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TONAL VISION! Why do earth tones trouble them so? Because your scribes aren’t from this earth:


ANOTHER BROTHER: Howard Kurtz provides an amazing coda to the fight over David Brooks’ column. In this morning’s Post, he tells readers the tale. Here’s his amazing account:

KURTZ: New York Times columnist David Brooks was poking fun last week at those who see some of his friends as part of a dark “neocon cabal.” He defended “the people labeled neocons (con is short for ‘conservative’ and neo is short for ‘Jewish’).”

Brooks came to regret the religious reference in the torrent of criticism that followed, as he told Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent—who quoted him in an e-mail that found its way to Jim Romenesko’s media Web site:

“I am still on the learning curve here, and I do realize that mixture of a crack with a serious accusation was incredibly stupid on my part. Please do pass along to readers that I’m aware of how foolish I was to write the column in the way I did.”
What an astonishing summary! According to Kurtz, Brooks was just “poking fun” in his column—the column which yelled “anti-Semite” at critics of Bush from its start right through to its finish. And note the word “the” in paragraph two. Post readers are led to believe that Brooks’ “joke” was his sole “religious reference.” Was Brooks “foolish to write the column in the way he did?” Thanks to Kurtz, the Post’s misused readers won’t have to know what was actually in Brooks’ piece.

Can one man type another man’s script more faithfully than Kurtz has typed for his Brooks? As we noted, Brooks has many press corps brothers. Baldly misleading the Post’s misused readers, Howard Kurtz adds his name to the list.

Meanwhile, after Brooks’ nasty piece, Maureen Dowd’s lunacy in yesterday’s Times almost served as comic relief. We devote this morning’s HOWLER to this latest full-moonery. Is there anything—anything on earth—which Gail Collins won’t stoop to publish?

SERLING’S REVENGE: If memory serves (and it may serve somewhat poorly), there was once a Twilight Zone episode which went something like this:

A young man is transferred to a distant location. When he arrives, local residents seem odd, but he learns to fit in. He falls in love with a young woman, and they marry. When his wife is badly injured in a car accident, he looks at her badly broken arm. He sees wires coming out. She’s not human.

Here at THE HOWLER, we often think of this Twilight Zone episode when we read the work of our “press corps.” As we’ve told you, they just can’t be human. Consider the way Dowd began her piece in yesterday’s other-worldly New York Times:

DOWD: Can we trust a man who muffs his mufti?

Trying to soften his military image and lure more female voters in New Hampshire, Gen. Wesley Clark switched from navy suits to argyle sweaters. It’s an odd strategy. The best way to beat a doctor is not to look like a pharmacist.

General Clark’s new pal Madonna, who knows something about pointy fashion statements, should have told him that those are not the kind of diamonds that make girls swoon.

Is there anything more annoying than argyle? Maybe Lamar Alexander’s red plaid shirt. Maybe celebrities sporting red Kabbalah strings.

After General Clark’s ill-fitting suits in his first few debates—his collars seemed to be standing away from his body in a different part of the room—a sudden infusion of dandified sweaters and duck boots just intensifies the impression that he’s having a hard time adjusting to civilian life.
If Dowd broke her arm, would wires emerge? We cut-and-paste, you decide.

Dowd’s column drew on Friday’s brilliant piece by ace Times reporter Edward Wyatt. Front-page headline: “Seeking Women’s Votes, Clark Changes His Style.” Wyatt delivered the dry goods:
WYATT (pgh 1): Gen. Wesley K. Clark has begun to show a softer side.

(2) Gone are his navy blue suit, red tie and loafers, replaced by argyle sweaters, corduroys and duck boots.

Did we note that this appeared on page one? “The efforts are intended to lessen a potential vulnerability for the general,” Wyatt patiently explained to the rubes. “Even as he is rising in national and New Hampshire polls, his advisers say women significantly trail men in support for the four-star general.” For the record, at no point did Wyatt say how he knew that Clark’s troubling sweater was aimed at the ladies. (Nor did he say why a reader should care.) But a photo displayed the offending garment. “Gen. Wesley K. Clark displaying a casual look in New Hampshire,” the inane caption said.

