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BUNGLING RATHER (PART 4)! One “liberal spokesman” praised Rather’s brilliance. But why would a liberal do that? // link // print // previous // next //

LET KRUGMAN DO IT: They’ve been pimping the frightening number for months. Here was President Bush on January 15, in his weekly radio message:
BUSH (1/15/05): After [the year 2018], the shortfalls will grow larger until 2042, when the whole system will be bankrupt. The total projected shortfall is $10.4 trillion. To put that number in perspective, $10.4 trillion is nearly twice the combined wages of every single working American in 2004.

Every year we put off the coming crisis, the higher the price our children and grandchildren will have to pay.

According to the Social Security trustees, waiting just one year adds $600 billion to the cost of fixing Social Security.

You see a litany of Bush misstatements, including the familiar claim that the “whole [SS] system will be completely bankrupt” after 2042. (By the way, even Bush has stopped using the scary term “crisis” to describe the SS problem.) But in this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman debunks another claim Bush made this day—the oft-made claim that waiting one year to enact reforms “adds $600 billion to the cost of fixing Social Security.” According to Krugman, this claim is pure bull-roar, like so many of Bush’s statements. “Mr. Bush was grossly misrepresenting the meaning of a technical discussion of accounting issues,” Krugman writes, “which has nothing to do with the cost of delaying changes in the retirement program.”

Yes, this claim has been widely made, by a string of White House spokesmen. But let’s ask the question we always ask; why does it fall to Krugman to correct this persistent misstatement? Why isn’t this critique being offered in a Times news report? As we’ve noted again and again, when public figures make persistent misstatements, that’s a news story all by itself. Why must Krugman debunk these claims, on the Times op-ed page? Why can’t reporters perform this task, on page one, where the story belongs?

The answer, of course, is perfectly obvious. The modern “reporter” is simply too scared to correct misstatements by Bush. Indeed, when the Post’s Jim VandeHei challenged a few Bush howlers last month, we saw the price we pay for such cowardice. As VandeHei mildly challenged a few Bush misstatements, he apparently felt he had to pretend that Democrat Harry Reid was making equivalent howlers (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/28/05). Yep! Before he dared correct Mighty Bush, VandeHei felt he had to pretend that Reid was misleading us mightily too. VandeHei ginned up a groaner by Reid to calm down the nerves of his trembling editors. In his report, VandeHei corrected a groaning misstatement by Bush—and a ginned-up “misstatement” by Reid.

But this has been the case for years. Krugman has to correct Bush’s misstatements because VandeHei’s editors are too scared to act. Trembling, shivering, worried and scared, your “reporters” say: Let Krugman do it.

ZUCKMAN SPEAKS: But then, maybe it’s just as well that our major “reporters” don’t attempt to tackle fake facts. Yesterday morning, C-SPAN aired a segment on Social Security with a pair of major journalists—Jill Zuckman of the Chicago Tribune and Alex Wayne of CQ Weekly. At one point, a caller asked about the famous Social Security memo written by White House aide Peter Wehner. Try to believe that this happened:

CALLER (1/14/05): Good morning. Have either of your guests read the full text of the Peter Wehner memo?

ZUCKMAN: I’m not—

WAYNE: I don’t—

ZUCKMAN: I’m not familiar with it.

HOST: What is it—what is it, caller?

Zuckman is the Tribune’s Social Security reporter—and she isn’t familiar with Wehner’s memo? The memo has been widely discussed since early January, on major programs like Meet the Press (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/15/05). The caller went on to describe the memo in detail—but Zuckman and Wayne both seemed clueless.

For the record, the Tribune’s Ameet Sachdev described the memo in a January 9 news report. But Zuckman, the paper’s SS reporter, said she hadn’t heard of it. It’s hard to believe how little our scribes sometimes know about their area of focus. But then, after seeing this exchange, are you surprised to learn that Zuckman has persistently bungled her reporting on the size of those crucial transition costs? To review her repetitive bungled reporting, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/05. Do you see why Bush feels free to misstate when faced with this gang of failed watchdogs?

BUNGLING RATHER (PART 4): When Dan Rather bungled the Bush Air Guard story, amazingly few “liberal spokesmen” knew how to handle the matter. Yes, of course, there were some exceptions. In Scarborough Country, Flavia Colgan stated the obvious—the press corps battered Clinton and Gore for ten years, she noted, and Rather broadcast a shaky 60 Minutes report which took down Dem White House hopeful Bob Kerrey. Colgan’s question: What kind of “liberal bias” was Rather showing when he chose to do that? And Gene Lyons also stated the obvious in his nationally-syndicated column; he noted that 60 Minutes rushed Kathleen Willey onto the air in 1998, eager to let her trash Bill Clinton, and her presentation turned out as poorly as those now-famous bungled Bush documents. (Of course, most Americans have never heard this; the “liberal media” covered up for their darling’s demise. We’ve discussed this episode many times—and “liberal spokesmen” all know to avoid it.) Yes, Colgan and Lyons know what to say to pseudo-con claims of liberal bias, but sadly, most “liberal spokesmen” still don’t. Even after the trashing of Clinton and Gore, most “liberal spokesmen” stare into air when this central question is raised. This gives dissembling pseudo-cons a huge leg-up in the nation’s spin wars. Americans hear endless claims of liberal bias—and when “liberal spokesmen” are asked to respond, they rarely provide the kinds of information that might help Americans understand that the claim of such bias is bunk.

How poorly did “liberal spokesmen” do when confronted with the Rathergate mess? We hate to single this young talker out. But consider Rachel Maddow’s unschooled performance when she spent time in Scarborough Country.

