Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

IGNORING HIS FRENCH (PART 1)! Leading pundits were quite perplexed when Kerry said his foes were Big Liars:

MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2004

ABSOLUTELY FATUOUS: This morning’s New York Times is a piece of work, but let’s take a look at Elisabeth Bumiller’s fatuous “White House Letter.” Incredibly, Bumiller offers another profile of Bush’s bed-time habits and impressive punctuality. “It’s 10 O’Clock. Do You Know Where Your President Is? In Bed,” the headline says.

President Bush may be in bed, but Bumiller seems to be in a coma. She embarrassed herself with her fatuous work at that Democratic debate (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/2/04), but today’s morning’s piece adds to her growing reputation for utterly airhead “reporting.” Is President Bush a punctual person? This story was already pointless in 2001, when the White House first began pushing it. But since then, scribes have typed and retyped it a million times. There is no imaginable reason why it appears once again in the Times.

Bumiller embarrassed herself at that Dem debate. This morning’s pointless report is three years old. The Times sleepwalks its way toward a White House election. Will someone do the charitable thing? Will someone wake Bumiller up when it’s over?

IGNORING HIS FRENCH (PART 1): David Brooks has made it official. Alas! The Timesman is a consummate idiot. In Saturday’s column, Brooks was busy pleasing the rubes. He produced isolated sentences from old Kerry speeches, sentences that were—yes!— too long and complex. For example, Brooks found a long sentence about Somalia—a sentence spoken in 1991. And other sentences were much too lengthy, one from 1989! One troubling sentence, from 1998, had too many subordinate clauses, Brooks wrote. Showing off his masterful wit, Brooks savaged the “Boston Fog Machine,” the man who emitted these lengthy locutions. Meanwhile, Brooks forgot to say whether Kerry had been right about the issues at question.

But then, this is all part of the studied clowning Brooks now brings to the Times op-ed page. The scribe has become a scripted clown—an expert on haircuts and yachts. But as he worried about Kerry’s long sentences, Brooks cemented his own place in history. Struggling hard to please the rubes, the fatuous fellow typed this:

BROOKS: The Iraq problem returned in 1998, and Kerry proved again that there is no world crisis so grave it can’t be addressed with a fusillade of subordinate clauses. Teams of highly trained spelunkers have descended into the darkness of the floor speech he gave on Oct. 10, 1998, searching for meaning, though none have returned alive.

In a characteristic sentence, which admittedly sounds better in the original French, Kerry exclaimed: “We know from our largely unsuccessful attempts to enlist the cooperation of other nations, especially industrialized trading nations, in efforts to impose and enforce somewhat more ambitious standards on nations such as Iran, China, Burma and Syria, that the willingness of most other nations—including a number who are joined in the sanctions to isolate Iraq—is neither wide nor deep to join in imposing sanctions on a sovereign nation to spur it to ‘clean up its act’ and comport its actions with accepted international norms.”

Can anyone say Churchillian?

There were just too many subordinate clauses! Yes, Kerry’s sentence did flow on—although it was spoken in the Senate, six years ago, to people equipped to follow it. But how big a clown has Brooks become? This big: Kerry’s sentence “sounds better in the original French,” he types, showing that there is no spin-point so stupid that he won’t reinforce it. You see, John Kerry has a “plummy accent”—and the troubling fellow even looks and sounds French! Pseudo-con half-wits have insulted the public with this clowning spin-point for months. Now, the New York Times’ greatest poseur pushes the point to subscribers.

But Brooks, a tool, did know enough to avoid a recent Kerry sentence. Just last week, the solon spoke near an open mike. His constructions were crisp and unadorned:

KERRY: Thank you. We’re going to keep pounding, let me tell you. We’re just beginning to fight here. These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I’ve ever seen.
Wow! That last sentence contained so few clauses that even a fellow like Brooks could get through it. No, Kerry’s point was perfectly clear—so Brooks, a faker, knew what to do. He ignored the candidate’s pithy remark, and searched for long words from past decades.

Yes, Kerry was direct and insulting this day. Indeed, some irate pundits quickly suggested that Kerry should even say, Pardon my French. But the next day, the Boston Fog Machine didn’t take his words back, for reasons that strike us as fairly clear. But Brooks was hardly the only scribe who seemed kerflubbled by Kerry’s crisp comment. In fact, leading pundits were quite perplexed when Kerry called his foes Big Liars. How did pundits respond to this comment? We’ll emit those mordant chuckles all week as we look at what pundits have said.

