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Daily Howler: The Center wasn't ''all over cable,'' despite what observers ''recall:'';
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CARTOON NETWORK! Sorry! The Center wasn’t “all over cable,” despite what observers “recall:”: // link // print // previous // next //

WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT: How endlessly weak is press corps logic? Yesterday, CNN pundits wondered if Roberts should reveal his views on Roe. As they debated, Candy Crowley presented the puzzling view discussed in the last two HOWLERs:
CROWLEY (9/14/05): But when somebody comes before the Supreme Court—if I go to the Supreme Court on an abortion case, and I know that I'm looking at someone who doesn't think that there's a constitutional right to abortion, aren't I going, "I don't know want this guy to judge me?” Because I know exactly how he feels and he can't do it fairly? Boom.
According to Crowley, Roberts shouldn’t reveal his views because, if he did, he couldn’t judge fairly. But Crowley ignored an obvious fact—we already know what the eight current justices think about the Roe decision. Indeed, they’ve discussed their views many times in the past. Does that mean that they can’t judge fairly in future cases? If not, why should Roberts be the only one whose view on Roe are a mystery? The question would occur to almost anyone—except to a high press corps panel:
JEFF GREENFIELD (continuing directly): Jeffrey will tell you what advocates do in that case.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: What if—but what if the president ran for president saying, "I'm going to put pro-life justices on the court?" And a lot of Americans said, "You know what, I want a president who will do that." That's—that's part of the power of a president.

CROWLEY: Forget the politics of it. I just don't—judicially, I'm just thinking, if I go to a court, and I know a judge is biased one way or the other, I don't want him judging my case.

TOOBIN: But is that “biased?”

WOLF BLITZER: Unless he sympathizes in your favor, Candy.

CROWLEY: Exactly. Then I'll want him. [laughter]

TOOBIN: He's developed—the power of these subjects.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We've got to take a quick break...

Given the fact that we know the other justices’ views, Crowley’s position doesn’t seem to make sense—but none of the panelists noted the problem. Meanwhile, is a judge “biased” if he has a pre-existing view? In this matter, Crowley’s logic was so weak that Toobin politely semi-objected. But understand: According to Crowley, the eight sitting justices are all “biased” about Roe. And Roberts would somehow become “biased” too, if he revealed his view on the famous decision.

Of course, Roberts already holds his view, whether he reveals it or not. In that sense, he will automatically be a “biased” judge—Crowley just doesn’t want to know what his “bias” is (although she knows about all the others). We’re often struck by the reasoning skills we see among our highest-paid pundits. Although our bias may have guided us, we thought this was a good exhibition.

CARTOON NETWORK: Darn it! We disagree today with Kevin Drum’s assessment of Michael Brown’s New York Times interview. Does this interview serve a purpose? Kevin says no, but we’ll say yes; we can’t assess the accuracy of Brown’s various statements, but this interview does serve a high purpose—it starts to replace a cartoon story with a (likely) more accurate tale. As they so often do, the pundit corps built a cartoon around Brown in the aftermath of Katrina; indeed, in its typical prig-piling way, the Washington Post even ran to blame Brown for an interview the more powerful Michael Chertoff had given (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/13/05). Brown’s interview suggests that the actual story may be more complex than this press corps cartoon—that all the blunders may not have been his. We’re surprised to see Kevin move so quickly to disparage this attempt at reporting—this early attempt to re-examine the corps’ latest dumb-ass cartoon.

Darn it! We had planned to praise Kevin today for yesterday’s post about Katrina’s “urban legends”—and we had planned to thank him for his generosity in including our work in the mix. In that post, Kevin noted that several bogus stories had developed around Brown and his role. We thought this was important work, for reasons we’ll discuss below. Unfortunately, Kevin seemed to walk away from this initial impulse under the force of reader e-mails. Levees of the mind seemed to burst. Let’s note how this occurred.

In our report, we had noted an obvious fact—pundits made many clear misstatements about TV coverage of the miseries at the New Orleans Convention Center (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/12/05). For example, Ted Koppel scolded Brown on Thursday night, September 1, saying this: “I’ve heard you say during the course of this evening on a number of interviews you just found out about [the Convention Center] today. Don't you guys watch television? Don't you guys listen to the radio? Our reporters have been reporting about it for more than just today.” But ABC’s reporters had not “been reporting about it for more than just today;” according to the Nexis archive, no ABC show had mentioned the Center until 2:30 PM Eastern that day. It hadn’t been mentioned on World News Tonight. It hadn’t been mentioned on Good Morning America. And no, it hadn’t been mentioned on Nightline. This was typical bullshit from Koppel, the utterly lazy, self-impressed fop who didn’t bother to figure out the Bush budget plan during Campaign 2000 and who didn’t prepare for his interview with John O’Neill during Campaign 04 because he was busy attending a roast for his best pal, Colin Powell (links below). Let’s say it again: This was a typical pundit misstatement, and it did deserve correction. But other pundits also rushed to misstate; as these idiots always do, your millionaire pundits agreed on a tale in which they could happily prig-pile on Brown. And let’s say it again: In doing so, they did themselves a favor—they found a way to avoid the possibility that the failures in FEMA went above Brown’s station. Happily, they prig-piled on low-level Brown—and avoided the scarier Chertoff.

