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Daily Howler: When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way--and it's like that for straight-shooters
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A JET ALL THE WAY! When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way—and it’s like that for straight-shooters: // link // print // previous // next //

MAUREEN’S CHOICE: You’d almost think it might be a criticism. Midway through this morning’s column, Maureen Dowd describes Petraeus and Crocker’s Senate testimony:
DOWD (9/12/07): The star witnesses gave shell game answers, trying to make the best of a hideous hand.
Testifying about matters of life and death, Petraeus and Crocker gave “shell game answers.” You’d almost think that might be Dowd’s focus—especially since the handsome general has been described as such a straight-shooter (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/07). But Dowd had easier scripts to flog—and she decided to dance with the script what brung her. Those “shell game answers” were noted in passing. This is how she started her column, a tribute to childhood’s non-end:
DOWD: Joe Biden didn't talk that much yesterday—for Joe Biden.
Joe Biden talks too goddamned much! There! That felt good—that was much more familiar! Even when he doesn’t do it, it’s important to bring the tale up!

A famous “straight-shooter” was playing shell games—but that didn’t turn out to be what mattered. Dowd knew who her target was—and as she continued to labor along, she showed the empty soul of her cohort. Can you figure out what the last statement means in this bit of rank deception?
DOWD: Mr. Biden, the committee's chairman, took time at the end of yesterday's first hearing with the Surge Twins to make the points, a bit repetitively, that there is no plan to get out of Iraq and that the Bush administration is not leveling with Americans.

John McCain was standing behind Mr. Biden, waiting to sit down for the next hearing—the Armed Services Committee—with the witnesses.

First, the Republican presidential candidate smiled archly at having to cool his heels as the Democratic presidential candidate yakked—sniffing at the Surge that Mr. McCain supports. Then Mr. McCain turned to his G.O.P. colleague Susan Collins and flapped his fingers in the universal hand sign for yakking.

It pretty much said it all.
To Dowd, McCain’s alleged “hand sign for yakking” pretty much said it all. But what exactly had the hand signal said? That Biden shouldn’t tell the world that there is no plan to get out of Iraq and that the Bush administration is not leveling with Americans? That Biden—and others—were talking too much? Dowd never bothered to explain. To Dowd, McCain had (inevitably) said it all, with his cooler-than-thou, flippant hand signal. And let’s face it—when McCain is allegedly mocking Biden, that’s a piece of Pure Pundit Magic. It’s so much fun, there’s no need to explain what Dowd might think it all said.

But then, Dowd is a fool—a child, a top pundit. She will recite her prettiest scripts until we’ve all been blown from the earth. And oh yes—she’ll lie in your face as she does so! Was Biden “yakking,” the word she used twice—making his points “a bit repetitively?” In fact, his closing statement took exactly two minutes and 23 seconds, as anyone can see for himself by checking the tape at the C-SPAN site. (It was only two minutes and three seconds, if you don’t count the part where he wishes the star witnesses well.) No, there was nothing “repetitive” about what Biden said—and no, to be honest, the man wasn’t “yakking.” But this is a story our reigning clown college loves. They’ll type it until we’re all rotting.

Do you see the way your pundit corps works? A straight-shooting general was playing “shell games.” Meanwhile, a major Democrat spoke for two minutes—and plainly, Dowd agrees with his views. But which of the two was played as a fool? Tomorrow, we’ll watch a second court jester as he plays these sad games with our world.

Special report: Constructing character!

BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Your pundit corps is always prepared to craft stirring tales about character:
PART 1—The general’s data had been challenged—but pundits all knew who to trust. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/07.

PART 2—Kyra knew David was a straight-shooter—even though he was talking pure bunk. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/07.
Today, in part 3, we recall a sad fact. Your pundits have a woeful record when it comes to selecting straight-shooters.

