MAKING MEACHAM SWEAT! Newsweek debunked a denial machine—and Jon Meacham started to sweat: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 2007
MAKING MEACHAM SWEAT: Wow! Newsweeks current cover story, about the global warming denial machine, is a remarkable bit of must-reading. Sharon Begley reviews twenty years of recent gruesome history, in which a gang of industry-sponsored kooks and/or hacks have spewed misinformation and doubt into the air. Three cheers for Sharon Begley! Notes below about what could come next (and wont).
But the real must-read in the current Newsweek is Jon Meachams weak-kneed Editors Desk, in which The Parson finds three hundred ways to apologize for running such a piece. Meacham is a genial person, but weve long been struck by his lack of spine, a problem which was always clear when he was doing more TV punditry. But this Editors Desk is an Instant Classic—a portrait of a multimillionaire press corps pusillanimity in the face of conservative power.
To Meachams credit, he published the piece—and he put it on Newsweeks cover. But sweat is pouring down his brow as he explains why he did such a thing—and the perspiration hasnt been caused by fossil fuel emissions. Our story is not a piece of lefty cant, he explains. And things go downhill from there:
MEACHAM (8/13/07): We are not saying that it is time for all Americans to give up their cars and bike to work, or that Gore should be canonized or that the board of the Sierra Club should be given emergency powers to run the country. But Sharon is saying that to reflexively deny the scientific consensus does a disservice to the debate, which is shortchanged and circumscribed when Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners, as he did earlier this year, that "more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not likely to significantly contribute to the greenhouse effect. It's just all part of the hoax.According to Meacham, Begley is saying that we shouldnt dismiss current science reflexively. In truth, Begley is saying much more; she is saying that a gang of storebought losers and kooks have made a joke of your public discourse, deceiving tens of millions of average Americans and putting future generations in danger.
But so what? The Parson knows the rules of the guild. The quick, derisive reference to Gore is required by Hard Pundit Law. Meanwhile, when Limbaugh lies in the face of the public, Meacham can only bring himself to say that the debate is thereby shortchanged. To state the obvious, that statement by Limbaugh is an ongoing part of the very denial machine Begley examines at such length. But The Parson minimizes this fact—giving us our latest look at the way these denial machines get fueled by the cowardice of over-paid, famous editors.
Soon, someone gets something exactly right in Meachams timorous note. And needless to say, its a conservative—Larry Craig, the Idaho senator. Meacham quotes Craig saying that wed damn well better be careful before we act on current science (which he describes as a set of guesses). Exactly so, The Parson puffs, soothing Craigs gang to the end.
The Parson apologizes every step of the way, but his last paragraph is historic. Whens the last time you saw a big editor say that he hopes his cover is wrong? Yes, Meachams prayer makes technical sense, but it captures the tone of this whole Desk. Please, please let us be wrong, Meacham says. Begley has torn apart a denial machine—and Meacham is sweating profusely.
Final point: There are many other denial machines spewing disinfo into our air. Last Sunday, Rudy Giuliani stood on a stage, on national TV, and said that: 1) cutting tax rates produces more revenue; and 2) French health care is some sort of disaster. Industry-sponsored denial machines have pushed these tales for the past twenty years. But Newsweek isnt going to say so—their editor will be perspiring for years—and the liberal web didnt say a word about Rudys ludicrous comments. Instead, we diddled ourselves with silly tales about his wife and his daughter.
Those denial machines count on liberal dumbness. Their confidence is rarely disturbed.
WHAT WOULDNT HAVE HAPPENED: What the heck! Today, were even going to question something Eric Boehlert has written! Yesterday, filling in for vacationing Eric A, Eric B posted this:
BOEHLERT (8/9/07): As Altercation's YearlyKos correspondent, I came away from the Chicago convention amazed at what the netroots have been able to build, and in such a short period of time. I'm stating the obvious when I say that Al Gore would have been elected president if the netroots existed in 2000, if only because that inventing-the-Internet nonsense would have been shot down in a matter of days.Uncle Eric is pretty much God around here, worshiped and praised by all the young analysts. (Hes earned it. Details below.) But we think that highlighted claim is quite doubtful. This carries a lesson for the way the web is handling Campaign 08.
If the net-roots existed in 2000 [sic], would invented the Internet have been quickly shot down? We think thats extremely doubtful. Incredibly, Al Gore said he invented the Internet was ginned up from Gores first interview as a candidate, all the way back in March 1999 (three weeks after Clintons trial in the Senate). Within a week, Al Gore said he invented the Internet had become a full-blown mainstream press script. It was used to hammer Gore for the next twenty months—and in the years beyond.
Would the net-roots have shot this bull-roar down? Sorry. Highly doubtful.
What would have kept the net-roots from acting? Uh-oh! Many net-rooters would have been supporting Bill Bradley—and Bradley and the Bradley campaign were pimping every RNC attack against Gores troubling character. As we noted earlier this week, it got so bad by the fall of 1999 that Bradley and the Bradley campaign even began pretending that Gore was responsible for the Willie Horton matter, back in 1988. Right-wing hacks had been pushing this claim since Gore became Clintons running-mate, in July 1992 (links below). But now a Major Dem was pimping it too, even though Bradley had said precisely the opposite in his 1996 book, Time Present, Time Past. There really isnt a nice way to say it: Essentially, Bradley was lying about Gore—and a lot of Bradley people believed every word the great man said. (The press corps hid his astounding self-contradiction.) In March 1999, would the net-roots have risen to Gores defense? Oh sure! Heres a well-known liberal blogger in February 2000:
HUFFINGTON (2/6/00): Bradley has warned voters to watch for Mr. Gore's "tricky" way with words, going as far as to compare him with Richard Nixon...In fact, not only this campaign but Mr. Gore's entire career has been laden with untruths—all demonstrating a pattern of serial abuse of language, truth and reality.That was pure political porn—and it sent Bush to the White House. Question: If the Huffington Post existed in 1999, would it have tackled the Internet tale? One can always imagine, of course. Most likely, HuffPo would have done to Gore what it now tends to do to Clinton. It would have purchased and pimped each troubling tale about his troubling character.
