WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2004
REVISIONIST HISTORY: We strongly recommend Eric Alterman and Michael Tomaskys current article for The American Prospect. But E&M make a misstatement about Campaign 2000 that call for instant correction, if only because their pleasing error is on the verge of becoming iconic.
Will the press do better in Campaign 04 than it did four years ago? Alterman and Tomasky report hopeful signs. But alas! They get a failing grade in history when they make this suggestion, the last of five:
Dont let non-news organs drive the news cycle. This may be the most important point, and you need only think back to the last election to see how it might work this time. Some right-wing radio host or FOX will push some tale about the Democratic nominee. It will either be an outright deception (Gore and Love Canal), a perverse distortion of something that contains a small kernel of truth (Gore and the famous standing student in Sarasota, Florida), or something completely irrelevant to the mans qualifications to run the country (Gore and fully buttoned brown suits). It will be framed as reflecting the nominee's character. And many voters, who pay only moderate attention to the news and dont give any thought to how and why the information in front of them gets there, will buy into it.
Every serious journalist will know, deep down, that its exaggerated, unfair, and orchestrated. But it wont matter. It will travel from the right-wing media to the cable shows (if, indeed, that can be called traveling at all) and then land on the network news shows and the front pages and op-ed pages of the respectable newspapers.
Clearly, Alterman and Tomasky imply that the iconic slanders of Candidate Gore were initiated and driven by the right-wing media. But that is just plainly untrue. Indeed, just look at the examples which E&M cite. As everyone surely knows by now, the Love Canal misquotation started (on 11/30/99) at the Washington Post and the New York Times, in stories by Ceci Connolly and Katharine Kit Seelye. The matter of Gore and the school desk in Florida? It was an instant post-Debate I hit, lovingly pushed all through the mainstream media. And how about Gores fully buttoned brown suit (his earth tones)? The notion that Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones also started in the Post, with a speculation reported bywho else?Ceci Connolly. The right-wing media played no role. And by the way: E&M omit the Love Story tale. That iconic canard was invented in December 1997 atwhere else?the New York Times, in a trio of ludicrous columns by Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich and in tortured reporting by Melinda Henneberger. Sorry, kids: All the iconic slanders of Gore began at the Washington Post and New York Times. The right-wing media were active in the campaign. But the Post and the Times were in charge.
No one has done more work on the coverage of Campaign 2000 than we have. And we cant think of a single one of the major Gore Slanders that were initiated or driven by the conservative press. Indeed, the Washington Times worked hard to establish several such stories, but failed to gain traction every time. (Gores canoe trip; Gore as slumlord.) The War Against Gore was not initiated or driven by the right-wing press. This war was driven by the mainstream press, no matter how often career scribes tell you different.
Indeed, Al Franken makes the same misstatement in his hilarious and instructive book, LIES And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Early on, Brother Al renders thusly:
FRANKEN (page 3): The members of the right-wing media are not interested in conveying the truth. Thats not what theyre for. They are an indispensable component of the right-wing machine that has taken over our country. They employ a tried-and-true methodology. First, they concoct an inflammatory story that serves their political goals. (Al Gores a liar.) They repeat it. (Al Gore lies again.) They embellish it. (Are his lies pathological, or are they merely malicious?) They try to push it into the mainstream media. All too often, they succeed. (Tall Tales: Is What Weve Got Here a Compulsion to Exaggerate? New York Times, October 15, 2000.)They used these tactics to cripple Clintons presidency, Al writes. They used them to discredit Gore and put Bush into office. But in his actual chapter on Campaign 2000, Franken describeswho else?the Washington Post and the New York Times initiating stories used to gore Gore. And we know that Al understands this is true; indeed, he has cribbed much of this material from this very same DAILY HOWLER, as he acknowledges on some early page of his book. (Sorry, we cant find the page. Al! Think how many books youd have sold if youd only included an index!)
We think Alterman and Tomasky are basically right; current coverage is following a different arc from the astonishing coverage of Campaign 2000. But the reason for that change is clear. By March 1999, the mainstream press had declared a War Against Gore as part of the payback for Clintons impeachment. No such war is being waged now. So why cant we simply state the obvious? Why must we pretend that the right-wing media drove the astonishing War Against Gore? Why is it so hard to tell the truth about the mainstream press corps astounding misbehavior?
ONE FINAL POINT: By the way, The American Prospect hid behind desks while the twenty-month War Against Gore was conducted. The grinding cowardice of such liberal journals put Bush in his current position.
A GUTTER RUNS THROUGH IT (PART 2): Yep! A famous slime-sniffer was workin it hard when Drudge made up tales about Kerrys vile love life (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/17/04). But Andrew Sullivan wasnt the only Big Scribe who didnt know how to talk about it. Once again, a famous dirt-bag was making a joke of Americas presidential discussion. And mainstream scribes of the left, right and center didnt know how to react.
Consider the New York Times Frank Rich. Rich appeared with Sullivan on last weekends Reliable Sources. Indeed, after Sully said that he didnt know how to talk about Drudges latest dirt-dropping, Kurtz laid out the problem for Rich:
KURTZ: But on that point, Frank Rich, in the first 24 hours, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh picked this up, the Web sites of the Wall Street Journal and National Review, Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News did a little bit, and the British press has jumped on this with great glee. What does that tell us about the way the media food chain works when after all, there may not be a story here? What we have is an unsubstantiated rumor.Yikes! A dirt-bags slimy, unsubstantiated tale was making its way all over the map! But Rich seemed to take things in stride:
RICH: Well, its an unsubstantiated rumor, and a lot of times these unsubstantiated rumors that go out through the Internet and are occasionally picked up by the mainstream press dont pan out, and then they die. There were certainly a number of examples of that with Clinton, even though obviously a lot of things that were divulged about him on the Web were true.None of that is necessarily wrong, although none of that is very insightful. (It didnt make a bit of difference?) But as Rich responded to Kurtzs next question, we could only ask thiswheres the outrage?
RICH: Well, I think the press [is] not covering it up, and I think that lots of people, including people who lean towards the right, are going to do everything possible to find out whats there. And my guess is we will find out whats there or not there fairly shortly.It might be true. And then again, it might not! What slime merchant wouldnt be thrilled by such passive recitation of his dick-tugging tales? But then, all around the major media, major scribes seemed to shrug their shoulders as a dirt-bag hijacked the discourse again. Their names are famousand their passion is slight. What do we do when a gutter runs through it? Wed suggest this: First, you care. Most major scribes just dont seem to.
A DIRT-BAG RUNS THROUGH IT: Other famous dirt-bags did care, and they swung into action. On Tuesday, the Hotline excerpted famous dirt-bag Rush Limbaugh. Rush was tugging his dick extra hard as he made a sick joke of your discourse:
DENIAL BE DAMNED! RUSH STILL PUSHES ISSUESimply put, you cant get stupider. Yes, Rush is a dirt-bagbut hes quite powerful. As well see: To many pundits with their Millionaire Pundit Values, its easier not to peep in protest when dirt-bags like Rush take a colleagues sweet rumor and blab it for the all rubes to savor. Dirt-bags like Rush make a joke of our culture. Where dont these scribes seem to care?