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TOMORROW: Brian Williams speaks! So does alleged “sc*m-bag” Purdum.
ENDLESS BUMMER: Earlier this week, we said that, while sports writers actually seem to like sports, the political press corps often seems to hate politics. One e-mailing journalist–a name so big it would rock your world!–disagreed with us in minor degree, drawing a few fine distinctions. But the passage below, from Gail Collins’ new column, represents the essence of what we meant. This is such an odd part of upscale press culture that it must be captured, for later study. We offer a chunk from the end of the column, but it was Collins’ closing paragraph that caught our analysts’ eyes:
COLLINS (6/5/08): It’s not surprising that Hillary [Clinton] was having trouble coming to grips with the fact that she lost. Every time she started to adjust, she won another big primary. The campaign felt as if it was in some kind of Bizarro world: the more she won, the farther back she fell. When she took South Dakota Tuesday night, in a big upset, the TV stations immediately announced that, thanks to South Dakota, Obama had a lock on the nomination.
It’s nobody’s fault. Barack [Obama] played by the rules and did exactly what he needed to do to win. Good for him. This will all sort itself out. We’ve been through the endless debate period, and the endless primary period. Let’s take a little breather before we rush into the endless town-meeting period.
In this passage, Gail gives us the slightly creepy feeling that, for her, “Hillary” and “Barack” really are imaginary friends. But note that trademark closing paragraph. In her columns of the past year or so, Collins has endlessly complained that there were 1) too many debates and 2) too many primaries. At one point, she voiced the somewhat novel complaint that there were 3) too many issues being discussed. Today, she looks ahead to the general election–and pre-complains that there will be too many town meetings, featuring John and Barack. And of course, we’ve all seen the howling from David (Broder), when major Dems like Gore and Clinton have made him sit through policy speeches. We’ve never seen people who so seemed to hate so many aspects of the subject they chose to cover.
Or who knows? Maybe someone is kidnaping English majors and making them write about politics!
Collins hated all those debates; now, she’s planning to hate the town meetings. The one thing these people seem to love is the novels they endlessly type–novels endlessly driven along by their insipid stock characters. And make no mistake: This is the mark of an upper-class press corps–a group that doesn’t have to worry or care about the matters discussed at those tedious debates.
In this post, Paul Krugman asks if the coverage of this year’s campaign will be more substantive than in the past. Commenters widely answered him: No! And sure enough! The very next day, there was Collins, pre-complaining about those town meetings.
Our analysis? They seem to hate covering things that matter–and they seem to love tired old novels. This morning, Collins employs one of her cohort’s most tired old tropes. There’s a key on their keyboards for it:
COLLINS: The fact that McCain’s campaign operation suggests he is a dreadful manager, that his economic policy still seems to be limited to cutting federal spending on unnecessary bridges and that he seems to know only one way to communicate with the public does not mean that he is incapable of winning the election in November. The Democrats’ ability to screw things up really has no limit.
Snore! It’s the tiredest trope in the book, typed at a time when the GOP has virtually destroyed its public standing. Collins pre-hates those boring town meetings–and adores tired scripts, snarks and sneers.
CAPUTO ON CONSTRUCT: We’re in a bit of a rush today. But we thought Lisa Caputo fleshed out a basic point on last evening’s Verdict with Dan Abrams. In yesterday’s HOWLER, what did we mean when we said that the modern pundit corps tend to hand you “constructs?” As has long been obvious, most modern pundits are only happy when they’re All Saying The Exact Same Things. On Tuesday evening, they stood in line to marvel at the fact that Clinton didn’t concede to Obama; they marveled at this, even though they’d been told that she wasn’t going to do so. Below, we’ll offer some thoughts on why she didn’t. But here was Caputo, fleshing out more of the background we offered yesterday:
ABRAMS (6/4/08): I mean, there were people on our air today, Charlie Rangel was on our air today, talking about this, saying–but expressing–and look, whether you agree with them or not, they felt that she should have been, said different things last night.
CAPUTO: But you know what, Dan? With all due respect, let’s just put this in a historical context, if you would. Bill Bradley got out of the race in March and didn’t endorse Al Gore until July. Jesse Jackson took it to the convention. Ted Kennedy took it to the convention–
ABRAMS: But that’s an explanation of why they–
CAPUTO: No. But hold on! Why is there a different standard for Senator Clinton?
Why is there a different standard for Clinton? Putting Congressman Rangel to the side, the answer to that is obvious. But Caputo adds to the brief capsule history we offered yesterday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/4/08). In Campaign 2000, Bradley waited several months to endorse. There was nothing especially “wrong” with that–and the pundit corps didn’t bellow and howl, in One Loud Voice, berating his vile, ugly conduct.
Should Clinton have given a different speech? That is a matter of judgment. But why didn’t she endorse? We can think of several obvious possible answers. But let’s stick with one.
Here it is: Candidates often don’t endorse for a while because they’re extremely competitive people. It has long been clear that, barring some sort of disaster, Obama was going to win the nomination. But it wasn’t clear to Hillary Clinton, to judge from today’s report by the Post’s Kornblut and Balz. In this passage, they walk us through the weeks before North Carolina:
KORNBLUT/BALZ (6/5/08): What happened in Indiana and North Carolina was a classic case of expectations getting away from the campaign. Obama had always been heavily favored in North Carolina because of the size of the state's African American vote...
Ace Smith had been sent to North Carolina after pulling off important victories in California and Texas...
In late March, the Clinton team gathered at the candidate's home in Northwest Washington, and there, according to several present, Smith offered an optimistic assessment of North Carolina. Smith declined to comment about what he said was a private meeting. But, he said, "we were cornered and we had to fight that battle, and when you go into fight a battle you'd better be optimistic or you're doomed to failure from the beginning."
Others did not begrudge Smith his determination to fight for all the resources he could muster from a team that believed the best outcome was holding Obama to a single-digit margin of victory. But the campaign's problems were compounded by the enthusiasm of the Clintons themselves, who thought they were making progress in the state. North Carolina, Hillary Clinton told an audience days before the primary, could be a "game-changer."
Nothing the campaign could say later could roll back her confidence.
People who compete and achieve on this level tend to be highly competitive. Obviously, that was true of Bradley, a famous, world-class athlete (although the press corps, through its Official Script, kept insisting on the opposite). People who compete and achieve on this level have a strong tendency not to give up. We have an anecdote about the last NFL years of Johnny Unitas which reflects this matter quite nicely. But people who compete on the Bradley/Clinton level are trying very hard to win. Historically, they haven’t instantly turned around and endorsed their beloved opponents. Indeed, some of our most famous, pundit-honored pols have fought it out right to the end.
For the most part, that isn’t a good idea–and Clinton isn’t going to do it. Personally, we hope she busts her keister helping Obama win.
We can think of other reasons for Tuesday’s non-endorsement. But Caputo fleshed out the obvious history–history that was widely ignored on Tuesday night, when pundits churned a Group Story. When pundits agree to Speak With One Voice, they behave like the fraternal order which, in many ways, they are. You get handed a heavily tilted view–a “construct.” But because you see Every Pundit Assert It, it seems that it must be The Truth.
Uh-oh! As Richard Cohen noted this week, sometimes that whole gang-of-his is just faking! Quick rule of thumb: Whenever pundits All Say The Same Thing, it most likely isn’t quite truthful.