IN SEARCH OF MORAL EXPERIENCE! We bungled Richard Cohen a bitin part, by omitting John Judis: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 4, 2008
DANGERCONSTRUCTION ZONE: Darn it! We loved Brian Williams evocation of life outside Bozeman, Montana. (People are so patriotic there, the disillusioned New Jerseyan said.) And Arianna roused our soul with one of her well-scripted comments. But transcripts have been slow to arrive from last evenings pundit spectaculars. Hopefully, theyll turn up for use in tomorrows HOWLER.
Life would be better without cable news channels, we couldnt help thinking last night. The problem is the same old problemthe problem of pundit gang-comment. Routinely, our pundits All Say The Same Things, thereby giving the (false) impression that their Approved Group Views are cast in stone. Through their gang-punditry, they construct your worldand viewers quite often dont know it.
In particular, we were struck by the way the pundit corps gang-reacted to Clintons lack of a concession. It isnt as if this was a surprise. From Dan Balz, in this mornings Post:
In short, all pundits knew, when they went on the air, that Clinton wouldnt be conceding. They had known all day long. Presumably, a few of them even knew that some famous candidates, in the semi-recent past, never really conceded at all, taking their great, deeply-principled crusades all the way to their partys convention. (Examples: Ronald Reagan, 1976. Ted Kennedy, 1980.) We dont think thats a great idea, but its an obvious part of the history. And how about high-minded Jerry Brown, fighting for the little guy sixteen years ago this week? Richard Berke reported his high-minded plans in the New York Times on the day of the Golden State primary:
Sorry. Jerry Brown didnt concede that night, the night Clinton went over the top. And when George Bush wrapped up the 2000 nod, John McCain was a bit tangy too, as Terry Neal noted in the Post five days later. In fairness, this was March, not June:
No two cases are just alike, but theres a lot of familiar history here. For good or ill, defeated candidates have often failed to behave in the way your pundit corps was group-demanding last night.
But then, they always yodel in a group, thereby constructing reality the way their fraternal order prefers. By the way: The APs Beth Fouhy wrote yesterdays unexpected report, saying (incorrectly) that Clinton would concede. How exactly did she get that idea? It was strange! Fouhy played pundit on CNN for a good while last night, and as far as we saw (no transcripts yet), no one remembered to ask her.
As usual, the pundits were group-complaining last nightpack-hacking, as is their cartels wont. Theyre happiest when they All Say The Same Thing. Thats when they most visibly fail to serve. Thats when the gang is least helpful.
IN SEARCH OF MORAL EXPERIENCE: Due to editing and eyesight errors, we did a poor job with yesterdays column by Richard Cohen. In some ways, we should have limited our approach to the column, which presented many points worth discussing. In the course of tackling too many points, we understated one key pointand we skipped a part of the column which had drawn our attention in the first place.
Cohen, youll recall, was letting us know why he has hated the 2008 Dem campaign. We talked about several aspects of his loathing. In the process, we skipped over this:
In this paragraph, Cohen says that Clintons unremarkable remark about Johnson was somehow turned into a racist statement. As a general matter, we agree with that view, if not with Cohens specific language; in our view, the statement by Clinton was unremarkable, and yet it was widely assailed. (We havent reviewed the Obamas camps reactions to this matter. Cohen is uncomplimentary.) We will note this: For all Cohens loathing of this incident, he didnt express his feelings or views in real time. Clinton made her statement in New Hampshire, in January. Cohen first complained about it in his column of April 29.
At any rate, Cohen thinks that Hillary Clinton got mugged in that incidentgot unfairly charged with a racial offense, the most significant charge that can be made in our politics. (Except for the far more serious charge of receiving oral sex.) This brings us back to the most remarkable part of yesterdays column. In this paragraph, Cohen listed something else he loathed about this campaign:
In that paragraph, Cohen expresses a truly astounding view. We mentioned this yesterdaybut we probably would have been smarter to focus on this alone.