PART 3—A JET ALL THE WAY: When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way—and it’s something like that with straight-shooters. Once America’s childish “press corps” has admitted you into its most sacred club, everything you do and say will prove how upright you are. On CNN, Kyra Phillips will insist that you’re a real “straight-shooter”—even as she mocks the way you say the things we all want to hear (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/07). And when your date with destiny nears, it won’t matter if serious people have questioned the shaky data you’re bearing. On the NewsHour, David Brooks will know what to say about your impending appearance:
LEHRER (9/7/07): And everybody is going to pay attention to what [Petraeus] says. And should they, David?

BROOKS: I think they should, because he was part of a school that started in Tal Afar and the people who were running Tal Afar of a different approach. It’s not only the increase in troops. It was the different approach he brought, where you protect civilians, and really you emphasize local security as opposed to training or trying to get some national reconciliation, which were not realistic.

And to me what’s fascinating is the whole debate has shifted from national reconciliation, which everybody now knows is not going to happen, to patch-works of local security. And he is, a, the author of this strategy; b, the first person in the U.S. government to pick up the tribal revolt and to try to capitalize it; and, c, a guy who is uniformly respected. Now he’s being attacked from some in the Democratic Party as being sort of a Karl Rove in uniform, but I think most people see him as a straight-shooter.
“Some in the Democratic Party” had been saying the general’s data were flawed. But Brooks didn’t bother addressing those claims; he simply reminded us of the club to which the general—a straight-shooter—belongs. But then, why should Brooks hold back his praise? Mark Shields, Potemkin liberal, had just offered the same assessment:
LEHRER: And suddenly it’s Petraeus, it’s David Petraeus. Whatever Petraeus says is ruling the roost at this point. How do we get to this point? Is it a good place to be?

SHIELDS: Well, it certainly isn’t traditional with American military-civilian relations. I think we got here because, obviously, Petraeus himself is very respected and has a very, I think, deserved reputation as a leader. And, secondly, we got there because he is the most credible spokesman, the last really credible spokesman. Secretary Gates is not well-known enough, but there’s nobody else in the administration who carries with him the credibility on this subject that General David Petraeus does. So there`s a lot vested in him...

He is—there’s no question—he is the ball game, as far as the administration is concerned. It’s not just my guess. This is actually measured in Gallup polls. I mean, he is the most credible and far more credible than the president or the vice president.
Shields’ claim about the Gallup poll was a flight of fantasy. In all likelihood, most Americans have never even heard of David Petraeus. But to the extent that they have heard, there’s one thing they have always heard said. No matter what the great man says, they’ve been told that he’s a “straight-shooter.” Why bother examine the shaky data presented by a great man like this?

Yes, David Petraeus is a Jet all the way—has been all through the past year. But then, this is the way our childish “press corps” has scripted our news in the past fifteen years. Like children playing with dolls in a doll-house, they decide that some of the dolls are straight-shooters—and that some of the dolls are very big liars. As E. R. Shipp explained long ago, everything pretty much follows from there. After the dolls get assigned their “roles” in the “drama,” the facts are re-arranged, massaged and invented to sustain the drama from there.

Yes, this is the way a child plays with dolls, sitting dreamily inside a doll-house.. And uh-oh! Although this utterly childish press corps insists on saying which dolls are “straight shooters,” their track record shows that they have little skill at making such childish assessments. Their odd selections have been rather numerous. But here are a few gruesome cases:

In 1999, for example, they decided that Gore had “a problem with the truth,” and that Bush was just a “plain-spoken” Texan. They stuck with that line in the face of all evidence—and loosed disaster on the world.

And then, three years later, these pundits just knew that a handsome general was shooting it straight when it came to Iraq. Colin Powell sat at the UN, serving a load of home-cooked bull-shit. But Powell was part of the straight-shooters club—and when you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way! The Washington Post’s three liberal columnists couldn’t run fast enough to applaud Powell’s truth-telling session. “I’m Persuaded,” said the headline over Mary McGrory’s column the very next day. Next to her piece, readers found Richard Cohen, explaining how top pundits reason:
COHEN (2/6/03): The evidence he presented to the United Nations—some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail—had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool—or possibly a Frenchman—could conclude otherwise.

