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Daily Howler: Charlie Gibson did just fine--except for that one giant bungle
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CHARLIE’S BUNGLE! Charlie Gibson did just fine–except for that one giant bungle: // link // print // previous // next //

KINDY DOES CINDY/LATEST CANT FROM THE LIPS OF THE PIGS:It’s a precept of their fraternal law. They know they must deceive us rubes about the way their cohort does business.

Latest example? In this morning’s Washington Post, Kimberly Kindy offers this front-page report about Cindy McCain’s past problems with painkillers. (John McCain’s past conduct is also at issue.) Kindy’s work is long and informative–and then, near the end, she chumps you with this. It’s hard to put lipstick on this pig. Do these people ever stop lying?

KINDY (9/12/08): McCain's drug use became national news during her husband's first presidential campaign in 2000. Newsweek published a first-person account of her struggle, but it included some errors.

"It began with Vicodan [sic]. In 1989, I had ruptured a couple of disks carrying my 1-year-old, Bridget, in a pack on my back," she wrote.

But Bridget was not born until 1991. In other accounts, McCain said she hurt her back while picking up her son Jimmy, who was a toddler at the time of her injuries.

As the McCains traveled in the Straight Talk Express bus in 2000, interest in Cindy McCain's story faded when it became clear that she and her husband weren't headed for the White House.

This year, as the McCains campaigned again, Cindy McCain granted interviews about her past problems to "Access Hollywood" and Jay Leno. She called her addiction a life-changing crisis.

Truly, that’s astounding. Kindy tries to make you think that the press corps did its job during Campaign 2000–that Cindy McCain’s past problem was covered, with interest fading only “when it became clear that she and her husband weren't headed for the White House.”

Sorry. That just isn’t accurate.

Let’s start with Kindy’s most gruesome “error.” In fact, Newsweek’s “first-person account” (with that spelling error) appeared in April 2001, not during Campaign 2000. We know, we know: Kindy doesn’t actually say that the piece appeared during Campaign 2000. But readers will think that’s what she said. Sorry. It just didn’t happen.

What did occur during Campaign 2000? Plainly, Kindy wants you to think that the press corps pursued this matter, though “interest in Cindy McCain's story faded when it became clear that she and her husband weren't headed for the White House.” But that just isn’t true either:

During Campaign 2000, Kindy’s cohort was all over Saint McCain’s bus, eating his doughnuts, drinking his booze, and thrilling to his thigh-rubbing tales about his stripper ex-girl friends. Kindy makes it sound like “interest” in this problem was expressed on the Straight Talk Express, but there is little sign that any such thing ever happened. During this period, “journalists” were practically on McCain’s payroll–and they didn’t ask embarrassing questions, as they themselves even explained on occasion. As best we can tell from searching Nexis, Newsweek referred to the addiction matter just once during Campaign 2000–in a short, three-paragraph piece in February 2000. Time made three tiny, fleeting references, always inside long, flattering profiles. In two of these cases, the matter was only mentioned to criticize smear merchants’ conduct in South Carolina. The matter was only mentioned to make the great saint a great victim.

Searching the New York Times and the Washington Post, a similar lack of interest is clear. Let’s get real: Cindy McCain’s problem was almost never discussed by the press during Campaign 2000. Kindy clearly suggests something different. But as we said, misleading the public about their own conduct is what this particular cohort do best. They seem to love nothing quite so much as putting lipstick on their conduct.

During Campaign 2000, the national press corps embarrassed itself with its great love affair for the great Saint McCain. Childish men rode around on his bus, thinking they’d enrolled at a Vietnam Fantasy Camp; they loved it when he told them (and told them) about how much he hated discussing Nam, and they loved it when he told them (and told them) that he thought they were smart. Yesterday, Michael Kinsley joined the crowd, expressing his newly hatched shock and concern at what this great, saintly man has become. In our view, these losers should drag themselves into the woods and take a big handful of Cindy’s pain pills. So should the weak-minded pseudo-liberals who pretend these confessions are cute.