In yesterday’s post, Kevin endorsed what we had found; he said we “seem[ed] to make a good case that although the situation at the Convention Center was briefly reported the previous evening, it had been widely aired for at most a few hours before Chertoff's statement, not a day.” But then the e-mails came flooding in, and Kevin began to retreat. Good God! “It looks like TV coverage the previous evening was more extensive than Somerby suggests,” he wrote in an UPDATE—and he linked to a string of reader comments. But uh-oh! This “evidence” came first:



I can't believe this.

My power came back on Wed. afternoon (in Jackson, MS). That night, the convention center was all over the cable news. Indelibly. I sat there watching it.

I'm sorry Somersby [sic] wasn't watching the news that night, but I was.

Ignore the understandable spelling problems. Try to believe that Kevin would cite a two-week-old recollection as a contradiction of our report, which cited the actual archival record about the cable coverage. That’s right! Not being complete fools after all these years, we didn’t base our report on what we recalled; we based our report on the Nexis record, which includes all cable and network news for the (Wednesday) evening in question. And we’re sorry to kill a pleasing cartoon, but the Convention Center was not “all over the cable news” that night (nor was it mentioned on ABC at all, or on any broadcast network). As we noted: According to the Nexis record, the first report of a major problem at the Center aired around 10:20 PM Eastern, on Scarborough Country; earlier, CNN had aired two fleeting references to people gathering at the Center, without describing the severity of the problem. But then, here’s the second e-mail Kevin cites to support the claim that “it looks like TV coverage the previous evening was more extensive than Somerby suggests.” The first two points come straight from our report. The third point seems to be faulty:
DRUM E-MAIL: A check of the Lexus Nexis archives shows that Somerby's account of the coverage from the evening before is a bit thin. MSNBC, CNN, and Fox all reported that people were heading to/being sent to the Convention Center. Chris Lawrence reported on Paula Zahn's 8pm show that 3,000 people were at the Convention Center and that a dead body had been abandoned outside it.

The following morning, the Convention Center was all over the news and CNN kept mentioning Chris Lawrence's reporting (both from the night before and new that day).

Mike Brown, meanwhile, did not know about the Convention Center that afternoon, roughly around 3:30pm EDT, when I heard him in one of his innumerable press conferences say he was unaware of what was happening there. Sometime between then and 7 pm or so, he did learn and said so in interviews that evening (I haven't looked for these transcripts, but I have the emails I sent that afternoon as I was freaking out).

But Lawrence’s brief report to Zahn was one of the two CNN cites we had mentioned. We also noted that the story was being heavily reported by the next day (Thursday). Meanwhile, we did “look for these transcripts” on Brown—and this reader’s recollection also seems to be wrong. CNN’s transcripts are available for the whole day, and—although they were covering the Convention Center hard, starting at 7 o’clock Thursday morning—they have no record of any statement by Brown until the 4 PM hour (Eastern). Here’s what he said in a press conference then, straight from the CNN archives:
BROWN (9/1/05): We're aware of the situation in the Convention Center. There are approximately 5,000 people in the Convention Center, and food and water is being delivered to them also. We're continuing the same type of efforts in Mississippi and Alabama.
Again, that was Brown’s press conference (with General Honore) during the 4 o’clock hour. Had he held another conference, one hour earlier? We can find no sign of it. Meanwhile, just for the record, here is the entire body of Fox reporting about the Convention Center on the Wednesday night in question. The exchange occurred on The Fox Report, during the 7 PM hour:
SHEPARD SMITH (8/31/05): Well as another enormous helicopter comes overhead, I want to go to Jeff Goldblatt live in the city. Jeff?

GOLDBLATT: Hi Shepard. The sun is about to set in New Orleans, and everywhere I look in this central business district, I can see people walking the street aimlessly. Many heading to the convention center because they have heard the rumor that buses will take them somewhere. Many of these people started their day at the Superdome. They don't want to be transported to the Houston Astrodome. They say that that was just a miserable experience spending the last couple of days in the Superdome.

That was it! Over the course of the entire evening, that was the total body of Fox reporting about the Convention Center. But then, the total reporting on CNN and MSNBC encompassed no more than a minute or two. This story was not “all over the cable news” that night—you had to be glued to the screen just to catch it—and the other pundit statements we quoted were every bit as stupid and wrong as Koppel’s misstatement about ABC’s coverage. Sorry, but according to the full Nexis record, there were only a few fleeting mentions of the Center Wednesday night. People may indelibly “remember” something else, but that’s what the full record shows.

