EXIT OKRENT (PART 3)! Final question: Why did a guy who voted for Kerry love fever swamps of the right?
THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2005
BORKING THE 7: What did the Gang of 14 decide? Inquiring minds are still unsure. Last night, Robert Bork gave his view on Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY (5/25/05): What do you think about the deal?So Bork and Hannity think that the Gang of 14 agreed to deep-six Judges 4-7. Other giants of cable think otherwise. But no one seems to know just what has been agreed, and thats because of the press corps standard reaction to this agreement. Instead of asking the Gang of 14 to explain exactly what theyd decided, pundits did the things they do best; they began to speculate about solons motives and predict who was the winner. Of course, theres no real way to know who has won when it comes to a long-term, informal agreement which may unravel at any time. But so what? Rather than ask the Gang to expound on Judges 4-7, pundits blathered on.
What exactly was agreed about Judges 4 and 5 (Myers and Saad)? About Judges 6 and 7 (we think, McKeague and Griffin)? About Judges 8 and 9 (Kavanaugh and Haynes)? We dont have the slightest idea. And we havent seen anyone ask the 14. Theyre too busy picking out winners.
DEAN DOMED: With all the rest of the weeks excitement, were late to Howard Deans Meet the Press appearance. We thought Dean did well on certain subjects, but was more frequently awful. As always, we cringed at this familiar exchange on the subject of Social Security:
RUSSERT (5/22/05): You mentioned Social Security. You were up in Ithaca at Cornell. (Reading from newspaper) "Dean pointed out that while he would not endorse this, if Social Security were left alone for 30 years, its benefits would be reduced to 80 percent of what it is now."No, nothing will turn on that exchange. But here again, a major Democrat chooses the version of facts most favorable to Bushs position.
What was wrong with this familiar presentation? Here are three options open to Dems when they talk about future revenue shortfalls:
Option 1: They can cite the gloomy forecast of the SS trustees. This forecast says the revenue shortfall begins in 2041.Wed go with a blend of 2 and 3. But Dean, like so many Dem leaders, adopted Option 1—the gloomiest of the three major options, and the one that may well be least accurate. And by the way: This is the option preferred by the White House. Were amazed when Dem leaders keeo choosing it. (How bad does this get? Link below.)
But this was just one of several problems. For example, were amazed when Dems keep making this self-defeating presentation about Bushs pre-war dissembling:
DEAN: Some of the things that the president said on our way into Iraq, they just weren't true, and I don't think that's right. So—Good grief! Could anyone fail to see what was coming? Yes, this happened next:
RUSSERT (continuing directly): Well, you said there were weapons of mass destruction!Could a Dem leader look worse? Dean calls Bush a liar for saying there were WMD—then has to admit that he said the same thing! Years have gone by, and Dems still havent developed a better presentation. (Hint: Focus on Bushs pre-war claims about nukes. Much of this was blatantly phony—and these claims werent echoed by long lines of Dems going all the way back to Clinton.)
But the biggest problem with Deans appearance concerned his recent string of undisciplined attacks against Republicans. Dean has made so many such statements that when he goes on a show like Meet the Press, half the time gets eaten up evaluating his own unwise statements. Some libs are inclined to love these attacks. But how does this sort of thing sound to undecideds?
RUSSERT: Governor, you did on May 14 say something about Tom DeLay that raised a lot of eyebrows. Let's watch Howard Dean on Tom DeLay.I dont think Im prejudging him? That, of course, is total nonsense, as any Meet the Press viewer can see. And as Russert continued, Dean did too. This is equally foolish:
RUSSERT: Barney Frank, a liberal Democrat, said, "That's just wrong. I think Howard Dean was out of line talking about DeLay. The man has not been indicted. I don't like him, I disagree with some of what he does, but I don't think you, in a political speech, talk about a man as a criminal or his jail sentence."But of course, thats wrong; Dean was speculating there, as any viewere could see. The fact that DeLay has been admonished by the Ethics Committee doesnt mean hes committed a crime. (As Frank noted, he hasnt even been indicted.) Some Dems and libs may cheer this stuff on. But on its face, its factually bogus, and it must look silly to undecideds. Meanwhile, enormous chunks of time get wasted going over misstatements like this.
In 2003, we strongly criticized Russert for his interview with Candidate Dean. But this time, Russerts questions were perfectly obvious; anybody would have asked them. Meanwhile, Deans lack of discipline about SS was matched by the nonsense about DeLays crimes. Tom DeLay is an easy target; its absurd to think that you have to embellish to make a case against his conduct. (Ditto for Bushs pre-war conduct.) In our view, Dean has been extremely undisciplined in the past few months. We thought that he, and the party he works for, paid a price Sunday morning.
