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IF IT FEELS GOOD, SAY IT! The press corps has contempt for facts. The Blumenthal Wars make that clear:

FRIDAY, MAY 30, 2003

MUST-C TV: Tonight, Friday evening, at 8 PM Eastern, C-SPAN airs that Larry Sabato panel on political humor which we mentioned some time back. As we recall, the session gets off to a fairly slow start, but soon great armies lock in battle. At issue: Saturday Night Live’s iconic “strategery” skit about Bush and Gore’s crucial first debate. See TDH and SNL duke it out on the Charlottesville stage. Meanwhile, watch Matt Cooper—funny dude, and man of peace—insist that both men are partially right. For us, Coop recalled the words of Pallas Athene, clear-eyed daughter of Zeus of the aegis, as the Odyssey draws to its close: “Hold back, men of Ithaka, from the weariness of fighting/So that most soon, and without blood, you can settle everything.” In this case, we repaired to a Charlottesville night spot, where the young people now drink martinis.

A CULTURE OF LYING SURROUNDS GEORGE BUSH: On Tuesday, Paul Krugman quoted a major newspaper as it made an “obvious” statement (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/29/03). “The lunatics are running the asylum,” the Financial Times had said, commenting on the latest Bush tax cuts. But we noted that Krugman had to cross the pond to find a Big Paper willing to say it. At the Washington Post, by contrast, timorous bootblacks hid behind desks, pretending they had no idea.

But now, in an important break, the New Republic stakes similar ground. “HE’S STILL LYING,” its new cover says. “Bush’s Most Dishonest Tax Cut.” A Culture of Lying surrounds George Bush. In its current issue, TNR makes the case, loud and clear.

TNR’s language is frank, and it’s ugly:

In his weekly “TRB: From Washington” column, Peter Beinart hammers Bush for his “functional lies,” and he belts the Admin for “dishonesty and abuse.”

In his detailed, invaluable cover piece (“Race to the Bottom”), Jonathan Chait scalds the Bush Admin for its “fiscal madness.” TNR sub-headline: “The Bush tax cut is madness. And it has been sold with lies.”

Even in its lead NOTEBOOK item (“FOOL ME TWICE”), TNR batters hapless Nebraska “Democrat” Ben Nelson for his latest cave-in on the Bush cuts.

Readers sometimes write TDH, asking what they can do about current situations. Today, we offer this advice—purchase and study the current New Republic. We’ll review segments of Chait’s piece next week. People of the center and left—and the non-talk show right—need to be armed with this knowledge.

The Daily update

THE CASE OF WHAT THE FOREWOMAN SAID: Contempt for facts drives our modern press culture. That contempt has rarely been more clear than in the endless, fraudulent, dissembling reviews of Sidney Blumenthal’s important new book, The Clinton Wars. As they’ve done throughout the past decade, Blumenthal’s critics simply make up their facts, and “good guy” pundits pretend not to notice. It was done to Clinton. It was done to Gore. Now it’s done to a scribe who defends them. Contempt for facts drives modern press culture. If you doubt that statement is true, consider what the forewoman said.

In 1998, Sidney Blumenthal made three appearances before Ken Starr’s grand jury. Here’s the chronology of those visits. These facts have been clear for four years:

February 26, 1998: Blumenthal makes his first grand jury appearance. After the visit, he makes a statement on the courthouse steps. He complains that he has been repeatedly asked about his contacts with the press.

June 4, 1998: Blumenthal makes his second grand jury appearance. No one says so much as a word about his February 26 statement. After the visit, Blumenthal’s lawyer specifically notes that Blumenthal will make no statement. But the lawyer, William McDaniel, does make a statement. According to the Washington Post, McDaniel “complained afterward that prosecutors wasted most of their time asking superfluous questions.” McDaniel was directly quoted: “What we had was two hours of questions about, ‘Up there at the White House, do they talk about us as prosecutors? And up there at the White House, do you talk about Starr’s investigation?’” Speaking on those courthouse steps, McDaniel said this was “just a further example of what appears to be the obsessive view [the Starr investigators] have about what other people think of them.”

June 25, 1998: Blumenthal makes his third appearance. The grand jury forewoman has a complaint. Her statement: “We’re very concerned about the fact that during your last visit that an inaccurate representation of the events that happened was retold on the steps of the courthouse.” Plainly, that would have been Blumenthal’s June 4 visit, not the earlier visit of February 26. Plainly, the forewoman complained about McDaniel’s statement. No one ever said a word about what Blumenthal himself had said. By the way, McDaniel’s statement was perfectly fair. The forewoman just didn’t like it.

