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Daily Howler: Atop page one, the Times quotes a barber--making false claims RE Barack
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BARBERSHOP II–NOT THE MOVIE! Atop page one, the Times quotes a barber–making false claims RE Barack: // link // print // previous // next //

SOURCES OF TRAGEDY: The nomination of Gore for the Nobel Prize is the smiling face of a vast human tragedy. Gore was able to make last year’s film because Bush ended up in the White House; Bush then marched us off to Iraq. By the way: How did the brilliant New York Times treat Gore’s environmental work during Campaign 2000? How else? They mocked him for it, on page one. On Monday, we’ll refresh you.

A number of people should burn in hell for the scams they ran on this country back then. For unknown reasons, liberals and Democrats still prefer to pretend that this just didn’t happen.

BARBERSHOP II–NOT THE MOVIE: When we began THE DAILY HOWLER, we suppose we viewed it as a political project. Now, though, we often tend to see it as an act of anthropology. A basic question keeps coming to mind: In the American context, are we humans smart enough to perform the basic functions of journalism? This fundamental question came to mind once again when we read today’s New York Times.

On page one, above the fold, Rachel Swarns reports on black voters’ reactions to Barack Obama. In paragraph 5–above the fold–she prints this remarkable paragraph:
SWARNS (2/2/07): ''When you think of a president, you think of an American,'' said Mr. Lanier, a 58-year-old barber who is still considering whether to support Mr. Obama. ''We've been taught that a president should come from right here, born, raised, bred, fed in America. To go outside and bring somebody in from another nationality, now that doesn't feel right to some people.''
That paragraph appears above the fold on page one of today’s New York Times’ front page. Again, it raises the anthropological question: Are we Americans smart enough to conduct the most basic journalism?

What’s so remarkable about that paragraph? In it, Swarns quotes a 58-year-old barber as he makes a string of counterfactual claims about a White House candidate. What does this barber seem to say? He seems to say that he is concerned because Obama is not “an American.” He seems to say that Obama is “from another nationality.” And he seems to say that he is concerned because Obama wasn’t “born, raised, bred, fed in America.” These statements appear without challenge or comment. And all of these claims are just false.

Duh! Barack Obama was born in America; otherwise, he couldn’t serve as president. And Obama was “raised, bred and fed in America,” except for a four-year period (ages 6-10) when he lived with his mother in Indonesia. Meanwhile, is Obama “an American?” Is he “from another nationality?” The latter phrase has various meanings, but Obama plainly is an American; he has been an American citizen since the day of his birth. But uh-oh! Given the rest of the quoted material, a reader of Rachel Swarns’ fifth paragraph may well come away thinking different.

Why is that passage so remarkable? No, it isn’t surprising that there’s a “man-in-the-street” who believes a string of things which are false. What’s remarkable here is Swarns herself (and her editor), not that blathering barber. Remarkably, Swarns prints those counter-factual statements above the fold on page one of the Times, without making the slightest attempt to tell readers that the statements are factually false. Obama wasn’t born and raised in America! And: Obama is from another nationality! And: Obama isn’t an American! These implied statements are all false, but Swarns makes no effort to let readers know that. And yes–this is how bogus claims get spread. In this case, the bogus claims are getting spread above the fold on page one of the Times.

We’ll assume that Swarns (and/or her editor) are stupid, not devious. But as we told you just last week, this is one of the simplest ways a “reporter” can spread false information. Want to put a false claim into print? Without making the bogus statement yourself? Simple! Go talk to the main-in-the-street! As every reporter surely knows, if you interview twenty barbers, you’ll hear a wealth of bogus factual statements. You can then pick out the false claim you like. You can type it up; put it in quotes; then put the false statement into the paper. And yes: People who proceed to read the false claim will often believe that it’s accurate! To see the Washington Times play this game RE Candidate Gore, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/30/99.

Duh! When people read false claims on page one, they’ll often think the claims are accurate. Does Swarns–does her editor–think her readers know better? If so, Rachel Swarns and her hapless editor are the dumbest human beings on earth.