Indeed, all over the current liberal web, we see that ol debbil, human nature, up to its tricks once again. In particular, we see the part of human nature which likes to picture Good Guys and Bad Guys—which likes to convince itself that My chosen candidate is the good person, and The other candidate isnt. Childish longings for higher glory drive our weak minds to such pleasing constructions. But as anyone can see, endless net-rooters assure themselves, with substantial fervor, that Candidate X is the moral Dem hopeful, and Candidate Clinton just isnt. They even repeat the Lincoln Bedroom horse hoo (which the Obama campaign has pimped several times); it doesnt seem to enter their heads that its their prehistoric reptilian cortex that is driving these dreams of tribal glory. They dont remember the way this same conduct tore Gore apart—how this bull-sh*t sent Bush to the White House. In 1999 and 2000, many people would have been inclined to believe the endless claims about Big Liar Gore. Even if challenged by other bloggers, they would have found endless, nit-picking ways to insist that the tales were all accurate.
Must we say it? Most likely, Arianna would have posted that piece on her site—and grateful commenters would have thanked her for tearing the scales from their eyes. Weve seen them doing so in this campaign, praising silly complaints about Clinton.
Of course, everyone is free to judge the character of the Democratic candidates. For ourselves, we dont see any huge distinctions—but then again, we dont think that these candidates are supposed to serve as our parsons, or as our mommies or daddies. But Jumpin Jiminey! Were even beginning to see these constructions spreading among our brightest liberal leaders. Heres one of our very brightest liberals, typing some pure Chris Matthews stuff about Tuesdays Democratic debate. Why did Dodd and Biden disagree with Obama? The poster is trying to limn this:
ONE OF OUR VERY BRIGHTEST LIBERALS: I'm always interested to try to tease apart and find the meta-debates operating beneath the surface of campaign debates. As I wrote a few years ago in what I called the bitch-slap theory of GOP electoral politics, the whole swift-boat saga was less about the specifics of Kerry's injuries forty years ago than whether he could defend himself from the charges today. Someone who can't defend himself is weak; and if a guy can't defend himself he can't defend you.For more on these elaborate conspiracies, click here. But well warn you. This poster doesnt offer any evidence to support his claims—other than the fact that he finds Obamas words so clearly unobjectionable. He agrees with what Obama said. Therefore, when Dodd tells the world that he doesnt agrees, some kind of motive must be at work. And presto! Dodd must be working with Clinton. Indeed, the whole FPE is involved!
This instant theory has been all over cable, served up by the dumbest people our society has ever produced. Yesterday, if wed offered one more chunk about Hardballs idiocy, we would have cut-and-pasted the Wednesday exchange where Matthews pimped this predictable turkey with the help of his (always-compliant) guests. In some ways, the theory seems to fall apart on the facts; Biden was plainly criticizing Clinton (and Obama and Dodd) in his remarks at Tuesdays debate; in the last two nights, he has stressed this point on Countdown and Charlie Rose. For ourselves, we dont really understand Bidens claim that the other three solons dont know what theyre talking about when it comes to current U. S. policy RE Pakistan. But we have no idea why someone would think that Biden, making this rather pointed criticism of Clinton, is acting as Clintons proxy. (None of the three know what theyre talking about, Biden told Rose last night.)
But omigod! How the human brain loves motive! How we love to play in doll houses! Dodd criticized Obama, fairly hard, in the Tuesday night debate. The rest of this is rigidly scripted. On Hardball, the guests are sent to find motive. One motive isnt allowed:
NOT ALLOWED: Maybe Dodd criticized Obamas stance because thats what he actually thinks.Not allowed! It cant be said on a program like Hardball—a program which lives to generate narrative. And omigod! The very next morning, our brightest liberal was mind-reading brilliantly too.
In our view, even Boehlert may have been dreaming in yesterdays post. (He was right from the start, during Campaign 2000, talking back to the War Against Gore.) Darlings! In 1999, the Serious People were all sliming Gore—or they were carefully looking away, helping preserve their precious careers. (Today, they love to criticize those who did the same thing three years later.) If the liberal web had existed back then, many net-rooters would have been backing Bradley (which would have been perfectly reasonable)—and many of them would have been sliming Gore (which, alas, really wasnt). But then, its much like that in the wild web today! Today, many are sure that Obama or Edwards is The Man With The Pure, Flawless Heart—and theyre eager to push every tale about Vile Clintons bad perfidy.
Sometimes, hopefuls say certain things because they actually believe them. On Hardball, though, that cant be true. Hardballs host lives to generate narrative. He did it then, about Gores vile lies. And now, about Clintons slick plots.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Bradley pimped the Horton Canard in 1999. (Do not miss: George Will began pimping this tale in July 1992, as soon as Gore was picked for VP.) This is a truly gruesome episode. But its deeply nuanced—and deeply instructive. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02.
Many net-rooters would have rolled with this. Unless you want a President Rudy, such nonsense cant happen again.