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Daily Howler: Groaning work in the New York Times may yet help elect Sarah Palin
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DARLING SARO! Groaning work in the New York Times may yet help elect Sarah Palin: // link // print // previous // next //

MATTHEWS GETS IT WRONG, AGAIN: This time, Matthews is on the Democrat’s side. Beyond that, he may be planning a Senate run as a Dem (in Pennsylvania, in 2010). But no matter which side he’s rooting for, Matthews is almost always a cipher when it comes to the simplest facts.

In a rational world, it couldn’t have happened. But as recently as last December, Matthews thought it was Barack Obama’s mother and maternal grandmother who provided the “Islamic” part of his story. (We know—you think we must be joking. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/21/07.) Last night, on Hardball, he lacked the first clue about a part of Sarah Palin’s past—a part of her past that involves one of Matthews’ MSNBC colleagues. We hate to kill a small party here. But in what follows, Matthews was wrong on his (implied) facts:

MATTHEWS (9/2/08): This question of her politics—back in the ’90s, she was apparently aligned with our colleague, Pat Buchanan. She was one of the "Buchanan brigades," the pitchfork people. She was part of that independents movement and that party. Pat had a different number of party labels back then, but they were all somewhat to the right.

Does this guy ever know anything? In this presentation, Matthews was referring to reports like this, by The Nation’s Chris Hayes—reports about Palin’s appearance with Buchanan at a 1999 rally in Wasilla, Alaska. But this event took place in July 1999, when Buchanan was seeking the Republican nomination—as he had done, with substantial success, in 1992 and 1996. (He won the New Hampshire primary in 1996, for example, beating Bob Dole by two points. He won three more states that year—including Alaska.) When Palin appeared with Buchanan three years later, Buchanan was running as a Republican, seeking the Republican nomination. (As you can see from Hayes’ AP excerpt, Buchanan had also appeared that day at “an Interior Republican luncheon in Fairbanks”—our emphasis.) Though Hayes’ edit jumbles the article’s meaning, when Buchanan appeared that same day in Wasilla, the AP report included this: “Among those sporting Buchanan buttons were Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin and state Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage.” That “R,” of course, stood for “Republican.”

(Buchanan sought the Republican nomination until October 25, 1999. The next day, the Post’s Tom Edsall reported his party switch: “Patrick J. Buchanan, whose presidential bids in 1992 and 1996 bedeviled the Republican establishment, yesterday severed his lifelong ties to the GOP and declared his candidacy for the Reform Party presidential nomination.”)

Back to Matthews, who is paid $5 million by NBC—but is too lazy and too entitled to get even the simplest facts right. (It was Obama’s mother!) The hapless host blustered ahead last night, repeatedly misstating this matter (and weirdly commenting on his efforts to learn the pronunciation of “Palin”). It’s hard to get much dumber than this—but this has been the shape of your “journalism” over the past many years. And this has shaped a good deal of Palin hysteria in the past few days—hysteria which may yet bring a wave of sympathy to McCain’s VP selection.

Matthews’ bungling on this point was fairly minor, though we find such cluelessness endlessly fascinating. But many others, in their own foolishness, may yet produce a wave of sympathy for Palin. To check a bit of the New York Times’ work, just keep reading.

DARLING SARO: Darlings, be sure to understand: It isn’t Dowd who is saying these things. It’s “some bloggers,” and it’s New York magazine. And it’s the National Enquirer!

DOWD (9/3/08): Only four days into her reign as John McCain’s “soul mate,” or “Trophy Vice,” as some bloggers are calling her, on the ticket known as “Maverick Squared,” Palin, the governor of Alaska, has already accrued two gates (Troopergate and Broken-watergate), a lawyer (for Troopergate), a future son-in-law named Levi (a high school ice hockey player, described by New York magazine as “sex on skates”), and a National Enquirer headline about the “Teen Prego Crisis” with 17-year-old daughter Bristol.

