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AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER! Everyone knew the affair was wrong. But they praised it, right out in the open: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2008

WILL THEY EVER SPEAK: We’ve long marveled at the way the press corps ignores a political force like Rush Limbaugh. It’s safer to let Rush do what he will—and so, that’s what the mainstream press does. Did Rush suggest, long ago, that Hillary Clinton may have murdered Vince Foster? Yes he did—and the mainstream press corps knew they should just glance away.

This week, Rush seems to be playing the Arab card. This is not a murky e-mail campaign. This is the nation’s most famous radio man, performing right out in the open.

Will the mainstream press corps ever speak about the foul mess he maintains in their midst? Or will they decide, for the ten millionth time, that it’s safer to keep their traps shut?

SEEING AN SS PROPOSAL HALF EMPTY: If you round 28 percent off to “half,” you may be misleading the voters. And you may be squandering a large advantage you enjoyed with the mainstream press. That seems to be what Obama did with the recent ad which is “ad-watched” in today’s New York Times. We highlight two key words from the text of the ad—two words which seem to be hard to defend, two words which were wholly unnecessary:

OBAMA AD: I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message. A broken economy. Failing banks. Unstable markets. Families struggling. To protect us in retirement, Social Security has never been more important. But John McCain has voted three times in favor of privatizing Social Security. McCain says, “I campaigned in support of President Bush’s proposal.” Cutting benefits in half. Risking Social Security on the stock market. The Bush-McCain privatization plan. Can you really afford more of the same?

Aarrgh. The Obama campaign can’t seem to defend two key words: “in half.” And Obama has been criticized for making a similar claim on the stump. (For two posts from FactCheck.org, click here and then click here.) Because they stuck those two words in that ad, the Obama campaign has been widely assailed. For one example, see this column by the Post’s Ruth Marcus.

Last week, Marcus—like many mainstream journalists—was hammering McCain, quite hard, for his long string of “whoppers.” In this column, Marcus says Obama has started to even things up.

A bit of background on the issue discussed in Obama’s ad:

Marcus is part of the DC establishment’s center-left contingent. If she votes, she will almost surely vote for Obama, not for the saintly McCain. But by the time of Campaign 2000, virtually everyone in the Village was affirming the virtue of private accounts; Gore was hammered, remarkably widely and remarkably stupidly, for challenging Bush’s proposal. (Link below.)

To this day, Marcus tends to buy her cohort’s sky-is-falling approach to SS; when she writes about the issue, she tends to be ardent—and murky. Her column included some outright nonsense, such as her passing complaint about Obama’s use of “incendiary language” (that is, the word “privatization”). And the column ended up in the weeds; Marcus isn’t very good at clarifying this issue. But her basic complaint was basically accurate, a point you may not have understood from work churned by some on your side.

This childish post by Josh Marshall is a case in point. Much of the short post is incoherent; much of it is loud and childish. (“It’s apparently a big lie,” Josh childishly snarks, as he offers a reinvented account of what Obama has actually said.) But his whole post ignores a central point—Obama and the Obama campaign seem to have misstated a key, central fact. On our side, we tend to get extremely upset when McCain does this sort of thing.

Is this what we all signed up for when the liberal web was born? Were we secretly seeking the chance to bleat and cry and ignore central points? Did we want to be like Sean Hannity? If so, enjoy Josh’s post.

Visit our incomparable archives: In May 2000, Klein and Russert hammered Gore for daring to oppose Bush’s glorious plan (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/07). And yes, you’re absolutely right! On that very same program, Klein boo-hoo-hooed quite loudly about the saintly John McCain, asking: How could anyone criticize him for lying about that Confederate flag? (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/15/08.) These two excerpts from that show remind us of a basic point. By the time of Campaign 2000, the mainstream press corps had lost its mind in thrall to its Clinton Derangement. And of course, people like Marshall hunkered down, too careful and cautious to protest.

Candidate Gore had every advantage, Josh was still writing, two years later. Weird! Why would an aspiring journalist write something as crazy as that?

Special report: An affair to remember!

BE SURE TO READ EACH INSTALLMENT: The press corps conducted a long love affair. Read each thrilling installment:

PART 1: The Man They Loved dispensed straight talk—except, of course, when he didn’t. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/22/08.

PART 2: The Man They Loved was often clueless—about his own proposals. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/23/08.

