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THEY’RE BAAACCK! Our pundits are back on the campaign trail. So is their trademark tomfoolery:


IN SEARCH OF THE REAL HUEY LONG: On last Saturday’s Reliable Sources, E. J. Dionne said the age of “liberal bias” was over. And he named some names:

DIONNE: If you look at the mainstream press, people, political reporters like Dan Balz, Tom Edsall, Dave Broder, Adam Nagourney, you know, Candy Crowley—these are not liberals, these are not people who go out there selling liberal politics.
By and large, that statement is accurate. Indeed, in Monday morning’s Washington Post, Balz seemed determined to prove Dionne’s point. Balz was profiling John Edwards’ newly-announced White House run—and he was puzzled by something Edwards had said. Edwards had said that he wanted to be “a champion for regular people.” Try to believe that Balz wrote this:
BALZ (pgh 4): Edwards’s fanfare for the regular person prompts plenty of questions. Is it not-so-thinly disguised class warfare? Is it Gore Lite or an echo of Clinton ’92? Or has Edwards reinterpreted the populist strain of the Southern political tradition, best captured by Huey Long’s “Every man a king”? Just what does Edwards mean by regular people, or to put it another way, who isn’t a regular person? And can a wealthy former trial lawyer successfully make this case?
One thing was perfectly clear; just as E. J. Dionne had said, Balz clearly wasn’t “selling liberal politics.” Indeed, by paragraph four he had turned John Edwards the new Huey Long! More significantly, Balz had peddled a key piece of GOP spin: Edwards might be playing class warfare. He worked in another emerging RNC spin-point—John Edwards is wealthy, he quickly said—and, sixty years after FDR, he wondered if such a wealthy man could work for the interests of regular people. Most absurdly, Balz was puzzled by one key point. Dan Balz of the Washington Post wasn’t sure who “regular people” really are! Who isn’t a regular person, he asked. Try to believe—in paragraph 4—that Balz really posed such a silly, puerile question.

Of course, as we’ve suggested in the past, there are many people at the Washington Post who are probably puzzled by this question. Indeed, as Margaret Carlson suggested to Imus (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03), many of our Millionaire Pundits wouldn’t know a “regular person” if they had to brush past one in the street! But read Balz’s profile from beginning to end, and see if there’s any possible way to make our presidential politics dumber. If this piece appeared on an op-ed page, it would count as lightweight opinion writing. Presented as “NATIONAL NEWS” by the Post, it’s more than a reminder of what Dionne said. More significantly, it reminds us of the lightweight work with which our press corps now burdens our elections.

But Balz’s work is especially rank because—in paragraph four, without attribution—he peddles pure RNC spin. According to Balz, Edwards’s presentation “prompts plenty of question”—and the first question which Balz recites comes straight from the RNC. There would be nothing wrong with noting the fact that the RNC is yelling “class warfare.” But Balz takes this spin straight from RNC mouths—and presents it as his own, with no citation. (Nor does he make the slightest attempt to explain what this all heat/no light formulation really means.) In this passage, Balz serves as pure RNC spinner—presenting fuzzy RNC spin as if it just emerged from thin air. Balz isn’t “selling liberal politics,” Dionne said. On Monday, Balz deftly prove it.

NAMING NAMES: Who isn’t a “regular person?” Ken Lay. Bill Gates. Jeffrey Skilling. Katharine Graham. Who on earth—but a consummate spinner—would pose such a dim-witted question? Did anyone ever ask John McCain, “What isn’t a special interest?” Of course they didn’t, and Balz asks this question for one reason only—because he’s passing on RNC spin. The relevant quote in this instance is Gore’s: “Most of the media [has] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranks—that is, day after day, injecting the daily Republican talking points into the definition of what’s objective as stated by the news media as a whole.” In his own voice, Balz presented RNC spin as objective fact—just as Gore had described it.

THEY’RE BAAAACCCKK: Could they possibly make our politics dumber? On Monday morning, our dysfunctional press corps was up to old tricks, putting its lightweight profile on full display. At the New York Times, for example, “Kit” Seelye profiled Dem hopeful Dick Gephardt. We’re sorry to have to use this word. But try to believe that a leading American political journalist could type up a statement this stupid:

SEELYE: Mr. Gephardt may also have trouble defining himself. He has switched his positions so often (on taxes, abortion and trade, among other things) and has split the difference so often as a legislative deal broker that there is some confusion about where his heart lies. This extends even to the location of his campaign headquarters, which he said he would establish in both St. Louis and Washington.
Try to believe, not just that Seelye wrote it, but that an editor read it—and put it in print! But then, screaming nonsense from the vacuous Seelye almost defined Campaign 2000. Profiling Gephardt, the tyro typed on:
SEELYE: Emphasizing his experience is an important way for Mr. Gephardt to draw attention to the inexperience of some of his rivals. It counters the call for a fresh face, which Gephardt supporters say could be unwise in wartime. But it also reminds voters that Mr. Gephardt, who will turn 62 at the end of this month, is a creature of Washington. He has been on the inside for a quarter-century and has yet to solve the problems that he says he understands so well.
As a House member, Gephardt failed to solve the nation’s problems! Where on earth—except in our press corps—can you find such consummate nonsense?

