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Daily Howler: Cheers rang out as Krugman told part of a critical, 15-year tale
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HERO! Cheers rang out as Krugman told part of a critical, 15-year tale: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 2007

ON MONDAY: We hated skipping this piece by Tamar Lewin. (It could use some amplification.) But elsewhere, we found real heroics.

HERO: Oh. Our. God! Cheers rang out on our sprawling campus when the analysts woke to Paul Krugman’s column—a column which helps the public see the shape of a 15-year tale.

Krugman begins with Tuesday night’s Republican debate—more specifically, with the work of our floundering press corps:
KRUGMAN (6/8/07): In Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan's birthday.

Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the ''gaffe of the night''?

Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven't changed a bit.
You are correct, sir! As Krugman goes on to explain in his column, Romney made a gruesome misstatement about the road to Iraq—and Huckabee got Reagan’s birthday wrong. But in this foolish photo feature, the Post called Huckabee’s pointless error “the gaffe of the night.” So it goes as our hapless “press corps” pretends to review these debates.

But the cheers began to ring out on our campus when we reached the sentence we have highlighted. Oh. Our. God! According to Krugman, these same “bad media habits,” during Campaign 2000, helped send George W. Bush to the White House As he continued, Krugman discussed a crucial part of a much-suppressed, 15-year story:
KRUGMAN: Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven't changed a bit.

You may not remember the presidential debate of Oct. 3, 2000, or how it was covered, but you should. It was one of the worst moments in an election marked by news media failure as serious, in its way, as the later failure to question Bush administration claims about Iraq.

Throughout that debate, George W. Bush made blatantly misleading statements, including some outright lies—for example, when he declared of his tax cut that ''the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.'' That should have told us, right then and there, that he was not a man to be trusted.

But few news reports pointed out the lie. Instead, many news analysts chose to critique the candidates' acting skills. Al Gore was declared the loser because he sighed and rolled his eyes—failing to conceal his justified disgust at Mr. Bush's dishonesty. And that's how Mr. Bush got within chad-and-butterfly range of the presidency.
You won’t read that in your “liberal” journals, where the careful and clever young lads and ladies don’t want to blow future celebrity careers. But in those paragraphs, Krugman is telling a massively important and massively suppressed story. If the public is going to understand modern politics, it has to understand the various parts of this 15-year story. In those paragraphs, Krugman discusses one crucial part of the tale.

Because we’ve discussed this part of the 15-year story ourselves, let’s offer a few small comments about what Krugman has said.

First: Yes! Candidate Bush did “get within chad-and-butterfly range of the presidency” because of the bad media habits Krugman discusses this morning. This very week, we got an e-mail saying that the Bob Herberts of the world didn’t send Bush to the White House; everyone knows that Chief Justice Rehnquist’s Supreme Court did that, our e-mailer said. But Campaign 2000 would never have been reached the Court if the press corps hadn’t misbehaved, for two years, in the manner Krugman describes. Will we ever get the simplest parts of this logic clear in our heads? If we have to wait for help from our “liberal” journals, the answer is clear on that: No.

Second: Krugman focuses on Bush’s October 3 misstatements about the shape of his budget plan. Without any doubt, Bush’s misstatements on this topic that evening were vast—and Krugman had explained this material in his columns three times in the previous month, quite heroically. (His colleagues almost wholly ignored him.) But let’s be sure we’re clear on our history: Bush also made endless, howling misstatements that night about his own prescription drug plan. Indeed, Bush and Gore’s exchange on that high-interest subject may have been the longest and most dramatic exchange in presidential debate history. (For a fuller discussion, see links below.) Repeatedly, Bush said or implied that Gore was lying—as Gore correctly described Bush’s plan. But as with the tax plan, so with the drugs; “few news reports pointed out” these humongous misstatements by Bush. Amazingly, the New York Times never told readers who had been right on the facts.

Third: We’ll quibble with Krugman on one point only—on his statement that the “news media failure” in Campaign 2000 was “as serious, in its way, as the later failure to question Bush administration claims about Iraq.” There are many ways to compare such episodes, but we’d have to say the press corps’ misconduct was actually worse during Campaign 2000. Yes, the press corps failed in some ways in the run to Iraq, and some of the work was egregious, or close to it. But these were largely failures of omission and emphasis—and the true story about Iraq was fairly hard to get at that time. In Campaign 2000, by contrast, the press corps simply invented bogus stories for twenty straight months, repeating them in near-perfect unison. Regarding Iraq, the result was the same; when the press corps kept Gore from the White House, they pretty much doomed us to war with Iraq. But the misconduct was much more willful in 1999 and 2000 than it would be in the run to Iraq. But so what? To this very day, Krugman is the only journalist on his level who is willing to discuss this crucial part of our recent history. Don’t turn to Bob Herbert or Joe Klein. And don’t waste your time waiting for E. J.