Today, we note a striking fact. They knew their love affair was wrong. But they so loved the Man They Loved, they discussed it right out in the open:

INTERLUDE—RIGHT OUT IN THE OPEN: Today, they hate The Man They Loved—but back then, my, how they loved him! Today, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter goes on Countdown, complaining that The Keating Five isn’t being reported enough—and liberal bloggers applaud him for his thoughtful, ardent action. But back then, during Campaign 2000, The Keating Five was barely mentioned in Newsweek. Indeed, here’s how Alter framed The Five in a fawning profile, back when the affair with The Man They Loved was going hot and heavy. Today, Alter rails at The Man They Loved. But no, readers. Sorry. Not then:

ALTER (11/15/99): The animating principle of McCain's life is honor. It kept him in a Vietnamese prison for five and a half years instead of going home early, as his captors offered. It's at the root of his passionate efforts to clean up politics and redeem what he sees as his own connection to a corrupt system. It's why he bonded a few years ago with a onetime antiwar protester, David Ifshin, who was dying of cancer, and why he repeatedly visited former Arizona representative Morris Udall (a Democrat suffering for years from Parkinson's disease) in the hospital when everyone else seemed to have forgotten about him. Their honor mattered to him, too.

Honor is almost a quaint notion now, associated with a different time. McCain gives it a charming twinkle, and the hope of living on as something more than a platitude. He keeps faith with it, even while sometimes falling short of the standard himself. Like many other POWs, McCain broke under torture and signed a confession. On returning to the United States, he cheated on his first wife, Carol, who had been seriously injured in a car accident when he was in Vietnam. Later, he was too wrapped up in work to notice that his second wife, Cindy, was addicted to prescription drugs (box). He let himself get too close to savings and loan executive Charles Keating, who turned out to be a crook. He can be sarcastic and belittling, when he knows better.

But even his failures just seem to deepen the character lines.

It would be hard to sand the rough edges off the Keating Five any better than that. Today, Alter demands that big news orgs discuss the Keating Five more thoroughly. Back then, though, he boo-hoo-hooed about it. Somehow, it “just seemed to deepen the character lines” of The Man They Loved.

John McCain may still reach the White House—in large part, because of the public standing he gained from that long love affair.

Of course, everyone knows that major scribes aren’t supposed to conduct such affairs. But this affair was so potent, so right, that pundits discussed it in public. Indeed, Charlie Pierce mocked their love for McCain as early as May 1998, in a long piece in Esquire. (Headline: “John McCain Walks on Water.”) We can no longer find Chazbo’s piece on-line. But at one point, Pierce rolled his eyes and described the corps’ vast longing:

PIERCE (5/98): He must run for president now. He’s the fervent, unanswered prayer of a hundred Washington grovel-bugs.. If John McCain doesn't run, the mandarins of the chattering class may throw the kind of ensemble hissy fit unseen among them since Sizzler went out of business in New Hampshire.

Way back in May 1998, Pierce mocked their love for The Man They Loved. And a few months later, Andrew Ferguson arranged for their love to be a love that could speak its own name. Rolling his eyes in the Weekly Standard, he dubbed it the “McCain Swoon:”

FERGUSON (7/6/98): John McCain gets the best press coverage of any politician in the country. It is widely acknowledged that he wants to run for president in 2000, and already national political reporters are lost in love. Reading through the press clippings, you come across a man who's part Jimmy Stewart, part St. Sebastian. The McCain Swoon is now so conspicuous that NBC News, the Washington Post, and other news outlets have assigned reporters to do favorable stories explaining why the stories about John McCain are so favorable.

Ferguson’s last remark was somewhat whimsical. But by the summer of 1998, reporters were writing glowing reports about McCain’s glowing coverage. On June 8 of that year, for example, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz had examined McCain’s press coverage. And sure enough; Kurtz did write a glowing piece which explained why the coverage was glowing. In the process, he quoted a number of major press figures expressing their love for The Man They Loved. Mark Shields had praised his “against-the-grain leadership coupled with his riveting personal history.” Al Hunt had said that The Man They Loved was “the most courageous and one of the most admirable men I’ve ever known in American politics.” And a Mike Wallace statement was simply stunning, coming from an iconic symbol of a supposedly skeptical press corps. “I’m thinking I may quit my job if he gets the nomination,” the multimillionaire poser had said, implying he’d go to work for McCain. Of course, Mike never did that—the money was bad. But he was willing to blather.

