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WHEN HERBERT ENABLED HORTON! The second time Willie Horton was used, Bob Herbert kept his trap shut: // link // print // previous // next //

WE LIBERALS MUST TALK ABOUT STUPID: If we talk about stupid, that has to mean Dowd. Here’s part of her column this morning:
DOWD (9/26/07): After the Bay of Pigs, J.F.K. and his advisers worried that American foreign policy would no longer seem intelligent. W. doesn't even try for an intelligent foreign policy. He wallows in a willfully ignorant foreign policy. And this week, his irrational ways were contagious.

The Daily News headline, ''The Evil Has Landed,'' was one of the milder imprecations. Consider this reasoned analysis from Greg Gutfeld of Fox News: ''So the foul-smelling fruitbat Ahmadinejad spoke at that crack house known as Columbia University today.''
Sniffing about “irrational ways,” Dowd quotes Gutfeld—who happens to be a comedian on the nightly, 2 A.M. Fox program, Red Eye. Yes, the program is unwatchably bad. But once again: Gutfeld is a comedian. This morning, in our brightest newspaper, Dowd quotes an outrageous statement by a comic, then complains that the statement ain’t smart.

No, you can’t get dumber than Dowd. But Bill O’Reilly’s “body language expert” tried to do so Monday night. You can read the full account at Media Matters (click here). But Tonya Reiman, who’s normally non-political (we’ll disagree with MM’s implication about that), got suddenly crazy when she was asked to scope out Hillary Clinton’s lingo. Clinton’s laughter on Sunday’s talk shows was “evil,” Reiman remarkably said. Amazingly, she used the word several times.

Reiman’s weekly segment is always stupid, although she’s normally non-political. Of course, this isn’t the first time a cable show used a “body language expert” to help sort out the candidates’ tics. During Campaign 2000, Chris Matthews routinely clowned with compliant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who struggled and strove to say the things Chris wanted to hear about various hopefuls. It was during one of the guru’s sessions that Matthews launched one of his stupidest tirades—the one in which he said that Gore was wearing those troubling three-button suits to attract the ladies, much the way a sailor does with all the buttons that run up the front of his pants. In short, Matthews was already visibly mad—and this happened eight years ago. For a small taste of this old, daft discussion, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/14/02.

Our public discourse is amazingly stupid, from the buttons on Gore’s suits up to the endless, broken discussion about what we should do to “support the troops.” But liberals and progressive sometimes shy away from stating this key, basic fact. We’re all accustomed to using “bias” as a measure of press corps behavior. But the sheer stupidity of our press corps is a tougher nut for some to crack. The public needs to be helped to see that our current, ruling mainstream press corps is a deeply dysfunctional group. They’re rich—and they’re stupid beyond all compare. We need to learn how to say that.

Let’s face it: For years now, we’ve all been with Stupid. The public deserves to be told this fact, explicitly. It’s a deeply troubling, ongoing threat to the things we all hold dear.

WHEN HERBERT ENABLED HORTON: Like Kevin Drum, we were struck by Bob Herbert’s Tuesday column about the Republican Party and race. “The G.O.P. has spent the last 40 years insulting, disenfranchising and otherwise stomping on the interests of black Americans,” Herbert wrote. After mentioning that famous old “Southern strategy,” Herbert recalled an often-forgotten interview by Bush the Elder’s top hit-man, Lee Atwater:
HERBERT (9/25/07): In 1981, during the first year of Mr. Reagan's presidency, the late Lee Atwater gave an interview to a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University, explaining the evolution of the Southern strategy:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger,' ” said Atwater. "By 1968, you can't say 'nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
In fairness, Atwater was largely speaking in this passage about the ways others had played racial politics; he wasn’t around in 1954 or 1968 to make those particular plays. But in 1991, near the end of his life, Atwater apologized for the way he himself had played racial politics. In particular, he apologized for his use of Willie Horton—the racial demon he helped create in 1988, helping send Bush the Elder to the White House. And Herbert hasn’t forgotten those uses of Horton. Here’s an earlier part of his column:
HERBERT: This is the party of the Southern strategy—the party that ran, like panting dogs, after the votes of segregationist whites who were repelled by the very idea of giving equal treatment to blacks. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. (Willie Horton) Bush, George W. (Compassionate Conservative) Bush—they all ran with that lousy pack.
No, Herbert hasn’t forgotten Bush the Elder’s uses of Willie Horton. But sadly, Herbert kept silent during Campaign 2000 when Horton was used, once again, to attack a Democratic front-runner. That’s right! In 1999 and early 2000, the GOP played the Horton card again, this time in a sustained attack on Al Gore. This time, a long string of mainstream “journalists” pimped the attack, including a few at the New York Times. And Herbert didn’t speak up.

