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Afraid to call Hannity what he is, John Broder made Krugman a prophet
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FLAT EARTH DAYS! Afraid to call Hannity what he is, John Broder made Krugman a prophet: // link // print // previous // next //

Ken Starr didn’t squint or display any tics: A very long book has now been written about the scandals (or pseudo-scandals) which drove and defined the Clinton/Gore era. The book is called The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr. The book was written by Ken Gormley, a Duquesne law professor. The book is reviewed by Janet Maslin in today’s New York Times.

We haven’t read Gormley’s book, although we certainly plan to do so. We did have a few reactions to Maslin’s (intriguing) review.

First: To this day, the Whitewater matter remains indecipherable at the paper which gave this “scandal” its start. In this passage, Maslin reviews Gormley’s treatment of the matter which lent its name to an era:

MASLIN (2/15/10): “The Death of American Virtue” is so exhaustive that some of it raises doubts about the value of Mr. Gormley’s exertions. There are times when this book seems akin to climbing Mt. Everest in house slippers: impressive but not entirely necessary. The early parts of the imbroglio, especially the Whitewater real estate investigation involving James and Susan McDougal, are no less confounding than they ever were. But by and large Mr. Gormley has packed his narrative with intense, overdue and definitive testimony about the still-surprising investigation of Mr. Clinton’s activities spearheaded by Kenneth W. Starr.

Who knows? Maybe Gormley’s treatment of Whitewater really is “confounding,” though Maslin seems to vouch for his skill in all other areas. Or maybe this is the latest example of an old pattern at the Times—the refusal to discuss the “scandal” our greatest newspaper pimped.

In 1996, Harper’s published Gene Lyons’ book, Fools for Scandal: How the media invented Whitewater. In Lyons’ book, the New York Times was the leading edge of those inventive “media.” Some fourteen years later, the Whitewater story is still too “confounding” to be described in the Times. We’ll be curious to see what Gormley actually wrote in his book.

Second point: We couldn’t help noting Maslin’s differential treatment of Clinton and Starr, the twinned stars of Gormley’s title. In this passage, a familiar novelistic trope appears in her treatment of Clinton:

MASLIN: Mr. Clinton and Mr. Starr are more than willing to speak their minds. Mr. Clinton, interviewed mostly at his home in Chappaqua, N.Y., and variously described as reddening, squinting, clenching his fist and so on, frames rational-sounding arguments about why the facts arrayed against him were essentially beside the point. For instance, Ms. Jones’s lawsuit was inadvertently started by an article in The American Spectator that claimed she had been brought to his hotel room and propositioned by him. (Mr. Gormley reports that the magazine’s editor says this was an accident: Ms. Jones was not supposed to have been named.) But if her grievance had been about the besmirching of her reputation, Mr. Clinton wonders, why did she align herself with this right-wing publication?

“She would have gone after The American Spectator instead of getting in bed with them,” Mr. Clinton says with characteristic indignation. “So this was never what this was about.”

President Clinton is lightly-complected (“light-skinned”). He sometimes rouges when he speaks. People like Maslin never tire of using this as a marker of his (slightly suspicious) indignation. Clinton also “squinted” at Gormley on at least one occasion, it would seem from what Maslin has written. No such bodily tics intrude when she turns to the unblemished Starr:

MASLIN (continuing directly): Meanwhile Mr. Starr, now dean of Pepperdine University School of Law, speculates that if he were to run into Mr. Clinton, he would probably say, “I’m sorry that it all happened.” He then quickly corrects the record: “Not in the form of an apology, but really as a reflection.”

That’s it! Apparently, Starr never squinted at Gormley or displayed tics of any kind. This disparity may reflect Gormley’s text—or it may reflect Maslin’s novelistic preference. Because uh-oh! In her closing paragraph, she makes a statement about “some participants” (plural) in Gormley’s drama, then instantly singles out you-know-who, not even feeling the need to make anything like clear sense:

MASLIN: Mr. Gormley is as successful in capturing big-picture issues as he is in setting bizarre intimate scenes. (The circumstances under which Mr. Clinton gave blood samples for DNA testing make for a particularly paranoia-filled story.) And its paradoxes are rich, sad and inescapable. This protracted case created many casualties, even if some participants could sustain a state of denial. (“How I wish Mother could have seen this whole ride,” Mr. Clinton wrote cheerfully to a friend of his deceased mother.) But the book’s title, “The Death of American Virtue,” leaves no doubt as to how much bipartisan damage Mr. Gormley thinks was done, and the price he thinks we all paid.

According to Maslin, some participants (plural) managed to “sustain a sense of denial.” Given the rules of American journalism, was there ever any doubt who her instant example would be? Indeed, Maslin seems so eager to drop this around Clinton’s neck that she suspends the need for anything resembling normal clarity. What did Clinton mean in that quoted statement? To which “whole ride” did he refer? Did this statement really reflect something like “a state of denial?” We don’t have the slightest idea. But in press corps novels about this era, it will always be Bill who is used to represent a group of players with some psychological imperfection. Clarity itself can just go hang when this primal need intrudes.