OPTION 1: How bad do Dem leaders get about SS? On May 1, Chris Dodd didnt just vouch for Option 1. He said every single actuary endorses that forecast, a claim that is absurdly inaccurate. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/2/05. The lack of message discipline here is really a thing to see.
TOMORROW—DEM LEADERS PART 2: Sad to say, its Pelosis latest palooza. (To spot it yourself, just click here.)
TOMORROW: Our big blue slip Part 4 finale
PART 3! GRAND FINALE! STILL LIBERAL AFTER ALL THESE MONTHS: In his final column, Daniel Okrent offered a mea culpa for a fairly minor offense. I wish I hadn't made so much noise, in print and in various interviews, about how hard this job was, he wrote. Dexter Filkins, in Baghdad, has a hard job; Steven Erlanger, in Jerusalem, has a hard job. By any reasonable standard, public editor is a walk in the park. As public editor, Okrent sometimes complained about the grief he had to take from Times readers, several times taking his kvetching too far. But then too, we saw him several times, in public forums, complaining about the nasty e-mails he and Times reporters received, and we came to admire the fact that these e-mails seemed to disgust him. The biggest problem with many modern media types is the fact that nothing makes them mad. We thought it spoke well of Okrent that he seemed to hate the nasty, dumb mail Times reporters routinely receive, even if it suggested that he might not have the perfect temperament for the public ed job. Mike Getler surely gets dumb e-mails too—but he doesnt name peoples names and gnash his teeth about their dumb comments.
But then, Okrent had to go after Krugman with those nasty, cosmos-class cheap shots (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/23/05), and he had to write that ludicrous item about the Times and Bill Moyers (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/24/05). And omigod! He had to vouch for his most famous column—the column in which he told the world that the Times is a liberal newspaper. (Of course it is, he blithely said.) That was one of the topics Okrent explored in his final public ed piece. Because the topic is so important—and because his item is so short—well cut-and-paste it in full:
OKRENT (5/22/05): Last July, when I slapped the headline ''Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?'' atop my column and opened the piece with the catchy one-liner ''Of course it is,'' I wasn't doing anyone—the paper, its serious critics, myself—any favors. I'd reduced a complex issue to a sound bite. The column itself, I'll stand by; I still believe the paper is the inevitable product of its staff's experience and worldview, and that its news coverage reflects a generalized acceptance of liberal positions on most social issues.Of course, we criticized Okrent in real time for being so cavalier on this subject (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/04). Anyone could have seen where this column would end—with kooky-con New York Times detractors saying it proved theyd been right all along about the papers grotesque liberal bias. Okrent now says that he gave them a gun. But that was easy to see in real time.
But Okrents mea culpa is just a tiny bit disingenuous. The column itself, I'll stand by, he says. I still believe the paper[s]...news coverage reflects a generalized acceptance of liberal positions on most social issues. But that isnt quite what the gentleman said when he slammed the Times for its liberal ways. Back then, he was a bit tougher on the Times. Here was the nugget statement from this, his most long-lasting column:
OKRENT (7/25/04):I'll get to the politics-and-policy issues this fall (I want to watch the campaign coverage before I conclude anything), but for now my concern is the flammable stuff that ignites the right. These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed.Okrent wasnt talking about politics-and-policy, he said—though anyone with an ounce of sense would have known that this would be ignored when he handed Times-trashers their license to vent. But how does the Times cover social issues—the flammable stuff that inflames the right? If you think the Times play it down the middle, youre a blind man, Okrent said. Later, he expanded his criticism:
OKRENT (7/25/04): [I]'s one thing to make the paper's pages a congenial home for editorial polemicists, conceptual artists, the fashion-forward or other like-minded souls...and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear. I don't think it's intentional when The Times does this. But negligence doesn't have to be intentional.According to Okrent, the Times has been negligent in covering these topics; the paper tells only one side of the story. And then, he offered the perfect example—the Times coverage of same-sex marriage.
Lets start out with a key disclaimer. Is the Times fair-and-balanced when it comes to gay marriage? We dont have the foggiest. Readers, its hard to say where fairness lies when a newspaper covers a complex subject, and when we examined Okrents critique, we found that some of his complaints seemed to be hatched from the same fever swamp where he found his utterly bogus complaint about the Times and Bill Moyers. According to Okrent, the Times had been present[ing] the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading. Other papers had been more balanced, he said. At one point, he gave some examples.
