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Daily Howler: Carville told Imus some second-hand tales. We recalled glorious Homer
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RUMOR, STILL BLAZING AMONG US! Carville told Imus some second-hand tales. We recalled glorious Homer: // link // print // previous // next //

DUMBEST YET: A friend or three suggested that yesterday’s HOWLER was our dumbest ever, but sadly, we had already figured it out. We don’t know how Kevin Drum forms his judgments, and it’s stupid (and unfair) to pretend that we do. But sometimes, hot blood overcomes judgment. “It’s too bad you didn’t sleep on it,” one friend said. Sadly, we had to tell him: We did!

Very, very, very stupid. And dumbly inappropriate about Kevin. We apologize. When we can figure out who to blame, we’ll get back to you on it.

For the record, the general argument stands. The press corps’ bizarre conduct toward Clinton and Gore has been widely disappeared by our liberal elites. This keeps the public from understanding their own recent history, and it creates a bizarre arrangement regarding the nation’s propaganda wars. Pseudo-con shouters keep yelling “liberal bias,” and liberal elites refuse to challenge or correct, thereby unilaterally disarming in this area. Yes, this affected the Kerry campaign, although that coverage didn’t approach the press corps’ War Against Gore.

Of course, the tilt of this Greatest Press Corps Ever may not always stay the same. As we have noted, the Joe Wilson case is one of the rare political stories, in the past decade, where the press corps essentially adopted the Democratic-liberal framework, a framework they have largely retained to this day. Wilson’s op-ed appeared in July 2003, just when the press corps was starting to notice the problems with Bush’s approach to Iraq. We still plan to offer an overview of the case starting tomorrow; in the meantime, the winds are blowing somewhat differently through this Greatest Press Corps In History. Rumor and gossip are still stock in trade (see below), but the targets are somewhat different. Indeed, we thought of that when we heard James Carville chatting with Don Imus yesterday. We remembered the day when Carville’s wife was using this show to push gossip and rumor. (Oops. Can’t link—that was done for We’ll try to post it tomorrow.) Recently, though the targets have changed. Sadly, the procedures have not.

But before we move on to Carville’s outing, one more apology to Kevin Drum. In its personal aspects, yesterday’s HOWLER was very stupid. We clearly should have slept on it twice.

RUMOR, STILL BLAZING AMONG US: Here at THE HOWLER, we like James Carville. And we like his wife, Mary Matalin, even more (know her a little bit better); we think she was our most courteous TV host ever (1994), and only became a bigger mensch later, although we groaned and covered our ears during that 2000 Imus session (link above). And yesterday, our analysts stood and cheered as one when Imus asked Carville about the leak probe. Here’s how the gentleman’s answer began. No wonder our worthies were roaring:

IMUS (8/8/05): Hey, by the way, going back to Bob Novak: What is the state of the Karl Rove/Judith Miller/Bob Novak whatever—

CARVILLE: You know what? Nobody knows. And this is what’s driving us crazy. And you have all the guests come on—no one knows this guy Fitzgerald. Nobody knows anybody that knows Fitzgerald. And so, unlike Starr and all those goofy—

Hurrah for Carville! our analysts cried. Nobody knows what’s happening with Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the leak case! Indeed, as Carville continued, he stressed this point—no one knows the state of this probe. “Starr, he would have Sue Schmidt into his office and tell her everything that was going on and try to leak stories and everything. This guy is tight as a drum...”

Starr liked to tattle and leak—but nobody knows what Fitzgerald has found! Carville continued to drive home the point after a brief interruption:

CARVILLE: But this guy is—from what I’ve seen, I don’t know him—is relentless. Relentless to what end, I have no idea. And neither does anyone else.
By now, the analysts were all cheering loudly! How refreshing—to hear a Big Pundit copping to ignorance. “I have no idea,” he refreshingly said. “And neither does anyone else.”

Phew! Our analysts’ eyes were brightly shining as their man confessed total ignorance. But uh-oh! Quickly, Carville’s answer turned, and we recalled the troubling time when Rumor swept the ranks of the troubled Achaeans. You recall it—in The Iliad, Book 2? In our view, Professor Fitzgerald (no relation) has it just about right:

