THURSDAY, AUGUST 14, 2003
BOYZ ON MEN: In Pundit Land, everyone knew to avoid what Gore said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/12/03). On Fox, Fred Barnes made ludicrous factual misstatements, with Mort, Brit and Juan pretending not to notice. On Hardball, Chris Matthews played the fool, asking a pair of befuddled guests to ruminate about Al Gore, loser. On Washington Week, Gwen Ifill scratched her head, trying to puzzle out Gores hidden motives. And at CNBC, Alan Murray staged the greatest insult, inviting Kellyanne Conway to serve stale old jokes and to talk about Commie New York. Yes, Conway is a Prime Pundit Clown, and when Murray lets her be booked on his show, he knows what it is that hes booking. But then, clowning sophistry is now the meat on which our mighty pundit corps feeds. Did Al Gore make a serious charge against a sitting United States president? Surely, no modern pundit would want to evaluate that! Instead, CNBC insulted the public interest with Conway, a reliable harlequin.
But then, among the modern press elite, how treasured a value is clowning? To find out, you have to read this weeks New Yorker, where Ben McGrath takes a crack at Gores speech. No, were really not making this up. This is the way the scribe started:
MCGRATH: The will-he-or-wont-he follies reached fever pitch last week, and amid the chaos and comedy of this seasons incipient and aborted political candidaciesGary Coleman, in; Jerry Springer, out; Larry Flynt, likely; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hasta la vista, Gray Davisit was perhaps easier to take seriously the call by the former New York governor Mario Cuomo for Al Gore to change his mind and enter the Presidential race. No matter that Cuomo, with his past equivocations, was an unlikely prod, or that Gores spokesman had repeatedly denied that the former Vice-President would run again; Cuomos plea arrived on the eve of a speech that Gore had personally requested the opportunity to deliver, and after a week of growing concern among Democrats that the front-runner, Howard Dean, is unelectable. What could be more perfect, now that Dean had demonstrated the previously untapped power of the Web as a fund-raising tool, than a revived campaign by the man who invented the Internet?Good God! Can there really be a single American who still thinks Gore said he invented the Internet? But thats the way press culture now works. If even one person is impossibly clueless, the celebrity press corps will learn who it is, and will rush his dim thoughts into print.
McGrath is hollow all the way down, but thats the essence of modern press culture. Just how vacuous is this sad crew? At one point, McGrath describes a group of reporters who wereGood God! Yes, its true!assigned to cover Gores speech:
MCGRATH: In the back of the auditorium, as the seats filled up, a group of mostly conservative reporters talked among themselves.Beard or no beard! Fat or thin! And yes, they even talked about earth tones! Americans will die in Iraq this week, and, if Ben McGrath can be believed, your halfwit reporters spend their time speculating about things like thismeaningless matters they (correctly) think theyve been called upon to interpret. Truly, it seems that this is the best they can do. All across the major press, boys are sent to report on real men.
So youll know, Gore was medium-big, McGrath says. And so youll know how he wants you to feel, McGrath informs you that Gore sauntered in and spoke in his best whistle-stop baritone. Indeed, how thoroughly empty is Ben McGrath? To all appearances, he cant wait to show you:
MCGRATH: Gores appearance would mark his first major public address since last September, when he was greeted by the Commonwealth Club, in San Francisco, with an impromptu a-cappella rendering of Hail to the Chiefand then delivered what was widely thought to be a disastrous speech. The pundits were invariably brutalself-contradictory pushmipullyu (William Safire); a pudding with no theme but much poison (Charles Krauthammer)and within a couple of months Gore had withdrawn from contention.But what did Gore actually say in that speech? How well has it stood the test of time? Dont expect McGrath to tell you. According to McGrath, the pundits said that the speech was quite bad. To overmatched fellows like Ben McGrath, thats all a reporter must tell you.
