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SPIN MATTERS! Callers to C-SPAN helped prove Krugman’s point—your press corps is all about trivia:
FRIDAY, JULY 30, 2004

SPIN MATTERS: Yes, propaganda and spin really matter. We were struck this morning by the first few calls to C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. The second caller, from Rhode Island, rattled off a familiar complaint:
CALLER 2: And one more thing—the Democratic Party today is not really for the working man any more...You look at that party—it is an ultra, ultra liberal party. You’ve got the number 1 liberal and the number 4 liberal within the Senate who are now the nominees of that party.
No, Kerry and Edwards aren’t the first and fourth most liberal (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/29/04). But so what? The caller has heard this again and again, while laughing, slumbering Stepford Scribes refuse to offer context or comment. But then, this morning’s next caller, from Savannah, was spouting a piece of High Bullroar too. Loving irony, we’ll present his full comment:
CALLER 3: The caller who just spoke, I agree with him 100 percent. I tried my hardest to watch this convention, and to me it was almost like propaganda. How can you vote for someone when they don’t tell the whole truth, they just tell one side of the story? If the liberals and Democrats would tell the whole truth, sometimes I would agree with them. But when they start to lie I just can’t vote for them. Like [Kerry] says he’s for the war? He would never send troops over there half-armed? Oh! What he’s doing, he voted against money to fund the troops!
Kerry “voted against money to fund the troops!” The caller, complaining about half-truths, recited a major half-story himself. Kerry voted against money to fund the troops? Yes, in a way, that’s true. And not only that—Bush threatened to veto money to fund the troops, working to defeat funding proposals whose components he didn’t favor! Like Kerry, Bush supported some forms of the funding proposal, and he opposed (worked to defeat) certain others. But almost surely, the truth-loving caller from sunny Savannah has never heard these simple facts. After all, when Kerry’s vote was discussed on MSNBC Wednesday night, a panel of harlequins, jugglers and clowns laughed and joked their way through the topic (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/29/04). So is it surprising when average voters—complaining hard about half-truths—recite a string of half-truths themselves? These silly half-stories make a joke of your lives. But is it really any wonder that these tales are so widely believed?

Everything changed after September 11, we keep hearing. But one thing that plainly didn’t change was the culture of the national “press corps.” In this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman describes it to a T. “Somewhere along the line, TV news stopped reporting on candidates’ policies, and turned instead to trivia that supposedly reveal their personalities,” Krugman writes. “We hear about Mr. Kerry’s haircuts, not his health care proposals. We hear about George Bush's brush-cutting, not his environmental policies.” No, 9/11 didn’t change the corps’ devotion to their jealous god, Trivia. And Krugman notes a problem with this press corps religion. “[S]ince campaign coverage as celebrity profiling has no rules, it offers ample scope for biased reporting,” he says. He concludes: “In short, the triumph of the trivial is not a trivial matter.”

Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve struggled for ways to describe the functioning of today’s press corps. Does the press corps function as civics texts say—as a group of competitive entities, struggling hard to bring you the truth? For years, we’ve said that the press corps actually functions more like a fraternal organization—that it’s really an interconnected, intermarried group whose members all struggle to say the same things. But as we watched that barrel of pundits joke and laugh on Wednesday night, a thought occurred to us for the first time. Truly, this press corps has started to act like a cult—like a group completely disconnected from the realities of the larger world and society. They laugh; they clown; they simper; they fawn; they party; they pander; they refuse to perform. Is it any wonder that regular voters call C-SPAN and recite bogus tales? The ongoing triumph of the trivial was played out this morning on Washington Journal. But then, this triumph is played out daily, all over cable, as cultish gangs of powdered performers continue to clown, laugh and party.

ALMOST A CULT: How deep is their devotion to Trivia? In this morning’s Washington Post, Robin Givhan seems determined to show us, as always. Her report appears on page one of “Style.” But then, the Post has been proving it all week long. Here’s a letter from yesterday’s paper about a remarkable Tuesday report:

Former president Bill Clinton gives a speech at the Democratic National Convention, and the next day, The Post digs up the Monica Lewinsky story [“The Frenzy Over Lewinsky,” Metro, July 27].

Why, other than to undermine Mr. Clinton's speech, was this done?

Now that The Post has printed this juxtaposition, I hope it balances its coverage by doing the same after speeches at the Republican convention. I hope to see stories about, for example, the allegations of sexual harassment against California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani's messy divorce and Laura Bush's car accident.

K— S—

Indeed, here’s the lengthy, page-one Metro profile to which this letter refers. (The piece was accompanied by seven photos, two of them quite large.) Why did this blast from the past occur, let alone on this special day? According to the Post, “Memorable summers, and the lasting impressions they left with people in the Washington area, will be explored each Tuesday on the front page of the Metro section through Labor Day.” Memorable summers! Clearly, Bill Clinton’s ten blow jobs were very memorable for many Post scribes. At Metro, they decided that this was the day to re-explore all their impressions.

This starts to be a cult, not a press corps. They clown; they laugh; they pander; they spin; they recall their treasured Summer of Monica. We’ve described this cult for over six years, but its oddness only keeps growing.

SMILE-A-WHILE—A TWOFER: Just for fun, here’s the opening paragraph of David Firestone’s 10/22/03 New York Times report. Firestone was discussing a Bush veto threat in the fight about that $87 billion:

FIRESTONE: The White House threatened Tuesday to veto its own spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan if Congress made reconstruction aid a loan, taking its most forceful stand on the issue even as more lawmakers supported a reimbursement by Iraq
Say what? The White House threatened to veto its own spending bill? If the press corps wanted to be deeply stupid, they could say that Bush opposed funding the troops. And they could say something else—that he flip-flopped!