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THE SIMPLE LIFE! The corps just “imagines” things, the Post said. But this fact didn’t have the Post bothered:


THE SIMPLE LIFE: Good grief! We assume Howard Kurtz isn’t making in up when he quotes Fox honcho John Moody. In this morning’s Post, Kurtz assesses the press corps’ flogging of Howard Dean’s concession speech in Iowa. “Should that speech have been replayed, as Dean put it, ‘673 times in one week’?” Kurtz asks. The Postman asked Moody to state his view. Incredibly, Moody said this:

KURTZ: Fox News Senior Vice President John Moody said of television’s handling of the Iowa videotape: “I don’t think we overplayed it a scintilla more than we did Michael Jackson hanging the kid over a balcony. It was what everyone, from Jay Leno to the guy sitting next to me on the bus, was talking about. It was the story of the moment, like Saddam with his beard.”
Good grief! They didn’t overplay the clip from the speech any more than they overplayed Michael Jackson! And after all—Jay was talking about the speech, too! Has the vacuous nature of modern “news” ever been put on such open display? How simple is life at the top of your discourse? Just read Moody’s statement again.

But Moody hardly stands alone in his hopeless assessment of the press corps’ conduct. Indeed, the corps’ flogging of Dean’s concession speech has produced one useful result; it has led some scribes to pen revealing accounts of their own cohort’s conduct. For our money, the most revealing assessment came in an editorial in last Saturday’s Washington Post. “[T]he speech itself was not as bad as the reaction to it would suggest,” the Post said. “One could imagine Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) giving a similar war whoop and not sustaining anything like the damage that has accrued to Mr. Dean.” So why was Candidate Dean hammered hard, when Candidate Kerry, after such a war whoop, “might well have been congratulated for shedding his aloof image?” According to the Post, “[t]he speech has caused such big trouble for Mr. Dean because it so graphically evoked already-present worries about the candidate’s temperament.” The editors reviewed other press frenzies, fleshing out the point they had made:

THE WASHINGTON POST: This is a common political phenomenon. Thus, Mr. Quayle’s misspelling of potato was a big deal because of underlying doubts about the vice president’s intellect. President George H. W. Bush’s supposed fascination with a supermarket scanner resonated because of the perception of the president as out of touch with ordinary folk. Likewise, the grief that Vice President Al Gore took over his alleged boasts to have discovered pollution problems at Love Canal, invented the Internet or inspired a character in “Love Story” was the product of his reputation for self-serving puffery. In each of these cases, the importance of an episode, real or imagined, was inflated because of a pre-existing political condition.
In this passage, the Post recalls a few ludicrous episodes from recent press history. According to the Post, these frenzies occurred because some bit of conduct reinforced a “reputation” which already existed with the press.

But notice the way the eds play “Clintonesque” games as they describe their cohort’s conduct. Quayle really did misspell a word (an outrage noted by the nation’s pundits, all of whom had spell-check on their computers and teams of proofreaders over their shoulders). But as the Post only notes in passing, the incidents used to flog Bush and Gore didn’t even actually occur. As has long since become clear, Bush’s “supposed” fascination with a supermarket scanner was an invention of a New York Times pool reporter. Meanwhile, Gore’s trio of damaging “boasts” were only “alleged,” the Post slickly notes. And at the end of this passage, the Post says it again. Some of the conduct the press corps attacked was only “imagined,” the Post says.

What an amazing acknowledgment! In this editorial, the Post’s editors indirectly describe shocking misconduct on the part of their cohort. They acknowledge that the press trashed Bush and Gore on the basis of claims that were only “imagined!” But how amazing is today’s press elite? The editors only mention this fact in passing, and offer no thought about this state of affairs. Did the press corps “imagine” three “alleged” boasts by Gore, then flog them to amplify “already-present worries about the candidate’s temperament?” Yes, it did, the editors say. And the editors don’t much seem to care.