Sorry. John McCain was no saint during Campaign 2000. He lied and embellished and played the fool–and these upper-end imbeciles loved it. Today, Michael Kinsley is shocked–just shocked. We can’t find sufficient words to express our contempt for such clowning.

Final point: If McCain wins the election this fall, it will happen because these weak, stupid people worked so hard, for so many years, to erect his reputation.

WHY HERO TALES MATTER: During Campaign 2000, people like Kinsley built hero tales around McCain–and demon tales around Vile Gore. Two weeks ago, a new pol arrived on the scene with inane hero tales. This us why hero tales matter:

MONTGOMERY (9/11/08): Much of the shift toward McCain stems from gains among white women following his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a self-described hockey mom, as his vice presidential candidate. Last month, before Palin's selection, white women preferred Obama's handling of the economy by 12 points; in the latest poll, they gave McCain a 10-point edge. Among all voters, Obama enjoyed a five-point lead, his narrowest margin yet.

Susan Pratt, 53, a retired nursing professor from Columbia, S.C., said Palin's selection solidified her support for McCain because she likes how Palin cut excess spending in Alaska by, for example, listing a government airplane for auction on eBay.

Let’s be candid. In all likelihood, Susan Pratt, 53, knows nothing about excess spending in Alaska. But she does know the hero tale about “listing” that jet plane on eBay.

We recommend Lori Montgomery’s full report about the cluelessness of voters. Many voters know nothing about major topics. But by God! How they love simple tales!

CHARLIE’S BUNGLE: For our money, Charlie Gibson did a pretty good job in the first chunks of his Palin sessions. Not only that–in this morning’s New York Times, Jim Rutenberg does an excellent job reporting the part of the interview that was broadcast last evening at the start of World News Tonight. Rutenberg quotes large chunks of what Palin actually said, largely eschewing paraphrase–and he applies a sensible framework to his report (her tendency to keep repeating short talking-points). Rutenberg’s piece is as good as it gets when it comes to reporting of interviews.

But good grief! Yesterday, we pre-discussed the technical incompetence of the upper-end, millionaire press corps. And sure enough! In one of his segments, Gibson engaged in the type of school-boy bungle we were talking about. By the time the segment aired last night, ABC News had tried to smooth the bungle (details below). But earlier in the day, the network had released partial transcripts of the interview, just as it occurred. And sure enough! Gibson had made an inexcusable bungle in this part of the session:

GIBSON (9/11/08): You said recently, in your old church, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God." Are we fighting a holy war?

PALIN: You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote.

GIBSON: Exact words.

Good God. That’s astoundingly bad.

Yes, Virginia–those really are Palin’s “exact words,” taken from a longer statement at her former church. But as many schoolboys could tell you, you can badly misrepresent someone’s statement depending on which “exact words” you select. And that’s what Gibson did in this instance. Here’s the longer statement by Palin from which those “exact words” were cadged:

PALIN: Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right–also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan, and that that plan is God’s plan. So bless them with your prayers, your prayers of protection over our soldiers.

As you can see, those “exact words” were part of that longer statement. But it’s plain from Palin’s longer statement that she was not asserting that our soldiers have been sent to Iraq “on a task that is from God;” in reality, she was plainly urging her audience to pray that this was the case. (“That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for.”) Gibson’s presentation was baldly misleading–an astounding, inexcusable bungle. Palin was right when she suggested that she’d somehow been quoted wrong.

Gibson had made an astounding mistake. And apparently, ABC News understood that fact by the time the interview aired. On World News Tonight, Palin’s complaint to Gibson had disappeared–replaced by tape of a longer chunk of her actual statement. On last evening’s World News Tonight, this is what actually aired:

GIBSON (9/11/08): You said recently, in your old church, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God."

PALIN (videotape): Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right–also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God.

GIBSON: Are we fighting a holy war?

PALIN: The reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln's words, when he said–first, he suggested, never presume to know what God's will is.

ABC had done a good deal of doctoring, trying to cover for Gibson’s bungle. In real life, Palin challenged the quote when Gibson asked her, “Are we fighting a holy war.” On World News Tonight, you didn’t see that. Instead, the tape jumped ahead to something Palin said a bit later. To the extent possible, evidence of Charlie’s bungling had been disappeared.