THE ILIAD: Like bees innumerable from ships and huts
down the deep foreshore streamed those regiments
toward the assembly ground—and Rumor blazed
among them like a crier sent from Zeus.
Turmoil grew
in the great field as they entered
and sat down, clangorous companies, the ground
under them groaning, hubbub everywhere.
Ah yes! As Rumor blazed among them, turmoil grew, eventually producing hubbub everywhere! And soon, Rumor blazed among the Imus crowd too as James moved beyond what he knew:
CARVILLE (continuing directly from above): The interesting thing I saw was, Murray Waas said, this weekend, said that Scooter Libby, claims—I don’t know if this is true—that Scooter Libby and Judith Miller met on July the 8th, which was two days after the Wilson op-ed piece but six days before, I guess it was, the Novak column—and that he’s really honed in to that meeting. There are a lot of people that speculate—a lot of people that speculate, constantly—that Judy Miller has a Fifth Amendment problem, not so much a First Amendment problem, and that she doesn’t want to testify because she was part of spreading this rumor. I have no idea whether it’s true or not, but that is very heavy speculation out there.
Huh! Carville had no idea if it was true, but lots of people were speculating (constantly) that Judith Miller had committed a crime—and so he decided to speculate too! (He even had Miller “spreading a rumor,” although he never said what the “rumor” might be.) Ever clueless, Imus said he’d never heard that, and Carville reaffirmed his complete lack of knowledge—not that it seemed to concern him:
CARVILLE: That’s been around for a while, but it’s a very big argument and that’s why Fitzgerald is so after her, that—the theory being, and this is only a theory, only speculation—that the White House—and this of course, this event is Mr. Waas’s and I have no idea if it’s true, I understand he’s a very reputable guy—if this is true, that would lend credibility that she was used to disseminate this. There are all kinds of rumors, and I hear second hand that she was screamin’ out in the newsroom about this.
Follow that? “There are all kinds of rumors,” and James has heard second-hand—so he went on TV and repeated them! Indeed, “if-then” logic was ruling the day. “There are all kinds of rumors,” James said—and he went out and spread them some more.

No one loves rumor more than Imus, of course, perhaps since he rarely seems to know any facts. Six minutes later, he asked about Miller’s rumored crimes once again. And Rumor spread among the ranks just as in the days before Homer:

IMUS: Hey, back to Judith Miller. You know, that’s stunning if that’s, if you’re right and if whoever told you this is right, that she has, as you described it, a Fifth Amendment problem as opposed to a First Amendment, and if she’s out spreading a rumor, man, that’s—

CARVILLE: That is, that is—that has been the speculation for some time. That’s gonna be nothing but the speculation this morning—that she was used, being used by the White House to spread this among the press. Now, I have no idea; it is an opinion of people, no one knows what Mr. Fitzgerald is up to, but they do know that he filed I think a 21-page brief and he is after her and he is very anxious to speak to her.

Of course, Fitzgerald was also “very anxious to speak to” Matt Cooper of Time, but no one drew from that the idea that Cooper had somehow committed a crime. Meanwhile, our despondent analysts got a small laugh from the clowning inherent in Imus’s question. What a thing it would be, Imus said, if Miller had been out spreading rumors! Of course, we cautioned them to recall a key fact—this is The Greatest Press Corps We Have Ever Had. In Our History!

Carville went on to voice uninformed thoughts—about how easily Bush could order Libby to let Miller speak. Waas hadn’t seemed to understand the theory there either (see below), but so what? The speculatin’ was good, and Rumor was blazing—just as Rumor has always done among the lower ranks.

Because yes, in the day when Homer told his tale, the leaders were charged with stopping Rumor. Let’s let Ian Johnston tell it this time. Lets let Johnston describe the old ways, when Rumor was understood as a plague, and leaders moved in to defeat her:

THE ILIAD: Among the troops Rumour blazed, Zeus' messenger,
igniting them. The assembly was in uproar.
Beneath the men, as they sat amid the din, earth groaned.
Nine heralds shouted out instructions, attempting
to control the noise, so men could hear their leaders,

god's chosen ones.
In those days, leaders moved to stop blazing Rumour. Today, if they hear pleasing things second hand, they rush on TV to repeat them. “I have no idea” if this is true, they tell us again and again.

Minor historical note to our readers: For most of the past dozen years, this sort of grinding, brain-dead stuff was typically used to take down Big Dems. But with the mainstream press corps belatedly noting that President Bush is a hopeless disaster, you may see Rumor blaze against him. Back then, you applauded when we complained; now, you rail at our puzzling standards. But it’s just Rumor, either way. Rumor—inept, stupid, sad.

SADLY, THE THEORY MAKES SENSE: As several people noted yesterday, Bush can’t simply order Libby to let Miller testify. (See Mickey Kaus, for example.) The New York Times has always expressed a fairly hard line on this matter—a hard line that does make fairly good sense. Last October, Adam Liptak quoted Bill Keller splainin’:

LIPTAK (10/8/04): Prosecutors in the Plame matter have asked people suspected of disclosing her identity to sign waivers that instruct journalists to reveal confidential conversations. Tim Russert of NBC and Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post also testified. They and Mr. Cooper said they relied on direct assurances from their sources or the sources' lawyers that they were free to do so rather than on the waivers.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times, said Ms. Miller would also not take waivers at face value. The officials who signed them, he said, may have done so because they feared that refusing would cast suspicion on them or endanger their jobs.

''This business of sources' signing waivers deserves a lot more attention,'' Mr. Keller said, speaking to reporters outside the courthouse. ''This is going to be all the rage in both government and corporate circles as a way to intimidate employees into not letting reporters know when they see something amiss.''

What does that mean? What is the fear? Here it is: In cases like this, if bosses routinely make underlings sign waivers, then underlings won’t speak off-the-record any more. After all, what good is a pledge of secrecy if you’re ordered to waive it as soon as there’s trouble? In this case, everyone wants to hear Miller tattle. But sadly, Keller’s point does make sense.