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Caveat lector

TRUTH TELLER! Rush is scripting the news, E. J. said. And the Generals lost an unlikely star:


GOODBYE TO THE GENERALS: Someone finally told the truth—and his host, Howard Kurtz, became nervous. On Reliable Sources, E. J. Dionne was asked to discuss press coverage of Gore’s recent speech. To his vast credit, Dionne did something Major Pundits never do—he criticized another Major Pundit. Dionne took after Brian Williams; the quotes involved may seem bizarre, but they are the words spoken by Williams:

DIONNE: You know, I was struck—and I came across this looking up the text of [Gore’s] speech, and I found The News with Brian Williams, and the tease began, “Is it un-American to speak out against the Bush plan to take on Iraq? Is it democratic to ridicule and threaten those who do it?”

I mean, since when do we debate that it’s un-American to take on a president? Surely that subject surely didn’t come up during the Clinton scandals, when people were trashing Clinton’s foreign policy all the time. And then he went on later in the story to say, “Today, our—

KURTZ: Brian Williams.

DIONNE: This is Brian Williams. “Today, our friend Rush Limbaugh told his radio listeners he almost stayed home from work not due to any health reasons, but because he was so livid at the speech given yesterday by former Vice President Al Gore criticizing the Bush administration,” et cetera.

Now, have you ever seen the news report, Jane Fonda couldn’t get out of bed because she was so mad about former Vice President Nixon’s speech? Or, Phil Donahue couldn’t get out of bed because he was so mad about President Bush’s speech? I mean, [Gore] got 47 million votes. Why couldn’t you have a straight account of what Al Gore said, and then a debate, including all the questions, including the ones Dana [Milbank] raised about what he said?

What is going on here? I don’t believe there is a liberal media anymore. That’s—that is, Rush Limbaugh’s now the producer of the news.

According to Dionne, There isn’t a liberal media any more! And not only that: Rush Limbaugh is now producing our news! Kurtz quickly said that his guest, Dionne, must have smoked something very suspicious
KURTZ (continuing directly): Well, that’s going a little far because when you’re on cable and people have seen the speech 20 times, by the time you come on, you look for a little different way to get in the story, perhaps by going to—framing it around what the critics—
Sorry. Dionne wasn’t buyin’:
DIONNE (continuing directly): Why begin with—in other words, we are told all the time it is the “liberal media,” and here Rush Limbaugh not being able to get out of bed supersedes what Al Gore says. If you—if you want to have Rush Limbaugh on trashing Al Gore afterward, fine. Report the news. Report what he said, and then criticize him.
Report what Gore said? Dionne must be dreaming! But when have you seen a major pundit do the things Dionne did here—say that Rush is scripting our news, and even trash the egregious Williams? In THE HOWLER, we’ve chronicled Williams’ egregious work since June 1999. But when have you ever seen an insider pundit acknowledge how puzzling it is?

Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve chided Dionne for some time now, noting his silence as spin-drenched forces take control of our public discourse. We’ve compared Dionne and other “good guy” pundits to the famous Washington Generals, the hapless crew that was paid to lose every night to the Harlem Globetrotters. The Washington Generals knew their role—they shouldn’t notice the Globetrotters’ tricks. So too, we’ve said, our “good guy” pundits have looked away in the face of Big Spinning.

Apparently, E. J. has seen enough; he seems to have turned in his uniform now. Rush Limbaugh is scripting our news! he declared. Our public discourse will be well served if Dionne keeps speaking freely.

FOX RUSH WATCH: When Dionne said that Rush now scripts the news, Kurtz quickly said he was nutty. But moments before, Kurtz himself had peddled one of the week’s favorite spins about Gore:

KURTZ: On the other hand, Byron York, did the media do a good job of pointing out some of the contradictions between what Gore was saying this week and his vote for the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and some of what he’s had to say since then about Saddam Hussein?
As we saw on Thursday and Friday, those “contradictions” were highly bogus (see THE DAILY HOWLER 9/26/02 and 9/27/02). But ever since March 1999, it’s been Pundit Law when Gore makes a speech; the press corps scurries to find “contradictions’ which highlight Gore’s Character Problem. If no such contradictions exist, the press corps deftly makes them up. It’s been going on for almost four years; it’s now a Standard Press Corps Procedure. And Kurtz was pushing the latest bogus spin, only moments before Dionne spoke.

But who began this latest bogus spin? Over at Saturday’s Fox News Watch, Cal Thomas was willing to tell you:

THOMAS: I will give kudos to talk radio, especially the Rush Limbaugh show, which was first, I believe, to cover the gross hypocrisy and inconsistency of the Gore speech. In Gore’s speech in San Francisco, he did a total flip from what he did in the 2000 election in which he said he supported President Clinton’s policy at the time and the various bombings of Iraq, and he also said he agreed Saddam needed to be ousted. So talk radio led the way on this.
According to Thomas, the whole thing got started with Rush! Readers, enjoy the humor the moment provides. First, Kurtz peddled a bogus line—a line which had begun with Rush. Moments later, he jumped on E. J. Dionne when Dionne said that Rush scripts our news!

Did Kurtz know that this line was factually bogus? There is, of course, no way to know. Did he know that the line began with Rush? No way to know that either. But Kurtz’s reflexive denial of what is obvious shows us why Dionne must keep speaking. Conservative spin—often factually bogus—has driven our political discourse for years. The Kurtzes, trembling, deny the obvious. Finally, a major pundit broke with standard practice and said what is so plainly true.

HELLO TO THE GENERALS: Even as Dionne was leaving the Generals, Michelle Cottle took his spot on the roster. Kurtz asked Cottle why Gore’s speech got so little TV coverage. Remember—pundits hate to tell the truth about matters like this. So here’s what the new General said:

KURTZ: Michelle Cottle, this was a speech by Gore that really kind of changed the debate this week. Why not more exposure on the broadcast networks?

COTTLE: You know, I’ve asked myself the same thing because I watched the speech. I thought it was making an important point. Now the papers, though, were a little better about it. I mean, the [Washington] Post led with it and things like this, but I guess maybe, you know, Gore doesn’t make for good TV for one thing, and there was no kind of inherent back and forth with this. So maybe that’s it.

Gore doesn’t make for good TV! To Cottle, that was why his speech was ignored. Meanwhile, over at Fox News Watch, they aren’t afraid of being yelled at for “liberal bias.” So Jim Pinkerton went ahead and spoke freely:
PINKERTON: Look, the problem with Gore is, nobody really likes him. If he wants to get coverage, he’s going to have to go fight for the Taliban.
But you won’t hear that from the trembling Cottles, who know they must see no evil with their sponsoring press corps. To Cottle, there must be a good explanation for press corps behavior; it can’t make her cohort look bad. E. J. Dionne has left the team, but Cottle, coming off the bench with a risible statement, looks like the next willing General.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Cottle’s statement is merely the latest in a grand tradition, in which mainstream pundits on Reliable Sources are puzzled by the negative treatment of Gore. In the fall of 1999, Kurtz tried, on two separate shows, to get pundits to explain the trashing of Gore. Pundits fumbled and stumbled about, unable to proffer an explanation. Your mainstream pundits will always play dumb on matters like this. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/12/02, with links to real-time coverage.