THURSDAY, APRIL 24, 2003
SALETAN SPEAKS: Here at THE HOWLER, we lustily cheered the spirited ending to William Saletans latest column at Slate. After reviewing the coverage of the Democratic money primary, Saletan wondered why Big Major Pundits pay the whole thing so much mind. He comes to an intriguing conclusion. Pundits dote on White House fund-raising because theyre too stupid to care about anything else:
SALETAN: Whos the culprit beneath all this metaphorical muck? Media. Insiders. Us. We dont know through which prism to view the campaign. We dont dare say whos qualified. Its all so complicated. Just give us a number, and well keep score.Cheers! Pundits love the money race because its easy to keep score, Saletan saysand because the pundits are just too g*d-damned stupid to approach a campaign as mature people would.
Here at THE HOWLER, were back to work on our book about the coverage of Campaign 2000 (closing chapters). And if theres one thing were struck by as we return to this war, its the sheer, unending, mind-boggling dumbness of the men and women who covered thisrace. (That and their total lack of character.) Lets be frank: These people arent distinguished, impressive, insightful or smart. In fact, their persistent low wattage is deeply astounding. But somehow theyve gained control of our mediaand we pay a price for that fact every day.
Over the years, weve searched for a metaphor which could capture the essence of this puzzling crew. We now tell those who are willing to listen that this corps is most like a small mafia. Theyre a small, undistinguished, intermarried little gang which has somehow ended up in control of an industry. They have no intention of running it properly. Unfortunately, while the real mafia got control of Queens garbage collection, this gang of unimpressives has somehow seized control of the worlds most important public discourse.
Saletan is right, and he speaks quite franklytheir emptiness is their most obvious trait. That and their complete self-involvement, of coursetheir insistence on putting their own private interests ahead of your interests each time out. Walk back through Campaign 2000 and see if you think any different.
RASPBERRY REASONS: We hate to drag William Raspberry into this, since we assume hes a thoroughly decent person. But over at the Washington Post, the pundit still wants to figure how he fell for Colin Powells U.N. presentation. Raspberrys latest account is a dilly. Heres how his rumination starts off:
RASPBERRY (pgh 1): I love courtroom dramas. Maybe thats why I keep going back to that February day when Colin Powell, as powerfully persuasive as any district attorney ever was, put on that famous multimedia production that convinced meconvinced Americathat Saddam Hussein really was developing (and hiding) weapons of mass destruction.Convinced America? Actually, many Americans had enough sense to wait and evaluate Powells presentation. Not Raspberry! Heres the current explanation for his instant assumption that Powell really did have the goods:
RASPBERRY (pghs 2-3): Here, the secretary of state was telling the jury masquerading as the U.N. Security Council, you see the chemical and biological labs at one of the production sites. And here, you notice, the trucks are gonejust hours before the U.N. inspectors are due on the scene. Here are the time-lapse photographs, taken by satellite and spy planes I believed itand for much the same reasons I believed the prosecutions DNA evidence against O.J. Simpson. That is to say, I didnt understand most of it, but I was terribly impressed by the certitude of those who said they did.Like Romney in Vietnam, The Razz was brainwashed. He didnt understand what Powell was saying, but he was impressed by the certitude of others. I suspect I had a lot of company, he continuesthat hundreds of thousands of Americans who had earlier had their doubts were now convinced that all the charges against Hussein had been proved. It wasnt just me, the scribe says.
That last past is certainly true, by the way; Raspberry did have lots of company. Many Americans were convinced by Powells U.N. presentation. But Raspberry is an important columnist at our most important political newspaper. As such, hes supposed to have better skills, better contacts, and more experience than hundreds of thousands of Americans. In fact, those Americans rely on Raspberrys diligence and expertiserely on him and others like him to perform the analyses they cant conduct. But even now, if you read his column, the pundit still doesnt mention the specific problems with Powells presentations at the U.N.problems which were publicly examined in February and March. Even now, he doesnt seem up to speed on the debate about what Powell did.
As weve said, we at THE HOWLER have always assumed that Saddam had WMDs. Raspberry now seems to have some doubtsand he seems to have major doubts about Powell. (Powells spellbinding display looks more and more like prosecutorial hokum.) But its hard to believe that this is the way our major analysts actually reason. But as noted: Americans pay a price, every day, for the work of this puzzling crew.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For earlier ruminations on this topic, see THE DAILY HOWLER 2/14/03, 2/24/03, 2/25/03, 4/1/03.
SALON: Newsdays Ellis Henican did a great job defending Kamiyas piece from OReillys constant interruptions, and we thank him for that thankless task.Bullshit! Ellis Henican did no such thing. As Salon notes, OReilly said that Kamiya had been cheering the enemy in his April 11 Salon column. OReilly called Kamiya a fanatic, saying he had no place in the public arena and should think about moving to Costa Rica. Stupidly, OReilly said that Kamiyas piece is pretty much the death knell for the far left, not the moderate left, but the far left in this country. Its hard to get much dumber than thatand its hard to get a whole lot uglier. But of course, as Salon aptly noted, the real agenda of conservative medias overbearing pundits is to drive everyone who disagrees with them out of the public arena. Theyre not interested in open debate; their goal is to intimidate and silence.
Salon was able to make that statementbut Ellis Henican, for some reason, was not. In a word, his performance on Tueday nights Factor was hapless. Pretending to defend Kamiya, he didnt quote a single sentence from Kamiyas piece, instead offering gum-tooothed paraphrase of what Kamiya had said. Yet as Salon points out, the very headline on Kamiyas article said this: Liberation Day: Even Those Opposed to the War Should Celebrate a Shining Moment in the History of Freedomthe Fall of Saddam Hussein. Defending Kamiyas piece against OReillys blunt slanders should have been as easy as sliming the French on the half-witted morning propfest, Fox & Friends. But Henican simply didnt do it. Henican may have been unprepared. Or he may have gone into the tank.
VISIT AGAIN: Weve watched this Fox analyst sleep-walk before. Three words: Exact same problem. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/22/02.