So Oh. Our. God! How the analysts cheered today, when Krugman told readers that they “should remember” the press corps breakdown after that crucial debate. They cheered because Campaign 2000 is part of a 15-year story—a story voters must understand if they hope to understand their own politics. Indeed, Eric Boehlert and Jamison Foser have been telling an earlier part of that story in the past two weeks, in their superlative work at Media Matters; our analysts have cheered their postings too. Here’s the shape of that 15-year story—the story the “press” refuses to tell, the story the public must fathom:

What has happened in the past 15 years? When it comes to the coverage of White House-level politics, the mainstream press corps has essentially become a Republican entity during that 15-year period. In our current environment, the most brilliant Major Dems are showered with ridicule (Gore); the most mediocre Big Reps are instantly bathed in hero tales (Thompson). Indeed, the recent treatment of Gore has proved it; there is nothing a Big Dem pol can do that will turn off the corps’ demon tales. You can win an Oscar; get nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize; and change the world-wide debate about warming. But so what! If you’re a Big Dem, nothing will stop the shower of ridicule the “press corps” will dump on your head.

(To Gore, we only say this: If you want to find the cure for cancer, go ahead! But don’t ever think that this would change the things that get said about you.)

Yep! When it comes to presidential politics, the press corps is now a Republican entity. And that story has unfolded over the course of the past fifteen years. One major part of that story was the “Whitewater” era—the era Boehlert and Foser are brilliantly limning, thanks to Jeff Gerth’s return to the scene. And the second major part of that story was the screaming, twenty-month press corps disgrace which Krugman describes this morning.

We won’t offer a Single Explanation for the press corps’ continuing reinvention as a GOP presidential shill machine. (We will suggest that this is largely a story of money—a story in which the press corps’ opinion leaders got remarkably rich, and began to identify, quite predictably, with the nation’s less liberal party.) But many Big Journalistic Stars had to remake their withered souls to get in line with this new machine, and they used the Clinton “scandals”—and Gore’s “character problem”—as handy covers for their own reinventions. A Cokie Roberts can’t start pretending she’s a movement conservative—but oh, how she managed to rant and rail about those lies by Pinocchio Gore! And how she managed to laugh and laugh when he said the funny words, “Dingell-Norwood!” They hid behind the Whitewater pseudo-scandals—and after that, they hid behind the invented character problems of Gore; they used these silly-but-potent chapters as cover for their drift to the right. And because they’ve all agreed to play dumb about this, no one but Krugman, on this level, ever discusses this change in our history. Bob Herbert played dumb this very week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/5/07). And you couldn’t get E. J. Dionne to discuss these matters if you told him he could never write a high-minded column about his faith, ever again! These people refuse to discuss these matters—all except Krugman, of course.

And then you see those “liberal” journals! Their lads and laddies are good boys and girls; back home in the leafy suburbs, mother and father are very proud. And those big cash rewards lie in wait—as long as these dainty young fixers don’t blow it! For that reason, a man like Krugman will discuss these topics—indeed, he has done so twice this week. But not these fiery lads and lassies! They know they must never go near them!

Go ahead, readers! Just visit their sites! See if they breathe a single word about Krugman’s take on this part of that 15-year story. Our guess? These bright young “liberals” don’t plan to talk—and their editors don’t plan to prod them. On Monday, we’ll see what transpires when fiery liberals get a chance to play Hardball.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Yes. Bush vastly misstated his own budget plan in that crucial 2000 debate. But his misstatements about his own prescription drug proposal—now, that was an absolute dilly! For one discussion of Bush and Gore’s lengthy exchange, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/28/04, with links to previous work. For a bit more detail, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/19/04. For Part 1 of a five-part report, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/29/01. Bush misstated wildly again and again. The press was disturbed when Gore sighed.

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE: That Krugman column is very important. We liberals should think about it, hard—and about the 15-year story of which it’s a part. But we want to amplify something we’ve said about Peter Baker’s report on the new Bernstein book. So we’ll do that below.

We’ll finish with Bernstein’s book on Monday. But readers, keep your eyes on the prize! Krugman’s column is very important. That 15-year story must be told if we want to grasp the shape of our politics. Of course, if you just don’t care who wins the White House, then we’ll suggest that you skip it.

BAKER DOESN’T (QUITE) MAKE IT UP: We’ll return to Carl Bernstein’s book on Monday, hoping to finish it up then and there. Some of the book is perfectly fine—but some of the book is not. And in some ways, his book tour’s a nightmare.

In the meantime, we’ve found the source of the mystery quote in Peter Baker’s front-page Post report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/6/07). As you’ll recall, a mystery grew about this part of Baker’s report, in which he is describing the contents of Bernstein’s new book:
BAKER (5/25/07): The Clintons stayed together [after contemplating divorce in 1989], but out of "anger and hurt" she considered running for governor in 1990, when he presumably would step down to prepare his 1992 presidential campaign. The idea ended after consultant Dick Morris conducted two polls showing she had no independent identity with Arkansas voters and compared her to George Wallace's wife, who ran to succeed him in Alabama—an analogy that offended her.
Hillary Clinton considered running for governor “out of ‘anger and hurt.’” This produced puzzlement for Garance Franke-Ruta, then for us. Reason? Bernstein describes this episode on pages 188-189 of his book, and nothing in that passage seems to suggest that “anger and hurt” lay behind the idea of Hillary Clinton running for governor. Here is the bulk of Bernstein’s text:
BERNSTEIN (pages 188-189): At first, after their reconciliation, Bill decided tentatively not to run for reelection as governor, and to focus on his relationship with his family. It might also be advantageous not to be burdened with the governorship if he decided to seek the presidency in 1992. If he ran for governor and lost—a possibility, since Dick Morris's preliminary polls were showing that 50 percent of Arkansas voters would prefer a new governor—the presidency might never be attainable.