Yep! Ever since 1992, the GOP had been peddling the claim that “Al Gore introduced Willie Horton to America.” They said it again and again and again—and by the end of 1999, a long string of big reporters and pundits were willing to peddle the bogus claim too. (By now, they were inventing new ways to slime Gore in every waking moment.) Some of the attackers were movement conservatives (Rush Limbaugh, George Will, William Kristol); some were thoroughly mainstream figures (Dan Balz, Sam Donaldson, even David Yepsen). And needless to say, Ceci and “Kit” each took a turn with the latest poison. And omigod! Bill Bradley even paraded the claim about Gore all around—after having specifically said, in his 1996 best-seller, that Gore had done no such thing IN RE Horton. In this part of Campaign 2000, Bradley didn’t just lie about Gore. He performed a full flip as he did so.

But then, Campaign 2000 represents complete, total breakdown in press standards and practices. Essentially, an increasingly rich-and-Republican press corps had lost its mind over Miss Lewinsky; as a result, they spent twenty straight months inventing fake tales about Clinton’s vile successor. And many of the tales they mouthed came to them straight from the RNC. Al Gore introduced Willie Horton to America? This was put to damaging use in the later months of the New Hampshire primary. Most Dems and libs don’t remember this affair; it didn’t achieve iconic status, like many other bogus claims the “press corps” used to slander Gore. But the press corps’ misconduct in this episode was astounding—as was the conduct by Bradley.

Bob Herbert is appropriately angry today about the was Willie Horton was used in the 1988 campaign. But he didn’t speak up in 1999, when Bradley, and a string of his own journalistic colleagues, were peddling sh*t about Horton. But then, no one else in the press corps spoke up, except for one person: Mort Kondracke.

For our fullest account of this astonishing episode, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02. But be careful! It’s hard to digest the events of Campaign 2000; the press corps’ misconduct was so extreme, the mind screams out that it couldn’t have happened. But as 1999 rolled on, this story made its way from hit-man Limbaugh to a long string of the nation’s top “journalists.” Herbert watched his colleagues stage this charade—and he failed to speak up.

ALL COKED UP ON BULL-ROAR: As late as January 2004, the loathsome multimillionaire Cokie Roberts was still out there pimping this bull-roar around. “Now remember,” she said on Morning Edition, “it was Al Gore, in primary debates, who was the first person to bring up the issue of Willie Horton.” Cokie was very slick this day; she remembered to say that Gore had raised the Horton issue, thereby preserving the broken-souled claim that her statement was technically accurate (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/13/04). Later in the 04 campaign, the loathsome Michelle Malkin pimped the claim too, this time while playing some Hardball. But Malkin hadn’t learned her script quite as well as Cokie had. “Of course, it was Al Gore who brought up Willie Horton first,” the loathsome defective proclaimed to Chris Matthews. Uh-oh! That statement is just flat-out false, indefensible even if technically tortured! If you don’t remember the trickeration involved, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/21/04.

THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT ATWATER: In December 2000, Cynthia Tucker recalled Lee Atwater’s end-of-life confession. She was complaining about Bush the Younger’s “outrageous tactics” in Florida. Here’s a chunk of what she wrote:
TUCKER (12/3/00): Bush ought to know better. He should have learned from the late Lee Atwater, a South Carolinian who used scorched-earth tactics to win the presidency for the governor's father, George Bush. In a death-bed confessional written for Life magazine, Atwater, who died of cancer in 1991, spoke with deep regret of the bitter war he waged against Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee.

"In 1988, fighting Dukakis, I said that I 'would strip the bark off the little bastard' and 'make Willie Horton his running mate.' I am sorry for both statements: the first for its naked cruelty, the second because it makes me sound racist, which I am not.

"Mostly I am sorry for the way I thought of other people. Like a good general, I had treated everyone who wasn't with me as against me."

That's the least of it. The Bush camp is treating the opposition as illegitimate, un-American, thieves. And, if Bush assumes the White House, Gore's supporters—about half of America—won't easily forget it. If he wins (and the clock favors Bush), he's in for a rocky road.

They say the governor doesn't read much, but he ought to go back and take a look at Atwater's dying words. It is too late for Bush to reclaim the mantle of "uniter, not a divider;" he has long since given the lie to that. But it may not be too late for him to reclaim his soul.
According to Tucker, Gore’s supporters “wouldn’t easily forget” the post-election campaign shenanigans. But you can’t “forget” what you never knew, and Tucker is one of the many pundits who kept her mouth shut during Campaign 2000, during the twenty-month war against Gore which was being waged by her colleagues. For example, Gore’s supporters haven’t forgotten the way Tucker’s colleagues played the Horton card in that race, because people like Tucker, and Herbert, and Dionne, and Hunt and Shields didn’t tell them about it. And from that day to this, they have been too polite, too store-bought, too Potemkin to ever discuss that campaign.

And so it fell to Evgenia Peretz to tell the story, some seven years later! Here’s a question for those silent on-lookers: We wonder what you’ll have to say when you pack your satchels for heaven or hell? The whole press corps still stonewalls Peretz in her superlative Vanity Fair piece. Will even one of you ever come forward and confess, as Saint Atwater did?