Finally: We were struck by Maslin’s semi-disinterest in this deeply consequential part of our history. In Maslin’s account, Gormley is writing about “the dizzyingly convoluted legal and political mess that plagued the Clinton presidency.” These events, which “created many casualties,” were “a catastrophe for all concerned,” including a sitting president. The book’s title “leaves no doubt as to how much bipartisan damage Mr. Gormley thinks was done, and the price he thinks we all paid.” Yet Maslin seems a bit blasé about the need to explore this crucial history. As noted, the “scandal” which gave the era its name is still too confounding to explain. At another point, Maslin describes Gormley’s tome as “a book that will surely rivet those willing to revisit such byzantine material.”

The rest of us need not apply.

It may be that Gormley’s text is byzantine. But Maslin’s air of insouciance suffuses mainstream press reaction to the persistently unexplored events of the Clinton/Gore era. By the way, the largest “price...we all paid” for the events in Gormley’s book involved the mainstream press corps’ subsequent war against Clinton’s vice president and the resulting election of President Bush. Career liberals, insouciant like Maslin, have happily agreed to deep-six this matter—a matter in which the “career liberal” world disgraced itself along with the mainstream press. Those willing to revisit such byzantine material can visit our companion site, How He Got There (click here). We’ll be posting Chapter 3, “Washington (Post) at war,” on Tuesday of next week.

(Final note: The use of bodily tics as markers of character is a fine practice—in novels or films. When this practice gets transferred to journalism, it does tend to novelize news.)

Special report: Global dumbing!

PART 1—FLAT EARTH DAYS (permalink): In August 2005, Paul Krugman repeated a joke—a five-year-old joke which is now semi-famous.

“I once joked that if President Bush said that the Earth was flat, the headlines of news articles would read, ‘Opinions Differ on Shape of the Earth,’ ” Krugman wrote (click here). He’d unveiled the joke in November 2000, a few days before the Bush-Gore election, explaining why Candidate Bush had been allowed to make obvious, repeated misstatements about his proposals for Social Security (click this).

If George Bush said the earth was flat, would journalists write, “Opinions differ?” At this point, possibly not. But the New York Times came pretty darn close to doing just that in a news article about climate change on the front page of last Thursday’s paper.

John Broder (no relation) wrote the report. It concerned the various pseudo-conservative claims about last week’s record snowstorms in Washington. Did those storms debunk climate change theory—did they debunk global warming? Opinions differ, Broder seemed to say, in a report which seemed to come straight out of Paul Krugman’s joke bin.

Does snow in D.C. debunk/contradict/disprove global warming? Sadly, this is how Broder began his report:

BRODER (2/10/10): As millions of people along the East Coast hole up in their snowbound homes, the two sides in the climate-change debate are seizing on the mounting drifts to bolster their arguments.

Skeptics of global warming are using the record-setting snows to mock those who warn of dangerous human-driven climate change—this looks more like global cooling, they taunt.

Most climate scientists respond that the ferocious storms are consistent with forecasts that a heating planet will produce more frequent and more intense weather events.

But some independent climate experts say the blizzards in the Northeast no more prove that the planet is cooling than the lack of snow in Vancouver or the downpours in Southern California prove that it is warming.

In our view, that passage comes pretty darn close to making a prophet of Krugman. (Things get worse as Broder continues.)

Let’s be clear. There’s nothing wrong with referring to “the two sides” in the climate-change debate. Some people think that climate change is a well-founded theory. Other people (the “skeptics”) do not.

But were “the two sides” in this debate really “seizing on the mounting drifts to bolster their arguments?” More specifically: Did anyone with an ounce of sense make the ludicrous claims which were widely heard last week—this cosmically stupid claim by Fox’s Sean Hannity, for instance:

HANNITY (2/8/10): Tonight's “Meltdown” is brought to you by the D.C. snowstorm—you know, the storm that dumped about two feet of snow on the Washington area over the weekend... It's the most severe winter storm in years, which would seem to contradict Al Gore's hysterical global warming theories.


Believe it or not, the snowstorm has not silenced climate alarmists. Now coming up: Wait until you hear how your tax dollars are being used to combat all this warming! That and more, straight ahead!

Did last week’s severe winter storm somehow “contradict” warming theory? It takes a real flat-earther to say that. No serious “climate skeptic” would make such a foolish claim—no serious person on either “side” in the climate debate.

No one but a flat-out fool would actually make such gong-show statements. It takes a flat-earther to make such claims—but Broder wasn’t willing to say so.

Did last week’s storms “seem to contradict” warming theory? Opinions differ, Broder seemed to say, on page one of our greatest newspaper.

At such times, it becomes more clear why our nation’s in headlong decline.