He and Hillary discussed the possibility of her running to become his successor. Morris conducted two polls to assess her chances. "The conclusion I came to in those polls was that she had not developed her image, and that she was seen as Mrs. Clinton. She was not seen as Hillary. Which is hard to imagine, but it's true. And people felt that if she were going to run, it would be putting her in as a place-holder to control Arkansas while he ran for president. And in fact, I called it, in my briefing to her—an unfortunate choice of phrase which she was angry at—the Lurleen Wallace phenomenon....But it was very clear that she had not established her own identity.” Morris and others could see that Bill was being extremely solicitous of Hillary in the aftermath of their decision to remain together, as well as affectionate, appreciative, and far less stressed.

Bill declared his candidacy for another term as governor.
That’s the way this matter is described in the body of Bernstein’s book. But uh-oh! To all appearances, Bernstein’s book was written long ago, then held for timely publication. (As his notes make clear, many of his major interviews were conducted in 1999.) And Bernstein has added elements at the beginning and end of the book that amplify—and sometimes seem to contradict—the pre-existing story-line which drives the bulk of his book. In his slapdash final chapter, for example, Bernstein offers this account of that running-for-governor episode:
BERNSTEIN (page 538): Running for public office had virtually never been on Hillary’s agenda. Only when she briefly trifled with succeeding Bill as governor of Arkansas, in 1990—after their marriage had almost ended, and his depression was so great that he had little interest in continuing in the job—had she considered it.
In that brief passage, it is Bill Clinton’s depression which seems to drive the idea of Hillary Clinton running for governor. She “briefly trifled” with the idea. Indeed, as with New England, so with this book; if you don’t like the weather, just wait a while. Bernstein also makes fleeting mention of this episode in the “Prologue” to his book. There, we get a third account of this matter—and we find the passage Baker quoted:
BERNSTEIN (pages 6-7): She had never really aspired to public office, despite all the chatter of the press to the contrary over two decades...Only once had she given even the briefest consideration to seeking elective office, in 1989, after she’d learned that her husband believed himself to be in love with another woman. She had thought then about divorce, and running for governor of Arkansas the following year, when his term ended. The few people who knew about that possibility said the idea was largely born out of anger and hurt. Indeed, Hillary and Bill had reconciled with great difficulty, and in 1991 she had told him (and he agreed) it was finally his time to run for president.
Bernstein can’t even keep the year straight in his various accounts of this matter. On page 6, this episode occurs in 1989. By the end of his book, you might think it happened in 1990. At any rate, this is where Baker got the three-word quote which appeared in the Post. (Note: It could be that Bernstein is simply saying, in this passage, that the thought of divorce was born out of “anger and hurt.” The passage isn’t perfectly clear. On balance, the fairest reading of this passage is the one Baker put forward.)

We were stupid to say or suggest that Baker had simply invented that quote. But did Baker give an accurate account of what it says in the Bernstein book? That’s problematic, in part due to the book’s flaws. Bernstein discusses this incident three different times—and seems to explain it three different ways. On page 6, it’s Hillary Clinton’s anger and hurt which is said to have triggered thoughts of the run. On page 188, the Clintons are pictured working together, thinking about potential strategies for a Bill Clinton White House run. And on page 538, it’s Bill Clinton’s depression which seems to lie at the heart of this incident; Hillary Clinton “trifles” with the idea of running. Truth to tell, Bernstein seems to explain this episode three different ways. Baker took the explanation that came first—or the one that served his themes best.

How might Baker’s passage have read? You’ll never see something like this in print, but here is a helpful suggestion:
BAKER REVISED: The Clintons stayed together, and Hillary Clinton considered running for governor in 1990—although Bernstein explains the reason behind this idea in different ways at different points in his book. Whatever its genesis, the idea ended after consultant Dick Morris conducted two polls showing that Hillary Clinton had no independent identity with Arkansas voters and compared her to George Wallace's wife, who ran to succeed him in Alabama. The analogy offended Hillary Clinton—and offended her husband even more.
Yep! That analogy also offended Bill Clinton—“more so than she,” Bernstein quotes Morris saying. (Morris goes into some detail about Bill Clinton’s indignation in the passage we’ve deleted from pages 188-189.) But Baker knows that Hillary Clinton’s a b*tch. So he dropped the part about Bill being mad—and left in the part about Hillary.