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Daily Howler: Elisabeth Bumiller gets it right--but it's time for a whole gang to go
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IT’S TIME FOR THEM TO GO! Elisabeth Bumiller gets it right—but it’s time for a whole gang to go: // link // print // previous // next //

BUMILLER GETS IT RIGHT: We’re pleased to be able to type these words: In this morning’s New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller gets it (quite) right.

Omigod! In a fair and sensible “News Analysis,” Bumiller examines John McCain’s sometimes-shifting views and statements about four major issues. Yes, we could offer a few minor quibbles. For example, Bumiller could have gone back to Campaign 2000 regarding McCain’s views on the Bush tax cuts. And she could have cited a second piece of triangulation from Campaign 2000 concerning abortion. But on balance, Bumiller’s presentation is fair and accurate. She removes the halo from a saint’s head without the blatant anti-McCain spinning found in Jim Rutenberg’s sexed-up report. (For our treatment of Rutenberg;’s piece, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/29/08).

As we mentioned last week, a ten-year love affair with McCain seems to be reaching its end at the Times. That, of course, is a very good thing; journalists aren’t supposed to conduct love affairs with Big Major Pols. Then too, they aren’t supposed to stage 16-year wars—vendettas built on open loathing. But that’s what they did with the Clintons and Gore—and it’s too late to roll that one back.

At any rate, a long love affair may be reaching its end, at least in some parts of the New York Times. Rutenberg broke up with his love quite unfairly. Today, though, we’re happy to type these words: Bumiller gets it right!

IT’S TIME FOR POMFRET TO GO: Who on earth is John Pomfret? Since he took over the Post’s “Outlook” section, we’ve repeatedly mentioned the gruesome bad taste displayed in the pieces he publishes. Yesterday, he did it again, with a pair of egregiously stupid lead articles about the role of women voters in the current election.

Are women stupid? Or are they fickle? Pomfret gave you that choice.

Voting for “stupid” was the inane Charlotte Allen, star of various kooky-con journals. But Allen isn’t simply inane. As is often the case at Pomfret’s Outlook, she can be remarkably nasty—when discussing Big Dems, that is. Here, she rants about Hillary Clinton and her stupid Latina campaign manager:

ALLEN (3/2/08): Take Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. By all measures, she has run one of the worst—and, yes, stupidest—presidential races in recent history, marred by every stereotypical flaw of the female sex. As far as I'm concerned, she has proved that she can't debate—viz. her televised one-on-one against Obama last Tuesday, which consisted largely of complaining that she had to answer questions first and putting the audience to sleep with minutiae about her health-coverage mandate. She has whined (via her aides) like the teacher's pet in grade school that the boys are ganging up on her when she's bested by male rivals. She has all but wept on the campaign trail, even though everyone knows that tears are the last refuge of losers. And she is tellingly dependent on her husband.

Then there's Clinton's largely female staff, often chosen for loyalty rather than, say, brains or political savvy. Clinton finally fired her daytime-soap-watching, self-styled "Latina queena" campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, known for burning through campaign money and for her open contempt for the "white boys" in the Clinton camp. But stupidly, she did it just in time to alienate the Hispanic voters she now desperately needs to win in Texas and Ohio to have any shot at the Democratic nomination.

What is it about us women? Why do we always fall for the hysterical, the superficial and the gooily sentimental?

Clinton is stupid—and so is Solis Doyle, the Latina who wasn’t selected for brains. And of course, Clinton has been “putting the audience to sleep with minutiae about her health-coverage mandate.” (No, this doesn’t fit the stereotype, but garbage like this isn’t asked to make sense.) According to Allen, Clinton’s campaign has been dragged down by “every stereotypical flaw of the female sex”—including the fact that women are stupid, the key point of her piece.

For what it’s worth, Allen isn’t content to argue that women are stupid—she seems determined to prove the foolish claim herself. At one point, she says that she herself “can’t add 2 and 2.” After reading this passage, we believed her:

ALLEN: Depressing as it is, several of the supposed misogynist myths about female inferiority have been proven true. Women really are worse drivers than men, for example. A study published in 1998 by the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men's 5.1, though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women. The only good news was that women tended to take fewer driving risks than men, so their crashes were only a third as likely to be fatal.

You probably noted what Allen (and her editor) did not; the statistic about driving “more miles per year” is (essentially) irrelevant to the finding that women get in more (slightly) more accidents per mile driven. Meanwhile, if women get in slightly more accidents, but men get in many more fatal accidents, is it clear that men are better drivers? Such questions exceed the reach of people like Allen—and of the person who published her.