Dowd herself doesn’t focus on “sex on skates.” She’s just quoting those others, who do.

As usual, Dowd plays the consummate fool today, closing her piece with inane remarks about people who hide behind manufactured claims of sexism. (One more chance to scold Hillary Clinton!) But in her purring, in her mockery, she (and others) run the risk of making Palin a figure of sympathy. On Sunday, for example, Dowd seemed to mock the fact that Palin attended the University of Idaho. Darlings! It just isn’t done! Except by tens of thousands of voters—while many more dream of the chance.

We’ll offer you this one small guess: This is a syndrome which may have helped recommend Palin’s selection. Our guess: The McCain campaign may have assumed that Palin would trigger a wave of “liberal” condescension and insult—insult and condescension which would work in their favor. In today’s purring comment about “Broken-watergate,” Dowd—who admits to being vacuous—runs the risk of making that happen. Many women (and some men) will of course be offended by such mocking references. Loungers like Dowd may be piling up votes when they purr in this way about Palin.

In our view, there are many serious questions to ask about Palin’s views and past conduct. But is your upper-end journalistic elite smart enough to sort them out? Consider this morning’s New York Times editorial. We think it offers a good example of the broken intellectual state of our modern press elite.

As we said, there are many real questions to ask about Palin. Indeed, the Times makes that very statement at one point in this piece. But people who reason as poorly as this are unlikely ever to ask them:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (9/3/08): Mr. McCain’s snap choice of Ms. Palin reflects his impulsive streak: a wild play that he made after conservative activists warned him that he would face an all-out revolt in the party if he chose who he really wanted—Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

Why Mr. McCain would want to pander to right-wing activists—who helped George W. Bush kill off his candidacy in the 2000 primaries in a particularly ugly way—is baffling. Frankly, they have no place to go. Mr. McCain would have a lot more success demonstrating his independence, and his courage, if he stood up to them the way he did in 2000.

In that groaning passage, the “conservative activists” who didn’t want Lieberman somehow get melded into the people who trashed McCain “in a particularly ugly way” in South Carolina eight years ago. You have to be an utter fool to write a stupid passage like that. But at the Times, there was more where that came from. Consider this nonsense, for instance:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: Mr. McCain, Mr. Graham and others also claim that Ms. Palin is a fearless reformer who is committed to fighting waste, fraud and earmarks. Ms. Palin did show courage taking on some of the Alaska Republican Party’s most sleazy politicians. But she also was an eager recipient of earmarked money as a mayor and governor.

Mayor Palin gathered up $27 million in subsidies from Washington, $15 million of it for a railroad from her town to the ski resort hometown of Senator Ted Stevens, now under indictment for failing to report gifts.

Yes, Ted Stevens is under indictment. But what on earth does that have to do with the merits of that railroad to that ski resort? Perhaps this hapless editorial board will soon type something like this:

POSSIBLE NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: Vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden rides the Amtrak train which runs to New York City, hometown of philandering former governor Eliot Spitzer.

Did Palin build that railroad as a favor to Stevens? The editorial makes no such claim. Why then was that nonsense included?

In our view, there are many important questions that ought to be asked about Palin’s views and prior conduct. The Times even stumbles upon a few in the course of its bumbling editorial. But how inept is this particular board? Continuing directly from above, this is the best they could do with Palin’s “Bridge to Nowhere” deception:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: The Republicans are presenting Ms. Palin as a crusader against Mr. Stevens’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.” The record says otherwise; she initially supported Mr. Stevens’s boondoggle, diverting the money to other projects when the bridge became a political disaster.

That’s fairly weak tea in our book, although some of those statements are actually accurate. In fact, Palin herself is making that presentation, in a self-glorying sound-bite which is just flatly inaccurate. In her first appearance on the national stage, Palin is thus flatly misstating the facts of this case—but the Times doesn’t seem to know that. Meanwhile, some of the statements here are not accurate. In fact, Palin diverted the money several years after the bridge “became a political disaster.” What a surprise! In this passage, the editorial board shows little sign of understanding the facts of this case.