White House politics should be serious fare. But like Freddy Kruegger, Kit Seelye is baaaaaccckk—as is the assault on the public interest provided by our inane mainstream press corps.

CLOWN AID: One more theme arose on Monday that really deserves some comment. In a column headlined “The Seven Dwarfs,” William Safire had this to say about the emerging Dem field:

SAFIRE: Strange as it seems, one of these guys will be the Democratic candidate. By smiting the others in early primaries, he will emerge as media giant, gaining momentum by promising to tax only the rich and to bring a new prosperity without war.
But are the Dem hopefuls really “dwarfs?” Are they really “so many clowns climbing out of a tiny circus car,” the image conjured in paragraph 2? Richard Gephardt, age 61, was Dem House leader for the past fourteen years. Joseph Lieberman, age 57, is a highly-regarded Senate heavyweight who ran for VP three years back (to acclaim). If Kerry, Gephardt and Lieberman are “dwarfs,” to whom do we turn for seasoned leadership? And what does it mean when such silly formulations are so constant in our degraded public discourse?

Meanwhile, Judy Woodruff called them “dwarfs” too. Check her “liberal bias” in action, on yesterday’s Inside Politics:

GOLDBERG: Yes, I listened to you earlier asking Ed Gillespie about who the White House fears most, and I think the reality is at this point, is that every new Democrat who gets in, the White House is happy, because it diminishes the stature of everybody. I mean, it—think about—

WOODRUFF: The Seven Dwarfs.

GOLDBERG: Right, Seven Dwarves in ’88, and now it’s up to 10.

Jonah couldn’t get it out! His “liberal”—and utterly fatuous—host beat him to the prime formulation.

HOW HAPLESS ARE THEY? How fake and fatuous is our press corps? Here’s a description of the work done by “the media beast” back in Campaign 2000. The speaker was a major consultant to one of the two major candidates:

CONSULTANT: It seems to me it’s gotten a little out of control. The MSNBCs, all these guys, look for anything they can pick at and tear apart. This year [2000] you had the most positive, the most issues-filled election ever, and I’m supposed to be the negative guy, right? Well, I couldn’t begin to fill my day with a small part of the negative assault on the process and the credibility and the authenticity of candidates and their motives that is put out there by TV. It’s a constant barrage of “let’s see how these guys are trying to screw you today.” All for ratings and bucks. That’s fine, but then to be pilloried by the same people for doing an issue contrast ad does gall you a little bit.
Who offered this telling and accurate profile of the press corps’ negativity and rank hypocrisy? It was Alex Castellanos, media consultant to George W. Bush, the candidate who clearly took less crap from the press during Campaign 2000. If this is the way the Bushies viewed the press, just imagine what the Gore people must have thought. (Castellanos’ comments, made in February 2001, come from Electing the President, 2000, edited by Jamieson and Waldman.) In fact, we live at a very strange time—a time when major pols of both major parties are significantly smarter and vastly more honest than the self-satisfied pygmies, phonies and fakes who cover them for the insider press corps. And now, these empty vessels are baaaaccckk. As they spill from their own little cars, also back is the endless assault their emptiness works on our democracy.

RUSH-OF-THE-LEFT: Last week, Dan Kennedy tried to imagine a Rush-of-the-left. As he did so, he offered an odd assessment of the state of our modern media:

KENNEDY: Sorry, but it’s not going to work. Conservatives might enjoy absorbing talking points from the Republican National Committee, but that’s not how it happens with liberals. As I’ve argued before, there are liberal media—most of the mainstream media are liberal, as conservatives have long contended—but they work differently from the conservative media. Telling liberals what to think is like herding cats…

But the mainstream media, though overwhelmingly liberal on cultural issues such as gay rights and reproductive choice, are moderate to conservative on economics and trade issues. Elite liberal opinion is as contemptuous of organized labor, for instance, as elite conservative opinion is.

We like Dan, but we can hardly believe that he said it. According to Kennedy, “most of the mainstream media are liberal,” but those liberal media are conservative on matters of economics! That roll-over attitude shows why Dems must construct a new, fighting media. The relevant quote again is Bill Clinton’s: “They have an increasingly right-wing and bellicose conservative press. And we have an increasingly docile establishment press.” Kennedy—accepting the bizarro notion that liberals are conservative—helps illustrate what Clinton said.