But Allen’s thesis—Women are stupid—was no dumber or more offensive than its twin, promoted in the latest groaner from the inane Linda Hirshman. Here’s Hirshman’s thesis: Women are fickle! As routinely happens in Hirshman pieces, the author seems unable to handle even the simplest data. Consider the passage where Hirshman “proves” that women have been fickle about Clinton and Obama. Can you follow the reasoning here? To be honest, we could not:

HIRSHMAN (3/2/08): About 57 percent of the voters in the Democratic primaries so far have been women. As of Feb. 12, Clinton had a lead of about seven percentage points over Obama among them (24 points among white women). But the Obama campaign reached out to the fair sex, following Clinton's announcement of women-oriented programs with similar ones within a matter of weeks. I can imagine the strategists for the senator from Illinois thinking, "What's that song in Verdi's 'Rigoletto'?" Women are fickle.

Turns out it's true.

From the moment the primary season began, the group "women" divided along racial lines. Black women have backed Obama by more than 78 percent. But even after subtracting that group, white women (including Hispanics) are still the single largest demographic in the party, at 44 percent. If they voted as a bloc, it would take only a little help from any other bloc to elect the female candidate. White women favor Clinton. So why is she trailing as the contest heads to Ohio and Texas?

The answer is class. As of Feb. 19, the day of the Wisconsin primary, ABC pollster Gary Langer found that white women with a college degree had favored Clinton in the primaries by 13 percent up to that point. Among less educated women, meanwhile, she commanded a robust 38-point lead. But each passing week since Super Tuesday has seen a further erosion in support for the senator from New York among the educated classes. In Wisconsin, she won a minority of college-educated women. And unless there's some sort of miracle turnaround in Ohio and Texas, this is what may cost her the Democratic nomination.

This isn't the class divide I would have predicted a year ago. Among women, the obvious thing would be for lower-income, non-college-educated white and black women to line up behind the candidate with the more generous social platform. Both Clinton and Obama have generous platforms, but Clinton's health-care plan is more ambitious, and she was the first to propose mandatory paid family leave (which mostly women take). But women, black and white, stubbornly refuse to behave according to a strict model of economic self-interest. Black women of all income levels have gone for Obama.

Even before Wisconsin, a plurality of elite white women split off from their poorer counterparts to vote for Obama.

Black women have favored Obama, a lot; white women have favored Clinton, by a lesser margin. For unknown reasons, this is presented as the principal evidence for Hirshman’s claim: Women are fickle. But as is often the case with Hirshman, it’s hard to follow her reasoning here—to follow the way she uses her data. For example, we have no idea why she says that black and white women “stubbornly refuse to behave according to a strict model of economic self-interest.” According to the data she provides, white women have split along economic lines—with the “less educated women” supporting Clinton by a “robust” margin.

Hirshman goes on to offer insulting (and insultingly stupid) speculations about why certain well-known women have endorsed Obama instead of Clinton. This is the kind of garbage that has come to define Pomfret’s “Outlook:”

HIRSHMAN: [I]t could just be that women with more education (and more money) relate on a subconscious level to the young and handsome Barack and Michelle Obama, with their white-porticoed mansion in one of the cooler Chicago neighborhoods and her Jimmy Choo shoes.

Or it's something less analyzable.

No, you can’t get dumber than Hirshman. Which makes her perfect for Pomfret’s “Outlook”—and perfect for a pairing with Allen. Are women stupid? Or are they fickle? That was the choice the Post gave its readers, in a pair of insultingly stupid selections.

Please note: In 1999, many observers dismissed Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick’s final film—but around here, we saw the film differently. We saw it as Kubrick’s study of a certain kind of upper-class elite—an elite which secretly longs to roll back the clock, to return to certain pre-Enlightenment norms and traditions. Indeed: As these Outlook pieces help show, the modern world is crawling with people who want to return to an easier time—a time when silly, stupid stereotypes kept the ladies in their place. The Hirshmans and Allens crawl on our discourse, offering cover for this outlook by virtue of their sex. And people like Pomfret employ them.

But then, Pomfret has made a running joke of Outlook. It’s time for this strange dude to go.

IT’S TIME FOR JEFFREY ROSEN TO GO: Last week, we saw two of our “liberal intellectual leaders” rush to recite the wisdom of Drudge. We figured it couldn’t get any worse—until Jeffrey Rosen authored this piece in Saturday’s New York Times.

Good lord! Rosen argues in his column that Obama is better than Clinton on the matter of civil liberties. For ourselves, we have no view on that question. But the following passage is simply astounding. You need to ponder it hard:

ROSEN (3/1/08): Hillary Clinton’s conduct during the Clinton impeachment does not inspire confidence in her respect for privacy. Kathleen Willey, one of the women who accused President Clinton of unwanted advances, charges in a new book that Mrs. Clinton participated in the smear campaigns against her. A federal judge found that the Clinton White House had ''committed a criminal violation'' of Ms. Willey's privacy rights by releasing her private letters. (An appellate court later criticized the judge's ''sweeping pronouncements.'')