Today, most of these men have been hurt by The Man They Loved—by his recent outrageous conduct, conduct which rather closely tracks the conduct he displayed in real time. But at that time, they felt deep love—and the affair was widely discussed, right out in the open. Given the fallen journalistic standards of the Clinton-Gore era, journalists seemed to feel little need to hide their deepest longings. Some spoke critically of the affair; a great many simply expressed their ardor. But by 1999, everyone knew about the affair your “press corps” was conducting:

You have grown men falling at his feet as if he were Gwyneth Paltrow in a sun dress. (Jake Tapper, Salon, 5/14/99)

Nobody in national politics gets the kind of adoring coverage the Arizona senator gets. (Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe, 8/2/99)

The senator [has] thousand of media idolaters. (Andrew Ferguson, The Weekly Standard, 11/15/99)

Journalists go weak in the knees around the guy. (Jacob Weisberg, Slate, 10/4/99)

Tapper, Jacoby and Ferguson wrote as critics of the affair. But many embarrassing children like Weisberg were willing to personalize the affair—to profess their love for The Man They Loved, right out in the open. “When I set out to spend a few days with McCain last week, I promised my editor that I wouldn't join in this collective swoon,” Weisberg swooningly wrote for Slate. “That proved impossible.” But sadly, it wasn’t just Weisberg; by the fall of 1999, when the free bus rides began, clowning journalists seemed to compete to see who could express the love with more ardor. At The New Republic, Charles Lane played the swooning fool too, trying to top foolish Weisberg:

LANE (10/18/99): A feeling is building up inside me, and, rather than continue trying to keep it to myself, rather than deny it any further, I think it's time finally to open up and discuss it publicly. I didn't want this to happen. I know it shouldn't be happening. But it is: I'm falling for John McCain, the former POW and current senator from Arizona who finally made his presidential candidacy official on September 27.

Thus, I join the ranks of the largest and most dewy-eyed media fan club to glom on to any presidential candidate, real or wished-for, since the great swoon over Colin Powell in 1995. I hate myself for being a part of this pack— for exhibiting so little originality or independence...But the guy is running such a terrific campaign, speaking so forthrightly about so many matters of real substance, that I just find him irresistible.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! By now, “journalists” no longer felt the need to hide the love affair they were staging. They fawned about The Man They Loved—even as they conducted a savage group trashing of Candidate Gore. Today, Lane has a nice, cushy job at the Post. Weisberg still clownishly clowns at Slate. Gore, of course, holds the Nobel Peace Prize—and these utterly fatuous scribes hate The Man They Once Loved.

Why did they engage in this clowning? The clowning that sent George Bush to the White House—the clowning that may yet send McCain there, despite their vastly changed feelings? Early on, before the bus rides began, David Grann did an excellent job with that question in The New Republic; we’ll look at his explanation tomorrow. But we will answer that question quite simply: A fatuous, overpaid group of boys had lost all sense of their obligations. The refused to challenge the slanders of Gore; instead, they clowned on a bus with The Man They Loved, enjoying his jokes about stripper ex-girl friends, about “that dish from Rio, the fashion model he had such a crush on” (Richard Cohen). Your interests were now just a game to these fools. And their fooling has led to this moment.

Their names are Weisberg, and Klein, and Lane. Their names are Hunt, and Shields, and Dionne. They watched for two years as Gore was trashed; during that same period, they gamboled and played on the bus of The Man They Loved. And, because their love was blind, they failed to notice the very same conduct they now say they abhor so vastly:

They looked away when The Man They Loved failed to offer the voters straight talk (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/22/08). They looked away when The Man They Loved showed he was clueless about his proposals (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/23/08). And as we’ll see tomorrow, they looked away when The Man They Loved basically lied about his opponents—when he said that he was going to “beat them like a drum.” Today, they hate that sort of rough conduct from The Vile Man They Once Loved.

But they made no bones about the affair. Even though everyone knew it was wrong, they talked about it, right out in public. Their editors could have told them to stop. But inside a simpering, upper-class world, the eds loved The Man They Loved too.

TOMORROW—PART 3: Today, they despise his nasty attacks. Back then, they cheered The Man on.