PEPPERIDGE FARM MISREMEMBERS! The Washington Post was strangely selective as it recalled major gaffes: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 14, 2010
The problem never gets mentioned: Last Friday, we praised Trip Gabriels front-page report about the problem of cheating on high-stakes tests (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/11/10). As the stakes on high-stakes tests get higher, will teachers and principals cheat even more? Last Friday, Gabriel discussed this problem on the New York Times front page.
Gabriels report was a pleasant surprise. When it comes to the bulk of the mainstream press, the reality of this problem never seems to sink in. As an example of what we mean, just consider this editorial from todays New York Times.
The editors praise the new teachers contract in DCa contract which increases the stakes in high-stakes testing in the following way:
Translation: Teachers whose students achieve high scores on the high-stakes tests might make $140,000! For ourselves, were not necessarily opposed to using test scores this way. But with that much swag at stake, how will the DC schools know that its teachers arent cheating?
Go aheadread todays editorial. Try to find a single word about this obvious concern.
As we said last Friday: Journalists routinely praise this use of high-stakes tests, without showing the slightest sign that they understand the security problem. Do the editors read their own front page? Last Friday, Gabriel explained the problem. The eds dont seem to have heard.
PEPPERIDGE FARM MISREMEMBERS (permalink): In the Outlook section of yesterdays Washington Post, the editors compiled a fascinating list of historical gaffes, pegged to the Helen Thomas story. Thomas is hardly the only figure undone by a spectacularly ill-advised, tone-deaf, insulting or untrue remark, Outlooks editors deathlessly said. But not all career-defining lines are necessarily career-enders. Some offenders bounce back, others rehabilitate themselves over time, others slowly disappear--and none is ever quite the same.
Good to know.
There followed a list of such career-defining linesstatements which are said to be spectacularly ill-advised, tone-deaf, insulting or untrue. In its selection of these lines, the Post provides a spectacularly unbalanced account of the political history of the past 35 years. For our money, the Posts selections reinforce a point we have often madeduring this era, the culture of silly pseudo-scandal has been disproportionately used to attack Major Dems.
As Outlook scans the past 35 years, who do the editors remember? Which major politicians have made these spectacularly undesirable career-defining remarks? Outlooks omissions are striking, as are some of the lines the section chose to include.
When Outlook recalls the past 35 years, a long string of major Democrats make spectacularly undesirable statements. Did major Republicans utter any such lines? Pepperidge Farm cant seem to recall! On the level of presidential politics, six Democrats are included, starting with Walter Mondale in 1984. Incredibly, Outlook recalls only one such RepublicanJerry Ford, 1976!
How does Insider Washington recall the drift of the past forty years? The Post is as inside as inside gets. Our thoughts on Outlooks recollections:
The role of sexy-time sex: Journalistic rules changed in 1987, when the press corps followed Gary Hart around, reporting his sexual conduct. Should journalists report such stories? However one may answer that question, Outlooks list suggests that these new rules have disproportionately harmed Major Democrats. Outlook includes career-defining lines concerning sex from three presidential-level DemocratsGary Hart, Bill Clinton, John Edwards. Outlook includes no Republican counterparts.
We wouldnt say that anythings wrong with Outlooks recollection here; were unaware of any similarly-situated Republican who had a comparable sex scandal. There was the Newt Gingrich matter, of coursealthough Gingrich was speaker at the time, not a presidential candidate. That said, Newt got a fairly easy ride when it came to his sexy-time sex acts.
Brought down by the truth: In other areas, Outlook displays a highly selective set of judgments. Consider the career-defining line attributed to Walter Mondale at the 1984 Democratic convention: Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did.
Twenty-six years later, this is recalled as a career-defining lineas a remark which is spectacularly ill-advised, tone-deaf, insulting or untrue. The editors forget to say that this particular remark was, in fact, perfectly accurate. President Reagan did raise taxes in his second termand his vice president, George H. W. Bush, was forced to raise taxes even more when he followed Reagan to the White House.
Despite these facts, Mondale is occasionally mocked, to this very day, for making this accurate statement.