Astounding. No other word for it.

For the record, the unnamed federal judge to whom Rosen refers is the famous Clinton-trasher, Royce Lamberth. (Stephanie Mencimer: “During the 1990s, judge Royce Lamberth earned a reputation as a Clinton basher on par with independent counsel Ken Starr.”) For some reason, the fact that Lamberth once accused “the Clinton White House” of something—and was “later criticized”—is presented here as evidence against Hillary Clinton. Go ahead—just try to explain that.

That presentation by Rosen is outrageous enough. But when he cites Kathleen Willey’s new book, you again get a chastening look at the endless intellectual corruption of your “liberal leaders.”

How big a kook is Kathleen Willey? Let’s put it this way: Her new book is so far-out that she couldn’t even get booked on Hardball, where she served as Chris Matthews’ dearest darling during the late 1990s. A thrill would run up the gentleman’s leg whenever his darling, Faire Willey, appeared—for example, when she made a false accusation against journalist Cody Shearer, a false and reckless accusation which nearly got Shearer killed (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/20/99 and 5/21/99). Let’s put Willey’s various odd episodes off to the side; by the time the Starr investigations ended, her reputation had fallen so far that Robert Ray, Starr’s successor, specifically noted that she had lied to his investigators, even after she’d been granted immunity. In his final report, Ray noted that Willey “had given substantially different accounts in two sworn statements and had lied to the FBI about her relationship with a former boyfriend.” Indeed, it seemed that Ray had even considered prosecuting Willey for her misstatements. “Following Willey’s acknowledgment of the lie, the Independent Counsel agreed not to prosecute her for false statements in this regard,” his report said. Once again, this was the formal report which ended Ken Starr’s endless probes. (For a full account of the press corps’ love affair with Willey, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/10/03. Note the way they refused to report the things the Ray report said.)

Can we talk? At this point, it’s hard to be much less credible than Willey. Again, the lady so totally lacks basic cred that she couldn’t even get on Hardball when her book came out last fall. (She got on Hannity & Colmes—nothing else—andAlan Colmes pounded her with the statements from Ray’s report.) But so what? Here’s one of our “liberal intellectual leaders,” citing her charges in the Times—and citing Lamberth, though not by name. Our mother tongue contains few words to describe the depth of this problem.

How deeply corrupt is your “liberal leadership?” Let’s review just a few recent cases:

In just the past few months, Harold Meyerson’s friend got a funky phone call—and Meyerson couldn’t run fast enough to accuse Hillary Clinton of playing the race card. Last week, Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall ran as fast as they could to pimp Matt Drudge’s latest slick claims. And a few days later, Rosen pops up, this time—omigod!—citing Willey’s new book! This is the shape of your “liberal intellectual leadership” in the spring of 2008.

At various times, reformations of institutions are needed—reformations which may include widespread purges. And let’s be frank here, since we’re all friends: For the past sixteen years, the liberal world has been betrayed by priests of this sad type—priest of the type who cite Willey and Drudge. They wouldn’t speak up during the decade of Clinton pseudo-scandals; they wouldn’t even speak up during the subsequent War Against Gore. In Rosen’s column, we gaze on their latest misconduct. By now, it should be perfectly clear: There’s nothing these people won’t say and do to maintain their standing as inside players (or whatever). The Drums, the Marshalls the Meyersons, the Rosens? They’ve sold you out for the past sixteen years. It’s time for this whole gang to go.
Jeffrey Rosen, citing Willey’s new book! We’ll offer one word here: Astounding.

IT’S TIME FOR STEINBERG TO GO: We’ve told you this since 1999: No one plays dumb like the mainstream press corps—when they pretend to examine their own cohort’s rolling misconduct.

Case in point? On Saturday, the New York Times’ Jacques Steinberg played it very dumb indeed, in this Pravda-style report about Hillary Clinton’s press coverage.

Our hard-copy Times had a comical headline: “On the Press Bus, Some Soul-Searching Over Accusations of Favoritism.” But little “soul-searching” would be found in the contents of Steinberg’s report—only the standard refusal to play it straight when the press corps’ conduct is challenged.

