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Daily Howler: Bumiller was afraid to question Bush pre-Iraq. But she isn't afraid to give tongue baths
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GEISHA GIRL! Bumiller was afraid to question Bush pre-Iraq. But she isn’t afraid to give tongue baths: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MARCH 28, 2005

GEISHA GIRL: In a must-read post from today’s early hours, Josh Marshall presents “more material on the never-ending decline of CNN.” But for an equally clownish bit of work, see Elisabeth Bumiller’s latest tongue-bath for Bush in today’s New York Times. The piece—her weekly “White House Letter”—is accompanied by five photos of “the frisky president,” and takes up half a page in the paper. Here’s the headline it carries:
NEW YORK TIMES HEADLINE: President Bush’s New Public Face: Confident, Comfortable and ‘Impishly Fun’
There we see it—the ludicrous MO of these “White House Letters.” First, Bumiller finds a White House aide who says the president is “impishly fun.” Then, the quote goes straight to a headline! Bumiller also fawns in her own voice, of course, piling a stack of silly images of the playful, frisky, comfortable, sly, sheepish commander-in-chief.

Several things should be said about these embarrassing profiles.

First, Bumiller’s pandering knows no end, but she didn’t initiate this sort of work at the Times; this is exactly the way Frank Bruni treated Bush during Campaign 2000. Bruni’s profiles of the “jaunty” and “jazzy” GOP hopeful were an ongoing campaign embarrassment—interrupted only by a brief stretch of equally mindless Bush-bashing when the press corps pimped for McCain in the primaries. Indeed, for Bruni, Bush was a figure from Shakespeare, a man whose “levity” reminded of Puck! (That was a front-page headline!) In short, the Times has always profiled Bush this way. To revisit Bruni’s world-class clowning, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/18/00 and 5/3/00. Note how similar Bruni’s language was to Bumiller’s today. (For more on Bruni’s in-the-bag campaign coverage, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/18/02 and 3/20/02.)

Second, Bumiller’s pandering didn’t stop even during Campaign 04. Amazingly, the Times kept running her fawning “Letter” every Monday during the campaign—and the paper made no attempt to present similar essays on Kerry. Every Monday, the vacuous Bumiller would be on hand with her latest mindless “Letter,” chatting about Bush’s great love for “comfy feathers” or his inspiring punctuality (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/22/04). But who wrote the vacuous weekly “Letter” on Kerry? No one! The paper didn’t even pretend to offer a balancing feature.

And of course, there’s simply nothing Bush can do that Bumiller can’t transform to a sign of his greatness. How clownish is she willing to be? Since the last election, Bush has been giving more press conferences, she notes today. Then she takes out her varied warmed unguents and starts the required massage:

BUMILLER (3/28/05): ''He could be the first president since Eisenhower to hold more news conferences in his second term than in the first,'' said Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor of political science at Towson University in Maryland who is working on a book about the White House communications operation. Professor Kumar said that scandals had made a number of second-term presidents more reluctant to face the press.
Bush could be “the first president since Eisenhower” to do this? Bumiller knows to omit the obvious fact— since Eisenhower, there have only been two other presidents who served a full second term! Yes: That “number” to which Bumiller deftly refers is two! And yes, to state what is patently obvious, that’s why she doesn’t provide it.

You can’t get dumber than Elisabeth Bumiller. Nor can you be a more faithful courtesan. By her own admission, the timid scribe was far too frightened to ask a question of Bush pre-Iraq (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/25/04). But she isn’t too scared to run her warm tongue up and down an emperor’s keister. Fawning, pandering, pimping and puffing, Bumiller continues to show the world the soul of our vacuous “press corps.”

BUMILLER II: Here’s the way the obliging geisha transforms some recent odd conduct by Bush:

BUMILLER (3/28/05): [A]t the end of an interview with a Belgian television correspondent last month, Mr. Bush blurted out to the young woman that she had ''great eyes,'' glanced away slyly and then a little sheepishly, but for the most part seemed sorry that the session was over.