ABC did the best it could. But even the segment which aired last night is inexcusably, stunningly wrong. It opens with Gibson making a baldly false statement. This still aired at the start of the segment–and sorry, it’s just flat wrong:

GIBSON: You said recently, in your old church, "Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God."

But that isn’t what Palin said. Gibson’s statement is patently wrong.

If college-bound high school kids cadged quotes that way, you would be surprised by their bungling. At the top of your upper-end press corps, a multimillionaire TV star performed like a schoolboy–again. The sheer incompetence of this cohort is truly a thing to behold.

Yes, there are consequences: Will Gibson’s bungle become an issue? That remains to be seen. Last night, William Kristol cited the bungle on Fox. But the McCain campaign may decide to let it slide, not wanting to stress the matter of Palin’s religious outlook.

But make no mistake; bungles of this type can and do drive our elections. In recent weeks, the McCain campaign has driven the discourse with cries of “liberal media bias” and “anti-religious sentiment”–and this is exactly the sort of thing that gives such complaints their life. In this morning’s Washington Post, Michael Gerson writes an excellent column, describing the utterly brainless ways pseudo-liberals lose elections. We recommend Gerson’s whole column, which was written before Gibson’s bungle. But in part, the scribe says this:

GERSON (9/12/08): In general, liberal political and media elites demonstrate a religious diversity that runs the spectrum from secularism to liberal Episcopalianism–all the varied shades from violet to blue. Yet they assume their high church or Mencken-like disdain for religious enthusiasm is broadly shared. It was the sociologist Peter Berger who observed, "Puerto Ricans, Jews and Episcopalians each form around 2 percent of the American population. Guess which group does not think of itself as a minority."

The media treatment of Pentecostalism (Palin's main religious background) and Bible church evangelicalism (her current affiliation) has had the quality of a National Geographic special on a newly discovered Amazon tribe. You might not suspect that Pentecostalism–grown from the admirable, racially integrated roots of the Los Angeles Azusa Street Revival of 1906–is one of the fastest-growing and most influential forms of mainstream Christianity...

And so Democrats and their liberal allies set out a self-destructive mixed message. Democratic politicians press their appeal to blue-collar workers and the working poor–while liberal intellectuals and pundits express their disdain for the religious values and motivations of the poor and middle class themselves.

Gerson’s warning is right on the mark. And yet, many pseudo-liberals will turn up their noses at the advice he’s dispensing. As we have long explained: For a certain type of pseudo-liberal, politics is mainly about the chance to mock the culture of red-state rubes.

Pseudo-liberals have been losing elections this way since the 1960s. And yet, pseudo-liberals can’t drop their condescension. It’s what their lives are about. In some cases, pseudo-liberals would rather be superior than be president.

As we explained a few years ago, one well-known Democrat isn’t this dumb. When we read Bill Clinton’s My Life, we were most struck by the lengthy passage in which he expressed his life-long respect for Arkansas Pentecostals (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/04). Clinton “liked and admired them,” he said, though they sometimes disagreed with his politics:

CLINTON (page 251): Far more important than what I saw the Pentecostals do were the friendships I made among them. I liked and admired them because they lived their faith. They are strictly anti-abortion, but unlike some others, they will make sure that any unwanted baby, regardless of race or disability, has a loving home. They disagreed with me on abortion and gay rights, but they still followed Christ’s admonition to love their neighbors.

“Knowing the Pentecostals has enriched and changed my life,” Clinton wrote on page 252. And oh yes! Before he got around to writing that book, Clinton won two terms in the White House.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’re not religious ourselves–but we understand that most voters are. And we understand something about many “liberals:” The thing they seek, above all else, is the chance to express their sense of superiority to red-state rubes. Like Palin.

Will Gibson’s blunder become an issue? No idea. But in recent days, pseudo-liberals have stood in line, waiting their chance to mock Palin’s religious and cultural values. Who are the real dumb ones in these exchanges? Have you had a chance to look at the drift of the polling lately?

