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Caveat lector

WHO ARE THESE GUYS? Saletan says that our pundits are hopeless. Raspberry brings confirmation:


SALETAN SPEAKS: Here at THE HOWLER, we lustily cheered the spirited ending to William Saletan’s 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 they’re too stupid to care about anything else:

SALETAN: Who’s the culprit beneath all this metaphorical muck?…Media. Insiders. Us. We don’t know through which prism to view the campaign. We don’t dare say who’s qualified. It’s all so complicated. Just give us a number, and we’ll keep score.
Cheers! Pundits love the money race because it’s easy to keep score, Saletan says—and because the pundits are just too g*d-damned stupid to approach a campaign as mature people would.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’re back to work on our book about the coverage of Campaign 2000 (closing chapters). And if there’s one thing we’re struck by as we return to this war, it’s the sheer, unending, mind-boggling dumbness of the men and women who covered thisrace. (That and their total lack of character.) Let’s be frank: These people aren’t distinguished, impressive, insightful or smart. In fact, their persistent low wattage is deeply astounding. But somehow they’ve gained control of our media—and we pay a price for that fact every day.

Over the years, we’ve 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. They’re 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 world’s most important public discourse.

Saletan is right, and he speaks quite frankly—their emptiness is their most obvious trait. That and their complete self-involvement, of course—their 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 he’s a thoroughly decent person. But over at the Washington Post, the pundit still wants to figure how he fell for Colin Powell’s U.N. presentation. Raspberry’s latest account is a dilly. Here’s how his rumination starts off:

RASPBERRY (pgh 1): I love courtroom dramas. Maybe that’s 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 me—convinced America—that Saddam Hussein really was developing (and hiding) weapons of mass destruction.
Convinced America? Actually, many Americans had enough sense to wait and evaluate Powell’s presentation. Not Raspberry! Here’s 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 gone—just 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 it—and for much the same reasons I believed the prosecution’s DNA evidence against O.J. Simpson. That is to say, I didn’t 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 didn’t understand what Powell was saying, but he was “impressed by the certitude” of others. “I suspect I had a lot of company,” he continues—“that hundreds of thousands of Americans who had earlier had their doubts were now convinced that all the charges against Hussein had been proved.” It wasn’t 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 Powell’s U.N. presentation. But Raspberry is an important columnist at our most important political newspaper. As such, he’s supposed to have better skills, better contacts, and more experience than “hundreds of thousands of Americans.” In fact, those Americans rely on Raspberry’s diligence and expertise—rely on him and others like him to perform the analyses they can’t conduct. But even now, if you read his column, the pundit still doesn’t mention the specific problems with Powell’s presentations at the U.N.—problems which were publicly examined in February and March. Even now, he doesn’t seem up to speed on the debate about what Powell did.

As we’ve said, we at THE HOWLER have always assumed that Saddam had WMDs. Raspberry now seems to have some doubts—and he seems to have major doubts about Powell. (“Powell’s spellbinding display looks more and more like prosecutorial hokum.”) But it’s 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.

The Daily update

We’re glad that Salon has challenged Bill O’Reilly, who has demagogued Gary Kamiya half to death. But we disagree with something Salon wrote in this Wednesday’s letter. Salon referred to Tuesday night’s Factor, in which Ellis Henican “debated” O’Reilly about the Kamiya piece:

SALON: Newsday’s Ellis Henican did a great job defending Kamiya’s piece from O’Reilly’s constant interruptions, and we thank him for that thankless task.
Bullshit! Ellis Henican did no such thing. As Salon notes, O’Reilly said that Kamiya had been “cheering the enemy” in his April 11 Salon column. O’Reilly called Kamiya a “fanatic,” saying he had “no place in the public arena” and should “think about moving to Costa Rica.” Stupidly, O’Reilly said that Kamiya’s piece “is pretty much the death knell for the far left, not the moderate left, but the far left in this country.” It’s hard to get much dumber than that—and it’s hard to get a whole lot uglier. But of course, as Salon aptly noted, “the real agenda of conservative media’s overbearing pundits…is to drive everyone who disagrees with them out of the public arena. They’re not interested in open debate; their goal is to intimidate and silence.”

Salon was able to make that statement—but Ellis Henican, for some reason, was not. In a word, his performance on Tueday night’s Factor was hapless. Pretending to defend Kamiya, he didn’t quote a single sentence from Kamiya’s piece, instead offering gum-tooothed paraphrase of what Kamiya had said. Yet as Salon points out, the very headline on Kamiya’s article said this: “Liberation Day: Even Those Opposed to the War Should Celebrate a Shining Moment in the History of Freedom—the Fall of Saddam Hussein.” Defending Kamiya’s piece against O’Reilly’s blunt slanders should have been as easy as sliming the French on the half-witted morning propfest, Fox & Friends. But Henican simply didn’t do it. Henican may have been unprepared. Or he may have gone into the tank.

Who is Henican, after all? Salon says he’s from Newsday, but he’s something else too: Henican has now become a “Fox analyst.” Not yet an “all-star,” but well on his way—if he keeps producing the type of low-voltage “rebuttal” he served William O Tuesday night. We’ve described these “Washington Generals” before, paid good money to lose every fight. Salon is being professional and being polite, but Henican stunk out the joint Tuesday night. We hope that his paycheck is spending nicely; meanwhile, it’s too bad that people watching the Factor didn’t get to hear what Kamiya really said.

VISIT AGAIN: We’ve watched this “Fox analyst” sleep-walk before. Three words: Exact same problem. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/22/02.