HIS TWO SONS! Chris Matthews panel unveiled a new script about Saint McCains moral greatness: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, AUGUST 31, 2006
HERES HOW DUMB: How dumb was the punditry in 10/99 after the press corps booed and jeered Gore for an hour? After reading yesterdays post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/06), a few readers wrote to inquire. In the archives, you can find much more detail. But well offer three quick examples.
How dumb was the press after booing Gore? Here was Margaret Carlson, rolling her eyes on that weekends Capital Gang. Remember—this was Gore and Bradleys first debate, a town hall forum, at which the hopefuls spent the full hour taking questions from New Hampshire citizens:
CARLSON (10/30/99): You know, I would say [Gore] looked over—he looked over-anxious...In this forum, Bradley comes across as more authentic than Gore does because hes been told to adopt some of the Clinton personality tics, getting off the stool, asking for the name, and that's the last—that worked in the last election.Gore got off his stool when he answered their questions! And not only that—he addressed these Granite State voters by name! Readers, what was supposed to be wrong with this conduct? Of course! It showed that Gore was just like Bill Clinton! In fact, CNN aired two separate debates that week—one for the Reps, one for the Dems. And at each debate, just as youd expect, every candidate got off his stool to answer every question! (Also: The Republican candidates used peoples names at a higher rate than Gore.) But so what! Your pundit corps simply loved to say it: Gore is just like phony old Clinton. In truth, its hard to get dumber than this. But your pundit corps spent two years trying.
How dumb was the press after booing and jeering? Heres how Mary McGrory began her Post column. Cover the ears of the children and pets:
MCGRORY (10/31/99): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.McGrory closed by praising the hopefuls. She said, without a hint of irony, that neither man stooped to any cheap shots.
How dumb were they after booing and jeering? Omigod! This was the night when William Schneider said this on CNN:
SCHNEIDER (10/28/99): [Gore] even perspired, perhaps that was planned, to make himself look like a fighter.When Gore perspired, perhaps that was planned! The script: Every move he makes is fake. (Implied: Just like Bill Clinton!)
As Charlie Pierce said on Tuesday at Tapped: The profession simply lost its mind during that twenty-month White House campaign. And yes: The U.S. Army is in Iraq because of what these fools did.
Trust us: These examples dont even begin to scratch the surface of the lunacy which followed this debate—all of it aimed at Gore, of course. Liberals and Democrats, how do you feel? To know that, before they spewed this nonsense, they booed and jeered your guy for an hour? To know that they spent the next thirteen months dreaming up more of the same?
Special report: Imagine McCain!
PART 2—HIS TWO SONS: The press corps finds it easy to imagine the best about John McCain (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/06). In Sundays Post magazine, for example, Glenn Frankels profile was A-OK—until it came to McCains facial scars. Yes, they stem from a cancer incident, as Frankel noted. But Frankel also seemed to have a bit of that famous old love bug runnin. He found it easy to imagine that they actually stemmed from McCains heroic years in Vietnam.
Yep! For Washington journalists, its easy to imagine the best about Saint John McCain. (Who we think of as a decent person, just like most Big Dems.) But its funny! When you ask them why they like him so much, they tend to stumble and stammer. As weve long told you—no other group is so disingenuous about its own behavior and outlook. Indeed, we got a small taste of this old routine on the Chris Matthews Show this past week.
After hearing some fawning about McCain, the host of the show broke the rules just a bit. Matthews has soured on McCain just a tad. So after sitting through serial panders, he posed an excellent question:
MATTHEWS (8/27/06): Why does the media—I want to ask a very relevant question after listening to the four of you. Why does the media like McCain? I mean, whats going on here? Does he seem to be more authentic than other politicians?Good question! But as usual, the pundits didnt seem to know how to explain their own conduct. Theyve pandered and fawned to McCain for years. But Howard Fineman was first to reply—and he played things very careful. He restricted himself to the topic at hand—McCains views on Iraq:
FINEMAN: Well, I think part of it, on this—part of it, on this specific thing, he knows what he's talking about. He clearly has a lot of experience, militarily, from the inside out on the Armed Services Committee.Fineman ducked the larger question, and gave an improbable, limited answer. Why does the press corps love McCain? Because he knows his stuff!
What makes that answer seem so unlikely? The corps was in love with McCain during Campaign 2000—no one really bothers denying it. Yet every profile seemed to include a minor passage about the cosmic way the saintly solon had misspoken on some major issue. Well offer examples in future posts—but trust us, the cumulative effect can be humorous. If you read the old profiles, its fairly clear—McCain was surprisingly uninformed across a wide range of domestic issues. Does the press like McCain because hes well-informed? In 2000, that just wasnt it.
Second to try was Norah ODonnell. Her answer, while cautious, at least made some sense:
O'DONNELL (continuing directly): Sometimes people criticize the media for liking John McCain, but I think, quite frankly, if there's any sort of affection, it's because he actually gives us some access. He actually agrees to interviews, which very few politicians do and very few people that are running for president seem to shy away from the press and—If theres any sort of affection? Quite frankly, she still isnt sure! But at least her answer was partially accurate. During the Campaign 2000 affair, reporters clearly loved the fact that McCain let them ride around on his bus; answered their questions, including the dumb ones; gave them free doughnuts whenever they asked; and kept telling scribes they were smart. (JFK used to tell them that too. Teddy White records it.) In fact, reporters do like the access he gives, though its clear that things go beyond that.
But its funny. Reporters almost always clam up when asked to explain their own conduct. Historys greatest example occurred in the fall of 1999, when Howard Kurtz asked two separate panels, on two occasions, why they were trashing Gore so hard (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/30/99). On the second occasion, the corps had just booed and jeered Gore for an hour, as Charlie Pierce recalled this Tuesday. But it was weird! When Kurtz asked his panel to explain Gores bad coverage, no one could figure out why it was happening! The pundits were thoroughly stumped. (Needless to say, nobody mentioned the booing and jeering. That remained their little secret.) On both occasions, the pundit panels wracked their brains. But no one could really seem to explain their own cohorts puzzling conduct.
So no, modern scribes cant explain what they like. But man, do they know what they like when they see it! And nothing can stop the modern scribe from imagining McCains moral greatness. When they see his cancer scars, its easy to imagine his Vietnam years! And when last weekends discussion began, the scribes found it easy to imagine his greatness again. In the process, a new script appeared:
MATTHEWS: Even though John McCain is as hawkish as Bush, let me be blunt here—he does come across as more sophisticated, sharper, more aware of what he's talking about about military issues. Does that protect him [politically]?At that point, Mathews had heard enough. Why do we like McCain so much, he then—silly boy—tried to ask.
Why does the media like McCain? The media doesnt do questions like that. But we were struck by a new script here—McCains two sons will be fighting this war. Well admit it—wed never heard anything like that before. But at least three pundits were well prepared—well briefed, and prepared to advance the new story. Someone had whispered these facts in their ears. In turn, they began to recite them.
Its easy to imagine what happens next. The press isnt good at explaining its loves—but man alive, do they know what they like! McCains two sons are both in the war! Get ready to hear this heroic new theme wherever press spin is now sold.
IN WHICH WE LET BUMILLER WALK: For the record: In this post, Media Matters says that Elisabeth Bumiller also explained why the press likes McCain so much. By that time, though, the chat had moved on. (The Matters transcript has a fairly large deletion.) We think its fairly clear that Bumiller was explaining why the public likes McCain. Incomparably, well let Bumiller walk.