Swarns’ performance is especially clownish because of the context of this “reporting.” In the very next paragraph–in paragraph 6–she discusses the fact that Joseph Biden made a clumsy statement about Obama’s race! But right before this rumination, she herself broadcasts a set of statements about Obama which are utterly false! And yes: People do come to believe false claims when false claims appear in the newspaper.

Are we humans smart enough to perform the simplest acts of journalism? The question had already come to mind when we read today’s columns by David Ignatius and Eugene Robinson, and when we tried to decipher the start of this report by Amy Goldstein. But Rachel Swarns–page one of the Times–sent our analysts back to their desks. They puzzled again about a deep problem. They pondered the state of the race.

THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF TRANSCRIPTION: As she continues, Swarns transcribes Biden’s statement about Obama. Here’s her account, to her readers, of what Biden supposedly said:

SWARNS (2/2/07): On Wednesday, the question of race took center stage in the presidential campaign because of remarks that Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, made about Mr. Obama. Mr. Biden characterized Mr. Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy'' and then spent the day–his first as an official presidential candidate, explaining and apologizing for his remarks.
As we noted yesterday, Biden made a hopelessly clumsy statement. But that transcription (which, in part, is simply inaccurate) makes his statement even worse. But so what! This lazy transcription has become standard, and a string of daft cable hosts took things one step farther last night. Duh! They could have simply played the tape, letting viewers hear what Biden had said. But no! Instead, they posted this incomplete transcription on the screen, then read the transcription in their own voices! Lost were Biden’s own inflections–and part of what Biden had said.

For the record, here’s a fuller transcript of the exchange from which Swarns’ transcription has been cadged. Some of what Biden said has been killed–along with an interviewer’s interruption:
BIDEN: I mean, you’ve got the first, sort of, mainstream African-American–


BIDEN: Who is articulate and bright and, and, and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.
We’ll pass you on to Paul Kiel for this, although we’d express certain points somewhat differently. Note: Some statements, including this one by Biden, are extremely hard to transcribe if you’re trying to be fair to the speaker. In such cases, journos should simply present the transcription which comes most easily. But expecting our “press corps” to deal with such matters is like asking gorillas to invent fine perfumes. Swarns’ transcription removes several things which were actually said in this exchange. And when TV hosts insisted on reading the simplified text for themselves, they also dumped Biden’s inflections.

By the way, who was dumbest of the dumb last night? Not O’Reilly! O’Reilly played the actual tape, letting viewers hear what Biden had said On Hardball, though, a consummate dumb-ass read the transcription in his own voice, with his own inflections! Are humans smart enough for this game? Watching Hardball, must humans really ask?

PANDERING ONWARD: Too dumb to play the tape of the statement, Matthews continued to pander for Biden. Several times, he took digs at Obama, suggesting the whole thing had been his fault. (Obama “wasn’t being chivalrous like Jesse Jackson was,” Matthews said at one point. And he said that Obama’s reaction had been “staffed up.” Translation: His reaction was phony.) At one point, Matthews asked Biden the following question. Good God! There’s simply nothing so perfectly foolish that millionaire pundits won’t say it:
MATTHEWS (2/2/07): Is this media too in love with "gotcha?"

BIDEN: Well look, I mean this is–

MATTHEWS: Is this "gotcha journalism” jumping on your back?
Is this media too in love with "gotcha?" Surely, the gods on Olympus howled, delighted by this borderline mortal!

Is the media too in love with “gotcha!” This same talker had spent Monday and Tuesday nights beating the shit out of Hillary Clinton because she’d dared to tell a joke, a joke at which her audience laughed. “It was girl humor about girls and the trouble they all have with men,” Matthews groused on Tuesday night. “And that could be her strategy. ‘We girls have had a lot of trouble with men, let’s face it. I`ve had to deal with Bill. Let’s face it. Let’s all giggle together.’ ”

Let’s all giggle together! And on Thursday and Friday of the previous week, Matthews had pretended that Clinton’s husband calls her an “uppity woman.” And, of course, during Campaign 2000, he played “gotcha” with Gore for two solid years. He lied his ass off about various pseudo-scandals, and dumped an endless stream of insults on the Democratic candidate’s head. Now, he worries that the corps may be playing gotcha with Biden! He’s worried, of course, because Biden’s involved–and Biden is part of the club.

