FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2003
LIES PUNDITS LOVE: As Margaret Carlson told Don Imus, the press corps treated the last election as entertainment, fun and sport (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/4/03). And so too with the eight Big Names who rated the presidents six biggest lies. What kind of expert could possibly think that Bushs JOKE was his fifth biggest lie? Only a pampered, perfumed elitethe kind who played your future for sport all during Campaign 2000.
But then, your press elite increasingly seems to inhabit some different planet. While we remain on the subject of lies, we suggest that you read David Greenbergs piece in the current CJR (Calling a Lie a Lie). Question: On what distant planet does Greenberg reside? To what distant planet does Greenberg repair to see the press corps described in this passage?
GREENBERG: Every day, journalists struggle to reconcile two clashing professional mandates. On the one hand, their stature rests on a reputation for fairness and objectivity; if they appear to be taking ideological shots at a president, their credibility suffers. Yet they also hearken to the muckraker's trumpet, the injunction to scrutinize and challenge the powerful. One principle calls for restraint and evenhandedness, the other for skepticism and zeal.Does that sound like the press corps you see on this planet? But then, Greenberg seems to be from another world. Incredibly, heres his present-day synopsis of recent Big Pol lies:
GREENBERG: To the axiom that journalists love lies, however, theres one important corollaryand it helps explain Bushs Teflon coating. Reporters like only certain lies. Perversely, those tend to be the relatively trivial ones, involving personal matters: Clintons deceptions about his sex life; Al Gores talk of having inspired Love Story; John Kerrys failure to correct misimpressions that hes Irish. Here, the press can strut its skepticism without positioning itself ideologically.Amazing, isnt it? That an Insider Scribe can still be penning such an utterly mind-boggling paragraph?
What kinds of lies do journalists love? To judge from Greenbergs moss-eaten list, journalists love lies by Major Democrats, although the connection doesnt seems to have entered his mind. Incredibly, Greenberg still lists Gores Love Story comment as a lie, and Candidate Kerry is marked for a lie for failing to correct misimpressions. Meanwhile, George Bush is a lucky guy. According to Greenberg, he hasnt told the kinds of trivial, personal lies our journalists very much love. But this, of course, is complete, utter nonsense. As a candidate and as a president, Bush has told plenty of trivial, personal lies (see below). But somehow, they dont appear on Greenbergs list. Indeed, because Greenberg belongs to our press elite, they dont seem to have occurred on his planet.
Just for the recordfor the ten millionth timeheres what Times Karen Tumulty said about Gores Love Story lie. Tumulty was one of only two scribes who saw and heard what Gore said:
TUMULTY (9/7/00): I was sort of appalled to see the way it played in the media. I mean, it was an offhand comment made during a two-and-a-half hour conversation that was mostly about other things and it was a comment that was, you know, true in most respects. I mean, he was a model, Erich Segal said, for the preppy character in Love Story, and it had been reported in Tennessee newspapers that it was modeled on both of them [Gore and his wife] The degree to which it became a symbol of the mans integrity I thought was very unfair. And I say that as the person to whom he made the comment.In fact, were unaware of any part of Gores offhand comment that turned out to be false. But so what? Three years after Tumultys statement, Greenberg still marks Gores remark as a liemarking it down as part of a list which only includes statements by Democrats.
People like Greenberg just wont stop repeating the silly fables their breed has created. What explains this strange, inept breed which somehow has taken control of our discourse? Surely they come from another planet, where human life is entertainment, played for sport.
BUSHS SAMPLER: According to Greenberg, George Bush is a lucky man. By some sort of puzzling happenstance, journalists love a type of lie that only Big Democrats make! Bush hasnt uttered this type of misstatement, which helps explain his great Teflon. But this is complete, utter nonsense. In fact, Bush has made many relatively trivial [misstatements], involving personal mattersthe type which Greenberg says that scribes love. Early in 1999, for example, he said that his family connections had played little role in his business career. In June 1999, he said in an NBC interview that he had never lived in Washington. He made many remarks about his military service that have turned out to be shaky at best. He repeatedly bragged about attending San Jacinto Junior High; in fact, he only spent sixth grade at that school, then switched to an elite Houston prep school. These are precisely the kinds of lies that Greenberg says his journalists love. But on Planet Greenberg, one more thing seems to be true. Journalists seem to love such lies only when theyre uttered by Dems. And like the rest of his puzzling caste, Greenberg totally misses this pattern. Sadly, strange ETs from our press elite arent equipped to observe this striking fact.
A FINAL NOTE ABOUT LIES: Our analysts cheered when Post sports writer Liz Clarke limned Maurice Clarett this Wednesday:
CLARKE: Ohio State Athletic Director Andy Geiger announced last week that Clarett would be suspended for multiple games for having violated NCAA rules. Those violations appeared to be two-fold: That Clarett received an improper benefit (under NCAA rules, that could simply be the use of a car), and that he lied to or misled officials who were investigating the matter.Wonderful! Somehow Clarkea mere sports reportermanaged to note a key distinction. Sometimes people lieand sometimes, they mislead. And yes, there is an actual difference, although the outcome is often the same.
As we finish our study of lies, lets repeat what we said on Day One: Major pols almost never lie. A pol can fully mislead the public without ever making a factually false statement; for this reason, professional communicators, however dishonest, almost never say things that are lies. Therefore, serious people who study mendacity will not make a silly-bill list of six lies. Instead, they will do what serious people sometimes dothey will try to see where pols have misled. Of course, that will kill all the entertainment and sport involved in silly pie-eating contests.
Some serious people have tried to assess the honesty of the Bush Admin. In the New Republic, for example, Ackerman and Judis passed a devastating judgment on Bushs honesty (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/24/03). But it wasnt a matter of counting up lies; being intelligent, serious people, they understood that fairly few lies were involved in the story. In some cases, the administration may have deliberately lied, they judged. But that was not the principal problem. Beyond that, Bush has engaged in a pattern of deception concerning the most fundamental decisions a government must make He deceived Americans about what was known of the threat from Iraq and deprived Congress of its ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to take the country to war. Bush deceived and misled, they kept saying. But his conduct involved fairly few lies.
Ackerman and Judis penned a serious critiquethat kind that serious folk sometimes offer. And what happened? Most of your Big Major Insider Pundits ignored the serious things they said. You saw few attempts to examine their claims. Very few Major Scribes went into print to evaluate their serious judgments.
But this week, a panel of Big Major Insider Pundits gave you a silly-bill list of six lies. They did it because they arent serious people. To them, your life is entertaining and sport. Indeed, as they keep rattling bogus tales about Teflon and Love Story, they dont seem to live on your planet. They seem to live on a planet called Press Cocktail Party, where their silly tales just never die.