Maddow, an Air America talker, appeared in-Country on February 17. By the time she hit the Deliverance-style duchy, CBS had been airing pro-Bush reports about Social Security for months (links below). And of course, its trademark Sunday program, Face the Nation, was in the hands of good-guy Bob Schieffer, a long-time personal friend of George Bush. (Questions: What kind of bias was Schieffer showing when he beat up on Gore and defended Bush all through the 2000 race? And what kind of bias was his network showing when it let Bush’s buddy engage in this nonsense?) But Maddow didn’t cite those facts when asked about CBS’ troubling bias. Instead, when a kooky-con guest accused the net of a “fanatical attempt to bring down the president,” her host, the Country’s head of state, caught the liberal talker wincing. Why had she winced when she heard such remarks? Omigod! What a hopeless approach! Because Rather was such a great journalist!

SCARBOROUGH (2/17/05): Rachel, you are wincing. Respond.

MADDOW: I`m wincing because I feel like, if you are upset about the Memogate phenomena, if you`re upset about the thing that happened right before Dan Rather stepped down and you are willing therefore to say we are not going to look at anything else that happened in his career in his decades on the air and say, he is completely disgraced, he is not a journalist anymore, then I think that you guys are in glass houses and throwing stones.

Maddow didn’t note the obvious—that the mainstream press, including CBS, had been battering Major Dems for years. She didn’t note that Rather’s replacement was a long-time pal of George Bush. She didn’t mention the time when Rather scorched Kerrey; she didn’t recall the Willey fiasco. She didn’t mention CBS’ Bush-friendly reports on the subject of Social Security. Instead, she took an odd approach, defending Rather as an outstanding journalist! Instantly, Dennis Prager cited Rather’s shaky interview with Saddam Hussein. And uh-oh! Maddow even made it her business to begin defending that:
PRAGER (continuing directly): All right, I will tell you something that disgraced him that is from the past that actually bothered me more than this. And that is that he went to Saddam Hussein and acted like his shoeshine boy—

MADDOW: Like a journalist.

“Like a journalist!” Now Maddow was defending that interview too! With Maddow acting like Rather’s agent, the cable mismatch continued:
PRAGER (continuing directly): —and asked him namby-pamby questions to one of the most bloodthirsty tyrants of the 20th century.

MADDOW: What should he have done, shot him? What should he have done, shot him there?

PRAGER: What should he have done?

MADDOW: How about interviewing him as a journalist? How about going—

PRAGER: No, he didn`t interview him as a journalist. A journalist would have said to him, “Sir, how do feel about—how do your daughters feel about the fact that you killed their husbands?” That`s what a real journalist would ask, instead of, “His excellency, Mr. President, I am curious, do you have weapons of mass destruction?”


PRAGER: “How do you—what cereal do you have for breakfast?”

Let’s face it—that [LAUGHTER] was reasonably well-deserved, and Maddow was soon forced to change the subject. Having bungled her approach to Rather, she began complaining about—who else?—Armstrong Williams, and other tiny fish in the pond:
MADDOW: Real journalism? You want to talk about real journalism right now, with what`s been going on in the White House briefing room? You want to talk about what`s going on with real journalists? We have got Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, Mike McManus, the fake news organizations and fake newscasts that are sent out to local reporters. We have got Jeff Gannon or J.D. Guckert or whatever his name is. If you want to talk about real journalism and politics in this country, you got to start asking some questions yourself of the White House on this.
Ugh. There was that hopeless liberal trade-off again: We’ll let you talk about CBS, whose conduct we’ll attempt to defend. In response, we’ll complain about Armstrong Williams—a person almost no one has heard of! We’ll let you claim Dan Rather’s scalp. We liberals will chase Mike McManus!

In our view, this was a typical weak appearance by a typically unprepared liberal talker, and the exchange was especially striking because Maddow is from Air America. Is this really the best progressives can do in talking about the mainstream press corps? During Campaign 2000, that mainstream press corps elected Bush by virtue of its endless misconduct. But few Americans have ever heard that, because “liberal spokesmen” are too hapless to say it; indeed, they’ve been silent on this subject since March 1999, when the press corps’ grinding misconduct began. What do Americans hear on TV? They hear conservatives trash the press as liberal, over and over and over again. In response, they hear a string of “liberal spokesmen” who rarely show the slightest sign of knowing how they should respond.

Will Americans ever hear the truth about the press corps’ conduct in the past dozen years? Almost surely, no, they will not—until people like Maddow are better prepared to discuss this familiar topic. In fairness to Maddow, it’s hardly surprising when a young talker doesn’t know how to approach this matter. After all, for the past dozen years, many Big Liberals have earned good livings by refusing to discuss the real state of the press corps. As a result, many Americans—perhaps Maddow included—have simply never heard the truth about how the modern press really works.

Tomorrow, we’ll name big names as we help you see why “liberal spokesmen” bungled Rather so badly. Your basic interests are badly damaged as pseudo-con spokesmen get to yell liberal bias. The claim flies in the face of recent history, but “liberal spokesmen” refuse to say so—often due to groaning conflicts of interest. The rank self-dealing of these “liberals” lets voters remain in the dark.

ONE MORE THING: One more thing Maddow didn’t do—she didn’t repeat what Scarborough said! She didn’t repeat her host’s own statement about the press coverage of Gore:

SCARBOROUGH (11/18/02): I think, in the 2000 election, I think [the media] were fairly brutal to Al Gore…If they had done that to a Republican candidate, I’d be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased.
For a “liberal spokesman” in Scarborough Country, this is the obvious statement to cite. But that would involve simple preparation. And guess what? “Liberal spokesmen” don’t do that.

“I”d be going on your show saying they were biased,” Joe said. Your “liberal spokesmen” could turn that around. But alas! Your “liberal spokesmen” are hopeless.

TOMORROW—PART 5: When will big liberal spokesmen—and we’ll start to name names—start to tell voters the truth?