Matthews is a stupid–and nasty–piece of work. He tore your candidate to pieces in 1999 and 2000, and he’s planning to do this to your nominee once again. But last night, the borderline talker cried real tears as the press corps mistreated his tribal buddy! But then, Jack Welch bought this strange boy a long time ago–and Welch knew which boy he should purchase.

WHY JESSE REAMED CHRIS: Last night, Matthews was playing friend-to-the-brothers, talking about the great work of “the movement” and praising Jesse Jackson great traits to the skies. Of course, we’ve shown you, in the past few days, the sorts of things this borderline nut really says about “third world” parts of the Democratic Party. But last night, he played kiss-kiss smooch-smooch, gettin’ right “down” with the brothers. Of course, it sounded like Jesse may have been helped him a tad. Al Sharpton was discussing Biden’s ill-conceived statement about Obama being the first “mainstream” black candidate:

SHARPTON (2/1/07): Reverend Jackson beat Joe Biden in some states [in 1988]. So who defines mainstream?

MATTHEWS: I was reminded of that yesterday by the Reverend Jackson. He made it clear–

SHARPTON: So, I mean, who defines mainstream? Mainstream, who defines that? If you’re getting more votes than another guy, I think you are mainstream.
It sounded like Jackson had put the wood to Matthews, “reminding” him of certain facts. At any rate, Chris played friend-to-the-brothers all night. Read the transcript–you can tease out a few low, mordant chuckles.

“Mainstream?” It’s an amorphous term. Biden’s friends have spent two evenings explaining what he probably meant by the term. But let’s get clear about the race for the Democratic nomination in Campaign 88. In fact, Jackson finished second in the final delegate count (2876 for Dukakis; 1218 for Jackson). The nomination chase had been decided in April’s New York state primary. Here were the statewide vote totals:
Dukakis: 784,422 (51%)
Jackson: 573,910 (37%)
Gore: 156,480 (10%)
Others: 34,655 (2%)
Jackson finished second in the New York state primary, getting 37 percent of the vote. And he finished second at the convention. “Mainstream” is an amorphous term (in part, that’s why Biden shouldn’t have used it). But if you aren’t in the mainstream when you run a strong second, we find it hard to interpret the term.

Last night, Matthews fawned and pandered to Jackson, saying how super-fab he is. And yes, it sounds like Jesse called Chris up and gave Mr. Dumb-ass a pep talk. But readers, why did Jackson have to call Matthews up? Here’s what Jack’s boy said Wednesday night, speaking about this same subject:

MATTHEWS (1/31/07): I’m going to ask you, Tony [Blankley], after I read the response from Senator Obama. This took a couple hours, by the way, this response. I think it was staffed up. Just asking–just thinking.

"I didn’t take Senator Biden`s comments personally, but, obviously, they are historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."

I don’t think Biden called him in–the others inarticulate. I think he was saying, all these good qualities together haven`t been there before.

I don’t think anybody would call Jesse Jackson “mainstream” either.
Classic Matthews! On Wednesday, he said he didn’t think that anybody would call Jackson “mainstream.” It was outside the realm of thought. By Thursday night, he was pandering hard. He was a man of the brothers.

As one can imagine Chris Rock saying: “I love my Irish-American friends. It’s these dumb f*ckin’ micks I can’t stand!”

JAY CARNEY’S SENSE OF THE MAINSTREAM: How do they get themselves dressed in the morning? On Wednesday’s Hardball, Time’s Jay Carney shared his idea of the “mainstream:”
CARNEY (1/31/07): What Biden was saying, and this is Biden’s fault for not being clear in what he was saying in this interview, is that there hasn’t been a candidate, a viable African-American candidate with all those qualities in one.

MATTHEWS: And mainstream.

CARNEY: Who is mainstream.

MATTHEWS: Mainstream is the key to me.

CARNEY: Who didn’t come from the civil rights movement, you know, who came up through elected office, who wasn’t, you know, simply a boutique or fringe candidate...
You think Biden tends to express himself poorly? According to Carney, you’re not a mainstream candidate if you “come from the civil rights movement!” If the gods still laugh on Mount Olympus, it’s because they watch Hardball each night.