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Daily Howler: We've finally been shown how to fight, we say, reciting a line of pure bull-roar
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THIS TIME WE REALLY MEAN IT! We’ve finally been shown how to fight, we say, reciting a line of pure bull-roar: // link // print // previous // next //

THIS TIME WE REALLY MEAN IT: “Bill Clinton's eruption on ‘Fox News Sunday’ last weekend. . .was a long time coming.” So writes E. J. Dionne in this morning’s Post. In our view, truer words were never spoken! In paragraph 2 of his column, Dionne elaborates a bit:
DIONNE (9/29/06): By choosing to intervene in the terror debate in a way that no one could miss, Clinton forced an argument about the past that had up to now been largely a one-sided propaganda war waged by the right. The conservative movement understands the political value of controlling the interpretation of history. Now its control is finally being contested.
We largely agree with that passage—although we don’t think that Clinton’s performance was as effective as it might have been (we may elaborate next week). Yep! Over the course of the past fourteen years, our political discourse has routinely been driven by “one-sided propaganda wars.” Was Clinton’s eruption “a long time coming?” No one in history had been lied about more—except for Clinton’s his successor, Al Gore. No, we don’t think that Clinton’s performance last Sunday was as effective as it might have been; we do think his anger got in the way. But good lord! We’re amazed that Clinton doesn’t blow his stack more. We admire his (more typical) ability to argue for decency in the discourse, despite the crap which has been dumped on his head over the past fourteen years.

But we have major problems with E. J.’s formulation. Sorry, but those propaganda wars haven’t simply been waged “by the right;” the bulk of the wars against Clinton and Gore were also waged by the mainstream press corps, including Dionne’s own Post. And we don’t agree with E. J.’s suggestion that “the conservative movement” has uniquely understood “the political value of controlling the interpretation of history.” Are we supposed to think that liberals and Dems didn’t understand that sort of thing? Please. Is the propaganda against Clinton “finally being contested” because our leaders have finally wised up to this jive? That’s the current feel-good talk in exultant lib and Dem circles. Clinton has finally shown us how to fight back! Sorry, but that’s deeply silly.

Later in his column, E. J. explains why Clinton finally “exploded.” No, he didn’t plan to stage an incident, Dionne says, citing talks with Clinton advisers. But Clinton “had thought long and hard about comparisons between his record on terrorism and Bush's,” Dionne writes. “He had his lines down pat from private musing about how he had been turned into a punching bag by the right. Something like this, one adviser said, was bound to happen eventually.”

We’re sure that something like that is right; we think Clinton’s anger was quite plainly real. But this formulation makes it too easy on all those liberal and Dem leaders who failed to fight the endless “propaganda wars” over the past fourteen years. After all, Clinton and Gore were “turned into punching bags” many years ago, in ways which had nothing to do with al Qaeda or records on terror. And again, it wasn’t just “the right” which did this. The mainstream press corps was also punching away—while our liberal/Dem leaders sat silent.

E. J. finally mention those quiet, compliant souls at a later point in his column. What he says in the following passage is true. But E. J.’s account is much too kind—and his version of our recent history has been deeply edited:
DIONNE: Sober, moderate opinion will say what sober, moderate opinion always says about an episode of this sort: Tut tut, Clinton looked unpresidential, we should worry about the future, not the past, blah, blah, blah.

But sober, moderate opinion was largely silent as the right wing slashed and distorted Clinton's record on terrorism. It largely stood by as the Bush administration tried to intimidate its own critics into silence...
That’s true. “Sober moderates” were largely silent as Clinton's record on terrorism was attacked. But they were also politely silent when the New York Times ran its first, bogus Whitewater stories all the way back in 1992. When Gene Lyons published Fools for Scandal in 1996, debunking those attacks against Clinton, our sober moderates kept quiet then too. And when a war was waged on Gore, sober moderates shut up for two years! And uh-oh! Those sober moderates include men like Dionne—an exceptionally bright and decent guy who seem to lack the inclination to fight. Our liberal and Democratic leaders have maintained polite silence for fourteen years. Now, we’re told that Clinton has finally shown them how to fight. We think that’s complete, perfect hooey.

There’s a simple, unflattering explanation for the all that sober, moderate silence. Simply put, our sober moderates haven’t seemed to care very much; they never agreed with those wars against Clinton, but they also weren’t willing to stand up and fight them. Right to this day, they don’t even have enough heart to say that the press corps was waging those nasty wars, along with the bogey-man “right.” The DNC has been a sad, stale joke for years—completely unable to fight, think or reason—and our journalistic “leaders” have simply been AWOL. Simply put, we don’t know how to reason or fight. We’re dumb, stupid, weak, uncaring, unprepared. Throughout this period, the other side has just wanted it more. And we still pretend that we don’t know this.

Now we’re told that all has changed—that Clinton has shown us how to fight! This time we really mean it, we say. Thanks to Clinton’s outstanding example, we aren’t gonna take it any more. But of course, that’s a bunch of perfect crap, peddled by the same weak, overpaid “leaders” who have been willing, for the past fourteen years, to let those wars be waged on our leaders. That sat around while Clinton was trashed, then stared into space as Gore was savaged. (Even today, they won’t discuss that history—won’t explain how Bush got to the White House.) Now they tell us they’re ready to fight? Because Bill Clinton has finally shown them? Do you believe them when they say that? If so, we have a bridge to the 31st century we’d very much like you to look at.

HOW WE FIGHT: How ineptly do our Dem leaders fights? If you watched Wednesday’s O’Reilly Factor, perhaps you have an idea.