TOMORROW: Ignoring Pincus and Goldstein

SAFIRE-ING BLANKS: For the record, the most inane response to Kerry’s remark can be found—where else?—in this morning’s Times. William Safire is deeply troubled by Kerry’s comment. No, we’re not making this up:

SAFIRE: Was it wise for a candidate for president to characterize Republicans—tens of millions of American voters, including even veterans—as thieves and liars? And if the double slur had been part of a pour-it-on strategy, was it tactically smart to take the low road so early?
When Kerry mentioned those crooks and liars, did anyone think that he was referring to “tens of millions of American voters?” Including—[cue the fiddles]—“even veterans?” Obviously, no one—including Safire—thought any such thing when they heard Kerry speak. But the Times op-ed page is the place to go if you want to see pundits laugh in your face. Throughout his column, Safire pretends that Kerry was “reviling millions of crooked, lying Republicans.” Clearly, he doesn’t think this is true. Can’t you hear what he’s saying? Hey, rubes!

To whom was Kerry really referring? It isn’t especially hard to guess. But many scribes have played very dumb, just as Safire plays it this morning. They couldn’t imagine what John Kerry meant. Mordant chuckles will follow all week.

CONDEMNING THE CAVE MEN: Where does Brooks get his clownish points? Just a thought: Is there any chance that his “highly trained spelunkers” do their great work for the RNC? Any chance they’re the same subterranean types who gave him his script about Kerry’s haircuts? Readers, do you really think that David Brooks sifted through Kerry’s old speeches himself? Or has Brooks become a Total Tool—a man who is handed his fatuous points, and knows he must call Kerry “French?”

At any rate, we offer a question for our effete Mr. Brooks: Just how “French” did Kerry seem when he was pulling men from the Mekong Delta? Go ahead, David! Let us all know! How “French” did Kerry seem back then? Of course, we know that Brooks cuts-and-pastes from “the original”—from the pleasing scripts of Karl Rove. So we’ll give him time to ask his master: How “French” did John Kerry seem then?

At any rate, Brooks’ indictment of Kerry keeps growing. Just in the past few weeks, Brooks has used his perch at the Times to list these disturbing transgressions:

  1. When Kerry testified to the Senate in 1972, he “still had a plummy accent.”
  2. At one point in time, he dated an actress.
  3. His haircuts are too expensive.
  4. His shirts cost too much.
  5. His yacht is too long.
  6. His house is too big.
Now, we can add two more indictments:
  1. Some of his sentences have subordinate clauses.
  2. Such troubling locutions make Kerry seem French.
Yes, this is what David Brooks types for the Times. To Brooks, your discourse is just a sick joke. But then, so are the hapless editors who keep putting such clowning into print.

Annals of the hopeful

NO SAP: We’re always glad when readers thank us for recommending Jim Sheridan’s In America. We received such a pleasing e-mail this Saturday:

E-MAIL: Thanks. My wife and I spent a rare night out watching In America, largely on the strength of your recommendation. I thought it a very sweet movie, exactly what I’d hoped. Of course I am a hopeless sap. I can see how some people might have found the sentimentality over the top. But I really have to pity them their cynicism. Keep up the good work.
Incomparably, we replied to our friend. With the analysts standing down for the weekend, we used the first person singular:
REPLY: Yes, but on the other hand, the older daughter shows a spine of steel in the end. Don’t apologize or call yourself a sap! Upper-end critics tended to think that Mystic River was deep because it was all about hopelessness, and that In America was shallow because it concerns the search for inspiration and hope. This remains the silliest prejudice of our upper-end culture. I loved this movie because it was about something children (and adults) wish for all over the world: “Mam, dad, Christy and Ariel all together in one happy family” (to quote the next-to-last line of “Christy’s prayer”). And Christy doesn’t just wish for this boon—in the end, she battles her father to show him the way to provide it.

Jim Sheridan discussed the “sentimentality” issue in an interview. He was asked about the way Mateo pays the family’s hospital bill in the film. “Our [real-life] baby, Tess, was born premature. I was gonna put the reality of what happened in, but it was too difficult to believe. My wife Fran wrote a thank-you note to the hospital nurses, and they said they were going to get rid of the bill because she did that. And that’s even more sentimental and maudlin [than what happens in the film], you know. But a lot of the time in film, people won’t accept that there’s goodwill in life. Once you go into real life, there is goodwill out there.”

By happenstance, we saw In America again on Saturday night. The trick-or-treat scene is a glorious classic. The Halloween dinner is surpassingly beautiful (along with its two short sequel scenes). The scene which concludes with “Christy’s prayer” is a perfect 75 seconds of film. And Richard Roeper called the film’s brilliant ending “one of the most heartbreaking and yet uplifting moments in recent film history.” Or was he talking about the scene where Mateo tells Ariel “why he has sores?” This film has so many memorable scenes, it wasn’t clear which one Roeper referred to.

We’re glad our reader enjoyed the film. Amazingly, despite rave reviews and three major Oscar nominations, In America has done only $15 million in the U.S. and Canada. You just can’t make people go to some films. Meanwhile, readers who haven’t seen the film will surely want to send irate e-mails explaining what it was really about, and telling us all about the way it slanders the Irish people.