What are the editors really saying? They are really describing the conduct which we have described as following “scripts.” It’s bad enough that the Washington press made a big deal of a misspelled word. It’s stupid enough that the national press flogged a “whoop” from a single speech. But as the Post editorial plainly acknowledges, the press corps’ misconduct goes well beyond that. Especially during Campaign 2000, the press corps simply invented stories, then used these tales to drive preconceived notions. At the Post, this astounding conduct seems so run-of-the-mill that it only gets mentioned in passing.

Think of it as The Simple Life. A vacuous elite hopes you’ll see things as they do. So they “imagines” a string of “supposed” events, and then they flog those “imagined” events ceaselessly. Readers, journalism really is quite simple when the press corps gets to “imagine” its stories. Amazingly, the Post’s hapless eds barely batted an eye as they described this strange conduct last week.

SHIPP SHAPE: On March 5, 2000, Post ombudsman E. R. Shipp described this same process. Shipp was reviewing the coverage of the 2000 race; her column was headlined, “Typecasting Candidates.” According to Shipp, the Post seemed to have assigned the major candidates different “roles” in a pre-scripted “drama:”

SHIPP: [R]eaders react—sometimes in a nonpartisan way, more often not—to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to their actors in this unfolding political drama...As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; other seem to get a free pass.
Shipp specifically cited the same Love Canal story which last week’s Post editorial mentioned (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/00). But Shipp said what the eds knew to avoid—she noted that the Washington Post itself had misquoted Gore about Love Canal. This made Gore sound “delusional,” Shipp said, “which fits the role The Post seems to have assigned him in Campaign 2000.” To Shipp, this conduct was deeply troubling. Last Saturday, the Post’s eds didn’t seem to share that concern. Does the press corps simply “imagine” its stories? Enjoying the Simple Life in D.C., the Post’s eds didn’t much seem to care.

JUST A SIMPLE SAWYER: Due to our recent incomparable travels, we hadn’t read the transcript of Diane Sawyer’s Thursday night interview with the Deans. We were stunned last night—there’s no other word—when we read it, and got to this question:

SAWYER: So, for your 50th birthday, he got you—

HOWARD DEAN: It’s 39th. We do not have 50th birthdays in our house.

SAWYER: That’s right. Excuse me. Excuse me, my research must have been wrong. He got you a Rhododendron? It’s not exactly hearts and flowers.

JUDY DEAN: We don’t do that much with presents. I think, what I always do for my birthday, which is right around Mother’s Day, we have a combined celebration. We do a family bike ride. May in Vermont, sometimes it’s a cold family bike ride. Sometimes it’s not. But we usually do a family bike ride with squished cup cakes in the knapsacks. That’s what I, I like to do that. That’s what I like to do. I’m not a very thing person. I mean, I have things I want. And I have things, everything I want I have, I, pretty much, want I really have. I’m not that interested in things.

Imagine the insolence—imagine the inanity—of asking the wife of a presidential candidate if her birthday gift was thoughtful enough! As we’ve told you so many times: Your discourse now lies in the hands of a vacuous elite. If these people didn’t exist, it would be hard to imagine them.

But one writer did see the Sawyers coming. In January 1924, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a columnist for the Missouri Ruralist. She wrote a column, “The Things That Matter.” We thought of it when Judy Dean told Sawyer that she has all the things that she wants:

WILDER (January 1924): We are so overwhelmed with things these days that our lives are all, more or less, cluttered. I believe it is this, rather than a shortness of time, that gives us that feeling of hurry and almost helplessness. Everyone is hurrying and just a little but late. Notice the faces of the people who rush past on the streets or on our country roads! They nearly all have a strained, harassed look, and anyone you meet will tell you there in no time for anything anymore.

Life is so complicated! The day of the woman whose only needed tool was a hairpin is long since passed. But we might learn something from her and her methods even yet, for life would be pleasanter with some of the strain removed—if it were no longer true, as someone has said, that “things are in the saddle and rule mankind.”

Wilder was quoting historian Brooks Adams. Like Thoreau before her, she saw Sawyer coming. “We heap up around us things we do not need as the crow makes piles of glittering pebbles,” she wrote (in a July 1917 column, “Sweet Williams”). Last Thursday, we saw Sawyer impose the empty values of an insolent class on yet one more race for the White House.

TOMORROW: Jon Stewart challenges the press.