None of this has much to do with Brown’s performance, which we aren’t equipped to evaluate, except in the most general ways. But it does have something to do with your press corps’ performance. Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t matter, unless you want to avoid a world where pundits feel free to hand you cartoons—the kinds of stories they invented (for years) about Bill Clinton, and then about Gore, eventually putting Bush in the White House. For years, “liberal” readers cheered and applauded when we criticized those stupid press stories. Unfortunately, many such “liberals” are now more than happy when cartoons are invented about Bush’s aides. Many were thrilled to have a cartoon they could enjoy about dumb-ass Brown—and they failed to see that these idiot tales were, in part, protecting Chertoff, a more important Bush hand by far. But our report was about the press—and their statements were dumb and inaccurate.

Why did we spend our time on this matter? Why did we go through the tiresome process of sifting through the Nexis records—a process Kevin seems to have by-passed, not just once, but two separate times? We did it because we have come to despise these pundits in seven years of daily research—a period in which they have mainly invented cartoons about Democrats, cartoons which changed your nation’s history. (Fiery career liberals still refuse to discuss that, since they and their organs sat and kept still while this remarkable process unfolded.) We despise the pundit corps’ dim-witted clowning—and no, we aren’t about to cheer when they start to embellish about Brown. Nor do we put our tail between our legs when e-mailers write to say what they “remember.” We don’t run to kiss their keisters. We continue to say what we’ve found in the record.

Why does any of this matter? Because we think individuals (and political movements) owe a trust to average, ordinary, normal people—the kind of people we were raised by, the trusting kind, who are easily fooled. Over the course of the past fifteen years, the average voter has been played for a fool by the Koppels, the Mitchells, the Matthewses, the Riches. (And the Gerths, the Cecis, the Kits and the Brunis.) We think liberals owe those voters a trust—a trust that, when they come to our sites, they won’t be met by embellished facts and by the stupidest possible “logic.” (We found a single photo caption! We think you should be totally furious!!) We’ve been disgusted, in the past dozen years, to see the public abused as it’s been. And yes, it fills us with disgust when we see our side adopting these practices. We can be just as dumb as they are, our conduct sometimes seems to portend.

In that story in today’s Times, Kirkpatrick and Shane begin to replace a cartoon tale with a larger story. Who will that larger story harm? We don’t have the slightest idea. But many “liberals,” like many “conservatives,” prefer to be handed inane cartoon tales. This, of course, is human nature—until we train ourselves to move past it. It’s up to the leaders of a movement to do that. And leaders will sometimes have to tell a naughty story: What you “recall” may not be quite true. You may think the Center “was all over cable”—but that doesn’t mean that it was.

By the way, one final comment, a point we’ve made several times: At this point, if we have to embellish to make a case against Bush, we ought to get out of the case-making business. No, the Convention Center wasn’t “all over the cable news” that night—and no, ABC hadn’t mentioned it once. At this point, if you feel that you just have to say something different, it’s because you simply prefer to embellish. But then, weaklings and fakers throughout human history have thrilled themselves by playing this game—by playing this cheap, stupid game with “the masses.” It’s the ultimate act of contempt for the rubes. We think liberals ought to renounce it.

Brownie remembers: In today’s interview, Brown says he did know about the Center on Wednesday, but he “just absolutely misspoke” Thursday night (9/1), when he kept saying otherwise. Who knows? It’s even possible that this is true; he may have been covering for his boss Chertoff, who told NPR at some point Thursday that he didn’t know about the Center. Or Brownie may simply be making this up. At any rate, Kirkpatrick reports that Brown “had no staff on the site until Thursday,” so he had to get his information from local authorities. Did that reflect bad management practice? Like you, we don’t have the slightest idea—though some, in love with cartoonish tales, will insist that they do know, full well..

THE FIERY LIBERAL WEB CATCHES UP: Yesterday, many on the liberal web correctly praised Knight-Ridder’s latest—a report which begins to suggest that Chertoff may have been more at fault than Brown. (Click here to see Tim Grieve’s clear summary.) But then, we had already noted that transfer-of-blame, in Tuesday’s clowning Post editorial. Duh! In the Washington press corps, pundits often pile on the weak because they’re afraid to report on the strong. Good for Knight-Ridder, which dared to say that it might have been Chertoff who bore greater blame. But you know us liberals! We had signed up for a rich cartoon tale, and some libs will fight to retain it.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Koppel, of course, just flat doesn’t care. During Campaign 2000, he was too lazy to study the Bush tax proposal; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03. During Campaign 04, he rolled over, unprepared, for Swiftee John O’Neill—after spending the evening at a gaudy dinner, where he honored his best buddy, Powell. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/18/04 and 10/19/04. But you know how the human mind works! When he flatly misstates about Big Dumb-Ass Brown, we’re supposed to stand up and cheer! Suddenly, Koppel is on our side—and all his dumb statements are marvels!

TOMORROW—HOWLER HISTORY! ALL NEW MATERIAL! How did a clown like Bush become president? In the fall of 99, your “press corps” knew what they had to deep-six. New material! Frank Bruni stars!