But starting in November 1998, the Starr team felt like deceiving the public, and Washington’s “press corps”—contemptuous of facts—eagerly ran to help out. The Starr team spread a pleasing story; Blumenthal lied on February 26, they said, and the jury forewoman scolded him for it. Both parts of this story were patently false, but “journalists” knocked over chairs as they ran to recite them. Even after the Blumenthal grand jury transcripts became public—long after the facts became clear—assorted “journalists” kept spreading the story while “good guy” pundits crouched behind desks. Mara Liasson called Blumenthal a liar; E. J. Dionne knew enough not to notice. This was how the “Clinton wars” worked. The story was told again and again—and it’s being recited today.

Your modern “press corps” holds facts in contempt. On Wednesday, Robert Bartley did a lengthy review of The Clinton Wars in the Wall Street Journal. For reasons only he can explain, he decided to lie to his readers:

BARTLEY: Mr. Blumenthal relates that after his first grand-jury testimony, he stood on the courthouse steps to proclaim that “I was forced to answer questions, about conversations, as part of my job, with The New York Times, CNN, CBS, Time magazine, U.S. News, the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, The New York Observer, and there may have been a few others.” He was later upbraided by the jury forewoman for “an inaccurate description of the events that happened here.”…

Problem is, even Mr. Blumenthal’s account does not show any such series of questions being asked. He’s proud of his lie.

But then, Robert Bartley bends it like Jayson. We invite you to search the work of Mickey Kaus or Andrew Sullivan for some sign of their great, vast concern. Funny, isn’t it? How upset they get about Jayson Blair, and how little they care about Bartley?

Of course, Bartley isn’t the only hack dragging this tired old dog around town. Here was Tucker Carlson’s opening question when Blumenthal showed up on Crossfire:

CARLSON: Mr. Blumenthal, your book purports to be account of certain historical events, mostly surrounding the ideological battles over the Clinton presidency. Let’s get specific about one of them.

In the summer of 1998, you were called in to a grand jury and subjected to a number of questions. After that, you went outside on the steps and gave an impromptu press conference in which you alleged you’d been asked questions about the president’s religion.

Transcripts from that grand jury later showed that that’s not true. You were not telling the truth. When you went back the next time before that grand jury, here’s what the forewoman said to you: “We’re very concerned about the fact that during your last visit that an inaccurate representation of the events that happened was retold on the steps of the courthouse.”

In other words, you were lying. Given that, why should we believe anything that’s in your book?

Note: Carlson knows that Blumenthal was asked about press contacts; therefore, he pretends that the forewoman challenged his “Clinton’s religion” comment. But again—as the record makes perfectly clear, the jury forewoman said nothing to Blumenthal about his courthouse step statement. Tucker Carlson just bends it like Blair.

But Carlson’s question shows the game his cohort has played throughout the last decade. Blumenthal lied about what he was asked, Carlson says. “Given that,” why should we believe what he says about anything else? The tactic? Invent a lie; pretend someone said it; then use it to discredit larger statements. This was done to Candidate Gore in Campaign 2000, with the entire press corps taking part. This ugly game explains why Candidate Bush is now telling lies in the White House.

Meanwhile, is it possible to be stupider than Tucker Carlson? Here’s the complaint with which he opened the program’s second segment:

CARLSON: OK. There are, I counted them, 19 photographs of you with Hillary and Bill Clinton in this book. Do you think the Clintons love you as much as you love them?
It’s known as “having nothing to say.” CNN should really explain why it puts this fake man on the air.

Over the past decade, the talk show-right has sold so many lies that it’s simply impossible to fight them all off. But the chronology of Blumenthal’s grand jury visits has been perfectly clear since 1999. No, that jury forewoman didn’t scold Sidney for what he said on the courthouse steps. But Bartley and Carlson just keep on lying, and “good guy” pundits keep looking away. Contempt for the facts simply rules our press culture. If not, then ask yourself how this ugly story continues to be peddled so widely. And ask yourself why you have to come here to be told that the lying must stop.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: The facts have been clear for over four years. But given the press corps’ contempt for mere facts, there is no penalty whatever for lying—unless, of course, you’re Jayson Blair, and your story helps push right-wing spin-points along. Then, the Kauses and Sullivans will stroke their thighs briskly. They’ll jump up and down, braying loud:

Sorry. Sidney was asked about his press contacts. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/5/99.

Christopher Hitchens repeated Starr’s bogus facts in The Nation. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/22/99.

The story began with outright lies—from Ken Starr’s staff. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/99.

Four years ago, we asked the press to explain where it got this fake story. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/24/99.