Yes, that photo appeared on page one. But then, Wyatt isn’t the only Times scribe offering helpful observations about wardrobe. On December 23, David Halbfinger penned an astounding “news report” in which he helped his readers see what a big fake John Kerry really is. How phony is the Bay State bombastic? Wyatt recorded the endless strange things the solon “intoned” during “his intricately choreographed…swing across Iowa.” And speaking of intricate choreography, every anecdote in Halbfinger’s report seemed designed to display Kerry’s fakeness. According to Halbfinger, Kerry was uncomfortable talking to 3-year-old children; offended their teacher by asking rude questions; betrayed her trust by repeating her comments; then struck disturbingly phony poses as a campaign commercial was shot. Eventually, though, it had to happen. Wyatt psyched out Kerry’s clothing:

HALBFINGER: [I]f Mr. Kerry was hoping to win votes for his trouble, the early going was not exactly heartening. His first stop was in Davenport, where he asked some carpenters what they would change in America if they could change one thing…

“I tell you, folks,” said Mr. Kerry, in brown corduroys, a button-down shirt and L.L. Bean duck boots, “We’ve got to get somebody who understands what it is to be a working person in America today.”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Kerry—wearing preppy clothes from L. L. Bean—was discussing the needs of working people! In context, only a fool could have read this passage without grasping Halbfinger’s obvious message. Dowd, of course, would soon place Clark at that troubling prep palace too:
DOWD: On Thursday, eight reporters and three minicams trailed the general as he sweater-shopped at L. L. Bean in Concord, N.H. Chris Suellentrop filed a fashion dispatch in Slate that the Democratic candidate tried on “a plain, green, wool crew neck sweater.”

“Maybe the former supreme allied commander should stop fretting over his style,” the Times pundit thoughtfully judged.
Will scribes ever stop their fashion reporting? Dowd’s column went on and on, revisiting alleged fashion flubs of the past 25 years. Maureen Dowd is wired for wardrobe. After Brooks, it was comic relief.

SALT OF THE EARTH: Will scribes ever stop their fashion reporting? On December 26, Paul Krugman suggested some New Year’s resolutions for journalists. “Will the coverage of the election reflect its seriousness?” he asked. Here was his first suggestion:
KRUGMAN: Don’t talk about clothes. Al Gore’s endorsement of Howard Dean was a momentous event: the man who won the popular vote in 2000 threw his support to a candidate who accuses the president of wrongfully taking the nation to war. So what did some prominent commentators write about? Why, the fact that both men wore blue suits.
“I don’t know why some journalists seem so concerned about politicians’ clothes,” Krugman wrote. “But unless you’re a fashion reporter, obsessing about clothes is an insult to your readers’ intelligence.”

Readers, Krugman is human—the salt of the earth. He never saw that old Twilight Zone episode. He’s a national gift, but he still doesn’t know. Note to Krugman: Yo, Paul! They aren’t human.

THE CASE OF BILL BRADLEY’S OLD SHOES: Are they pod people? Hard-wired? HAL on the fritz? You can pick the allusion that suits you. But our “journalists” love to talk about clothing, and they’re programmed to make candidates’ clothing point to conclusions they have already reached. Did Kerry’s duck boots show he was phony? Did Clark’s duck boots suggest reinvention? In the last presidential campaign, scribes reviewed other candidates’ shoes. And wouldn’t you know it? Because these candidates were held in good favor, their shoes seemed to showcase good character.

How inane is the Washington press corps? Let’s travel back to the fall of 1999, when shoes really did make the man.

In September 1999, for example, the Times’ Frank Bruni was pandering hard to his love interest, White House hopeful George Bush. The brilliant reporter observed Bush’s shoes—and the shoes seemed to showcase Bush’s brilliance. No, we aren’t making this “news report” up. Yes, this appeared in the Times:
BRUNI (9/14/99) (pgh 1): When Gov. George W. Bush of Texas first hit the Presidential campaign trail in June, he wore monogrammed cowboy boots, the perfect accessory for his folksy affability and casual self-assurance.

(2) But when he visited New Hampshire early last week, he was shod in a pair of conservative, shiny black loafers that seemed to reflect more than the pants cuffs above them. They suggested an impulse by Mr. Bush to put at least a bit of a damper on his brash irreverence, which has earned him affection but is a less certain invitation for respect.

(3) As Mr. Bush presses forward with his almost preposterously charmed quest for the Republican Presidential nomination, he has plenty of confidence, evident in his easy swagger. He has more than enough money—about $50 million and counting, an unprecedented, calculator-boggling sum. And he has a wave of early support in polls that looks tidal.