Is it possible to be less prepared than Begala and Carville were Wednesday night? O’Reilly gave them every chance to explain how Fox has been unfair to Clinton—the subject of this particular segment. But the two were grossly unprepared and fundamentally unserious in their presentation. They talked over each other, laughed and clowned, and embarrassed themselves by their inability to offer examples of Fox’s unfairness (although O’Reilly repeatedly asked them to do so). (At one point, O’Reilly said, “Give me an example.” Carville actually said, “I’ll be glad to send you—” before he got caught off.) How poorly do our major Dem leaders prepare for sessions like this one on Fox? At one point, the discussion turned to the fairness-and-balance of Fox’s guest lists. The threesome had just been discussing Special Report when this exchange occurred:
BEGALA (9/27/06): [Special Report’s panel segment] is lively and it's fun and it's interesting, and it's highly watchable, but it's conservative.

O'REILLY: I don't believe it for a second.

BEGALA: You all are conservative.

O'REILLY: That is bull.

BEGALA: Just admit it.

O'REILLY: I'm not going to admit it because it's wrong. OK? You guys need to get away from the far left web sites and open your eyes. If you go down the guest list, the 24-7 guest list we will provide for you, it's 50-50. On this program, it's more left than right. It's more left than right on this program.
That may be true about O’Reilly’s guest list. (We don’t know. Yes, it’s possible.) But the invaluable Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has published a string of major reports about the guest lists on Special Report—the program the group had just been discussing—and, although the reports have been widely discussed in web circles, Begala and Carville failed to mention them. What did these remarkable studies show? In 2001, FAIR found this: “Of the 56 partisan guests on Special Report between January and May, 50 were Republicans and six were Democrats—a greater than 8 to 1 imbalance. In other words, 89 percent of guests with a party affiliation were Republicans.” In 2004, FAIR studied the Special Report guest lists again, and still found a gross imbalance: “Among ideological guests, conservatives accounted for 72 percent, while centrists made up 15 percent and progressives 14 percent. (The total exceeds 100 percent due to rounding.) Viewers were roughly five times more likely to see a conservative interviewed on Special Report than a progressive.” It would have been a very good thing for O’Reilly’s viewers to hear about this, but Begala and Carville seemed to have done no preparation for this high-profile appearance. Indeed, how absurd can such discussions get, given the ineptitude of our Dem “leaders?” Incredibly, the following exchange occurred just before the segment we’ve quoted. We use the Nexis transcript:
O'REILLY: Brit Hume is a conservative-leaning guy, but has gone out of his way—all right—to be fair to Bill Clinton. And at ABC, Brit Hume received a great accolade from Bill Clinton, as you know...

CARVILLE: John Gibson, Sean Hannity—

BEGALA: Brit is conservative, and I'll say when he covered the Clinton White House, he was fair.

O'REILLY: So he's not fair anymore?



O'REILLY: Give me an example. You don't have an example.


BEGALA: Look at his line-up! Look at his line-up! He has moderates and conservatives. There are no liberals sitting there on his “all-star” panel.

O'REILLY: Ceci whatever-her-name is from the Washington Post. Mara [Liasson]— they're liberal people.


BEGALA: It's lively and it's fun and it's interesting, and it's highly watchable, but it's conservative.

O'REILLY: I don't believe it for a second.
Incredibly, we have now reached the point where Ceci Connolly can be cited as proof that Fox presents solid liberals! Connolly, of course, trashed Gore from stem to stern for two solid years during Campaign 2000. Few print journalists have played a larger (or more dishonest) role in the wars against Clinton and Gore. And by the way: We’re not sure, but Begala and Carville may have said something like that when O’Reilly offered this absurd presentation. We’re not sure because, as part of their vast lack of discipline, they immediately began laughing and talking over each other, so that their statements were almost wholly indecipherable. On the tape, we think we might hear them saying something about Gore—but because of their reflexive clowning, we can’t tell. The Nexis transcript calls this [CROSSTALK]. We’d call it something less flattering.

We like both Begala and Carville, but we think their performance was simply appalling—if, alas, completely predictable. It’s nice that they get to laugh and play and have a lot of fun with each other. But here’s the first letter O’Reilly read during his letters segment last night. We think it offers a perfectly reasonable account of Wednesday’s pathetic performance:
O’REILLY (9/28/06): The letters. J. W. Adle, Enterprise, Alabama: "Hey Bill, I watched in amazement as James Carville and Paul Begala could not provide one example of how Fox News is unfair to Bill Clinton. Are we supposed to believe them just because they say it's so?”
As we said, we think that’s a perfectly reasonable account of Wednesday’s inept, undisciplined performance. Indeed, that’s exactly what we were thinking as we watched Wednesday’s segment.

Guess what, readers? People like J. W. Adle won’t be exposed to relevant facts until our leaders are willing to provide them. But for years, our liberal/Dem leaders have gone on TV and performed in undisciplined, inept, worthless ways. First they refused to stand up for Clinton (until he was actually facing impeachment); then, they refused to stand up for Gore. As on Wednesday, even when the facts are on our side, we’re too inept, too unprepared to stop all the fun and present them.

Let’s be honest: The other side simply plays the gamer harder—puts in much more effort. For years, we’ve been represented in the hapless manner displayed in Wednesday’s segment. We go on the air completely unprepared, then laugh and clown our way through our segments. Here at THE HOWLER, we’re sick to death of watching this happen. But no—we can’t imagine that this will change because of Clinton’s recent session.

NOTE: According to Nexis, Ceci Connolly’s last guest appearance on Special Report occurred in December 2005. Connolly is no longer one of Brit’s “all-stars.” (She’s been replaced by the vastly more vacuous Nina Easton.) On Wednesday evening, none of the three debaters seemed to know that—or anything else. But then, what else is new?