Is this a new George Bush?

Do you follow? Bush makes an odd and mildly inappropriate comment to an attractive young female reporter. Bumiller transforms it into an act of greatness. (Read the full profile to take in the context.) And yes, this continued throughout Campaign 04, Monday mornings, even as the hapless Times scribe was too frightened to ask Bush a tough question! If Bumiller’s work didn’t exist, it would be hard to dream it up. But then, that’s true of this whole poodled class we still jokingly describe as a “press corps.”

“BUNGLING RATHER” CONTINUES: In the next few days, we’ll finish our series on the Rathergate matter. After the decade-long trashing of Clinton and Gore, why on Earth do “liberal spokesmen” still let pseudo-cons yell liberal bias? Liberals and centrists need to ask. Here at THE HOWLER, we’ll tattle.

For Part 1 of our series, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/8/05. You can link forward from there.

BUNGLING RATHER (PART 7): Amazing, isn’t it? The press corps has savaged Big Dems for twelve years. But so what? Pseudo-con pundits still yell liberal bias every chance they getand your “liberal spokesmen” just stare into air, refusing to note the sheer absurdity of the iconic claim! Indeed, what happened when “liberal spokesmen” went on TV to discuss that high-profile Rathergate bungle? Confronted with cries of the corps’ liberal bias, few of your “spokesmen” knew enough to cite the most obvious recent history! Yes, a few liberal spokesmen did state the obvious; somehow, Flavia Colgan knew she should cite the way the press beat on Clinton, then Gore (handing the White House to Bush in the process). But almost no other “liberal spokesman” made these obvious points on TV. This gives pseudo-con screamers unlimited access to the greatest propaganda claim of our age—and it keeps the public barefoot and clueless about their own recent history.

Simply put, “liberal spokesmen” won’t tell the truth about the mainstream press. But why in the world won’t they do it?

How can “liberal spokesmen” be so inept? Consider what happened when E. J. Dionne invited a brilliant insider panel to discuss “The Impact of the New Media” at the Brookings Institution (links to tape and transcript below). By law, these discussions must be as vapid as possible, so E. J. had dutifully asked add her stale backlash act to the outing. Result? Here was the first Q-and-A about those important “new media.”

DIONNE: Let me begin with Ana Marie Cox, who posted an interesting set of questions in her [background submission]...She also said, and this is what I think I’ll throw at her: “It wouldn’t be a blogging panel if someone didn’t ask about. ‘Don’t bloggers sometimes get things wrong.’” So why don’t we start there?

COX: It’s usually my own private drinking game—when someone asks about bloggers getting everything wrong, everyone drinks. I wish! First, I just want to say, if my answer seems sort of more fuzzy than usual, it’s not the bourbon, it’s Robitussin. I’ve got a bad cough.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! But at any rate: Do bloggers sometimes get things wrong? Yes, the two-hour panel was just as pointless as this vacuous opening question. But at least we all got to hear Wonkette talk about how much she drinks—helping us see the intellectual horizons of today’s perfumed insider “press corps.”

But why do loudmouth pseudo-con spokesmen still get to yell liberal bias? Consider what happened when the panel considered a topic that actually could have been interesting. Forty-four minutes into the session, Ann Pincus (Center for Public Integrity) popped the following question:

PINCUS: I was struck when you commented and you said that the great thing about blogs is that they’re a fact-checking mechanism. I love blogs. I think they’re very immediate. But I think a lot of bloggers are inaccurate and put out information that is totally wrong and sort of slanders and libels people. So I’m wondering whether you think there are any standards for bloggers. That is my question.
Pincus provided no examples of blogger slander, even when she was asked. But her question provoked an eleven-minute discussion about the incidence of error on the web—a question that was largely shaped by Slate media writer Jack Shafer. “If blogs were a fountain of slander, we would see probably more lawsuits,” he soon said, defending the blogs. Eventually, the question was sharpened in this exchange between Shafer and Pew’s Jodi Allen:
ALLEN: We had a perfect example very recently of this aide to the governor of Maryland putting a truly slanderous statement about the mayor of Baltimore out on the web knowing it would be passed around. I mean, we can expect more of that.