Good God! Inanity, thy name is the New York Times! But what did Bruni see in this candidate’s shoes? Had Bush changed his shoes to appeal to New Englanders? Was Bush making himself over, reinventing or faking? No, Bruni was pandering hard to Bush, as he would do right through Election Day. So Bush’s shoes showed how brilliant he was! The boots had been the perfect accessory. But those loafers were quite pleasing too.

Of course, George Bush wasn’t the only pol whose shoes seemed to showcase his skill and good character. In the fall of 1999, the press corps was pandering hard to Bill Bradley. So they hammered Gore for his troubling clothes, and peddled tales about Bradley’s footwear. In the November 15 Newsweek (released on November 8), Howard Fineman typed up the script:
FINEMAN: While Gore changes his attire almost manically—from Carnaby Street to Lands’ End in a day—Bradley’s showy obliviousness to fashion is a strategy in and of itself. Campaigning in New Hampshire, he reluctantly bought a pair of shoes. They were as similar as he could find to the ones he was already wearing. They were the first dress shoes Bradley had purchased in a quarter century.
Wait a minute! Bradley hadn’t bought new shoes in twenty-five years? Could any human believe such nonsense? No, but many pundits did—at the Washington Post, for example:
MARY MCGRORY (11/4/99) (pgh 1): The debate coaches they chose for their encounter at Dartmouth tell you pretty much all you need to know about their campaigns. Vice President Al Gore picked a feminist philosopher, an erstwhile columnist for trendy George magazine named Naomi Wolf. Former senator Bill Bradley chose the Democrats’ legendary horse-whisperer, David Burke, onetime staff sage for Teddy Kennedy and later news chief for two networks…

(3) Wolf, 37, is one of Gore’s large collection of consultants. She was a confederate of the most infamous of the breed, Dick Morris. Until now, she was being paid $ 15,000 a month to make Gore more like Clinton…

(4) Bradley got Burke for nothing. [He] paid his own way to New Hampshire and submitted no expense account for lodging. He slept on a couch in the living room of the Bradley suite at the Radisson Hotel. He takes some credit for fashion tips. In the studio run-through, he saw Bradley’s scruffy shoes and told the candidate they would not do. Bradley’s wife was dispatched to scout for shoe polish, and the next day Bradley bought his first pair of shoes in 25 years at a socially conscious Nashua shoe store—the owner gives employees Mondays off to spend with their families, which fits in well with Bradley’s pro-family pitch.

Bradley bought his first pair of shoes in 25 years? No human could believe such a tale. But pundits typed it again and again. It showed how “authentic” the challenger was—and it played off the hated Gore’s fakeness.

By the way, how did Mary know that Bill had worn the same broughams for twenty-five years? Fineman explained that part of the tale. “They were the first dress shoes Bradley had purchased in a quarter century,” he wrote. “How does the world know that? [Bradley] explained it, at length, to reporters.”

DON’T MISS THE POINT: All events confirm the corps’ preconceived notions. When Clark went to Bean, it made him a phony. When Bradley drug scribes to Alec’s Shoes, it showed how “authentic” he is.

THAT FIRST DEBATE: Bradley “reluctantly” bought his new shoes on October 28, the morning after the first Gore-Bradley debate. In that session, the Dems staged a detailed discussion of health care. The topic ranked high among voter concerns. But here’s how McGrory began her column on October 31:
MCGRORY (10/31/99) (pgh 1): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.

(2) Was it part of his reinvention strategy? Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—“I am not a well-dressed man.” It is hard to imagine that he thought to ingratiate himself with the nation’s earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station.

By the way, who was right in the health care discussion? Setting the stage for much that would follow, McGrory never quite bothered to say. She did manage this by the end of her column:
MCGRORY: The evening ended with deep satisfaction among all Democrats. The party had put on display two politicians of high caliber, either one capable of taking on any Republican. They had a meeting that is exactly what people have been saying they want: civil, substantive and without cheap shots.
Without cheap shots! After her ludicrous shots about Gore’s ugly clothes! Could human pundits type this way? At THE HOWLER, we’re not sure what to tell you.

GORE-IN-BOOTS: Oh yes—the press examined Gore’s shoes too. We’ve reported this story in some detail; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/03. There are many mordant chuckles to be had from this startling tale. But just remember—these people aren’t human.

