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IN THE TANK! Can we function with seals instead of a press corps? Brit’s crew wants to help you find out:


KEEPING A GOOD SITCOM GOING: Is it true? In the aftermath of the Gulf War, did Al Gore protest “the first Bush administration’s hasty departure from the battlefield, even as Saddam began to renew his persecution of the Kurds of the North and the Shiites of the South—groups we had encouraged to rise up against Saddam?” Duh. In 1991, Gore defended President Bush’s decision not to pursue Saddam into Baghdad. But at the same time, he criticized Bush for not doing more to defend the Kurds and weaken Saddam. And this isn’t exactly hidden info. On April 18, 1991, for example, Gore appeared on ABC’s Nightline. Here’s part of what was said:

TED KOPPEL: So you would cite as the long-term objective of the United States, then, to do everything but a ground attack against Baghdad to bring about the overthrown or the dissolution of Saddam Hussein’s government?

GORE: I think we’ve got to bring about his removal from power and, more than that, the removal of his lieutenants and this government which he now controls. Our principal mistake in this postwar period has been the de facto assumption that our interests lie in facilitating the ability of Saddam’s government—with or without him as an individual—in reconsolidating the nation-state of Iraq. We ought to try to get rid of his power.

Somehow, Koppel got Gore’s distinction—Bush was right to avoid toppling Saddam by direct force, but he should have been pursuing “everything but a ground attack against Baghdad” to weaken or destroy Saddam’s power. As the conversation continued, Gore and Senator Mitch McConnell agreed that U.S. forces should stay in Iraq “to protect the Kurds and keep the sanctions in place” (McConnell’s words). Gore went farther, saying that “it is [the Iraqi] people who are now suffering. We should speak in their behalf and advocate democracy and the values that are so important to us for the Iraqi people.” Gore listed many “options at our disposal” which he said Bush ought to pursue.

None of this has much to do with the crucial decisions we face today. None of this has much to do with the key claim in Gore’s recent speech. But it does shed light on the gonzo work which occurred on Tuesday’s Special Report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/02). On that program, Gore’s Monday statement was nicely clipped, obscuring the point he had actually made. Then a team of pundits called Gore a Big Liar—for a part of his speech which was accurate.

But then, is it really surprising to see Hume’s crew reinvent the AL GORE, LIAR tale? In fact, the American press corps invented this tale back in March 1999; since that time, it has created a stream of bogus stories to keep the treasured sitcom alive. On Tuesday night, Hume and his crew played the game again. AL GORE, LIAR is this group’s favorite show. They’re skilled at inventing new scripts.

Can a democracy function without a real press corps? We’re coming close to finding out. What does it mean when pundits feel free to invent such stupid tales? And what does it mean that no one—no one—in the insider press cares to notice?

QUESTION: ARE PUNDITS BIG LIARS? A reader sent an obvious question: Do we think that these pundits are liars?

The truth is, we don’t have a clue. Given the state of pundit culture, one rarely knows if mistaken pundits are lying or just uninformed. The more important point is this: The very notion of “accuracy” seems to play little role in our current, devolving pundit culture. Increasingly, pundits tell you the stories they like—stories on which they have all long agreed. Facts no longer seem to play a key role in their odd pundit culture.

Did Hume’s “all-stars” know their presentation was bogus? Increasingly, there is little sign that Americans pundits pay heed to such tired ideas.

Years ago, we called this practice the novelization of news. Later, we adopted a simpler phrase—they tell you the stories they like. In March 2000, Washington Post ombudsman E. R. Shipp used a similar metaphor—she said it was less like the Post was reporting the news, and more like the paper was typecasting a drama. (All news must fit the “roles…assigned to the actors,” Shipp said. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/9/02.) And last week, Peggy Noonan described the process; according to Noonan, today’s pundit finds that it isn’t hard to imagine what probably happened. Noonan, of course, didn’t seem to know that there was something bad wrong with that practice.

At any rate, those are four ways to describe pundit culture. But let’s sum it up—checking facts plays little role in much of today’s pundit culture. Do pundits still struggle to “get it right?” Most often, the only thing they want to “get right” is the script their strange cohort likes best.

Oh by the way—was Gore correct in his principal claim? Was he right when he said that a unilateral War on Saddam could harm the current War on Terror? Brit and the boys didn’t bother deciding. Even the prospect of mighty war can’t make these men focus on matters of substance. But then, these dudes have been at this a very long time. Don’t expect them to change what they’re doing.

IN THE TANK: On Thursday, Andrew Sullivan stated the obvious; President Bush “went over the line” in his comments about Senate Democrats. Is there any pundit on the face of the earth who doesn’t know this is accurate? It doesn’t mean that Bush is evil. It doesn’t mean that he must be impeached. But what could possibly be more clear? What could be more clear than the obvious fact that Bush made an inappropriate comment?

The point might be obvious, but on Special Report, trained seals struggled hard to avoid it. On Wednesday’s program, Daschle was the total focus; pundits struggled to figure out why Tommy had been so upset. But none of the “all-stars” stated the obvious—Bush’s remark went over the line. Indeed, everyone knew enough not to repeat the thing which Bush actually said.

Mara Liasson began the exchange, explaining “what I think Tom Daschle was reacting to.” And what was Daschle reacting to? None of the pundits, at any point, seemed to think he’d reacted to Bush’s remark! And none ever stated the obvious point—Bush’s comment went over the line. Instead, the graybeards struggled, strained and strove, trying to puzzle out Daschle’s weird conduct. Daschle was “being motivated by a bunch of unhappy Democrats.” Daschle was “upset because we’re talking about Iraq.” Daschle was “convinced he’s being outfoxed.” But was Daschle upset because Bush made a dumb comment? Viewers wouldn’t have to ponder that thoroughly inappropriate thought.

Can we function with seals instead of a press corps? Throw them some fish, and this fin-slapping crew will give you the chance to find out.

IN THE TANK, WANNABE EDITION: At CNN, Chung and Greenfield also strained to avoid saying that Bush went over the line. Note how many ways they found to avoid ever having to say it.