SHAFER: Newspapers have done the same thing, Jodi. There’s nothing exceptional about the blogs.

So how about it? Is there something “exceptional about the blogs” when it comes to slander, misstatement and error? Is it true that newspapers “have done the same thing?” As the discussion progressed, Andrew Sullivan seemed to say that blogs do have a special problem in this area; Shafer kept insisting that they didn’t. But at no point in the eleven-minute discussion did any panelist state the obvious—that we have seen, in our recent history, exceptional waves of group misstatement driven by the mainstream media! In particular, as everyone knows (and knows not to say), Campaign 2000 was a two-year orgy of spin and misstatement about Candidate Gore—a slander campaign that was endlessly driven by the Washington Post and the New York Times. Nothing even remotely like it has ever arisen from the web (Matt Drudge excluded). But in an eleven-minute attempt to decide if the web has a special problem with slander, none of the panelists—nobody; no one—bothered to state this obvious fact about the coverage of Election 2000, an election which changed our political history. Go ahead—watch or read this part of the discussion, and marvel at the way our recent history has been disappeared by mainstream and “liberal” pundits. Indeed, how thoroughly have our mainstream pundits managed to bury this part of our past? Here’s the way this segment ended, fifty-five minutes into the session:
SHAFER: How many publications published information about the possibility of Bill Clinton having an affair before they knew it was absolutely true? Lots of publications. Lots of publications were writing about that before they had, you know, the stained dress.

SULLIVAN: All they had was a 40-year record of consistent philandering.

What a perfect moment! Shafer was on the side of the angels, compared to the rest of this vapor-locked crew. But even he didn’t seem didn’t seem to realize that the problems of mainstream press slanders of Clinton go well beyond the Lewinsky question. He didn’t seem to realize that many publications had published information about Whitewater (and about FBI files; and about airport haircuts; and about nights in the Lincoln Bedroom) that turned out to be false or grossly unsupported. Nor did he seem to realize that, while the affair with Lewinsky did get corroborated, other claims of affairs had been bungled. How perfect! The discussion ended with an absurdly overblown accusation by Sullivan—an accusation of precisely the type that had been attacked in the question by Pincus! (According to Sullivan’s time scheme, Clinton’s “40-year record of consistent philandering” had apparently started in second grade.) Do blogs engage in this sort of thing? The entire press corps engaged in this, first against Clinton, then against Gore. But so what? The panel debated Pincus’ question for eleven minutes. The single comment by Shafer, quoted above, was the only sign that anyone knew this. Most significantly, no one mentioned Campaign 2000, in which the organs of the mainstream press engaged in precisely the sort of conduct Pincus had asked about. Everyone knew this—and everyone knew that they mustn’t mention this conduct. For the record, Wonkette—a great liberal spokesman—might have mentioned the two-year War Against Gore. But alas! She was much, much too drunk.

So what’s the answer? Why do big maintream pundits (some of them “liberals”) refuse to discuss our recent history? Why do E. J. Dionne and Jodi Allen stare into air during panels like this? Why does Shafer say next to nothing? During Campaign 2000, the mainstream press staged an open, two-year War Against Gore—and no one said a word about it in the discussion on Dionne’s panel! It wasn’t just the worthless Wonkette, dragged aboard to provide backlash clowning. No, the other “liberal” and mainstream spokesmen sat on the stage and stared into air. Indeed, Dionne himself didn’t say the first word. Tomorrow, we keep asking—what is that?

LINKS: The transcript and tape of Dionne’s panel are available at the Brookings site. You know what to do—just click here.

TOMORROW—PART 8: Marshall? Franken? Alterman? Brock? All four do superlative work. So why did they make these odd statements?

NEXT TOPIC: How inane is mainstream press culture? We review those gong-show election reports from Pew and the CMPA.