THURSDAY, JUNE 19, 2003
BEGALA'S CADDIE: Our entire staff will appear on this afternoon's Crossfire. CNN, 4:30 Eastern.
BEND IT LIKE BROOKS: How reflexively fake is your Washington press corps? Let David Brooks of the NewsHour show you. Last Friday night, Jim Lehrer asked co-pundits Brooks and Mark Shields what they thought of Living History. The book had been in the stores all week. After some vague remarks by Shields, Brooks voiced a sad assessment:
BROOKS (6/13/03): The frustrating thing about the book to me is that like many politicians, including Ronald Reagan, she is incapable of having an interesting insight or an original thought. All these people who have these positions where they could really see something and say something interesting are just incapable of thinking in that way and the person who has the high power and also can write interestingly like a Winston Churchill or Teddy Roosevelt is so rare. So the book is kind of frustrating because it is frankly a little dull.Sadly, Brooks announced that the book was dull. But then, we think weve mentioned the Hard Pundit Lawpundits must say that this book is no good. Every pundit knows what to say. Mrs. Clinton is lying. Or the book is quite dull. Or she just blames all the mess on her enemies.
But now, Lehrer turned back to Shields, and the crafty host had a trick question. Of course, as Hard Pundit Law requires, he received a Belittling Group Reply:
LEHRER (continuing directly): Have you read it?Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Left and right mean nothing here; Shields and Brooks amused the rubes with their witty putdown. But now a thought occurred to Lehrer. The host turned back to David Brooks. And he asked Brooks if hed read the book:
LEHRER (continuing directly): Have you read it? You talk like you youve read it.You talk like youve read it, Lehrer said. But guess what? David Brooks had been faking:
LEHRER: Have you read it? You talk like you youve read it.I have to tell the truth, Brooks said, moments after delivering his phony reviewa review which, like all pundit reviews, voiced the press corps Key Approved Scripts. Meanwhile, can we ask the obvious question? Does anyone believe, for even a minute, that David Brooks stood in the bookstore for about an hour thumbing through the new Clinton book? Lets face it. When you bend the truth the way this gang does, pretty soon every word from your mouth is a slick confabulation. We sometimes wonder why a man like Lehrer lets these Jayson Blair types on his show.
But then, all over the press corps we saw the same thing; we saw fake, phony pundits smashing a book which they hadnt quite managed to read. No, they hadnt read the bookbut they knew the corps talking-points. They told us how dull this tiring book wasso dull that they hadnt yet read it.
TOMORROW: Dull? Clinton makes many stinging assertions. But pundits arent allowed to discuss them.
SKIM IT LIKE CARLSON: On PBS, you didnt have to wait for Brooks to hear non-readers slam the book. Four nights before the pundits performance, Charlie Rose hosted Chris Matthews and Margaret Carlson, whoin accordance with Hard Pundit Lawspent a segment beating up Living History. But as all three pundits eventually noted, they hadnt actually read the book either. As usual, Carlson was a bit more open as she outlined her scholarly methods:
CARLSON (6/9/03): I didntIve knifed through the book looking at the pages for the good parts.Carlson just looked for the dirty parts! All the pundits enjoyed a good laugh as Carlson explained her approach. Ironic, isnt it? In her own book, Anyone Can Grow Up, Carlson relates a problem from her early years. Her working-class mother never understood why she wanted to read so much. Now she can read as much as she likes. And as it turns out, its only fun when Moms there to say that you mustnt.
The Daily update
EMBELLISH LIKE BORGER: To all appearances, Gloria Borger hadnt read the book either. Last Tuesday, she hosted Howard Fineman and (who else?) Margaret Carlson on her CNBC spinfest, Capital Report. During the discussion, descriptions of the Clinton book were almost pathologically inaccurate. But at one point, Borger wandered so far afield that even Carlson and Fineman spoke up. Carlson had already voiced a key point: Hillary blames it all on her enemies:
CARLSON (6/10/03): Hillary Clinton still doesnt accept responsibility for many of the things that happened during the Clinton administration in which she played a partcattle futures, billing records, Whitewater and on and onbecause it was always due to her political enemies. And the same thing with her husband and the accusations against him. Its always someone elses fault.Amazing, isnt it? For example, the Clintons were exonerated of wrongdoing in the Whitewater hoax. But to Carlson, Hillary still shouldnt say it. She should go ahead and accept responsibility for things she hasnt done. Where on earth do they find human beings prepared to recite such strange statements? (Oh, thats right. We forgot. At Kay Grahams.)
But so it goes when fake, phony pundits repeat their Official Approved Points. Hillary blames it all on her enemies is a message all pundits must deliver. But later in the segment, Borger went a howler too far. Lets watch as she bends it like Borger:
BORGER: Margaret, what about health-care reform, for example? This was a great disaster for Hillary Clinton and she still couldnt admit that it was a terrible, terrible mistake. I mean, sheAt this point, Carlson interrupted. Crafty pundits will step in when others take the hate speech too far. Clinton still couldnt admit that it was a terrible mistake? In fact, Clinton does discuss her mistakes in the health care fight, and laments the fact that her miscalculations played a role in losing the Congress. Indeed, she describes a meeting with members of her staff after those disastrous 1994 midterms:
CLINTON (page 261): The women were already seated around a large square table when I walked in. Until that moment, I had been able to conceal my distress and discouragement from everyone on my staff except Maggie [Williams], who seemed to know exactly how I felt, whether I showed it or not. Now it all came out. Fighting back tears, my voice cracking, I poured out my apologies. I was sorry if I had let everyone down and contributed to our losses.But alas! Clinton didnt rend her garments or emit keening wails. So to Borger, this just doesnt count.
Indeed, Borgers statement was so absurdly false that even Carlson and Fineman stepped in. And someone fed Borger some of the words Clinton actually speaks in her book:
BORGER: Margaret, what about health-care reform, for example? This was a great disaster for Hillary Clinton and she still couldnt admit that it was a terrible, terrible mistake. I mean, sheWhat more do they want from Senator Clinton? How about a public stoning? And now, in another of the repugnant displays at which this press corps is so adept, Borger began to pick a few nits to keep the hate speech going. Fineman got back with the program:
BORGER: And, Howard, I love the our. Suddenly it was our failure.There! That felt better! Because Clinton said the health plan was our failure, the hate speech got started again.
Weve said hate speech because thats just what this is, conducted by the store-bought bootblacks who now comprise the bulk of your press corps. They havent actually read the book, but they know what their groups Approved Talking-Points are, and theyll continue their ugly and stupid performance as long as theyre well paid to do so.