In this bumbling editorial, the Times hits upon a few of the problems with Palin’s record. (It completely misses some others.) But it also bumbles around, making the leaps of logic which have characterized this page since son-of-a-honcho Andrew Rosenthal was handed control of its contents. Why is your upper-end press corps so weak? We’ll guess that the wages of nepotism have sometimes been part of the problem.

Then, there’s this passage by Garry Wills, next to Dowd on the op-ed page. In this passage, he lists four things McCain should have known about:

WILLS (9/3/08): Perhaps Senator McCain knew everything that has, with dizzying suddenness, emerged about his vice presidential pick, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska—that she was a director of a political committee in support of Ted Stevens, the Alaska senator now under indictment; an initial supporter of the so-called bridge to nowhere; an appointer of a man who had been officially reprimanded for sexual harassment as the public safety commissioner in Alaska; a mother of an unwed and pregnant 17-year-old; and other things being ferreted out by the minute. But it is an insult to Senator McCain’s intelligence to think even half of these or other matters were known to him before he chose her.

Which of those four things doesn’t belong? If you can tell, you have no future in High Manhattan Culture.

THE TRUTH MUST NOT BE SOUGHT: The McCain campaign is battling the press corps on the Palin front. In today’s Post, Howard Kurtz’s report on this aggressive push-back is deeply, completely inept. Early in his groaning report, he makes this groaning presentation:

KURTZ (9/3/08): [McCain spokesman Steve] Schmidt spoke on the record in denouncing as "an absolute work of fiction" a New York Times account of the process by which the McCain campaign vetted Palin. He also charged that Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman was predicting that the governor might have to step down as McCain's vice presidential choice.

Fineman said that he has "never, ever said that," and that he has pointed out positive aspects of Palin's candidacy. "They decided a long time ago that they were going to work the refs," he said.

Elisabeth Bumiller, the lead author of the Times report, said she is "completely confident about the story." As for the campaign's criticism, she said: "This is what they do. It's part of their operation."

Wow! Schmidt bravely spoke “on the record” in lodging these complaints! Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have spoken specifically; if he did, Kurtz has forgotten to report the gentleman’s specific complaints. Fineman “was predicting that the governor might have to step down?” When did Fineman make that prediction? That Times report was a “work of fiction?” What in particular made it fictitious? In this rendition, Schmidt doesn’t answer such obvious questions—and more significantly, Kurtz doesn’t ask them. Kurtz reports Schmidt’s charge—and Fineman’s denial. But wouldn’t you know it? Absent-mindedly, he forgets to let us know if Schmidt’s claim is actually true.

It’s hard to be more gutless than that, but Jim Rutenberg gives it the old college try in this equally worthless report. Rutenberg pretends to discuss Campbell Brown’s recent interview with McCain honcho Tucker Bounds. So you’ll understand what the New York Times won’t tell you, this was the initial exchange which defined this discussion:

BROWN (9/1/08): Tucker, foreign policy experience has been a huge issue in this campaign because you guys made it a big issue, pointing out John McCain has far more experience than Barack Obama and nothing in your view is more important than the campaign. I don't have to tell you there's a feeling out there by some that you're not holding your VP pick to your own standard, the standard you define. So explain to us why you think Governor Palin is ready to be commander in chief.

BOUNDS: Governor Palin has the good fortune of being on ticket with John McCain who there is no question is the most experienced and shown proven judgment on the international stage. He understands foreign affairs.

BROWN: We know all that about John McCain, Tucker. I asked you about her. We all know the role of the VP as John McCain defined it is to be able to step into the job of the presidency on day one. I'm asking you about her foreign policy experience.

BOUNDS: Yeah, Campbell, there are a number of people supporting Barack Obama's candidacy and feel he's experienced enough to take on the oval office. Our feeling is—

BROWN: You're not answering my question.