What does Cohen say in that paragraph? He seems to say that everyone (presumably, everyone in the press) knew what she meant when Clinton made her Robert Kennedy comment. As we said, we disagree with that assessment. Though it was perfectly clear what Clinton had said, we have long experience with the press corps. Their interpretive skills are virtually non-existent, especially when a storm blows up which aligns with an Official Group Preference. The RFK matter let them light into Clinton. Interpretive skills flew out the door.
But thats our viewlets stick to Cohens. Cohen actually knows these peopleand in his view, they were simply playing dumb when they pretended to be so deeply offended by the vile thing Clinton said. Given the ugliness of the way that comment was interpreted, Cohen is therefore accusing his colleagues of heinous professional conduct.
Cohen accuses his colleagues of a vast professional crimeof conduct that was deeply dishonest and deeply destructive. And omigod! He seems to have no earthly idea of the magnitude of what he has said! He tossed the incident off in a single sentence, pairing it with a Canal Zone debate which, in fact, didnt exist. (According to Nexis, this issue was mentioned only twice in the Postin a May 2 news report and in a May 6 letter. The Senate has unanimously declared John McCain a natural-born citizen, eligible to be president of the United States, the news report said. It was mentioned just once in the New York Times, in a 233-word news report about the Senate action.)
As weve long noted, Cohens columns are full of statements he doesnt seem to mean. His one great rule seems to be this: His columns must be flung together in something under ten minutes. But the assertion he made in that second passage shouldnt be passed over lightly. For people who want to ponder their insider press corps, its important to keep track of this cohorts remarkably shriveled morality.
Needless to say, the reader can judges these incidents for him or herself. But lets stick to Cohens judgmentsand to his attendant moral vacuity. In that passage, Cohen accused his cohort of a vast crimebut showed no sign of understanding the depth of his accusation. And Cohen is hardly alone in this type of blindness. Recently, John Judis made an equally remarkable statement, claiming that the press corps decided that one of the candidates, being history, had to be judged by a different standard from all the others. (According to Judis: When Clinton dared criticize this candidate in an underwhelming but conventional manner, members of the media recoiled and threw their support to Obama. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/22/08 and 5/23/08.) He too made an astonishing statement about the behavior of his own cohortand, like Cohen, he seemed to have no earthly idea of the enormity of what he had said.
But then again, Cohen and Judis are hardly alone. No one said boo about Judis statement in the career liberal universe. Yes, tristero took note at Hullabaloo. But name a single play-for-pay liberal who said even a single word about the remarkable thing Judis said.
(But then, these are the people who still havent told you what happened in Campaign 2000.)
This isnt about Obama or Clinton; this is about your upper-end press corps. According to Cohen, Clinton got mugged by race back in New Hampshire, and she got savaged about her RFK statement by a press corps which was faking its outrage. Thats an astonishing pair of claims. But to all appearances, Cohens moral sense is so dulled, from apparent disuse, that he didnt know it.
Judis and Cohen made remarkable claims. But neither gentleman seemed to know it, and the boys and girls of the play-for-pay world all agreed not to notice. Make no mistake: This is the way youve been handed your politics over the course of the past many years. And from this morally disordered realm, a mild-mannered manthe man from Pur-ditionwould at last emerge.
TOMORROW OR FRIDAY: Do not mess with Todd Purdum.
THOSE HUNDRED DRESSES: The greatest description of moral experience we know is found in Eleanor Estes The Hundred Dresses, the 1945 Newbery Honor childrens book. We saw Elizabeth Young, our supervising teacher, read this book to our fifth-grade class in the early 1970s. The book concerned a group of kids in a different time and place. But we saw our fifth-graders lean forward, cup their ears, shush their friends and hang on every word. Children have an astonishing interest in discussions of what is fair. Watching Elizabeth Young sit and read, we saw this story cut to the soul of a whole group of Baltimore children.
Needless to say, we suggest that you buy this book from your friendly local book-seller. (Why not try a bookstore like this?) But well stand with the Amazon review which describes The Hundred Dresses as a time-proven classic about kindness, compassion, and standing up for what's right. Theres more, and this is what were describing: Maddie, a girl who had stood by while Wanda was taunted about her dresses, feels sick inside. Estes describes that sick feelingthat moral experiencebetter than anyone weve ever read. Our children were riveted by that sick feeling. But it rarely shows up in the press.