What’s wrong with Broder’s presentation? Start with his second paragraph, which confers a bit too much dignity on ludicrous hustlers like Hannity. That paragraph would be perfectly accurate if Broder had simply written this: “Talk-show hosts and Republican senators are using the record-setting snows to mock those who warn of dangerous human-driven climate change.” That revised statement would have the advantage of being perfectly accurate; Hannity clowned on this topic all week, as did a string of Republican senators. But did Hannity reach the level of a “skeptic” when he engaged in this ludicrous conduct? More specifically: Was he representing one of “the two sides in the climate-change debate?”

Actually, no—he wasn’t. Presumably, no one with any scientific credibility made such claims last week. Which brings us around to the problems found in Broder’s third and fourth paragraphs:

*Most climate scientists say that last week’s storms are consistent with standard climate change forecasts? Presumably, all climate scientists would say that. Whatever you think of the merits of climate change theory, it’s perfectly clear that last week’s storms are in fact “consistent with its forecasts.”

*Some independent climate experts say the blizzards don’t prove the planet is cooling? Some such experts say that Vancouver’s lack of snow doesn’t prove that the planet is warming? Presumably, every such expert would agree with both statements—would agree that specific weather events can’t prove or disprove climate change theory. Everyone knows that last statement is true—everyone except a gang of hustlers, nitwits and con men.

Does Vancouver’s lack of snow prove that warming is happening? Everyone knows it doesn’t! Does Washington’s heavy snow prove that the planet is cooling? Everyone knows that’s foolish too! Say it again: Everyone knows that these claims are foolish, whichever of the “two sides” they’re on! Indeed, you don’t have to be a “climate expert” to know how foolish such statements are. As we noted last week, this is what Charles Krauthammer said on last Wednesday’s Special Report, a program which airs on Fox:

KRAUTHAMMER (2/10/10): Look, this is going to hurt the global warming people in public opinion. It already is way down on the list of concerns with 10 percent unemployment, and if you are shoveling for the next three weeks, it will be lower down.

However, it has no effect one way are the other on the veracity of the science. There is no weather event in any one locality, even a string of weather events, that's going to have any effect on the truth or the falsity of global climate change.

I think it's perverse—it's comical that the establishment of a global warming office in this administration occurs on a day when you have a snowstorm and you have to postpone the press conference. It's rather amusing. But it doesn't have any effect on the science.

I think it's perverse when the pro-warming people argue that an event like this is support of their theory, because in that case it will explain anything. If it's going to explain a snowstorm it will explain anything, and in science, if you explain everything, you explain nothing. It has no effect on the science but it is simply an anomaly.

People can argue minutia in that. But Charles understands what everyone understands—a single weather event can’t prove, disprove or “contradict” warming theory. Responding directly, host Bret Baier (he’s employed by Fox) seemed to show that he pretty much understands how this story goes too:

BAIER (continuing directly): That's right, Mort [Kondracke]. Global warming supporters say that moisture builds up in the air and that there's more snow events because of global warming.

“Supporters” might not be the right word there. But Krauthammer wasn’t the only “all-star” who understood how stupid it is to play Hannity’s brain-dead game. Kondracke rolled his eyes at Limbaugh, Palin and Jim DeMint (all were named) for their various foolish pronouncements. And then, even Tucker Carlson agreed! “As Charles points out correctly,” this third all-star said, “today's storm doesn't affect the science.”

In the course of his answer, Carlson made it clear that he’s a skeptic about warming theory. But duh! Even Tucker understands how stupid Hannity’s conduct is, though everyone knew not to mention the clowning occurring elsewhere on Fox.

Can we talk? Hannity made a flat-earth statement last Monday night. He then kept making such statements all week. In the course of this clowning, he was disinforming the millions of people who watch his program each night. But on the front page of our mightiest newspaper, John Broder (no relation) seemed unwilling to say so. He made it sound like some “climate experts” really might be saying that Washington’s storms contradict warming theory. Right from the start, he made it sound like “the two sides” may differ on that.

Opinions differ, he seemed to say. As he continued, he kept conflating circus clowns (Senator Inhofe, the harlequin Drudge) with actual “climate experts.”

Alas! President Bush is gone from the scene, but kooky-con power remains strong in D.C. Broder didn’t seem willing to cross it. John Broder (no relation) just made Krugman a prophet, a group of the analysts suddenly cried. Tomorrow, we’ll look at more of Broder’s flat-earth-enabling piece.

Alas! In Broder’s front-page report, our biggest newspaper seemed to say that “opinions differ,” just as Krugman once predicted. In the process, a gang of hustlers, con men and clowns got conflated with “climate experts.” At the Times, these hustlers now constitute one of “the sides,” as our nation sinks into the sea. Tomorrow: More of Broder’s flat-earth love. Also: Global dumbing by Dana.

Coming: The need for a paradigm