Indeed, Bounds wasn’t answering her question; to her credit, Brown actually said so. A bit later, Bounds referred to the Alaska National Guard—and Brown narrowed her question:

BOUNDS: Well, Campbell, let me be clear. I don't think there should be problem explaining her experience. She has executive state level experience. She's been in public office reforming Washington. She's been in executive office longer and in a more effective sense than Barack Obama's been in the United States senate. She's been the commander of the National Guard of the Alaska National Guard that's been deployed overseas. That's foreign policy experience.

BROWN: If I can interrupt for one second because I've heard you guys say this a lot. Can you tell me one decision that she made as commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard, just one?

Brown was breaking all rules of the game—and uh-oh! She seemed to be prepared! As Bounds continued, Brown kept asking for an example—and she soon made a factual assertion:

BOUNDS (continuing directly): Yeah. She's made any decision she has made as the commander of the National Guard that's deployed overseas is more of a decision Barack Obama's been making as he's been running for the president for the last two years.

BROWN: So tell me. Tell me. Give me an example of one of those decisions. I'm curious, just one decision she mad in her capacity as commander in chief of the National Guard.

BOUNDS: Campbell, certainly you don't mean to belittle, every experience, every judgment she makes as commander—

BROWN: I'm belittling nothing. I want to know one judgment or one decision. I want to know what one decision was. I'm not belittling anything, I am curious.

BOUNDS: As she makes a decision how to equip or how to command the National Guard in Alaska, that is more—
BROWN: But Tucker, those are the Pentagon's decisions. That's General Petraeus, that's the White House.

BOUNDS: Pardon me?

BROWN: No governor makes decisions how to equip or deploy the National Guard. When they go to Iraq, those are decisions made by the Pentagon.

BOUNDS: Campbell, on a factual basis, they certainly do. In Alaska, if I have an emergency in your state, the National Guard is under the command of the governor. That is more of a command role than Barack Obama has ever had. I would argue John McCain and Governor Palin between the two of them have far more command experience in military than either of the candidates on the Democratic side.

You’re right—Bounds’ final reply doesn’t really make sense, since he’s once again discussing a deployment within the state of Alaska. In short, he still couldn’t cite a particular action by Palin that supported his original claim—the claim that she’d gained “foreign policy experience” from serving as head of the Guard.

In that fuller exchange, Brown did something you never see. Someone made an apparently bogus claim—and, instead of ignoring the problem, she asked him to defend it! When that happens, “media reporters” will often piddle in their pants, confused by this change in the rules. In today’s piece, Rutenberg completely fails to explain the basic shape of this discussion. In the end, here’s how he describes what transpired:

RUTENBERG (9/3/08): Ms. Brown pressed again, saying: ''So tell me. Tell me. Give me an example of one of those decisions.”

To which Mr. Bounds said, ''Campbell, certainly you don't mean to belittle every experience, every judgment she makes as commander.'' The argument devolved from there, with no real resolution.

Rutenberg thought he had seen “an argument”—an “argument” which soon “devolved.” It ended “with no real resolution,” he said, seeming to choose his words carefully. In fact, this was a perfectly normal exchange—and it ended with Bounds failing to support his initial claim. Here’s what Rutenberg would have typed in a more rational world:

A MORE RATIONAL RUTENBERG: The discussion ended soon after that, with no real example from Bounds. We asked Bounds for further comment about Brown’s question, and he....

In this exchange, Brown actually did what a journalist should—which may be what made the exchange so confusing. When such unexpected behavior occurs, people like Rutenberg get so scared—and so amazed—that they think they’re watching an “argument.” In his piece, Rutenberg fails to describe the Bounds claim which was in dispute—and he doesn’t report what is actually true. But then, within the culture of upper-class media, “truth” is no longer a basic concept. As they piddle in their pants, it doesn’t occur to fellows like these that they’re hired to learn what is true.