To his credit, Steinberg has actually heard what Clinton said during last week’s Democratic debate. After a bit of preliminary misdirection, he reports her complaint, in paragraph 6:

STEINBERG (3/1/08): The night after Mrs. Clinton reprimanded Tim Russert and Brian Williams during the Cleveland debate on MSNBC for asking her a disproportionate number of ''first'' questions, she appeared Wednesday at a rally in St. Clairsville, Ohio. When someone stood to castigate the news media for being unfair to her, the audience cheered, with some even turning to cast a collective evil eye on the reporters in the high school gymnasium.

So at least we’re told that the recent “soul searching” began with Clinton’s complaint against Russert and Bri-Bri. But wouldn’t you know it? Through all the rest of his soul-searching, Steinberg absent-mindedly forgot to mention the following facts about NBC News—the major news org these two men front. As Steinberg forgets to include these facts, an obvious pattern disappears:

1) Chris Matthews forced to apologize: In January, one of NBC’s biggest political players was forced to apologize for insulting comments—about Hillary Clinton!

2) David Shuster forced to apologize, then suspended: A few weeks later, one of NBC’s political reporters was forced to apologize, then was suspended, for insulting comments—about Hillary Clinton!

3) Russert’s prior conduct toward Clinton: During Campaign 2000, Russert took a great deal of criticism for his inappropriate conduct in a debate—toward Hillary Clinton! Details below.

That’s quite a pattern—and Steinberg managed to avoid it completely! Could Pravda have done a better job, back in its Soviet heyday?

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at last week’s questioning by Russert and Williams—the questioning which provoked Clinton’s complaint. But in September 2000, Russert’s surly conduct toward Candidate Clinton created quite a bit of push-back, even in the Washington circles which endlessly pander to him. The great man was even flayed in the Buffalo News, the major newspaper in the town Russert calls home (from Nantucket).

What was said in September 2000? In the News, columnist Mark Sommer said that Russert had taken “an astonishingly cheap shot” against Clinton. In the Washington Post, Richard Cohen said this of Russert’s behavior: “Not since the old Saturday night fights has TV seen such a low blow.” In an unsigned editorial, the Columbia Journalism Review said this: “Russert pitched a question to Hillary Clinton that was breath-takingly out of bounds.”

Indeed, Cohen went further with his complaints, writing this: “Hillary Clinton's chief problem, her own strategists will tell you, is her inability to tell New Yorkers why she is running. After her debate with Rick Lazio last week she should no longer have that predicament. She's running to get away from Tim Russert and all he represents.” Yikes! Meanwhile, up in Buffalo, Sommer noted that Russert’s sex-obsessed question “certainly wasn't out of character” for the Buffalo blather king. “After all, during the media's coverage of the Lewinsky scandal ...‘Meet the Press’ continually wallowed in the sex scandal. In a black mark for network news programming, Russert's show was the first to heap respectability upon notorious Internet smut sleuth Matt Drudge by having him on as a guest.”

Huh! Maybe that’s when Kevin and Josh decided that Drudge was an expert!

Sadly, there’s a good deal of history here with Russert. Indeed, there’s been a lot of history in the past month at his loathsome news org. But don’t worry! Pool boys like Steinberg know their role when charges are filed against Big Village Titans. Steinberg did what decency required: Matthews and Shuster were disappeared, as was Russert’s prior history. Read Steinberg’s piece to see how hard these tools will work to keep you clueless—when their cohort’s major stars come in for some criticism, that is.

TOMORROW: A look at last week’s questions.

FROM THE REVIEW: Here’s that unsigned editorial from the Columbia Journalism Review:

COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW (11/00): To "moderate," according to Webster's, is to "keep within bounds." That definition, however, can hardly be applied to the performance of NBC's Tim Russert in his role as moderator of the September 13 televised debate between the Democratic and Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate from New York. Twenty minutes into the hour Russert pitched a question to Hillary Clinton that was breath-takingly out of bounds. Confronting her with a replay of her interview on the Today show in January 1998—an interview in which the first lady had loyally backed her husband's initial denials of an affair with Monica Lewinsky and suggested that right-wing enemies were orchestrating the scandal—Russert first asked the senatorial candidate, "Do you regret misleading the American people?" then went on to challenge her thusly: "In that same interview you said that those who were criticizing the president were part of a vast right-wing conspiracy. Amongst those eventually criticizing the president were Joe Lieberman. Would you now apologize for branding people as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy?" So gratuitous was the exhumation of an incident that most of the American people had long laid to rest; so specious was the logic of lumping together "critics," "Joe Lieberman," and "vast right-wing conspiracy"; so inappropriate was the question to the event at hand, that a viewer could only puzzle over Russert's judgment in raising the issue. In any case, whether Clinton or Lazio won that debate was anybody's guess. Far more obvious was that Russert—and journalism—lost.

There’s a lot of history here. With Steinberg, it all disappeared.