OKRENT (7/25/04): This implicit advocacy is underscored by what hasn't appeared. Apart from one excursion into the legal ramifications of custody battles (''Split Gay Couples Face Custody Hurdles,'' by Adam Liptak and Pam Belluck, March 24), potentially nettlesome effects of gay marriage have been virtually absent from The Times since the issue exploded last winter.Okrent complained that the Times had failed to take a walk on the down side, the way the Chronicle and Globe had done. But when we researched the items he mentioned, we found that no newspaper except the Chronicle had reported that marginal congressional testimony, and we couldnt find any serious coverage, in the Globe or anywhere else, about the potential impact of same-sex marriage on tax revenues. (The Globe report to which Okrent seemed to refer said that same-sex marriage would likely increase Bay State revenues.) Again, the Times was hardly alone in its editorial judgment. We couldnt find evidence that any paper except the Globe had ever covered this apparently marginal topic. Nor could we find any AP reporting on this issue.
Was this the best evidence we could get for so blithe a claim on so central a topic—for Okrents assurance that the Times is of course a liberal newspaper, which we now tells us has handed machine guns to conservative Times-trashers? Okrent says he stands behind his general claim, although were still not sure why he does; we dont have the slightest idea how the Time handles same-sex marriage (or the other topics he mentions), and his analysis still strikes us as slapdash—not unlike his foolish embrace of the bogus claim about the Times and Bill Moyers. Is it true? Does Times news coverage reflect a generalized acceptance of liberal positions on most social issues? We still dont have the slightest idea—although we do note that this letter was published in the wake of Okrents first column:
To the Editor:Is Garry more correct than Okrent about the Times coverage? We dont have the slightest idea. But we will say this: A Nexis scan of New York Times headlines does show a wide array of news reports about this subject. Its hard to say just what is fair. But it isnt clear that Okrent made a stringent attempt to sift through all the Times reporting. Instead, he made a flippant statement—one he now semi-regrets.
Were struck by several things in all this. Mostly, were struck by the way Okrent seems inclined to jump on various creaking bandwagons when it comes to the flammable stuff that ignites the right. In his final column, he stages an ugly, inexcusable, cheap-shot attack on the man who has done the most to challenge and fact-check the Bush agenda. Soon thereafter, he adds his assent to a scripted claim about the Times and Bill Moyers—a claim that was groaningly familiar but palpably false, as even a small bit of research makes clear. And he stands behind his earlier claim that the Times is a liberal newspaper, an imprecise claim he initially proved by taking what seems like a slapdash look at the papers coverage of gay marriage. Our question: Why does a man who says he voted for Kerry seem to get so many scripts from fever swamps of the kooky-con right? Answer that question and you might start to understand the odd currents driving our public discourse—a discourse in which a prince of Manhattan is too lazy to research a claim about Moyers, and engages in the nastiest kind of attack against the bravest scribe of the day. Why was Okrent so inclined? Tell us, and then well all know.
JAY FIRST: Yes, Okrent is a prince of Manhattan, where we think his work is viewed rather kindly. In particular, heres Jay Rosens upbeat assessment of that key liberal newspaper column:
ROSEN: One Sunday morning he called the New York Times a liberal newspaper. And even though he meant "...on social issues only!" it was still a profound moment in the history of the Times—and I believe a liberating one. He said it was his most important column and he's right.We agree that this was Okrents most important column—but only because it was so poorly reasoned and so unwise, because it handed a fully predictable gun to the newspapers kooky-con critics. The reader who sent that ridiculous question on Moyers no doubt cheered the scribes every word. But Rosen seems to think this column served a good purpose. At THE HOWLER, wed love to know why he sees it that way. Write on, Brother Jay! Write on!
By the way, one final, ironic note on how poorly reasoned that key column was. As Rosen notes, Okrent only claimed that day that the Times was liberal when it came to social issues. In fact, when Okrent finally wrote his promised column on politics-and-policy issues, he specifically judged that the Times was not favoring Kerry over Bush. (This seemed to be his only frame of reference for evaluating such matters.) So, even though Okrent specifically found that the Times didnt have a political tilt, every conservative in the country will endlessly hear that he said something different. Theyll hear this because of the flamboyant way he penned that unwise liberal newspaper column. This liberated us to more fever-swamp tripe of the type presented in that question about Moyers. We think this is no liberation at all—and we hope that Jay will splain different. In our view, we need to know why this kind of work often meets such indulgent critiques.