By the way, were pundits invariably brutal about Gores speech last September? In the Post, Richard Cohen said, Bully for Al Gore! Then he assailed the nations Dems. As for the Democrats, many of them are so afraid of being labeled appeasers that they want to quickly give the president the war resolution he wants, Cohen wrote. Many of these Democrats happen to share Gores misgivings, but, to put matters in their crassest terms, they seem quite willing to sacrifice the odd 19-year-old soldier for the odd congressional seat. Cohen summarized what Gore had said. He noted others who held the same view:
COHEN: [Gore] advocated taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion, but only after the United States had built an international coalition to do so. He also said that Washington ought to first finish the job against Osama bin Laden and ensure that Afghanistan does not once again become a Club Med for terrorists.Cohens remarks are intriguing todaybut when The New Yorker sends boys to cover men, its readers wont have to consider them.
No, the pundits all knew to avoid what Gore said. In Iraq, the odd 19-year-old soldier will die this week. But so what? Let the clowning begin! Milling around in the back of the room, Ben McGrath has a joke about earth tones!
HOLD YOUR SAFIRE: In retrospect, Safires brutal column is also intriguing. His closing passage includes the point McGrath quoted:
SAFIRE: Al Gore is a man of wide experience whose advice deserves to be taken seriously. [Brutal!] But at a moment calling for decisiveness, he is, in Churchills phrase, resolved to be irresolute.Alas! The Brits still argue about that dossier, and those mobile labs have turned into pumpkins. If The New Yorker would stop sending boys to cover men, its readers might even get to hear this.
The Daily update
TIME TO TAKE AWAY THEIR CABLE: Last Sundays Washington Post was a classic. On page one, the paper ran a lengthy report helping show how the Bush Admin gave false impressions in the run-up to Iraq. Meanwhile, on the editorial page, angry editors denounced Al Gore for suggesting that the Bush Admin gave false impressions in the run-up to Iraq! Here was a bit of their deathless reasoning:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: There was a cogent case to be made against the war Theres plenty to criticize in the administrations postwar effort too. What isnt persuasive, or even very smart politically, is to pretend to have been fooled by what Mr. Gore breathlessly calls the Bush systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology.But Gore wasnt saying that he had been fooledhe said the public received false impressions. Any chance that could be true? Amazing, isnt it? Fifty percent of American adults thought Iraq was involved in 9/11, and the brilliant fellows at the Post find Gores thesis extremely improbable! Actual scribes might be chagrined to see the public so oddly misinformed. But the Post pretended that Gore made no senseeven as the Posts reporting helped suggest how the process had worked.
For the record, one part of the Posts breathless ed brought low, mordant chuckles from us at THE HOWLER. Hmmmone comment seemed oddly familiar:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (8/10/03): Nearly at the end of his speech last week, almost as an afterthought, Mr. Gore allowed that the removal of Saddam from power is a positive accomplishment in its own right for which the president deserves credit. Hes not the only Democrat who thinks he can have it both ways, pandering to anti-Bush passion while protecting his national-security flank.As boys always do, they went after motive, insisting that Gore was pandering. But sadly, the angry fellows who wrote this piece seem to be watching a bit too much cable. Was Gores remark about Saddam almost an afterthought, delivered at the end of his speech? Where, oh where, had we heard that before? Oh yeah! We had heard it on Fox:
BRIT HUME (8/8/03): Gore did say that it was a significant achievement to unhorse Saddam Hussein.See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/03. What happens when news orgs let boys cover men? Sometimes, the youngsters sit down and watch their Fox. Then they curt-and-paste Uncle Morty.
OUTFOXED: The eds said Gore only praised Saddams downfall nearly at the end of his speech, almost as an afterthought. For the record, lets point out that Gore said this at the start of his speech:
GORE: According to the just-released congressional investigation, Saddam had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks of September 11th. Therefore, whatever other goals it servedand it did serve some other goalsthe decision to invade Iraq made no sense as a way of exacting revenge for 9/11.Speaking to an anti-war org in Commie New York, Gore said, at the start of his speech, that the war in Iraq did serve real goals. But Washington pundits dont read full speeches; instead, they dont even read their front pages! Instead, they cut-and-paste from Fox. But lets hope the editors learn a valuable lesson! When you cut-and-paste from Fox, your work may not be fair-and-balanced.