WHY THEY RANT ABOUT THOSE TONES: Not being human herself, Dowd is instinctively troubled by earth tones. “Al Gore sprouted earth tones in 2000,” she robotically typed in yesterday’s piece, “hoping heathery brown sweaters and khakis would warm him up.”

No one has ever really explained the thinking behind the corps’ earth tone obsession. Why exactly did it seem strange to see Gore dressed in “sweaters and khakis?” And why did pundits keep insisting that Naomi Wolf had told Gore he should don them? We’ve told that story in some detail (links below). But Dowd has a connection to the earth tone script that is minor, but well worth recalling.

A bit of background: Wolf’s connection to the Gore campaign was first reported by Time, in a story released on October 31, 1999. The story had been carefully researched—and it didn’t say a word about earth tones! By the way: Like most humans, Gore had been wearing the troubling tones since he began his campaign in March. This is abundantly clear in the published record, as the link below makes abundantly clear.

But so what? The morning after the Time report, Ceci Connolly got busy. In the Post, she cited a conversation with Dick Morris, in which Morris “speculated” (Connolly’s word) that Wolf had told Gore to wear those troubling tones. By that afternoon, the corps was reporting this “speculation” as fact, and worrying hard about its significance. Wolf flatly denied that she had ever given Gore advice about his clothes. No evidence ever contradicted her statement. But so what! Earth tones were now a fact-for-life. Over the course of the next thirteen months, they were endlessly flogged as a troubling fact which revealed troubling parts of Gore’s character. And yes, this really did happen.

Here’s where the inhuman Dowd comes in. Dowd was eager to peddle the tale: Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones. But she didn’t want to tell her readers that the whole thing was just a “speculation” by Morris. So, like many others, Dowd knew what to do. Maureen Dowd fixed up the facts:
DOWD (11/3/99) (pgh 1): I will say this in Naomi Wolf’s favor: You’ve got to respect a woman who gets a vice president to pay her a salary higher than his own.

(2) Time magazine revealed that Al Gore hired Ms. Wolf, who has written extensively on women and sexual power, as a $15,000-a-month consultant to help him with everything from his shift to earth tones to his efforts to break with Bill Clinton.

Sorry. Time hadn’t said a word about earth tones; the whole thing had come from the Morris “speculation.” But many others quickly said that Time had reported the earth tones foofaw. Clarence Page typed it, for example, and Howell Raines typed it up too. Here’s the start of a Times editorial:
TIMES EDITORIAL (11/2/99): Life would be simple for presidential candidates if they did not have advisers. Vice President Gore is the latest to discover this, thanks to the amusing report in Time magazine that he is being urged to quit behaving like a “beta male,” to wear earth-toned suits and to look for opportunities to bash President Clinton, whose alpha maleness Mr. Gore has to conquer. It is, as we have been saying, going to be a great campaign year.

The above advice was urged on Mr. Gore by Naomi Wolf, the feminist author who made her mark on the 1996 campaign by advising President Clinton to reshape his political persona into that of the reliable father. No doubt he wishes he had listened. Her advice to Mr. Gore seems pretty reasonable, except for the earth tones. It is a rule of American politics that Ronald Reagan was the only President who could get away with brown suits.

No, Time didn’t mention the troubling tones. But Time sounded credible—and Dick Morris didn’t—so scribes like Raines knew what to do. Loving the nonsense, they lied in your faces. Is Howell human? We don’t know how to tell.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: The idiocy churned by these life-forms is endless. For our fullest account of Gore-and-the-tones, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/03 (part IV of our “SPINNING WOLF” series). To recall the way Brian Williams and Fineman assailed Gore’s polo shirts, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/02. To review the corps’ take on Gore’s troubling boots, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/03. Meanwhile, how hard did Bruni pander to Bush? At one point, Times headlines compared Bush to Puck! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/18/00 and 5/3/00 for a rundown on Bruni’s early clowning.

PAUL AND SULLY, SITTIN’ IN A TREE: Meanwhile, how about the good news here? Because of Dowd’s buffoonery in yesterday’s Times, the lion has finally laid down with the lamb! In his eponymous web site, Andrew Sullivan properly scolded the Times addled scribe. And he did so by quoting Paul Krugman!

So Gail Collins really had quite a week. First, she published Brooks’ ugly rant. Then she printed full-moonery so extreme that Sully ended up citing Krugman! Can such an editor be of this earth? She has many months left to show us.