’s history. But would Obama be covered that way? On balance, we’d assume that the answer is no—and that raises a giant historical question. Were the press corps wars of the past fifteen years an artefact of the corps’ realignment as a more Republican entity? Or were these disgraceful wars against Clinton/Gore/Clinton a weird, anomalous personal oddity? History will offer no perfect answer—especially in a world where housebroken career liberal pool boys refuse to even ask such questions. But make no mistake: It’s abundantly clear how a Nominee Clinton would be covered later this year. After last night, it’s more likely that we’ll get to assess the coverage of a Nominee Obama.

ABOUT THOSE MEAN KIDS ON THAT BUS: We were thrilled to see street-fighting Glenn Greenwald post this piece, in yesterday’s Salon, about “the mean kids on the bus.” Earlier, we were thrilled to see Joan Walsh say that Maureen Dowd “has become impossible to read.” (Though we can’t imagine why we keep referring to Dowd as a liberal. There’s nothing wrong with not being a liberal—but as a matter of fact, Dowd is not one.) Before that, we were thrilled to see Walsh write that Chris Matthews has “been brutal to Clinton in the last two months.” And we were pleased to see tristero and Digby offer these comments about those “mean kids,” described by tristero as those “goddamned spoiled brats.” We’re pleased that Atrios linked to Digby—and we’ll suggest that you ponder the sheer inanity detailed in this earlier Atrios post.

None of this has a thing to do with who you think would make the best Dem candidate, or who you think would make the best president. (If we had been in Iowa yesterday, we would most likely have voted for Edwards, although we see downsides to all the candidates and will happily support whoever wins.) This has nothing to do with who you prefer. This has to do with being an American citizen—with refusing to accept the inanity these fools has pumped into our culture over the past fifteen years.

It’s really time that Dems (and liberals; and progressives; and centrists; and independents; and sane Republicans, of whom there are many) decide that we refuse to accept this nonsense any longer.

That said, here’s the on-line Q-and-A from the Washington Post which tristero cited in his piece. We have a lot of respect for Lois Romano, but her highlighted statement deserves comment:

QUESTION: I just read on The Post's Trail page that Clinton dropped by the press bus to drop off coffee etc. and was met with cold silence. Wow. Even after 15 years, why is there so much press hostility towards the Clintons? If it turns out to be McCain vs. Clinton (my current guess) in the general, the difference in press coverage between these two is going to be as staggering as it is depressing.

ROMANO: I was struck by that as well. I have covered Hillary Clinton off on and for 15 years and I've never seen anything that stark happen. While there is a tense relationship between HRC and the media, I'm not sure why the reporters on the bus wouldn't have tried to take advantage of her appearance and ask some good questions. All she could do is refuse to answer them. Its not for the press to be hostile to Clinton—it’s the media's responsibility to cover her.

Have events “that stark” ever happened before? In October 1999, 300 reporters “howled,” jeered” and “laughed at” Candidate Gore for the full hour during the first Gore-Bradley debate. (They watched the debate in a separate press room.) But very few voters have ever heard about that, because—for reasons only psychiatrists could hope to explain—liberals and Democrats, nicely house-trained, have agreed not to discuss it.

Let me tell you something simple about that remarkable event.

If the fraternal order we describe as a “press corps” had ever done that to a major Republican, the public would have heard about it endlessly—just as they should have. It would still be cited on cable, each night. It would be the subject of endless books; Rush would talk about it daily. It would be engraved in each citizen’s mind. And oh yes: In insisting that citizens know what happened, conservatives would have done the right thing! The press corps’ conduct that night was stunning—and voters deserve to know about it. But uh-oh! House-broken, muted and toilet-trained, we have agreed not to tell them. (As Grover Norquist accurately said, certain animals are more comfortable once they’ve been “fixed.”)

Our side has been paper-trained for so long that it simply never crosses our mind to serve the public in this way. For a slightly odd example of this, look at this odd presentation from a very smart but peeved liberal. (We’re speaking of paragraph 3.)

Our translation? Kevin seems to be annoyed that someone has asked him (for the last five years) to tell the public the things they desperately need to know. He also says that what happened to our nominee has happened in “plenty of campaigns,” though perhaps not as badly—thereby suggesting (and this is quite standard) that this sort of thing has afflicted both parties. I’ve long expressed my admiration for Kevin’s superb analytical work; I read him every day because he’s so smart, and recommend that you do so. But the minor contempt aimed at Clinton on that bus is just a tiny marker of the conduct this gang of fraternal clowns has dumped on our heads for the past fifteen years. But so what? Even when it was done to Candidate Gore (for two years!), we agreed that we wouldn’t complain about it. Even when we saw that this conduct had changed the world’s history, we largely agreed not to go back and discuss the things they had done. And right to this day, we express our pique when we deign to mention such matters—as a mocking Christmas gift, not as a service to voters.

Kevin! We already know this story—much, much more fully than you do!

Result? See what Milbank said last weekend about the press corps’ take on Candidate Clinton (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/08). And sure enough! Milbank’s words were remarkably like things which were said, years ago, about this group’s take on Candidate Gore! And by the way: That despised and damaged Candidate Clinton may still be our party’s presidential nominee. We still could lose the White House, again, because of these people’s contemptuous attitudes. (To be clear: We think Milbank deserves our thanks for speaking so frankly to Kurtz.)

As good citizens, we have to decide: We will not allow this inanity to be aimed at our hopefuls again. Even if we like Hopeful X a bit more, we will scream when they go after Candidate Y. We’ll help the public understand the truth about the Dowds and the Matthews. And: If they jeer our candidate for an hour, we won’t cower, quake and quiver, pretending that we haven’t heard.

On balance, the public still seems to think that the “press corps” is too liberal (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/07). Why do they think that? Readers! We’re why. We were thrilled to see the complaints about that BS on that bus.

OUR MAIN MAN GREG: Greg Sargent, with a related post. Simple story: Targeted pols can’t spend their free time with the press corps! After Love Story, Al Gore came to understand that—but so had Dick Nixon, decades before. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/03. Clinton knows this too. (So did Bush, in the three months when the press was hard-pimping Saint McCain. Same citation.)

The “press corps” pretends not to know this, of course. Can you say “biggest fakes in the world?”