The clincher, as it had to be, was not a single satellite photo or the intercept of one Iraqi official talking to another. And it was not, as it never could be, the assertion that some spy or Iraqi deserter had made this or that charge—because, of course, who can prove any of that? It was the totality of the material and the fact that Powell himself had presented it. In this case, the messenger may have been more important than the message.
Cohen leaped to his bogus conclusions because he was so in love with the messenger. One week later, the pundit was already back-pedaling, writing a column called “Powellian Propaganda?” By then, you see, people who hadn’t jumped to childish conclusions had begun to show the world that Powell’s presentation was larded with bull-shit. “[T]o be perfectly frank, sir, parts of your presentation to the United Nations seem, in retrospect, to have overstated the case,” Cohen now wrote, addressing Powell. But then, how childish is this crew? Here’s the way this childish fellow began to take back what he’d written:
COHEN (2/13/03):

To: Colin Powell

From: Your fan, Richard Cohen

Re: Watch your words

Sir, I write to you after reading a transcript of your remarks to the Senate Budget Committee in which you said that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization were in some sort of "partnership with Iraq."
Even as he began to acknowledge that Powell had been peddling bull-shit, the fawning pundit had to submit. He had to sign up as a fan.

And so it went with McGrory—and with William Raspberry—after they had rushed to praise Powell’s presentation. Here is McGrory, explaining her blunder, exactly one month later—too late:
MCGRORY (3/6/03): What impressed me about Powell's presentation, besides his magisterial presence and impeccable prose, were the poisons he showed and the malice behind them. I did not have the benefit of the informed criticism that followed. The Post's Walter Pincus wrote a summation of the weakest link in Powell's speech, the al Qaeda connection. Lately, the coming conflict is presented seamlessly as "a war against Iraq and terrorism."
When McGrory rushed into print, praising Powell, she “did not have the benefit of the informed criticism that followed.” Why then had she rushed to judgment? In part, because of Powell’s “magisterial presence!” And his “impeccable prose!” And in part, because of this:
MCGRORY (3/6/03): I have thought well of Colin Powell since I heard him say that the most important lesson to teach the young is that they should do whatever job is assigned and do it well. As a teenager he mopped the floors at a soft-drink bottling factory so well he was promoted to the bottling line. His role in the Iran-contra scandal as an aide to Caspar Weinberger was not glorious, but I was ready to vote for him for president if he ran in 1996. I was grateful he was Bush's secretary of state, and more so when I read in Bob Woodward's "Bush at War" that he was the buffer between two gung-ho Baghdad cakewalkers, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumseld. He was not a peacenik, but he was all we anti-invaders had.
Reasoning like a six-year-old child, McGrory assumed that Powell was telling the truth because she once “heard him say that the most important lesson to teach the young is that they should do whatever job is assigned and do it well.” And, of course, he performed quite well as a teen, at that bottling factory.

That is the way a six-year-old thinks. And it’s the way of your “press corps.”

At some point, you’d almost think that these childish beings would put away their dolls and doll-houses. You’d think they’d stop constructing their pretty tales, in which some of the dolls are “straight-shooters” and some of the dolls have “problems with the truth.” At the very least, you’d almost think that they’d stop this clowning because their track record has been so poor. But to this day, they won’t discuss the hoax they built around Candidate Gore, and they won’t discuss the way they pretended that Candidate Bush was plain-spoken. Nor can they bring themselves to discuss the way they’ve been played by their other “straight-shooters,” including McCain (who’s now a virgin again). And so, as we see in the case of Petraeus, they just keep playing the same childish games. They just keep selecting the Sharks and the Jets—and when you’re a Jet with this childish crew, you are a Jet till the end.

Since this childish practice won’t stop, we find ourselves led to that one central question: How in the world does this childish gang decide which dolls are the straight-shooters?

TOMORROW—PART 4: Constructions of character