The editors included Mondales statement in their list of gaffes. They didnt include this famous line from George H. W. Bush, at the 1988 Republican convention: Read my lipsno new taxes! Almost surely, Bush was dissembling when he made this pledge, over and over and over again. (At the start of the 1988 campaign, he had refused to make the no new taxes pledge.) But so what? At Outlook, Bushs once-famous dissembling has been forgotten. Mondale is mocked to this day for having made an accurate statement about the same state of affairs.
Brought down by the press corps refusal to function: A second major Democrat is included on the Outlook listthis time, for a statement which was slightly clumsy but perfectly sensible. Outlook remembers Candidate Kerry saying this in 2004: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.
In fact, this was a perfectly sensible remark. There were two different $87 billion spending proposals before the senate. Kerry supported the proposal which paid for the spending with new taxes; he opposed the proposal which added the spending to the national debt. By way of contrast, President Bush favored the latter proposal and said he would veto the latter. Kerry voted for the proposal which would pay for the spending, then voted against the proposal which added it to the debt.
In a rational world, a press corps would have tried to clarify the silly flap which arose about Kerrys statement. Instead, the press corps ran hard with this pseudo-scandal. Six years later, Outlook recalls this as a spectacularly ill-advised, career-defining statement by Kerry.
A somewhat similar situation obtains with Outlooks inclusion of Howard Dean. Dean is remembered saying this, also in 2004: "And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan, and then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yeah!" This was a thoroughly unremarkable type of statement, offered to Deans supporters on the night he lost the Iowa caucus. But some press entities jacked up the volume on the tape, making it seem that Dean was crazily shouting. Six years later, Outlook recalls this as a spectacularly ill-advised, career-defining line.
Where was George: Mondale and Kerry are remembered for making perfectly accurate statements. Dean is remembered for making an anodyne pledge to supporters. But land o goshen! Outlook has completely forgotten a long string of career-defining lines uttered by Major Republicans. These statements used to be quite famoustill Outlook erased them away.
As noted, Outlook forgets Bush 41s once-famous statement about no new taxes. Beyond that, Outlook forgets a string of famous gaffes (or alleged gaffes) made by Vice President Quayle. Ronald Reagan cant be found on this list; in real time, the press corps kept wishing away his misstatements, and Outlook forgets all about them now. But most strikingly, a well-known president is AWOL herePresident George W. Bush.
Did the second President Bush utter any career-defining lines? Not if you listen to Outlook! His sixteen words have been sent down the memory hole, along with his words of praise for Brownie. The statement he made beneath that MISSION ACCOMPLISHED sign didnt make Outlooks list; neither did some famous lines from Campaign 2000. Forget the famous, inaccurate lines about fuzzy math and phony numbers. Did George Bush restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office? That line is missing here too.
How do the editors keep Bush off their list? They offer George Tenet as a scapegoat, recalling his alleged slam dunk line. They even include Colin Powells speech to the UN, pretending that Powells erroneous statements have somehow been career defining for this perennial insider favorite. But with Tenet and Powell thus included, Outlook can breathe a sigh of relief, keeping the president they served so badly off this list.
Mondale and Kerry made this list for accurate statements. Reagan, Bush and Bush dont appear, despite some famous groaners. In fairness, you cant entirely blame the editors; their recollections faithfully track the culture of the insider press corps over the past forty years. All too often, groaning misstatements by Major Republicans have been ignored, fudged and wished away, eventually lost to history. Accurate statements by major Democrats have been turned into major scandals which linger in insider memory. Outlook is simply recording the era as it actually has unspooled. But during this era, the culture of the insider press has often turned truth on its head.
Outlooks largest omission: Lets review. Six presidential-level Democrats make the list (Mondale, Hart, Clinton, Kerry, Dean, Edwards). There is only one corresponding Republican--President Jerry Ford, from 1976!
That said, the editors have omitted the most consequential career-defining line of this eraand it belongs to a Democrat! It was uttered by Candidate Gore in 1999. The press corps use of this unremarkable line massively changed the worlds history:
Starting on March 11,1999, the highlighted statement was turned into the mother of all career-defining lines. Why has it been omitted?
Just a guess: By now, everyone knows that the press corps use of this statement by Gore represents a case of major journalistic misconduct. Its a very famous line of this type. But major journalists, by and large, no longer want to discuss it.
Its the law among many DC elitesthe history of the Clinton-Gore era must be washed away. During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. Its the eras most consequential career-defining line.
Pepperidge farm has forgotten.