Frankly, this is Rich: In our view, Frank Rich is a classic cultural pseudo-liberal. This explains why he kept trashing Gore until he won the Nobel Peace Prize. (Even the Oscar didn’t cause Rich to flip!) How devoted a pseudo-liberal is Rich? Try to grasp this: When Rich saw Gore’s important film, An Inconvenient Truth, he emerged complaining about the five-second segment in which Gore said that, as a boy on the Tennessee farm, he’d owned a rifle. Gore was just making a play to the NRA, this big, dumb pseudo-liberal said. Gore had said that as a way to win the 2008 election.

No, you can’t get dumber than that. But Rich insisted, all through Campaign 2000, that Gore and Bush were two peas in a pod. (He may have sent Bush to the White House himself.) Frankly speaking, this is why this great man reached this foolish judgment.

If we may quote the old “singin’ brakeman:” In Rich’s world, T was for Texas–and, unfortunately, T was for Tennessee.

Pseudo-liberal at play: When Bush and Gore became nominees, Sarah Vowell thought of that singin’ brakeman too. Sadly, she also thought of the Tennessee Waltz, offering these pseudo-liberal inanities concerning Gore and “the hokum of Nashville:

VOWELL (3/15/00): Waltz Across Texas" is sweet, and certainly waltzing across Texas "with you in my arms" is a lot prettier of a picture than the one presented in its Democratic counterpart, "The Tennessee Waltz," a Tennessee state song that Gore has been known to croon...Gore's covering "The Tennessee Waltz" seems ill-advised, considering the actual content of the song: A man takes his sweetheart to a dance and introduces her to his buddy, and the buddy steals her away, leaving the singer brokenhearted. For a Clinton administration official to sing a song about infidelity is like a two-step in the wrong direction.

But perhaps Gore sings "The Tennessee Waltz" not for its words but to capture a little of its crossover mojo. Malone says that the song is a landmark in American popular culture, the tune that made country music pop music. It was recorded several times by hillbilly groups in the late '40s, but made its mark in a 1950 version by Patti Page, which hit No. 1 on the pop charts. In the process the song made Acuff-Rose the No. 1 country-music publisher in America, Malone says, and created Nashville as we know it. As he writes in his book "Country Music U.S.A.," "'The Tennessee Waltz' alone must be given much of the credit for country music's commercial surge and the future integration of America's popular music forms." Malone calls it "just a pleasant, lackluster song." To paraphrase Bush, the song was a uniter, not a divider, so no wonder pleasant, if lackluster, Gore wants to associate himself with its breakthrough success.
Of course, wouldn't it be nice if Gore threw off the hokum of Nashville and went around singing my favorite song about his real hometown, Washington? He could do Parliament's "Chocolate City," looking voters and NRA lobbyists in the eye while shouting, "You don't need the bullet when you've got the ballet," and asking, "Are you up for the down stroke?"

Let’s be anthropologists! The dumbness of this tribe is endless–and they seem to love nothing so much as giving this dumbness wide public display. Why did Candidate Gore occasionally sing “The Tennessee Waltz” during Campaign 2000? Could it be because it’s one of the greatest, most mysterious songs in the American song book? (Malone’s peculiar quoted critique notwithstanding. In his actual book, by the way, Malone says the song’s “simplicity and haunting melody made it a national favorite.” Vowell’s “lackluster song” quotation mysteriously fails to appear.) We’ve always thought that Roy Acuff’s version of “The Tennessee Waltz” defines the sound of a cultural world. To hear thirty seconds of Acuff, click here. Careful, though! He’s a red-stater!

Readers, is it possible Gore was singing this song because it was part of his cultural upbringing? Our whole staff happened to be in attendance at the Gores’ wedding in 1970. We retain two principal memories: Frank Church driving off in a clunky old car with Gore’s best man shouting insults at him. And the playing of “The Tennessee Waltz”–we’re fairly sure, when the estimable Albert Gore Sr. danced with his daughter-in-law.

By the way: Albert Gore Sr. had raised his son to respect the “average” person.

Since the time she wrote this piece, we’ve thought of Vowell as a classic New York Times pseudo-liberal. These people exist to do two things. They exist to express their unparalleled greatness–and to keep the GOP where it is.